Monthly Archives: May 2008

Mass Digitization: Time to fund it properly

The always readable Dan Cohen discusses funding for digitization of public domain books. Hard not to agree – I think Harvard-Yale-Princeton (or, for that matter, Harvard alone) should just pony up the money and do it. The resulting archive would be a boon to humanities research and researchers all over the world, would yield immense dividends in the form of research and study activity for decades, and would give Harvard a signal project like that courseware project down the river, especially given the recent kvetching about the size of the Harvard endowment and the lack of visible largesse on the expense side.

Signatures by fax, and security in context

(this is a work in progress, thought I would write this in public and see what reactions I get)

Bruce Schneier, the world’s leading authority on security, writes well about why we accept signatures by fax – noting that it works because it is done in context, everyone understands how insecure it is (except in the relatively rare instances when they don’t.) One thing is that we tend to think of new technologies in terms of old technologies: The physical signature can easily be faked with a fax, even easier when we start to use scanned PDFs – in fact, gluing in a copied signature becomes the standard way of doing things for most people.

I am currently thinking about security in a next-generation employee computing setup, where corporate infrastructure has retreated behind a browser and the end user can buy whatever he or she desires – be it a Mac or PC, laptop or desktop, cell phone or public terminal. Every user comes in via the public Internet, even if he or she is physically sitting right next to the server park.

From a security standpoint, this is actually a simplification, much as you simplify PC provisioning when you switch everyone to a laptop. Sure, many of the users don’t need a laptop, and a laptop is more expensive than a desktop. But differentiation has its costs, too. And it is much easier to make a desktop out of a laptop – in essence, all you need to do is sit still – than it is to to do it the other way.

If you move to an architecture with corporate infrastructure and personal, private terminals, you remove the inside-or-outside-the-moat distinction companies often naively use as their main security barrier. Instead you must verify everyone’s identity in terms of the information and functionality they can have access to. You need to specify this as a very granular level, and will need a well defined hierarchy of access rules. You will also, like Wikipedia, need to have a way to track who has done what where, and make it easy to reverse whatever changes has been done, should it prove necessary.

I am less certain that you need much of a standard for what should run on the clients themselves – surely we have progressed to a point now (or will in the near future) where end users can take responsibility for keeping their own technology’s reasonably updated and secure? We probably need to rethink security in terms of consequence management, in the sense that we need to make the consequences of poor security become apparent to the end user. The analogy is to car safety – for all the nagging about putting on your seatbelt and monitoring speeding, nothing would reduce deaths in traffic as much as a mandatory large spike sticking out of the steering wheel, instantly impaling the driver should he or she crash or suddenly brake.

(and that is as far as I got before the telephone started chiming, and it was time to scoot off for meetings and other things that eat up your day. I will be back. Comments, of course, are most welcome.)

Thinking about warfare, the last 100 years

Martin van Creveld: The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq , Presidio 2008

Martin van Creveld gained fame for The Transformation of War, a book that should have been read by the USA before venturing into Iraq (see previous review). In this surprisingly succinct volume, he summarizes the changes in thinking about warfare "from Marne to Iraq", showing how war has changed from something conducted in a short and contained spurts by an army via the "total war" first voiced by Ludendorff to today’s prolonged insurgencies, where the perpetrators blend back into the general population and advanced weapons fired from afar only can make the situation worse.

(As a digression, he characterizes the German invasion of Norway as rather risky and badly planned – it worked largely because the Norwegians were unbelievably unprepared.)

van Creveld divides war into two main phases: Before and after the atom bomb. After the atom bomb, total war was no longer possible, since it would mean mutual destruction. Instead, war has (for the most part) become guerilla war, where a militarily equipped power is battling a much weaker enemy, and, because the enemy is weak, become weak themselves.

There is almost no instances military powers successfully fighting insurgents – though since the history of fighting insurgencies are largely written by the losers, who argue that they could have won if not hindered by politicians, the press or lack of resources.

To fight an insurgency, the power in question must be legal, i.e., treat the insurgency like a criminal activity rather than a war (much as the British did in Northern Ireland, where they, incidentally, had a local police force and spoke the language.) Either that (which takes a lot of patience) or they must use cruelly applied force, with openness and without apology (as Hafez Assad did in Syria.) Trying to fight the war from a distance leads to a quagmire, but going in to fight the insurgents with their own means leads to losses and loses the war on the home front.

