New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, March 17

Voting systems company threatens Dutch state

Voting systems company threatens Dutch state

“Buy my company now or you won’t have provincial elections”

February 28th, 2007

After invoking the Dutch Freedom of Information Act, the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation has received a number of unnerving documents from the Dutch Electoral Council. These documents describe the wheeling and dealing of Jan Groenendaal, whose company is responsible for all the software sold by the Nedap/Groenendaal consortium that sells the voting computers used in over 90% of Dutch municipalities. Groenendaal's company writes the software that tabulates the election results on both the local and the national level. The Dutch government depends on Groenendaal's company to the extent that it currently cannot hold elections without his help. The Electoral Council concludes this in Image:Pdf_icon.png worried letters (Dutch) to the responsible minister that are part of the correspondence now made public.

The letters also show that Groenendaal was more or less blackmailing the Dutch government at the time of the previous parliamentary elections. On November 10th, he sends an Image:Pdf_icon.png e-mail (english translation) warning the ministry that his company will cease all activity if Rop Gonggrijp of the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation becomes a member of the independent commission that is investigating the future of the electoral process. This commission was instituted after earlier Image:Pdf_icon.png exposés by the foundation Gonggrijp founded. Despite this intervention, Groenendaal probably senses that the commission's report (due in October 2007) is likely to negatively impact the value of his company. Therefore, Groenendaal makes a very straightforward business proposal in the same e-mail, : "The ministry buys the shares of our company at a reasonable price, [...] and we will still cooperate during the next election (the Dutch 2007 provincial elections to be held March 7th).

On November 22nd 2006 (the day of the national elections) he wrote Image:Pdf_icon.png a letter (Image:Pdf_icon.png english translation) which doesn't spell blackmail as explicitly to minister Nicolaï, in which he indicates his need to sell quickly because he would like to “abruptly” retire. But when that letter fails to elicit a fast response, Groenendaal writes an Image:Pdf_icon.png alarming e-mail (Dutch) to the Electoral Council in which he says: "We are heading towards a very dangerous situation". Right in the heat of election preparation, he writes: "I have ordered my employees to halt all activity until we have received an answer that is acceptable to us", and asks the secretary-director of the Electoral Council to intervene on his behalf. As far as we know, the Dutch government never filed criminal charges in relation to this attempted extortion.

The mails also show that Groenendaal was contemplating going to court to force the public prosecutor to arrest Rop Gonggrijp, founder of the "We do not trust voting computers" foundation. Groenendaal writes: "After all, his activities are destabilizing society and are as such comparable to terrorism. Preventive custody and a judicial investigation would have been very appropriate." The company also contemplated suing Gonggrijp as well as the TV-program EénVandaag for damages. In their October 4th 2006 broadcast, EénVandaag showed that Nedap voting computers could easily have their software exchanged and that large numbers of these computers were stored in unprotected locations. Groenendaal would also like to see the foundation's two legally bought voting computers confiscated.

In the documents, one can also read how, before the November 22nd elections, Groenendaal sent a letter to all Dutch municipalities which use his system in which he criticizes the Ministry of the Interior for their handling of the crisis regarding the concerns over the verifiability of voting computer election results. In this Image:Pdf_icon.png letter (Dutch) Groenendaal, on behalf of his company, rejects all responsibility for a well-run election. The minister deemed it necessary to quickly follow up with Image:Pdf_icon.png another letter (Dutch) to try and control the damage. In general in his Image:Pdf_icon.png e-mails (Dutch) Groenendaal (sometimes signing as "generally acknowledged election expert") shows frustration over the way in which the Dutch state, after years of neglect, is re-taking control over the elections. Where possible, Groenendaal attempts to Image:Pdf_icon.png sabotage (Dutch) this process. When the Electoral Council informed Groenendaal that it would like to put a copy of the source code of his software at a so-called "escrow organization" for safe keeping, Groenendaal demanded a 100 Million Euro guarantee from the Electoral Council in case something would happen to the source code for which the escrow organization could not be held responsible.

Publicly to this day the Dutch government has always indicated to have a large amount of trust in Nedap/Groenendaal. Dutch election results are calculated using software made by Groenendaal that has never been inspected by any independent body, despite an Image:Pdf_icon.png advice (Dutch) by the Dutch Electoral Council to subject this software to inspection. And when the Dutch government found out how easy it was to replace the software in Nedap voting computers, it ordered replacement and inspection of all the memory chips. These inspections were done by Nedap/Groenendaal, which was thus inspecting itself. These inspections prompted the Dutch government to issue a press release (Dutch) titled: "No doubts regarding reliability of voting machine".

According to Rop Gonggrijp of "We do not trust voting computers" the use of voting computers threatens the verifiability of election results, because the computers in use today do not allow for any post-election audits. “These e-mails shed new light on the relationship between Nedap/Groenendaal and the state, and thus also on the entire chain of events regarding voting computers. We too had the opportunity to wreak havoc regarding the election organisation. But that’s never been our intention, we’re merely here to campaign for elections with a verifiable outcome. Had we e-mailed the minister in this tone, we’d be at the police station now”, says Gonggrijp.

"We do not trust voting computers" has written an Image:Pdf_icon.png open letter to the new responsible minister Ter Horst calling on her to “take the necessary measures needed to restore confidence in the electoral process and in the notion that our government can not be blackmailed”.

Background information

The "We do not trust voting computers" foundation has been campaigning against the use of the current generation of voting computers in The Netherlands since the summer of 2006. As a result of this campaign, it was revealed that Dutch election legislation fails to address key issues regarding voting computers and that the voting computer inspection regime is faulty at best. Inspections by an independent party (a private company named Brightsight) are limited to a very small number of machines and the inspections mostly test for resistance against vibrations, high humidity and power failures. Resistance against wilful manipulation is neither part of the legal requirements nor of the actual inspections.

