Wednesday, June 29, 2011

LulzSec Sails Away

Back on June 15, and again on June 24, I wrote about the LulzSec hacker group and their high profile penetrations of gaming companies, law enforcements groups and more. Now they say that their 50 Days of Lulz have come and gone, and that it’s time for them to sail away and “head for the horizon”.

Their parting words can be found in many places, including

LulzSec's "antisec" movement is far from dead, however.  The hacking group Anonymous picks up where LulzSec left off, which is not really surprising since the groups did acknowledge working together and some even believe that LulzSec is actually a splinter group from, and now being re-absorbed back into, Anonymous.

Looking back on the past 50 days, it’d be hard not to give LulzSec their due.  But what they seemed to do much better than other well-organized and successful hacking teams was to communicate in an articulate way.  They achieved a large Twitter following and fed quotable material to journalists and bloggers.  As a result, we got a sense for who they were and what they cared about.  

Is that the blueprint for future "hacktivism" groups? Will we see more such groups with clearly communicated and specific technical or social agenda?  Lulz indeed.

Have an opinion?  Please share it here.


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Renewable Wind Energy

Is the answer blowing in the wind?

Energy from natural resources including sun, wind, and geothermal heat, is called renewable energy because the source is replenished as a byproduct of the natural ecosystem. I spend a good deal of time on and around the ocean, and I see and feel the power of nature first hand. It’s impossible not to notice how much unharnessed energy is all around us.

Can wind play a significant role in generating the energy we need in the coming years? The upsides are that wind is renewable (it’s infinite!) and it’s clean – no release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, no radioactive or toxic byproduct to dispose of. The downsides are that it hasn’t yet reached a level of efficiency to warrant construction of large scale energy plants when compared with legacy power plants, and some people object to the appearance of wind generation infrastructure near to where they live.

How can we overcome the negatives? What investments do we need to make in order to let wind power develop into a cost-effective approach, and are there ways to make wind power plants acceptable to neighbors?

I believe that the two primary contributors to cost effectiveness will be time and scale. Time allows successive generations of infrastructure to get more efficient. Scale, through broad deployment, allows for economies. I believe that tax or other incentives for both consumers and suppliers have a place here.

Offshore deployments may come first. Offshore wind farms have the advantage of strong winds and the ability to locate the infrastructure farther from the eyes of worried neighbors.  There have been several projects developing in the northern Atlantic states.  Maine in particular has a growing interest in wind energy. Other areas, though, are also interested in scaling up quickly not only for the clean energy but for job creation and for reputation.  The Great Lakes area is currently making a big push. On the west coast, Oregon is exploring community based deployments as well as larger scale wind power infrastructure. When it comes to concern from neighbors, opinion may be shifting in some circles.  Virginia protestors recently demonstrated to promote wind over oil drilling.

  • Do you believe that wind power can be efficient and a major contributor within the next 10 years?
  • Are you against wind farms being built near you for any reason? Aesthetics, noise, property value impact, wildlife impact?

If you have thoughts to share on wind power, please post your comments here.


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Friday, June 24, 2011

LulzSec Hacks Continue

Back on June 15 I wrote about LulzSec. The hacking group had accomplished some high-visibility break-ins to large corporations and law enforcement web sites and databases. Not very long after that post, there was some buzz about an arrest made in London. Ryan Kleary was arrested and some of the news called him the ring leader of LulzSec.  The 19-yr-old had been living at home, holed up in his room with his computer, and his mom thought he was just gaming. On Twitter, though, LulzSec seemed to laugh. They said they were just fine and that Ryan had only a minor role.  

Given the events taking place since that time, I think I’d believe them. Early this week, LulzSec and hacker group Anonymous announced that they had joined forces and on Thursday they claimed to have hacked into the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

There are some people who are wondering whether the hacks from LulzSec and Anonymous are not anything very new, but rather that there is increased reporting and awareness. I suppose that could be, but I don’t think I buy it.  Either there were always some really major hacks going on, including of major law enforcement organizations, or the hacks going on now really are beyond what was common even just a few months ago.

