“Stunning Fail”

On reading this article, many things come to mind; and not just how it screams “sensationalism” and “nay-sayer” out loud.

Stunning, indeed!

Musk is headed for a “stunning fail” – Edward Niedermeyer.

Mr. Nostradamus takes a series of arguments, adds layers of “if this then that” on top, and tries to create a straw man. Even in my sleep I could smell oil on this article.

Musk was a newcomer into the payments industry and he re-invented things with PayPal. SpaceX is the first private company in the world that has been able to successfully go farther than government agencies like NASA, and at a cheaper cost.

People said the idea that Tesla could begin shipping the Model S to customers in 2012 was absurd, that they were naive and didn’t understand the complexities of building a vehicle like Detroit does.

Before that, everyone said nobody would buy electric vehicles because (a) you can’t get them over 100 miles in range, and (b) because there is no charging infrastructure.

I would rather live in a world where a man like Musk is pushing the realm of possibilities to the next level as opposed to one in which he joins the rest of us hoping for some miracle to come out of the behemoth car (or any other) industry which hasn’t really done much to innovate in fields like energy.

Even if it happens to be a “stunning fail”, it would be more glorious and would have changed the world more than most others in their entire lifetime.


Facebook buys Whatsapp

$19 billion.

This is the amount of money Facebook is paying (stocks + cash + RSUs) to acquire WhatsApp.

I’ve not been able to process it yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not questioning the worth of WhatsApp. It is a great messaging app which provides a simple, no-frills and reliable way of communicating with people, sharing images, videos, music etc. I have tried using a couple of other messaging apps and every time came back to WhatsApp. That is how good it is.

And ~500 million customers without any marketing is a huge deal that speaks volumes for the product.

But something does not add up. Or maybe I’m too naive to understand it yet.

WhatsApp supposedly deletes messages from their servers once they gets delivered. And they want nothing to do with advertising. Two things that Facebook is big on: data and advertising. Which leaves people’s contact list, which Facebook already has, in most cases by virtue of being installed on almost every Android/iOS phone out there.

Also, WhatsApp’s founder has promised to keep the product and services running as is, without ads. So what is Facebook really getting for $19B?

WhatsApp has become the app which has almost entirely replaced SMS and other messaging services for most people I know (speaking for student and professional crowd in India). By becoming the de-facto communication standard of sorts, and being present on every mobile device with a data plan, they have disrupted mobile messaging. Add to it the ability to create groups, and you have a pretty solid product. Not to mention that you save a lot of money, which is probably why I would be willing pay $5 or even $10 instead of $1/year. I think the fact that it is a private social network with a deep reach (across multiple platforms including Symbian) is a big thing. Also, there is zero effort on the user’s part to get started, besides installing the app. You can choose to share content with one or many people, and you only get to see what people directly share with you. It keeps the noise away. This, in addition to absence of advertising, makes it a good experience for one-to-one or one-to-many interactions.

On the other hand, it makes me think that this belittles the value of the hard sciences, medical and life saving research that people put their lives into. But then, Facebook was also valued at $100 billion+ , right?

The end of privacy as we know it

I remember Eric Schmidt saying something to the effect of “if you don’t want something to be publicly known, don’t post it on the internet”. But as we have seen with the deeper proliferation of ‘social media’ on our lives, we can’t stop but share every moment of our lives online. There are specialized channels for us to share different types of content.

I’m not here to rave about how the definition of words ‘share’, ‘like’ and ‘social’ has been perverted changed over the last few years. There are enormous psychological and social effects of social media about which tons has already been written.

This post has been motivated by what we have lately learned about all that has been going on in the past many years unbeknownst to mere mortals outside the high echelons of the government and corporates that we so willingly give all our information to.

The latest revelation regarding what governments are keeping from their citizens was done by Edward Snowden who sought refuge in Hong Kong and is currently in Russia. The US government has charged him with Espionage Act, among others.

Previously, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks (also see: The Fifth Estate) have been charged with accounts of passing private information to the enemy.

While I am no one to judge the ramifications of what they have done, I do have one question. What about James Clapper, the head of the NSA, who lied to the Congress about the existence of PRISM, the gargantuan data-collection program which the NSA is using to collect data from various software companies’ servers; which in turn, happens to be data of every individual, US citizen or not, who uses websites and services of these companies.

