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Predicting the Future is Too Often a Swing-and-a-Miss

Baseball is a good metaphor for predicting the future. Sometimes you hit a home run, often a single or double, and too frequently a swing-and-a-miss.

This morning I was digging through an old research folder on my computer and came across something I’d downloaded from CompuServe‘s news headlines from March 1, 1996. This “internet forecast” was vague enough to get some things right, but otherwise was wrong on many accounts.

I’d been on CompuServe since the early 1990s and was eager to learn everything I could about this new thing called the “Internet.” I followed every single tidbit of information, leading up to The Big Trip to Germany that I took with my father in the summer of 1997 when, on that trip, publishing to the internet changed the course of my career and life in ways I never expected.

What I think is accurate in the 1995 press release below:

  • Internet had to be mainstream
  • Had to be intuitive and easy to use
  • Connective advertising did grow exponentially

What was missed:

  • Web site consolidation? Um…not really. In 1996 websites began to explode on to the web.
  • Phone companies were NOT a good bet for delivering the internet.
  • Self-regulation almost never works since companies are out for themselves and their shareholders.

Other than that it was a pretty solid vision and worth a read, but it illustrates how any prediction of the future should always be taken with a grain-of-salt. Enjoy and check out the bonus video below.

Headline: INTERNET FORECAST FOR 1996: COMMENTS BY NEW MEDIA …
Wire Service: PR (PR Newswire)
Date: Fri, Mar 1, 1996

INTERNET FORECAST FOR 1996: COMMENTS BY NEW MEDIA VISIONARY AL SIKES

NEW YORK, March 1 /PRNewswire/ — This week, at Jupiter Communications’ Consumer Online Services III, Al Sikes, President, Hearst New Media & Technology, presented his future vision for the Internet. This keynote speech kicks off a briefings campaign between Mr. Sikes and the press regarding the future of the Internet. In his remarks, Mr. Sikes outlined the demise of the World Wide Web as we know it today and predicted the rise of a “sensory-led” medium, one that is driven by creative people who will push multimedia artistry to new heights. His major points are highlighted below.

  • Easy access and customized solutions will drive success. While today’s Internet is primarily populated by techno-savvy “early adopters,” its future depends on attracting mainstream Americans. “Early adopters are prepared to work for what they want,” explained Mr. Sikes. “Later adopters will demand that it be easy.” To survive, companies must hone their editorial vision and provide added value services through “smart” software and personalized applications. “At HomeArts, Hearst’s popular Web network for the home and home life, our challenge is to give every HomeArts user a personal experience. If we are to earn that trust, our evolution must include ‘intuitive software’ that will shape users’ daily package of news, information and entertainment,” explained Mr. Sikes.
  • “Connective” advertising will grow exponentially. The explosion of company Web sites and commercial content providers spells huge opportunities for the advertising community. “In virtually all media, there is a symbiotic relationship between telling stories and advertising; this medium will be no different,” explained Mr. Sikes. In response, advertising agencies must adjust. “The industry will become tiered,” predicted Mr. Sikes. “There will be a tier that ‘gets it’ and a tier that doesn’t.”
  • Web sites will consolidate. In 1995, a handful of commercial content sites built a following. In 1996, there will probably be some consolidation among content providers, with the number of small niche sites dwindling or seeking strategic hot links with the larger ones.
  • Phone companies will deliver digital technology to the home. Spurred by the advent of “cable modems,” the phone companies will begin to deliver on their long but dormant promise to bring digital technology to the home. “While I am rooting for both phone and cable companies to contemporaneously shower us with bandwidth, I am more inclined to bet on the phone companies, or maybe phone-cable combinations,” predicted Mr. Sikes. The eleven largest telephone companies’ 1995 cash flow approached $30 billion. The cable industry’s cash flow, while significant, is small by comparison.
  • Constructive self regulation will override government intervention. In 1995, the top industry debate in Washington was censorship. In 1996, the issue will be privacy. And just as the industry fought censorship initiatives, it too will oppose overarching government restrictions in the privacy domain. “Nothing hurts entrepreneurial industries more than an enforced, day-by-day partnership with the government,” said Mr. Sikes. Instead, the industry will push for constructive self-regulation. “The increasing importance of the Web points to the need for an industry approach.”

About Alfred C. Sikes
Prior to joining Hearst New Media & Technology in 1993, Al Sikes served as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. From 1986 to 1989, Mr. Sikes was Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), responsible for the NTIA TELECOM 2000 report, a seminal U.S. communications policy assessment. Mr. Sikes is a graduate of Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri and the University of Missouri Law School.