"When we started to think about demonstration software that would lie about election results (called “Nedap PowerFraud”), we kept in mind that the system should not lie after an election that was obviously a test of the system. We decided we needed to store the votes and only decide whether or not to perform the fraud at the moment the election was closed, so our program would have as much information as possible to make that decision."
From the security analysis (8M pdf, in English) of the ES3B voting computer, manufactured by Nedap/Groendendaal.
Slashdot thread - "security by obscurity?"

In September the foundation legally bought two Nedap voting computers and showed it was relatively easy to create a version of the built-in software that manipulated the election results. It also turned out the chips that held the software could be easily replaced. Subsequently the Dutch government decided to have Nedap/Groenendaal inspect and seal all voting computers. Researching the voting computer also showed that voting computers emit radio waves that can be used to determine what is being voted, threatening the secret ballot.

As a result of the concerns raised over voting computers an independent commission led by ex-minister Korthals Altes was appointed in December 2006. This commission will report on the future of the Dutch electoral process in October 2007. A sub-commission led by ex member of parliament Loek Hermans will look back and examine the decisions made surrounding the introduction of voting computers. Nedap voting computers and Groenendaal election software are also used in parts of France and Germany, and both countries are said to be rolling out more computers. In 2004, Ireland bought 50M Euro worth of Nedap/Groenendaal equipment (sold as "PowerVote") and then decided not to use it in elections after doubts regarding system security were raised. The state of New York is currently contemplating buying 28.000 Nedap voting computers (sold as "LibertyVote") and accompanying software (appropriately named "LibertyControl").

Charity YouthNet repurposes content for mobile

Charity YouthNet repurposes content for mobile

Platform: Mobile | Author: Alex Farber | Source: | Published: 16.03.07

Online charity YouthNet is re-purposing its online content for mobile in a bid to reach 350,000 16 to 24-year-olds each month.

The charity runs the portal which offers lifestyle advice and help for young people.

Teenagers who access the site via their mobile will now be able to view content which is specifically designed and edited for the mobile phone rather than being presented with the full internet version.

"The site looked awful before when accessed on mobile but it's important our users have a good experience so we've now built three different versions," said Claire Easterman, new projects developments manager for YouthNet. now automatically detects if a user is accessing it from a mobile and then presents content in the relevant format.

It currently attracts 500,000 monthly unique users on PC and Easterman expects the mobile version to be accessed by 350,000 consumers by 2010.

One method Easterman will be employing to ensure this happens is leveraging the community aspect of the PC site on mobile. This challenge will form the second stage in the deployment of the mobile site.

The move is a slap in the face for the dotmobi initiative which attempts to convince content owners to publish on a mobile specific domain name.

Video game playing frequency 'Quite Staggering'

The Games People Play: Nielsen Finds Reach, Frequency 'Quite Staggering'
by Joe Mandese, Friday, Mar 16, 2007 8:32 AM ET
IN A MOVE THAT IS likely to have significant implications for the way advertisers and media planners think about audience shares for traditional television dayparts, Nielsen Thursday released the first snapshot of a new measurement service tracking the burgeoning market of video game consoles, which finds much of the usage is taking place when people would normally be watching conventional TV programming. The report, "The State of the Console," finds that the penetration of video game consoles soared nearly 19% during the fourth quarter of 2006 and are now in more than 45.7 million homes account for 41.1% of TV households. The study suggests that while Madison Avenue has become transfixed by other digital media, especially online, DVRs, and personal media devices such as the iPod, video games already are having a profound impact on the way people spend time watching TV for a very simple reason: Most video game consoles are connected to the primary or secondary TV set in TV households, and they are used primarily during traditionally peak TV usage time periods - especially among some of the most important and elusive TV audience demographics.

While Nielsen has not yet released explicit audience shares for individual console systems and game titles - it will begin doing so later this year - the new data reveals that console usage peaks and ebbs in a pattern that is almost identical with traditional TV dayparts, rising during prime-time and declining during wee hours. Among men 18-34, for example, TV usage peaks between 9:00 and 9:59 at night with an estimated 10.9 million watching TV at that hour. Console usage, meanwhile, peaks between 10:00 and 10:59 at night, with 814,000 mean 18-34 active users between that hour.

The new data also offers the first glimpse of the "unduplicated" reach among various demographics using conventional TV and gaming consoles, which also suggests that advertisers and agencies may soon begin planning the impact of consoles alongside other conventional TV platforms like broadcast and cable TV.

"Among key console demographic groups, the reach and frequency is quite staggering," says the Nielsen report. "Three out of every four boys aged 2-11 (75.8%) used an in-home video game console for at least one minute in the fourth quarter of 2006. Those boys 2-11 averaged 2 hours and 30 minutes of usage per usage day. Almost half of all men aged 18-34 used a console at least once for a period of one minute or more during the fourth quarter (48.2%, or 16.1 million). Men 18-34 who did use their console, averaged 2 hours and 43 minutes per usage day."

The report notes that consoles also are having a profound impact on the TV usage patterns of demographics "generally considered less significant in the video game market: "For example, half of all teenage girls (50.8% or 6.1 million) used a console at least one minute during the quarter."

Study: 50 Million+ "Senior" Video Game Fans Can't Be Wrong; Older Game Players Derive Mental Workouts, Stress Relief and Pain Distraction from Playing
Largest-Ever Survey Yields Surprising Data: 47% are Age 50+, and Nearly 20% Are Age 60+; Older Consumers Play for Different Reasons

SEATTLE, Washington – October 4, 2006 — Of the estimated 150 million consumers who play family-friendly, non-violent puzzle, word and simple action games on the computer regularly, almost half of them are age 50 or older, according to a new survey from "casual" games leader PopCap Games®. Among players of casual games who are age 50 or older, 74% cited cognitive workouts (mental exercise), 86% noted stress relief, and 62% chose memory strengthening, as benefits they'd experienced from playing such games. Further, fully 32% of respondents 50 or older said the games distract them from chronic pain/fatigue, and nearly one in ten subjects said they derive actual pain relief from playing. In addition to playing the games primarily for mental and physical benefits rather than pure entertainment, older game players had distinctly different views and habits relating to when, how much and which kinds of casual games they play. Of the nearly 2,200 consumers who took the survey, 1,040 were 50 or older, amounting to 47% of the overall respondents; fully 19% of survey respondents were age 60 or older.