What do you think?  Like many of you, I'll be watching this story as it continues to develop over the weeks to come.  If you have thoughts or comments, please post them here.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bitcoin On The Brink?

Contemplating Cryptographic Currency Crooks

Have you heard about Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a new kind of currency without central control or management from a government. It’s an online, peer-to-peer currency that uses cryptography and processing power to control the creation and transfer of money. Bitcoin has a devoted following, especially in the “geek” community, and has been growing within that community as a payment system. 

Back in January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took an interest in Bitcoin. But on Monday of this past week, the EFF very clearly backed away from Bitcoin. It’s hard to blame them. In recent days thefts, hacks, fraud, and shady transactions have resulted in the loss or evaporation of the equivalent of millions of $US in Bitcoins.

In announcing its about-face, the EFF gave three reasons -
1.    We don't fully understand the complex legal issues involved with creating a new currency system.
2.    We don't want to mislead our donors.
3.    People were misconstruing our acceptance of Bitcoins as an endorsement of Bitcoin. 

As a concept, I find Bitcoin to be very interesting. I’m a big fan of experiments in new ways of doing things, and in leveraging the changing technical underpinnings of our economy. When I consider how online transactions are playing greater roles in driving economies, our increasingly global economy not wedded to a single currency system, and interest on the parts of some in re-claiming the anonymity that cash had generally provided, Bitcoin seems like an idea worth watching. It would be understandable, though, if some were to write off Bitcoin after the rough week it had.

Could this be the end of Bitcoin? Maybe, but I'd guess not.  Still, recent events have helped to make clear what economists have long known: Financial systems are complex and temperamental, and can have large reactions to even small events. And on a more basic level, if there are ways to lie, cheat and steal to make money, some people will find those ways.

Do you have thoughts on Bitcoin?  Please post here!

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day

Yesterday was Father's Day and I spent it enjoying the attention of my family, but also thinking about my own father who helped to make me the man I am today.  He taught me to love learning, music, fishing, and much more.  I have his corny sense of humor and his ability to laugh at lots of things, and that certainly includes laughing at myself.

When I think about it, I realize just how much like him I've become. My dad was a Chemical Engineer.  I'm a Telecommunications Engineer.  He was a performing musician, an operatic tenor.  I was a keyboard player in rock and roll bands.  He was a great fisherman.  I'm a fairly good one (if I do say so myself).  He coached my basketball teams to spend more time with me.  I coached baseball and basketball for my sons for 11 years.  In short, he was an excellent example for me.  He lived life with a smile.  He loved to learn new things every day, and was as happy to learn from books and journals as through conversations with people, including his own kids as we got older.

Every Father's Day from my birth to 1991 was for me a day entirely about my dad.  Just after Father's Day of 1991, my first child (Stephen) was born. The next Father's Day was the single one in my life that I got to experience as both a father and a son. Weeks later, my father passed away.  Since then, I'm the father on Father's Day.  But I'll never forget the 30 years of my life in which I was the son. Come to think of it, I still am.  My dad is still a very big influence on my life.

I miss you dad.  You are in my thoughts on this Father's Day – and every other day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Legislating Location for an Online World

The Location Privacy Protection Act

I’ve written about location tracking here before, back on April 22 and on May 3. I also wrote about voluntary location disclosure and my use of FourSquare on May 6.

There's now a bill in the senate that would require Apple, Google and others to do more notification and to get specific permission from users before sharing their location information more broadly.

Senators Al Franken (D, Minnesota), and Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut), proposed the Location Privacy Protection Act on June 15th, attempting to address collection, protection and distribution of information about users whose mobile devices use cell towers, WiFi, and GPS, and as a result involve location data.

It's worth noting that this is not a new topic.  Almost 10 years ago, then-Senator John Edwards introduced a bill named almost identically and dealing with some of the very same topics - before today's technology had us carrying smart phones!  It was very forward-looking.  Unfortunately, it never made it out of committee and so never came to a vote.

