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The Decline of Free Software As a Failure of Leadership and Relevance

August 18, 2016

The article on Datamation titled 7 Reasons Why Free Software Is Losing Influence investigates some of the causes for the major slowdown in FOSS (free and open software software). The article lays much of the blame at the feet of the leader of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Richard Stallman. In spite of his major contributions to the free software movement, he is prickly and occasionally drops Joe Biden-esque gaffes detrimental to his cause. He also has an issue when it comes to sticking to his message and making his cause relevant. The article explains,

“Over the last few years, Richard Stallman has denounced cloud computinge-bookscell phones in general, and Android in particular. In each case, Stallman has raised issues of privacy and consumer rights that others all too often fail to mention. The trouble is, going on to ignore these new technologies solves nothing, and makes the free software movement more irrelevant in people’s lives. Many people are attracted to new technologies, and others are forced to use them because others are.”

In addition to Stallman’s difficult personality, which only accounts for a small part of the decline in the FSF’s influence, the article also has other suggestions. Perhaps most importantly, the FSF is a tiny company without the resources to achieve its numerous goals like sponsoring the GNU Project, promoting social activism, and running campaigns against DRM and Windows.
 

Chelsea Kerwin, August 18, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden /Dark Web meet up on August 23, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233019199/

 

More Data to Fuel Debate About Malice on Tor

June 9, 2016

The debate about malicious content on Tor continues. Ars Technica published an article continuing the conversation about Tor and the claims made by a web security company that says 94 percent of the requests coming through the network are at least loosely malicious. The article CloudFlare: 94 percent of the Tor traffic we see is “per se malicious” reveals how CloudFlare is currently handling Tor traffic. The article states,

“Starting last month, CloudFlare began treating Tor users as their own “country” and now gives its customers four options of how to handle traffic coming from Tor. They can whitelist them, test Tor users using CAPTCHA or a JavaScript challenge, or blacklist Tor traffic. The blacklist option is only available for enterprise customers. As more websites react to the massive amount of harmful Web traffic coming through Tor, the challenge of balancing security with the needs of legitimate anonymous users will grow. The same network being used so effectively by those seeking to avoid censorship or repression has become a favorite of fraudsters and spammers.”

Even though the jury may still be out in regards to the statistics reported about the volume of malicious traffic, several companies appear to want action sooner rather than later. Amazon Web Services, Best Buy and Macy’s are among several sites blocking a majority of Tor exit nodes. While a lot seems unclear, we can’t expect organizations to delay action.

 

Megan Feil, June 9, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Extensive Cultural Resources Available at Europeana Collections

May 17, 2016

Check out this valuable cultural archive, highlighted by Open Culture in the piece, “Discover Europeana Collections, a Portal of 48 Million Free Artworks, Books, Videos, Artifacts & Sounds from across Europe.” Writer Josh Jones is clearly excited about the Internet’s ability to place information and artifacts at our fingertips, and he cites the Europeana Collections as the most extensive archive he’s discovered yet. He tells us the works are:

“… sourced from well over 100 institutions such as The European Library, Europhoto, the National Library of Finland, University College Dublin, Museo Galileo, and many, many more, including contributions from the public at large. Where does one begin?

“In such an enormous warehouse of cultural history, one could begin anywhere and in an instant come across something of interest, such as the the stunning collection of Art Nouveau posters like that fine example at the top, ‘Cercle Artstique de Schaerbeek,’ by Henri Privat-Livemont (from the Plandiura Collection, courtesy of Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalynya, Barcelona). One might enter any one of the available interactive lessons and courses on the history of World War I or visit some of the many exhibits on the period, with letters, diaries, photographs, films, official documents, and war propaganda. One might stop by the virtual exhibit, ‘Photography on a Silver Plate,’ a fascinating history of the medium from 1839-1860, or ‘Recording and Playing Machines,’ a history of exactly what it sounds like, or a gallery of the work of Swiss painter Jean Antoine Linck. All of the artifacts have source and licensing information clearly indicated.”