Segmentation Analysis: Older vs. Younger Casual Games Players
Players age 50 or older enjoy casual games considerably more frequently and for longer periods than their younger counterparts; 65% of players age 50 and up say they play the games on a daily basis, compared to less than half of younger players. 31% of older gamers say they play for 10 or more hours per week, compared to 25% of younger players. In response to the question "when do you play casual games?" older players chose "in the morning, before the day begins" 23% of the time, while younger players selected that choice just 16% of the time. The most popular answer to that question, among both older (49%) and younger (52%) players, was "weekday evenings."

Motives For Playing:
While the percentage of older players who noted "stress relief" as a reason for playing casual games was slightly lower than that of survey respondents overall (86% vs. 89%), older players chose several other reasons more often than their younger counterparts. "Distraction from chronic pain/fatigue" (32% vs. 23%), "memory strengthening" (62% vs. 55%) and "cognitive exercise" (74% vs. 73%) were among the benefits cited more frequently by older players. Further, when asked to choose the single most important reason for playing, those age 50 or older chose "entertainment" even less frequently than younger players (16% vs. 21%); top responses to that question from among the subjects age 50 and up were "stress relief/relaxation" (39%) and "mental workout" (21%). In general, 86% of older survey respondents said that they felt playing casual games offered them physical and/or mental health benefits, compared to 74% of under-50 respondents.

"I am in my fifties and I use casual word and puzzle games on the computer as well as recommending them to my patients," said Dr. Carl Arinoldo, a Stony Brook NY-based psychologist of 25 years and an author and expert on stress management. "I find that these types of games are wonderful as a stress management tool, while at the same time providing excellent cognitive exercise." Dr. Arinoldo surmised that older players' motives for playing were influenced by a growing awareness of the importance of "mental calisthenics" for maintaining a healthy mind. "While they may not choose ‘entertainment' as the primary reason for playing, it seems reasonable to assume that older players of these games are likely to recognize the benefits of cognitive exercise more readily than younger consumers," he said. "When you're 65 or 70 and you play a game of Bookworm or Bejeweled, you're more likely to identify improvements in your mental acuity that might go unnoticed by younger people."

Leisure Time Priorities:
When asked to identify "important" leisure time activities from among nearly two dozen common activities listed, overall survey respondents picked "playing casual computer games" (75%) more than any other choice, including "reading a book, newspaper or magazine" (73%), "spending time with friends or family" (70%), "watching TV or movies" (69%) or "listening to music or the radio" (57%). While those top two responses were also chosen most often by older survey respondents (with 77% and 75% respectively), other leisure time priorities varied significantly between 50+ and under-50 players. The third, fourth and fifth choices of older players were "watching TV or movies" (68%), "spending time with friends or family" (65%), and "listening to music or the radio" (49%). Among under-50 consumers the three most popular choices were "spending time with friends or family" (74%), "playing casual computer games" (73%) and both "watching TV or movies" and "reading a book, newspaper or magazine" (tied with 71% each). On a related question, 16% of survey respondents age 50 or older chose "playing casual computer games" as their most important leisure-time activities, compared with 10% of younger respondents.

Game Preferences:
Finally, the types of casual games enjoyed by each age group were significantly different. Only 18% of subjects 50 or older selected simple action games as one of their genre preferences, compared to 50% of respondents under the age of 50. Likewise, 17% of under-50 survey respondents signified simple simulations like Railroad Tycoon as a genre they enjoyed, while only 4% of those 50 and older chose that category. On the other hand, 57% of older players listed card games as a game genre they like to play, compared to 46% of those under age 50. Puzzle (87%), Arcade (69%) and Word games (58%) were the top three genre choices among survey respondents under the age of 50, while the top three choices among those age 50 and over were Puzzle (84%), Word (66%) and Card games (57%).

Digital divide grows for older Britons as others connect to new media

Digital divide grows for older Britons as others connect to new media

Angela Balakrishnan
Friday March 16, 2007
The Guardian

Mobile phones, the internet and digital televisions are increasingly transforming the lives of many British people - but also leaving millions of others stranded on the other side of the digital divide, a report said yesterday [pdf].

While recent years have seen a rapid rise in the use of technology, the Office for National Statistics said there was a growing gap between older people and lower income households who have little or no access to new technology and higher income households who are far more likely to have internet access.

The impact of websites such as eBay is reflected by figures which show that the percentage of adults in the UK who used the internet to sell goods doubled last year to 18% from the level recorded in 2003-04.

Apart from using the internet for buying and selling, more than 80% of individuals turn to it as a source of information or to send emails. Personal banking also rose to 43%. Music downloading is attempted by the more adventurous, with 40% of households accessing music online.

Overall, the ONS study found that Britain is fast becoming a nation that is better connected; the crossover year is seen as 2003, with more households having an internet connection than not having one. The number of broadband connections also overtook narrow band connections two years ago.

However, the study showed that 55% of over-50s had not used a computer in the past three months, compared with 13% of people aged 16 to 30. More than 90% of households in the highest income group have internet access, dropping to less than 20% for low earners.

"We live in an increasingly connected society, with the rapid advance of information and communication technology in business and in the home," the ONS said. "But by no means everyone has joined the digital age."

Although nearly a half of all households in the UK had internet access, digital TV service or one or more mobile phones last year, the report said that one in 12 households, or 8%, did not have access to any of these. Low income households were more likely to own a mobile phone or have digital television rather than internet access or a computer.

