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ContactPoint – the UK’s infamous Child Database goes live

So the UK government has launched the new Child Database, “ContactPoint”

I obviously don’t know the specifics of its implementation (nor the generalities for that matter) but I can bet you that within a month or so, someone will demonstrate how it can be compromised. Let’s hope that someone is a professional and well-intended security expert.

I’m not a fan in principle of the movie Hackers but there is one probable kind of attack that could be carried out: the basic yet sometimes effective “oh my God [some boss] is gonna kill me if I can’t get so and so report in, gimme access to a computer…. remotely.” It’s called social engineering, and it is basically exploiting the weakest link in any security system: the human (I am not making this up – it’s stated at The Register and CNET and other sources… just do a web search)

You actually come to wonder: how much can we trust the Web when it comes to centralized databases of information? Admittedly, no system is perfect. Even without ContactPoint, many children’s lives are at risk from nearby, unscrupulous individuals – however has the government really thought out what making this information accessible on the web will do? (by “making available on the web” I mean “using technologies linked to a public network in some way no matter how seemingly insignificant”)

We already trust the internet with our money – that’s a convenience that the mass of users has accepted, by cause of convenience. Surely the secret services use internet technology to relay information from one point to another. We know for a fact that the FBI’s data centres are available to the outside world: when Gary McKinnon “hacked” various US Defense sites he alleges looking for weak security – namely computers where the password was still just “password” or plain blank.

So how’s the record for the British Government on information security? Grim.

I might have been generous stating that it would take a month to compromise the data. I might be disappointed in hoping it’s a security expert who exposes this. I am almost certain to be right that the weakest link will be human in nature.

Business on the New internet

The New Internet is upon us. Faster connections, bigger hard drives, cheaper hosting, online storage, highly interactive user-driven web sites… The Web 2.0 paradigm is ubiquitous, and nearly every connected individual has at least one online presence, be it a blog, social network profile, personal home page, or even simply a private email address.

The New Internet knows no boundaries. The New Internet rejects shackles, allows users to bypass regulations, allows surfers to obfuscate their identities. The New Internet is driven by users, where users provide content and exchange information, provide software, patch software, share software. The founding Ethos of the White Hat Hacker is gradually being rediscovered by the main stream once more; the Ethos pushing the boundaries of law in favour of user freedom, and battling the Renegade Hackers, known as Crackers, or Black-Hats.

The revolution is gaining speed. The New Internet threatens the old models of business. The New Internet is democratic to the extreme, liberal and community driven. The New Internet promotes the Equality of each and every individual in the world. The New Internet is a platform for absolute freedom – for better or for worse.

But enough rhetoric.

The New Internet dictates the New Face of eCommerce, and observes four realities:

  1. That which can technically be copied will effectively be copied.
  2. If a resource is meant for the public, it will be made available without constraints.
  3. If a user can obfuscate their identity, they will.
  4. The User Base, the population of the New Internet, dictates the direction of the online market.

Business models that forget these basic realities about the New Internet will fail.

Marketable goods must correspond to at least one of these properties:

  • tangible Item
  • reliable Guarantee
  • enjoyable Experience

Only these can be sold online, for only they have meaning in the Real World on their own. Anything that can be copied and/or provided by oneself cannot be sold.

Multimedia is digital. Multimedia Business will undergo a revolution. This is how I see Business on the New Internet:

Literature

With the advent of the electronic books, printed books will become collectibles. The will to save paper and to carry vast quantities of literature in a lightweight format will outweigh the need for printed copies in day-to-day life.

Novels, newspapers, manuals and magazines will all be available in electronic form.

Radio

Radio guarantees broadcast of highly intelligible communication even in the most cut-off areas of the World and Space.

Communication expert, guarantee of wireless communication, and provider of background information and entertainment, the Radio lives on relatively unaltered.

Music

The Artists will retain ownership of their works. Companies will pay for licenses to publish the work of Artists, along with works from other artists, in any format.

Published Collections with glossy Cover art, and witty commentary become the sold goods. Concerts are the main marketable commodity.

Graphic art

Photographers and painters release their work under Non-Commercial Creative Commons licenses. Their work is found on the Net, and companies hire the best and brightest of them to forward their image.

Originals sell. Signed prints are the marketable goods. Art by Commission returns.

Cinema

The View-and-Leave model is over. High-definition screens and high-bandwidth provide home cinema experience.

