What to do with Wireless Freeloaders … and the dangers of “open” wireless

I came across this web page – upside-down-ternet – today while looking for some other technical information. I thought that this was great … just way too creative!

It seems that this guy found out that some neighbors were using his open wireless network. Now I have thought about this before … and thought of many of the security issues. For example, did you know that when you use someones open wireless network, they can “sniff” all of your non-SSL secured usernames and passwords from your applications? If you do not use SSL for your e-mail application, and you were using my open wireless network, I can get your e-mail account username and password. In fact … I have done this in the past. Likewise, any website that has you login and does not use SSL to secure it, is passing your username and password back and forth in the clear!

Anyhow … what this guy realized is that he could lock down the wireless, or have fun with the neighbors! The first thing he chose to do was redirect all of their web requests to a kitten website. So no matter where they tried to go on the Internet, they would end up at the kitten site.

His second ploy is even better. What he realized is that he could re-route all of their web browser requests through his own “proxy” … without them even knowing! What he played with was modifying the images on all of the web pages they viewed. His two examples are flipping all of the images … or blurring them!

The real important thing to realize here, is that when you choose to jump onto someone’s open wireless network, all of your Internet traffic is being routed through their network, and maybe their servers. If the person who owns that network is smart, or devious, there is a good chance that your communications are being monitored, recorded, or modified. You might want to think about it …

Desert Rocks Music Festival in Moab

Last Sunday and Monday I headed down to Moab, Utah for the Desert Rocks Music Festival.  It was really an amazing experience.  Some friends invited my girlfriend and I to join them to see a band – Kan’nal – out of Boulder, Colorado.

We all piled into their Winnebago on Sunday afternoon, and we took the 4+ hour drive down to Moab.  The event was out in the desert about 13 miles south of Moab at Area BFE.  It was a beautiful site, and the weather was great … not too warm.  We arrived as one of the concerts had just finished, so we broke out the BBQ and got dinner going.  As the sun set (which was incredible) we got our act together and wandered down to watch the Fire Dancers, and then head over to the main stage to see Kan’nal.  I was impressed … they rocked!

For those who missed the concert, in June you can go and see Kan’nal at the Salt Lake City Arts Festival.  I’m going to make sure to be there … it was an amazing performance.

Monday was the typical return trip … we got some sleep, hung out a bit, and then joined the masses of traffic returning to the Salt Lake City area.  It took a while, but was well worth the trip.  I’m thinking of going next year … and maybe even contributing to the Desert Rocks event with an outdoor light show … we’ll see!

The Benefits of Broadband

I’m finally there. I wasn’t sure exactly when I would take the leap … but I did a few weeks ago. It wasn’t without problems … but I’m glad that I made the move. I finally bought a Broadband card for my laptop, and service from Cingular/AT&T.

I have long been a user of wireless. I bought my first Xircom gear in ~1995, just prior to the Xircom management buyout that formed NetWave Wireless. I think that I spent ~$2000 for an access point and two cards! In 1997 as a Novell employee I began working with the folks at NetWave on potential applications of wireless networking … and this was all pre-802.11 standards! All of this culminated with the demonstration of my research at the 1998 Novell Brainshare where we covered the Salt Lake City Convention Center – the Salt Palace – and surrounding area (~5 city blocks) – with wireless Internet access. I’ve never gone back. I love Wifi … and it is great to see it everywhere. Well … almost everywhere.

This is the issue that I found. Wifi isn’t everywhere … or sometimes when you find it the cost is just too great. A month or so ago I found myself at the airport … for about two hours … and the Wifi access was $10 for the day. I thought about it, and chose to find out exactly how much the service costs these days. I had seen Phil Windley using broadband from Verizon, and he really seemed to like it. As a Cingular/AT&T customer, I figured that I would check out what they had to offer.

I visited the local Salt Lake City Cingular store, and the deal was a Sierra Wireless 2G/3G PCMCIA card for $50 (after the $100 rebate), and the service – with unlimited bandwidth – was $60/month. I was in. I bought the card and the service, and headed off to install and get things working. I will say that I didn’t expect what happened next.

