Archive for July 2007

StumbleDigg: Should I change to get more attention?

Several times a quarter someone “diggs” or inserts into Stumbleupon one of my blog posts. The ensuing spike in pageviews is astounding and have ranged from a 100% to a 3,000% increase in average daily pageviews for the times a particular post is “active”.

As such, I’ve often thought that I could easily shift the focus of my energy on driving traffic. Provocative blog post titles, compelling and targeted copy to Apple fanboys (for example) and other ways to grab attention would be pretty easy for me to do.

That would defeat the purpose of this blog. This is a container for me to think out loud and connect the dots, publish stuff I care about, build a personal brand and simply to be in the game and the conversation. If I began to whore myself out just to get traffic, it would deter me from those reasons.

I can see the quandary traditional media finds themselves in as attention is diverted from their commercial publications to the millions of other places that are screaming for it. They can’t do a whole lot for free and thus have to balance trying to scream for attention without devolving in to yet another rag to put in the bottom of a bird cage or with which to wrap fish.

Since I don’t need to generate a nickel from this blog, I can do whatever I feel like — which includes trying to focus on the high road instead of taking that low road — and focus on building value for myself and anyone who stops by to read.

iPhone activation = AT&T long distance on landline?

If you recently activated an iPhone, let me know in the comments if this (or other unusual interactions with AT&T) has happened to you. In today’s mail at home came a statement from AT&T for April 20th-July 19th for long distance on my home phone line. We NEVER use landline long distance since between our mobile lines, a Vonage line and Skype we have absolutely no use for the continued price gouging of landline telephony. In fact, we have specifically requested Qwest to place no long distance carrier on our home line.

Normally I’m not paranoid, but it’s curious this happened after my post-iPhone-activation adventures trying to get AT&T Wireless to set up my account correctly. From an alleged “inadvertent” placing of $2.99 per month for roadside assistance on my account (we have AAA as well as free assistance on both of our cars and would never sign up for this) to text messaging on the wrong family plan number to the wrong number of minutes, I’ve been coming to the realization that this company couldn’t find their ass with both hands.

The customer service guy I talked to in India reassured me that “it is just a coincidence” though my account activation included my home phone number and, of course, all other requisite data that this other area of AT&T could use to simply add-on charges.

I learned many, many years ago this one simple fact: there are no coincidences.

Are you *still* naked in a coffee shop?

Chris Pirillo’s Lockergnome email newsletter had a link to this article Travelers Who Use Laptop Computers: Beware and it made me realize that there are now even more people accessing Wifi hotspots than ever before and most of you are naked.

Back in January of 2005 I wrote “Are you naked?” as a post that had this paragraph in it:

Security is an issue other than just at home…but it’s an underreported problem in internet cafes or public places that leave their networks wide open so it’s easy to get on them. Without a company Virtual Private Network (VPN) for your personal laptop, or some way to create a Secure Shell (SSH) to another computer for a secure tunnel, you’re vulnerable to prying eyes (email passwords go in the clear, etc.).

The latest discussions about the iPhone “hack” (which I posted about a couple of days ago here) is bringing more attention to the inherent insecurity of Wifi hotspots. While I know exactly what to do to ensure I and my loved ones have secure access when in a public hotspot, literally everyone else I know is completely clueless.

Case in point: while at the Web 2.0 Summit last October, I mentioned to several conference organizers that there were a significant number of ad hoc wireless networks setup (where a person sets up their laptop to act like a wireless access point) with names like “Free Wifi” or “Summit Wireless Access” placing attendees in jeopardy of nakedly exposing their data.  One conference leader who shall remain unnamed said, “Steve, of any group of people this one especially shouldn’t be stupid enough to connect to an ad hoc network.” You know what? In my informal poll of 20 people while there, every one of them had attempted to connect to one of these ad hoc networks since the main conference access point was either slow or they couldn’t get connected to it.

The good news? There are specific things you can do to make certain you’re secure when accessing a public hotspot.

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Heat, Power and Web 2.0

This summer has been a scorcher across the world. Here in Minnesota it’s been in the 90’s consistently and the drought is horrendous. I haven’t seen it this bad in my lifetime. In fact, the Earth’s temperature for the first six months of the year was the second-warmest ever recorded.

