Tag Archives: World Wide Web

We are living in exciting times

28 Nov

While I was reading René Goscinny’s biography 1, some ideas popped up in my head. I first put them on Twitter, but someone asked me to put them on my blog, for easy reference. So here they are.

When I read how powerful publishers were in rejecting books and other publications in the past, I can understand how powerless they must feel now. They still cling to the old beliefs that allowed a few individuals to determine what the masses got to read, under guise of “culture”.

Not that everything that is published now is suited for everyone, but that is just the point. It is meant for a few readers, not the masses. It’s a bit like the early days of publishing, where books where made for a handful of people, because they were the only ones able to read. Nowadays as a creator you still want your publications to go to a handful of people, those who want to read your works, because they like it.

Why not make works that are suitable for the masses? Answer: lowest common denominator. Mass appeal means less specific content. There are those who believe that in a few years the good stuff will be established and the bad stuff will go away. That is old school think.

No, I believe the true explosion of creativity is still to come, after which everyone will create some kind of content, all 6+ billion people. This will wash away the old structures of publishing, based on scarcity. New structures will emerge, based on individual preference.

Until then we’re in this gray area, which we call the World Wide Web, forefront of things to come. We are writing history here!

That is all.

1 French: Goscinny (1926 – 1977) : La Liberté d’en rire (Amazon.fr link),
Dutch: Goscinny : Bedenker van Asterix’ avonturen (bol.com link).


My little rant about why it is so bad if an online community is closed

9 Apr

I wrote this little rant on TWiT Army Canteen. It is nothing new, just something to get out of my system after a recent bad experience with a closed community. I’ve edited the text a little bit compared to the series of 140-character long micro-blogging messages (called mu’s) I originally wrote my rant in.

I don’t mention the name of this closed community, because I don’t want lower myself to throwing mud and dissing people. I’m also not full of grudge, certainly not after I’ve put my thoughts in a blog post and don’t have to think about it anymore. If people are happy in their closed little world, let them be happy. I just don’t want to be part of that world. I’d rather be on the World Wide Web, where ideas roam freely and I can learn new things, even while hitting myself on the forehead now and then, because I made another stupid mistake in how I worded my sentences.

Although it may not seem like it to some and some of the times, I always try to be sincere and honest, and to respect other human beings. My idea is that I will be get the same in return, most of the times. At least, I learn to sharpen my social skills when communication goes awry and personalities do collide. Anything that doesn’t kill me can only make me better.

After this pre-rant, here’s the rant I was referring to…

I think there is value in having an open community, as opposed to a closed (hidden) community, even outweighing negatives of pesky spambots. The few closed online communities I’ve been part of were all kind of xenophobic and close-minded, dissing new users with new ideas as a rite of passage.

The idea behind a decision to keep a community closed is often to gather the elite, but those hardly are attracted to those communities. After some time, your closed community tends to fill up with socially inept people, who can’t deal with the realities of life in the open.

You really need an influx of new people and new ideas, keeping your community fresh and alive. The regulars should never become all-powerful.That is why your community should be open and the procedure to join should be almost invisible and instantaneous.

I know I’m a regular in this community [TWiT Army Canteen], and that I should try to stay as open and receptive to change as new users often are.

Rant over.

Keep your stuff safe

10 Dec

I’m an avid listener of Security Now! with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte. Especially for important websites (like a blog) it is prudent to keep yourself safe from being hacked. Use strong passwords for your login. Strong passwords can’t be easily remembered, because they are long (at least 22 characters) and use random numbers and letters.

Now I use a Mac, so for that platform 1Password by Agile Web Solutions is the best software solution for strong password generation and management. On Windows the best solution seems to be Roboform. Both programs offer maximum protection against hackers guessing your password and using your presence on the Web for their evil purposes.

To manage my passwords across different operating systems and computers (I have two computers hooked up to the Internet, and on one I have three operating systems running), I use the Foxmarks add-on for FireFox. On FireFox 3, this add-on stores both bookmarks and passwords on their servers. The passwords are safely stored in an encrypted format, using a key only you know, so only you can decrypt the passwords into cleartext.

These applications make security somewhat more manageable, but security in general will always be somewhat of a nuisance. You don’t want to make it easy to guess your password, because, otherwise, it would make it too easy for the bad guy with his password cracking tools. Security and convenience seem to be opposites.

Windows makes it even more complicated, because except trying to gain access to your stuff on the web, bad guys also want to take over your computer to do their evil bidding, preferably without your knowledge. I’m talking about viruses, worms, spyware, in short malware, which is short for malicious software.

Of course, you can install a virus scanner, and virus catchers. However, the real danger are the newest viruses and spyware, which haven’t been detected by the vendors of anti-virus and anti-spyware. Nowadays, you only have to visit a maliciously crafted website to get bit by a bug in your operating system and malware being installed surreptitiously on your Windows box.

