Monthly Archives: March 2010

Google Maps Earth Art

Andy Graulund, a 19 year old from Copenhagen in Denmark recently went on a wild hunt through Google Maps looking for obscure and scarcely seen aerial photos of the world. The hunt resulted in Earth Art, a collection of 19 (at this stage) spectacular photos taken from Google Maps.

My favourites in the list so far are:

  • Gobi Desert, Mongolia
  • Yukon River, Alaska
  • North Slope, Alaska

There are none of Australia or New Zealand featured in his list at this stage, however I thought the following places produced some great shots:

  • Great Barrier Reef, Queensland Australia
    If you can block out the coastline of Australia from your mind, this shot reminded me of specs of opal within a blue stone
  • Uluru, Northern Territory Australia
    While not as visually spectacular, I enjoyed looking at Ayers Rock because of the anomaly that it represents. There is a vastness surrounding a focal point in the middle and unless you know what it is – I think you would be drawn to find out what you’re looking at.

What would you add to the list ?

Hugo Eating With A Spoon

Hugo has long enjoyed playing with utensils, in fact without question he will open up our second draw multiple times per day and pick a utensil to play with. That has carried over to smaller things as well, such as forks and spoons – where he regularly wants to play with the fork or spoon after we’ve finished giving him his lunch or dinner.

Claire, Hugo and I went out for dinner on Saturday night to Hogs Breath at the Logan Hyperdome with George, Jude, Lucy and Michael. Instead of taking a normal dinner for Hugo, as a treat we let him eat a little plate of chicken nuggets with some curly french fries. Not long after Hugo started eating his dinner, he reached over to the table and picked up a fork – nothing untoward there. However, instead of playing with the fork like normal, he began picking up his chicken nuggets and eating them! Everyone at the table was really impressed with his effort and I’m quite sure Hugo was quite proud of himself.

This evening for dinner, Claire gave Hugo a spoon and he set about eating an entire bowl of his dinner on his own:

Having trouble viewing the embedded video, watch Hugo Lattimore Eating With A Spoon on YouTube.

Google, All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Recently Hungry Beast from the ABC released a short video about Google which highlighted just how massive they are in the internet ecosphere. The video takes you through a raft of facts and figures about the company and draws a number of, what I would consider wrong conclusions, based on their actions as a company.

The majority of people wouldn’t be aware but Google have had a mantra from their early roots as a company of don’t be evil. That mantra was placed on a pedestal and at every meeting or business event – it was used to challenge the decision to see if that particular action contravened their mantra. If their proposed action was deemed evil, they would take a different tact or bin that decision or change all together. Throughout the video, Hungry Beast make a lot of statements and none of them are qualified with fact and come with a large number of assumptions and a lot of personal opinion. Following are a few points that I thought were worth addressing, there are more but I don’t have the time to retort every statement:

  1. Google wants to own you in the digital world
    Looking through the video, all 2m46s of it – it is easy to come to that conclusion given the vast array of products that Google provide the public. From an outsiders view, it could be seen that it was a calculated activity from Google to release the slew of products they have and to some degree, I’m sure it was. What wasn’t mentioned within the video, is that a large number of the products Google offer were born out of the 20% time system that they provides their employees. The 20% time system allows a Google employee to spend 20% of their work time (if they want to), working on things that interest them which may not necessarily be work that Google have specifically tasked them to do. As it turns out, a number of their biggest products such as GMail were conceptualised and developed in this manner. While Google do have an impressive number of products and services they offer, they also believe in a user being able to easily put their data into and out of various Google products. To that end, Google have a data liberation team within the company who has the sole job of making sure you can get as much of your data in and out of Google if you so desire.
  2. Google wants your health care data
    The United States of America are undergoing a health reform. Amongst that reform, the government opened up the option for people to access their own health records digitally. Google released an aptly named product, Google Health, that tapped into the health care network and allowed people to view and control their own health care records. This isn’t Google wanting to control your health data, you could choose to hook into your records using any number of service providers and the information is controlled and governed by the highest level of security and scrutiny.
  3. Google wants your DNA
    In the last 10 years, Google have purchased over 30 different companies and invested into a number as well. Among those investments was a company named 23andMe, founded by the Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin. 23andMe provides a DNA profiling service, where you can provide a sample of your DNA (cheek swab) and pay a relatively small amount of money for them to profile your DNA and let you know what medical conditions you may or may not be susceptible to. It isn’t Google that provides the service, it is 23andMe – so this was an unfair comment.
  4. Google wants to control the power grid
    Since Google was founded, they have been relentlessly seeking ways to make their business more efficient – whether it be improving the speed of a simple Google search to optimising every element on a search results page. Along the way, power consumption was identified as a major cost to Google because of its massive computing infrastructure spread around the world. To reduce their costs and impact on the environment, Google have developed a slew of new technology, soft and hard – such as data centres that don’t require active cooling and high efficiency computer power supplies. The next step was optimising the supply of power to their infrastructure, as they think they can do it better than it is currently being done. This recent development has nothing to do with providing power to consumers and everything to do with Google controlling its own destiny.
  5. Google have invested into different markets
    Hungry Beast are criticising Google for their choice in investments, such as software, green technology, bio technology and more. Unfortunately for Google, their business is all capital and they have very few assets outside of their staff and computing infrastructure. As such, when you have a market capitalisation of over USD$200 billion dollars and you post nearly USD$2 billion dollars in profit in the fourth quarter of 2009 alone – you really do need an outlet for that money.