Affordable Event Cinema houses allow web users to determine viewings, and provide film-relevant events and entertainment after viewings.

High Event Cinema going is a mix of experiences; tours of actors, producers, artists and technicians accompany the live showing of films, followed by conferences with the artists – composer interviews and concerts, talks with graphic designers, technology seminars and all associated trades take place.

Television

High-transfer rates on the Net removes broadcast station monopoly. Stations are backed by advertising, content is provided online. On-demand viewing provides always higher-quality image and sound, and 100% uptime, no load wait.

Extra hardware for audio and visual quality are sold or leased, guaranteed uptime is the marketed service.

Video games

The console rules the roost. PC gaming is online and requires subscription for advanced experience. Subscriptions are linked to bank accounts, not readily available emails or copiable and subvertible product keys. In-game time sinks, real or perceived, are removed to maintain game reputation.

Software

The best engineers lead projects and know limitations and capabilities of software. They lead and direct open-source programmers who provide code on an allegiance basis.

Home software is free; commercial software runs businesses, and guarantee fixes and customization – bespoke tailoring of base-package solutions.

Support is the main revenue stream.

Security

Online accounts are hosted by security services, staffed by White Hats. They monitor accounts and pro-actively battle Black Hat intruders.

DRM will fail, but document privatization of documents will prevail. Private documents require a server for decoding. Stronger algorithms protect documents. Privatized documents survived where DRM failed, because DRM servers could be shut down at the whim of providers. Companies have functional interest in keeping authentication servers up. Companies providing DRM content did not.

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The Core of Social Networks

Social Network – what is the main activity of a social network site?

There are innumerable kinds of sites on which a social network can be built, but only so many are social networking sites per se.

Basically, any site that requires the user to have a profile can become a social networking site. The prime nature of the site however dictates how much of a social networking site it is, as opposed to an interests-sharing facility.

Blogs – blogging sites (e.g. LiveJournal, Blogger, …) are used by people who enjoy writing and/or sharing opinions. Whether it be about the days events in a mundane life, a tech review, articles about your latest recipes, deliberation on the latest film, or even a political platform, it’s where Text is. Profile owners’ main activity is writing. Most users’ activity is reading. You can build a small social net in such an environment for the sake of keeping up to date with the latest banter, but there’s hardly much “social networking” rather than “intellectual networking.” It’s a high tech way of subscribing to a massive letters-to-the-editor column.

Media Share – media sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube, …) also offer the possibility of social networking, but most activity is browsing and watching. Maybe one will subscribe to another user’s feed to keep up with their postings because they often have something of good quality. Maybe they have their own podcast to share with the world. Who knows. But it’s not really a “social net” – rather the next best thing after TV. Pick and choose your channels, and say what’s in this hour’s show guide.

Dating Sites – okay, here’s a social net, with a particularity. It’s definitely focused on the person you’re dealing with – but it’s not so much a social net than an interactive directory. I assume most of the people you would add to your list will be forgotten within the week, with only really a handful being kept in the long term, in which case they’ll move to…

The email list – the social net per excellence, the first ever on the web. In my view a social network utility is just that – a utility. The Social Networking Utility (let me call it a SNU if I want) does little more than provide a framework for interacting with people. With email, the main function is staying in contact with people, and interacting directly with them. The only actions ever performed (apart form maybe adding a contact) are reading emails directed at you, and writing emails to specific contacts.

A social network for me is a way for me to keep up to date with my friends. This includes sending them messages, and from time to time seeing photos of their latest antics. In the messages section, coordinating calendars is the next step up. Whereas in emails one merely states the happening of an event, an Event Signpost can be set up. This is true with sites like FaceBook and MySpace (on the latter, musicians can setup gig dates and advertise these; on the former, nearly any kind of event is possible).

The main activity on a social networking site should be interacting with contacts. Bloggers write articles. Sharers generally post content without a thought of anyone in particular in mind. Daters search, chat, and move on. MySpacers are busy customizing and adding content to their profiles. FaceBookers are busy biting eachother digitally, or throwing pixelated poo at each others profiles. Nice. SNUsers send messages and organize events.

But what bugs me most is this: the concept of the social net is all in the structure – in the protocol. Never mind if you’re signed up for an author’s site. Never mind if your profile is mainly concerned with music videos. Who cares if your profile is always up to date with the latest info on you (well, apart from those looking for a person like you…). Between these different kinds of profiles, there should be a standard means of communication and search.

