Small fires in jam jars

By the time I got interested in radio and electronics – when I was about 10 years old, in the early 1970s, most new radios and TVs weren’t using valves anymore; you’d still find old stuff in junk stores (or in the homes of older relatives) that were stuffed with valves, and TV sets still had them, but except in specialist applications valves were becoming increasingly rare in domestic electronics.

I remember reading an article in  a magazine that referred to valves as ‘small fires in jam-jars’ – and to be honest, if you took a look at a powered up and working valve radio you would see the warm orange or yellow glow from some of the valves – indeed suggesting that in the bottom of the glass tube was a small fire.  The amount of heat generate also gave that impression as well!

Of course, this wasn’t the case – the orange glow came not from a small fire but from a heated wire – but the phrase stuck with me,  and still makes me smile whenever I recollect it.

So, what bought about this trip down memory lane? The other day I purchased a small electronic amplifier module for a project off of eBay – the sort of thing that I could easily build myself but when I could buy it ready made for a couple of quid it seemed churlish not to. As for the project, it’s a ‘watch this space’ thing!  When I powered it up to test it I hooked the output up to a loudspeaker that I had screwed to a piece of plywood, and that’s when the trip down memory lane kicked in.

Like many people I’m very responsive to smells, and the smell of the electronics and the plywood took me back over 40 years to the garden shed where my dad had allowed me to set up some miscellaneous electronic bits and pieces, including a massive 12″ loudspeaker mounted in a plywood cabinet that was almost as tall as me.

The particular memory invoked was one of the earliest I have around electronics, and is actually a very strong memory. I was building a small amplifier to allow me to use the big loudspeaker to hear the output from a crystal set I’d built, and the design I was using for the amplifier was from an electronics kit I’d been bought at Christmas. A peculiarity of the design (caused by the number of components in the kit being limited) was that a particular electrical resistance in the amplifier was provided by a small electric light bulb.  I remember wiring things up, connecting the loudspeaker, then the battery, and being greeted by a hum in the loudspeaker. I was doing this on a late autumn evening – I think it was a Sunday – and in the twilight in the shed I was delighted to see the filament of the light-bulb glowing – my own ‘small fire in a jam jar’!

What was interesting was that once I managed to tune in a radio station on the crystal set, and wound up the volume on the amplifier as far as it would go, the brightness of the bulb filament would vary in sympathy with the music or voice coming form the loudspeaker.

I remember staying in the darkening shed, the last sunlight of the day coming in through the window, until my mother called me in.  There was the smell of the plywood, the slight frying smell of electronic components being pushed to the limit (and usually with my enthusiasm exceeding my design ability somewhat beyond), and that tiny flickering glow from the bulb.

I have other memories of building kit – some very vivid as well – but this one was an almost a religious experience in terms of the way it’s stuck with me.

Valve gear seems to be coming back in to vogue – you can buy kits for radios that use valves, and I’m sorely tempted to try one out.  I doubt that it will have the impact of that first experience with my non-valve ‘fire in a jam jar’ but I think it might be fun.




The Why of Spam…

Not the delicious and non-nutritious tinned pork product, but the unsolicited email.

Spam has a long history:

“On May 3, 1978, the Internet witnessed a glorious and not particularly welcome birth: The first ever spam email. Gary Thuerk, a marketer for the Digital Equipment Corporation, blasted out his message to 400 of the 2600 people on ARPAnet, the DARPA-funded so-called “first Internet.””

It’s almost 40 years old and older than the public Internet.  But why does it still continue.  After all, for there to be any sense to sending mails out – even automatically – someone, somewhere, must make some money or get some sort of payback from it.  This requires someone to open the spam and either act on it – i.e. buy something form it, visit a website, etc. – or be acted upon by the spam – e.g. it’s carrying malware which puts trojan horse and virus software on their PC and probably gives them athlete’s foot at the same time.

I have a ‘throwaway’ email account that I use when I don’t want to give my main email address.  It’s on my own domain, so any anti-spam protection I apply to it is purely up to me.  And for the sake of entertainment and education I’ve applied the absolute minimum anti-spam filtering that my hosting service will allow.  I check the account occasionally, primarily to see whether there’s anything ‘doing the rounds’ that might look realistic enough to fool some of my freelance clients in to accidentally getting themselves in to deep water.

