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A cloud over personal computing

I’ve got a problem with so-called ‘Cloud Software’ (e.g. here). Google has been doing it for a while, and now Microsoft is getting into it: basically it means using huge servers of Google or whoever to run applications and store information – so instead of writing your Word document on your computer, you go online and do it via a browser or something.

OK, actually I have no problem with that aspect of it, and it’s probably very useful to someone who doesn’t have a laptop/computer and so on. So good for ‘cloud computing’ in that respect.

My problem is with the name… you hear people saying ‘The data is in a cloud’, kind of like it’s floating in the ether around earth and only you can get at it. In fact, it’s not in a blinking cloud! It’s in Big IT Company’s servers! And they have access to it and can do what they want with it. And you can be sure they’ll have written something into the TOS to say that they can run various algorithms or whatever to ‘improve your service’.

So if you were writing a book, say, or keeping a diary, or planning a new company, or inventing something, and it was all in the ‘cloud’. You actually have a lot less control over it than you would over your own personal computer. It’s back to the old ‘dumb terminal’ days, and if it becomes widespread, the end of the personal computer.

Or maybe, what will happen is that only people rich enough to pay for their own better computer will not have to rely on these services, and everyone else will have to depend on using these 'clouds'. This would mean less choice and less innovation.

At least if they called it something different like… ‘Central Server Service’, or ‘Store-with-us’… or something more realistic. For me it feels like ‘Cloud computing’ is just used to mask the fact that your data will just be stuck with them, and to make it sound all virtual and ethereal, like the term ‘cyberspace’ which makes it sound like anything you do online is in another world unconnected to this one.

OK, just wanted to get that off my chest… :-)

A plant writes a blog

Unfortunately, it's a Japanese plant so I can't understand what it says, but it certainly challenges the boundaries of blogging! :-D

Check it out here.

This is for real, by the way - I read about it in BBC:
A potted plant at a cafe near Tokyo, Japan is entertaining customers by writing a regular blog about its feelings.

It is the work of a university engineer who has been studying how to communicate with plants.

He devised a sensor which he attached to the plant named "Midori-san" that measures bio-electric signals. These are converted into data by a computer next the plant and then translated into Japanese in the form of a blog.

The plant's latest entry reads: "It was cloudy today. It was a cold day." (BBC)

Blogging and defamation laws

There's a Forum organised by the KL Bar this Thursday on Blogging and Defamation laws . I'll be checking it out, and it's probably a good idea for any blogger who has a reasonable audience and likes to talk about other people.

The thing that has always struck me about blogging and defamation is the idea that just because you do something in 'cyberspace' it will be subject to different laws (or not subject to the usual laws). My basic opinion is that if you say something about someone, wherever you say it, you should be accountable for it.

I do think there are limits on the freedom of expression - basically inciting violence is my limit: so I can say that all people from Boogerland are congenital idiots, but I can't say that they should be burnt out of their houses because of it. On other issues relating to comment in the public sphere one should be able to pass comment on others, but be prepared to defend what one says if called upon. If I was to say that Joe Bloggs is cheating his customers, and then because of that his business is affected, then he should be able to sue me - it doesn't matter if I said it online or not, what matters is that his reputation and/or business is negatively affected. Of course, if he really does cheat his customers and I can prove it, then he loses the case and pays the costs.

So the bottom line for me is that on- or offline, there is no fundamental difference. But it's surprising how many people think there is - it's because of the whole 'cyberspace', 'virtual reality', thing - that what happens online is not 'In Real Life'. This was the point made in relation to some high school students in Singapore who had blogged about their teacher(s) in 2005.

The first time I remember a legal issue with blogs coming to the fore was around October 2004, when a commenter in Jeff Ooi's blog made some remarks deemed offensive to Islam (the post is no longer online, but the episode is recounted by Oon Yeoh). The issue that arose here was the responsibility of the blogger for the comments - Jeff Ooi supplied the IP address to the police (a move criticised by some) and later stated that "If someone posts something offensive, it is up to the owner of the blog to delete it.- (September 2005).

Around the same time Mack Zulkifli, author of the blog 'Brand New Malaysian' (no longer online since July 2006), was also forced to deal with the racially provocative comments left by a person calling him/herself 'goodman'. He was also accused of promoting censorship because he reported the comments to the police. One point he made was that leaving comments was different to someone just letting off steam in a public place - "[The comment] stays there, available as a form of public record and in the case of the internet, tracked, indexed and stored in public domain by search engines, such as Google, Yahoo etc.- (Zulkifli). Since that 'goodman' incident there was been an increase in the number of bloggers who required that you register with them first, or that they vet all comments.

This is one key difference between the old and new media; new media usually involve an element of interaction, so individual responsibility may be blurred. As a parallel - would I be responsible for someone who spray painted a racist comment on the outside wall of my garden?