About the Company
HomeArts (http://homearts.com) is owned by New York-based Hearst New Media & Technology, a division of Hearst Corporation. In business since 1993, Hearst New Media & Technology builds online networks and multimedia CD-ROM titles. These products leverage the company’s existing brands and expertise to create new audiences valuable to advertisers and other content providers. In addition to the HomeArts network, Hearst’s current releases include In Full Bloom: Great Home Gardens, Country Living Style, Chapman’s Hands-On Powerboating, Popular Mechanics Car Guide, Comic Creator and Multimedia Newsstand (http://mmnewsstand.com).

Hearst New Media & Technology is located at 4 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10019. Phone: 212-649-2700; fax 212-977-3845. -0- 3/1/96 /
CONTACT: (redacted)
Copyright 1996 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

Bonus

Here is another 1995 vision video from one of those phone companies, AT&T:

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Supreme Court Rules Police Need a Warrant to Track Our Mobile Phones

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a search warrant in order to get access to cellphone location information.

This is HUGE and a big win for anyone who cares about intrusive, mass, warrantless surveillance that is, by any measure, illegal searches and (data) seizures.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the “liberal” justices (ones I instead use the adjective “strategic” to describe). This National Public Radio (NPR) story In Major Privacy Win, Supreme Court Rules Police Need Warrant To Track Your Cellphone put it succinctly:

The majority declared that the Fourth Amendment guarantees an expectation of privacy and that allowing police to obtain moment-by-moment tracking of an individual’s cellphone location is a kind of surveillance that the framers of the Constitution did not want to occur without a search warrant.

The chief justice said that this sort of tracking information is akin to wearing an electronic ankle-bracelet monitoring device and that the citizens of the country are protected from that kind of monitoring unless police can show a judge that there is probable cause of a crime that justifies it.

After the 2014 Edward Snowden revelations about mass, warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens — which was being performed by the signal intelligence focused National Security Agency (NSA) — was an enormous concern both domestically and internationally as the NSA’s clear mission was to focus only on foreign signal intelligence while excluding spying on American citizens. The outcry domestically and internationally reached a fever pitch…but little was revealed on what was being done to stop mass, warrantless surveillance.

Then some of Snowden’s document releases were published and it was revealed that all of this vacuumed-up data had a “Google-like search engine” that could be used to scour all data for an individual or group. Somehow the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other law enforcement agencies were being provided with data that couldn’t be challenged in court due to “national security concerns” so the extent of data being swept-up has never been completely understood.

The bottom line? The accelerating “surveillance State” was already out of control and Congress seemingly turned a blind eye toward it and extended its capability.

Though it has taken too many years for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the Constitutionality of warrantless surveillance, the explosion in law enforcement’s use of cellphone tracking devices like Stingray, meant that warrantless tracking by police agencies was low-hanging-fruit for the court to address.

In my mind it’s too little, too late…but it’s a start.

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Is This a Scam by Symantec?

Can’t help but think that “Norton by Symantec” is trying to scare the beejeesus out of website owners with something that sure smells like a scam to me…or at least a really spammy marketing effort to bolster their contact lists.

One of my businesses, Innov8Press, recently began rebuilding a long-time client’s new website. Before the rebuild started we moved the client to a new webhost as their existing one wasn’t up to handling what the new site will require for technical resources.

This is a site we had built (but were not managing at the time) and is one we cleaned up after a hack two years ago and it has been clean ever since. FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS Google says it is clean. Sucuri says it is clean. The premium Wordfence security suite says it is clean.

So imagine my surprise that, after we’d moved the site, we saw this at the new webhost’s dashboard:

Then I go back to Sucuri — which again, had shown the site to be clean for TWO YEARS until we just moved it last week — and now this appears:

We’ve now invested a couple of hours:

  • Creating an account at Norton Safe Web
  • Interacting on the community forum (basically to ask, “WTF?”)
  • Downloading the verification file
  • Uploading it to the site’s server
  • Requesting a verification as the “site owner”.
SCAM OR JUST SPAMMY MARKETING?

Every fiber in my being tells me this is a spammy attempt to get website “owners”, whether the actual owner or developers like us, to signup for their services. At the very least it’s an attempt to identify website owners so they can email the shit out of us.

If Norton starts spamming us I’ll create a filter in Gmail to instantly set all their emails to “spam.” They’d better not think they can market to us in this fashion like some no-scruples startup, and basically waste the time of website owners like this.

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Make Your Own Site-Specific Web Browser “App”

Need to tell you about a very cool Mac app (Windows version coming soon) that has transformed how I manage my online work and even social media interactions.

The app is called Coherence, now in version 5, which I hadn’t heard about until I stumbled across it this past week and downloaded the trial version. I liked it so much I purchased the Family License 20 minutes later!