The book is admirably succinct when it describes the evolution in thinking about warfare up to about 1950 (showing, among other things, the increasing use of the scientific method in weapons and, to a lesser extent, tactics evolution.) It gets a bit repetitive on the question of how to fight insurgency. But the verdict on the US’ fight in Iraq leaves no doubts about what the author thinks about the technical "revolution in warfare" and what it does:

Once the main units of the Iraqi army had been defeated and dispersed, most of the sensors, data links, and computers that did so much to aid in the American victory proved all but useless. In part, this was because they had been designed to pick up the "signatures" of machines, not people. But it was also because these sensors did not function very well in the densely inhabited, extremely complex environments where the insurgents operated. Myriad methods could be used to neutralize or mislead whatever sensors did work. Worst of all, sensors are unable to penetrate people’s minds. As a result, almost four years after the war had started, the American troops still had no idea who was fighting them: Ba’athists or common criminals, foreign terrorists or devout believers. […]

Soaking up almost $450 billion a year, the mightiest war machine the world has ever seen was vainly trying to combat twenty to thirty thousand insurgents. Its ultramodern sensors, sophisticated communications links, and acres of computers could not prevent its opponents from operating where they wanted, when they wanted, and as they wanted; […] To recall the well-known, Vietnam-era song: When will they ever learn? (Ch. 6.5)

van Creveld offers few conclusions, aside from patience, people on the ground and good intelligence, all of which are hard to acquire and maintain. Otherwise, the insurgents will eventually win, if only because the military powers’ only way of winning is not participating.

Formula for spying

Mark Seal has a great article in Wired about how McLaren got hold of Ferrari’s designs and the twists and turns that followed.

What blows my mind is the size of the budgets these guys are willing to throw away. A company like McLaren spends a lot of money and develops technology that eventually goes into production cars (at least, that’s the theory), but with the hundreds of millions spent here, how can anyone recuperate it? Ferrari, at least, has a brand of car to sell, McLaren cooperates with Mercedes, but it still looks like rich man’s game to me.

Anyway, an entertaining story, showing that you better treat your employees right (how could Ferrari management not react before their chief mechanic had spilled the beans?) and do your own scanning if you are hoping to avoid betrayal or getting caught betraying.

From Concours to BSG Alliance to nGenera

As can be seen from this press release, BSG Alliance (and all subsidiaries) has changed its name to nGenera Corporation. BSG Alliance acquired Concours Group last year, as well as New Paradigm and various, more technology-based companies such as Iconixx. The name nGenera represents a consolidation of the various acquired companies and signals a focus on the "next generation enterprise" – companies that use collaborative and Internet technology as an internal, native and natural arena for innovation and growth.

Consulting companies are fascinating – forever splitting and forming, driven by changes in content, business conditions and (to a rather large extent) by people chemistry. Though companies may change, the people very often remain the same – in a sense, even if you leave, you never really leave, but keep in touch (and use each other, if need be.) Modern technology underscores this sense of a cloud of people that know about each other and draw on each other when necessary, clustering around companies and ideas as need and economics dictate.

I started working in research-based consulting with Index, which was acquired by CSC, in 1994. I then moved on to work with Concours (which was formed by ex-CSC Index people plus some of their friends.) That relationship has lasted since 1999, and now it is time for nGenera, with an increased focus on collaboration technology (both in theory and practice) and an emphasis on what the future will be as well as how we will get there.

Stay tuned – a company that spans from Wikinomics to simulation technology promises exciting ideas and much to learn, while keeping a basis of solid IT management models and practices and a deep knowledge in talent acquisition and development. Stay tuned.

Splommentary irritations

Susan shows how PR agents have cottoned on to the value of blogs and linking, and started leaving not quite subtle enough product plugs in comment fields. To he it looks like Ms. Rosenberg is nothing more than a manual version of the botnets that every day leaves 4000 comments into my blog filter, most of them either gibberish or "Good site. Thanks." I want to preserve the ability to have people comment without signing in, but that requires tuning spam filters and doing a quick scan through the 4000 pieces of crap looking for false positives.

The answer to spam messages and comments is, in the long run, not filtering, but following the money and boycotting the companies that pays for them. I have had to turn off Track-Backs, a very useful feature, from my blog, because of spambots. That means I have not direct knowledge of who links to me, something I would like to know. (Yes, I can find this out in Technorati or Google, but I have better things to do.)

