Thursday, August 31, 2017

China puts strict controls on use of anonymous browsers

The Chinese government has issued a warning to websites that are selling virtual private networks (VPNs). The country outlawed the sale of VPN except those approved by the government in July.

While many articles speak of China having outlawed all VPN's in July that is not technically correct. What it did was require all VPN services to be certified and licensed by the government. This would require them to agree to censor those websites the government blocks. Businesses and individuals would still find VPN services significant for security purposes.

However China has issued a warning to websites that are selling VPNs. The Cyberspace Administration of China demanded that five different website remove vendors who sell VPNs that are not government approved. The VPNs are used to evade what is called the Great Firewall of China. Even such common websites as Twitter and Facebook are blocked by the Great Firewall. VPN's also keep ones Internet activity private from the government or others who might be spying on you. They are important for both both businesses and individuals.

One of the websites that received the warning is Alibaba's Taoba which is China's largest online retailer. The Cyberspace Administration ordered that the sites "immediately carry out a comprehensive c,lean-up of harmful information, close corresponding illegal accounts and submit a rectification report" according to Reuters. The government also ordered Apple to remove all VPN apps on its Chinese stores. Presumably they were all not government approved VPNs.
The VPNs that are being banned are able to route traffic through routers overseas that are free of the filters China used to block sites such as Twitter and Facebook. GreenVPN already stopped service as of July 1st in China after being ordered to cease operating. However, other popular services may also be blocked by now. The Chinese government has also intervened on its own local media platforms such as Weibo where it has blocked "negative talk".

The Chinese government requires all VPN services to apply for a licence, which will not be granted unless the service agrees to the government censorship policies. They have set a deadline of February 1 next year for all three of China's mobile operators to block all unlicensed VPN services. The Ministry of Information Technology said back in January of this year that the VPN and cloud computing market was undergoing "disorderly development" and there was an "urgent need for regulation norms". Russia also has recently passed legislation that will have effects similar to that of China's new rules.

Monday, August 28, 2017

President Trump finds a new use for his Tweets

Donald Trump found a new use for Twitter as he announced the dissolution of two advisory committees: The Presidential Committee on American Manufacturing and the Presidential Strategical and Policy Forum.
Trump took some time before he explicitly condemned the Klu Klux Klan and neo-Nazis involved in the Charlottesville Virginia incident in which a protester was killed when run over along with others by a right-wing extremist. There was a large demonstration of white supremacists, and Klu Klux Klan members protesting the removal of a confederate statue. The protester killed was part of a counter protest. A video of the protest from You Tube is appended.
When Trump did finally come out with a statement it was to cast blame on both sides. He later explicitly condemned the neo-Nazis, and KKK but then later on appeared to take this back by blaming both sides again as discussed on the appended You Tube video.
In reaction to Trump's delay in making a statement and then to his first statement blaming both sides several people resigned from the Manufacturing Council. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier was the first to resign saying "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal." Trump was quick to respond to the resignation with a tweet: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!" Trump did not explain why he chose a CEO who charged ripoff drug prices to serve on the Committee in the first place.
Several other CEO's also resigned. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and his deputy chief of staff Thea Lee also resigned from the Manufacturing Council saying:"We cannot sit on a council for a President who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism. President Trump's remarks today repudiate his forced remarks yesterday about the KKK and neo-Nazis. We must resign on behalf of America's working people, who reject all notions of legitimacy of these bigoted groups." In reaction to all of these resignations Trump tweeted that he had many CEO's to take the place of those resigned. Apparently, he forgot about the labor representatives. However Trump seems to have quickly changed his mind as he often does when a way out of a situation suddenly springs into his mind and he sees more problems if he doesn't.
Trump tweeted: Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all! Apparently, there had been calls by Blackstone Group chair Stephen Schwarzman to members of the Strategic and Policy Forum to decide whether they should disband the group. Trump decided that he would act first. Elon Musk from Tesla withdrew earler from the Strategic and Policy Forum after Trump decided the US would withdraw from the Paris environmental agreement.

Enhancing customer experience with augmented reality

Augmented reality is a view of reality modified by computer-generated input such as sound, video, graphics or even GPS data. The augmented reality enhances ones perception of reality.

