Browsers Computers Internet Media Reviews Technology

Why not try Lightbeam?

I have just downloaded and taken a quick look at the new Mozilla add-on called Lightbeam.

I am an UBUNTU user myself, so I don’t know if this will work for other systems, but I would like you to help me decide if it’s an interesting tool either way.

I have always heard that companies share your information. So you go on one site and they share your habits with other organizations. Well Lightbeam shows you who they are sharing your information with.

One thing that I should say is that I do not know what the information they are sharing actually is. If anyone does know I would love to hear. So that is job number one for you down in the comments below.

The actual view that you are presented with when you open this program is very nice. A series of connected triangles that drift around the screen, all tied together like one of those kinnect toys that my kids play with. Some of the triangles have website logos on them, others are blank. It’s almost a snowdrop kind of effect.

Mozilla Lightbeam
Mozilla Lightbeam screenshot

The lines are either white or blue, the blue depicting that the sites use cookies. Probably half of them do.

And it makes a nice little educational game. As you visit another site it joins the page with its connections, the entity wobbles and bounces before coming static. Many of these connections are the same, creating a central mass, but some sites do not share with anyone that the others do, and live in their own little detached bubble.

I was surprised to find that ebay UK is not connected to any of the other sites. It has 3 satellite sites but they are all ebay subsections. I would have to draw the conclusion that ebay do not share your information. Job number 2, correct me in the comments below please.

The Weather channel divulge to another weather channel and 3 or 4 others, CNN and the BBC are about the same. TECHNOLOGY BLOGGERS DOES NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE! Read it and weep and respect where it is due Christopher. My employer the Bassetti Foundation are linked to Twitter, and nobody else.

Oh and guess who is in the middle of the blob, tentacles everywhere, yes of course, Facebook. I have not visited the site but they appear through the mist to take centre stage. No wonder profits are up!

Without understanding more this add on is just a toy to me, but I am sure if I was a bit more savvy it could give me a lot of insight into the dark and murky workings of the web. I think it might also present an opportunity, as we can now see who is prostituting our information and who is not, and maybe we should put more trust in those that keep our data in their own hands, and some others a little less.

Definitely worth a look I would say.

Oh on a final note, I went to Microsoft, Ubuntu and Mozilla. Microsoft share with 10 satellites, 5 of which use cookies. Ubuntu and Mozilla do not share with anyone. I visited 15 sites in total during my research, and that meant that I unwittingly connected to 76 third party sites.

Internet Media Science

Journal(s) of Misrepresentation

It is often said that the Internet has democratized the world. Maybe not in terms of governance, as we all know various governmental organizations collect huge amounts of data about our web use, but in terms of information.

When I was a teacher I saw many students relying on Wikipedia for information. I do the same myself of course, but I am at least wary about the accuracy of the information. They were not, and were shocked when I suggested to them that maybe all that is written is not true.

One worrying aspect is that the more critical a person is the more they are likely to distrust newspaper and TV reporting. This leads to more trust being put into Internet communication. The younger the user the more likely they are to get their news and information through digital media, but the more likely they are to trust it too, and this has consequences.

One of the consequences of this belief coupled with Internet freedom of information is the blurring of boundaries between reliable information in science and more fanciful or non- proven claims. Anyone can start an online journal, webpage or blog and for practically nothing set up a fake foundation, center of excellence or anything else they fancy, become the Director and Editor and publish to the world.

And you or I might find their work and not know how to interpret the information offered.

Sorting the truth from the lies
Sorting the truth from the lies

A couple of years ago I wrote an article on the Bassetti Foundation website about cold nuclear fusion. A small group of scientists is working to create nuclear fusion without using heat. A breakthrough would mean clean, practically free energy. I mentioned it here too as part of my Health of the Planet series.

In 2011 the Journal of Nuclear Physics announced such a breakthrough. It was reported in the national press in Italy, on CNN and the BBC. A Journal of this quality reporting such findings! Peer reviewed, high quality articles etc etc….