For your entertainment today, therefore, I present a few subject lines.  Who with at least a few working brain-cells could ersist the following :

  • 7 second fat flush trick
  • Stirling Generator – Big Electricity bans media cover on Stirling Generator plans
  • Kirsten Cote – re. your invoice
  • Charwin Mortgages – consider hundreds of remortgage deals
  • Hibbert, Sasha – Overdue Invoice
  • Yes Option – read this legendary story

and so on.  I now know that in the fevered world of conspiracy nutters there is now ‘Big Electricity’ who’re trying to stop you getting free electricity from inefficient generator sets or getting electricity from the air for free (Ben Franklin tried that, guys…)  As for free energy – well, I’m with Homer Simpson…this house obeys the laws of thermodynamics!

I hope that one day ‘Big Cupcake’ will emerge, crushing us all under demands that we must purchase more and more cupcakes so that our diabetes will need drugs prepared by ‘Big Pharma’ in factories powered by ‘Big Electricity’.

I have quite a few invoices that either I haven’t paid or someone wants to pay and can’t.  The details are, of course, in the attached zip file…

Who opens this sort of crap? Does anyone believe it? Or are there people out there with the cognitive capability of a mung-bean who believe this bollocks?

The amount of spam sent keeps rising – take a look here at this report from Kapersky Labs.  Spams on the back of world events, treatments for ailments that ‘Big Pharma’ are keeping from us (usually pointing to sites run by someone who makes ‘Doctor Nick’ from The Simpsons look like the winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine.

I’m not looking to provide any answers here, but am genuinely interested in how it is that potentially:

“Spam is still a big business. Unsolicited junk mail accounts for 86 percent of the world’s e-mail traffic, with about 400 billion spam messages sent a day, according to Talos, a digital threat research division of Cisco Systems.”

And this isn’t including the hand-crafted stuff deliberately designed with a particular person in mind as an attempt to hack their systems.  This is the ‘blanket bombing’ stuff.

The spammers make money from the sellers of snake oil.  The snake oil salesmen must feel it worthwhile to give spammers money. Who are the morons who give money to the snake oil salesmen? The only thing I can think of is that things are so, so desperate in the world now that people will believe any and all crap they see ‘on the Internet’ no matter how outlandish and no matter who from.

We’re getting dumber by the day.




The end of the road for paper maps?

Planisphere I’m always a bit behind with what I read online, and this is a story from about a month or so ago.  Are paper maps dead? For those of us of a certain age who did things like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme or were Scouts or did military service, we can be put in to one of two groups; those who could fold and unfold maps with skill and confidence and not  rip them or get them blown off in to the mid-distance during the attempt, and those who…well…couldn’t.

I had my moments when I almost got it right – that’s why my paper OS maps are creased and crumpled in places where they shouldn’t be creased….

But I still have those paper maps – the Peak District, Sheffield and Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire.  In other words, the areas I walked and cycled around when I was a kid.  And about 5 feet from where I’m sitting writing this is my Silva compass with which I navigated my way around using those maps.  And in a cupboard downstairs are a couple of maps which I used when I did my ‘macho’ thing of travelling from Vancouver up to Prudhoe Bay and Point Barrow in the mid-1990s.

And the house is well equipped with Atlases – some are old enough to show large swathes of the world in ‘Empire Pink’ as I used to call it – and AA road maps and such.

Of course, at the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger I can call up electronic maps on phone, iPad and computer.  I can zoom in, zoom out, get directions.  On my Blackberry I can even see where I am when wandering around courtesy of GPS. I even have an application on the iPad that gives me a star-map that updates in real time.

And funnily enough, it was when using this electronic star map the other night that  I was reminded of the article mentioned above and impressed by the fact that sometimes a paper map is needed.  Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in star-gazing and amateur astronomy I still can’t find my way around the heavens above without assistance – especially in the summer skies. So the other evening I wanted to do a little star gazing and decided to use the iPad to orient me….and failed miserably.  It updated in real time, showed me all I needed, but I just couldn’t get comfortable with it.  After 10 minutes I dug out my Phillips Planisphere (shown above) and got myself sorted with that in no time flat.  OK, I’ve been using such a gadget for years, so am rather used to it, but it just felt…right.

And there’s definitely what can only be called ‘the romance of old maps’ – as a kid I use to draw maps of imaginary countries on rolls of wallpaper, and used old maps to fight imaginary battles as part of my wargaming hobby. The Lands of Middle Earth and Narnia were mapped on paper, not digital screens, and the other day I saw prints of old maps being sold as wrapping paper in a local branch of Clintons Cards.  We’re going to buy a couple and frame them as decorations.  There is something wonderful about the idea of depicting landscapes on paper – something that electronic maps can’t match.