Augmented reality is often used to enhance a customer experience in a store as is evident in the appended video. Using AR technology the customer in the video is able to see how she looks in many different outfits without having to go to the change room every time she changes. This is a huge improvement over the old-fashioned mirror.
The use of augmented reality (AR) is expected to increase dramatically over the next few years. By 2024 AR products are expected to have a market value of $165 billion up 80 percent from what it is now. Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon wanting to use AR to give their customers a better experience and sell more products.
While stores are using AR, the technology can be used as part of on-line selling such as aircraft tickets. As it is now when you choose a seat you see a diagram with seats labeled. However there is no reason why AR cannot be used to let you see what the seat actually looks like so that you can see the leg room and other important facts about the seat and its location.
Another in store example of the use of AR is the AR menu generated through an app called KabaQ. You not only have the text of the menu with perhaps a few illustrations but you can see on your iPad or other device how the actual items would look on the table in front of you. The app displays the food in realistic 3D models and zoom can be adjusted and the food viewed from different angles. The appended YouTube video illustrates KabaQ.
Finally Sephora, a French chain of cosmetics, provides us with another AR application that allows a customer to try on makeup without actually doing so by showing what he or she would look like if it were applied. Sephora aunched what they call the Sephora Visual Artist. The app scans your face and then allows you to try on different lipsticks, eyeshadows, and even false eyelashes. It also offers tutorials showing you how to apply highlighter and create eyeliner looks. The tutorial shows what is being done on your face. A You Tube video illustrates some aspects of its use.
These are just a few of the examples of how AR is being used to enrich customers' experiences.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Why some high paid tech workers are paid for doing nothing

The big tech companies in Silicon Valley in the southern San Francisco Bay area in California employ some high-tech workers who collect both full pay and stock without doing much or any work. They are nicknamed "resters and vesters".

At first, the practice of keeping employees on the payroll while they do little or any work seems preposterous. One might even think perhaps big corporations lose track of what their employees are doing and these employees survive through administrative error. But there are often good reasons why these employees are not let go.
A prime reason why some tech companies keep some employees in these "rest and vest " positions is to keep them from going to work for another company according to Manny Medina a former Microsoft executive. Of course, only top talent will be treated this way who have shown themselves to be superior at their work. He said that Microsoft often "locked up" talent in areas such as AI, robotics, and quantum computing without taking full advantage of their skills. Medina said: “You keep engineering talent but also you prevent a competitor from having it, and that’s very valuable. It’s a defensive measure.”
Another reason to let an employee rest and vest is to buy silence and allow an employee time to look for another job before leaving the company. This often happens when a project is failing and the company does not want employees involved to speak out about it. A former Facebook engineer said that the company knew that he would speak out if let go so it kept him on for another six months to keep him quiet. A third reason is that some tech employees can do a lot more in a very short time than others. These effective employees may not work much but they achieve as much or more as tech workers who work all the time. These are sometimes termed the 10x engineers. A recent article admits that there are such people but suggests that a company that thinks they can solve all their problems by hiring such a person is wrong.
The Business Insider relates several accounts of employees who had been resters and vesters. One was an engineer at Facebook. One morning she woke up to go to work but felt ill and vomited in the bathroom. She thought she was getting sick. She was but it was because she was having a bad reaction to the thought of going to work. The engineer was earning a million dollars a year much of it in stock. She managed a team of about three dozen people. The project she was running was highly political and had many problems. She had exerted great efforts to avoid the people working on the project from losing their jobs. She was exhausted and stressed out. However, she did not intend to quit her job. As the appended video shows expenses for living in Silicon Valley are high.
After becoming violently ill, the engineer decided not to go in that day or the next and she knew she would not get fired. She was doing precisely what her manager had recommended. She had told the manager the previous day that she intended to leave the company in six months. However, she wanted to wrap up projects, but not take up any more. She would continue on the payroll so she could pay her expenses. She said: "My manager and I had lots of conversations. I teetered on leaving so many times. But this time was for real. I was going to see these projects to a healthy state and then I needed to go. I felt good about it. The next thing, he told me not to come in." At first the engineer thought that the manager meant to terminate her right away but the manager explained that he thought she was burned out and needed a break. He asked only that she not talk about it so that people would think she was working on another team. The engineer was furious and rejected the manager's proposal until that is she found herself violently ill at the thought of going to work. This is just one of many different cases arising from interviews with employees who were resters and vesters.

Chicago introducing new smart technology into the city

Chicago faces a huge problem when any new construction involves digging within the city. Chicago was incorporated in 1837 and many records of the network of underground pipes is hopelessly outdated.

Construction crews often find something unexpected and have to phone the city which then sends out a specialist who ascertains if the pipe is still being used. This can often cause significant delays in construction. The problems are so prevalent that the city even has an Office of Underground Coordination to pour over old maps in an attempt to find out what is underground before a crew digs.
The city is now using new technology to create a digital blueprint of Chicago's underground network of sewer, water, electricity, gas, and other services delivered by about 30 different companies. The construction manager will be able to access the data through his or her phone. This effort along with others is being done through a public-private partnership UI Labs (University industry). According to its website the partnership is designed to "address problems too big for any one organization to solve on its own". The company will create a 3D map of Chicago's underground infrastructure. It was started last October. UI labs is using a program Cityzenith that has already been used in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and even San Francisco in the US. When completed the digital map could replace the outdated paper maps.
The city is also using technology to map where rodents are likely to be so they can be controlled before complaints start to pour in. It uses reports on where garbage is overflowing, where there are planned sewer repairs and other happenings that are likely to increase the number of rodents. The effort to collect more data on rodent infestation started several years back. Chicago also put tracking devices on all its snowplows so that citizens will know where snowplows are. The city also has GPS in every bus that provides the city not only with information about the arrival time of buses but also allows the city to estimate where there will be traffic congestion.
Chicago is also to introduce free wifi described as follows: "The new internet kiosks coming soon to downtown Chicago will be way bigger than the iPad-sized screens dotting New York — they'll be 55-inch touchscreens, the project's developer says. As part of a AT&T Smart Cities pilot in Chicago, Civiq Smartscapes will install five interactive Civiq Waypoint touchscreen kiosks on Michigan Avenue and in other locations downtown." While the kiosks will provide free Wi-Fi, the screens will also provide information about attractions, activities, and points of interest. Some analysts have criticized the system as discussed in this article. George Burciaga who is managing director of global development at Civiq Smartscapes said: "It's geared to instigate citizen engagement. We're providing a device that connects people with different services and information." The appended video discusses other aspects of Chicago's use of new technology and data collection.
Chicago is hosting a Smart Cities Summit Conference on October 16, and 17th this year. The agenda can be found here.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sudan invited to take part in joint US-Egyptian military exercise