While I am ever mindful of lumping all your eggs in one basket, however I also find it hard to resist the temptation of doing so with Google because they provide so many quality products. Not only is their range of products excellent, but their continued improvement on sharing data from one application to another in a seamless manner is making them easier and easier to use.

Do you care and to what extent, about using various products or services from the same company? For instance, do you care about using a lot of different products provided by Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft? Which one of those three or others that you can think of might be better or worst in your eyes?

Improve Your Online Personal Security

With the explosion of the internet in the last ten years and the ever increasing use and reliance on it to perform our every day life and work, it has become more important than ever to consider your personal security online.

The overwhelming majority of internet users have no idea at all about the steps required to help protect their personal information online. This can be seen by the massive surge in identity theft in the last five years, which is happening online and offline.

To help combat that epidemic, below are my top recommendations to lower your risk of identity theft and improve your online personal security:

  1. Don’t Share Your Account Information
    Just like your PIN number on a debit card or your credit card number, don’t share your account information for with anyone. If you have in the past, regardless of how much you might trust that person – make a point of changing your password as you don’t know how lax they have been with your personal information.
  2. Don’t Reuse Your Account Information
    People hate having to remember different usernames and passwords for different web sites. However, reusing your account information from one site on another puts all of your online accounts in serious jeopardy if someone tries to attack your identity online.
  3. Create Different Accounts For Different Purposes
    For most people it is hard enough to not reuse your account information across literally dozens of different online accounts. However, if you can’t manage a unique set of credentials for each web site – at a minimum group the web sites by type (email, social network, banking, online shopping, ..) and use a different set of credentials for each site. At least if someone gains access to your Facebook account, they don’t automatically get access to your bank accounts.
  4. Choose Strong Passwords
    Just like people hate having to remember different usernames, people hate having to remember different passwords. This leads people to using a simpler password, in the hope that they’ll be able to remember it. That mental stumbling block is the perfect attack point for an average user, as their password will probably be a dictionary word or another simple combination of characters such as ‘12345’. When creating a password, regardless of whether it is for an email account, social networking or an internet banking account – it should contain lower case, upper case, numbers, special characters and be at least 8 characters long. I know that sounds like a lot of hoop jumping but there are simple ways to remember a complex password, such as using a memorable phrase and replacing a few characters within it.
  5. Reduce The Number Of Online Accounts
    With the creation of the authentication protocol OpenID, web site developers now have the ability to allow clients to create a new account without having to worry about managing yet another password. Instead users can signin using an existing account such as a Google, Microsoft Live, Yahoo!, AOL and many more. By signing up using an OpenID enabled account, you have one less password to remember and when you change your password – it is changed on all sites that are linked to it. It might seem as though using OpenID contravenes points 2, 3 and 4 above however it doesn’t because you can create one more OpenID accounts and use a strong password on each instead of something simple like your pets name.
  6. Ensure You’re Using HTTPS
    If you’re logging into a site or disclosing your personal information online, make sure you’re currently viewing that web site in HTTPS. The ‘s’ in HTTPS stands for secure and it uses high strength encryption to keep your personal information private when transferred from your web browser to the web site in question. If you aren’t viewing it site in HTTPS, your personal information is transferred across the internet in clear text that anyone could potentially read.
  7. Practice Minimal Disclosure
    The internet is a public medium, once you put your personal information out into the public realm – it could very well remain their for the foreseeable future. That means that anyone that might be inclined to go looking for information about you can find it with ease. With that in mind, you should make a point of only ever publishing as much information about yourself on a web site as you’d be happy to have displayed on a billboard beside a busy motorway.
  8. Consider Using A Password Manager
    If you do have dozens of different accounts and you cannot keep up with it all, consider using a password manager. You can generate a strong, high complexity random password for every site you create an account on and store it within your secure password manager. If and when you need to signin to that site again, simply look it up within the password manager. If you don’t want to use a standard desktop password manager like KeePass, there are also some fantastic secure password managers which provide web browser integration such as LastPass.
  9. Your Email Address Isn’t Your Username
    If a web site doesn’t support OpenID but it does allow you to create a username that isn’t your email address – you should take them up on that offer. While convenient, your email address isn’t your username and can lead to issues in the future if you lose that email account. A friend of mine signed up to Amazon using their Hotmail account and it was previously used by another person but expired. Once signed in, my friend could see all of the previous owners personal information they’d provided Amazon, including name, address, purchase history and more.
  10. Shared Computer Access
    If you’re in a position where you use a computer and it is shared between a number of different people, either at home, work or elsewhere – always remember to clean up after yourself. Most web browsers have the ability to remember usernames and passwords for convenience. However if you’re using a shared computer, you could be leaving your account information laying around for someone else to pray on. An easy solution for this is to simply clear all the temporary internet files when you’re done or before logging out of the machine. If that seems like it is too much hassle, the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera all provide a privacy mode or private mode which won’t keep any history of your activity while it is enabled.