Income differences were reflected in the regional variations of household internet use. London, where households earn the highest average weekly income in the country - £766 - had the largest percentage of homes with internet access, while in the north-east, where the average weekly income is £455, only 44% of homes could access the internet, 14% less than the capital.

The biggest factor stopping the older generation from using the internet was a lack of interest or knowledge.

The research found that those of a working age saw the largest growth in use of the internet due to their jobs. The split between men and women of this age group of 16-65 was fairly equal. However, for the over-65s, women were found to be more technologically savvy, with 55% of females using the internet last year, compared to 43% of males.

OFCOM did a study last year — Media Literacy Audit: Report on media literacy amongst older people.

Amnogst other things it found:

Attitudes and preferences

  • Over half of those aged 65 and over say they would miss television the most out of an array of media activities. One in five says they would miss the radio most, and one in 10 newspapers. The figures for both radio and newspapers are higher than for the UK adults as a whole.
  • Nearly two in five (37%) of people aged 65 and over spend ‘all or nearly all’ of their leisure time at home, compared to 17% of all UK adults. Those with a disability, those aged 75+, and those living alone are more likely to do so.
  • Some 40% of those aged 65 or over say that they try to keep up with new technology, and 43% say they are interested in it (compared to 66% and 68% for all UK adults). Nearly 70% of older people say that they like technology to be simple and straightforward, compared to 59% of all UK adults.
  • One in eight (13%) older people says they would like to learn more about various elements of media, compared to 32% of all adults. Some 7% of older people say they are interested in learning about the internet, and 7% say they have already learned about it through classes or training. Those aged over 75, and those living alone, are significantly less likely to express interest in, or say that they have learned already, about aspects of the media.
  • Just over two thirds (68%) of internet users aged 65 and over use it for communication on a weekly basis, only slightly less than all UK adult internet users (72%). Nearly one-third use the internet for transactions (for example banking, or shopping) on a weekly basis. Over one quarter use it to look at news. Overall breadth of use however is narrower than that of all UK adults.
  • Some 34% of older people know how the BBC website is mainly funded, compared to 46% of all UK adults. One in ten older people knows the main way of funding for search engine websites, compared to 25% of all UK adults. This reflects the lower penetration of the internet amongst older people.
  • Nearly half of older internet owners (44%) say they are confident about blocking viruses and spam, compared to 58% of all UK adults with the internet at home.
  • The proportion of older people saying that ‘someone else tends to’ block computer viruses or e-mail spam or unwanted e-mail messages is no different than that for all UK adults (around one in five of both groups).

Older people 'missing out' online

Seniors Network started out in life as a vehicle to help get Older People interested in the Internet. It has worked in a very small way. We would like to increase the interest of older people in all manners of communication. So what can we do?

Let me have your feedback - your comments - your suggestions

Here is some food for thought

Friday, March 16

Disturbing film about children

Godfrey Reggio - "Evidence"

A short film by "Koyaanisqatsi" director Godfrey Reggio produced at Fabrica in Italy with Angela Melitopoulos and Miroslav Janek and produced by Massimo Cortesi.

Great film if you like the 'qatsi' style, but disturbing too: shows young children watching TV. Watch and you'll maybe get the disturbance.

Found on the great Canadian culture-jammers, Adbusters video-blog

China: 'Yahoo Betrayed My Husband'

FAIRFAX, Virginia -- Early one Sunday morning in 2002, a phone rings in Yu Ling's Beijing duplex. She's cleaning upstairs; her son is asleep, while downstairs, her husband, Wang Xiaoning, is on the computer. Wang writes about politics, anonymously e-mailing his online e-journals to a group of Yahoo users. He's been having problems with his Yahoo service recently. He thinks it's a technical issue. This is the day he learns he's wrong.

Wang picks up the phone: "Yes?"

"Are you home?" asks the unfamiliar voice on the other end.


The line goes dead.

Moments later, government agents swarm through the front door -- 10 of them, some in uniform, some not. They take Wang away. They take his computers and disks. They shove an official notice into Yu's hands, tell her to keep quiet, and leave. This is how it's done in China. This is how the internet police grab you.

Five years later, Yu, 55, sits in the dining room of a small house in Fairfax and weeps softly. She is a slight woman -- 100 pounds and barely 5 feet tall in slippers. Her eyes betray her exhaustion; but she is determined, too. She carries a thick stack of notes with her, and she has scrawled more on her left hand.

"Yahoo betrayed my husband and deprived him of freedom," Yu says through a translator, her voice trembling. "Yahoo must learn its lesson."


It's also a trade-off that Yahoo is not alone in making. To comply with government requirements, Google's China search engine blocks access to sites the government deems objectionable. Microsoft launched its Chinese blogging service in 2005 with filters that prohibited sensitive words such as freedom and democracy in blog titles. And Cisco supplies internet backbone equipment the Chinese government uses in the so-called Great Firewall that shields citizens from websites about Tibet and the Tiananmen Square massacre.


Thursday, March 15

Inside Mugabe's Zimbabwe

Inside Mugabe's Zimbabwe

March 14, 2007
It’s Almost Supernatural

I have just returned from a 5 day road trip through Zimbabwe—one of Africa’s most repressive states. At the moment it is in the headlines for the unlawful detention and torture of the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai (latest reports reveal he is in intensive care with a fractured skull).

Zimbabwe is a classic African tragedy. It is a land rich in minerals and agricultural potential. It was left good transport and communication infrastructure by European colonists. And ten years after independence (1990) it was the continents shining light with one of the best healthcare and education systems in Africa. But today by all development indicators it has regressed to pre-independence levels.

Literacy has fallen from about 80% in the 1990’s to a shocking 40%. Perhaps it’s not surprising in a country where most people face the terrible choice of either feeding or educating their children. And I can personally attest to the outcome. Milton, one of the former Rhodesia’s premier high schools, at its peak had a student body that numbered over a thousand. Today with a much larger general population, the school’s pupils number in the hundreds.

Children of school going age now roam the streets of major towns looking for work or hand-outs to help supplement there families meagre income. In fact with an average life expectancy of only 37 (it was 78 in the 1990’s) many of these kids are actually their families’ only providers.

We read regularly about the Zimbabwean economy being in freefall with inflation of over 1,000% but we rarely consider hyperinflation’s human toll. The horror of ones entire life savings wiped out and the fear of not knowing how one will be able to afford bread at next week’s prices. The physical manifestations of economic collapse are everywhere.

I had the privilege of spending some time in Bulawayo’s remarkable Jewish community and was fortunate to get a chance to speak to some of its foremost personalities about how the community continues to survive despite the hostile conditions. I also managed to explore the remnants of Bulawayo’s main synagogue and attended a family unveiling at the Jewish cemetery (the purpose of my visit).

Zimbabwe is very raw in my mind. I am still trying to process and evaluate all that I have seen and heard. But hopefully over the next few weeks I will be able to get my head around it and blog about some of my experiences and post some of the jarring images I managed to capture on camera. I hope that my upcoming series will move your analysis of the situation out of the realm of shocking statistics and convene the extent of the human tragedy and at the same time the remarkable resilience of Zimbabwe’s people.

Dear Comrades

After the recent spate of biased and mischievous reporting by the colonialist foreign press, I have ultimately decided to reveal to you, the honest and hard-working citizens of Zimbabwe, a little more of Mugabe - The Man.

I know you love your leader as much as you love your country. I know you deserve to see what kind of man I am. To those of you that already know me, this will simply be a joyous refresher of your cherished memories of me. To those with the still unfulfilled desire to know me better, I welcome you to an intimate glimpse of Mugabe - The Man.

ENTER [where you are presented with the photo, right)

and the Mugabe sense of humour.

Gerhard Schroeder

Hmmm. Maybe I should have layed off those baked beans at lunch.
Blah, blah, blah, get on with it!
UN meetings are ideal for a snooze. They are always on about the same stuff....human rights this and democracy that....bunch of pretentious monkeys!

Smoking without smoke!


Smoking 2.0 Give Lungs a Break

By Nicole Martinelli

MILAN, Italy -- The NicStic is a cigarette-size plastic tube with a rechargeable heating coil that vaporizes tobacco instead of burning it.

Pop a filter on the end of the tube, and in seconds it is warmed up enough for a nicotine fix without the smoke. Because it has no smoke, it also has none of the tar, arsenic, cadmium and formaldehyde of regular cigarettes; it also passes muster with local anti-smoking laws here.

"I actually don't mind doing a bit of vogueing with this," said Victor Chambers, a former model and steady smoker, who tried the device at a reporter's request inside a crowded local bar. "Shivering in the rain for a smoke is just so last season."

Vaporizers have been an underground hit with pot smokers; and with tobacco-smoking restrictions or bans in effect in 33 countries -- from Cuba to Norway, and counting -- cigarettes are primed for their own killer app.

The NicStic kit, which retails online for 80 euros (about $100), comes with a small plastic heating case, three voltage adapters and a carton of filters in boxes that resemble standard cigarette packs. The heating case is powered by a 3.7-volt lithium battery like those found in cell phones or digital cameras; once charged, it can fire up about 20 fume-free smokes.

Billed as "enjoyment without discrimination," it may seem to give smokers another crutch to maintain their nic addiction in the face of a vehement social backlash [doh!]. But the device is winning support from some health officials as a way to help smokers who want to kick the habit.

"It could be a useful bridge to help quit," said anti-smoking campaigner Dr. Giacomo Mangiaracina, of the Italian Society for the Study of the Effects of Tobacco.

On the downside, NicStic is kind of an olfactory three-card monte: There's no smoke or its lingering funk but there is a distinct tobacco smell, unpleasant even to smokers. It's easy to see that nicotine also doubles as an effective insecticide -- the smell of musky, dry tobacco sent every living thing in one apartment scampering for cover the day the kit arrived in the mail.

Singapore Google Maps Mashup Roundup


Since streets, roads and points of interest were added for Singapore back on December 20th, 2006 that country has seen a huge number of Google Maps mashups created for all kinds of things to do in Singapore by blogger SinGeo. The following list could help those living in Singapore as well as tourists who are traveling there to visit:

Links are the grammar of the Web

Links are the grammar of the Web

By Gerry McGovern

Linking is the foundation of every quality website. Everything starts with the link. You build from the link, not from the sentence.

Read the following paragraph and try to identify how it should be dealt with in terms of links:

"In the following section you will be provided with a range of information that should help you decide which is the right mortgage for you. It also provides you information about the other costs associated with a mortgage. There are specific sub-sections for first-time buyers and for those seeking to re-mortgage."

Let's get rid of the above paragraph entirely and replace it with the following four links:
  • Decide which is the right mortgage for you
  • Other costs associated with your mortgage
  • First-time buyers' mortgage guide
  • Re-mortgaging: here's what you need to know
We have been trained to write full sentences and full paragraphs, but on the Web these full sentences and paragraphs can often get in the way. We have been trained to create context and formal, neat content, but on the Web context and neatness can often slow things down.

On the Web, customers want to skip the details and get straight to the point. Long-winded sentences that bend on and on like country roads are definitely not what they want.

Most people don't even read full sentences on the Web anymore. What they much prefer is a lean link that is chock-full of information. A typical sentence is like an orange; a web link is like freshly squeezed orange juice. Sure, there's good stuff in the sentence but it needs peeling.

The following types of sentence are absolutely wrong for the Web:
  • In the following section you will be provided with a range of information that should help you decide which is the right mortgage for you.
  • We are delighted to announce the launch of our new version 6.1 of Fangater.
  • XYZ Limited strives to develop and supply the most robust and cutting-edge financial services for the aviation industry
Linking is the grammar of the Web. Never say "in the following section" when you can link directly to the exact place people need to get to. Why talk about the launch of your new product, when you can invite customers to see a demo or download a trial version?