Yesterday’s power outage in San Francisco — which knocked out several high profile Web 2.0 sites as well as this blog for hours since it brought down Six Apart, Typepad’s owner — may be indicative of what we should brace ourselves for going forward.

How are these two related?

There is an increasing demand for power at the same time global weather patterns are changing. In the same way that the desert Southwest of the United States and other oppressively hot regions in the world have been settled in no small way due to air conditioning, the demands on our crumbling power grid (via GigaOM) are increasing. Burgeoning information technology services, an acceleration in building with air conditioning to cool our sweltering bodies (though that has slowed recently), are all rising concurrently with a global growth in population which alone will drive demand for power.

My bride and I are enamored with Scottsdale and have been seriously considering a second home there. We’re second-guessing that decision when I analyze water issues there, consider those issues within the context of global warming, and continue to scratch my head over how a growing desert Southwest can possibly support an exploding population with water (this article at CNet about sums up what I’ve experienced and am thinking through).

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Questionable iPhone ‘hack’…unless you’re a bonehead

NEWS FLASH: If someone steals your iPhone, they can see all your contacts and make calls and send SMS messages on your account.

Apparently there is a new iPhone hack that allows hackers to take control of an iPhone and send off personal data residing in the iPhone memory — but it’s about as big a threat as having your iPhone stolen and I assume you keep control of your $500-$600 device. Upon seeing a link to this New York Times article, I was initially and instantly concerned and thought “Oh, that’s just great….the first security problem with the iPhone.” until I read it thoroughly.

Upon reading the site Exploiting the iPhone, I thought “What’s the fuss all about?”  The exploit is delivered via the Safari browser on the iPhone but the risks seem quite low. Read these three points very, very carefully before you get too excited or concerned about this so-called exploit:

1) An attacker controlled wireless access point: Because the iPhone learns access points by name (SSID), if a user ever gets near an attacker-controlled access point with the same name (and encryption type) as an access point previously trusted by the user, the iPhone will automatically use the malicious access point. This allows the attacker to add the exploit to any web page browsed by the user by replacing the requested page with a page containing the exploit.

2) A misconfigured forum website: If a web forum’s software is not configured to prevent users from including potentially dangerous data in their posts, an attacker could cause the exploit to run in any iPhone browser that viewed the thread. (This would require some slight changes in our proof of concept exploit, however.)

3) A link delivered via e-mail or SMS: If an attacker can trick a user into opening a website that the attacker controls, the attacker can easily embed the exploit into the main page of the website.

Are these real possibilities? Yes, but remote unless an iPhone user is a complete bonehead. Most forums disallow HTML in forum posts because of malicious stuff being put in and links in emails from those you don’t know should NOT be clicked on (and if you DO click on them, DON’T ANYMORE). Spurious links in SMS are rare, and who is getting spam SMS messages anyway?

Of course, I suppose most people are so naive and inexperienced that perhaps they don’t think critically about security online and I guess those of us more savvy have to protect them against themselves. I just don’t see the threat being all that big a deal unless you’re with that group of security researchers at Independent Security Evaluators who uncovered the ‘exploit’ and are certain to have done it to gain attention (which they got….thank you New York Times).

Smart Mobs and the 2008 Presidential Election

Dunn Brothers Coffee in Eden Prairie, MN (click for larger view)

This photo is one I *just* snapped on my iPhone and emailed to my blog (a super secret email address let’s me simply email it and it goes live immediately). It’s my favorite coffee shop in an old historic farmhouse (with fast Wifi too!).

What I’ve been thinking about is the upcoming 2008 Republican convention right here in Minneapolis and what millions of iPhones in the hands of bloggers and social nerworkers will mean to the capture and delivery of news about the convention. Moblogging (mobile blogging) with this phone is easier than any smartphone I’ve ever used previously and thus will accelerate the number of people able to do it.

Add to it instant moblogging live streaming video (e.g. uStream) and the amount of real-time perspective will be staggering — and healthy as hell for our democracy which has been under the shadow of a super secret administration for seven years.

Will you take your iPhone or laptop?

With my Dad in the hospital after surgery for the next 6-8 days, I’ve been spending a lot of time there. Thankfully they have free Wifi and I’ve taken my laptop along so I can get stuff done during down times or when he’s sleeping.