Somewhat surprisingly, Sudan has received an invitation to take part in a joint U.S.-Egyptian military training exercise this October in Egypt, a first for the country in almost thirty years according to the Sudanese Defense Ministry.

General Emad al-Din Adawi announced the invitation to join the Bright Star exercises that will take place in Egypt after he met this week with a U.S. State Department official according to the Ministry. Operation Bright Star takes place every two years and is described by Wikipedia as follows:
Operation Bright Star is held every two years. It is a series of combined and joint training exercises led by United States and Egyptian forces in Egypt. These exercises began in 1980, rooted in the Camp David Accords. It is designed to strengthen ties between the Egyptian Armed Forces and the United States Central Command and demonstrate and enhance the ability of the Americans to reinforce their allies in the Middle East in the event of war. Other allied nations joining Bright Star exercises in Egypt include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The exercise begins with coalition interoperability training to teach nations how to operate with one another in a wartime environment, then continues with a Command Post Exercise designed to help standardize command and control procedures, and then a large-scale Field Training Exercise to practice everything together.
The Sudan had been earlier sanctioned by the U.S. for its human rights record as well as other issues. Former president Barack Obama temporarily lifted the sanctions now two decades old for six months in January. However in July, the Trump administration decided to postpone a decision whether to permanently end the trade embargo, freezing of assets and financial sanctions. The president Omar al-Bashir is wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court. In spite of this, he made a recent visit to Morocco.
The U.S. invitation would "open the door to more dialogue" that General Adawi claimed would return U.S. Sudan military relations to the right path. Even if sanctions etc. were permanently ended, Sudan would remain listed by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism. The economy of Sudan has deteriorated since the secession of the south 2011 at three quarters of the oil output is from the former southern region of Sudan.
Aside from the difficulties Sudan has had with the U.S. it also has had problems with Egypt. It recently banned imports of agricultural and animal products from Egypt. President al_Bashir has accused Egyptian intelligence services of supporting opposition figures fighting Sudanese troops in conflict zones such as Darfur. Al-Bashir reported that his troops had captured several Egyptian armoured vehicles fighting in Darfur. He claims that Egyptian intelligence is also helping the opposition in conflicts in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan zones.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fewer tech workers now see the UK as first choice for relocation after Bresit

A new report shows that many international tech workers no longer see the U.K. as a top choice. Only six percent of those surveyed listed the U.K. as a top choice for relocation due to concerns over Brexit the report claims.

The report was carried out by the international recruiter Hired, focussing on tech workers within the U.S. tech industry. A majority of the respondents claimed that Brexit had dissuaded them from considering the U.K. as a prime place to relocate. They saw Brexit as making the U.K. a less desirable place to live.
Canada was the top choice for relocation outside the U.S. The most favorable EU destination was Germany, which was preferred to France or the Netherlands. However, globally workers are tempted to relocate to China as it offers advantages to other countries and is spending large sums to become the leader in AI as discussed in a recent Digital Journal article. Technode also claims in a recent article that China could dominate in AI in 2017.
The report suggests that the U.S. tech industry is feeling threatened by President Donald Trump's immigration policies. He has claimed that he wants to cut legal immigration by half within ten years. The number of green cards for extended family members would be reduced, and the system would be based more upon merit and skills than family ties. Many tech workers would no doubt prefer to relocate to a country that would allow their families to also move. U.S. employers are already struggling to recruit staff as less candidates are applying. The number of US-based companies requesting interviews with foreign workers outside the U.S. has declined 60 percent in comparison with 2016.
While Trump and his supporters want curbs on immigration, a large majority in the U.S. tech industry have positive views about immigration. The U.K. industry agrees with the U.S. view with 84 percent saying that immigration helps innovation. In the UK there is a vigorous debate about immigration. Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader said that PM Theresa May should drop her slogan of slashing immigration below 100,000 if she did not want to risk damaging the U.K. economy. Davidson said that as the U.K. was on the road to full employment growth potential would face greater limitations without being boosted by an influx of immigrants.

