Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Rise of the Mirror Internet or Darknet

Mirror Internet? Yeah sort of like that Star Trek episode "Mirror Mirror" where Captain Kirk was evil and Mr. Spock wore a goatee. Where everything was flipped upside down. Good was evil and evil was good. Imagine the Internet, now imagine a flipped over Internet, a Mirror Internet called a Darknet.

Wait, what exactly is a Darknet? It is an alternative to the Internet and not available from the Internet but uses the same or almost the same technology. It is something that is being developed.

Using an Internet MEME with Bender from Futurama I can better illustrate  with satire and sarcasm what this Darknet might become. It will be a private Internet that one can join and have no government regulation, it will be full of free MP3 files, pirated files, DRM-Free software and other things. Yes it is being worked on, and yes it is not fully compete yet.

Why is it growing more and more popular? Well as governments regulate the Internet more and more, bring about censorship and get rid of being anonymous and basically take away rights, freedoms, and liberties the Darknets avoid all of that and create an adhoc network of peers, and IP addresses not available on the Internet for security reasons, and domain names not accessible on the Internet as well, plus web sites and lots of storage that cannot be accessed by the Internet.

Basically this is an old trick, back in the Arpanet before the Internet there were Darknets that were off Arpanet for security reasons. Many corporations have Intranets which are almost the same thing, the difference being the Darknet is not owned by a corporation and run by individuals as a hobby of sorts to share data and files and other things that the Internet would not allow. Since it is not technically the Internet, it is not subject to the rules of the Internet.

It has not yet caught on because nobody has figured out a way to make money on it yet. Most Darknets are run on a volunteer basis by people who donate their time, money, and resources to run it. Those people don't want the Darknet used for illegal means, but still want their anarchy or whatever so that they have their freedoms without turning into what they hate most, a fascist state.

I suppose there will be startups who want to invent technology for the Darknets to use, and a payment system (Bitcoin?) to pay for access to it, and software to hook up to a Darknet and keep track of bandwidth used and make autopayments.

What already exists? Meshnet is one such project, Reddit users click here for more info. There is software being developed call CJDNS that will allow your system to connect to a Darknet or one like Meshnet. Another Darknet is Hyperborianet that you can connect to and try out.

Note that some Darknets got taken out because they traded in child-porn, groups like Anonymous went after them. This has caused some concern about setting rules for a Darknet, and most supporters are anarchists that don't want rules, but have to implement them anyway. Most don't want illegal activity such as piracy, but cannot prevent it. A system might be made to ban IPs from Darknets for violating rules.

Some people at Microsoft figured out that Darknets would defeat DRM long ago. Darknets are usually run by Ethical Hackers and they see DRM as unethical so they seek to remove it from software used on their Darknet.

It is painfully obvious that for any Darknet to be successful it should follow a set of rules or ethics, and anyone who violates those rules can be banned or disciplined. For example no child porn should be allowed. In order to enforce that there will need to be a reporting system and people who are paid as administrators to carry out bans or disciplines in some way. In order for that to happen the Darknet has to have a paywall in order to fund their own administrators to keep order on the Darknet. After a while the Darknet will resemble the Internet in the way it is managed, except that instead of a government regulating things it will be a group of paid administrators. That is where the startups come in with business models, software, and services.

How Microsoft messed up the Software Market

Customers don't want DRM, they don't want software locked to one machine. They want the freedom to upgrade their hardware and move the software they bought to the new machine. If the original machine breaks down they want the software to move to the new machine without having to buy a new license.

Here is the problem that Microsoft created, you cannot own software any more just the license to use it. You have to pay for a license to use software and receive a serial key and then activate that serial key over the Internet. There is a chance of a false positive check for a pirated key, so even if you legally bought the key it can still turn up as 'bad', 'invalid', or 'pirated', or just plain get rejected by the activation server.

To make matters worse the DRM software eats up CPU cycles, memory, and system resources and phones home every X minutes or so to sell the software vendor (it Spyware) what you are running on your machine, your private info, and every software title you have installed with serial key. Many claim that this DRM is a legal virus that invades privacy and violates the users' freedoms, rights, and liberties. Microsoft and others just consider it the way of doing business.