Jones mentions the archive might be considered “endless,” since content is being added faster than anyone could hope to keep up with.  While such a wealth of information and images could easily overwhelm a visitor, he advises us to look at it as an opportunity for discovery. We concur.

 

Cynthia Murrell, May 17, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Google Relies on Freebase Machine ID Numbers to Label Images in Knowledge Graph

May 3, 2016

The article on Seo by the Sea titled Image Search and Trends in Google Search Using FreeBase Entity Numbers explains the transformation occurring at Google around Freebase Machine ID numbers. Image searching is a complicated business when it comes to differentiating labels. Instead of text strings, Google’s Knowledge Graph is based in Freebase entities, which are able to uniquely evaluate images- without language. The article explains with a quote from Chuck Rosenberg,

An entity is a way to uniquely identify something in a language-independent way. In English when we encounter the word “jaguar”, it is hard to determine if it represents the animal or the car manufacturer. Entities assign a unique ID to each, removing that ambiguity, in this case “/m/0449p” for the former and “/m/012×34” for the latter.”

Metadata is wonderful stuff, isn’t it? The article concludes by crediting Barbara Starr, a co-administrator of the Lotico San Diego Semantic Web Meetup, with noticing that the Machine ID numbers assigned to Freebase entities now appear in Google Trend’s URLs. Google Trends is a public web facility that enables an exploration of the hive mind by showing what people are currently searching. The Wednesday that President Obama nominated a new Supreme Court Justice, for example, had the top search as Merrick Garland.

 

Chelsea Kerwin, May 3, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Innovation Is Not Reheated Pizza. Citation Analysis Is Still Fresh Pizza.

April 22, 2016

Do you remember Eugene Garfield? He was the go to person in the field of citation analysis. The jargon attached to his figuring out how to identify who cited what journal article snagged old school jargon like bibliometrics. Dr. Garfield founded the Institute for Scientific Information. He sold ISI to Thomson (now Thomson Reuters) in 1992. I mention this because this write up explains an “innovation” which strikes me as recycled Garfield.

image

Navigate to “Who’s Hot in Academia? Semantic Scholar Dives More Deeply into the Data.” The write up explains:

If you’re in the “publish-or-perish” game, get ready to find out how you score in acceleration and velocity. Get ready to find out who influences your work, and whom you influence, all with the click of a mouse. “We give you the tools to slice and dice to figure out what you want,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, a.k.a. AI2.

My recollection is that there were a number of information professionals who could provide these type of data to me decades ago. Let’s see if I can recall some of the folks who could wrangle these types of outputs from the pre-Cambridge Scientific Abstracts version of Dialog:

  • Marydee Ojala, former information wrangler at the Bank of America and now editor of Online
  • Barbara Quint, founder of Searcher and a darned good online expert
  • Riva Basch, who lived a short distance from me in Berkeley, California, when I did my time in Sillycon Valley
  • Ann Mintz, former information wrangler at Forbes before the content marketing kicked in
  • Ruth Pagell, once at the Wharton Library and then head of the business library at Emory University.

And there were others.

The system described in the write up makes certain types of queries easier. That’s great, but it is hardly the breathless revolution which caught the attention of the article.

In my experience, it takes a sharp online specialist to ask the correct question and then determine if the outputs are on the money. Easier does not translate directly into accurate outputs. Is the set of journals representative for a particular field; for example, thorium reactor technology. What about patent documents? What about those crazy PDF versions of pre-publication research?

I know my viewpoint shocks the mobile device generation. Try to look beyond software that does the thinking for the user. Ignoring who did what, how, when, and why puts some folks in a disadvantaged viewshed. (Don’t recognize the terms. Well, look it up. It’s just a click away, right?) And, recognize that today’s innovations are often little more than warmed over pizza. The user experience I have had with reheated pizza is that it is often horrible.

Stephen E Arnold, April 22, 2016

The Missing Twitter Manual Located

April 7, 2016

Once more we turn to the Fuzzy Notepad’s advice and their Pokémon mascot, Evee.  This time we visited the fuzz pad for tips on Twitter.  The 140-character social media platform has a slew of hidden features that do not have a button on the user interface.  Check out “Twitter’s Missing Manual” to read more about these tricks.