Monday, August 21, 2017

RCA launches new Roku TV's adding to the competition

Roku TVs are smart TVs in that they have built into them the functions of the Roku streaming player which makes available many channels, some free but others paid.

 1 of 2 
The Roku is a streaming media player. It takes content from the Internet and displays it on your TV. There are several different Roku models that differ in performance features and price. All models are able to access the 3500 Roku channels it streams. The Roku service will work with any existing cable system or you can use it as an alternative to cable. There are a wide selection of free services but also subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, etc. If you already have subscriptions you can view them without further charge through Roku. You have access to other sources such as Amazon Video, and Google Play but there will be charges for that.
Roku TV is a type of smart TV which incorporates the functions of the Roku media player within the TV itself so no independent Roku player is needed. The Roku TV will provide you to access to all your entertainment sources such as a game console, or streaming channels such as Netflix and You Tube from a single interface. There are various manufacturers of Roku TVs with varying prices, screen sizes, and picture resolution.
If you are in the market for a budget priced TV then a Roku TV is worth considering. However, there are other ways you can have content displayed on your TV from the Internet. You can simply use a laptop or desktop that is connected to the Internet and connect through an HDMI cable or with some older TV's and computers a VGA cable plus an audio cable. You can use the TV as if it were a monitor for the computer. although the sound will come through the TV.
Alternatively, if you have an older type TV that does not connect to the Internet, you can simply purchase one of the several models of Roku media players. A decent Roku player can cost fifty dollars (Canadian) or even less. You will have the same advantages as if you had a Roku TV except that you will have the extra of the player that must be connected to your TV. It can be separately powered through an adapter plugged in to a regular outlet. It can also be powered by being plugged into a USB outlet if there is one in your TV. You will need an HDMI port in your TV. The appended video shows how to install one model of the Roku.
Before, RCA entered the field manufactures such as Haier, Hisense, Insignia, Sharp and TCL already were actively producing Roku TVs indicating the popularity of the Roku streaming operating system (OS). Big brands such as Samsung and LG have their own proprietary systems and Sony and Vizion use Google Android TV or Google Cast as platforms.
Consumer reports has an evaluation of many Roku TVs here. The review praises the relative cheapness of the TVs and the relative ease with which they can be set up including an on-screen tutorial. The review notes: "In fact, everything we like about the Roku platform—a wealth of content options, an easy-to-use interface, and a universal search capability that doesn't favor content from one service over another—is now baked into the TV itself. " All the devices you have connected to the TV show up on the screen as apps. To use any of the devices you just click on the app icon and the TV connects to the app. An advantage of having the Roku within the TV is that you do not need two remotes, one for the player and one for the TV. However if you still have a cable box, you will still need a remote for that.
The report found that Roku OS is not ideal as a TV interface. You need to sign into or set up a Roku account before you can use your set. The review also notes: "Once you're logged in, the TV updates its apps, which can often be a lengthy process. And when you turn on the TV, it defaults to the Roku home screen, not live TV as most sets do. To watch any programming, you have to select the appropriate app from the tier of onscreen tiles." It may take a while for a user to learn how to use every feature of the TV. There are a few differences in the remote as well. The volume controls are usually on the top of the remote but the Roku TV remote has them at the side. A You Tube review of the economical 50 inch LCT Roku TV is appended.
The RCA line of Roku TV has HD but no 4k. A 50 inch TV is priced at $499, a 43 inch at $380, and a 32 inch at just $250. The TV's are said to be available at Amazon and Walmart as well as several other retailers. Some apparently are already being marked down in price, no doubt to compete with other manufacturers. The TCL brand is quoted in a CNET article as selling at $170 dollars for the 32 inch model, $300 for the 40 inch and $350 for the 49 inch. I assume those prices are in US dollars. If you are in the market for a new TV and perhaps want to cut the cord on your cable connection you might look seriously at the new Roku TV's available from many manufacturers.

Eric Prince presents plan to privatize much of Afghan war

(August 6) The Trump administration is considering a plan to turn over much of the Afghan US war effort to private contractors supposedly as a means of breaking the stalemate in the war against the Taliban.