Yesterday I took only my iPhone. Getting it connected to the hospital Wifi was incredibly easy and when I came back later in the day I took only it and not my laptop. This got me to thinking about how many times I’d hoped for a smartphone (like my Treo 700p) which could’ve functioned as a laptop replacement for those trips or outings where I would’ve preferred to not take my briefcase with a 6 pound computer in it.

I’m not suggesting that I can be anywhere near as productive with a smartphone as I can with a laptop…especially one where I can also boot up Windows (in Parallels) and use that OS too. I use Photoshop, InDesign, Powerpoint and Keynote, Word, Excel and many other applications where screen real estate is key. But as more of my life migrates to the Web — as I’m certain yours is too — having such an easy to use device as the iPhone is critical.

I expect a triangulation to occur soon that will make the iPhone even more productive. There will be a middle man between the iPhone, the desktop and the cloud (i.e., the Internet) called an actually and finally useful .Mac service. Since it’s been laughingly simplistic for only the most newbie Mac user or family, having Steve Jobs publically say that Apple will “make up for lost time” with a new .Mac service, I expect a lot will happen. Perhaps I’ll be able to access my files and folders, use Google Docs and Spreadsheets in some sort of unified fashion, sync the iPhone with my digital life and feed the dog.

The Internet and a Graying World

My posting has been light since my 94 year old father-in-law has been living with us — after a fall and before he transitions to assisted living — and now my 81 year old dad is going in for major colon surgery tomorrow. I’m honored to be serving these two men and have been doing so with a lightness in my heart and a lot of love and expect it to consume my summer.

This time serving our dad’s has been a profound learning experience on many levels. Since I write about technology and the meaning behind it, I’m not going to leap into the spiritual aspects, a discussion about honoring our elders or even how I’m worried I won’t capture their stories on audio or video, but instead about the macro trends of a graying world.

An experience like mine makes me think deeply about mortality, aging, and my work (Internet and Web centric management consulting) and what it means when a HUGE part of the Internet-centric market are Seniors with the time, inclination and interest — not to mention a higher net worth than any generation in history — embrace the Internet.  All of us in the Web/Enterprise 2.0 game need to figure out how to cater to this group of folks.

This is NOT just a US-centric phenomena…it’s a global graying one. The National Institute of Aging produced this report Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective which provides a succinct description of population trends that are transforming the world in fundamental ways. The report, using data from the United Nations, US Census Bureau, and the Statistical Office of the European Communities as well as regional surveys, identifies nine emerging trends in global aging and starts off like this:

We are aging, not just as individuals or communities but as a world. In 2006, almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 and older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to 1 billion–1 in every 8 of the earth’s inhabitants. Significantly, the most rapid increases in the 65-and-older population are occurring in developing countries, which will see a jump of 140 percent by 2030.

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AT&T, Healthcare and the iPhone

You may be wondering, “Borsch…what does AT&T, Healthcare and the iPhone have in common?” Two are complex and require enormous study to figure out what you’re buying, and the third has made heretofore complex processes brain-dead-simple.

After activating my iPhone on a family plan, I wanted to add the second one for my daughter (who works at an Apple Store but is too new to get the free one promised by Steve Jobs to all employees). It was difficult to add the second line so I had to call AT&T. I’ve now spent three total hours in one week on the phone with AT&T customer service getting the account straightened out and features locked down correctly.

Thinking about adding yet a third iPhone for my bride who travels outside the country often, determining International rates, understanding how and why they slapped that “Roadside Assistance feature” on my account for $2.99 per month per iPhone, and why there are just so damn many moving parts with mobile telephony accounts is beyond me (actually it’s not. They’re purposely confusing us since it’s easier to get people to pay for things they don’t need this way).

This feels like asking the price of colonoscopy which I did this week. This procedure was recommended by my Doc now that my Dad has issues in his colon, there are hereditary risk factors, but people at healthcare facilities chuckle at you when you ask for the discounted rates (the ones that they give insurance companies). My high deductible health plan means *I* am paying for the procedure and thus I want to know how much it will cost. The status quo hospitals, specialists and clinics don’t want consumers for God’s sake asking how much stuff costs and I’ve yet to get anyone to tell me their rates.

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