As for manual comment creeps, Chris Anderson solved his problem (300 emails per day, many of them from PR folks who didn’t bother to check that he would actually be interested) by blocking them all and publishing his block-file. An action that resulted in furious discussion and, eventually, an admission that Wired was kind of doing the same thing, with paper inserts in their magazines.

The thing is, I don’t mind product plugs. I love Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools (get the RSS feed, about one per day) and Amazon’s sometimes-brilliant recommendations. And if someone posts a note about an interesting piece of software that addresses something I have complained about, that’s great.

The Rosenberg approach is different, in that it attempts to write something pertinent to the blog post and then turn the conversation over onto the product plugged. If this person had been a real PR person, he or she would have found blog posts where MS Office is the relevant answer. That they are few and far between, does not mean that they do not exist – and if she could have found them, she would be a real PR person. Instead, her illiteracy and bad judgment is displayed for all to see.

It is to be hoped that Microsoft realizes the bad judgment they have displayed in hiring her and activate their filtering procedure.

Ubiquity interviews Vaughan Merlyn

John Gehl of Ubiquity fame has interviewed my pal Vaughan Merlyn, a stellar IT management consultant and all-around good egg who shares some of his experiences and views. Vaughan writes a fine blog and is extremely good at navigating the rather tricky no-mans-land that still lies between business and IT. He has spent much time and effort extending and deepening some of the strategic models of IT supply and demand that we rely on in this business, in light of advances in technology and IT savvy (or, as Vaughan calls it, IT maturity) in large organizations:

When I say business IT maturity, that is a short hand way of saying business demand maturity and IT supply maturity. I think that in the majority of cases, i.e., more than a half of the situations we see – there is a reasonable degree of similarity between the business ambition and the IT ambition. For perhaps a quarter of the cases, there is a CIO who is well ahead of business. And those are the most frustrating cases. The other case is where the business is well ahead of the CIO. And that usually sorts itself out pretty quickly because sooner or later there is a change of CIO.

Here is some hard-won experience on what advisory consulting is all about:

[…] I often find that what [clients] think is the problem they are looking for help with is quite different from the actual problem they are experiencing. And very often I find some of the most important work that we do happens before the engagement begins. I think it was Jerry Weinberg, one of the great wise men of the early IT days pointed out that one of the problems with project management is when a project officially starts, it’s already been going several months. It just hasn’t yet been called a project. So there is a lot of baggage already there. I think similarly, when you sit down with a client to frame up an engagement, I find the actual act of getting clarity on what is the issue, what would the outcomes be if we successfully solved this issue, that often is enormously helpful for the client – obviously it’s important for the consultant because you can easily spin wheels trying to solve the wrong problem. But I have seen the light bulbs go on with my clients – not just little glimmers of Christmas tree lights. I mean massive flashbulbs go off as you take them through a process of issue clarification. And they realize that perhaps the problem that thought they had isn’t the real problem. So I think that is a value that a good consultant brings to the table – helping to clarify what the real issues might be.

Budding consultants, take note!

ME in The Economist

There is a good article on Myalgic encephalomyelitis in The Economist, accurately (as far as I can tell) reporting the current state of research and the growing realization that this disease does in fact have a biological basis and is not the a syndrome of malingering from people wanting attention.

ME is a harrowing experience for those that suffer it and a drain on energy, social life and economy of their families. A complicated, exclusionary diagnosis and the fact that the loss of energy puts the patient in an especially weak position vis-a-vis the medical bureaucracy means that many suffer more and longer than they should. It is not being "burned out", "hitting a wall" and is not caused by stress or depression. It might cause depression in the patient, on the other hand, from being in a continually exhausted state.

A diagnostic test would help enormously. At present, a patient can go for years without adequate treatment because many doctors do not recognize ME/CFS as an illness at all. If the illness can be diagnosed fast, the patient can be helped faster – and will face less of a challenge understanding and making the surroundings understand what the problem is.

Fighting spam again

Comments are turned off until further notice. Comment spam storm. I am implementing comment challenges, and cursing the cancer of spam that threatens the freedom of the Internet at drains away badly needed productivity…..

Update later in the day: Opened again. Will try with a little tuning of keywords first….

You are what you eat, and we eat oil

Michael Pollan: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, 2006

Michael Pollan is the author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, where he basically took on the flood of diet advice and replaced it with “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In this book, he discusses the problem of what to eat today, which is not something most species wonder about, either because food is scarce and they will eat everything they can lay their hands on, or because they are so specialized that they can only eat one kind of food (like koalas and eucalyptus leaves, of pandas and bamboo shoots and leaves.) This choice is faced by all omnivores, such as humans.

The book tracks down the history of three meals: One industrial, one pastoral (i.e., organically grown), and one personal, where Pollan had to make everything himself, including hunting down the meat. Or, in other words, one meal from industrial society, one from the traditionally agricultural, and one from a society of foragers. The further back you go, the more he has to fudge the experience (and the same goes for the producers/foragers, I suspect.)

The industrial part of the book talks about corn, a plant that supplies the basis for most of what we eat (from corn flakes to meat (cattle now eat corn rather than grass) to sweeteners). Corn is highly productive, but cannot exist without human intervention. The rather twisted logic here is that the productivity of the farmer destroys farm life, and may destroy food as well.

The organically grown part is based on an analysis of an organic farm (“small” organic as opposed to “big” organic such as Whole Foods) which relies on local markets, crop and species rotation, and quality rather than quantity for profits. Back-breaking work and battles with a regulatory regime set up for industrialized farming (for instance, the meat processing plant needs to have a bathroom specifically for the USDA inspector).

The foraging part, of course, verges into the artificial – Pollan hunts feral pigs, but does it by SUV and with a high-powered rifle with a scope. But it is fun, and allows for some pretty interesting discussions of our relationship to food.

The book is full of interesting viewpoints and facts, and tells you things that you did not know – for instance that “free-range” chicken means that the chicken have access to grass and air. However, since they only live 8 weeks and have access to grass and air through a door that they don’t dare venture out of, having always lived inside, this does not mean the chicken has had a life that much different from the fully industrialized chicken.

Here is one quote I liked (page 293): “The adult human brain accounts for 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 18 percent of our energy, all of which must come from carbohydrates. Food faddists take note […]”

In other words, the book is the supply-side prelude to In Defense of Food. I have not read that one, but it is on my list of books to read, triggered by Omnivore’s Dilemma. In the meantime, I listen to his talk at Google, and so can you:

How free is the Internet?

Semi-liveblogged notes from a seminar at the Nobel Peace Center, Oslo, arranged by the  Norwegian Board of Technology. I ran out of battery towards the end, and had to leave before the final session. (On the plus side, the Nobel center has free and available wifi, which I deem a Very Good Thing indeed):

Introduction: Bente Erichsen, head of the Nobel Peace Center: Parvin Ardalan, one of the founders of the One Million Signatures initiative to protest discrimination against women, could not come as her passport has been confiscated by the Iranian government and she is not allowed to leave Iran. Ingvild Myhre, Chairman Norwegian Board of Technology: Increase in state-sponsored censorship on the Internet.

Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet Law at Oxford and founder of the Berkman Center:

Filtering the Internet is hard compared to most other networks, because of the "best-effort" routing, otherwise known as "send-and-pray". Impossible to filter in the cloud, but at the point of the ISP you can filter. Examples include geographical filtering (movie releases, newspaper articles in the US about British law cases, removing neo-nazi material from the index, videos about various things at Google Video made unavailable by the uploaders (check-box solution)). In China, Google states that due to local law, some search results are withheld. now gets the letters that Google receives with take-down notices. Microsoft implemented a filtering of their msn blogging system to satisfy the authorities (though it leaks like a sieve). This "check-box" form of filtering at the source is likely to increase. This not need to be measurable at the net itself: In Singapore, your expressions can cause you to lose our house to a defamation suit.

Much harder to measure surveillance than blockages. China has experimented with various measures. For a while, was redirected to a Chinese University search engine. Blocking access to content is a "parking ticket" offense, Various sites are blocked (drugs, pornography, religion, some political issues.) Saudi Arabia has a pretty clear filtering policy, quite open about it, not much fervor.

Filtering at the device. Access is shifting from PC to cell phone and other locked devices, and many of these new endpoints are controlled by vendors and thus open to pressure.

Many technology companies are at the horn of a dilemma here – witness Google’s dilemma going into China. Sullivan principles offers a middle way (started out with apartheid in South Africa), now written into American law (at precisely the time Sullivan repudiated them.) Are there ways to work with the government to concede to some of the restrictions while doing the ethical thing?

Many other services: Livecastr allows direct filming from cell phone, LiveLeaks, WikiLeaks, psiphon – allowing people to see Internet the way you see it. Automatic translation now at the point where it allows chatting between two speakers.

