With Security at Risk, A Push to Patch the Web in today’s NY Times reminded me about OpenDNS, a free domain name system service. The article, which deals with a serious security flaw discovered in the operation of the domain name system earlier this year by Dan Kaminsky, an Internet security expert, notes that individuals and small businesses can protect themselves from the flaw by using OpenDNS. I configured my home network router for OpenDNS a few years ago and never thought about it again. The router failed six months ago and, reading this article this morning, I realized I never changed the default server settings on the new router to use OpenDNS. Making and implementing the changes took just a few minutes. The OpenDNS site provides simple instructions for configuring popular routers and changing DNS settings in Macs, PCs, and other devices. Take five minutes and do it.
I think I have fixed my PC problems, which means I’m 70% confident that the computer will return to functioning status each time I reboot. The fix–not cure, fix–came by doing a Windows XP repair reinstallation, updating device drivers, and applying other Microsoft spells and rituals of which Mac owners live in blissful ignorance. Like Eve with her apple I began to fall under Mac owners’ spell, to the point where I planned a visit to the local Apple store Thursday night if the pc had not rebooted properly. Reboot properly it had; I was disappointed, although happy not to spend $2,500. I expect that day will come. It’s just a matter of time.
PS: From the 5/1 Business Week: The Mac in the Gray Flannel Suit
In the blur of class preparation, reading papers, meetings with students, social engagements, workouts, and late-night Patriots games my desktop has become jammed with articles and ideas. Since I can’t go back in time I’ll clear the slate with these brief posts and try to get back in posting rhythm.
First, Facebook Founder Finds He Wants Some Privacy reports on Mark Zuckerberg’s attempts to force 02138 magazine (for those who do not “go to school in Cambridge,” 02138 is the Harvard zip code) to remove some “unflattering documents” from its website. A freelance reporter obtained the documents from the federal district court in Boston, where they were filed in connection with a lawsuit against Zuckerberg by the founders of ConnectU who claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea for a campus-based networking site after they engaged Zuckerberg for programming help. The documents include “include Mr. Zuckerberg’s handwritten application for admission to Harvard and an excerpt from an online journal he kept as a student that contains biting comments about himself and others.” The court rejected Zuckerberg’s motion to remove the documents without explaining his ruling.
Steven Kirsch–inventor, a serial entrepreneur, and philanthropist–has come up with a new way to stop junk email. Spam’s End? Maybe, if Time Allows discusses his scheme and his personal challenge in seeing it to fruition. Kirsch has Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a form of blood that is “considered incurable, although it can be managed beyond the five- to seven-year longevity that new patients are usually told to expect.” His spam-blocking technique relies on “the recognition that the ratio of spam to legitimate e-mail is individually unique. It is also a singular identifier that a spammer cannot manipulate easily. By assessing the combined reputations of the recipients of any individual message, the Abaca system determines the “spaminess” of a particular message.” Kirsch is approach his illness like an engineer, treating it as a problem requiring a solution.
Adult website Perfect 10–described by a defendant in a lawsuit as “a serial filer of nuisance copyright claims”–has come up short in one of its suits. This week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal from the 9th Circuit’s decision in Perfect 10 v CCBill LLC. In one of those coincidences that makes teaching–especially teaching Internet law–so much fun, the Court denied Perfect 10’s appeal on Monday of a week in which we are reading and discussing Perfect 10’s copyright lawsuits against Google and CCBill. To be fair, the 9th Circuit did remand the case against Google for further consideration of some of Perfect 10’s claims.
Last for this desk-clearing exercise, there have been numerous articles written about the suicide of 13 year-old Megan Meier. The story in a nutshell:
Meier met a 16-year-old named “Josh Evans” on MySpace. Her mother reluctantly gave permission to add Josh as a friend and visit with him online. They became close, but he suddenly turned on her, calling her names, saying she was “a bad person and everybody hates you.” Others joined the harassment, and the barrage culminated in Meier’s Oct. 16, 2006, suicide, just short of her 14th birthday.
Weeks later, Meier’s parents learned the boy didn’t exist—he’d been fabricated by a neighbor, Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier’s former friends. The girls had had a falling-out, police say, and Drew wanted to know what Meier was saying about her daughter.
Drew managed to stay under the radar for a while but eventually she was outed–a Google search for “Lori Drew” yields about 59,000 hits and a search for <“Lori Drew” helicopter parent> yields almost 370 hits including Judith Warner’s piece in the NY Times: Helicopter Parenting Turns Deadly. Outrage and venom notwithstanding, the local prosecutor announced this week that he will not charge Drew in Megan Meier’s death because her conduct did not violate any criminal statutes. reviewed laws related to stalking, harassment and child endangerment before making his announcement. “[Prosecutor Jack] Banas said harassment and stalking laws both require proof that communication was made to frighten, disturb or harass someone. In this case, he said, the fictitious MySpace profile was created not to bully Megan, but to find out what she was saying about the neighborhood mother’s then-13-year-old daughter, a former friend. There are a few statements at the end that are a heated argument,” he said. “That’s why you have a hard time making a harassment case.””
