Taking a Step Back from the Digital Life

There’s barely a day goes by when someone famous, somewhere does something they regret online.  It’s hardly surprising really when people set them selves up to receive thousands of Tweets from fans or just as likely haters.

I support a very small, rather unsuccessful professional football team yet even here I have seen the effects of Twitter rage.  A player after a particularly bad performance and seen conversing on Twitter is very likely to receive some unwelcome comments.  Some ignore these and just carry on, but some characters engage in exchanging insults which rarely looks professional and is more likely to supply any media reporter with a selection of quotes to start a story with.  Even at this low level, a professional footballer can have several thousand people following their every word/tweet which is fine if someone is filtering and managing what you say, not so good if you respond after a hard day with a beer in your hand!

Would Cary Have Had a Twitter Account?

Many people in the public eye are sensibly backing away from social networks simply because the risk of bad publicity is starting to outweigh the good stuff.  They are starting to realize about the huge amount of digital data that is being created online about everyone of us – every comment, every status update and every Tweet is creating an extensive digital profile for each one of us.

The dangers are many and perhaps the advantages certainly professionally are not really worth it.  For instance, comments you make now could be viewed in 5 or ten years time, opinions and statements that were perhaps off the cuff might appear in that job interview that means so much to you.

It doesn’t take much imagination to visualise a situation where having drunken pictures or comments floating around the internet might not be  the best long term career move.  Apparently senior executives are also deciding to back off from social media too, many are just switching off their digital profile – the concept is being dubbed ‘the digital detox’.  Others are doing so simply because it can take up so much of your life, the time consumed in interacting in these sites can be considerable and all encompassing.

We’re seeing more and more people using security programs to cut down on their digital profile and what’s logged about them.  I know people who use proxies to relay their connections when they connect to specific sites, if you login through a program with then that’s where many websites will decide where you’re from.

Whatever the best solution for you, keeping aware is essential – good advice is to step back and think before you post anything online.  Ask yourself if you’d be happy about anyone seeing it now, and in ten years time as that might just happen.

More information here about accessing the BBC in Ireland for those doucmentaries – http://bbciplayerabroad.co.uk/does-bbc-iplayer-work-in-ireland/

Essential Internet Tools – Smart DNS

The Domain Name System (DNS) is of course probably well known to anyone who regularly uses the internet.  It lies at the very core of the world wide web and it’s job is to resolve our friendly www addresses into IP addresses which computers can understand.   Of course you don’t need to know how it works, DNS will simply do it’s job in the background directing your browser to the correct location.

Watch BBC News Live

Many countries and governments do mess around with DNS however by ‘modifying’ the address lists in order to block or control access to specific sites.  Turkey even to this day regularly changes the addresses of popular social media sites when there’s unrest in the air, the goal is to stop people talking and organizing protests on these sites.   So if you try and visit Facebook you’ll instead be routed through to a Government owned web server instead.   It’s easily bypassed by using a DNS server not controlled by the Turkish State, but not everyone is able to do this.

So what’s Smart DNS?

This is the other side of the coin from the filters and censors who spoof or poison DNS tables, others have developed an intelligent version of the domain name system.   Instead of sitting passively and merely returning the IP addresses of requested web pages, Smart DNS will actually control some of the routing involved.

A typical example is for accessing region locked web sites like Netflix.  Normally when you visit Netflix you are directed to the version that is associated with your physical location, or given a ‘sorry message’ if there isn’t one. People have for years used VPNs and proxies to bypass this restriction by hiding their real addresses and accessing which ever version of Netflix they wish.  Smart DNS does the same but instead of routing your entire internet connection through a VPN server it simply waits to see when a region locked website like the BBC or Netflix is accessed.

When you do try and access such a site, the DNS server will route your connection through an appropriate server e.g a US server for US Netflix, a British one for the BBC iPlayer.  Many websites however don’t like this and you may have to search for a service which works for things like Netflix – read this article – Smart DNS Netflix for an illustration.