For example Microsoft Office 2013 cannot be transferred to a new PC if your current PC breaks down and is replaced. I am sure that when corporations upgrade their PCs from an old one to a new one they won't want to keep buying new licenses for Office 2013 every time they upgrade a user's PC. I am sure when people at home upgrade to a new PC they won't want to buy a new license for Office 2013 as well. Nobody in their right mind wants to keep buying new licenses for software they already bought a license for just because the hardware had changed.

If you read on Reddit why people there hate Electronic Arts and the Origin system, well some EA games have an "Activation Counter" for them and after X activations they have to buy a new license for the game. The die-hard video game user is always going to upgrade the motherboard, CPU, RAM, and video card to be able to play the latest games. Each hardware upgrade requires them to do another activation. Well after so many, EA locks them out of the video game they legally bought a license for and forces them to buy a new license if they want to keep playing. This idea was taken from Microsoft over Windows XP activations, the first copy of Windows that needed Internet activation of the serial key. Each new hardware upgrade requires another activation, and after the activations run out, you have to buy a new license of XP. In some cases if you talk nice to Microsoft operators they can reset the activations, but it is difficult to do some times.

Many people turn to piracy not because they cannot afford the software license, and not because they want everything for free, but because they legally bought a license and have been locked out of that license by activations. This DRM model has created even more pirates than it was meant to eliminate. You cannot treat customers that way and not expect them to find a way around DRM somehow. Many pirates are also hackers who removed the DRM from games and software and distribute them on P2P file sharing networks. The pirated versions run faster, use less RAM, and don't have the problems that the commercial versions have because the DRM code was taken out and the software just worked better as a result.

Look, Apple does not have a serial key for MacOS X, sure Apple ties the software to the hardware so that the MACH kernel in MacOS X cannot be installed on Non-Apple branded PCs. Hackers found a way around that by modifying the MACH kernel or patching the OS so that it supports Non-Apple branded PCs. Apple did not add in a serial key or online activation because they get customer satisfaction. Plus the App Store in MacOS X versions that are Hackintosh versions still works and Apple earns money from App sales from their App Store and media on iTunes even with Hackintosh versions of MacOS X.

Apple knows if they add in the Microsoft software model to MacOS X that their customers would react, so Apple does not add in serial keys and online activation to their OS. Of course because of that Apple tends to earn more money than Microsoft, and Microsoft has not yet figured that out yet. You see Apple gives away MacOS X at low prices of $39 an upgrade to Mac owners, and doesn't crack down much on Hackintosh owners, because they know it is the best way to keep customers happy and earn money from them.

Windows 8 is about the worst Windows since Windows Vista or Windows ME or that MS-Bob thing. Microsoft is quick to replace it with a Windows Blue project that is either a new Windows or a service pack for Windows 8 to make it less awful and more awesome. If Microsoft was smart they'd just license Linux and build a Windows GUI on top of that to run Legacy Windows apps on it and call it Winix or something like MS-Linux, or the old Lindows they sued Linspire over the name. Microsoft should port their software to Linux, Android, iOS, and other platforms and remove the DRM and serial key activation, they stand to earn a lot more money this way.

Look, the Microsoft dominance is coming to an end, and Microsoft knows it is a post-PC world. This is what happened to IBM when it became a post-Mainframe world and the PCs entered the market. IBM countered with the IBM PC and PC-DOS, but Microsoft gained the upper hand by controlling the DOS license and licensing DOS as MS-DOS to PC Cloners. This allowed Compaq, Dell (PC Limited) and others to make sales of IBM PC compatible systems. A standard was formed with MS-DOS and Microsoft used it as leverage to get Windows bundled with OEM sales of PCs along with MS-DOS until Windows 95 replaced the MS-DOS preinstalls. This was all done without DRM or online activation of serial keys.

