Monday, June 28, 2010

Google / Apple Controlling your Cell Phone

I was surprised, and maybe I should not have been, to learn that Google can remove applications from Android-based phones. They removed an application recently because it apparently misrepresented its purpose thus wrongly encouraging user downloads (see Google Uses Kill Switch to Remove Android App) . One one hand, Google can take take of buggy and potentially dangerous apps but on the other hand, it is very scary that they have that much control of your personal device. I have read many app descriptions that have oversold themselves. If I downloaded a app that was wrongly misrepresented, I'm sure that I can figure that out fairly quickly and delete it myself. Maybe Google should be more like Apple in this regard and vet the app before they hit the Android marketplace.

The bigger question is really - what can Google do to your phone and how much information can they extract? I thought that Google was just trying to take over the Internet and now it has become obvious that they also have control over mobile devices.

I'm going to be in the market for a new cell in about a year. I was leaning to an Android-based devices but now I'm not sure. I did some digging and found out that Apple can kill iPhone apps as well. We are told to be careful with our personal information but it seems like Google and Apple have access to it whether we want them to or not.

Big Brother ... move over!! 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Traveling with Technology

I am currently traveling in Spain and Portugal and reflecting on how technology has changed the way I travel. I first traveled to Europe in 1998 and travelled predominately by train. I remember buying a huge Thomas Cook European train schedule and using paper tickets, bought from a cashier and then having to validate the ticket by having it punched or stamped before entering the train. Of course I also had my Let's Go travel guide which was as thick as War and Peace because is had a section on every country in Western Europe. Internet was only available at Internet cafes which were few and hard to find. A big challenge was understanding and using the phone system and currency in each country I visited. I actually carried my entire trip budget with me in American Express Traveler's cheques. And then of course was the question of how much film to take because I heard the film was very expensive in Europe.

My current trip is much different. Budgeting and access to cash is much easier because of the Euro and the proliferation of ATM's. Most of the travel information I need is located on my iPod Touch and on my notebook computer. Internet is available at most hotels, sometimes for free (I am still puzzled by those hotels that charge a hefty premium for Internet. Guess the business traveler gets to write it off). I have my travel guides in electronic form using the Lonely Planet app. (During the recent volcanic ash problem that ground thousands of travelers, Lonely Planet provided some of their European travel guides for free - good for them!). I have another app called TripCase that is able to manage my itinerary. It keeps track of my flights, informing me of any delays or gate changes. It even sends emails to people I designate to inform them of my flight's arrival. It also allows me to enter the hotel names I have booked, and if they are in their system, gives me complete information about the hotel including pictures and a link to its location on Google Maps

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Penis Recognition Software?

Computer software has been designed to recognize many human features like voice, fingerprints, and retinals. These advances have been made in an attempt to make computer some secure. Now a computer is attempting to design software to learn to identify the human penis. The reason for this attempted technological advancement is to keep the Internet safe from those pervert who want to expose themselves.

It started because of a new social media Web site called Chatroulette. The concept, which I think could be fun, is that you can have a video chat with someone randomly selected by the site. The problem is that many Internet exhibitionist have found this to be, yet another way, to expose themselves to unknowing Internet users. I tried out Chatroulette and sure enough, three of the five randomly selected videos that came across my screen were a series of these Internet perverts show their genitalia. That's a shame because, what can be a fun way to meet people, has been hijacked by the seedy elements of the Net. Now technology is coming to the rescue. In order to stop these pervert, a  company is trying to develop the software that will recognize the penis and immediately provide another chatrouletter. Once again, technology is pushing the envelope of what is possible.

So I got to thinking what else could this new technology be used for? Is the human penis like a fingerprint or a tongueprint- there are no two alike? Will it be used in airport security? Will you no longer be able to use your computer naked? Will it be used to identify flashers in police lineups? (remember the movie Porky's Revenge?).The porn industry, generally thought to the the first to make money on the Internet, will surely take advantage of this revolutionary technology. Isn't technology wonderful?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Twitter is Starting to Make Sense

I used to be quite critical of Twitter, not understanding its purpose. I thought most of the post I read were quite egotistical and self-centered. Then I came across an article that made me realize that there could be some useful ways to use Twitter. It is called "Don't tweet that: How not to be a Twitter dork." It explains better ways to use Twitter and then it all made sense to me - it's not the tool I did not understand, it was the way most people are using it that does not make sense to me. I'm sorry but I don't care if you have going for a walk or watching TV. Why are you using precious bandwidth for such useless and personal trivia?