This does relate to an important difference between on- and offline social interaction. Usually, online interchanges remain visible a lot longer than offline ones: so if I get in a drunken argument with Jane one evening in the bar, and accuse her of having loose morals with a football team, then probably it will just be a blurry memory for everyone the next day, and she will never speak to me again. But if I do it online, and put it in her comments or somewhere, it may be online for a long time, and then one day her fiancé sees it and freaks out and dumps her...

As a society we are going to have to learn to deal with these issues. For example: will everything being cached by Google now still be online in twenty years? Who will own that information? Will we have the right to delete old stuff we don't want anymore (e.g. comments we have left on another person's profile in Facebook)?

It strikes me that that two of the posts I mention above are no longer online, probably because the bloggers owned their own site and therefore had complete control over the contents. Most people, however, use free services that often claim some form of ownership or exploitation rights to whatever is produced via their services. So, one solution is for everyone to own their own sites.

**Update same day**
I just noticed this person saying Yahoo! has deleted all profiles with no warning. I don't know the details but I'll bet it's annoying. The problem is, because it's free you have no control - really, we have to look forward to the day when your 'base of online action' (your profile, blog, avatar, email, etc.) is your own, and operates on open standards.

**Update 2 Nov. 2008**
Here are links to all the posts I could find announcing the Forum - most are simple announcements with little discussion:
• Screenshots...: 'Blogging & Defamation Laws'... Oct 23, Bar Council
• The Middle Ground: Freedom of speech, blogging and defamation
• Forum on Blogging & Defamation Laws
• DragonKenLai: Forum on Blogging and Defamation
• all the world's a stage: Forum on Blogging & Defamation
• u-jean: Website, events, events, events
• The Independent Spirit: Forum on Blogging & Defamation Laws
• dyvallion: Forum on Blogging & Defamation Law
• Malacca Bar: Forum on Blogging & Defamation Laws
• thestar Citizen's Blog: Forum on Blogging and Defamation Laws
• Malaysian Bar Forum: Forum on Blogging & Defamation Laws

Malacca this weekend - Laos later!

I'm off to Malacca for the weekend and... I'm going to Laos, I'm going to Laaooss, Laos, Laos, Laaoosss ! :-) :-D :-)

Woohoo!! I've been wanting to go there for years! I got an opportunity, so here I come!! It will be an old-style backpacking-and-budget-dormitory type trip, as the money is restricted, but it will be good. Right now, I'm trying to find out if it's possible to walk from Vientiane to Vang Vieng - a four-five days walk. I love walking - it reduces the world to a human speed and the feeling of travelling with everything on your back from place to place can't be beaten.

Anyway, I've been checking out various sites, and if you're interested in going to Laos, here are some recommended sites to get information:

Ecotourism in Laos
Green Discovery
Lao Youth Travel

Gibbon Experience
Ban Na Elephant Watch Tower and Homestay

Travel Blogs
TravelPod - Laos

Bloggers in Laos
Lao Bumpkin

Travel Forums
Lonely Planet - Thorntree (Travelfish is definitely the best online traveller resource for Laos, and also very useful for Mainland SE Asia in general - no Malaysia though...)

Has anyone out there been to Laos? Any suggestions?

I’m Going Silent this Halloween with Nokia XpressMusic

Well, this is probably too late – but an opportunity to party with Nuffnang is not to be ignored! 8-)

I’ve been scratching my head to come up with something creative to tell you "why Nokia XpressMusic makes Halloween better", but have failed abysmally… so here is my best (lame) offering.

OK, you didn’t find that scary? Well, it’s a 'concept story board' see? Just like in advertising hehe… OK it’s kind of lame, in fact so lame that I now have to explain everything.

The idea is, since the Nokia XpressMusic is ”Big on sound, small in the pocket”, that you can record scary sounds on it and freak people out at the silent party. Here’s the explanation…

OK. But hopefully Nuffnang will send me an invite… or else… I’ll set Freddy Krueger on them!!!

(just joking ;-))

YouTube buffers but doesn't play and has no sound

I've been enjoying watching Tina Fey parody Sarah Palin recently, but I keep having a problem recently where YouTube (or other similar streaming videos) is not working - it starts OK, then stops after a couple of seconds but continues buffering. It goes on to buffer the whole video, but will not play and there is no sound.

It was happening in both Opera and Firefox, and would sometimes resolve itself if I closed and opened the browser again.

Anyway, if you've been having a similar problem, the solution that worked for me is to download the new beta Flash Player 10. Make sure you follow the instructions and uninstall version 9 first.

I got the answer from the Firefox Support Forum.

**Update 11 October 08** OK, this solution may have a problem - now Flash in Firefox is not working (but Opera is fine). I get this message "Hello, you either have JavaScript turned off or an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player."
However, it may be something unrelated, as others are having the same problem too...