But as I was saying earlier, we should look beyond the gloss and at the substance, and it turns out that this wonderful journal is in fact produced and edited by the very scientist/entrepreneur that has made the breakthrough that he is telling us about.

It is not really a rigorous scientific journal, it is really a personal blog, and as such contents are possibly a little bit liable to bias (maybe).

Last week saw wide reporting of an experiment conducted by journalist John Bohannon and published through Science, an online and paper and much more reliable source of information.

To cut the story short Bohannon wrote a paper about a kind of miracle drug for cancer treatment. The paper contained many of the same errors that you or I might include, as non scientists. It came from a false research center too. Then it was submitted to just over 300 online journals. Fake results, flawed experiments, fundamental errors of high school biology, all included.

Half of the journals published the article as it was. High quality peer reviewed online journals (supposedly) accepted the article, it passed their stringent review systems and made it to publication.

You can read a much more detailed account of the event here in the original Science article. Tales of China and payments for publication, love letters from editors etc, it is all here.

So the problem becomes noise. With all of this noise, information, reporting and news, how can we pick out the real important stuff? Everybody’s voice becomes equal, the fact that 99% of scientists believe in something no longer means anything. The 1% of scientists (I know it is a big word) who do not believe that humans are contributing to global climate change have the same weight of voice as the others, and here in the US you can see the results.

Free market, free thinking, free Internet, free publication, free speech. Free propaganda and free misreporting too, unfortunately.

Business News Technology

Global Information Technology report 2013

The World Economic Forum recently released its Global Information Technology Report 2013, and in this post I would like to have a quick look at it.

It is a long document, so I will just try to take a few highlights to give an idea of the findings.

The report has a Network Readiness Index that aims to measure how prepared countries are to adopt and make the most of new technology. Factors such as investment in broadband and other telecommunications fields obviously enter, but so does the quality of the education system and regulatory powers.

Finland leads the world in embracing technology, followed by Singapore and Sweden. The UK is in 7th place, the USA in 9th and my present home Italy is well down at number 50.

World Economic Forum

The Nordic countries and the so-called Asian Tigers – Singapore, Taiwan (China), South Korea and Hong Kong SAR – dominate this year’s index thanks to their business-friendly approach, highly skilled populations and investments in infrastructure, among other strengths. Finland, which arguably has one of the best educational systems in the world, stands out as a digital innovation hub.

Southern Europe shows a massive lag in fact with the North, and this is a major problem.

The positioning is not only important for so called ‘techies’, but really important for the economy as a whole, and here in Italy (and in Southern Europe on the whole) we are in serious need of economic improvement.

Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa also suffer from a serious lag despite infrastructure improvements, an expansion of coverage and a push into e-government. Weaknesses in the political and regulatory environment, the existence of large segments of the population with a low skills base and poor development of the innovation system are all factors hindering Latin America’s technological potential. In sub-Saharan Africa, costly access to technology, a low skills base and unfavourable business conditions are among the chief obstacles.

The report demonstrates that economic growth and technological readiness are tightly linked.

Top 10 countries for Network Rediness 2013/2012
A look at the top 10

An analysis by Booz & Company has found that ICT could help lift millions out of poverty.

Digitization has boosted world economic output by US$ 193 billion over the past two years and created 6 million jobs during that period, according to the study. Using a Digitization Index that ranks countries on a scale from zero to 100, Booz & Company found that an increase of 10% in a country’s digitization score fuels a 0.75% growth in its GDP per capita. That same 10% boost in digitization leads to a 1.02% drop in a state’s unemployment rate.

If emerging markets could double the Digitization Index score for their poorest citizens over the next 10 years, the result would be a global US$ 4.4 trillion gain in nominal GDP, according to the study. It would generate an extra US$ 930 billion in the cumulative household income for the poorest, and 64 million new jobs for today’s socially and economically most marginal groups. This would enable 580 million people to climb above the poverty line.

So investment is this area is extremely important, but in many places falling profits due to economic downturn (as is the case in Southern Europe and to some extent the USA) mean that less money is available, and this effects future growth scenarios.