At least, you’ve got to keep your system, your third party software and your virus definitions patched and up-to-date. Of course, this not only applies to Windows systems, but to any operating system, such as Mac OS X and Linux desktop. These systems have become so complex that it is impossible to exclude coding errors (called bugs) and vulnerabilities.

Even if you keep your operating system (etcetera) updated, you’re not sure if you’re protected against methods of compromising the security of your system (someone breaking into your computer and stealing your information, or using it as a zombie computer for spamming and to extort gambling websites). Does that mean the bad guys have won, and we should just give up? Of course not! It is an ongoing arms race, and you just have to keep it hard enough for the bad guys to break in and look elsewhere for a system that is easier to get into. If the lock on your door isn’t good enough anymore, change the lock.

Because Windows seems to be the main target at this moment, let us concentrate for a moment on that. So you keep your Windows OS updated, and still your computer could be overtaken by malware. What could we do to prevent that? What is our next line of defense? Enter Sandboxie.

Sandboxie is a Windows service that can be installed on your system, and creates a sandbox around your web browser (or any application you run on your Windows system). This sandbox prevents the program from changing your system. Once in the sandbox, the program cannot modify your system in any way, unless you tell Sandboxie it is OK.

Sandboxie was originally created for Internet Explorer, but nowadays it can be used for any piece of code, even programs that don’t touch the Internet at all (run locally). This means you can download an application in a sandboxed browser session, run it and see if it behaves. If it does, yes can run it in its own sandbox for a while (a few weeks) to see if it keeps behaving. If it does, you can let it roam free on your Windows system without the sandbox.

It is a great solution.

Of course, Sandboxie won’t protect you from websites trying to trick you from revealing your credentials, or even maliciously letting you click on invisible buttons (called clickjacking), possibly to “free” you of the money in your bank account, unknowingly letting you gift products on Amazon to strangers, or something else you don’t want to happen without your knowledge. For this you need to change your behavior. Simply log out of your accounts every time you’re leaving a website you’ve logged in to. Don’t just close the window, but actively log out, by clicking on the log out button.

Clickjacking is browser and operating system agnostic. This means it applies to Windows, Mac OS X and Linux OS desktop users alike, and it doesn’t matter which web browser you use. Invisible layers are part of the web specification and can’t be undone. To make matters worse, some websites have started to use invisible buttons to make fanciers user interfaces.

Luckily, there is a fix. If you use FireFox with the NoScript add-on, you are automatically protected against clickjacking. You can give permission to a website to allow clickjacking if you think it is part of their user interface, or just pass on it, and don’t use that particular part of the user interface.

However, NoScript opens another can of worms. It means you have to become security aware, which means you have to know a little bit about the dangers of the Internet, and put some effort into keeping abreast of the latest tricks of the bad guys. Most people I know are not willing to do that. They are proud they know how to operate the web browser and the various websites they visit. That is as far as they are prepared to go with this brand new technology. Any further and they fear becoming just as geeky as I am.

So, here is my advice to people who want to practice safe computing:

  • keep your operating system updated, turn on automatic updates
  • don’t open e-mail attachments and don’t click on links in e-mails
  • don’t use peer-to-peer services like Limewire and don’t visit shady websites (you know which websites I mean)
  • be skeptical about what comes from the Web; if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is; it is called “social engineering”, trying to trick people into clicking on links and visit websites they really shouldn’t

That is all.

Oops, that wasn’t all, because you need to remember to:

  • backup your data, both on an external hard disk, and on a separate location (off-site)
  • test your backups, to see if your data can be restored in case you need to

Now that is all!

The Semantic Web and RDFa

3 Dec

Manu Sporny has made an excellent introduction video about the Semantic Web, what it means and what you can do with it. He has put it on YouTube, and therefore I can put it on my blog. The video really says it all.

Another interesting piece of media I found on Phil Windley’s personal podcast Technometria, which includes an interview with Elias Torres and Ben Adida about RDFa. RDFa is a practical application of the Semantic Web, which is currently is in use and gains in popularity. You can listen to the interview here:

Manu Sporny also made a video about RDFa, and put it on YouTube:

That is a lot to digest. I hope you understand what it means, and especially what it will mean once it is universally adopted. You could do much more elaborate searches on the Web, and have much more relevant search results, because you can tell the search engine what you mean with your search query. This, in turn, can be used to rate documents in a search result (most relevant results on top).

Of course, there is more. Once content management systems adopt this semantic information gathering and processing, they can let the user drill deeper into the content, even if the author didn’t include outside links to relevant documents on the website, or even on the entire Web. The CMS could look for those documents for itself, because it understands the context of what has been selected by the user, and understands the meaning of other documents, and how they relate to the selected piece of text. The way users interact with this additional data can be recorded and used to add meaning. Once kick started, the Semantic Web would build itself.

That is all.