Microsoft is now in the shoes IBM was, the Surface is the new IBM PC but it is threatened by the iPad and Android tablets. Now Ubuntu is coming out to smartphones and tablets. But the Firmware in the Surface makes it difficult to install Linux or another OS on it. People might reject it for that. Unlike IBM that didn't control DOS, Microsoft does control Windows, but Microsoft is not doing enough innovations in Windows to keep up with MacOS X, Linux, Android, and others. Even Bill Gates had admitted that Microsoft failed in doing innovations and the Windows Phone needs more work, etc.

Microsoft is not doing enough innovations because they spend so much time and money on DRM and locking the software down to just one set of hardware and giving the users a hard time when they have to switch to new hardware because the old one failed or they needed a upgrade. It is like trying to hold water in your hand and you keep squeezing it tight, and some water escapes, so you keep tightening your grip. Meanwhile Apple keeps a soft grip that cups water and so does Ubuntu, Android makers, and others. Guess which ones will hold the most water, or users? Microsoft take note, loosen your grip.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Future Features of Next Gen Computers

We can look at current technology to predict trends for future technologies. These are the areas that startups and current computer companies should focus on.

Voice recognition and speech synthesis, being able to talk to a computer and have it talk back. This was made popular in "Star Trek" and IBM Viavoice, and Dragon naturally Speaking made it work even if all the credit is given to Apple for Siri. Windows 7 for example has limited voice recognition and speech synthesis. This is good for the blind and nearly blind, as well as people who are disabled and cannot type or in some cases cannot speak. It makes it easier to write books by narrating the words to the computer instead of typing them out.

Handwriting recognition, this has gone back to the 19th century but has never been perfected. The Apple Newton used it but it was awful, always getting the wrong words. The PalmPilot solved the problem by using shorthand. With modern touchscreens where the finger is used, one cannot write very well with a finger so a stylus is needed to work like a pen for this to work. The best use of this technology is to scan in handwritten books and documents so they can be converted to text and indexed and searched.

Vision and movement using cameras. The XBox Kinect may not have been the first, but it is popular enough to use as an example. By moving your hands or other body parts video games can be played, but the potential for real life solutions is almost endless. "Minority Report" showed a system of hand gestures to control a computer. This will help the deaf and hard of hearing who use ASL or some form of sign language to have the camera turn singing into words for use in documents or operating a computer.

Robots, we are not using them as much now because of cost. Making robots cheaper would be a key to selling more of them. Finding a use for them besides factory work, and cooking might be profitable.

Artificial Intelligence, even if your AI web robot can't pass the Turning test it can still have uses. Most commonly asked questions can be answered by a AI web robot. Think of it as an automated FAQ page. The AI web robot can be programmed for other things such as verifying identity and providing minor tech support issues.

3D Printing, once this becomes cheaper it will really take off. It will allow small businesses to make plastic and metal items using 3D printers, and allow large companies to automate fabrication of parts to giant 3D printers. Instead of tooling up a factory to make a few parts, the 3D printer can just print them in a few hours, reducing the cost of fabricating those parts. After a while a 3D printer will become so complex it can print electronic parts and that will revolutionize the computing industry.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Third Industrial Revolution in the USA

The Third Industrial Revolution in the USA has already started. Many people will lose their jobs to machines, robots.

EDIT: I forgot the second industrial revolution already happened, this current one is the third. Sorry for that.

Factory work is coming back to the USA, but don't get excited, jobs will go to robots instead of human beings or more machines will be used instead. Even the jobs of cooking food will go to robots at fast food restaurants. Almost any manual labor can be assigned to a robot or machine these days.

Retail clerk jobs, well the world wide web is more cost effective. Retail stores are being shut down because more people order online. Web robots using AI (Artificial Intelligence) answer tech questions and questions about products now. As soon as voice recognition is perfected, AI robots will take over phone support calls and help desks.

Mass production, well we have 3D Printers now, can print almost anything. Not as advanced as Star Trek replicator technology, but if a business can afford a 3D printer they can easily make things with it. There are even deconstruction devices that can smash 3D printed things back into materials to be recycled and be printed into new things.

The Military, well Drones are used instead of people now. It won't be long before AI Robots are used. Will we see Terminators, Cyclons, etc? Skynet? We are going to have robots in mass use before you know it as a military force.