And, of course, on the day that the Governments of the world pull the GPS system down, or when a massive solar flare nukes all our electronics, we’ll still be able to use the paper maps to navigate by…although if the latter has taken place we may not be able to rely upon compasses anymore…..


There’s one thing we got to get, Heyes….

…and that’s out of this business!”

One of the TV highlights of the week for me in the early 1970s was the TV series ‘Alias Smith and Jones‘, following the adventures of two outlaws on probation, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, as they attempted to stay ahead of the law and out of trouble. At the start of every episode, we’d see the two being pursued on horseback, with Curry shouting the above lines to Heyes.

This week I finally decided that I need to get ‘out of the business’ of freelance web development.  I have a nice part time day job, involvement with a startup, and currently enough freelance work to keep things ticking over.  But teh freelance web work will never, ever, make me a good income again, and if I’m going to do anything with my freelancing time, I need to find something else.

What triggered this?  I quoted for a WordPress related job – install, configure, tweak the theme and apply a few small mods to the installation. Admittedly not one of the world’s great technical tasks, but a nice job.  I quoted at my ‘lowest rate’ – £20.00 / hr – this was a UK based customer, and I expected to take about 10 hours to do the job.  I replied a mail later in the day telling me that I’d not been successful as another UK based freelancer had come in at a lower rate.  Of £5.00 per hour.

A fiver an hour.  Less than I’d get sweeping floors in McDonalds. Rates like that are pretty common from suppliers of services based in the Far east, but from a UK based develoeper, it’s scary.  Because it means that the market for some types of development work has become commoditised, price driven and almost at the level of ‘will work for food’.

So…time to get out.  It’s no longer worth it.  Fortunately I have a few ‘specialist’ areas of software development I can fall back on, but am wondering now whether it’s time to take a while different approach.  With a flexible permanent job available to me, maybe it’s time to look at other things to do and leave software development work to the sweatshops of the far east and the UK?

I’ve been thinking of things that are not ‘commodity’ – maybe get my old woodworking skills back?  Or try something new? Art? Something to do with my interest in vintage radio? Who knows.  Perhaps focusisng on the permanent job and doing bits of freelance work or something new for ‘beer money’ is the way forward these days.

Very, very sad.  How long before other parts of our technology and ‘creative’ industries become sub-minimum wage sweatshops?

The Last of the Magicians

“He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.”

So wrote John Maynard Keynes about Sir Isaac Newton in a lecture he wrote, but never delivered, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Newton’s birth on Christmas Day, 1642.

I was reminded of this observation the other evening when I was contemplating my ‘life and times’ as a developer come writer come ‘hacker’ (in the original, MIT, sense of the word) in late 1970s and early 1980s.  My life and times with computers started as a spin off from my interest in electronics as a boy – I built a simple computer in my teens, and then took the path of ZX81, Spectrum, BBC Model B, Amstrad 6128.  I was particularly interested in interfacing and robotics – and because of my prior interest in electronics I could handle both the hardware and software side of things.

I had an interest and an aptitude for electronics, analogue and digital, and could understand my computers from the printed circuit board up, so to say – on occasion doing the odd modification to circuit boards to fix things or improve matters.  Looking back, it was possible to trace those 8 bit home computers back through history to the special purpose computers created during and after World War 2 to help with code breaking and other similar applications.

And this was where I started from the other evening – in IT terms, hobbyists and hackers of the 70s/80s were able to trace their activities back in to the ‘Sumerian Period’ of their interest; the world view was similar, just using chips rather than relays. Sometime in the 1980s it all changed; PCs, Macs, etc. came along with (eventually) the sort of day to day access to the Web, Apps and the Internet that we regard as normal. That ability to get involved with all aspects of the machine, from wires to Windows, disappeared.

It seems to me that there is a line back from where we are now, through the 2000s, in to the 1990s and back to those original Macs and PCs – then a hiatus – then back from the home micros via mainframes to the days of Turning Machines, Colossus and ENIAC.  And those of us who remember hacking code and hardware on computers big enough to get your fingers inside are maybe not the first scientists of the modern IT age, but perhaps we are truly the last of the magicians.


‘Does Microsoft move the cheese too often?’