It is inconceivable for every feature to have a shortcut on the user interface.   Twitter relies on its users to understand basic features, while the experienced user will have picked up tricks that only come with experience or reading tips on the Internet.  The problem is:

“The hard part is striking a balance. On one end of the spectrum you have tools like Notepad, where the only easter egg is that pressing F5 inserts the current time. On the other end you have tools like vim, which consist exclusively of easter eggs.

One of Twitter’s problems is that it’s tilted a little too far towards the vim end of the scale. It looks like a dead-simple service, but those humble 140 characters have been crammed full of features over the years, and the ways they interact aren’t always obvious. There are rules, and the rules generally make sense once you know them, but it’s also really easy to overlook them.”

Twitter is a great social media platform, but a headache to use because it never came with an owner’s manual.  Fuzzy notepad has lined up hint for every conceivable problem, including the elusive advanced search page.

 

Whitney Grace, April 7, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

Netflix Algorithm Defaults To “White” Content, Sweeps Diversity Under the Rug

April 1, 2016

The article Marie Claire titled Blackflix; How Netflix’s Algorithm Exposes Technology’s Racial Bias, delves into the racial ramifications of Netflix’s much-lauded content recommendation algorithm. Many users may have had strange realizations about themselves or their preferences due to collisions with the system that the article calls “uncannily spot-on.” To sum it up: Netflix is really good at showing us what we want to watch, but only based on what we have already watched. When it comes to race, sexuality, even feminism (how many movies have I watched in the category “Movies With a Strong Female Lead?”), Netflix stays on course by only showing you similarly diverse films to what you have already selected. The article states,

“Or perhaps I could see the underlying problem, not in what we’re being shown, but in what we’re not being shown. I could see the fact that it’s not until you express specific interest in “black” content that you see how much of it Netflix has to offer. I could see the fact that to the new viewer, whose preferences aren’t yet logged and tracked by Netflix’s algorithm, “black” movies and shows are, for the most part, hidden from view.”

This sort of “default” suggests quite a lot about what Netflix has decided to put forward as normal or inoffensive content. To be fair, they do stress the importance of logging preferences from the initial sign up, but there is something annoying about the idea that there are people who can live in a bubble of straight, white, (or black and white) content. There are among those people some who might really enjoy and appreciate a powerful and relevant film like Fruitvale Station. If it wants to stay current, Netflix needs to show more appreciation or even awareness of its technical bias.

Chelsea Kerwin, April 1, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

More Amazing Factoids: US Government Web Sites Best Amazon and Google in User Satisfaction

March 22, 2016

I read “Government Websites Best Amazon, Google in User Satisfaction.” From the write up generated by “real” journalist at a “real” media outfit, I learned:

By one measure, a well-established gauge of user satisfaction, the government actually beats out many of the top business sites on the Web, including perennial consumer favorites Amazon, Expedia and Google.

Where doth the datum originate? Well, the hardly annoying pop up survey outfit ForeSee. According to the write up:

ForeSee evaluates websites on a 100-point customer-satisfaction scale, looking at a variety of factors like search, functionality and ease of navigation. The firm also focuses on outcomes, such as the likelihood that users would return to the site or recommend it to others.

Now for the data:

… 36 percent of the 101 websites ForeSee evaluated in the fourth quarter of 2015 notched scores of 80 or above, what the firm deems as the threshold where websites are “meeting or exceeding the standards of excellence for highly satisfied visitors.” That mark was up from 30 percent in the first quarter of the year. Leading the pack were four websites maintained by the Social Security Administration. Two SSA sites scored 90 on ForeSee’s satisfaction index, and two others scored 89. For comparison, Amazon netted an 86 on the same index. Vanguard.com came in at 80, followed by Google (78), Pinterest (78), Expedia (77) and NYTimes.com (76).

I have added some bold face to make it easier to see the slam dunk the US government Web sites are putting in the face of Team Traffic.