This week a new incident followed the already snowballing set of activities in this space. The founder of Tor network was arrested after the government agencies intercepted and added malware to the Tor network and Freedom Hosting using infected nodes. The Tor client, which was Mozilla Firefox ESR 17, had a vulnerability which was compromised in this attack.

Here is the source code of the malware.

Apparently this malware was collecting data and sending to an IP which was one of the many IPs assigned to the government agencies. Exactly who was controlling it, is not yet clear.

Security expert Bruce Schneier has this to say about the NSA surveillance.

I used to have a lot of respect for America because of what it stood for. Those values seem to be decaying. The ‘land of the free; home of the brave’ is the one which is now headed to prosecute the people who told the public what their government is secretly doing with their personal data. This sounds a lot like ‘shoot the messenger’ to me. As Carlin used to say, the only American value that has remained, is buying things.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I will leave you with one word: 1984.

Welcome to The Matrix

We have entered the second generation of ‘machine generation’ with 3D printers.

Till now we used to have machines assembling machines from parts. For example, a robot in a car factory building a car. [UPDATE: link added] Now we can ‘print’ cars, or their parts thereof using a 3D printer.

As with every technology, as 3D printers get smaller, more efficient, faster and cheaper, I can almost visualize future machines having their own ‘healing units’ which can create and replace a part that has been worn out. Take it a step further and you can have fully self-spawning machines, not quite unlike living beings today.

And with huge acceleration provided to machine learning thanks to big data and miniaturized supercomputing, those machines could take decisions, and think for themselves. I give it 20 years to see ourselves living in a world filled with a completely different generation of machines, which are very close to humans in capabilities. I was reading the other day that in 20 years machines will know how to be funny, creative and, wait for it, sexy. The processing capabilities of your cell phone today, which is probably more powerful than yesteryears’ supercomputer, could be packed into something the size of a blood cell. On one hand we have the possibility of killing cancer cells by injecting intravenous supercomputers into the blood and keep a constant tab on our health. On the other, I wonder if it would be possible to monitor (and control?) people’s behavior using similar micro-gadgets. An extended version of The Manchurian Candidate could perhaps become reality?

I wonder if someday machines will be ’employing’ humans and patenting (imprisoning?) the intelligent ones. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

Would you like to be harvested for energy?

PS: Did you ‘hear’? A 3D printed record has been created in the lab.

UPDATE: It has been 3 months since I wrote this post and we already have a 3D printed car and ear. Yes, the organ. I’m not saying I saw it coming, but I remember people saying that I was fantasizing and it was too far in the future to think about. Maybe not that far, after all.

I’m excited!

Walking the slow road

I took my ‘annual’ break at Deewali this year, and decided to stay completely out-of-touch from the internet. Here are my experiences. Some of them might be super-obvious:

  1. The information superhighway with all its hustle and bustle combined with the fast-paced lifestyles of our times can give rise to some problems unforeseen in the previous times. For instance, there have been reports of ‘withdrawal symptoms’ in Facebook addicts.
  2. Taking a detour from this overcrowded noisy road is not only useful, but most definitively necessary every once in a while.
  3. ‘Normal’ people don’t spend their days and nights checking Twitter and Hacker News streams.
  4. One sad realization: Facebook has become the ‘high point’ in some people’s otherwise mundane lives, and hence, is acting as a drug.
  5. There is humongous amounts of information being generated every second with the democratization of publishing media and the internet. As a result, the signal-to-noise ratio has gone down tremendously. And sites like Facebook with their revenue generation mechanisms aren’t helping.
  6. It is almost impossible to believe that it was no longer than 7-8 years ago when we didn’t have to ‘stay forever connected’ and yet had fulfilling lives and relationships. I have reasons to believe that was good for a lot of reasons, for example, debates on some topics could last for hours without having a clear sense of ‘right directions’. Now most of the topics that you can do such debates on are the eternal ones, like philosophy or religion.

Overall, it was fun taking a break. I intend to take more of these shut-offs going forward (lasting weekends, for instance).