Every now and again I bother to read something about my profession.  I know that this sounds rather bad – continuous professional development and all that stuff – but usually I’m too busy doing stuff to read about what others are doing or what I might be doing in 2 years time.  And so I encountered this little piece:

I am a professional .NET developer (OK…I make money by writing code using .NET – my professionalism is up to my clients and employer to comment on!) and yes, it’s a rapidly changing world.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to adapt what you’re doing all the time to keep up with Microsoft.  Now, I can already hear the ceremonial disembowelling cutlasses being sharpened by more hardcore developers, but let’s continue…

I still write code using the .NET 2.0 and .NET 3.5 frameworks, as well as .NET 4.0  Why? Three reasons:

  • The earlier frameworks often do everything that the application needs to do.
  • I understand how they work better than .NET 4.0.  So, I find it faster to create code and hence solve the customer’s problems.
  • The customer may not have (or want to have) the most up to date framework on their machines.  And who am I to say otherwise if the earlier stuff does the job?

Whilst there are some very sensible reasons for making use of the most current, stable version of any technology, it’s worth remembering that many people don’t care what you develop their software in as long as it works, is maintainable and doesn’t cost them the Earth. the preoccupation with newer, shinier stuff comes mainly from us – the developers – who get hooked in to the stuff that the tool makers – Microsoft et al – produce. If we said ‘No, bugger off’ more frequently things might settle down.

I also develop software in PHP and JavaScript, and maintain a lot of legacy stuff in Microsoft VB6.  I do this because, bluntly, people pay me to do it.  And therein lies the answer to the question above.  Microsoft change stuff reasonably frequently – that’s their privilege.  It’s also our privilege to not get roped in to the constant change process.  Remember WHY we write code – it’s to solve problems – not keep the develoeprs at Redmond in gainful employment.

Remember our customers – they’re the people who should matter to us – not Microsoft’s behaviour.





And Facebook carries on downwards….

In my last post I questioned the value given to Facebook in their IPO.  It became clear at the close of first day trading that things hadn’t gone according to plan; the usual ‘Day One Spike’ associated with high profile technology IPOs just didn’t happen, and I have a feeling that the only reason that Facebook didn’t end the day lower than it did was because the underwriters of the IPO bought up stock to shore up the price.

Of course, that what the under-writers of IPOs are partially there for; they pick up the spare stock and keep the price up, but given that the slump has continued for two days trading now, I am beginning to wonder whether the initial price was artificially inflated for the egos / benefit of those involved.  If so, that is totally unacceptable beccause it means that the ‘civilian’ buyers of the stock – those not in on the game – paid over the value of the company from day one, and it is increasingly possible (and indeed likely) that everyone involved in the launch KNEW that.

There is an interesting article here, by Michael Wolff, that states what quite a few of us have wondered for a while.  Given that, beneath the hype, branding and bells and whistles, Facebook is an advert supported site, how on earth do they expect to make such money as a 100 billion dollar price tag suggests?  And Wolff should know; he wrote the book ‘Burn Rate’, which documented the crash and burn of the first dot-com boom a decade ago.

The problem is that it’s not just Facebook at risk here; a bad IPO in a sector colours the views of those preparing other stock market launches.  Out there are lots of technology start ups, all wondering about financing.  A solid Facebook IPO would have possibly led to a market place that was more willing to put money in to smaller companies that needed much less money and that might even have been producing goods and services of greater value than the ability to play Farmville or post statuses.  And by ‘solid’ I mean exactly that – a sound valuation – if the fall continues then it may well be that a valuation of 40 to 50 billion dollars was MUCH more realistic – that didn’t require urgent under-writer support, that showed healthy secondary trading over the days after launch and that also showed a steady growth as people realised that Facebook had some value that could be exploited – given availability of money.  After all, that’s what an IPO was ORIGINALLY supposed to do – give some money to the founders but mainly give the company money to develop.

As it is, Facebook was clearly over-valued – whether by intention or accident we don’t know – and analysts are finally asking the questions that should have been asked months ago.  Facebook’s last minute purchase of Instagram to try and grab mobile traction looks increasingly like panic.  The company may settle down to around $50 billion dollars – still, IMO, overvalued but the markets could probably live with it.

But back to those other comanies in the wings.  Based on previous technology trading cycles, a bad high profile IPO:

  • Makes the companies queuing up to do an IPO pause in their tracks.
  • Reduces the value of such IPOs and dents market confidence
  • Causes investors in any technology companies to remember that there might be a downside risk and so be more careful about investing – which isn’t always a bad thing, but sucks if you’re a ‘real value’ company.