The mission of the Universal Digital Library: Million Book Collection, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University is to
create a Universal Library which will foster creativity and free access to all human knowledge. As a first step in realizing this mission, it is proposed to create the Universal Library with a free-to-read, searchable collection of one million books, available to everyone over the Internet. Within 10 years, it is our expectation that the collection will grow to 10 Million books. The resultwill be a unique resource accessible to anyone in the world 24×7, without regard to nationality or socioeconomic background.
One of the goals of the Universal Library is to provide supportfor full text indexing and searching based on OCR (optical character recognition) technologies where available. The availability of online search allows users to locate relevant information quickly and reliably thus enhancing student’s success in their research endeavors. This 24×7 resource would also provide an excellent test bed for language processing research in areas such as machine translation, summarization, intelligent indexing, and information retrieval.
It is our expectation that the Universal Library will be mirrored at several locations worldwide so as to protect the integrity and availability of the data. Several models for sustainability are being explored. Usability studies would also be conducted to ensure that the materials are easy to locate, navigate, and use. Appropriate metadata for navigation and management would also be created.
Bookmark the UDL’s home page and search form and use the site often. It deserves support.
Maybe Mark Zuckerberg’s youth–he’s 23–explains Facebook’s ham-fisted schemes to weave its users’ personal information into skeins of gold. I don’t believe his purposes are nefarious. As Facebook Beacon and Facebook Social Ads show, he does have a knack for letting dollar signs get ahead of his judgment. He is developing a skill for reversing field when what looked like a great idea around the boardroom table runs into the buzzsaw of user opinion.
First a recap. A few weeks ago Facebook announced Facebook Beacon, “a new way to socially distribute information on Facebook.”
The websites participating in Beacon can determine the most relevant and appropriate set of actions from their sites that users can distribute on Facebook. These actions can include posting an item for sale, completing a purchase, scoring a high score in an online game or viewing of video. When users who are logged into Facebook visit a participating site, they receive a prompt asking whether to they want to share those activities with their friends on Facebook. If they do, those friends can now view those actions through News Feed or Mini-Feed stories.
In other words, if a Facebook user lists items for sale on eBay or buys a movie ticket on Fandango, a pop-up asks whether the user wants to share this news–and on Facebook this is considered news–with their Facebook friends. The breathtaking narcissism of such newsy updates aside, Facebook Beacon takes a giant step towards a future when we will all be defined by the commercial value of our online data trail. Facebook stated “[i]n keeping with Facebook’s philosophy of user control, Facebook Beacon provides advanced privacy controls so Facebook users can decide whether to distribute specific actions from participating sites with their friends.” However, those “advanced privacy controls” are less assuring than promised. Yesterday a student and I read through Facebook’s user agreement and privacy policies to see whether one could elect not to participate in Facebook Beacon, other than by not using Facebook. Users can elect not to distribute to friends news of specific transactions, but to date there is no one-stop mechanism to opt-out entirely.
Facebook Social Ads are another part of the story. They “leverage the power of Facebook News Feed by serving relevant stories about friends engaging with your business.” Here’s how Facebook pitches them to businesses:
Reach the right people.
Instead of creating an advertisement and hoping that it reaches the right customers, you can create a Facebook Social Ad and target it precisely to the audience you choose. The ads can also be shown to users whose friends have recently engaged with your Facebook Page or engaged with your website through Facebook Beacon. Social Ads are more likely to influence users when they appear next to a story about a friend’s interaction with your business.
The concept is brilliant–every Facebook user can, through association with purchases, downloads, ratings, and other digital flotsam, become his or her own brand. Facebook “friends” (which should always be in quotes in this context) could follow my data trail and decide “my father is sort of like Professor Randall, so maybe he’d like a pound of Malabar Gold Espresso, No Country for Old Men (the book, not the movie–he’s old school, remember), and Lindsay Mac’s Small Revolution for his birthday.” Or, back in the real world, cool hunters will track young fashionistas to decrease the lag between cutting edge and The Gap. Clickstream data, just laying around waiting to be turned into skeins of gold.
Brilliant. Except for the backlash.
Facebook: What Would Google Do?: There is something astoundingly tone deaf about how Facebook has handled its recent advertising initiatives. Mr. Zuckerberg is right: there are lots of people who would find it cool to tell the world what movies they just rented and even what color socks they just bought. But they’ve got to know that others would find this intrusive. And they couldn’t have picked a worse way to implement the Beacon system first: automatically telling your friends everything you did on participating sites unless you found and pushed a button to cancel the disclosure. (This timeline shows how hard it was at first to figure out what was going on.)
