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Post Election Bits & Bytes

Election ’08 is now in the history books – so I figured it’s time to take a look backward, and a look forward at some relevant headlines.

Hacking Democracy

First, we’ll take a look at one of the best kept secrets of the campaign season, from both sides, care of a Newsweek article published just today.  Over the summer, the FBI had its hands full with simultaneous cyber crime investigations: the hacking of the Obama campaign computer system(s), and the hacking of the McCain campaign computer system(s).  While the intrusions have been acknowledged,  little else has been released or confirmed yet.  At this point, it’s known for sure that the FBI was involved, that “a large number of files” were stolen from the Obama side, and that the attacks came from a “foreign entity” and definitely did not come from the opposing sides.  The McCain campaign systems were intruded on in a similar fashion as the Obama systems, but the extent of the compromise on their side was unmentioned.  The rest is speculation of course: security experts have suggested the attacks likely came from China or Russia, and anyone’s best guess is that the goal of such an intrusion was to gain an inside line on procedures and policies used by the campaigns for a leg up in future dealings with the to-be president. (H/T to Newsweek)

This of course wasn’t the only politically motivated cyber-crime this campaign season – I’m sure many recall the Sarah Palin e-mail intrusion back in September.  Though it’s significance is near nil at this point, we’ll remember it as the day our servers felt the shock wave of a web traffic explosion.  If anyone is still interested: David Kernell, a college student in Tennessee, and the son of Tennessee democratic representiative Mike Kernell, was indicted by grand jury in late October.  His trial begins on December 16th, and faces up to 5 years and fines.  Not so “anonymous” now, eh David?  A court has also ordered the e-mails in both of governor Palin’s Yahoo! accounts be preserved for further investigation.

Another dishonorable mention is the state of Ohio election information and registration website that also came under attack, and experienced some brief downtime in late October.  (H/T to Reuters)

Technology Promises

I also want to give a nod back to another item I’ve talked about here: Science Debate 2008.  We’ve got a list of policies and action-items promised to us from pre-president-elect Obama in the realm of technology.  I’ll be saving a copy and keeping score for the next four to eight years.

Along the same lines is Obama’s “Blueprint for Change” video on technology issues.  Maybe you missed it?  Don’t feel bad; for whatever reason, this wasn’t released until the night before the election, effectively burying it in the rest of the 11th hour buzz.

Hi-Tech Election Day Coverage

Election night itself was a grand display of technology as well.  CNN debuted it’s new “hologram” technology – much to the chagrin of pocket protector pencil neck purists who are still complaining two days later that the effect isn’t actually a hologram.  “True” hologram or not, I personally found it a bit silly.  We’ll see if CNN or others bother with this technique down the road.

Ratings speak volumes though, and CNN enjoyed second place of 14 major networks covering the event with 12.3 million viewers.  ABC was the victor, at just over 13 million viewers.  In all, it’s estimated about 71 million viewers tuned in on Tuesday to watch the results unfold.  As impressive at it sounds, it’s still over 25 million shy of this year’s past Super Bowl.  Apparently the world’s couch potatoes are still more interested in the Patriots than in patriotism. (Nielsen’s complete ratings here.)

Nielsen also kept an eye to the web to gauge coverage ratings in cyberspace.  There’s a comprehensive list here if interested; CNN, MSNBC and Yahoo! News being the top three destinations for surfers on Tuesday. The official campaign sites also received a boost on Tuesday, with Obama’s site receiving 1.2 million unique visitors, and McCain’s site receiving 479,000 unique visitors.

The Future

Lastly, let’s look ahead to some new developments that will affect us going forward.

While not related to presidential politics per se, this is still a governmental policy decision that flew under the radar with all the elections buzz, that could mean huge developments in the wireless arena.  On Tuesday, the FCC approved a measure to free up “white spaces” for unlicensed (read: free but regulated) use.  In short, this means unused areas of the wireless spectrum in the general area of digital TV transmissions can be used by consumer devices.  This coveted piece of intangible mathematical electromagnetic real estate means higher bandwidth (faster) transmission of information to and from consumer devices, at greater distances than the current public bands allow.  It’s been a long fought battle mostly centered around issues of interference with licensed bands (at least, that’s the PR friendly argument – it’s probably been a long fought battle because telecommunications companies have sunk billions into competing technologies that may have just been rendered obsolete.)  To appease the interference complaints (some of which are probably valid), devices will have to be extremely smart: they’ll be required to be GPS aware, and to communicate over the Internet with a central database to announce their position and ask permission for an interference free frequency.  There’s a loophole for less intelligent devices, though they’ll have to pass some pretty rigorous interference tests.  You can read more here.  Dell claims to have laptops with “white space radio” already in the works that you can learn about here.

The last “bit” we have to pass on is some news about some technology related appointments to the Obama transition team.  Named to the team include Google philanthropy officer Sonal Shah, and Julius Genchowski who is a former IAC executive and former chief council to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt.  Rumors abound about Google CEO Eric Schmidt may be in the running for U.S. Chief Technology Advisor as well.


Google Labs Invents E-Mail Breathalyzer

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Here’s the scenario.  It’s been a long night of partying on Chippewa or in Allentown.  You’re not quite sure how you got home, but there you sit, all alone.  Suddenly, that proverbial light bulb illuminates above your head.  (Ok, more like flickers dimly.)  Now is a great time to get in touch with your ex and reconcile old differences!

Not so fast says Google Labs.  They’ve introduced a new optional feature for GMail called “Mail Goggles” to keep you from e-mailing while intoxicated.  Yes, really.