Historically this tends to lead to a deflation of the tech market place – the last thing we need now.

As is said in the Pythian Scrolls in Battlestar Galactica : “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”

The obligatory Facebook IPO post….or…Hey! Zuckerberg! You’re my bitch!

Well, despite the state of the world economy, Facebook finally managed it’s IPO today and ended the day at roughly the same level as it launched at, having had a high point of about $42 and a start point of $38.  Now, when I were a lad we did IPOs differently – take the VA Linux IPO in the 1990s – a first day increase of nearly 700% on the starting price…..

But the world is different today, and the markets are older – although given recent behaviours not any wiser.   The Facebook IPO was never going to be a show-stopper of the type we saw in the first dot-com boom, no matter how people hyped it up.  But, even Linked In, that had it’s IPO more recently, opened at $45 and closed at around $90 on the first day. So what happened to facebook, and why should we care?

To start with, the opening price was, in my opinion, incredibly high for a company that simply peddles user generated content, games access, in game currencies, personal data access and adverts.  And that’s why we should care, because ultimately the value of Facebook will depend upon how advertisers and data crunchers value that content and the 900 million users of Facebook, and whether those users will keep playing the Facebook game.

Why did Facebook go public?  Traditionally, companies go public when they need a market in which to sell shares in the company to investors in order to raise money, typically for expansion, moving new products to market, etc.  In recent years – especially in tech industries – the IPO has been seen as a means by which the people involved with the startup can flog their shares and get rich quick, and I’m afraid that’s what I see happening here.

The big question is – how is Facebook worth $100 billion dollars?  That’s more than Ford and more than Macdonalds.  Last year Facebook returned a profit of a billion dollars on revenue of 3.7 billion dollars, which isn’t bad going.  Ford had revenues of over $100 billion, and profits of over $6 billion in 2010, having reduced it’s debt by $12 billion in the same year.  Not bad either. But Ford only has a market capitalisation of $38 billion.  So, that market capitalisation of Ford of 38 billions is related to a profit of $6 billions.  Now, whilst you can’t compare Internet and non-Internet stocks, if I were to apply the same rules I’d start thinking that Facebook should, on those proportions, be floated at no more than $6 or $7 billion.

Let’s be fairer and take Google as our reference point.  It’s Internet stock, after all.  Current Market Capitalisation of $197 billion, revenue of $40 billion and income of $10 billion.  Applying some ratios again, Google seem to have a profit of about 25% of revenues, and a Market Cap. of around 5* revenue.  Now, Facebook has profits which are not that far off of the same ratio as Google – 1/3.7*100 = 27%, so if we apply the 5* rule we get 5*3.7 billion – let’s be generous and say $20 billions.

So, Joe’s rough and ready calculations say that Facebook should have sold at $20 billions.  Now, I’m not a stockbroker – in fact, I’m not brilliant with money at all, but this seems….logical.  The difference between Google and Facebook, of course,  is the magic words ‘Social Media’.  After all, Social is the future, according to the pundits, so it must be logical that the Facebook valuation reflects something of the massive profits that people expect to make from Social Media in future.  Yes?

Right…let’s look at Linked IN.  Recentish float, social media company, not so many users, blah, blah.  Market capitalisation of $10 billion dollars (no missing zero), Revenue about $670 million, profits about $17 million.  Oooer.  So Social isn’t necessarily the magic word.

So what could that magic ingredient be?  What do analysts think makes Facebook worth so much?  Do me a favour.  If, like me, you’re a Facebook user, walk to the bathroom, look in the mirror.  Say Hi.  You’re looking at 1/900 millionth of Facebook’s secret sauce. Those investors are putting a lot of money in to the hope that we will continue spending money that can, in some way, be associated with our use of Facebook.  Now, I’ve not spent a dime through any Facebook related advert, game or doohickey in the 4 or so years I’ve been on there.  I rate every advert that pops up in my Timeline (except for the ones from Charities and non-profits) as offensive.  How we use facebook from here on in will make or break a lot of fortunes.

If you want something to put a smile on your face today, remember that 1/900 millionth of Mark Zuckerberg’s arse is yours.  Collectively, Zuckerberg is our bitch.


Happy (Belated) Birthday Speccy!