Well what about programming? Some programming languages make it very easy to program, just point to a data source and it generates source code using AI. Maybe some know Ruby on Rails does this and other programming languages have followed suit. Now there are programs that can write programs. No need for a programmer unless there is some debugging needed the AI cannot handle. Engineering, they have AI engineering programs as well.

There should be massive layoffs as this happens. The only available jobs will go to those who can repair and replace robots, fix the AI programs when they have problems, or the best programmers who can debug in the languages the AI robots use to program in. Managers to oversee the people who can fix the automated robot workers are needed as well.

We will start to see a different sort of startup be formed as a result of these changes.

The US economy will become worse as more and more people lose their jobs. We might see a Second Great Depression or maybe a Second Civil War as well.

Even Undocumented Migrant Workers will lose jobs to robots, how can you beat a salary of free? Robots don't have salaries. BTW Did you know that Robot means 'slave'? Robot comes from the Czech robotnik, which means "slave." and the USA got an economic boost after it was formed from the labor of slaves. Slaves were freed by President Abraham Lincoln and we've seen many civil rights laws and reforms since then.

Does anyone have any ideas how to survive a second industrial revolution? How to create jobs in the bad economy that follows it? Please let me know by replying to this blog.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Microsoft Outlook broke email standards

Recently for my son's 8th grade fund raiser, someone sent out a document for a flier to have everyone print out and distribute. But most people could not read it. The person sent it again, and it was the same unreadable mangled file.

It was a winmail.dat file. I couldn't find any software that could open it.

After searching for it, I found out that when Outlook is sending a rich text or HTML format email it encodes it as a winmail.dat file and includes the file attachment as well inside of it. Only Outlook can decrypt this file and remove the file inside. If Outlook sends the email as plain text, every email client can read it and find the attachment.

As it turns out there are a lot of winmail.dat extractors out there. The one I found was Winmail Opener that was free and works with Windows, and since I use Ubuntu it worked with WINE. I extracted the DOC file and then emailed it to every parent on the list so they had their flier to print out and distribute.

Now some email clients have been updated to open this file, but not all of them. If you are told the problem or failure is on your end, don't believe it but download one of these winmail.dat opening programs listed above and then extract the file from it. Microsoft seems to only care about selling software and not following email standards and helping people. Most people using Outlook as an email client don't know the harm it causes others who cannot read the emails they send.

This is of course not the first time Microsoft has done this sort of thing and it won't be the last either. But because Microsoft has a monopoly by preinstalling Windows on every PC sold, they can do whatever they want.This allows them to gain IT corporate sales and push their Office and Back Office software on businesses and then when it doesn't work with other software out there because it does not follow standards, it hurts everyone else.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Science, technology, startups and suicide

I am writing this blog because of the number of suicides in the startup community. They were all good people and my condolences to their family and friends. This blog is written to address the problem in our community with mental illnesses, stress, and related topics.

I had friends kill themselves before, it was devastating. I am mentally ill myself (how could I not be after what I went through in my life, even seeing my best friends kill themselves and friends and relatives checking on me to make sure I did not follow them), and when I did computer work it was "balls to the wall" as in 100% effort, reach your true potential, full steam ahead, work overtime, take work home, drive yourself to success type of work. The type of work still done by modern startups. Problem is, doing that type of work can be stressful. Learning stress management and anger management can help.

My point is that doing that type of work can lead to unmanaged stress and physical and mental health problems. Not everyone can do that type of work and not suffer in some way. Some suffer by not having a social life, by not having a family, not going out and having fun with friends, etc. This type of work can ruin a relationship or marriage even. This type of work can lead to alcohol and/or drug abuse. This type of work can cause one to become burned out, broken, and suffering from writer's block and become dysfunctional. All of these are problems that must be addressed.

You see when I worked, I neglected my mental health and my emotional health. I do so because management was very demanding, and I didn't have time for breaks. If I got sick and missed one day, I've have a manager call me up and tell me to get back to work, even if I had a bad case of the flu or had a wisdom tooth pulled. Yes I was ordered back to work while infected with a flu virus, and with bleeding gums and my face puffed up like Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" because it was still num and packed with cotton and bleeding. No excuses, come back to the office and finish these projects or you are fired. I worked as best I could.