When I went to install the card in my laptop I didn’t even think to check on new versions of drivers. I popped the CD into my drive and installed what they gave me with the card … v5.4.1 drivers. When I rebooted … and inserted the card … BLUESCREEN. Ugh … the drivers were crashing my laptop. I was able to boot into “Safe Mode”, but I then spent two days debugging and interacting with technical support to find out that the latest drivers were v6.2.10, and that there was a conflict with the McAfee firewall that I was using. That mess started on Friday, and by Monday I was recovered and up and running. And now? I’ll never look back!

I have done some speed tests, and fairly consistently get ~1.5mbps down, and ~300kbps up. Several times now I have been getting speeds even faster! It is amazing to me that for $60/month I am now able to get megabit speeds almost any where that I go.  Over the last week, I have found myself in several places where I had no Wifi access … and plugged in my card, and jumped on the net.  The unlimited bandwidth enables me to not even think about how often I use the card, and what I do when on-line.  The speed is good enough for me to run all of my standard business applications.

I’m sure that I’ll do more testing, and might have more feedback, however so far I am happy and impressed with what is possible.  Broadband is now bringing the Internet to you – at an affordable price – in even more locations than ever before.  I now have multiple levels of fall-back to stay connected and in communications.  I’ll have to see when I do my first blog post from a moving vehicle (not while I’m driving!), and also see how many different strange places I can blog from now.  It also gets me thinking about getting out my wearable computers again … I had some fun ideas for mobile games … hmmm …

My thoughts on Twitter … or ‘Opt-in Stalking’

I do love communications technologies. Communications is the foundation of effective organizations … communities. There are so many ways that we are able to virtually extend the various communities in our lives. If you reflect back on society 200 years ago, you can see how communities of people were limited to physical locality. There was no effective means of staying in contact – in anything close to real-time – with anyone more than a few miles away. With this communications infrastructure, there was simply no way for global distributed communities to exist.

Now … flash forward to 2007. Twitter appears on the scene. We already have the Internet and cell phones. E-mail and Instant Messaging have been around for over a decade and are now completely entrenched in society. Instant Messaging has even bridged to cell phones where many of the phones in use can also login to the various Instant Messaging networks. Oh, and blogs of course are everywhere. I am now able to communicate and keep in touch with all of my global virtual communities. People who I have not seen in years … who are not physically close … are still “close friends” as we have stayed in touch via IM or now Skype. Of course we also read each others blogs.

I was very skeptical of Twitter as first … not sure if I liked the idea of it. But just like any other new communications technology, I quickly began to see a pattern that I liked. When Twitter is used with friends, we can begin to gain insights into their lives.  Phil Windley and I have talked about this, and we both seemed to notice a similar pattern … we are gaining new perspectives of friends and co-workers who are using Twitter to post short updates about their daily lives.  I learned that Phil Windley takes bike rides, and also works on his yard.  I found out that Phil Burns is into hiking up the mountains in the area, and also ran his first 5k.

When I began to look at Twitter in this new light … as a way to allows others to know what you are up to on a daily basis, this began to expand a new dimension in my relationship to my global virtual communities.  The messages that I am getting on Twitter are significantly different from the e-mails, IMs, and blog posts that I am reading … these twits are crude updates about what these people are doing at various moments during their day.  When I began to see this, I realized that what Twitter has created is a globally distributed “opt-in stalking” system!

Anyone can now create a simple way to be stalked … by almost any anonymous individual with access to the Internet.  Twitter allows the stalked a variety of simple ways to update the world with where they are … or where they aren’t!  Twitter also provides the new generation of stalker to monitor the goings on in any Twitterers life.  People twit that they are out at a club, or home watching TV.  They will twit about going on bike rides, and when they are at school.  Stalkers now know when people are not at their home … hmmm, time for a burglery?  They also know when they are out at some other public place … hmmm, time for a confrontational visit?

Don’t get me wrong … I’m actually a growing fan of Twitter … however I have started to see a lot of things that I like and don’t like about the service.  It’s great as it is … and there is a lot of room for improvement.  I’m actually working on an alternative system with some friends … we’re pushing to get a beta out the door by June 4th.  It will provide some similar functionality, but also some new enhancements that can provide some privacy and control over who hears what.