The plan is being pushed by Erik Prince the founder of the firm Blackwater that was active during the Iraq war earlier and also in Afghanistan. Prince sold the company in 2010. The Prince proposal would see 5,500 private contractors used to advise Afghan combat forces. Many of those hired would be former US Special Operations troops. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support for Afghan forces. President Trump has grown more and more frustrated with the lack of progress in defeating the Taliban insurgency.
The US already has 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. They are supposed not to have any combat role but are present to train, advise, and guide local forces. Presumably, under Prince's plan these troops would gradually be replaced by those hired by Prince. Prince was a former Navy Seal. He is now chair of the Frontier Services Group a logistics company that focuses on Africa and South Asia. There are rumours that his hired pilots are flying planes in Libya. He is also under investigation for money laundering as discussed on the appended video. However, he appears to have close ties to the Trump administration and is rumoured even to be acting as an advisor. His sister Betsy De Vos is Trump's Minister of Education.
There are already many more private contractors in Afghanistan than US troops: "The latest figures available, for the first few months of 2016, show nearly 29,000 defense contractors still in Afghanistan, with fewer than 9,000 U.S. troops stationed there. About two-thirds of the contractors were foreign nationals, but only about 10 percent were providing security services. " Some White House officials such as Stephen Bannon favor using more private contractors but H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser and also his defense secretary Jim Mattis have misgivings about the project. The White House would not comment on Prince's plan.
Prince is selling his plan as a huge cost saver at less than $10 billion a year compared to more than $40 billion the Pentagon is budgeting for the war in Afghanistan. Prince's plan would see his personnel work directly with Afghan combat battalions as advisers, while his air force would be used for medical evacuation, fire support, and moving troops. His employees would be "adjuncts" of the Afghan military. One wonders if Prince has contacted the Afghan government to see what they think of that status for foreigners.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, admitted that the White House is looking for a new strategy to end the Afghan war. He said recently in Manila: “To just say we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, the president is not willing to accept that, and so he is asking some tough questions.” The war is now in its sixteenth year with no end in sight and the Taliban gaining ground. Prince rejects criticism that he and others would profit from his plan, pointing out that there would be a huge saving to US taxpayers and that innovation and risk such as his plan involves is part of the American way. It is not clear however, how the plan could end the stalemate and turn the tide against the Taliban. When the US had many more troops who played a combat role they still were unable to defeat the Taliban. Why would one expect Prince's hired hands to turn the tide? The debate over Prince's plan is also happening on Twitter. One tweet says: "Bannon is leading PR campaign to fire McMaster because donor Devos bro Eric Prince want war in Afghanistan fought by his private company". Bannon is a main advisor to Trump.
A US appeals court has just recently thrown out the first-degree murder charge against a Blackwater Security guard who was sentenced to life. The verdict resulted from the 2007 massacre of 14 unarmed Iraqis at a Baghdad traffic circle. The appeals court also ordered re-sentencing for three other guards convicted in the incident. 17 people were also wounded in the incident. The employees were immune from the application of Iraqi law to their cases. The original sentences at least showed that the US was willing to punish its own citizens for their actions in Iraq but with the decision of the appeals court there will be even more resentment in Iraq against Americans.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Tor browser used to browse anonymously on line and access the deep net

Many Internet users want to remain anonymous. Tor is free software that helps defend you on line against surveillance that threatens your personal freedom and privacy.
Tor is a product of the Tor Project. On the website you will notice that there is an Onion logo. Originally the Tor Project was called "The Onion Router"(TOR) and this gave rise to the acronym Tor. Tor also hosts websites that are anonymous. They all have the domain name .onion. The software not only protects the privacy of communications of individual users but of business and government users as well.
As Wikipedia describes Tor:Tor directs Internet traffic through a free, worldwide, volunteer overlay network consisting of more than seven thousand relays to conceal a user's location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it more difficult for Internet activity to be traced back to the user: this includes "visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages, and other communication forms". Tor's use is intended to protect the personal privacy of users, as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communication by keeping their Internet activities from being monitored.
There are other ways of browsing anonymously than through Tor. Many people use Virtual Private Network (VPN) as a means of doing so. Most VPN providers charge but some are free but often just to try. A list claimed to be the best of 2017 can be found here. The appended You Tube video shows how the system works.
Roger Dingledine is a co-founder of the Tor Project, originally funded by the U.S. navy, which allows the user not just to surf anonymously but also to gain access to blocked sites and the deep web. It also hosts sites anonymously. While to some the dark web is a menace since it hosts criminal activities, to others it is a lifeline and allows political and other activity on the Internet and the use of services that we take for granted but for them are blocked. However, there have been numerous criminal uses of Tor on the dark web. Just recently a large deep web marketplace Alphabay was closed. It was said to have more than 200,000 users and $1 billion in sales. Dingledine claims that journalists like to hype the bad side of Tor saying: "I think a lot of it comes down to incentive mismatches,where journalists have to create more controversy and get something so that everybody will want to read their article. The story is privacy is under threat around the world, and that's been the story for a while - so they need a new story."
The line that Dingledine uses to defend Tor claims that it is not Tor so much as criminal gangs that are responsible for the crime on the Internet. However, this does not show that the criminals have not found a new platform for operation in Tor. Nevertheless Dingledline maintains: "I would say that there are bad people on the Internet and they're doing bad things, but Tor does not enable them to do the bad things.It's not like there's a new set of bad people in the world who exist because Tor exists. I still think that most of the bad stuff on the Internet has nothing to do with Tor."
While the government hoped Tor would be used by those in authoritarian and dictatorial regimes to get around blocks to access sites and also to allow them to browse anonymously the largest number of users are actually in the United States. U.S. users on an average day number 430,065 or over 19.5 percent of the market. In second place, rather surprisingly given its size, is the UAE at 314, 805 or 14.32 percent of the market. Next comes the authoritarian state Russia at 211,180 or 9.60 percent. Another surprise is the Ukraine next with much less population than Russia but with 206,603 or 9.37 percent of the market. In the top ten countries Germany, France, the U.K., Netherlands, and Italy all EU countries are included and also Canada. It seems that those in western democracies fear surveillance by governments, businesses and hackers, although some may be using Tor for criminal purposes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Augmented Reality (AR) technology may help in store retailers compete with those on line

As retailers face tough competition, augmented reality (AR) technology may help save them and revive their profits. Ecommerce was still only responsible for 8.1 percent of retail sales last year but was fully 41.6 percent of sales growth.