Wow, up from 30% in a matter of months. The Social Security Administration must be doing something right. A couple of questions:

  • Does the SSA site support remembering certain passwords for users or do some must have functions lose the state of certain users?
  • Has foot traffic at Social Security offices declined because the SSA Web sites are satisfying such a large percentage of users?
  • Are the SSA Web sites integrated, or are disparate systems, including mainframes, still generating content for internal reports and public Web queries?

Well, the write up focuses on the lousy job some consumer centric sites are doing with user satisfaction. Are we comparing apples and oranges, or is this just a convenient way to reward some good government clients and remind the most used Web sites that some folks don’t like the modern Web?

No answers, but I am sure some of the university-inspired wizards at ForeSee will have logical, but glib, answers.

By the way, what’s the traffic at the four best Web sites doing in the same time period? My information suggests that traffic to US government Web sites is not booming because the US government Web sites have not made the transitions required to deal with the growing base of users with mobile devices.

Stephen E Arnold, March 22, 2016

ISIS Exploits User-Friendly Encryption Apps to Plan and Recruit

March 21, 2016

The article on Discovery News titled ISIS Taps Dark Web, Encryption Apps to Coordinate discusses the news that ISIS orchestrated the Paris terrorist attacks using encrypted messaging apps. The big social media companies like Google and Facebook enable an encryption method they call “perfect forward secrecy,” which lacks any sort of master key or backdoor. The article explains other systems,

“Extremist groups are even using messaging services found on Play Station 4 gaming consoles, a favorite of young male jihadis who particularly like “Call of Duty,” according to Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute, a group that monitors social media by extremist groups…Of particular concern is Telegram, a relatively new instant messaging app designed in Russia that has recently been upgraded to allow more secure communications by groups.”

The article points out that most of these techniques are intuitive, designed for regular people. Their exploitation by ISIS is due to their user-friendliness and the difficulty of interception. Rather than trying to crack the codes, some analysts believe that reverting to good old-fashioned methods like spies and informants may be the best answer to ISIS’s use of Western technology.

 

Chelsea Kerwin, March 21, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

The Gameification of Enterprise Software

March 18, 2016

Stop the presses! Enterprise software is becoming more like interfaces for consumer software. Some enterprise software systems include game like interfaces.

What makes these startling factoids interesting is that individuals working in enterprises seem to have formed the survey sample.

Navigate to “Survey: How UX Is Transforming Enterprise Software” for an amazing glimpse into the remarkable research conducted, it appears, by an outfit called Tech Pro. The authors of this write up do not include sample demographics, sample size, survey methodology. I found it fairly easy to identify some possible flaws in the survey data because the information presented is not really about user interface or, sorry, UX. I pulled three findings from the article. Ponder these brilliant insights.l

Anyone who has checked out interfaces to enterprise software tuned for mobile devices knows that the much loved green screen is not too popular.

Professionals working in enterprises report that 69 percent of the respondent use enterprise software. No word on what type of software the other 31 percent of the respondents use. Perhaps the fact one uses software provided by an enterprise to those working for the enterprise do not use software at all?

Want another stunner? Check this finding:

Databases, storage and human resources were the most popular business functions towards which companies are using or considering enterprise software, however mobility was also cited as a strong category for future deployments.

In 2016 enterprises use databases, storage devices, and “human resources”. I did not know this. I thought that those working in enterprises rode unicorns and communicated by tossing fairy dust in the air to form glittering smoke signal-like utterances.

I loved this finding too:

Difficult [sic] of implementation, problems with/inability to integrate with enterprise applications and poor vendor support/tutorials/training were three most commonly chosen reasons for dissatisfaction with enterprise software.

Difficult I assume is preferable to the word difficulty. I thought that people who did not know how to use software were thrilled with sitting in training classes learning how to perform a link analysis using data pulled from an IBM AS/400 running Ironworks. The slashes are really helpful too.

If the summary entices you, you may, gentle reader, request the entire report. Just follow the link in the source article to the December 2015 study. I elected to admire the excellence of the write up. Too much good stuff in one sitting is bad for my mental digestion.

Stephen E Arnold, March 18, 2016

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