Company Blog

Are The Growing Google Concerns Fair?

  • Posted On  2015-07-13 09:45:22 by Blog

With Google’s ascent to the top of not only the internet world but the entire global business world comes the expected amount of complaints about its practices.  This isn’t to say that the complaints are all knee-jerk, more that there’s probably some statistical average of, shall we say, “yuck” that a company needs to participate in, in order to get that far.

So this isn’t unexpected.  The bigger question is, is it fair?  For those of you not aware of the nitty gritty, we take a look here at some of the biggest complaints lodged against the king of search engines, maps, and about 50 other services, to see whether or not they deserve all of the bad rep they’ve gotten.

Site rankings – what’s fair?

The problem: Google is still thought of first as not only the world’s most used search engine, but in some cases the world’s only search engine.  “Google” is a verb; you never hear someone saying that they are going to “Bing” their name.  This has placed immense importance on the search engine’s results, which in turn, has caused some to object that the rankings the search engines give to certain results are not fair.

Our take: The problem with this objection is that we have now collectively come to any real determination about what a “fair” search engine would look like.  An example of this is the complaint that newer sites often get nudged out in favor of those of established sites.  But is that not arguably a good thing?  If I made a website tomorrow called the “Toyota Checkers Club”, should the term “Toyota” really give equal weighting to both my site and the car manufacturer?

A more reasonable complaint is in the assertion that Google may favor their own sites and products disproportionately to that of other web sites that are just as popular and established, offering the same services.  Google has responded in turn that they do not “cook the books” to favor their own sites.  Are they telling the truth?  On this one, we suggest stepping back and seeing what the hard data says before drawing any conclusions.

The China Syndrome

The problem: As big as Google is, they are still subject to the law.  Being a global company, this means that they are subject to many competing laws.  While some of them have drawn little criticism, such as their compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and removal of child pornography web sites, it was their alliance with the Chinese government that drew the greatest condemnation.

China has had what is known as the “Great Firewall” in place for roughly a decade now, and if Google was to take part in Chinese electronic society, it would have to submit to its requirements.  For a while, they chose to do exactly that, and a firestorm of complaints followed.

Our take: It is perhaps a minority position, but we consider this the most unfair of all the complaints made against Google.  China’s policies are not Google’s fault. To the end, it appears that Google stretched China’s electronic rules to their limits.  One example of this is the fact that users who had their search results censored, as happened with people who attempted to find information on, for example, the Tianamen Square Massacre, were told that they had their results censored.  This is a rather amazing concession, as it practically begs the user to hack around the firewall to find out more.

Moreover, what Google probably realized and Chinese authorities didn’t, is that users who want to get around their restrictions can.  Hackers live by getting around restriction.  So while governmental buffoons are running around trying to find what the hot term of the day is to censor, the billion users are finding hundreds of new terms to say the same thing.  Playing along with the Chinese government probably did wonders in letting those who knew how to play with Google’s systems to get out of it what they wanted.

And when even that wasn’t enough and China started hacking Google for user information, they finally pulled the plug.  No, on this one, we can’t convict.

Privacy concerns

The problem: We probably don’t even need to define the problem.  Any company whose currency is information is naturally going to get involved in situations in which they are accused of using that information inappropriately.  There are too many examples of this to easily list here.

Our take: The problem with this complaint is that while it is in an area which one would be rightly concerned about, so far few of the complaints have been that specific.  They have mostly taken the form of noticing cooperation between Google and various governmental authorities, but not making much of the way of exact charges.  This leaves us in a grey area of worry without hard evidence.

We are not going to go so far in this case as to de facto clear Google of all wrongdoing.  What we can say is that we are not seeing the tendency we see in, say, Facebook, to see just how fast they are capable of selling themselves out.  We’re not saying it’s not there, only that as of right now, we need to see more solid data.

Other concerns

Summarizing some of the other complaints about Google we have the following:

  •     Copyright: Projects like Google Books have been criticized on their failure to observe copyright agreements.  Whether or not this is a bad thing is probably a function of what your personal views on intellectual property is.
  •     Energy consumption: Some have criticized Google on environmental grounds, claiming that their servers use up as much energy as a large American city.  Google has responded with investments in green energy.  This complaint is hard to really put much stock into, as it’s more a function of how popular their servers are than in any action on their part.
  •     Street view: Google’s Street View has been the subject of a number of complaints.  One was, again, an invasion of privacy on a pictorial level.  It seems hard logically to avoid that, and the number of complaints has been far outweighed by the number of people who use the service. Another was its surveillance of Wi-Fi networks.  This raised more hairs, and this time Google agreed, stating that they were “acutely aware that they failed badly here”.

Off the hook?

For most of these issues, we’ve given Google a partial or total pass, or at least the benefit of the doubt.  This may make it sound like we’re acquitting them across the board.  We’re not.  As Google sticks its hand into just about every area of the World Wide Web experience, it’s right to keep a close eye on their activities.  So far though, for being one of the biggest companies in human history, they don’t seem to be doing all that bad a job of following their own motto “Don’t be evil.”

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SOPA – The IP Hammer Has Swung

  • Posted On  2015-07-13 09:35:48 by Blog

The rise of the Internet as an intractable piece of the global social engine has brought with it a number of large scale societal problems.  One of the ones that has resisted a common ground solution the hardest is that of how to protect intellectual property in the information age.

Piracy of information has been a problem for a long time.  Bootlegs of concerts and copies of videotapes have been black market staples for decades.  The advent of the internet, though, has raised this problem to a new level.  Just about all but the most in-person art forms are now easily digitizable.  If they are digitized, then they can be copied to every person on the planet almost instantaneously.

This is a startling development that few people saw coming, and a monumental problem for defenders of intellectual property.  In turn, they have often taken what amounts to “scorched earth” policies to combat it.  Arguably, the worst of these yet is now under consideration.  It is known as “SOPA” or the “Stop Online Piracy Act” … and it has internet freedom advocates sounding the alarm like never before.

Is it that bad?

As with all modern legislation, 112 HR 3261 is a plate of legalese spaghetti.  At 78 pages, it’s actually kind of short as modern legislation goes.  If you are reading it, though, and you fall on your face as you try to cut your way through lines such as…

“If an effective counter notification is made under subsection (b)(5), or if a payment network provider fails to comply with subsection (b)(1), or an Internet advertising service fails to comply with subsection (b)(2), pursuant to a notification under subsection (b)(4) in the absence of such a counter notification…”

…you could be a bit forgiven.  As always, then, we have to go by the read from the “experts” on this, and we know how often they’re in agreement.  Still, going to the authorities that we trust most here, such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation, this looks really bad.

A first power – private enforcement of complaints, and lots of it

What seems to make SOPA so bad is that its approach to potential “rogue” web sites or copyright infringers is little less than “Whatever you have to do”.  The main target for this legislation is anyone who abets the web site in question.  This includes not only those who host the site but anyone who has even an indirect hand in its continued operation, with payment processors the primary target.

The way that SOPA works for most reviews is this.  Someone lodges a complaint against a web site.  The web site operator passes the complaint on to the web site operator, who has 5 days to issue a retort.  At that point, if the original one complaining wants to, they would take legal action.

This is not new; it is roughly how the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) works.  What makes this worse is that it is not just web hosts that are required to cut off the accused web site, but payment processors and ad networks as well.  The potential for abuse here is obvious.

Enforcements expands to almost everything

Search engines would also be saddled with the duty to prevent the offending site “from being served as a direct hypertext link”.  Software to get around any such blocks would be outright illegal.  This is an especially ominous precedent, as it states that certain types of programming now be made illegal.  Step back for a second and just picture what a future based on that kind of idea could lead to.

A further extension of this attack exemplifies why such blunt measures often have the potential to do far more harm than good.  ISPs would be included in the list of companies whose responsibility it would be to cut off access from the offending site.  But this is like finding a fish by draining the ocean.  A domain name can handle traffic that serves all manners of functions related to all types of web sites.  Forcibly shutting it down over a single complaint could rip the interplay of websites, indeed the very concept of the “web” apart.  A past example of this occurred when 84,000 sub-domains of “” were shut down due to a complain about the content on one of them.

Finally, the bill ventures into the creepy territory occupied by enforcement agencies which require that their citizens spy on each other.  Websites that don’t sufficiently target sites “dedicated to infringing activities” are also considered in violation.  As is often the case, what constitutes sufficient enforcement on their part is unclear.

Please tell me that some people are standing up against this!

Yes, they are, and it’s not just the EFF.  US Representative Zoe Lofgren, one of the most consistent voices in Washington DC against most intellectual property legislation, stated this legislation would bring about “the end of the Internet as we know it”.  From anyone else this might be laughable alarmism, but as the Congresswoman representing Silicon Valley, Lofgren has been described by one tech group as someone who “understands how the Internet works.”

Other opponents to the bill include Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, who vowed that even if passed, “we would still fight it”, a bold declaration of resistance.  Fred Wilson of the Business Insider described the bill as being crafted “without any input from the technology industry”.  Even some artists have spoken up stating that, to the contrary, SOPA will stifle creativity.

Why is this happening?

This is happening because the media empires of the world are getting frantic.  Oceans of copyrighted data are passing through networks all around the world and the efforts of those trying to stop it are roughly the equivalent of someone trying to keep the rain from hitting the ground by running around with a bucket.  Data about how much less money people are spending on copyrighted content comes in every day.  Sorry to be putting it in cynical sounding terms, but in the end, it is simply about money.

This isn’t to short-circuit the debate about intellectual property entirely.  This has been a long-discussed topic in technical and political circles, and even without this new legislation was likely to not be going away anytime soon.  In the meantime, though, this legislation from all we’ve seen signifies a very worrisome turn.  It seems to have been stalled for now.  We can only hope that this continues until something that seems like it responds to the IP conundrum with something less than taking a hatchet to the entirety of the Internet is crafted.

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Technology Looking Forward: Smart Phones, Smart Cars, Smart…Cities?!

  • Posted On  2015-07-13 09:34:00 by Blog

It has been seen in countless science fiction: a city where the LCD advertisements target themselves to your interests, where everything is wireless and automated, and knows your name, birthday, and pet’s favorite dog food.  Computers run the show and our existences have become, if not entirely digital, then at least inseparably so.  Thanks to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s new Smart Cities Lab, this may not be a far off reality for the world.

What makes a city a smart city?

As defined by them, a “smart city” is dependent upon six areas of development:

  •     smart economy
  •     smart environment
  •     smart governance
  •     smart lifestyle
  •     smart transportation
  •     smart community

The idea is to create a base grid that would operate via a set of programming and hardware that would remind you eerily of being physically inside an operating system.  This “SmartCityOS”, we might call it, would plug into that city’s grid, affecting each area of daily city living in order to automate processes and make more streamlined the experience of 21st century living.  This grid would control large-scale items such as traffic flow, and more specific processes such as air conditioning and heating.

How far into the future are we talking here?

Smart city technology is already being implemented in various areas across the globe. The highest concentration of work is currently in Asia, with a heavy focus on Hong Kong and Tokyo.  There’s also, naturally, lots of work being done in MIT’s home turf of Massachusetts.  We have already taken the first steps towards accomplishing this vision by beginning to embed intelligence into our day to day devices.

You go to a website and the ads that support that website seem to be tailored expressly for you.  They are.  Through your browsing habits and purchasing habits, the technology on these websites is able to bring you advertisements that are more statistically likely to encourage you to click on them, look at the advertiser’s web page and, if the final goal is successful, get you to purchase a product or service from them.

Smart city technology has also been starting to pop up in the area of the cars we drive.  A small chip embedded in the key of our cars stores all of our preferences, so that when you put the key into the ignition, the car automatically adjusts so that the seat is exactly how you prefer it, the heat or air conditioning is correct and all the mirrors are adjusted to just your height and position.  There’s no word yet on whether or not it will make your morning coffee for you exactly how you like it, but it’s a good bet that someone is working on it somewhere.  In any event, the potential for this technology might be highlighted by how much we already take for granted examples like these.

Looking into the future, then, imagine, entering a department store and the small chip in your store card that was read by the RFID scanner when you entered the door allows a recorded but realistic voice to greet you, “Good morning Miss Smith!”  If you more cringe when you hear that than leap for joy, it’s OK.  We’ll get to that below.

Why is this direction the one researchers are choosing?

A big reason for this is ecological concerns.  While so much in this field remains hotly debated, there are few at this point who don’t agree that there are at least some resources that we are going to start running out of soon.  Although significant effort is being put into moving us over to renewable energies, smart city technology lets us buy some more time by making more intelligent, efficient use of our current energy consumption.  The more lifestyle functions that we can automate, the less raw material and manpower we wind up using.

At the same time, let’s be honest and point out that a lot of it is also just good business sense, for all of the same reasons as listed above.  While these are options being pursued by cities and other governmental structures, these bodies routinely contract out their services to private companies.  These companies will get their bids more or less based on the types of efficiencies they can offer.  Plus, remember that there are large-scale private institutions, such as malls and skyscrapers, which are so massive in their scope that they become miniature cities in themselves.  They have the same incentive to penny-pinch, and the tiny benefits from this technology can add up quickly.

The uncertainty principle

This is, naturally, something of a seismic societal shift.  With it come the equally seismic societal problems.

Focusing first on logistics, the biggest of these is the fact that while this promises to save money, this is, to varying degrees, theoretical.  The upgrade costs are not.  There are going to be a lot of people and places that are going to need to see solid evidence that this is worth the investment before jumping in.  This wouldn’t be the first technology that promised to change the world.  If it failed, it wouldn’t be the first one of those to do that, either.

Related to that, then, is the fact that the upper limits of this technology’s usefulness are unknown.  We are familiar with seeing ads on web pages that attempt to market to us.  We are also familiar with how laughably bad these can be.  All forms of artificial intelligence have always had to wrestle against the fact that reality doesn’t always lend itself well to being boxed into a set of numbers.  Your car’s settings may know what radio stations you prefer, but it’s not going to necessarily be able to read your mind and know that just today you’re really sick of Pearl Jam.  It’s unclear just how effective we can hope for this technology to get.

Then there is always the persistent problem of privacy and security.  More data and more data systems means more opportunities for infiltration, with all of the crimes that come along with it.  While this was a problem before, exactly how secure would you feel about the possibility of a city’s electrical grid being in the hands of a fired city employee with a strong set of hacking skills and a grudge to bear?  A less extreme example is the sharing of personal information to companies trying to market you to death.  By the time that the 50th billboard you pass blasts your name on it, you just might prefer that someone shut off all the lights.

Future, ho!

All of these problems notwithstanding, it is beginning to look like the smart city might be the way of the future.  There may simply be too much momentum to stop this technology from finding its way into all aspects of our daily lives.

Some will react to this with the excitement that comes from years of anticipating it.  Others will start to look for tents and teach themselves how to make fire with sticks.  If there’s one bit of advice we can issue to all parties, it’s this: wait and see.  This future may be close by, but it is still not yet written.

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3D Rendering and Animation: Not Only for the Professional

  • Posted On  2015-07-13 09:31:06 by Blog

In this world of ever-developing technology, we are seeing leaps and bounds of progress in the area of graphics and animation. Some of us think to ourselves, “Well, that is nice but I’d never be able to create something like that. The software must be so complicated and expensive!” Thanks to the passions of the open source communities and Google, there are now two excellent and professional grade 3D modeling programs on the market which are entirely free. Both programs have had a fascinating history that has only allowed them to improve steadily, bringing the notice of many tech magazines and blogs. Within this article, we will go over Google Sketchup and Blender, their pros and cons as well as what each program does especially well. So, have a seat, pull up your computer and let’s investigate the world of 3D rendering.


Blender is a free software program that can be found at . It has been around since 1989 as a company specific, in-house program for a Dutch-based animation studio that used it as their primary source. However, in the early 2000’s, it became clear that the animation studio could no longer keep its doors open, and so they released the code to the public under a “GPL” license which ensures that the software will remain free to the public for use and sharing. This is a common format for Open Source and community-based software, ensuring that they will continue to be developed and improved while making certain that the community itself not only contributes in what ways it can, but also reaps the benefits of their contribution.

Blender is constructed to be usable by students, hobbyists and professionals with equal ease and support through the community wiki where tutorials can be found that walk you through every and any issue that you might encounter. There are books written both by the Blender Foundation and by those who enjoy a passion for the program and are considered super users. The most stable release was made available in October of 2011. It is lauded to be perhaps the most usable release created as of yet, and there are many hopes that it will keep going in this vein.

There are a few ways that Blender makes itself user friendly:

  •     A community wiki: In the wiki, there are help topics as well as tutorials that will walk the user through most problems that arise.
  •     Video tutorials: From “Getting started with Blender” to advanced techniques, there is a video available on the site for your guidance. There are also many user-created videos to be found on YouTube offering help in animation techniques.
  •     User Forums: The forums are a place where Blender users can get to know one another, get assistance with a project and just relate to one another.
  •     Yearly Conference: There is held a yearly user conference in Amsterdam where professionals, students, developers and those just want to meet and talk with other Blender enthusiasts in person can meet.

Blender offers a full list of features including a physics engine and real-time game creation, which puts this program definitely as most usable and customizable 3D animation suites available with the most reliable user base in order to facilitate customer service and technical help.

Google SketchUp

SketchUp, while currently owned by Google, was the creation of a company named @Last Software and was first seen on the market in 2000. That very year was the recipient of a Community Choice award for its sleek interface which helped the user to feel as if they were working with something as uncomplicated as pen and marker. It was agreed upon that SketchUp would be an intuitive program that was fun for users to learn and easy to expand the scope of it in time.

In 2006, Google purchased @Last Software due to a growing interest that they had in a plug in that, @Last, was creating for Google Earth. Over the next few years, Google developed and released several versions of SketchUp and included various features and, of course, fixes bugs and added more usability to its core. In 2011, the latest and most stable version, Sketchup 8 became available for download via Google’s application pages.

While there are high hopes for SketchUp to be a highly usable and intelligent program for modeling everything from tea pots to skyscrapers, unfortunately, it is not there yet. A number of problems still exist with the program at this time, including:
  •     A lack of technical support: While there are 13 tutorial videos, they are not as in-depth as they could be.
  •     A lack of available Help Documents: While there are some help documents, it lacks the community-based support that has become a hallmark of long standing freeware.
  •     Limited Gallery: Users who are shopping for new 3D software want to be able to see many and varied examples of what the program is capable of.

Unlike Blender, Google SketchUp has a Pro version that has more features available to the user. However, those features are not listed on the website, and the program comes with an exceptional price tag of almost five hundred dollars per license. At that level, you also have access to (paid for) professional training to come and teach your employees to use the program if it is to be used in a professional setting.

When shopping for a freeware 3D rendering program, Blender and SketchUp are the two biggest choices in the World Wide Web at this moment. Each program has its plusses and minuses. However, both are amazingly full-featured as well as being innovative and easy to learn for even the newest beginner. As the world of entertainment moves more towards three dimensional animation and artwork as a standard, we believe that more and more improvements will be made to these already superb programs. It will be beneficial for users to remain onboard and grow with the program they choose as it becomes more functional and sought-after in this fast-paced industry.

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Life Blogging and the Web 2.0

  • Posted On  2015-07-13 09:25:57 by Blog

In today’s connected world, words like “blog,” “LiveJournal” and “Twitter” bombard us. They are featured prominently in the news.  Co-workers, family members and friends are eager to give each other their blog address as a way of keeping up with what is going on with them in their daily lives.  Even social networking sites like FaceBook now offer to syndicate your blog to your wall or like MySpace just come with one.  We are becoming fast a world of “life bloggers” where our actions are made available to be seen by the world at large through the hundreds of thousands of bytes of information about our day that we record in one web application or social network or another.  Rules that many of us had growing up such as “Family issues stay in the family” and “Don’t involve strangers in your drama” have become obsolete as people of all ages, children barely entering puberty and grandparents learning how to use the Internet become fascinated with keeping up to date wither their interests twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

In the Beginning:

It all began with Usenet and the creation of “threaded” conversations held on bulletin board services.  This allowed people to have interactive conversations and keep them organized so that information was easier to find and easier to understand.  To this day, Usenet still exists and is blooming with hundreds of thousands of new messages every day.  Usually grouped by interest, a Usenet group would be listed as, for example, for discussion of the PC game Quake.  There are Usenet groups on just about any topic you can imagine from fan groups for Janet Jackson to discussion groups about knitting.

Fast forward a few years to 1998/99 and the introduction of Open Diary and LiveJournal.  Open Diary was the first to recognize that there were many people out there who were using word processing software to make online diaries for themselves, which at the time was difficult and often expensive, as web hosting was comparatively more expensive than it is now.  With this knowledge, the founder who goes by the handle “TheDiaryMaster” created a service wherein users would sign up for an account, choose a template and start publishing from the services interface.  It streamlined the process and also added on many other features that would have been difficult, if not impossible, for those who were publishing on their own. Open Diary introduced security levels so that posts could be friends only or public as well as options for changing fonts and allowing visitors to leave comments on your posts, something that until this service was not available anywhere.  Also available on the service was the ability to add friends, so that you would have a type of reading list to keep up with your favorite diary writers. In fact, Open Diary can be seen as the first step that the world took towards social networking.

In 1999, a newer service came to the forefront with even more options available to users called LiveJournal.  At its inception, it was an exclusive club: you needed to know someone to get an invite to sign up.  There was a point where people were selling their invite codes for $25-30 apiece!  LiveJournal offered much in the way of customization of your individual space, ability to host photographs and other multi-media creations as well as also having a friends list and commenting abilities.  The biggest draw to LiveJournal in the beginning was their new “community” feature which allowed a user to create a group journal where ongoing conversations could be held by multiple users (up to 500 at a time).

The dawn of Web 2.0

While it is a hotly disputed topic of when “Web 2.0” became a reality, it is well known that the term was coined at the 2004 O’Reilly Mass Media Web 2.0 convention in late 2004.  What the term has come to mean however, in everyday terms is that the web instead of being a place where a person seeks out information, like in a library catalogue, it has become interactive. People have real experiences through virtual worlds and text-based chat rooms, and even now through video conferencing.  Thanks to file sharing sites and services, people are trading music and books and any other type of media imaginable.  The experience of Web 2.0 has moved to also take place on our cell phones where the new Android, iPhone and other devices are allowing for remote access to email, websites, navigation and news all at the tip of your fingers wherever you happen to be.

Of course, with the invention of ever greater technologies we come face to face with some of the problems of these opportunities. More than ever, privacy and identity protection are at the forefront of everyone’s minds as they use credit cards to purchase items for themselves and their loved ones, subscriptions to online video games and even use online services to send and receive faxes and attend university.  This concern is a very real one as sensitive and private identifying information is shared over the network of the Internet and opens users up to identity theft and fraud like never before.  While the Web 2.0 has made life simpler and more streamlined for the legitimate users, it has also made life simpler and more streamlined for those who would steal your information to use for their own ends.  This had led to a rise in the creation of privacy, anti-virus and other security software.  This has become a thriving occupation all on its own from websites offering virus protection scanning and programs to fix problems found to people who have taken the time to get training to do it manually and will come to your home and fix your computer for a fee.

What you see is what you get:

Thanks to the introduction of Web 2.0, the life blogging that has come with it, we are now seeing the Internet open up to new users at an amazing rate. Anyone who wants a website can pay a few dollars for a domain name of their choice and the majority of web hosts have a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor that requires no programming knowledge whatsoever.  This brings the world of website building to the newest computer user and for fans of the most obscure hobbies.  As time goes by, the World Wide Web looks to become more and more interactive.  Eventually one day, perhaps, a person will not need to leave their homes at all to conduct their daily business.  It is an exciting and uncertain time for people everywhere as regulations are imposed and new ways of communicating are built.  Pull up a chair, dear reader and come along for the ride!

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