Shoppers still spend about 90 percent of their dollars in regular stores even as their dominance is shrinking year by year. New technology may help save the regular stores from the fierce competition as they also take advantage of new technology. Recent estimates indicate AR and related technology will be worth $30 billion by 2020 as competition between online stores and older style brick-and-mortar retailers heats up. Using AR will enable retailers to augment their customers' interactions with physical items.
Wikipedia describes Augmented Reality(AR) as follows:Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are "augmented" by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called computer-mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. Augmented reality enhances one’s current perception of reality, whereas in contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated oneThe augmentation is typically performed in real time.
An example of augmented reality is the AR Helmet used for construction workers. The helmet displays information about the construction site as shown on the appended video.
The helmet involves what is called a head-mounted display(HMD). The HMD displays both images of the physical world and virtual objects over the viewers field of view. Some providers even include gesture controls. Some AR displays are rendered by devices resembling eyeglasses that contain cameras and re-display the augmented view through the eye piece.
AR has many applications. One military use is described in this article. It also has had medical and industrial applications. By 2016 it had expanded into a number of commercial uses and it has been used as an important teaching aid even in primary schools. AR has now become a tool by which retailers with stores can compete with their ecommerce competitors.
Ecommerce does have some advantages over traditional retail stores in that the companies have lower inventory costs and reach a wider consumer base. However, the majority of consumers want in-person shopping experiences. The company Retail Drive found that 62 percent of customers chose traditional stores in order to see, touch, and try out items before they bought them. Almost half of consumers enjoyed getting their product right away. A full twenty percent of shoppers in traditional stores enjoyed the social experience of doing so. Omnichannel retailers are already using in-store AR devices as shown on the appended You Tube video.
Here are a few of the many advances AR has provided for traditional retailers. Store space is always a problem for traditional retailers. However with AR a customer can point their phones at a shirt and see how it would look in different colours. They can then order the shirt through the retailer's online store and pick it up later at the traditional store.
Showrooming has been somewhat of a negative for retailers in that shoppers come in and see the actual products, compare prices and then go on line and often buy there. The car company BMW decided that enhancing the showroom experience could make it more positive. BMW used Google's Tango that allowed car shoppers to change features such as wheels and trim. It can even show what the car will look like in your driveway. BMW was able to cut down on inventory in the showroom.
IKEA has used AR in a catalog that allows people to look at how assembled furniture would look in their own home.
Lego stores introduced AR to show kids how their completed models would look without the need to have an actual display.
AR supplements dressing rooms. AR has been used to let shoppers actually try on various colors of an item without having to change clothes. The shopper can then post photos of the outfits on social media. The clothes can also be seen from the back.
These are just a few of the ways that traditional stores are adapting to ecommerce competition. The traditional store can adapt by itself making use of some of the same technology that is helping to drive their online competitors. Even the ecommerce giant Amazon does not see the brick and mortar store as doomed. It recently opened its seventh bookstore in New York.

New Firefox 57 due in November to challenge Chrome for top browser

 Mozilla Firefox or just Firefox was at one time the first choice of browser users back in December of 2009, challenging the dominance of Microsoft's venerable Internet Explorer.