If you’re a photographer on Flickr and you want to discuss a project with your pal on YouTube, and get some cool concepts in the plan from an artist on Deviant Art – there should be a means to a) contact all of them at once and b) setup an event to all at once. Maybe you want to host a party for all your artist friends, whether they’re on one socialnet, another, or even if they are on none and they just have their profile. Why could’t you keep this list of friends of all SNUs in the same place?

Well that’s what I am hoping to set out to solve with the PUMP (Private User Message Protocol), a messaging protocol project, and SOUP (Simple Online User Profile), my profile buiding/sharing project which together are intended to rule the net as the ultimate SNU.

Nah, I’m hardly ambitious….. :-p

A reason behind religion

In the course of trying to plan out a novel, I am trying to create and document a religious form for its inhabitants. Originally this was supposed to take a non-mythological form, all based around rational thinking. But the more I reflected on it (and this is the domain of theological psychology; my thoughts being further prompted by a printed article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875666), the more I realized that without the dogmatism of something unquestionnable, such as the Will of God for example, there is an inherent possibility to throw each and every rule out the window at any given point. This can be for the better or the worse, but the point is not there.

A “faith” based in the scientific methods cannot form a religious community: it forms a democratic one, in which the majority voice of the people wins it over the rules their predecessors have laid down; whereas in a properly religious community, any decision of what is right or wrong can be deferred to the Supreme Being(s).

Up the Faction Ladder

As a community grows larger it becomes harder to moderate the interactions between the disparate groups within (which I will call factions). The larger the community, the more sparse any interaction between an individual and any other becomes. There are a select few who will be the most frequently contacted, and this grouping around any one individual becomes a faction. Whilst within a faction, a level of mutual and self-initiated respect is upheld by each and every individual, this becomes less so as the group grows.

As such, each faction appoints (or is appointed) a leader (implicitly, the leader in a group of friends is the most popular person), and each collection of factions elects a leader to the rank above (think from community to neighbourhood representative), to moderate at different levels the interactions between the now dispersed entities. This deference of responsibility goes up and up, until we reach a point where we need an authority that everyone agrees cannot be questioned. That authority is “God” or “the gods” or “the Natural Order”. The interpretation of how to behave in the light of such Truth is the basis of our sense of morality, the practical derivative which we use to guide us through our actions, and keep the group as a whole running relatively smoothly, with the idea (and system) of justice present to smooth out the creases.

In a religious society, the morals are defined and passed down through the generations as truths not to be questioned, rules not to be broken. They are firmly engrained into our belief system (thanks or due to our parents) and as per this definition, anything that is different is a “wrong” way of doing something. This exclusiveness is what has allowed small communities to develop through time into vast states, even Empires, united under a relatively homogenous way of thinking (at a very broad level mind you). It is, as anyone should be quick to point out, also the source of many woes.

On the other hand, science allows for the questioning of the model at hand, which is constantly updated with the latest information, refactored to take into account as many facts of the world around us as can be perceived, and also allows us to infer new possibilities that can reside hidden in the cosmos, attainable only by the power of our minds.

The argument against a faith based on science

So, to come back to the original problem: why can there not be a religion based on scientific principles?

Democracy is based on the aforementioned ideal of encompassing every known truth about the state of the world, by deciding that the desire that is expressed most widely is the one to adopt at any given time. Bis repetita placent. The problem here is that each person has their own reality, their own values derived through the ancestors to its current form and influenced by the world around us. As each person evolves socially and experiences the world around them differently, each person therefore splits back into their factions, leaving a heterogenous, divided collective of factions, decreasingly united by the number shared of moral values as we zoom out to the larger communities; values which, by the nature of their not being scientifically quantifiable, can only in social analysis carry equal weight.

The result is that no one set of moral values can be applied to a group of people, short of creating a dogmatic rule – one solution is religion, which speaks to the heart, another is political system, which speaks to the mind; and whilst any leader in a political system may be questioned by virtue of their being merely human, the Supreme Being(s) itself/themselves/Himself cannot. The closest a person can come to this is by becoming a dictator, and even that person cannot keep the illusion of the divine for long.

In both cases, such ruling dogma can be seen as a tool for a purpose: to maintain cohesiveness amongst a large group of free-radicals who would otherwise be in a state of chaos; and as a tool it can be wielded for both beneficial and degenerative purposes. The ideal would be a benevolent dictator: one who would remain unquestioned – not merely by the awesomeness of their power, but also in the belief that what they are doing is truly and sincerely in the interest of all.