Why on earth start a sentence on your website with your organization's name? Unless your website is for slow learners, then don't waste precious time telling people something they already know.

Read this sentence again:
"In the following section you will be provided with a range of information that should help you decide which is the right mortgage for you."

The reader is 22 words in before they discover what exactly it is that the sentence is about. The sentence might be good English but it is bad web grammar. The impatient scan reader has moved on.

Look at your web sentences again. Delete the first half and then turn the second half into a link. Focus on what your customers need to do, not on what you need to tell them. Web content is not composed of sentences into which links are imbedded. It is composed of links alone or links that are supported by the toughest, leanest sentences possible. Build from the link, not from the sentence.

Gerry McGovern

Make your website more customer-centric

You may quote freely from this issue once you give proper attribution. (A link to would be appreciated.) You are also welcome to republish this article in full once you give proper attribution and place the following link at the end of the article:
Content management solutions: Gerry McGovern

My pleasure Gerry.

Vertical Search on the Rise

Search Engine Guide
Vertical Search on the Rise
By Jason Prescott - February 27, 2007

Internet search is changing in many different ways. Audience fragmentation is rampant on the web because Internet users have specific interests and diverse needs. Consumers demand more choices and are responding to personalization like never before.

A recent personalization survey conducted by Choice Stream [pdf] in 2006 shows that consumers are willing to sacrifice privacy for personalized content.

This annual survey provides insight into current consumer preferences, showing an increasingly favorable trend toward personalization since 2005. Key findings in 2006 indicate that interest in personalization is strong, with as many as 79 percent of those surveyed showing a preference for receiving personalized content.

The number of consumers willing to trade privacy for personalization also increased in 2006, with 57 percent of consumers willing to provide personal demographic information in exchange for personalized content, whereas in 2005, only 46 percent were willing to make the trade.

Search Needs Differ

People have diverse search needs that can range from very specific purchase behavior to informational searching on topics such as health or leisure. The Internet audience is varied, ranging from GenYers flocking to MySpace to baby boomers seeking simple pleasures and the fountain of youth.

Stratified web audiences result in many different ways of searching, spawning a new generation of search engines. This has implications for marketers as targeting becomes the latest buzz word in search and every other online marketing channel.

General Search Losing Favor

Many people find that general search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live are not the be-all and end-all for their web searches. That's because general search engines are cluttered with all the information that's fit to index, so many queries bring irrelevant results.

Research has revealed a search failure rate of 31.9 percent on general search engines among business users (Outsell 2006). Another study by Convera (2006) reveals that professionals in every industry can't find vital, work-related information on major search engines.

Part of the problem is that general search engines were not designed as business tools. Beyond that, most business executives are not trained to search the web. As a result, only four out of 10 professionals are satisfied with general search engines.

Convera's survey of business executives reports the following -- and it's not very good news for Google or Yahoo:

  • 11 percent always found what they were looking for on the first attempt.
  • 43 percent always found what they were looking for after several attempts.
  • 21 percent felt their queries were always understood.

Results like those of Outsell and Convera encourage the continued localization and verticalization of search. In fact, we are seeing a whole new generation of search engines, each with a mission to personalize search based on idiosyncratic user needs.

Second-Generation Search

While general search engines basically rank by the largest number of inbound links from other highly ranked pages within their index, a second generation of search engines has started to rank by various other factors, including the human element.

Perhaps Yahoo was among the first innovators with Yahoo Mindset, where you can choose commercial vs. noncommercial results. Yahoo describes this as intent-driven search where users specify their intent, selecting the most relevant results.

Clusty also came out with something new by grouping similar items together and organizing search results in folders. Since then, there have been many different types of search engines launched to better meet user needs. Perhaps the latest entries are Eons and Cranky for boomers and seniors. Here you can find fun and games for the over-50 crowd in addition to health, travel and obits.

Some of the most interesting newbies include Rollyo and Collarity. Rollyo is a social search engine that allows users to create and publish their own search engine rolls by selecting websites for inclusion. Collarity is a community search engine that personalizes search through human input and automatically serves results specific to user interests by tapping into information gained from previous queries.

The search world as we know it is changing rapidly. While local search and vertical search have been around a long time, they are about to blossom and get a larger share of the market.

Local Search Rising

Local search could represent one of the last big digital land grabs. There is a huge opportunity to dominate local search that is currently not claimed by any one sector. Local newspapers or the Yellow Pages could go for it, and the general search engines could own it as well.

Offline newspapers get 18 percent of local ad dollars ($90 billion per year). However, online newspapers only get 4 percent, leaving an opportunity for growth. While local advertising used to be a cash cow for newspapers, they are being preempted by the web, where sellers can get free classifieds and buyers have multiple choices at their fingertips.

The Yellow Pages is a different story. While offline Yellow Pages get 10 percent of local ad dollars, online Yellow Pages get 42 percent of the pie. It looks like online Yellow Pages are ahead, but no one owns the space yet.

Local Advertising

Local online advertising is also on the upswing. EMarketer's current estimate shows the U.S. local online ad spend at $1.3 billion in 2006, representing 7.9 percent of a total U.S. online ad spend of $16.7 billion.

If the local online ad spend were to double this year to $2.6 billion, it would still represent roughly 10 percent of the estimated $20.3 billion total ad spend for 2007. Local online advertising growth is there for the asking, but it remains to be seen who will grab the ring.

Vertical Search Relevance

Addressing the difficulty of finding work-related information through general search engines, the Convera study identified a trend showing that trade publications are developing niche search engines to serve their professional communities. These verticals will likely provide more relevant search opportunities for B2B users. When Convera asked respondents about expectations for these new vertical search engines (VSEs), almost 90 percent of the executives said they thought vertical search tools would offer more relevant content.