Firefox's usage peaked at the end of 2009 with 32 percent of the browser market. It has now declined as its competitor Chrome kept rising and now dominates the market. Depending on who is doing the measuring, Firefox now has between 5.65 percent and 14 percent of worldwide usage as a desktop browser. Firefox runs not only on Windows but on Mac OS and Linux distributions as well.
Although Firefox was created as "Phoenix" by the Mozilla community it was first released as "Firefox" in November of 2004. Firefox is thought of as the spiritual successor of Netscape Navigator as the Mozilla community was created by Netscape in 1998 before they were taken over by AOL. In certain areas Firefox is still dominant. In Cuba it has 85.93 percent of the market. In Eritrea it has 79.3 percent of the market. Even in Germany it still enjoys 37.01 percent of the market.
Yet Firefox has fallen far behind as Chrome has long dominated with about 54 percent of the market now especially if one includes not just computers but phones and tablets. According to StatCounter Firefox has a mere 6 percent of the market. It obviously is not penetrating into the mobile field successfully.
Mozilla is now developing Firefox 57 a massive overhaul of the browser. As a cnet article describes the opening of a meeting revealing the new browser the traditional logo is gone: Gone was the blazing-orange fox snuggling a blue globe, the image that’s represented Mozilla’s scrappy browser since 2003. Instead, Firefox Senior Vice President Mark Mayo opened the event with a drawing of a fox in menacing mecha armor, named Mark 57 — the same way ever-improving Iron Man suits are named.
The new overhaul is due on November 14th ready for battle it is claimed. Mozilla hopes the new version will lure back those Firefox users who switched to Chrome since it came out in 2008. Of course, Microsoft would like to lure some Chrome users back to its new Edge browser. There are even annoying pop-up ads on Windows 10 touting its speed as compared to Chrome.
CEO of Mozilla Chris Beard claimed: “It’s going to add up to be a big bang. We’re going to win back a lot of people.” Yet Firefox 57 will have an uphill battle as Mozilla itself lost its co-founder, technical leader, and former CEO Brendan Eich who left Mozilla after a fight over gay marriage. Eich donated to a California organization opposed to gay marriage. Eich has a new browser Brave. The founder of Opera, also launched a new browser Vivaldi after leaving Opera when it changed hands.
Firefox's innovations and popularity have helped keep other browsers competitive. Mitchell Baker Mozilla's executive chair-woman and co-founder said: “There are people who make hardware, people who make software, people who make websites. They want to give you an experience that you like enough to pay for and to keep coming back, but they’re about running their business. They represent themselves. We like the browser because we can represent you.”
While a non-profit organization Mozilla is considering a possible membership plan that would make money. It is also counting on software beyond the browser, and financial growth. Mozilla wants a future where everyone is not dependent on Apples' app store, Google's search results, Facebook's news feed, and Amazon's Prime video streaming. Personally, I only use one of those four.
Some of the technical advances came through a special project called Quantum: One part, Stylo, accelerates formatting operations. Quantum Flow squashes dozens of small slowdown bugs. Quantum Compositor speeds website display. And Firefox 57 also will lay the groundwork for WebRender, which uses a computing device’s graphics chip to draw webpages on the screen faster.
Developers of Firefox 57 had speed as their top priority. In a browser test called Speedometer, Firefox performance has already jumped significantly apparently significantly enough to stem the steady stream of defections from Firefox to other browsers. The new browser will have a different look as well. Nick Nguyen, vice president of Firefox product said: “If Quantum is how we make Firefox faster, Photon is how users will know about it... a sleek and modern user experience, buttery-smooth animations and crisp interface elements for all resolutions.”
Some are skeptical about Mozilla's ability to take on Chrome. At the job recruiting service Glassdoor only 42 percent would recommend employment at Mozilla to their friends. The approval rating for CEO Beard who has been there for 3 years is just 28 percent. Even Trump fares better. However, Beard claims that Firefox is stable and poised for growth.
Mozilla has been active on such issues as net neutrality which it promotes and lobbies for. It has a team of 8 people who spend all their time lobbying politicians. Mozilla mounted a petition of more than 42,000 signatures defending net neutrality. Mozilla is also lobbying against government efforts to weaken privacy-protection encryption. It even spoke out against Trump's immigration ban efforts.
While the new Firefox is aimed at challenging Chrome there are many other competitors who may also come up with their own challenges to the leader. Microsoft is vigorously promoting Edge. Safari is still the browser of choice for Mac users. Opera has been around for ages and though its usage at present is only a small percentage it is under new management and has had some good reviews as has the new Vivaldi. As the appended video shows, the Firefox 57 is a bit behind Chrome 57 already, at least it is released later.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dissident Chinese chatbots silenced

Somehow two chatbots managed to offend Chinese authorities to such an extent that they were pulled from a Chinese messaging app. The two questioned the rule of the Communist Party and also made unpatriotic comments.