I provided value to the company I worked for, I worked with others on a team, who could have taken over my projects, but management didn't want me to miss any days and were very strict. I worked myself so hard I developed schizoaffective disorder and ended up on short-term disability. After that it wasn't the same. People at work would bully and harass me for being mentally ill. As soon as I suffered a panic attack, I was fired. That threw me into a big cycle of major depression and I had suicidal thoughts. Why wasn't I good enough anymore? It became difficult to find work after that. I had the skills, the knowledge, the experience, but no work. What work I did find was only temporary after that, it was only to finish projects nobody else knew how to finish and I had to debug them and rewrite code. I became so sick I ended up on disability and vowed to myself I would one day beat the mental illness and become well enough to work again.

The problem is most companies or startups are not equipped to handle employees with a mental illness. Many employees hide their mental illness least the management think they are of a lesser value because they are mentally ill and demote them, lower their salary, or even fire them. Mental illnesses are a disability protected by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) but when most companies, startups, schools have a disability policy they think more of people in wheelchairs than the mentally ill in how to accommodate them. In not accommodating a mentally ill person, it makes them feel worthless and drives negative thoughts that could lead to suicide or worse.

There is usually a state program like EAP, Employee Assistance Program that can help an employee with their mental illness, emotional problem, stress, etc. In many cases the employee should be referred there instead of fired or demoted. There should be staff on hand working with HR that are trained in psychology, sociology, and therapy for employees who need help. Many startups ignore this and it is turning into a problem.

Any person can suffer this problem, from the lowest ranked employee up to the CEO, they may even hide the fact that they are mentally ill and act happy and smile, and then you'd never know it until their suicide or maybe bad actions or dysfunction. If one wants to solve this problem, they have to provide treatment for mental illnesses and support and accommodation for the mentally ill.

Part of the problem is the stig of the stigmatization of mental illness being perceived as evil or bad by the news media. Not everyone who is mentally ill ends up as a public shooter, terrorist, sociopath, criminal, etc. The news media won't report that, but will mention every 15 minutes that the person was mentally ill, even before an evaluation or background check is done. It makes us nonviolent mentally ill people look bad, even if we never committed a crime or never been in prison. It may be part of the reason why mentally ill people at startups hide their mental illness, and refuse to seek treatment.

I can tell you this, if you are mentally ill, seek professional help before things get worse. There are medications, therapy, treatments, training you don't need to suffer alone as there are support groups as well. If someone you know is mentally ill, don't shut them off and accuse them of being of weak character, etc, support them, see about getting them professional help so they can return to a normal cycle and continue doing work.

You see this "balls to the wall" mentality most startups have, may be doing some people harm. If one becomes sick, they need to stop and get better and seek professional help, rather than be forced to keep working while sick. In the planning for projects, add in extra days in case employees become sick, have employees work together on projects so one can take over for another in case they get sick. If an employee becomes sick, and your employees are bullying and harassing him/her, tell them to stop it and discipline them. That is not the right way to treat a mentally ill person. You may even be liable if it continues. Have employees take a "mental health break" when you see them stressed out. Offer to walk with them during the break to see how the project is going and any help they might need for it. They need support in times like that.

Remember that with the right support and accommodation for the mentally ill, a lot of bad things can be avoided. Firing a mentally ill person just for being mentally ill only makes them worse, and in some cases can ruin or destroy them. Diversity is always a good thing, and mentally ill people might have a creative mind or a point of view that can help you avoid problems or come up with solutions.

Our legal system needs reform as well, people suspected of crimes cannot be treated the way some of them were treated recently where they were bullied and harassed until they did a suicide. Such treatment should be outlawed and people who do these things need criminal charges filed against them.

I won't mention any names in my blog, but I think everyone should know it is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

Please let me know how to support and accommodate a mentally ill person in your workplace. I think we need to brainstorm ideas and make it a better workplace for the mentally ill people out there.