There is undoubtedly a technological battle going on all across the internet for control of what we can access.  On one side if we have the vast resources of governments, states and global companies who wish to control what we see for political, religious or financial reasons.   This is of course the side with huge resources like the Chinese Government who spend millions on their huge firewall for example.  Fortunately there are also thousands of individuals and small innovative companies on the other side developing VPN and proxy based systems like Smart DNS to bypass these blocks.   These ‘internet freedom fighters’ and their technical expertise are all that stand between a heavily censored and controlled internet – let’s hope they continue this great works.

Hottest July Ever – Global Warming Concerns

There’s a worrying attitude which you often hear about global warming, in which people try to downplay it’s effects.   The glib, well I could do with a bit more sun or the ‘well it’s always cold here’ type attitude is perhaps understandable in a local context when you’ve had a cold, dreary Summer but the world wide figures are extremely worrying.

drought_warning

The world has just has it’s hottest month since records began in 1880, it’s likely given the underlying trends go much further back than that.  Every year the world gets hotter and hotter, and the problems multiply on a global scale.   In countries like much of Europe, a few degrees change appears to have minimal effect on the surface, although even this is completely misleading.

However in countries with more extreme temperatures the problems escalate in scale rapidly.  In Iraq, the government has shut down for days at a time simply because of the heat – democracy can be effected by the weather.  In Kuwait, although shielded by some fantastic air conditioning units inside, step outside and feel the heat of a 54C sun (that’s 129F).  It’s a temperature which human beings simply can’t cope with but whole populations are being subjected to.

The problems are not all ways as straightforward as simply dealing with the direct effects of heat.  In Siberia rising temperatures have melted the permafrost releasing a strain of anthrax lying dormant in reindeer carcass for decades –  a deadly outbreak was started as a result of this thawing carcass.

All the trends suggest higher and higher temperatures, the concerns grow in all of the globe in different forms.  This is not the sort of instant cataclysmic event you might have watched on the big disaster movies, well at least I did until the Netflix blocking proxies thing.   It’s more a series of growing events from crop failures, to mass migrations or flooding and drought events linked to the rise in the temperatures.

Of course, we have always had temperature and weather fluctuations and sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend the scale of global warming whilst shivering in a cold August afternoon.  Yet all the evidence and trends points to a rise in temperatures, the results of which we are already seeing – look at the crop and farmers programmes on US Television for example or bypass BBC VPN block and watch the worldwide news and weather reports.

The evidence grows and yet the human race always finds ways to distract itself, political elections, Brexit or conflicts somewhere in the world.  The reality is that climate change will bring the world problems on a scale that dwarfs these issues.

China Launches New Satellite

China has launched an exciting development in the field of weather prediction – the Gaofen 1 satellite.  The satellite is classed as an Earth Observation device and has been launched by SASTIND – China’s State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.  It is the very first satellite capable of broadcast high resolution pictures back to earth,

The device was actually developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology and the launch took place last Friday from the province of Gansu in  the North of the country. It was carried into orbit by a Long March rocket and there are great hopes for the satellite. It is hoped that it will provide numerous services for agriculture, disaster prevention and provide general environmental services to the scientific community. Particularly apt after the recent inclusion of China in the last Earth Hour.

China has suffered from many natural disasters in the last few years and it is hoped that Gaofen 1 will play an important role in initially predicting these events and also in monitoring events in progress. Many natural disaster cover huge areas especially things like floods and snowstorms, the satellite should be able to predict the extent of some of these events.

The Gaofen 1 can move very fast aswell so can be repositioned to cover different areas when needed.  Gaofen 1 is expected to be only the first in a series of these high resolution satellites that are launched.  In fact SASTIND are expected to launch about 5 more in the next three years or so.  These wll create a spation coverage and observation system across the country.

It is hoped that these satellites are only used for scientific and weather prediction purposes, although there is obviously a worry that their use is extended given the reputation for the regimes monitoring and controling it’s population.  Ironically many of the films of the launch were not accessible last week in China – with viewers receiving the message – that this youtube video not available in your country !  Fortunately most Chinese internet users are well used to this sort of filtering and  they are usually skilled in using security tools like proxies and VPNs to neatly sidestep these restrictions.