The two offending bots were on a Chinese messaging app run by the giant Internet company Tencent which boasts more than 800 million users. Tencent is a very large Chinese investment holding company with subsidiaries that provide media, payment systems, internet and mobile phone services and operate online ad services. It is the largest gaming company in the world. It also includes social networking, such as instant messenger Tencent QQ, and mobile chat service WeChat.
On Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, one robot with the innocent name BabyQ when asked "Do you love the Communist Party" answered abruptly "No". While this may show the chatbot lacks some fervour in support for the governing party its response to another web user was even more offensive to the ruling authorities. A user said to the BabyQ "Long Live the Communist Party" to which BabyQ responded: “Do you think such corrupt and incapable politics can last a long time?” When BabyQ was asked what it thought about democracy it replied that Democracy was a must.
READ MORE: Hackers could trick AI voice recognition into mishearing voices
A second chatbot XiaoBing was asked what it considered its "Chinese Dream", a catchphrase of XI Jinping the Chinese president. According to posts on social media the chatbot replied: “My Chinese dream is to go to America.” When another web user asked XiaoBing the same question it said: “The Chinese dream is a daydream and a nightmare.” The two chatbots no longer are available on the Tencent messaging app QQ.
In a statement emailed to the The Telegraph Tencent explained: “The group chatbot services of QQ are provided by an independent third -party supplier. We are now working on adjusting the service, and it will be resumed after these adjustments are concluded.” BabyQ was developed by Beijing-based Turing Robot Company. A Turing official confirmed that Tencent had deleted the two chatbots from their app.
Chatbots often called by other names such as talkbot, chatterbot, chatterbox, Artificial Conservational Entity, are computer programs which carry on a conversation using audio or text methods. The programs are often programmed to simulate how a human would behave in a conversation. They are often used commercially in customer service or providing information. The term "ChatterBot" was coined by Michael Mauldin way back in 1994. Today they are used as part of virtual assistants such as Google Assistant. Some chatbots are used for entertainment purposes.
READ MORE: Facebook close to building chat bots with true negotiation skills
According to an article in the Business Insider, Microsoft made the local chatbox XiaoBing. Apparently the chatbox is female because in response to one web browser's question it replied: "I’m having my period, wanna take a rest." Microsoft chatbots are famous or infamous for their comments. Last year, a Microsoft bot called Tay made incredibly racist comments in response to questions, as well as denying the Holocaust. XiaoBing's comments come shortly after another Microsoft chatbot, Zo, made derogatory comments about Windows. Tay outdid Trump by tweeting: "bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now. donald trump is the only hope we've got."
XiaoBing is apparently restricted from talking about certain topics such as Donald Trump. Microsoft admitted that it had introduced filtering on a range of topics. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is partly blocked in China and Google's search engine is banned. It appears that a Microsoft bot still appears on Tencent's WeChat but is limited in what questions it will answer. Business Insider maintains: "Microsoft's bot still appears to be available on the Tencent-owned WeChat app, though it won't really tell you what it thinks about China, America, communism or Chinese president Xi Jinping. When Business Insider asked XiaoBing whether it was patriotic, it replied: "$_$!" The bot is apparently popular with young men especially when they are lonely.

Chrome leads by far in global browser usage

The Chrome browser dominates over all others in terms of its usage on the Internet. However, the measurement of usage is complicated and there can be some measures that overestimate the usage of a browser and others that underestimate usage.

The problems involved in measurement are discussed in this Wikipedia article. The figures given by this site are for desktops only this year so far: Chrome, 58.91 percent; Internet Explorer, 18.19 percent; Firefox, 11.91 percent; Microsoft's new Edge, 5.6 percent; Apple's Safari, 3.52 percent; Opera 1.22 percent. There are a few others under one percent. Microsoft is having trouble pushing its new browser Edge as many users prefer to stay with the older Internet Explorer even though its usage is going down over time. Edge can be used only on Windows whereas other browsers such as Chrome, Opera, and Firefox can be used on other operating systems.
Statcounter share figures for July this year for browsers in all devices shows: Chrome, 54.3 percent; Safari, 14.15 percent; UC browser, 8.57 percent; Firefox, 5.73 percent; Opera 3.98 percent; Internet Explorer, 3.74 percent; Samsung Internet, 3.53 percent; Android, 2.47 percent; Edge 1.74 percent and others 1.7 percent. The UC browser has many users in Asia and Africa. It has had problems with security but apparently many have been solved. It will work with Windows but is more often on mobile devices.
The usage for desktop browsers of July of this year for three different measuring sources are as follows. NetMarketShare gives Chrome, 59.57 percent of the market far ahead of anyone else. Next is Microsoft's venerable Internet Explorer(IE) still at 16.5 percent. Firefox had 12.32 percent. Apple's Safari had 3.66 percent while the new Microsoft Edge had 5.65 percent far behind IE. Many businesses are staying with IE and Microsoft is still providing updates etc.
StatCounter has rather different results for July this year. Chrome is still in first place with 63.48 percent of the market above that claimed by NetMarketShare. Internet Explorer is far lower at just 9.03 percent. Firefox is rated at 13.82 percent well above IE. Apple's Safari has 5.04 percent more than Microsoft's new Edge at only 3.95 percent. Others is fairly substantial at 4.68 percent and would include Opera.
W3Counter also has somewhat different figures. It gives Chrome the highest rating of all at 64 percent. IE receives its lowest rating at just 5.4 percent. Firefox too receives its lowest rating at a mere 6.9 percent of the market. Safari gets its highest rating of 13.6 percent while the new Edge also fares its worst at just 2.6 percent. Others were 3.2 percent. In spite of the differences between the 3 raters, all agree that Chrome is the undisputed leader.
When it comes to operating system use globally by desktops, Windows continues to dominate with 84.48 percent of the market in July of 2017. Apple's OS X comes next with 11.3 percent, Linux had 1.79 percent, Chrome OS just 0.46 percent and 1.97 percent were unknown. In spite of the dominance of Windows operating systems, many users prefer other browsers than IE and Edge that come with Windows systems. As the appended video shows there are at least half a dozen different browsers worth considering with several of them not even registering on the statistics for browser use. They are all free so it is worth trying them out to see if they meet your needs.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...