In any case … I am a big fan of this new form of communications … of having a new way to learn more about people who are virtually in my life.  I have long proposed Lemon’s Law of Effective Organizations:

The effectiveness of an organization is directly proportional to the quantity and quality of the communications within it.

Twitter is yet another form of communications that can contribute to the breadth of possible communications.  If you haven’t tried it yet, you ought to!

Tech geeks … get a grip! We are a small minority!

I often talk with fiends about the “blinders” that we develop in the tech industry.  Those who participate in the “blogosphere” often fail to realize that this is a very small, minority group of people.  Most of the rest of the world has no clue about the goings on in the tech world … let alone the “Web 2.0” world.

This is further back up by articles like this one:  Pew Research:  ‘Web 2.0’ Crowd a Small Minority

The best quote in this article is:

“Yet those online and deeply engaged in “Web 2.0” activities represent a distinct minority of the population. Interestingly, there was a fairly high degree of ambivalence about technology reflected in the data, even among “middle of the road” users (i.e., “Connected but Hassled”).”

One of the worst things that you can do in business is to be so entrenched in your own world, that you fail to remember that the rest of the world has not caught up yet!

Changing landscape of the web … invasion of the websteaders!

Almost two years ago I began to formulate a new theory of the web.  For a long time it has been all about getting users to your site.  I started to see trends that this is evolving during 2005 when I started to think about blogs, and then the emerging social networking sites.  What I began to focus on is the growing trend of “homesteading” (websteading?) on other companies web sites!  To me, the valuation of these new companies – the websteaders – would be based on UVPs … User Viewable Pixels … that they are able to secure on OPW … other people’s websites.  What I mean by this is how many widgets, of what size, can they get users to place on how many pages.  The more widgets,  of larger sizes, on more pages provides more UVPs.
On most of the current day social networking sites – MySpace being the leader – users are able to embed “widgets” from outside sources.  If you are watching the news, then you see the current onslaught of widgets from people like Slide.com, and Photobucket.  Today the news about PhotoBucket didn’t catch me by surprise at all.  I have to imagine that on MySpace, their current UVP count is huge!

When I was working at mediaFORGE (I’m no longer there!  Once again I’m available for consulting in this area of technology!) I drove the creation of a video player that provided playlist capabilities, and it quickly gained UVPs on numerous websites, including MySpace.  At one time, the valuation play was “user” based … how many users can you get.  As this quote from the Photobucket new article alludes, I really believe that the model is shifting to UVPs.

“What does the deal mean for other startups which have piggybacked on Myspace? On the one hand, it’s heartening. For a venture so dependent upon it, Myspace paid a hefty multiple. But Photobucket is the largest of the “widget” makers, ventures which depend on a share of the real estate of larger sites, rather than drawing visitors to their own properties.”

What is interesting to watch is that the big sites are now able to create a controlled sandbox for developers and other start-ups to play in.  They can watch as the new start-ups iterate, and experiment.  They can watch their user base and, with the right instrumentation and analytics, determine which widgets are really showing promise.  Of course, due to their position and control they are able to slap down the start-ups who abuse the opportunity … like we’ve seen MySpace do in the past.

We’ll get to see who has the social networking sites that continue to grow explosively.  Sites like Facebook do not appear to allow this type of open development on their site, instead keeping strict control of content and features.  This is the “lock-in” of software of the past.  With the next generations of embedded technologies – like the Microsoft SilverLight project – I believe that we are now going to see even more of the decentralized web … and more sites that open their doors to outside widgets.  With this new model, the valuation and investment models are going to shift accordingly.  I know that I am continuing to pursue and develop in this direction … the direction of the new websteaders.

Microsoft … making Windows irrelevant?

Sometimes I think that “old people” really don’t get it. When I say “old people” I’m pointing at the twenty-somethings and up. Yeah … once you get into your college years, you begin to formulate a lot of perspectives and hold onto them. You hold onto a “religion” about things … even technology.

I have long listened to all of the complaining and whining about Microsoft. Frankly, I’m tired of it. Most people simply want to blame their problems on others, and attack the current king of the hill. It’s a human disease. The worst part of it is that I believe it causes people to loose sight of what is going on around them, and to fall victim to changing markets.