The article made me realize that the power of Twitter is to make connections between people of common interest or concern - to get feedback - to start a dialog - to ask questions. The problem with Twitter is that everything goes to every follower, much of it is not of interest to every follower. Yes, I am interested in hearing about conference discussions and finding out about interesting Web sites and articles, but the same people who post those also post about their dogs, their daily habits and other bits of personal information I am definitely not interested in reading.

Microblogging can be a useful tool, but the posts should be meaningful and directed to the subject at hand, not personal quips meant only for the Twitterer and their psychiatrist.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Google and BP

I have wrote many times in this blog that Google is trying to take over the Internet world and that they are predominately a marketing and advertising company, not a search tool. Or maybe I should put it this way - they are a search tool  but their search results are motivated by the highest bidder and not the quality of the result.

You already know that Google clear puts sponsored links and Adwords pages on your search results page. Fair enough, they have to get paid for their services and they deserve an income. Those areas are clearly marked so the user can decided whether to investigate those companies that showed up as a result of a search. My problem is that the rest of the search results, which are not labeled, are also a result of paid advertisers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Hello from Valencia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Today begins the European Distance and E-learning Network conference with registration and opening message from the president of EDEN, Dr. Alan Tait from The Open University in the UK.

The conference venue is quite beautiful situated at NEXUS building at the Universidad Politechnica de Valencia. With over 400 delegates from 49 different countries, this conference will be an enlightening experience with sharing ideas on e-learning and open education. I am looking forward to discussing ideas with fellow colleagues and listening to experts from around the world.

You can find out more about EDEN by visiting their Web site and you can follow the plenary sessions via a Web cast. 

You can follow more of what happened at EDEN by reading the EDEN blog

Unfortunately my paper did not win the Best Research Paper of the conference, but as they say, it was an honour to be nominated. Good news is that the award went to a fellow Canadian.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

European Distance and E-Learning Network

Tomorrow I leave for Valenica, Spain. It is time for the annual conference organized by the European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN). This is the second year I am attending the EDEN conference. Last year it was in Gdansk, Poland and this year's venue is Universidad Politecnica de Valencia. The conference theme is Media Aspirations for Learning: What Makes the Impact? Last year I presented a paper on what types of students are best suited for e-learning and this year I am presenting a paper of e-learning and learning styles. I'm also show a demonstration of the academic social networking site for statistics students. I am also pleased to report that my paper on learning styles is one of six papers nominated for the Best Research Paper of the conference (see page 19 of the conference program). I found the nominee list interesting as it contains four Canadians and two Israelis (the two form Israel are from the same author). As they say, it's just an honour to be nominated.  

I am very excited about the conference as the program has many interesting sessions relating to social media, digital content creation and informal learning. It is also very enlightening to interact and network with the European think tank on e-learning.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Google Coming Clean (?)

With all the news of Facebook's privacy issues, Google does not want to be in the same boat. They already have recieved some bad press with the news that they were gathering unsecured WiFi information during their street view data collection process. In attempt to put this faux pas behind them, they are complying with a request from the from the governments of France, Germany and Spain to turn over the data they collected. Let's hope they hand in everything they collected. And even if so, what will happen with it and what can those governments do to Google? Hefty fines and a slap on the wrist? I just hope this sends a message to Google that they are being closely watched and they cannot do anything they want with Internet data.

Coincidentally (I think not!), Google is releasing a paper explaining its corporate security strategy. Entitled Security Whitepaper: Google Apps Messaging and Collaboration Products, the paper describes the company's corporate security policies, organizational and operational security, asset classification, control practices, personnel, physical and environmental security, access control, systems development and maintenance, and disaster recovery efforts.

One thing I can say about Google, their PR with regards to privacy is better than Facebook's poor response to a similar issue. With Google complying with the European countries' requests and making their security strategy (supposedly) transparent, does that make you feel better? Not me! I think? I think Google will continue to make attempts to control everything Internet until the day that the Internet is renamed - GoogleNet!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Our Digital Future

"Digital technologies are critical to every aspect of our economy and society. That is why a strategy for the digital economy is needed to ensure that Canada is positioned to benefit from the opportunities that it presents." So starts the message on the Industry Canada's Web site, asking Canadians for input into shaping Canada's digital future. I think this is a great opportunity to provide input to the government to let them know what is needed to help our economy adjust to the technological realities. 