  • 86 percent thought VSEs would locate content more quickly.
  • 85 percent thought VSEs would offer access to content not indexed by general search engines.

While the rationale for indexing and including the world's entire content is based on a search engine's need to provide unbiased, unfiltered information, there are certainly advantages to filtering and limiting content based on user needs. That is why most major search engines segment their databases into various content areas such as image, video, news, local and blog search, et cetera. However, the verticals seem to do a better job of providing relevant results, and that is the reason for their increasing popularity.

It may take some time before local and vertical search dominate in cyberspace, but these specialty search engines could one day become more important than Google.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

Wednesday, March 14

Net creator says: 'buy enhanced senses and physical abilities'!

Net creator says bionic will boom

Sydney Morning Herald
Photo: Tony Phillips

Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the intenet and now Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, pictured in Brisbane.

Patrick Gray
March 13, 2007

The line between human and machine is becoming finer, according to the father of the internet, Vint Cerf.

Dr Cerf was in Brisbane last week to speak at the launch of the Hear and Say Centre, a charity for the deaf and hearing-impaired.

He says the consumer of the future will be able to buy enhanced senses and physical abilities as bionic implant technology improves.

Society shouldn't be afraid of using technology like the bionic ear to "enhance" senses, as well as to correct disabilities. Dr Cerf's wife, Sigrid, has two cochlear implants, also known as bionic ears.

"Where do we draw the line between repairing impairments and actually enhancing capabilities? I think the answer is we don't and should not draw that line," he told journalists during a press conference.

"There is nothing that should stop us from taking the same technologies that bring someone into the normal mainstream of hearing, for example, and actually allowing people to hear sound that other people could not hear."

Ocular implants, designed to repair blindness by allowing patients to see in the normal range, could be boosted to allow anyone to see in the infrared or ultra-violet spectrum, Dr Cerf says.

"The same thing could be true for neuro-motor implants, spinal cord implants that would allow you to signal to otherwise useless limbs, like arms and so on."

Dr Cerf, who is now vice-president of Google, concedes these super-human capabilities - like all technology - would most likely be available only to those who could afford it.

He does not find the idea overwhelming or dangerous. But he is less enthusiastic about technologies that change the way we think or make decisions.

Ray Kurzweil, a technologist who pioneered the first CCD flat-bed scanner, has predicted that the intelligence of machines will surpass that of humans within a few decades.

Dr Serf said of such speculations: "If I were Ray Kurzweil . . . I might be saying, 'Well it's all over for humans anyway, it's too late. Computers are already evolving very quickly and by 2030 there will be computers capable of thinking faster than human beings.'

"Personally I'm sceptical of this, but if you wanted to worry about something, you should worry about that."

Dr Cerf's timeline is more conservative. He says spinal and ocular implant technology is at the same stage now as cochlear implants were 20 years ago, but devices designed to interact with the mind, as opposed to the senses, aren't yet feasible because our understanding of consciousness is limited.

"We don't understand how the brain thinks, but we do understand how our bodies transduce signals," he says.

Usability in space

Submission Deadline: April 15, 2007

Designing the user experience of future peripatetic users: new HCI design challenges in Space

Travelling to the depths of Space is no longer a privilege of astronauts and scientists. Space Agencies are starting to allow those who have the means to afford it, provided that they fulfil a minimum set of physiological requirements to join the ventures into outer space. At the same time, companies are developing spacecrafts for civilian use and plan huge space stations capable of accommodating thousand of settlers. However, micro-gravity or reduced and enhanced gravity environments strongly influence the way users interact with technology. In other words, what works on earth does not necessarily perform in Space. As the age of space habitation dawns, we must work to find ways to transfer our technological advances on Earth to Outer Space

The Overall objective of the Book
This book aims to present significant projects carried out in academia, space agencies and in industry regarding the quality of the user experience with interactive systems in Space. The idea is to promote awareness of interdisciplinary work concerning methods and tools for HCI in Space in order to be ready for the future life beyond the terrestrial atmosphere and to share knowledge to develop innovative interactive systems on Earth. A crucial problem when designing HCI for Space systems refers to the validity of data gathering and the realism of user scenarios. Ethnographic on-site studies and evaluation methods show that some problems concerning the user behaviour and environment are only identified when capturing the rich texture of activity being performed in the field.

The Target Audience
Educators, and Researchers in HCI, managers of HCI projects working in Space and mobile industry (telecom companies, device manufacturers, service providers, game designers, etc.); industrial designers; new media trends sociologists; new media journalists; human factors practitioners; interface evaluators, information architects, designers and testers. The book is intended to provide valuable material to be used for research and teaching purposes (in any curricula including communication and information systems in its set of disciplines). This book is also intended to be useful for designers and engineers that need concrete materials to understand the user experiences in social practices and to evaluate the applications used and combined.

ü Technological, cultural, political, philosophical, psychological and
economic dimensions of pervasive and interactive communication systems in
ü Situational awareness: systems that enable people to react to impending
lethal events ( e.g., solar flares detected during an interplanetary travel
or extraterrestrial human exploration).
ü New challenges in pervasive communication systems in Space: new users
and uses, interoperability amongst interfaces, tangible computing,
intelligent environments, context awareness, etc;
ü Innovative research approaches for the creation of operationally
relevant and realistic future scenarios;
ü Taxonomy of radically new applications;
ü Art expressions (e.g. locative art) in space and patterns for smart &
malleable digital content;
ü Advanced interaction models (immersive & intelligent environments,
humanising interfaces, haptics, etc);
ü Transferring interaction patterns between usage areas (e.g. games,
Space industry, medical, etc);
ü Advanced evaluation techniques for pervasive systems in Space.
ü Participatory Design and other user-centered approaches focused on
users' cultural, social, behavioural and ergonomic backgrounds.
ü Challenges of analyzing and designing to support sociability in the
ü Emerging nomadic societies, communities and related socio-cultural
ü Assessment of the Perceived Quality of Experience through
ethnographies, or other experimental evaluation techniques.
ü Novel methodologies for services design.

