Mankind has been able to accomplish some pretty impressive things, but some of them were around long before we figured them out. Ants, for instance, hunt for food in a way that’s basically the same as the Internet’s Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), and they were doing it long before the Internet was around.
It all has to do with how harvester ants gather their food. The same way that TCP will throttle data transmission if initial packets indicate little bandwidth, harvester ants will send less foragers out for food if the initial ones take too long to come back with grub.
From Stanford News:
[The] rate at which harvester ants – which forage for seeds as individuals – leave the nest to search for food corresponds to food availability.
A forager won’t return to the nest until it finds food. If seeds are plentiful, foragers return faster, and more ants leave the nest to forage. If, however, ants begin returning empty handed, the search is slowed, and perhaps called off.
And that’s not where the similarities end either. Ants also use TCP’s slow start technique, by sending out a wave of foragers (packets) to figure out the relative amount of food (bandwidth) before scaling their numbers up or down. Likewise, the same way a connection will time out if the source stops sending packets, the ants will stop sending out new foragers if none return for 20 minutes.
Balaji Prabhakar, one of the researchers behind the discovery, says that if this behavior had been uncovered pre-Internet, it might have influenced its design. Even so, this foraging process has been seriously time-tested, and there still might be things we can learn from it. In the meantime, who knows what other algorithms might already be out there, quietly waiting to be discovered. [Stanford News]
Companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple are currently competing for a new round of top-level domains—think new versions of
.app. They think this will make the internet easier to use, but we think it’s a bit sketchier than they’d like to admit. Here’s why.
What Is a Top-Level Domain?
A top-level domain is the last part of a URL, often something like
.org. It’s at the top of the domain hierarchy (hence the term “top-level”), and is the first thing your computer looks for when you type in a web address. When you type in
lifehacker.com, for example, your browser asks your DNS server where it can find the
.com nameserver. Your browser then contacts the
.com nameserver for the
lifehacker subdomain, where it finds this web site. You can see an example of this below, courtesy of Wikipedia.
These domain names are all managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), formerly a government organization but now a private, non-profit entity. ICANN not only manages which top-level domains exist, but also make sure everything is stable and runs smoothly.
ICANN Is Handing Out New Top-Level Domains, Lottery-Style
A few years ago, ICANN began expanding the number of top-level domains, so porn sites, for example, could use the
.xxx domain. Recently, though, they opened this up so companies can create and apply for custom top-level domains. For example, Google wants to claim
.blog, so all blogs created by their Blogger service would have an easy-to-remember
.blog domain name. They also want
.search for obvious reasons, while Amazon wants to claim
.cloud. Allowed domains can range from brands (like
.gmail) to generic words (
.fun) and geographic locations (
.paris). Not all top-level domains will be exclusive, but when a company applies for one, they can choose to make them exclusive to their own pages, like Google wants to do with
.blog. Many of these companies have applied for hundreds of top-level domains (ready to pay millions of dollars for them), even ending up in battles over who gets what—both Google and Amazon are currently fighting over
.cloud, for example, and you can bet everyone’s looking to get their hands on
Why the Domain Lottery Is Sketchy
As you can imagine, some people think this lottery is a little ridiculous, and we tend to agree. It might seem innocent enough to give Amazon ownership of the
.kindle domain, since the Kindle is their product, but you can easily see how things get more complex when they’re asking for an exclusive claim to the
.book domain, or Google the
.search domain. Not only that, but it opens the door for a lot of unfair treatment. It wouldn’t be out of character for Google to float
.blog sites to the top of search results, or the company who owns the
.news domain could give preferential treatment to sites that share its political biases. It ends up being a huge, confusing, and sometimes misleading mess—and the only ones who benefit are the companies and ICANN, who despite being a nonprofit, stands to make a ton of money from this endeavor. Photo by MoneyBlogNewz.
These controversial domain applications are still in review, but ICANN has yet to say or do anything that would lead us to believe they won’t accept them. All we can do now is wait and see. What do you think about the new generic top-level domains? Will they make the internet easier to use, or are they only going to benefit companies and confuse users? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. And, if you’re interested in reading more, here are some other articles on the subject:
- Generic Top-Level Domain [Wikipedia]
- .blog, .lol, .foo: Google, Amazon Top List of Global TLD Applications [Ars Technica]
- Amazon’s Domain Power Play: We Want to Control Them All [CNET]
- New Internet Domain Names May Make for a More Tangled Web [Washington Post]
- Should Gooogle and Amazon Be Allowed to Control Domains? [GigaOM]
The internet is starting to realize something unsettling: our iPhones send information about the people we know to private servers, often without our permission. Some offending apps are fixing themselves. Some aren’t. But the underlying problem is much bigger.
Apple allows any app to access your address book at any time—it’s built into the iPhone’s core software. The idea is to make using these apps more seamless and magical, in that you won’t have dialog boxes popping up in your face all the time, the way Apple zealously guards your location permissions at an OS level—because fewer clicks mean a more graceful experience, right? Maybe, but the consequence is privacy shivved and consent nullified. Your phone makes decisions about what’s okay to share with a company, whose motivation is, ultimately, making money, without consulting you first.
Once you peel back that pretty skin of your phone and observe the software at work—we used a proxy application called Charles—watching the data that jumps between your phone and a remote server is plain. A little too plain. What can we see?
As Paul Haddad, the developer behind the popular Twitter client TapBot pointed out to me, some of App Store’s shiniest celebrities are among those that beam away your contact list in order to make hooking up with other friends who use the app smoother. From Haddad’s own findings:
Foursquare (Email, Phone Numbers no warning)
Path (Pretty much everything after warning)
Instagram (Email, Phone Numbers, First, Last warning)
Facebook (Email, Phone Numbers, First, Last warning)
Twitter for iOS (Email, Phone Numbers, warning)
Voxer (Email, First, Last, Phone numbers, warning)
Foursquare and Instagram have both recently updated to provide a much clearer warning of what you’re about to share. Which every single app should follow, providing clear warnings before they touch your contacts. But plenty of apps aren’t so generous. “A lot of other popular social networking apps send some data,” says Haddad, “mostly names, emails, phone numbers.” Instapaper, for example, transmits your address book’s email listings when you ask it to “search contacts” to connect with other friends using the app. The app never makes it clear that my data (shown up top) is leaving the phone—and once it’s out of your hands and in Instagram’s, all you can do is trust that it’ll be handled responsibly. You know, like not be stored permanently without your knowledge.
Trust is all we’ve got, and that’s not good. “Once the data is out of your device there’s no way to tell what happens to it,” explains Haddad. Companies might do the decent thing and delete your data immediately. Like Foursquare, which says it doesn’t store your data at all after matching your friends, and never has. Twitter keeps your address book data for 18 months “to make it easy for you and your contacts to discover each other on Twitter after you’ve signed up,” but can delete the data at any time with a link at the bottom of this page. Or a company might do the Path thing, storing that information indefinitely until they’re publicly shamed into doing otherwise. Or worse.
We need a solution, and goodwill on the part of app devs is going to cut it. All the ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS? dialog boxes in the world won’t absolve Apple’s decision to hand out our address books on a pearly platter. iOS is the biggest threat to iOS—and nothing short of a major revision to the way Apple allows apps to run through your contacts should be acceptable. But is that even enough? Maybe not.
Jay Freeman, developer behind the massively popular jailbroken-iPhone program Cydia, doesn’t think Apple’s hand is enough to definitively state who gets your address book, and when:
“Neither Apple nor the application developer is in a good position to decide that ahead of time, and due to this neither Apple’s model of ‘any app can access the address book, no app can access your recent calls’, nor Google’s method of ‘developer claims they need X, take it or leave it’ is sufficient.”
Freeman’s solution? Cydia’s “one-off modifications to the underlying operating system” that we deal in, nicely transfers this control back to the user.” In other words, we can’t trust Apple or the people that make apps—so let’s just trust ourselves to control how iOS works.
Freeman left us with one, final, disquieting note. Shrewd devs and others with the knowhow have been able to dig through app traffic to find out of they’re shoveling around your address book. But there’s no easy way to do this—and if a dev really wants to sneak your data through the door, there’s technically nothing we can do to stop him: “There are tons of complex tricks that can be used to smuggle both information in network traffic and computation itself.” It’s a problem fundamental to computer science—once the data’s in a dev’s hands, he can conjure it away, too small to be noticed by App Store oversight in churning sea of other apps.
Unless Apple keeps him from getting that information in the first place by letting us all make informed decisions with our phone and the private life poured into it. Your move, iOS.
In a war zone, a standard mobile phone, with its countless possible security flaws, is no use — which is why the military doesn’t rely on them. But now that’s changing, as the US military is investing in secure Android handsets.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard about the army handing out smart phones — hell, they even run competitions to develop apps. But CNN is reporting that the US military is, after two years of testing, intending to “install its custom software on commercially available phones.” It’s starting out with a custom modification of Android’s kernel. The ideas is to give fine-grained control over data, applications and information transmission, as well as providing officials with detailed usage feedback.
Interestingly, this looks set not just to be limited to the military, as CNN reports that “each version of the Android OS [will] be certified once for all federal agencies”, suggesting that these new secure Android handsets may become standard issue across the whole of the US government. That would be bad news for BlackBerry, because RIM currently provides most federal phones — even Obama’s. The new secure handsets are to be shipped out to soldiers by March for testing. [CNN; Image: U.S. Air Force]
Whether you’re looking for a way to catch the big game this weekend when you’re away from your living room, or you just like to catch live television when you’re trapped somewhere without either cable or a television, you have plenty of options to help you catch a broadcast on your mobile phone or your computer. Here’s a look at five of the best ways to tune in when you’re on the go.
Earlier in the week we asked how you tune into live television that you’re subscribed to on your mobile device or when you’re not in front of the big screen. You responded, and now we’re back to take a look at the top five, based on your nominations.
Photo by IK’s World Trip.
When you need to stream audio or video around the house, to your mobile device, or across the globe when you’re away from home, Orb can certainly deliver. We mentioned Orb several times, and it’s still a great way to stream your media from your computer to other devices in your home, or, if you’re willing to pay for an Orb appliance to connect to your cable box or HTPC, stream live TV or recorded TV to any other device on or off of your home network. Orb supports video up to 720p, and gives you the flexibility to watch live sports, prime time TV shows, or anything else that’s currently airing in your living room on your mobile phone, tablet, or laptop over Wi-Fi, 3G, or 4G when you can’t be in the living room to enjoy it. Pricing varies depending on whether you need hardware (between $79-$99 for the set-top box) to connect to your TV and home network, or you already have a TV tuner in your HTPC (the Orb Live and Orb Caster software are both free, but the mobile apps are $9.99.)
Where other live TV streaming solutions offer complexity, Slingbox offers elegant simplicity. The Slingbox from Sling Media is a set-top box that connects to your TV and your cable or satellite receiver that makes it easy for you to effectively log in to your TV at home and watch live TV on your computer or mobile device as though you were sitting in front of your TV. You can change channels, browse TV listings, and even set your home DVR to record TV that you won’t make it home in time to watch. The Slingbox comes in two flavors, the Slingbox Solo and the Slingbox Pro-HD (which predictably supports HD and additional devices connected to it) and will set you back $179.99 to $299.99 (not including extended support options). You’ll also need to drop $29.99 for the SlingPlayer app to control your Slingbox from your smartphone or tablet, but the price buys you one of the most feature-rich and hassle-free live TV streaming solutions on the market.
Elgato’s EyeTV line of TV tuners and live TV software were, for a long time, the only option for Mac users who were looking for an easy way to use their Macs as TV tuners or HTPCs. They’re not the only options anymore, but they’re certainly one of the best, and if you plug a TV source in to an EyeTV and then the EyeTV into your Mac via USB, you want watch live TV right there on your computer screen. Combine an EyeTV tuner or DVR with the EyeTV app on your mobile device, and you can stream live or pre-recorded TV on your mobile device when you’re out of the house. The EyeTV app will set you back $4.99 in the iTunes App Store for any iOS device, and the tuners vary in price from $99 to $199 depending on whether you need a DTV tuner, a DTV and HD tuner, a tuner with a DVR inside, or a Wi-Fi enabled tuner that can wirelessly stream TV to other devices in your home.
The Vulkano Flow may not be one of the most well known set-top tuners on the market, but it’s definitely one of the most powerful. For $99.99, the Vulkano Flow is an easy to install and set up device that connects to your cable or satellite tuner, supports HD video, and your home network to allow you to wirelessly watch live TV on your iOS or Android device on your home network or when you’re away via 3G or 4G. You get complete control over your home TV, so you can switch channels, browse a built-in programming guide (that you don’t have to pay extra to view), and even connect to other video inputs like a DVR or HTPC and control that as well. Vulkano offers desktop players for Mac OS and Windows (Free), and mobile players for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry ($12.99.)
Hauppage is an old name in TV tuners, and the company is still going strong by offering a range of products to HTPC enthusiasts who want to build their own devices to stream, save, and watch live and recorded television and to people who would rather buy a set-top box to handle the streaming for them. Those of you who nominated the WinTV mentioned that you can easily install a WinTV tuner in your HTPC and download the WinTV application on your HTPC and iOS or Android device to stream TV from your HTPC to your device. Pricing varies depending on which tuner you’d like, whether you want HD video, and whether you want an internal or USB tuner to install at all or you’d just prefer a set-top box like the Hauppage Broadway ($199), but the WinTV Extend app you’ll need to stream from your Tuner will set you back $9.95, and the mobile apps are free (although they only support Wi-Fi.)
Now that you’ve seen the top five, it’s time to put them to an all out vote for the winner.
Honorable mentions this week go out to streaming TV sites like Justin.tv, which many of you said you use to stream your own TV shows to the web so you can catch them when you’re away from home, and to The NFL’s website, which many of you noted is indeed streaming the big game on their own. Finally, since we mentioned that the Department of Homeland Security had shut down FirstRowSports‘ primary domain, many of you made note of the fact that the site is still up and running on a different URL.
Have a favorite method that didn’t get the nominations needed to make the top five? Want to make a case for it, or for your favorite of the nominees above? Sound off in the comments below.
NEW YORK (AP) — Credit card rewards are the new social currency.
Citibank customers can now use Facebook to pool their rewards points online.
The bank on Tuesday launched a Facebook application that lets users team up to use their points, whether it’s for charity, a group gift or a personal goal. Citi says it’s the first bank to offer such a feature.
The app builds on a service Citi introduced last year that lets customers transfer points to one another on the bank’s homepage. After getting feedback, executives decided to expand the rewards sharing capability and offer it through social media.
“Now we’re delivering it to where customers are every day,” said Ralph Andretta, who heads Citi’s loyalty programs and co-branded cards.
Andretta noted that customers will have far more flexibility with their points, whether it’s to help a friend fly home from college or team up for a big-ticket reward. The company is giving away 2,500 free rewards points to each of the first 4,000 customers to sign up.
To get started, customers download the ThankYou Point Sharing App, which is linked on Citi’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/citibank.
Customers can then start a rewards pool by naming a recipient and explaining its purpose. The recipient of the points maintains control of any contributions, so it’s best if you know and trust that person.
Pool recipients must be individuals and cannot be an organization, even if the intended goal is a charitable donation.
Users can promote their goals by sharing links on their Facebook pages or privately inviting other Citi customers to contribute. Donors can see the total number of points a cause has amassed.
The app can collect personal information from Facebook profiles. But Citi says it does not share any customer account information with Facebook.
The program isn’t only for credit card holders either. Citi checking account customers can also earn ThankYou points. Citi introduced its lineup of ThankYou credit cards last year.
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Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
Collaborators – Digital Profs
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