It always takes me a while to catch up with things, but it was recently the 30th Birthday of the Sinclair Spectrum. Like many of a certain age, the Speccy was one of the computers on which I cut my teeth.  I was lucky enough to have been exposed to most of the popular home computers of the late 1970s and early 1980s by virtue of my first job and the fact I wrote articles for the computing magazines of the time.

I’d already bought a ZX81, and became the Z80 Machine code Guru for my employer – I was also writing books for Melbourne House on the Z80 based MSX machines – and the two worlds overlapped when I was asked by my employer to develop a way of extending the BASIC language of the Sinclair Spectrum to allow new commands to be added to the language.  I managed to deliver the goods – oddly enough around the same time a magazine article was published that detailed a similar approach to my own – and I added writing books on Spectrum Machine Code programming to my repetoire.

I also wrote a fair number of articles about programming and interfacing the Sinclair machines, designed interface cards for it for my employer, dabbled in a little light robotics, but rarely actually USED the machine for anything!  When I needed to write these articles and books I used my BBC Model B which had a proper keyboard.  How I hated that rubber monstrosity on the Spectrum – the later Spectrum 2 had a better keyboard and made life easier, but one still had to deal with the multi-function behaviour of the keys.  I think that that was the single biggest hitch with the Spectrum; had the ‘dead flesh’ keyboard just had ‘normal’ keyboard functionality, where you typed stuff in letter by letter, I think it would have been easier.

Still, I can’t grumble.  This was in the days when if you were good enough to write and have your material accepted by a publisher, you got paid for it.  This may seem something of a novelty these days when blogging and other forms of self-publishing seem to have ripped the heart out of traditional (OK, paid!) technical writing, but those magazine cheques of £40 or £50 went a long way!

I think that the Spectrum was one of two machines I bought (the other being an Amstrad 6128) that actually paid for themselves from my writing.  That immediately makes the Spectrum special to me.  I also learnt a HELL of a lot from it about low level programming, hardware interfacing, robotics and the Zen like patience needed to manage that keyboard and a tape recorder for saving and loading programs…..

Funnily enough, 30 years later, I spent several hours in my current day job looking at an interfacing problem involving a PIC Microcontroller.  And the solution I eventually suggested was one that I dragged up from my Spectrum interfacing days….

Google Drive…to get your stuff.

I’ve always had the attitude that any company that has to remind it’s staff to ‘Do No Evil’ is either employing the wrong sort of people or is trying hard to hide the fact that they might not be paragons of virtue.

This week my increasingly hardcore anti-Google attitude was turned up another notch by the Terms and Conditions on their new ‘Google Drive’ product. Google Drive is Google’s answer to products like ‘Dropbox’ – look at it as an online hard disc that you can use for storing copies of your files, swapping files with other people, etc.  In teh Terms and Conditions, Google rightly state that they respect your intellectual property rights, and that the rights to the data you upload stay with you.  So far, so good.  They also then say:

 “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

Whoa, dude!  From this it would appear that by uploading your stuff to the Googleplex, you’re providing them with source material for anything they wish to derive from the stuff you commit.  Sort of like Facebook, but without poking…  And Microsoft have a simnilar clause in their equivalent online Cloud storage service T&Cs.

The difference is that Microsoft and Facebook get ‘pulled’ fairly regularly for abuse of privacy, attitudes towards standard, Intellectual Property and Patent enforcement, what have you.  But Google still seem to be the Teflon boys of the modern IT landscape.  I have to say that I now regard Google as a bigger threat to my privacy and to the general health of the information landscape than Facebook or Microsoft.  Why?

Google own increasingly large amounts of the search landscape; like ‘Hoover’ they are a brand that has become a verb.  People tend to Google rather than Search the Internet; businesses have been known to fail when Google modify their search algorithms. The data that we pass through Google – even when we’re not logged in – can still be logged against our IP address and passed on to the US Government (as well as being used within Google itself for various purposes). Despite this I still use Google – because there is not yet an equivalent that is as good.  Microsoft Bing is getting there, but has a way to go, and I guess that that is how many people who are uncomfortable about Google but still use them feel.

There’s an old saying saying along the lines of ‘If you’re not paying for the service, you’re being sold.’  Maybe it’s time for the unthinkable – a paid for search provider. I’d be very tempted to pay for a good search service that was curated enough to remove the crap, whilst not threatening my privacy or intellectual property.  A new frontier for entrepreneurs?