On Tuesday when I was at the LearnKey Challenge at UVSC, I got to listen to a presentation by Ivan Lumala called XNA Xbox 360 Development Framework. If you click the link, you can see his presentation. I have to admit that I was blown away. I had no idea what Microsoft was doing in this space … and the potential impact on the future. Most people … caught up in their whining about Microsoft and Windows are completely missing what is coming at them.

XNA is the development environment for the Xbox 360. Actually … it’s much more than this. XNA Game Studio Express is a – completely free – development environment for creating cross-platform applications that can run on the Windows, or the Xbox 360. Microsoft is quickly pushing to allow any software developer to create their own games and applications … and to build out the community of Xbox 360 developers and users. They are providing the source code for some amazing applications and games as the foundation for anyone that wants to create “your world. your game.” These sample applications are written in C# and can be compiled to run on Windows and the Xbox 360. If you want to learn more … read here!

So what is it that the old folks are missing? It’s that the younger generations are now seeing a much different Microsoft. They aren’t hanging on to their long-term “make wrong” and complaints about Microsoft. It was amazing to see … when Ivan walked in, and started to get set-up, there were the typical jeers and comments about Windows. But when Ivan asked how many students (all high-school) had an Xbox or Xbox 360 almost all of the hands went up. He asked about the games they play and they all started to shout out the names of the big classic Xbox games. He asked them who might want to write their own games that they could give away or sell for the Xbox 360 … the level of excitment continued to grow.

Now let me throw out some possible scenarios. What if Microsoft produced a “portable Xbox 360” that has a screen? Sort of a UMPC based on the Xbox 360 hardware? What if they created a laptop based on this Xbox 360 hardware? What occurs in 3 or 5 years as the younger generations have no qualms with the “Xbox 360” … a word that now represents a hardware platform, coupled with a form of operating system, and an open development environment? What occurs when these – now college – students might be able to run other productivity applications on this platform?

I wonder how this might compare to the current craze around the proprietary Apple MacBooks? (There are lots of numbers out there about Xbox 360 sales, and Apple MacBook sales. ) Could this be a way that Microsoft themselves actually makes “Windows” irrelevant, and has the next generations of college graduates and business workers continue to embrace Microsoft products?

I have to admit that coupled with Silverlight, I believe that Microsoft is making some strong moves to secure its future … even with all of the complaining and whining by old people!

P.S. Get over it … Microsoft has helped to create everything that we have to date! They will always have their place … and if you underestimate them, they might even end up with more!

LearnKey Challenge Presentation – Wearable Computers, etc.

For the last number of years I have had the privilege to present to high-school students from all over the state of Utah when they participate in a “Challenge” at the UVSC campus. The “Challenge” is allow the students to demonstrate their understanding of technology and computer skills. This used to be the “TestOut Challenge” but this year there is a new sponsor and so it’s the “LearnKey Challenge”. On Tuesday I got to do this again and had a blast.
Each year I’ve been asked to present on Wearable Computers and Virtual/Augmented/Mediated Reality. This is an area that I am really interested in as the man/machine interfaces continue to evolve … and computers and peripherals begin to become more embedded. I love to show the students the miniature computers and hardware, and to show them the hardware that I have collected over the years. I also love to shown them the videos of some of the advanced research going on around the world in these areas. If you want an idea, go and check out ARQuake and the Tinmith project, and the Mixed Reality Lab in Singapore, the HIT Lab at the U of Washington, or the work of Steve Mann at the U of Toronto.
The real reason that I love to give these presentations is to see if I can encourage and inspire some of these kids to think out of the box. I want them to get my enthusiasm about technology, and what is coming in the near future … to expose them to things that seem almost too far in the future … things they might not understand they could be involved with. Some of this work is pushing the limits of what we believe is possible … stuff of dreams. I want these kids to know they too can get involved and create the future … and play with some really cool computer stuff. This year they even recorded the presentations and put them all on-line … my Wearable & Mobile Computers is here! One warning … most of the initial presentation is about tech jobs, my experiences, what to expect, and what to consider to love your job.

It was fun to have so many of the student come up afterwards and ask questions … where to learn more … what degrees to pursue … where to go to school. Overall … they seemed to enjoy it, and I know that I did. If I made a difference with just one of these kids it’s all worth while.