The app allows you to create site-specific web browsers that function as their own self-contained Chrome browser application. Why would I want to have a bunch of separate web browser apps on my Mac instead of just opening up 10, 15 or 20 tabs in my Chrome browser? Besides slowing down Chrome and using up lots of my computer’s memory, I have a need to keep things separate:

  • MANAGING ACCOUNTS: With four GSuite accounts (a personal one and three for our various businesses) I could just log in to all of them in my main Chrome browser, but that would mean choosing accounts before going in to Google Drive, calendar, or other GSuite apps, a huge pain in the butt and often confusing. Having one site-specific browser for each GSuite account is fabulous and makes managing all of those accounts a breeze!
  • DEVELOPMENT: With our Innov8Press business I’m constantly logged in to multiple accounts and like to keep everything contained as I work, especially since I’m often logged in to a client’s web services (e.g., Mailchimp; Salesforce; Dropbox) and using a Coherence-made browser makes it simple to not have to login and logout over-and-over again as I go through my workday.
  • KEEP TRACKING TO A MINIMUM: Rather than use a plugin to keep Facebook (and others) from tracking my activities all across the web, Facebook has its own browser and everything runs within it. I even have a “Media” browser with bookmarks to publications I view in order to again, make it harder for third-party tracking companies to follow me around while I browse and use the web.
  • UNIQUE, DISCRETE APPS: I often play Pandora in a browser on my desktop so it’s really nice to be able to do so in a separate browser app vs. having to have the highly insecure Adobe Flash installed so I could run Pandora’s Adobe Air app. I also have a browser app for YouTube/Netflix/Hulu streaming apps as well as one to use with UberConference. Again, it makes my workflow so much more manageable.
  • EXTENSIONS: One last, highly useful aspect of of Coherence 5 is being able to load extensions. For example, in most of the Coherence browser apps I’ve created I’ve included my LastPass password manager extension. That way I can login to a client’s sites (or my own) as needed. Since sometimes I also need to view a client’s site from the standpoint of a user in the U.K. or countries in the E.U., being able to connect a given site-specific browser via the Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN to one of the PIA servers in one of those countries really helps (especially being able to perform Google searches in those countries in order to tweak SEO).

There are lots of other use-cases I’m sure you can think of, or will soon discover, on your own and, at the very least, it’s definitely worth considering. You will find the pricing here:

  • Coherence 5 for macOS 10.10 and Above – Single License $4.99
  • Coherence 5 for macOS 10.10 and Above – Family License (5 Licenses w/ 10 Activations) $24.99

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NOTE: I should mention that I have used FluidApp for several years, the site-specific browser creator which makes a Safari-like (i.e., WebKit) browser. There are some features in it I like, but it’s not as flexible as Coherence 5 and I find being able to add extensions and use a Chrome-foundation browser meets my needs better.

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Unlimited Inflight (and 35 million other places) Wifi for Only $10 Per Month

Is this deal too good to be true? Nope.

US Mobile is offering unlimited inflight internet service through the huge global provider iPass for only $10 per month using either the GoGo or Panasonic inflight networks. Yep…you can use it on several U.S. and international airlines but it gets even better as you’ll see below.

As a point of comparison, here is what GoGo charges for a single airline plan:

GoGo is still much more expensive (2 devices will cost $60 per month) and you’re still limited to a single airline. If you fly more than one airline — or even choose your single, favorite one — this new US Mobile offering will save you $40 per month if you only use a single device like your laptop. If you want to add your phone or tablet it will still be a lot cheaper at $20 per month and also offer you more flexibility with multiple airlines.

Here’s where this deal gets even better though. What happens when you land and want to use Wifi in the airport? Once you’re in the city and want to stop in to a coffee shop or restaurant? Or get online when you get to your hotel?

[Read more…]

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Bitcoin: Is It Time To Get In?

bitcoin

Is it time to buy in to the cryptocurrency bitcoin? Is now the time when you should expend time, energy and effort to become a “bitcoin miner“, get a bitcoin wallet, or is bitcoin risk still too high?

At one point in late 2010 I read this article in Slashdot about bitcoin and started poking around to learn more about it. As I thought about this new digital currency in downtime during the holidays that year, I strongly considered getting in to bitcoin mining and was even online looking at hardware to buy.

My enthusiasm was muted, however, since all of us were just coming off the global economic crisis of 2007-2008. After having struggled to keep our business afloat, slashing costs and personnel, and getting into lines of business solely to generate cash—my trust level in entering in to the fray surrounding an unregulated, digital currency with a bunch of unknowns was pretty dang low.

It is also likely I probably would have not made much—or had seen my bitcoins stored, and then lost, at Mt. Gox—but even a few dozen bitcoins mined in early 2011 (when each one was worth US$1.00) means selling them at today’s value of $684 each would have yielded a nice little gross of nearly US$25,000.

Sounds like a lot of money, right? Not so fast there cowboys and cowgirls. The bitcoin space is still the wild, wild west and a tenderfoot often got shot or died of thirst crossing the desert. [Read more…]

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The Internet Revealed in 1993

stewart-cheifet-on-set

Stewart Cheifet and guest on the set of Computer Chronicles

Stewart Cheifet‘s show Computer Chronicles was one that chronicled the evolution of personal computing, digital devices as well as enabling technologies like this networking technology we know as “The Internet.” His Computer Chronicles YouTube channel is an archive of shows that reported on some of the most important developments in all of those areas, especially this particular show which covered this nascent networking technology we now cannot live without.

Fun Factoid
For those of you in Minnesota, at 9:37 you will see a brief demonstration of Gopher, a protocol developed and released in 1991 by a Mark P. McCahill-led team at the University of Minnesota. Since universities were heavy pre-commercial-and-world_wide_web-internet users, they needed something to make it easier to find stuff. Gopher was “...designed for distributing, searching, and retrieving documents over the Internet. The Gopher protocol was strongly oriented towards a menu-document design and presented an alternative to the World Wide Web in its early stages, but ultimately HTTP became the dominant protocol. The Gopher ecosystem is often regarded as the effective predecessor of the World Wide Web.” (my emphasis).

 

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Is Congress Really Gearing Up for an Encryption Battle?

bitsAfter the attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the poorly thought-out Patriot Act. Friday’s Paris attacks seem to be (once again) providing Congress with another excuse to try and legislate making United States encryption weak and putting another obstacle in the way of U.S. technology companies selling overseas.

That’s right….weak. Virtually every single cryptography expert on the planet knows that a force-mandated “backdoor” in software or devices will not work and will make the systems vulnerable to attack by black-hat hackers or state-run military cyberattacks.

Today’s Wall Street Journal had this front-page article, “Paris Attacks Fuel Debate Over Spying – Growing belief that terrorists behind assaults used encrypted communications prompts re-examination of U.S. policy on surveillance.” A few things from the article leapt out at me:

“A growing belief among intelligence officials that the terrorists behind Friday’s Paris attacks used encrypted communications is prompting a far-ranging re-examination of U.S. policy on data collection and surveillance.”  

No kidding. Anyone on this planet with intermediate technical skills can encrypt their communications.

Senator Richard Burr

Senator Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday his panel will launch a review of encryption use. “It is likely that end-to-end encryption was used to communicate in Belgium and France and Syria,” Mr. Burr said. He said encryption was likely because no direct communication among the terrorists was detected.”

Really Senator? Maybe they met in person?

But this is the part of the article that made me choke on my breakfast muffin:  [Read more…]

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Olga Wants Me!

Left: The photo that 'Olga' sent me. Right: Likely the 'real' Olga

Left: The photo that ‘Olga’ sent me. Right: Likely the ‘real’ Olga

The increasing sophistication of spammers constantly amazes me. This one, however, was the best yet. Not that I’d get sucked in to this phishing attempt, but the text was good enough that it got through to my ‘real’ email…and not just in to my spam folder.

Helo Steve,

My name is Olga. I am a 22 year old college student living by Moscow. I go to Bauman University (Moscow State University of Technology) and will be cumming to Minesota for a visit next month.

I have seen you on the internet and would very much like to meet you in person. Please email me or click this link: http://link-redacted.ru

Sweetly, Olga

Of course I didn’t click the link (and you NEVER should either*), but even as I write this I’m sort of stunned it arrived intact. Just goes to show you how careful we have to be when this crap is sent our way.

*What should you do? Hover over the link and look in the bottom of your browser window. You will see the REAL address they’re sending you to. The text for a hyperlink can be anything (e.g., Bank of America) but go to any URL. Don’t click on it…just delete the email.

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NSA: Why are you not focused on protecting the nation?

nsa-logoReading the German publication Der Spiegel’s article called Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA’s War on Internet Security this weekend, like them I was struck by something that has been on my mind for over ten years. Why does the U.S. intelligence services, and specifically the National Security Agency (NSA), do more to protect the nation?

What came out in the Edward Snowden revelations was that the NSA is, without question or doubt, working feverishly to crack all encryption and are also working hard to build a quantum computer that will crack the little unbreakable encryption we still enjoy today.

Any of us in information technology, web or mobile app creation, and any sort of data security at all, know that if something has been cracked—regardless if it’s some kid in Norway or a state-based intelligence service—it is only a matter of time before the blackhat hackers discover it and exploit the crack.

[Read more…]