Are Facebook’s Social Ads Illegal?: There is at least one problem with this idea: It may be illegal under a 100-year-old New York privacy law. The statute says that “any person whose name, portrait, picture, or voice is used within this state for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without the written consent first obtained” can sue for damages. Moreover, such a use is also a criminal misdemeanor.
MoveOn Launches Privacy Campaign Against Facebook Social Ads: Calling Facebook’s new Social Ads strategy an invasion of privacy, MoveOn.org is asking Facebook members to sign a petition against the social network’s new ad plan.
Facebook’s “Fan-sumers:” Do Social Ads Violate Users’ Privacy?: [Law professor and privacy expert Daniel Solove] noted on his blog, “Facebook . . . assumes that if people rate products highly or write good things about a product then they consent to being used in an advertisement for it. Facebook doesn’t understand that privacy amounts to much more than keeping secrets — it involves controlling accessibility to personal data.”
Zuckerberg isn’t stupid, just surrounded by true believers who can’t view Facebook from outside the bubble. After ten thousand slaps upside the head Facebook has made Social Ads opt-in rather than opt-out. Under Pressure, Facebook Modifies Social Ads Program: “As of late Thursday, Facebook users must now proactively consent to alert friends whenever they take various actions, such as renting a DVD or purchasing a pair of sneakers . . . Now, as part of the changes enacted on Nov. 29, consumers who make such purchases will receive notices that Facebook intends to inform others about their actions—but only if they approve by clicking an “OK” button.” Problem handled, until the next wrong-footed product roll-out.
From Information Week: Windows XPP Significantly Outperforms Vista, Tests Show. “[R]esearchers ran a mix of tests comparing existing versions of the operating systems — the original Vista and XP SP2 — and versions that had been patched with the latest updates — Vista SP1 beta and XP SP3 beta. Tests were also run on machines with 1 Gbyte and 2 Gbytes of memory. Windows XP trounced Windows Vista in all tests — regardless of the versions used or the amount of memory running on the computer. In fact, XP proved to be roughly twice as fast as Vista in most of the tests.” (Emphasis additional) From when I purchased my first personal computer in the late 1980s, I bought a new system and upgraded operating system about every two years. It’s been four years+ since I bought a new desktop. I keep patching this Windows XP machine with new hard drives, fans, cables, and disk drives because the prospect of a spanking new machine with Vista is so disheartening. If this system melted down tomorrow I’d seriously consider buying a Mac and using Boot Camp to run XP.
BU Today features a story about BU’s role in the Boston rock scene, and opens with a story of “five guys who didn’t exactly go to college” renting a Comm Ave apartment and playing gigs around Boston University. Those five guys–Aerosmith, and how amazing is it that Aerosmith’s original lineup is still intact?–were common sights around West Campus during my freshman year at BU. They were friends with Jeff Green, the resident grown-up in the first tower. The first time I saw them was in the dining hall one Friday evening. They trailed Green through the food line and are together at a table while everyone else wondered “who ARE those guys?” They were high profile. Imagine Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (who I also encountered once in the appliances department at the defunct Lechmere in Cambridge, shopping for a refrigerator) and the rest looking 36 years younger and not as healthy as they do now, wearing full rock-star garb, carrying plastic trays loaded with mac & cheese, Cokes, and frosted white cake, sitting in the dining hall surrounded by young college students with mouths agape. Jeff Green also let them practice in the basement rooms off the tunnels connecting the West Campus dorms. You’d go down to check on your laundry and hear Train Kept a Rollin’ reverberating off the cinder blocks. In the spring of 1974, when Aerosmith had a major Boston presence and were on the cusp of going national, they played at one of the Wednesday night dance concerts–“BU Boogies”–in the George Sherman Union. They’ve always been great in concert.
As the blog train begins powering up for the fall, a few news articles have caught my wandering attention:
- 100,000 Gone Since 2001 (Bob Herbert, The New York Times 14-Aug-07) 100,000 people have been murdered in the U.S. since 9/11. “No heightening of consciousness has accompanied this slaughter, which had nothing to do with terrorism. The news media and most politicians have hardly bothered to notice. At the same time that we’re diligently confiscating water and toothpaste from air travelers, we’re handing over guns and bullets by the trainload to yahoos bent on blowing others into eternity in armed robberies, drug-dealing, gang violence, domestic assaults and other criminal acts.”
- A New York Times article about former Surgeon General Dr. Richard H. Carmona, recounting how the Bush administration muzzled Carmona and politicized the post, quotes Carmona as saying “I increasingly witnessed a government that was more and more using theology and ideology to drive its policies and its people — stem cells, abortion, Plan B, the war and many more . . . Our go-it-alone so-called cowboy diplomacy has in fact isolated us from the world more than ever in our history.” The story is consistent with this administration’s promotion of cronyism, political loyalty, and ideological purity over competence, expertise, and fact-based analysis.