On the Web site you will find a document to read entitled  "Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity". It outlines context, challenges and discussion questions in the following area:
  • Innovation Using Digital Technologies
  • Digital Infrastructure
  • Growing the ICT Industry
  • Canada’s Digital Content
  • Building Digital Skills
The Government of Canada has recognized the fact that the digital economy is vital to the growth of our country. You can provide input in one of two ways - participate in an ideas forum or with a formal submission. It is now time to step  up and provide them with the input they need. Remember that they are just politicians - we are the experts - we need to provide our opinions on what should be done to keep the digital economy moving. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Facebook News

Facebook has been in the news a lot lately. Today, I came across some articles that I believe could be interesting to Facebook watchers.

  1. Facebook CEO, Mark Zukerberg has to date in mind to take Facebook public. Currently it earn $500 to $650 million dollars mostly from ad revenue. It's social plug-in is featured on over 200,000 Web sites.
  2. Facebook privacy concerns do not appear to be an issue with Canadians as there are over 16 million Canadian Facebook users with close to a million of them signing up in May.
  3. The organizers of the Quit Face Book Day says their campaign was a success because it convinced 30,000 users to quit Facebook and brought awareness to serious privacy concerns. Do you realize that Facebook's privacy agreement is close to 6,000 words in length. There are 50 privacy settings with 170 options.
  4. Facebook is driving up the divorce rates. This is not because spouses are finding out things about their partners. It usually because neighbour and friends are reading about the illicit affairs and then revealing the information. Remember, putting something on Facebook is like putting on the front page of the New York Times. Even though you spouse may not get the NYT deliver to the door, the neighbours might be.

    and finally  .......
  5. Former US President George W. Bush has a Facebook page. I guess he needs as many friends as he can get.

Exciting Technology Times Ahead

It used to be said that the only things you can be sure of in life is death and taxes. I think we need to add one more item to that list - technology changes! The next few months are going to prove to be very exciting for technology watcher and users.

On Monday, Apple announces its new iPhone. Even though some of the iPhone's features have been revealed courtesy of the Apple engineer who left a prototype at the bar, Apple will still have a few surprise features. Of course, there will be the long-awaited multi-tasking feature as well as a better and front-facing camera. The new phone will have a smaller screen but a higher resolution. The two new features I'm looking forward to is the longer batter life and the wireless syncing. Critics of the new phone say that it will be very expensive and not well designed. Also, when the iPhone was first released, it was a unique product. Since then, they are some less expensive alternatives available. Critics had some harsh word when Apple announce the iPad. As a matter of fact, Apple's stock dropped just after the announcement. The critics and the drop in stock price have not deterred consumers as apple has sold  over 2 million iPad units to date.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Canada Copy

Ever record a TV program? Ever buy a CD and transfer the music to your MP3 player? Well, you have broken the law. These two activities, known as format shifting and time shifting, respectfully, were technically illegal in Canada. Canada's copyright laws have not keep up with technology are have not be updated in over 10 years. Today, the government has finally updated the laws, making  format shifting and time shifting legal. The bill also dictates that media with digital locks cannot be copied. For example, if an artist places a digital lock on the CD version, you will not be permitted to break that lock to place it on your MP3 player. You will have to buy the digital version from your favourite online store.

Internet Service Providers will now be mandated to inform a subscriber if a copyright holder is aware of a subscriber violating their copyright. ISP and search engines are exempt as they are simply the unwitting intermediary in the violation.

I'm glad to see the Canadian government finally making legal an activity that have been occurring in homes since the first Betamax was on the market. As far as digital locks go, I hope artists will not be using them. I can see consumers staying away from those artist who are, in fact, double-dipping. You buy the music in any form, you should have the right to listen to it in any form.

To read more about this new law, visit the Government of Canada Web site.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Google Drops Microsoft

In a report today, Google announced that they are dropping Microsoft as their operating system, opting for Mac OS or Linux, citing security concerns as Chinese hackers tried to break in Google and other large companies in January of this year. Back then, Google used it as an excuse to pull out of China. I think the only concerns Google has is to knock Microsoft at this time because of the pending release of MS cloud computing applications, Office 2010, and Google's, soon-to-be-released, operating system based on the Chrome browser.

I attended a Google Apps seminar last week where they ensured the audience that they take their security very seriously and even had gone to the length of hiring ex-Pentagon staffers to help in that regard. They said that their security is much tougher and much harder to break in to then most other organizations. Good thing because they have millions of people using their Gmail, Docs and their other cloud applications. A security breach would be devastating for Google and its users. On the other hand, 9 out of 10 computers in the world are running Microsoft's operating systems. If there was a serious computer threat from China, I'm sure that many other large corporations would be leaving Microsoft or they would be find a way to block the threat.

Although Google is probably a huge target for hackers, I think that their switch out of Microsoft is more of a competitive move rather than a security concern.