As I've said before, user location is really very interesting data.  It has value to you and it has value to those who want to sell you things.  It could allow you to get help with directions, it can allow businesses to do targeted marketing, and it can and does play a major role in first responder effectiveness. I’m interested in how to preserve a user’s privacy while still allowing for location-enabled services.  Serious discussion involving legislators, commercial interests, independent technologists, and privacy advocates seems like an important step.

Got an opinion?  Please post here!

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lulzed Into A False Sense of Security

LulzSec, the grand jester

Do you follow Internet security news? If not, this story may not have grabbed you yet, but I think it’s a story that’s getting to be big and interesting.

First, a little bit on the name. I’m not cool enough to have already known, so I had to look it up.  The term lulz seems to mean amusement at the expense of others. It is not the plural of "lol."

Making news in the Internet Security community these days is Lulz Security, or LulzSec, a hacking group that seems to be dedicated to creating chaos by hacking into big targets. They’ve bagged some pretty big game lately, including some law enforcement and federal government sites. But more of their targets have been online gaming companies.  In some attacks they merely deface web sites, in others they break into servers and get the user database, sometimes gaining real control by getting account credentials for privileged administrative accounts. Recently, they seem to have branched out into distributed denial of service attacks against a range of targets. 

There is a certain Robin Hood vibe, though, as so far there is no evidence that LulzSec has done anything to profit financially from the attacks.  Still, I don’t think they can really be called "White Hats" or ethical hackers since they aren’t simply finding vulnerabilities and responsibily reporting.  They are exploiting and causing downtime or defacement, all seemingly in the name of amusement.  But whatever else you might say about LulzSec, I think we have to admit that they seem to be expert and organized.

Keep an eye on the tech news to hear what’s happening and coming next from LulzSec.  

Do you have thoughts or opinions on LulzSec and their activities?  Do you know more about their activities than I posted here and want to share? Please post your thoughts and opinions here in the comments.


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Monday, June 13, 2011

Salsa With Your RFID Chips?

Thinking About Edible RFID

You've been hearing about RFID for at least a few years, right? Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) uses radio wave communication to transfer data between an RFID reader and an electronic RFID tag attached to an object to be tracked. The tags are very low cost and need no power source, so they are suitable for large scale tracking of low cost inventory.  

With that in mind, a student/researcher named Hannes Harms has developed an edible RFID chip, and envisions using it in a system to track the components of a meal and to report on its nutrition to software-based analysis systems.  It could even warn of dangers from food allergies. This system is called NutriSmart. 

If for the moment you grant that there is absolutely no harm in eating the tiny RFID chips, would you be interested in knowing about where your food has come from, getting warnings about possible allergic reactions or even just surprisingly high calories, or being able to more easily track your nutrition? If you had a choice between a salmon dinner with embedded RFID and one without for the same price, which would you choose? Please let us know by leaving your comments here.

Related Links:

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Friday, June 10, 2011

WWDC Keynote Announcements In Review

Didn’t make it to WWDC this year?  Neither did I.  But lots of good information has been making it’s way out and the following is an attempt to collect some high points in one place, based on my best current understanding.

MacOS 10.7 Lion
Three of the most striking new features are Mission Control, Launchpad and Auto Save.
  • Mission Control is a re-designed combination of Exposé and Spaces, with access to Dashboard thrown in. It seems to allow for the management of the desktop and running applications with more intuitive groupings.
  • Launchpad is an iOS-inspired application launch tool. A simple grid of applications available for quick launch may feel more natural to iOS users today, and may be the start of bridges being built between the two operating systems for the long term.
  • Auto Save is the clever name for the ability to automatically save open documents. Best of all, as it saves, it creates new versions so that reverting to previous versions is possible.