Such a belief is maintained in a religious community. Those who hold faith in their religion do not question, because they earnestly believe in the benevolence of their Supreme. In a political system? I do not believe there can be such an individual, because it would be hard for all people to believe in a powerful human being’s earnest good will, since it would require a purity unheard of to hold out against the temptation to abuse such power.

In conclusion, and to wrap up with Apalmia once more, I am going to have to give the Apalmians some supernatural Supreme Beings at some point, if only for the sake of being able to give them a certain level of homogenous identity which would not be short of drone-like had there not been some deity involved.

Revving up for Apalmia

It’s Saturday morning, and I am sitting here in front of my Mac wondering what to do…. I want to do some recording but my friend is still asleep in the spare room, don’t want to wake her up… even though it is 11:30!

I have heaps of notes to deal with surrounding Apalmia – writings that need typing up and editing, documentation on alphabets, number systems, the tetraic tradition… I even have some concepts for martial arts and warriors (good grief!)

I think the first item on the agenda though is a map – I need to start planning the geography of Apalmia to set stories in, and come up with a few extra creatures to populate the world with (I already have a soaring tiger like thing, and an aquatic dragon-fish… it’s a start)

I particularyly want to define the sort of magic and sorcery in use in this world. I saw Miyazaki’s rendition of Tales from Earthsea and the mage there said somthing along the lines of “the world is in a perfect yet delicate balance, and casting a spell upsets this balance; hence a spell must only be cast when in the most dire need”. It’s a very interesting concept, even one which I would love to incorporate, but it won’t suit for what I plan on the lines of magic. I’d rather give the mages other reasons to not reveal themselves.

Another show that influenced my imagination of how magic would be introduced was RahXephon, with the instrumentalists, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

In Zelda, magical effects can be produced when Link (the protagonist) plays a certain melody on his ocarina, changing the weather, or moods of people, or even teleporting. In RahXephon however, it can suffice that the Instrumentalist sing a single note to unleash destruction on a massive scale… I am also imagining on top of that arts of summoning animals, spirits and armies. War will be ever so melodious….

Ah la la, here I am talking about all these things I wish to incorporate…. It would be about time I start writing the stories themselves!

The Apalmia Project

I am on my way to gathering all the past elements of my old Edelia Project – recently re-baptized Apalmia Project – for a soon-to-come release to the general public.

When I started it, it was supposed to be simply a fantasy story trilogy. Sevral iterations later I had more or less the story pinned down (although I seem to have lost some significant pieces I remember writing down…. ah well.) The legend would be that of Ankunaroth, a demon warrior, trying to conquer the world of Niaxan (NIA-shan), and the plot would include a curse, a summoning, gigantic warriors, magic, a revenge quest… hey, I was 17 at the time!

But since, the focus has changed. The peoples were moved to Apalmia, Ankunaroth became a near-forgotten warrior from the ancient land of Edelia, the Holkor and Ansuthan creatures that were initially supposed to form the main bodies of opposing armies would become closer to human, more humane, less ghastly, and be left more or less in the landscape.

A culture was devised, with its own stories and legends. My other focus character, Kalula, became first a fierce and grusome demon, then a ancient spirit of evil, passing through being the judge of souls, to finally sit as a wise ancient, an Etherlu, along with Hannei, Nathel and Banta. I am working on the conceptualisation of beasts, of plants, of lands… Apalmia has a justice system, a pseudo-religion, with rites of passage and temples, and I am attempting now to devise a musical tradition to go with the rest; There is a separate counting system that makes better use the fingers, hands and even arms… For cryin out loud, it even has 3 alphabets and a language!

Back in 2005 I wrote a first draft to the Night of Stars (on love and desire – it is quite sad in the end); then the legend of the Foundation of Apalmia (short of a genesis tale), and the alleged “true” story of the flight from the dying land Edelia, of the ordinary people who would rise as great leaders and found Apalmia, the land of the Apali, the wise.

Until recently it has been more or less an intellectual playground, for small essays of a philosophical nature; and also serves as a background for the little stories I want to tell, for the sake of it.

If I do finally get the motivation together and decide to display the fruits of my musings…. here’s where it will first be posted. Watch this space.

NOTA: damn Electricité de France for using the name Edelia in their product line! GRRRRR!