The plight of shortlinks

This morning, it turns out, t.co, twitter’s own URL shortner links were not working. The browser responded with ‘Lookup failed’, while wget said this:

Resolving t.co (t.co)... failed: nodename nor servname provided, or not known.
wget: unable to resolve host address `t.co'

So I tried to look into what was going on. This potentially meant that almost all of the millions of links being shared on twitter were rendered useless. Here’s what whois revealed:

Domain Name: T.CO
Domain ID: D740225-CO
Sponsoring Registrar: MELBOURNE IT LTD
Sponsoring Registrar IANA ID: 13
Registrar URL (registration services): www.melbourneit.com.au
Domain Status: clientDeleteProhibited
Domain Status: clientHold
Domain Status: clientTransferProhibited
Domain Status: clientUpdateProhibited
Domain Status: serverDeleteProhibited
Domain Status: serverTransferProhibited
Registrant ID: TWITTERREG2012
Registrant Name: Twitter, Inc.
Registrant Organization: Twitter, Inc.
Registrant Address1: 1355 Market Street
Registrant Address2: Suite 900
Registrant City: San Francisco
Registrant State/Province: CA
Registrant Postal Code: 94103
Registrant Country: United States
Registrant Country Code: US
Registrant Phone Number: +1.4152229670
Registrant Facsimile Number: +1.4152220922
Registrant Email: domains@twitter.com
Administrative Contact ID: TWITTERADMIN2012
Administrative Contact Name: Domain Admin
Administrative Contact Organization: Twitter, Inc.
Administrative Contact Address1: 1355 Market Street
Administrative Contact Address2: Suite 900
Administrative Contact City: San Francisco
Administrative Contact State/Province: CA
Administrative Contact Postal Code: 94103
Administrative Contact Country: United States
Administrative Contact Country Code: US
Administrative Contact Phone Number: +1.4152229670
Administrative Contact Facsimile Number: +1.4152220922
Administrative Contact Email: domains@twitter.com
Billing Contact ID: MIT_BILLING
Billing Contact Name: DBS Billing
Billing Contact Address1: 636 Ellis Street
Billing Contact City: Mountain View
Billing Contact State/Province: CA
Billing Contact Postal Code: 94043
Billing Contact Country: United States
Billing Contact Country Code: US
Billing Contact Phone Number: +1.8669073267
Billing Contact Facsimile Number: +1.6506182574
Billing Contact Email: billing@melbourneitdbs.com
Technical Contact ID: TWITTERTECH2012
Technical Contact Name: Tech Admin
Technical Contact Organization: Twitter, Inc.
Technical Contact Address1: 1355 Market Street
Technical Contact Address2: Suite 900
Technical Contact City: San Francisco
Technical Contact State/Province: CA
Technical Contact Postal Code: 94103
Technical Contact Country: United States
Technical Contact Country Code: US
Technical Contact Phone Number: +1.4152229670
Technical Contact Facsimile Number: +1.4152220922
Technical Contact Email: domains-tech@twitter.com
Name Server: NS1.P34.DYNECT.NET
Name Server: NS2.P34.DYNECT.NET
Name Server: NS3.P34.DYNECT.NET
Name Server: NS4.P34.DYNECT.NET
Created by Registrar: INJECTCSR
Last Updated by Registrar: MELBOURNE IT LTD
Last Transferred Date: Mon Mar 14 22:21:58 GMT 2011
Domain Registration Date: Mon Apr 26 07:50:40 GMT 2010
Domain Expiration Date: Thu Apr 25 23:59:59 GMT 2013
Domain Last Updated Date: Mon Oct 08 05:13:38 GMT 2012

>>>> Whois database was last updated on: Mon Oct 08 05:35:46 GMT 2012 <<<<

See the last line? I’m guessing somebody messed around with DNS settings.

Hopefully the nameservers around the world will pick it up sooner, than later.

But the question is: is there a need for more ’embedded’ URL shorteners, maybe baked into the browsers, kinda along the lines of Mozilla Persona for authentication?

[Update: Just noticed that TNW has already reported this and is trending on HN]

This keeps getting hotter

I’m not pointing fingers, but iOS 6 is stripping off Google search referrer data. No, doesn’t seem to be an OS bug; Bing data is preserved (read more here). I might be wrong, but you can’t ignore the big picture.

Take this, and add to it the fact that Apple bid goodbye to Google Maps in its latest iOS update and you can start getting a clearer indication of things to come. Siegler puts it well. While you are at it, take notice. Listen to what Marissa Mayer is telling Yahoo! now. Or as we put it at MobStac,  Mobile is the new web.

Also, check out what iOS6 maps shows you.

And here’s the customary dose of fun: