I’m Moving

I want to officially announce that I’m moving my blog from this address (shaycolson.wordpress.com) to shaycolson.com.

Some people might not ever see this post, if they usually visit by going straight to shaycolson.com.  Others will have to update their bookmarks, but I’m hopeful that the transition will be an easy one, and a positive one.

This will be the last post made to this account – again – you can keep up with new posts, news, and updates, over at the new shaycolson.com.

CollegeMogul

CollegeMogul

First of all, let me welcome any new CollegeMogul readers!  I’m glad you made it here, hopefully what you find will be helpful, or at least interesting.

For my regular readers who don’t know what CollegeMogul is, or why people might be visiting here from there, allow me to explain.  My first post at CollegeMogul went up yesterday – you can read it here.  The reason I’m posting at CollegeMogul is an outgrowth of a partnership between CollegeMogul and Capesquared, a startup company where I am a co-founder.

Capesquared

Capesquared and CollegeMogul are beginning a partnership to revamp the CollegeMogul site, working to deliver better, more relevant, and community-driven content to young entrepreneurs.  Often, the best people to ask advice from are those who’ve been there before you.  That’s exactly what we’re trying to capture in this partnership.  The vision for the new CollegeMogul is a place where young entrepreneurs can find those needed resources from people who have been where they are.  Enabling young entrepreneurs to make our world a better place can be as simple as providing them a place to connect, which is exactly what we’re trying to create.

Keep an eye on CollegeMogul in the near future – there are big and good things coming.

Shay

Bye, Bye, Buzz

As you have probably heard by now, Google’s latest product is an entrant into the social media arena: Buzz.

I have to admit, Buzz came in a little under my radar.  Usually, I’m pretty good at these sorts of things, tracking rumors, discussing potential functionality and impacts, and having a pretty good idea of how something might work before it’s released.  Buzz came on totally out of nowhere.

One day I heard a rumor about a new entrant into the social networking fray from Google, the next day there’s a Buzz link in my inbox.  Where’d that come from?  Had Google adopted Apple-like security tactics?

And now – one week later – I’ve removed Buzz from my life and will not go back unless major changes take place.  Let me give you a little run-down about why Buzz bugged me out.

  1. Auto-share. The reason I blog and tweet, as opposed to joining Facebook, is that I prefer to do social media on my own terms.  This means sharing only what I write, and sharing it only when I want to share it.  With Buzz’s auto-share functionality, I’m already following about 30 people (only 10 of which would I want to), and they’re automatically following me.  I’m all for building a reader-base, but not like this.  Give me a choice, Google, don’t just throw me into something out of the blue.
  2. Lack of integration with Twitter.  Before you shout me down with the fact that Buzz does, in fact, integrate with Twitter, my problem is that it’s a one-way street.  Buzz pulled my own tweets into Buzz, and that was it.  That’s not what I want.  In fact, that’s about the last thing that I want.  I know what I wrote.  I wrote it!  If Buzz could pull in my entire Twitter timeline, including @ messages, and let me respond from within my GMail inbox, then we’d be talking.   Until then, however, no go.
  3. Inbox confusion.  Touted as a “feature” (as so many of these things often are) new Buzzes and comments would appear in my inbox like new emails.  I live and die by my inbox, and don’t appreciate things popping in there that are not emails.  I know Buzz is there, and will click on it when I feel like it.  Don’t trick me into clicking over because it looks like an email.  Be patient!
  4. Google Reader Overlap. Buzz also tried to integrate with Google Reader (another service I use frequently and am quite familiar with – even like!).  The problem was that Buzz did a poor job of knowing what was read and what wasn’t, and I would end up seeing articles in my Buzz that I’d already read in Reader, and vice-versa.  I don’t have time to read things twice, Google, so get it straight.

Finally, after enough fiddling, I realized that settings could not overcome Buzz’s shortfalls, and decided to remove myself from Buzz’s vice.  If you’d like to, you can use the same instructions I did at this link.  It seems to have worked well for me, and unless Buzz can live on like some sort of undead social-networking zombie nightmare, I don’t think I’ll be going back.

Better luck next time, Google.  But don’t worry, I’ll still stick with Gmail and Reader.  Just the Buzz-free versions.

Spies Inside Your Computer

Some interesting articles lately about the threat of cyber espionage coming through the supply chain.

Essentially, this amounts to the threat that Chinese-made computer equipment could have holes (or Trojans, or backdoors, or malware, or whatever) that would either allow a malicious (assumedly Chinese) user to access the compromised computer or that would automatically exfiltrate data back to a location the malicious user can access.

Problems like this strike at the heart of the issue of all national security (or corporate security, for that matter) issues: trust.  How do you know that the computer you just bought won’t send all your data to China?  You have to trust the manufacturer when they say it won’t.  Can you trust them?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  After all, another Chinese spy was just convicted this week – these things are happening.  Combine that with the fact that some of the most popular machines on the market today are all made in China, and you can see how this could happen.

For the record, the Mac mini, Macbook Air, Macbook, iMac and Macbook Pro are all manufactured in China, as are the latest netbooks from Dell.

Lest we jump to conclusions, or grow overly paranoid, let’s think rationally about ways to prevent our data from heading overseas.  One industry writer suggests that the best way to avoid this is to

stop buying Chinese computer products today. Until this issue of Chinese cyber-espionage has been cleared up and cleaned up, I simply couldn’t justify buying or using hardware that might be working against me. If you consider it for a minute, I think you’ll agree.

This is a great theory, but extremely difficult to do in practice.  Can you buy an entirely American made computer?  Sort of: ZTSystems assembles and services their computers in the United States.  Their systems are fast, and would be great machines, no doubt.  But the parts?  They’re all from China or Taiwan.  The graphics card? Made in Canada, with parts sourced from China.  The network card?  Made in Taiwan.  The other parts are not listed as being any particular brand, indicating that they, too, are made in China.

Other devices, like USB Picture Frames, have already been verified as containing Chinese malware.  What makes anyone think that other devices wouldn’t also do this?  It’s low hanging fruit, difficult to spot, and easy to maintain plausible deniability.

I’ve heard from several professionals that this is a very real concern for US businesses and government entities, with no apparent solution on the horizon.

Where does that leave us?  With the need to be careful and conscious about the data we put on our computers.  It’s often easier to assume that anything you put on a computer is compromised and operate from that standpoint.  You’ll find yourself being more careful, something that never hurts in today’s day and age.  There are some tools that can help you along the way, but ultimately a solution to this problem will have to come in the form of data-centric, or even built-in, security.  We must move towards a model where our data is intrinsically protected, as it is created, regardless of location – this would eliminate the worry when it becomes compromised in ways like this.  We’re not there yet, but I suspect there are those who are working on it.

In the meantime, give some thought to what your data means to you and what you might do if it were lost, breached, or compromised.  It’s an enlightening experiment.

Time Management

Things are really busy today, so I’m copping out and stealing a post from over at Zen Habits.  Interestingly, I suspect that if I were better able to manage tasks like Leo, I might have time for an honest-to-God blog entry.

Anyway, here are twelve great posts from Leo’s blog:

  1. Peaceful Simplicity: How to Live a Life of Contentment
  2. The Four Laws of Simplicity, and How to Apply Them to Life
  3. The Cure for What Ails You: How to Beat the Misery of Discontentment
  4. 30 Things to Do to Keep From Getting Bored Out of Your Skull at Work
  5. A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, With 7 Practices
  6. 9 Steps to Achieving Flow (and Happiness) in Your Work
  7. 10 Simple Ways to Live a Less Stressful Life
  8. 15 Tips for Becoming as Patient as Job
  9. 12 Practical Steps for Learning to Go With the Flow
  10. Calm as a Monk: How Equanimity Can Save Your Sanity
  11. The Many Paths to Simplicity
  12. The Magical Power of Focus

Who Needs a Convention When You’ve Got YouTube?

NPR has a story from today’s Morning Edition chronicling the rise of Liberty Belle, a blogger otherwise known as Keli Carender.

A member of the Tea Party movement, this story serves as a very interesting exploration of the new media in our national dialogue.  According to the story, Keli became so popular from her blogging and viral videos, that she has been invited to become a spokesperson for this new movement:

Republican party leaders would very much like to harness the Tea Party energy. Just last week, former Congressman Dick Armey’s organization “Freedom Works” invited Carender and dozens of other Tea Party organizers to Washington for training and networking sessions.

Keli is also scheduled to speak at the National Tea Party Convention on Thursday – but hasn’t decided if she’s going to go.  She would share speaking duties with Sarah Palin, amongst others.

What makes Keli’s situation so interesting is the fact that her largest claim to fame is her ability to share her ideas through new media outlets, particularly blogs and YouTube.  According to the NPR article, Keli’s most popular video features her speaking to Rep. Norm Dicks, culminating in her offering Rep. Dicks a $20 bill as “down payment for the health care plan”:

While new media is an incredibly powerful tool, and I am clearly in favor of exercising its potential, the thing that makes it so unique is the ability for it to cut both ways.  From the traditional perspective, individuals aren’t able to “talk back” to traditional media outlets.  Now, however, one YouTube video can beget another, and another, and another.

To juxtapose Ms. Carender’s video, take a look at two filmmakers who made the trip to the 9/12 “DC Tea Party” and spoke with attendees about their feelings on the various issues:

This video provides some insight into why the organizers of the National Tea Party Convention are facing considerable difficulty.

Tea Partiers don’t want to be harnessed. They’ve shown a willingness to reject Republican candidates they don’t like. On the other hand, they’re not about to start their own national political party, as evidenced by the backlash within the Tea Party against the Nashville convention. It’s a movement without a central organization.

Like new media, this lack of central organization also cuts both ways.  While Ms. Carender may have a clear grasp of those issues on which she feels strongly, other YouTube videos would suggest that many people who call themselves Tea Partiers do not share Ms. Carender’s mastery.

And that’s okay – because in the world of new media, you don’t have to know what you’re talking about, you just have to be able to talk.

Fair Use and Abuse

Law.com has an article up about a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice that has some very serious implications for those of us who enjoy the new frontier of social technologies.

Here’s what happened: someone posted a 29 second clip of their toddler dancing to a Prince song on YouTube.  Universal, who owns the rights to Prince’s “Let’s Get Crazy,” filed a takedown notice with YouTube – who proceeded to take the video down (as a side note, this seems to be the standard procedure: act first and ask questions later).  The poster then filed a counter notice and six weeks later YouTube reposted the video.

The article is getting press mainly for one reason: the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing Universal for $400,000 “a remedy for false take-down notices.”

Is this an exorbitant amount?  Yes.  Is it based on reality, or billed hours, or amount of work required?  Probably not.  Is it any more ridiculous than RIAA damage claims for downloaded songs?  No.  The going rate is $80,000 per song, by the way.  But that’s not what’s important here.

What is important is how egregious the claims are in this case by Universal.  I mean – really.  Please take 29 seconds to see what we’re talking about here:

There are a two major things that make Universal’s takedown notice so asinine:

  1. The length of the clip is only 29 seconds, something that clearly could fall under Fair Use.  Hell, I can get a 30 second, hi-res sample of the song from Amazon- click here to get yours.
  2. Between the Mom, the toddler, and a young Mario Andretti doing laps, you can barely hear the music, much less make out the song.

Why on Earth would Universal decide to go after this video?  Clearly this woman is working hard to raise another generation of Prince fans who will continue to buy albums, attend concerts, and generally make money for Universal Music.

What really scares me about this takedown notice is that in addition to the shaky ground Universal originally filed on is YouTube’s blind acquiescence to corporate direction.  Don’t people review these notices for validity?  If we enter a phase where any hint of impropriety (or DMCA violations) result in the automatic removal, then we face a very grave danger. Good-bye mashups!

I can understand the enforcement arm of the DMCA, and even the motivations behind it, but I would urge that these things be used with great restraint and care, not abandon.  For everyone’s sake, we must adopt an attitude of verification and validation in this arena.  If we cannot, we will stifle not only many great creative works, but likely some very needed voices along the way.

It’s Not About the Tweets, It’s About the Tweeters

I’m very much of the mind that technology is simply a human enabler.  That is, technology does what people could do, but faster, more accurately, and in novel ways.

Twitter is very much one of these technologies – another way for humans to communicate, something they would do otherwise.  In fact, there are ways that things can get done outside of Twitter, but sometimes Twitter is just the best mode to complete the task at hand.

I recently complained about a negative user experience on Twitter.  Much to my surprise, I was contacted by someone at that organization in an attempt to rectify my situation.

Someone from (supposedly) from AT&T contacted me – and told me that they would try to help.  I responded to Chris with a way to contact me outside of Twitter, and waited.

One week later, I was still waiting.

It turns out that Chris may likely be a Twitter Bot,  a program that simply searches for “AT&T” and responds with the automated script:

Hi, I’m with AT&T. I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Follow me and DM your contact information and I will try to help.

Unfortunately for Chris, and for me, he didn’t try very hard to help.  So, what did I do?  I tweeted again, but this time I made sure to include @ATTCustomerCare, an account run by Molly, AT&T’s Customer Care Team Lead.

Here’s what my tweet said:

@ATTChrisL Still waiting for your response re: 1/19 tweet. What would be most helpful is my final bill amount and due date. @ATTCustomerCare

By including @ATTCustomerCare, I made sure that it would be seen by Molly.  And it was.  Within an hour, Molly had tweeted back:

@shaycolson Saw you tweets to @attchrisl. Pls DM your acct/wireless number and I can get the info you requested.

I sent Molly my information, and by lunch, she had what I needed: my final bill and due date.  She even told me that she was working on it when she didn’t have an answer in an hour.  I really appreciated this, mostly because it allowed me to leave my needs in a message and continue to work while Molly helped solve my problem.  No need to wait on hold, no need to explain my situation to a rep on the phone.  Just someone helping me get what I need.  Wonderful.

Molly at AT&T is not the only one who is making customers happy through Twitter.  Check out this recent article from The Consumerist: JetBlue Responds to Tweet, Goes Looking for Passenger’s Sunglasses.

JFK -> MCO I left my sunglasses in the JetBlue x-ray bin. If anyone finds them, I’m at gate 22. Thanks.
The employee didn’t find the sunglasses, but did look, and found the passenger!
Wow. Someone from JetBlue actually saw my tweet, went looking for my sunglasses at xray, and found me at the gate. That’s service!
The point here, like the title, is that it’s not about the tweets, it’s about the tweeters.  The people behind the technology make all the difference – both good, and bad.  Chris wasn’t much help – and not because of Twitter, just because of Chris.  Molly, on the other hand, would be a great representative on the phone, online, or (I suspect) in person.  Congrats to both Molly and the JetBlue representative on going above and beyond.  Your efforts were noted and appreciated!

Digital Literacy – It’s Important! (Seriously)

This stuff matters.  Really!

I feel compelled to confront a very serious issue facing the newest members of Planet Earth: digital literacy.  Just as we teach our children to read, teach them manners, and, as best we can, teach them the difference between right and wrong, we must teach our children the ins and outs of navigating our new digital existence.

NPR ran a very interesting story this weekend about a research lab at the University of Maryland.  The lab, funded by Google, recently released a study about the ways in which children search for information online.  The results may be surprising – not every kid is a computer whiz.  As it turns out,

There were many children just sat there and watched until they would find the information. As opposed to, hey, couldn’t you do a keyword. Nope, uh-uh. This is what I do. I’ll find it, don’t worry. We had one child swear he was going to find the Vice President’s birthday next year in the Spongebob Squarepants Web site.

This is not good, people!  As someone who was in charge of learning these skills on their own, I implore all of you to take an active approach to rectifying this situation.

Let’s be honest about this – people in my generation (ages 22-30, for the sake of discussion) are members of a unique generation that was in charge of bridging this gap on our own, learning the necessary skills as we progressed.  My first computer, a Commodore 64, was a complete mystery to nearly every person of responsibility in my life.  How do you use it?  What can it do?

My parents certainly couldn’t teach me these sorts of skills.  My mom only recently learned how to send a text message (a major technological achievement, believe me).  So, I did what everyone else my age did – tried different things until I found one that worked reasonably well.  Occasionally, I would share tidbits with friends, or pick something up in a magazine.

Once the Internet came to my house (which was admittedly late – they just got high speed connections in my neighborhood last year), the floodgates opened.  I could connect with other people who were facing the same problems I was, who knew more than me, and who could speak my language when it came to technology.

Now, I am in charge of working to pass this torch to those who come after me – we all are.  It’s vitally important that our children grow up knowing how to successfully use technology.  They need to know how to navigate the pitfalls and gold-mines that can be found online, and be made aware of the implications of their online actions.  This is no small task!  Where do we begin?  According to Dr. Allison Druin, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, parents

can be mentors in the sense of trying to motivate a kid to go further and farther.  Also, being able to let kids see how you search and what you do to refine a search.

This might be a great start, but it’s not nearly enough.  Children need to know where to go to find resources, what kind of things are likely to be found online, and what kinds are not.  For these things, try contacting your local librarian, they are fantastic at these sorts of questions.

Children also need to be given the skills and knowledge to navigate these online areas, become able to recognize trouble if they see it, and know how to handle things that they might not be familiar with or know what to do when they get in over their heads (hint: ask an adult you trust!).

If you don’t have any children of your own, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help with this process.  Contact your local library to volunteer, share you skills and knowledge whenever you can.  Do you have a certain area of technology that you’re particularly fluent in?  Be an evangelist for using it correctly, and share what you know – kids talk to their friends, and your positive influence can quickly spread.

I encourage all of you to become involved in helping the children in your lives learn as much as they can about becoming engaged online citizens – not only does it benefit each individual child, but our society as a whole depends on their ability to function in an online world.

You can hear the whole NPR story at this link.  And, for the record, this study concluded that girls were more persistent, but less successful, than boys at performing these online searches.  I’m just sayin’.

This essay appeared originally on the Information Space blog.