Here are a few of the 200 new iOS features that I think will matter (to me).
  •   PC Free is the new capability to own and manage an iOS device without having it tied to a Mac.  This seems perfect for casual users who don’t spend their days tied to a computer, but who could have a very satisfying experience with just an iPad or iPhone.  It’ll be interesting to see how well this works in the initial release.  I suspect some time will be needed to fully work this out.  But at least now I can get my mom an iPad.
  •   iMessage achieves a substantial upgrade to the original Messages app by adding an “i” to the front.  It also has many improvements, including group chats, and better media handling.
  •   Twitter integration allows for tweets from within the native iOS apps.  It’ll be interesting to see how well this works out, and whether Apple and Twitter continue down a path as allies.
  •   Reminders provides a way to manage lists and sync them through iCloud among many devices.  It also integrates with iCal and Outlook, so it could provide good access from non iOS devices, too. I plan to give this a serious look.
  •   Notification Center organizes many kinds of communication in one interface.  This seems like a trend.  Facebook is doing a bit of this, and it seems like Google flirted with this idea with Wave.

iCloud is disk space in the cloud with some great functionality layered on top.  It provides some DropBox-like functionality as a start, giving users an easy way to sync data among multiple devices and for many applications.  But for many people, the iTunes portion of iCloud is the most interesting.   The service will let you access content you’ve purchased from Apple from cloud storage, and through a paid service extension ($25/year) called iTunes Match, you can access up to 25,000 of your iTunes tracks on any of your mobile devices that use the same AppleID. This includes tracks ripped from CDs or acquired in just about any other way.  Pulling together your collection on cloud-based storage and making it available on multiple devices just might be a winner if enough fast reliable Internet bandwidth is available.


That’s what I understand about the big announcements at this point. Did I get some of this wrong?  Did I miss some of your favorite features or capabilities? Do you have more to add?  Please leave a comment!
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

World IPv6 Day

The Internet Must Grow And Change As Demand Explodes
This might not be "on your radar," but today is World IPv6 Day
Here's some quick background:  Devices on the Internet use unique numeric addresses as part of their communications.  Today we use IPv4 addresses, and the Internet is growing so fast that even though there are 2 raised to the 32nd power addresses we're running out of them.  IPv6 has 2 raised to the 128th power addresses.  That's a ridiculously large number, so it should allow for LOTS of devices to communicate.
On June 8th, Google, Yahoo, Facebook and many other companies and universities (including The University of Pennsylvania, my employer) will enable services natively on IPv6 and encourage user access.  It's an experiment in which the best outcome would be that nothing remarkable happens.  Users get to the content they want and probably don't notice that they've used IPv6.  Ideally, if they fail to connect that way, their systems will gracefully fall back to use of IPv4.
But in edge cases we'll learn about things that might go wrong.  And bit-heads like my co-workers and I who run big networks will look at traffic patterns and do some basic network analysis and try to learn something about a slow steady transition to IPv6 over the months and years to come.
There are web site on the internet that can help you to see if you're ready to participate in World IPv6 day.  One of them is:
How's World IPv6 Day going for you and the users around you?  Let us know in the comments.

Monday, June 6, 2011


WWDC Is All About iCloud

The big news at Apple WWDC 2011 today will be Steve Jobs delivering the message, and the message being iCloud.

MacOS 10.7 and iOS 5 are important elements, too, of course.  In fact, without them it's likely that the iCloud announcements wouldn't be possible.  Those operating systems will enable some of the best of iCloud.  But the newsmaker today and this week will be iCloud, something that I talked about in this blog back on May 9thMay 18th, and June 1st.

It's widely believed that Apple now has deals in place with all four of the major U.S.record labels and that this will make it possible for iCloud users to that content to mobile devices.  If Apple can manage it, now or in the near future, that functionality will extend to video content like television shows and movies. This content is already available on the iTunes store, but licensing to allow streaming is not a given.  There are also some practical barriers such as network capacity for the larger video media elements.  Will carrier networks be up to the task, or will this be initially a WiFi only capability?  And if and when carriers allow it, will our restrictive AT&T and Verizon data plans be sufficient to view anything but a few small clips?

What else will iCloud include?  Some possibilities in the rumor mill include subsuming MobileMe capabilities such as file synchronization across devices, user data backups (with a possible assist from Time Machine software and Time Capsule hardware), file sharing and collaboration in the style of Dropbox, advanced location services, and more.

RapidGroove will check in again on Wednesday to discuss the WWDC announcements, and then turn attention to other tech in the blogs to come.

  • Have a prediction on Apple WWDC keynote elements?  Please leave it here as a comment.  
  • Want to react after the keynote?  Leave those comments here, too.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Groupon Goes Public

From restaurants to pedicures to white-water adventures

Do you use Internet coupon services like Groupon and Living Social?  If you don’t, somebody you know probably does.  These services together have well over 50 million users in several hundred cities around the world.  They provide a very simple service – daily local coupons on the web or sent in email. 

The idea is that they achieve demand aggregation by getting the same coupon to a large number of people, driving substantial commerce to a particular business.  That business is happy to give a large discount to drive sales and build a customer base.

It’s a pretty simple idea that could be replicated fairly easily by newer businesses.  But Groupon got enough of a head start to become the big dog.  Yahoo offered $3M to acquire Groupon.  Google later offered $6M.  Groupon spurned them both.  Yesterday, Groupon announced plans for an IPO, which could help it to raise big money while staying independent.  This on the heels of a very successful IPO for the business social network, LinkedIn.

Google and Facebook both are hurrying to get in the game. Facebook Deals and Google Offers could leverage large user communities to get them a big share of this emerging space.  Groupon, though, has a big head start and what seems to be a faithful audience.

Does the Internet coupon idea seem like an idea whose time has come, or is it a fad?  Should the services work differently, such as more diversity in coupons, or perhaps discounts applied automatically when you pay directly from your smartphone?

Please share what you think about the online coupon space by adding your comments here.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Apple WWDC 2011

I had planned my June 1st blog entry to be speculation on the announcements to come in a few days at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco.  In what I think is a somewhat unusual move for them, though, Apple announced some of their plans early on Tuesday.  Maybe it’s an effort to take some control back since so much ink gets spent speculating on their next move.  Like in this blog post you’re reading right now!

To be fair, the things they announced were the things that most of us knew were coming.  The industry expects WWDC this year to include details of the major Apple Operating Systems – MacOS and iOS.  Developer releases and a set of coalescing rumors point the way to a few specifics.

MacOS 10.7 (Lion) is the next release of the MacOS operating system and is expected to have modest Finder updates including some organizing and launching tools inspired by iOS, some native application improvements in tools such as Mail, Address Book and iCal, and some facility enhancements such as a re-designed Spaces and Expose’.

iOS 5 is the next OS release for Apple's mobile devices (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad), and may include a significant new capability -- the ability to sync and upgrade over WiFi and carrier wireless networks.  It will also need to have some new capabilities to leverage the new iCloud service.  In related news, a newly updated iWork Suite for iPad and iPhone was also announced during the week leading up to WWDC.

The rumors about the upcoming iCloud service have been coming fast and furious, partly fueled by Apple's major ramp up of a massive east coast data center, partly fueled by recent changes in terms and pricing on Apple's current MobileMe service.  iCloud could be the successor to the MobileMe cloud storage service, but that may be just the beginning.  Like recent offerings from Google and Amazon, iCloud is likely to include the ability to store and stream media to mobile devices.  Unlike those services, iCloud may allow more advanced functionality, such as the ability to scan your media library and rapidly make high quality versions of those media files available without uploading, thanks to Apple's deals with most or all of the major record labels.  Similar handling of television and movie content would be a bonus.

WWDC is first and foremost a software event. A significant hardware announcement this year seems unlikely.  Mac hardware updates tend to come throughout the year, and a new iPad was announced only a few months ago.  So the biggest speculation is still around the iPhone.  After all, there is some history of iPhone announcements at WWDC.  But this is probably the year that the faithful get disappointed. Back on April 13th, I blogged on why Apple probably will not announce a new iPhone.  I'm still betting that we get no iPhone news during June, and instead get a new iPhone in the fall.

A longshot hardware announcement could be a hybrid device that looks something like a MacBook Air but that runs iOS.  This would be a lightweight device with a keyboard, modest processor and storage, and a lower price point than today's MacBook Air. 

In summary, I think we'll hear plenty about iOS and MacOS, I think the big news will be about iCloud, and I think we'll get little if any hardware news.

What do you think?  Please share your comments here.