While there might seem like a lot of things above to consider, those ten items certainly aren’t the only things you can do to improve your identity management process. In a future post, I’ll talk about how you might go about implementing some of my recommendations above so you can take the first step, which is often the hardest.

DoFollow No Longer

In 2005 Google decided they were going to attempt to unsettle the online spam ecosystem by recommending that web sites add an additional attribute to a link from site A to site B if they were not verified to be trustworthy. For instance, if someone left a comment on my site who I didn’t know or couldn’t vouch for – I would add a rel=”nofollow” to the link to their site.

While it sounds like a small change, the longer term plans were for search engines to not include those links when ranking a given web sites content. It was common place for spammers to comment spam thousand or millions of blogs, leaving a link to their preferred sites. Before the rel=”nofollow” attribute was introduced, the search engines had no way of knowing if a web site owner trusted that site and as such had to use other methods of measuring trustworthiness.

The intention is clear, by removing the incentive for a spammer by using rel=”nofollow” in the links – it was hoped it would have an impact on the insidious and incredibly aggressive spam ecosystem online. Unfortunately, spammers aren’t the kind of people that just roll over at the first sign of a battle and the war on spam raged on. As the rel=”nofollow’ attribute gained momentum over the years, spammers have subsequently sought out web sites which were considered dofollow – in that they have clean links that the search engines will count when ranking a web site.

As I’ve upgraded WordPress over the years, I’ve been carrying the same set of themes or templates forward through the upgrades and hadn’t bothered to upgrade to a newer base theme. Of course this meant that links from my site were dofollow links and were valuable to the spammers. So valuable in fact that my site has been listed countless times on different forums as being a dofollow blog – essentially proclaiming to the spammers of the world that they should target my site for high quality backlinks.

I’m happy to say that after a recent upgrade to WordPress 2.9.x, I ported my current theme over to a new base theme provided in the 2.9.x code base which uses rel=”nofollow” links by default. In fact, if I want to allow people to have clean links – I’ll need to specifically allow them by use of a plugin – which is fine by me.

This will no doubt upset the spammers out there that thought they’d be getting easy, free dofollow links from my site. While I understand why they want my clean links, I also hate having to deal with comment spam – so I’m going to leave my comments rel=”nofollow” from now on.