Book edited by
Dr. Anxo Cereijo Roibás, University of Brighton;
Loredana Bessone, ESA

Scientific Board
Dr. Patricia.M.Jones, NASA
Prof. Ignacio Aedo, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Dr. Jeffrey W. McCandless, NASA Ames Research Center
Didier Chincholle, Usability & Interaction Lab - Ericsson Research

Full chapters are expected to be submitted by May 31, 2007. All submitted
chapters will be reviewed on a double-blind review basis. The book is
scheduled to be published by Idea Group Inc.,, publisher
of the Idea Group Publishing, Information Science Publishing, IRM Press,
CyberTech Publishing and Idea Group reference imprints.I
Inquiries and submissions can be forwarded electronically (World document)

Daily Show: Is Cheney Losing His Clout?

I love Jon Stewart. This is classic.

He does his Cheney as The Penguin from Batman shtick. ROTFL every time. That's Burgess Meredith's -
Heh, Heh .Heh ,Quack, Quack, Well the Dynamic Duo, their faces completely covered with penguin egg. Heh, Heh, Heh. (RealAudio, 107KB)
from the incredibly campy 60s TV version, rather than Danny DeVito's from the formulaic Batman Returns.
Daily Show: Is Cheney Losing His Clout?

tds-cheney.jpg In the wake of the Libby verdict, political pundits across the spectum are wondering if Cheney's clout is diminishing. Last night Jon [Stewart] ran through the lowpoints of Dick's reign as Veep and puts the question to rest.

video_wmv(from silentpatriot) Download (6155) video_mov Download (2668)

We really are everywhere

The 'don't ask, don't tell' debate about gays in the US military has flared again. The top general just called gays "immoral" (then had to apologise). In discussing the bizarre policy, one spokesman said that raising the issue during a war was 'divisive'.

To this, blogger Nathaniel Frank responds by pointing out that they've evicted 11000 perfectly competent soldiers/sailors/airmen in total (I assume he means since 1994). this lot includes:

  • 300 linguists,
  • 49 nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare specialists,
  • 90 nuclear power engineers,
  • 52 missile guidance and control operators,
  • 150 rocket, missile and other artillery specialists, and
  • 340 infantrymen.
The two evictees pictured right are gay Army veterans Alexander Nicholson (Arabic) and Jarrod Chlapowski (Korean). they're desperate for Arab linguists.

The UK's a bit more grown up.

Tuesday, March 13

World webcams


Sorry, taken World WebCams off. hopefully just for a while.

had a report that someone was getting the site disappearing whilst it tried to load the feed (it's intermittent). So, it's off until I figure it out.

off to widget-hell ...

Council DigiTV: end is nigh?

THE plug is to be pulled on Bolton Council's digital TV site with viewing figures falling as more people access the authority's services on the internet.


In its first month of operation the DiGI TV site received more than 4,000 hits and later peaked at more than 7,000.

But fewer than 1,000 people a month are now viewing the site, compared to the 200,000 hits recorded at A council spokesman said: "DiGI TV did prove valuable in improving the electronic system and the feedback from people about the kind of information they expected to find on a site such as this was also very useful.

"The council plans to monitor and review the situation in the future as the switchover to digital TV continues."

If you look through the interactive options on Freeview, this stuff isn't there anyway (it's there but isn't working on my Virgin). But what actually gets looked at? I'd be interested in the stats, but I don't noticed a huge rush by the likes of Tesco into this space and there is zero buzz elsewhere (e.g. USA) about this 'channel'. ZIP INTEREST. I'd bet it's just the weather and news which draws what eyes there are.

Much like with mobile content, this was predicted to work, but isn't and doesn't look likely to. Not with the set-up as it is. Although it's always struck me that some bureaucrat might assume this is a quick way to fag-smoking, sky-watching, sun-reading lairy 'digitally divided' types (aka chavs).

I can't see how you can get around the fundamental sit-back / lean-forward issue of TV vs Web? Which is well-documented. The roles are different (in our culture anyway).

Plus it's competing against the very loud marketing of getting online and doing your business there.

This is not just us (!), this is all the other benefits (such as cheaper car insurance!) getting 24-hr promo. Right now Which! is running a huge campaign for it's very good leaflets introducing people to using computers.

It is because of this + online banking that my mum has come 360º on computers, a situation I can imagine is replicated everywhere. However my mum is also facing no more computer lessons after her one lot.

Everywhere else appears to be challenging the digital divide head-on by supplying actual machines or as close as damn it and often training. Again, what makes us so special? When are we going to see Gordon Brown promoting UK Online?

The one benefit I can see out of DigiTV (for Bolton or others, otherwise wasting their time/money although they'd be valuable experience there) is that this route to customers absolutely forces you into improving communications. You have to offer simple menus, straightforward functionality, with very self-explanatory headlining and you have very little text available.

This is good practice for when portable devices do become more doable for transactions and is actually good practice for websites too.

DigiTV is a classic example of where government strategy goes big with something (the latest one of which does indeed continue to big this up), which turns out to be the wrong road but can't stop/turn around/ redirect resources quickly enough or to make the most of what's left.

My criticism's more about that than wasted money because at least someone's innovating.

I notice that DigiTV is now promoting it's viewability online — maybe there's a tie-up there? they could fill a few of Al Gore's TV station's 'pods'.

p.s. went looking for their logo. could I find it easily on their site? could I 'eck.

They have a marketing section but it's all offline marketing. You can read about web banners but find them? Guys, I'm linking to you here! (No usage stats either).

p.p.s. Bolton have a fabulous homepage. I love the logo, love the images of locals, love the slogan ('welcome to the family home'). It's actually quite distinctive and subtly innovative. At a quick scan, it's w-working (click fingers).