- A Grass Roots Effort to Grow Old at Home discusses the movement to foster aging in place (a term which always makes me think of “ripening”) by delivering social, medical, and support services to elders in their homes. I read the article to be certain it credits Beacon Hill Village for its leadership role in this movement; it does. The executive director of Beacon Hill Village is a good friend and I’m pleased to see this non-profit acknowledged for its pioneering efforts.
- Last, Who Owns the Concept if No One Signs the Papers? discusses an issue that students raise frequently: how can I prevent others from copying my great idea? The quick-and-dirty answer is this: you cannot protect ideas. You can protect the particular manifestation or expression of an idea through a patent, copyright, or trade secret, whichever might apply. The article focuses on the dispute between Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of ConnectU, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. The Winklevoss twins engaged Zuckergerg’s services as a coder to work on ConnectU, their Harvard University-based social network site. They claim Zuckerberg copied their sites program code and business plan to start Facebook and want Facebook’s assets turned over to them. The Winklevoss twins never paid Zuckerberg for his services, promising him to pay him later if they made money, and apparently never asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Jason Pontin, the article’s author, states “I suspect that Facebook would not exist had it not been for ConnectU” but nevertheless concludes that ConnectU does not have a case against Zuckerberg.
Explanations of why I love teaching can be abstract, sprinkled with words like “energy” and “engagement” and “chemistry” without conveying the edgy give-and-take that makes a great class like a high-wire act. With most students I have a relationship that combines respect and playful banter. It’s not the only style, it may not be the best style, but it works for me. It suits my personality and emulates the professors I most enjoyed in law school (with Dan Givelber at the top of the list). Which is why I love this story, because the professor it features must be very special to inspire and tolerate such a prank.
Nate, my youngest, is a college junior (not at BU) taking Macro Economics this semester. If a student’s cell phone rings during his Macro class the professor will answer the phone and engage the caller in conversation. Inspired by his professor’s ready classroom humor Nate devised a plan. Explaining the reason for his inquiry he located her husband’s email address from another professor and wrote to him. After explaining how he obtained the husband’s email address through a friend Nate made his pitch:
It being the last week of classes, I was hoping to play a friendly joke back on her. Specifically, I thought it might be hilarious if I could have YOU call my cell phone tomorrow afternoon during class, some time between 3:10 pm and, say, 3:45 pm. In theory, Professor Holmes would hear my phone ring and pick up it up – expecting the caller to be my mother, friend, roommate, etc. She would quickly find out, however, that the person was, in fact, her husband.
Professor Holmes’s husband was game. He called Nate’s phone at the proper time. Hearing its ring the professor picked it up, said “Nate Randall’s phone,” and waited for the caller’s expected confusion. Instead she heard a familiar voice in an entirely-dislocated context. Nate doesn’t know what her husband said, but it cracked her professorial demeanor. She said “Steve?” and her face turned purple as everyone laughed. She terminated the call with “you little shit!” to her husband and returned Nate’s phone with a laughing promise: “This isn’t the end of this!” Nate will be looking over his shoulder until he graduates.
Hats off to you, Professor Holmes.
April 15 is the anniversary of three events with far-reaching consequences in American history. On this day-
- Two men were murdered in South Braintree, MA in 1920, murders for which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts tried, convicted, and executed Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti against a backdrop of anti-immigrant hostility,
- Jackie Robinson played his first major league baseball game in 1947, and
- Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in 1955.
Think of April 15 the next time you masticate a Big Mac and argue whether the U.S. should erect a fence across the Mexican border while on the TV David Ortiz drives in another run.
Oh, and federal income taxes are due today. Since it is Sunday and post offices are closed all U.S. taxpayers get an extension until tomorrow. Since tomorrow is Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday–you know, “one if by land,” Paul Revere’s ride, Concord and Lexington, the shot heard ’round the world–we get an extra day’s extension.
The post above reflects my Massachusetts-centrism. All taxpayers, not just Massachusetts taxpayers, have until April 17th to file tax returns this year. Tomorrow the District of Columbia celebrates Emancipation Day, commemorating the official end of slavery in the U.S. That celebration pushes back the filing deadline for the entire country by one day.
Speaking of pushing back deadlines, a research and writing assignment for one of my classes was originally due on Tuesday, a due date a student described “cruel and unusual punishment” because of the Patriots’ Day holiday on Monday. It’s not that Boston University students are especially patriotic. The paper deadline bumped up against day-long revels whose ostensible purpose is cheering on runners in the Boston Marathon, held every year on Patriots’ Day. Acknowledging that there was no pedagogical purpose behind the original due date I pushed it back to Thursday, to applause and cheers. It may be the moment they remember most about this class.