Jimbo Wales: Can Wikipedia promote free speech?

Wikipedia is a freely licensed encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many languages. Now the 9th most popular website on the web. 12th most popular in Iran. How global? Follows Internet penetration, basically – large in English, only 15,000 articles in Hindi despite 280 mm speakers of Hindi.

Wikipedia in China: First block June 2-21, 2004, then September 23-27, 2004, then from October 19 2005 until now. Lately, BBC and Wikipedia in English has been unblocked, unclear why, probably Olympics. Wikipedia in Chinese has more than 170,000 articles, 12th largest of all Wikipedia. More Chinese speakers outside of China than there are Dutch people anywhere. Mistake to think of this as written outside China – the firewall is porous and of the 87 administrators, 29 are from mainland China.

Censorship in China is discreet and done at an industrial level, the aim is not at individuals. Most youngsters know how to get to Wikipedia. If you set up a mirror you will be shut down, but the Chinese authorities have avoided having sad stories about people being arrested for reading Wikipedia.

Core point: Wikipedia is free access. You can copy, modify, redistribute, redistribute modified versions, and you can do this commercially or non-commercially. Baidu redistributes Wikipedia (except the pages they censor) in China (though they put "all rights reserved" on it).

Quality? German Wikipedia compared to Brockhaus, in43 out of 50 articles, Wikipedia was the winner. Not an archive, not a dump, not a textbook. Not a place to testify about human rights abuses, but the place to document human rights abuses in a neutral way. Want to be an encyclopedia, access to knowledge should not be censored, therefore Wikipedia does not take the middle ground and refuses all kinds of censorship. Jim thinks Google does a huge mistake, but theirs is a considered decision and they are sincerely trying. As customers, we should put pressure on Google. Force Google to tell us what they are doing in China to change the policies they now have to abide by.

Every single person on the planet? Available in many languages, but many of them do not have many articles. Showed a video of Desanjo, the father of the Swahili Wikipedia, wrote day an night, recruited people, now 7000 articles. Have now started the Wikipedia Academy in Africa, will start many of them.

How do you design a space where people can engage in conversations? Make it open – like a restaurant that people want to be in.


(I didn’t catch all of this discussion, partially because I participated in it. Notes a bit jumbled, will edit later.)

How powerful is Wikipedia? JW: More powerful than we like, especially a problem with bios of living people. We have the flag "The neutrality of this article is disputed", which I wish some newspapers would adopt.

Can you have a neutral point of view on human rights? JW: You can represent something in a neutral way, representing the different views. For instance, you can be neutral on abortion, saying that according to the Catholic church, this is a sin.

Things going in the right direction? Zittrain: Hard to say, social innovations such as Wikipedia tend to overcome attempts at censorship?

(My question, which was only partially answered.)What are the power implications over time for Google and Wikipedia. Both are on the ascendant now, profitable and popular, but does there need to be a different contribution model for a more stable wikipedia, and what happens when google no longer is running at a huge profit?

Mark Kriger: What worries you about the Internet five years out, at the edge of chaos? Zittrain: At the edge of chaos is suburbia: The tame, controlled online lives where things are OK, there is no reason that one bad apple can spoil everything. Jim Wales is now working on Wikisearch, more transparent about the search ranking. You don’t have a lot of investment in your use of Google, it is easy to switch, but that is not the case with many of the other services that are out there. Some regulatory interventions would be good about giving people the right to leave and easily take their information with them.

Citing Elie Wiesel: The opposite of good is not evil but indiffernence. Do not see the Internet as a shopping mall, keep it moving.

Part II: Ce
nsorship on the Net

In the absence of Parvin Ardalan, a movie from Iran about the million signatures movement was shown. It calls for equal rights for women in terms of judicial protection, divorce, inheritance and so on. A number of women have been arrested for collecting signatures. Parvin Ardalan was one of the organizers of this movement, and she has been arrested for this and has received a 2 year suspended prison sentence. She could not come, but the actor Camilla Belsvik delivered the speech for her:

  • Internet censored in Iran, but remain the most active medium for discussion of women’s issues. It has given women power, which has upset the power balance in families and between wives and husbands, and given them a mean of entering the public sphere.
  • On the Internet, women can connect and find a place for expression about their private lives. Especially for young women, using blogs, this has been especially important. They can talk about their romantic and family relationships, power structures, violence and sexuality.  This was a revolutionary development for them.
  • Some women have attained public identities even though they write anonymously.
  • Internet came to Iran during the reconstruction area in the 1990s and became more available during the reform years starting 1997. Women’s activism has been there, but in small groups. The reform period allowed more freedom of expression, but press permissions for women were few, especially for secular women. The reform period ended, and many were shut down. Many publications then turned to the Internet, as did NGOs were women were active.
  • Issues of feminism and sexuality are taken more seriously online. Gradually, filtering and blocking has become more severe. In 2004, the Ministry of Information technology ordered the words "women" and "gender" to be filtered, with the excuse of blocking pornography.
  • A large problem is self-censorship on politically and culturally sensitive issues. Women’s rights is politically as well as culturally sensitive.
  • There is a lack of laws, meaning that much of the censorship is arbitrary and haphazard. It is normally left to the judge to decide, since there are no clear laws on what is permitted and what is not.
  • The One Millon Signatures campaign was launched in august 2006. It aims to collect one million signatures on a petition to the Iranian government asking for equal rights for women in Iran. It has done much to focus the efforts on women’s rights in Iran.
  • The changeforequality web site has been blocked more than ten times, but each time a new domain name is registered and it continues publishing. Four of the activists have been arrested, but the struggle will continue. The action can serve as a model for movements in repressed societies everywhere.

Zittrain: Comments on censorship in Iran. (dicsussion with Helge Tennøe)

Pervasive censorship in Iran, web sites have to be licensed, many topics are not allowed, such as atheism. ISPs can be held responsible for criminal content. Very precise censorship, the ISP is responsible. The government is not monolithic, there are struggles inside the government, first they were excited about broadband, then you need a license to have anything faster than 128 Kbps.

Why do they have Internet in Iran at all? Very few states explicitly rejects modernity – Cuba and North Korea are some of the very few. Most states want the economic effects of the Internet. It is rather haphazardly enforced, though. Iran filters more stuff than China, but China tries harder to filter the relatively few things they filter.

The US government has actually contracted with Anonymizer, to provide circumvention software for Iranians, and for Iranians only. Rather primitive, and filtered, of all things, for pornography (the stop word "ass" means that was filtered)

Radio Tibet – a radio in exile

Øystein Alme – started broadcasting in 1996, the Chinese have been jamming. Still the program is getting into Tibet. Øystein got involved as a backpacker many years ago, came back home and started reading up on Tibet, started Voice of Tibet. Now has fifteen employees, one in Norway, the rest is in Pakistan and India. Main channel into Tibet is shortwave radio, in China it is the Internet. Have spent a lot of time studying how to avoid Chinese jamming of frequencies, which are reserved for Voice of Tibet.

China is a repressive state, where the party dominates despite only having 6% of the population as members. (If you strip off those who are members because they need the membership to get a promotion in their job, not many remain). China has signed up to the articles on Human Rights, but break their promises with impunity.

Internet use in China is growing dramatically. China’s Internet police number 50,000, censoring made possible with foreign technology companies such as Google. One journalist, Shi Tao, got ten years for an article criticizing the government – and he was found thanks to information provided by Yahoo.

But the Internet is also the hope for change – with it we would not have the images from Tibet, for instance.

Discussion: Zittrain, Alme

Alme: Companies such as Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and others should join forces and together resist the policies of the government.

The Chinese government also use the Internet proactively, to push their point of view.

Zittrain: These companies could also offer business reasons for privacy, for instance offering encrypted accounts for business conversations.

Movie from Iran: a recording studio with bombs going off outside. During the Israeli siege of Lebanon, hit by 15000 missiles, a country of 4 million people under siege that we hear very little about. Zena el Khalil is an artist currently based in Beirut. Her blog from Beirut during the siege of Lebanon in 2006 was followed by a number of people as well as newspapers, who found it a valuable addition to official sources.

She talked about how her blog and others both changed the world’s perspective on the war and documented it: Lebanon is lacking in history since so much of it is rewritten by the warring parties. She also documented how Israeli attacks on a power plant created an ecological disaster, as oil spread as far north as Syria and even Turkey.

Here’s to hoping for a barren Mars

Nick Bostrom discusses the consequences of finding sign of life on Mars. Finding it would be a bad thing, he argues, since that would imply that the evolution of intelligent life starts easily and ends inevitably. Much better to find a barren Mars, indicating that we have already made it past the Great Filter of evolution and can look forward to a future for humanity.

(Via Tim O’Reilly.)