Interestingly 3G growth is more important than general mobile telecommunication growth, we really do live in an information society that is based on Internet connectivity.

Medical care is also another area where benefits are net and easy to measure.

Southern Europe is in a particularly precarious position due to lack of investment capability. Rwanda on the other hand is following many other African countries in investing in expanding its fibre optic network and hopes to become a banking and finance hub, moving to being a knowledge based economy and away from agrarian in the next 7 years.

Colombia, Uruguay and Panama have become champions of e-government and connectivity. In Colombia, Internet connections have tripled to 6.2 million in the last 2.5 years. In Uruguay, small and medium-sized tech enterprises helped lift technology exports from US$ 50 million in 2000 to US$ 225 million in 2010.

Here in Italy there is little investment and a distinct lack in centralized planning, so we will soon be slipping below these countries on the scale and continue to suffer the related threats on economic development that this situation provokes.

The report is free to download here. It is as I said long and detailed, but the rankings are in chapter 1 if you just want to see where your own country sits.

Environment Science

Politics and the Environment

Yesterday the official data came out and the year 2012 was the hottest year the US has experienced since records began. Not only that, but it was the hottest by a long way.

The Hurricane Sandy experience, as well as a recent spate of wildfires and drought, has meant that the topic of climate change is firmly on the table, but the dissenting voice still carries political clout.

There are two polar positions here, with a large political lobby arguing that climate change has nothing to do with human actions, that either the Earth is warming naturally or that there is no proof that the world is warming at all. This goes against mainstream European thinking, and we can see many differences in approach between the two continents. In Europe we no longer use plastic bags on mass, they are now almost all biodegradable, and we can only buy low wattage compact fluorescent lamps as old style light bulbs have been fazed out.

Here the government is moving towards the same goal. In Massachusetts an organization called Mass Save subsidizes the cost of replacing old bulbs with new. The money comes from the user who has to pay a supplement on the electric bill to fund the scheme, but all is not without issue.

which do you favour?
A traditional and new style lamp

These bulbs contain mercury, a naturally occurring but poisonous substance. This means that they have to be disposed of properly, as if they are just dumped into the ground they can poison the surrounding water ways, very much in the same way as batteries do. They are also much more complex than old style bulbs, they require assembly and raw materials for their components, and much of this work is carried out in China with the usual questions of human rights and exploitation that are associated with this type of process.

Some sections of the political world (the Tea Party for example) offer this as proof that the environmentalists are poisoning the Earth and that their arguments are based upon false suppositions. Statistics are produced that seemingly show that a few lamps may do a lot of damage, but they do cut down electricity consumption enormously, and here in the US a lot of electricity is still produced by burning coal, and that is an extremely dirty and polluting affair.

The amount of mercury is also disputed, bringing poison into the house, light that burns skill, all kinds of terrifying scenarios, and I am certain that these lamps do present a real issue of environmental threat, but it is not through such scaremongering that progress will be made.

For the lamps to be efficient and effective they must be disposed of properly. For this to happen the public must be informed and take action. These bulbs must be correctly packaged when they fail and taken to recycling hubs where skilled operators know how to dismantle them.

As many readers might know, the environment and all issues surrounding its protection are extremely politicized in the US. Research data is difficult to come by, and large sums of money are involved, particularly on the side of the sceptics. But cuts in electricity use must be a good thing, but only if the collateral effects of such a mass introduction of ever cheaper technology that purports to be wholly good are properly investigated and managed.

Low mercury lights are available too, but I would like to say that the amount of mercury present in even a non low mercury version is extremely small. You have a lot more in the fillings in your teeth for example, but you should still go to the dentist for a check up every now and again.

In practical terms, I recently changed 12 bulbs in my house and my monthly electricity bill dropped by about 20%, good for me, good for the planet, but let’s not see it out of context. The keys are nothing more than management however, good research that is available to all, education on the pros and cons of different possible solutions, and less political manipulation.

Here are two takes on the story. A critique of the way these problems arise through big business funding of the sceptic argument and a critique of from the other side.

Both politically loaded as you will see.