It’s functionality is simple.  First, you configure a schedule when you’re likely to be enjoying a few (too many) libations.  During these hours, you’re presented with a few math problems and a sixty second timer to come up with the answers before GMail will allow your mail to send.  The idea is if you’re in a right enough state of mind to answer their arithmetic quiz, then you can take responsibility for whatever happens after you’ve hit “Send.”  The question difficulty level is adjustable, depending on your math ability to start with, or just how well you want to protect yourself.

Of course, if you’re sober, you can probably remember how to turn the thing off anyway.  Note that it’s configured by default for 10PM-4AM.  Buffalonians might want to move that up to 6AM – to adjust for our locality’s service laws, and a trip to Jim’s Steakout.

So now, when the weekend arrives and you try to send your former significant other a passionate diatribe in the heat (dizziness) of the moment, you’ll get a screen that looks like this:

Solve the questions in time – great, you’re sober enough to remember what you did in the morning.  Get one wrong or run out of time?  No e-mail for you – GMail will instead suggest you get yourself a glass of water and head off to bed.

If this appeals to you as more than just a joke, you’ll want to log into your GMail, click “Settings,” choose the “Labs” tab on the far right, find Mail Googles about half way down the list, enable it, and “Save Settings.”  Then return to your Inbox, click that same Settings link at the top, and you’ll see the Mail Googles configuration in your “General Settings”.

Now if only somebody would come up with a way to prevent drunk dialing, texting, MySpacing, Facebooking, instant messaging, and so on.  Maybe the million dollar idea is just a muzzle and pair of handcuffs that only come off when you can answer a few math questions.  Regardless, plan on seeing copy-cat apps for the iPhone and Android soon… I can feel it coming from from here.


T-Mobile Unveils the HTC G1: The World’s First “Android” Phone

HTC's G1 phone; courtesy of T-Mobile USA

HTC's G1, courtesy T-Mobile USA

After about a year’s worth of hype, an Android based phone is a reality.  Google has spearheaded Android as an “Open Handset Alliance” project. Essentially, it is an operating system and application bundle for use on mobile devices.  It’s based on a Linux 2.6 kernel, and the entire project is open source.  This possibly marks a major paradigm shift in the mobile industry, as up until now, most mobile devices are locked down with at least in part proprietary, closed software.  Google’s plan was to develop an open platform that the open source community as a whole could improve and contribute to.  Rather than allowing developers to add applications as an afterthought (*cough* Apple, you listening?), extending support immediately to developers in a free and open manner was goal #1 of the project.

T-Mobile is the first to bring an Android based phone to market, and presented it to the public at large at a press event in NYC this morning.  The first Android phone is being made by Tiawan-based HTC.  The phone features a full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, and touch screen support (though apparently not the high-tech “multitouch” found on the Apple iPhone.)  It’s loaded with the full array of Google apps such as GMail, Google Maps, and YouTube.  It also includes “Shop Savvy” to help find the best prices on items while on the go, and “Eco Reo,” a calculator of sorts that helps the environmentally conscious consumer track their carbon footprint.  Amazon also announced this morning along side the T-Mobile announcement, that their MP3 application will also be pre-loaded into the device, which is basically a mobile-phone optimized version of their on-line DRM-free MP3 store.  The phone of course doubles as a music player, and MP3s purchased through the Amazon store can be freely transferred to any other device.

The phone’s web browser is based on WebKit, which is the same technology found in Apple’s Safari, the Apple iPhone browser, and the newly announced Google Chrome browser.

The phone will set you back $179 with a 2-year contract, and has two tiered data plans at $25 and $35; a voice plan is bundled and priced separate and is required.  3G connectivity is only available in select markets at the moment, but T-Mobile is announcing that coverage should reach 80% of their customers by November.  The United Kingdom can expect to see the phone hit their streets around the same time in November, and availability will reach Europe wide into 2009.

Though we can probably expect the open source community to fill in some of the gaps where the phone lacks, some drawbacks named off at the press conference this morning include: the phone CAN NOT be used as a tethered modem, to provide connectivity to a laptop, regardless of your data plan.  It’s mail support is also limited and does not yet support Microsoft Exchange.  The phone is also going to be locked to T-Mobile, so despite hyping up the “open” nature of the software, they’re still going to dictate which provider you can use it with (which seems a little hypocritical to me!)

Much of this phone’s success, and Android phones in general, will depend on the community of users developing new applications for it.  In that sense it’s a bit of a gamble, but my money would have to go down on Android; I’m betting we’ll see some pretty creative and innovative ways to use a mobile phone in the coming months.  Whether or not this can take a bite out of Apple’s iPhone momentum?  We’ll have to wait and see.


… and the wait for Chrome is already over!

Google just put up a download link.

This is the Beta version, for Windows.  Mac and Linux users still have to wait a little longer.

In my totally preliminary and totally unscientific observation, I will say it certainly has a fast “feel” to it.  Things like opening several tabs & switching between them, scrolling up and down complex pages, and moving around within Google maps all have a very smooth and responsive feel.  Other first impressions: It’s simple.  Which is kind of refreshing. I like the “most visited thumbnail view” that the browser opens to – instead of a homepage, you see thumbnails of sites you visit frequently… think of it like multiple home pages, that configure themselves based on your habits.  It also took me a moment to notice – there’s no search bar! (which took me by surprise seeing its a Google web browser and all) – until I realized the regular address bar doubles as the search bar when something besides a URL is typed in.

So far so good.  It’s worth a shot…  It was a quick download and painless installation.




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