Online Circus

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Give Your Kids Safe Access to Their Online Websites

The latest attractions for my six years old are the "Webkinz" and "ClubPenguin" websites. The first takes your real-world webkinz pet doll and places it online, Tamagotchi style. The latter is your toddlers first steps into virtual worlds.

I thoroughly endorse her excursions into the online world, and I was looking for a simple and safe way to let her access it. Even when I'm not near her to supervise.

As a Windows user, the simplest way I found was to use Internet Explorer's built-in "Kiosk" mode (IE7+):

  1. Make a copy of your IE's icon - copy your IE desktop icon and paste it back on the desktop. Rename the icon to your toddler's favorite online website, e.g. "Webkinz"

  2. Right-click the icon and select "properties".

  3. At the end of the "Target" field, currently pointing to iexplore.exe, add "-k [website]", e.g. "-k"

  4. If you want to change the shortcut icon to the website's icon, just save the website's favicon.ico (e.g. somewhere on your computer. Right-click your IE shortcut. Select properties->Change Icon, set it to the saved icon's location.
Show your kid where the icon is. When he'll click it, his favorite website will open in a full-screen, no address bar mode, for a safer online playground.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Early Alert that an Employee is Going to Bail on You

Retaining (good) employees rather than hiring new ones is crucial on so many levels, so finding out that an excellent employee was disgruntled enough to leave you only after he put himself out on the market, is simply frustrating.
You can usually tell months in advance that your guy is having issues, but just in case it slips the radar, wouldn't it still be great to get an advanced warning? and what better way to do it than use the lack of privacy wonderfully embraced by all of us social media followers. This time - Linkedin.
How to do it? move to DEFCON 2 whenever someone has updated their Linkedin profiles. DEFCON 4 if they updated their specialties. DEFCON 5 if they start sending and (reciprocally) receiving recommendations.
Take them for a talk, see what's itching, win them back. It's foolproof...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Announcing Newsodrome

For the last couple of months, I've been working on a new website - Newsodrome.
You can read about it at the Newsodrome blog (welcome to Newsodrome).


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ideas for Startups

Along with Guy Kawasaki's "The Art of Start", I can highly recommend Paul Graham's essays for every new entrepreneur. I found his "How to start a startup", "Ideas for startups" and "How to fund a startup" succinct, informative and inspirational.

I have returned to Graham's "Ideas for startups" again and again, especially when I wanted my brainwaves to focus on "innovation". After my last read, I've quickly summarized my highlights of the essay's main points, for future reference. They are best read in context, but here goes anyways -

Understanding Startup Ideas

  • Startup ideas are not million dollar ideas. The fact there's no market for startup ideas suggests there's no demand - startup ideas by themselves are worthless
  • Most startups end up nothing like the initial idea. The main value of your initial idea is that, in the process of discovering it's broken, you'll come up with your real idea

What to Look For in an Idea

  • An the idea for a startup is an idea for something people want.
  • You're looking for a valuable idea. Good ideas and valuable ideas are not quite the same thing.
  • Valuable ideas are very close to good ideas. You can get away with working as if the goal were to discover good ideas, as long as, in the final stage, you stop and ask: will people actually pay for this?

Prerequisites to Finding Ideas

  • To generate questions you need two things: to be familiar with promising new technologies and to have the right kind of friends.
  • You can't just think of new ideas yourself. Ideas get developed in the process of explaining them to the right kind of person.

Find the Right Problem to Solve

  • Recipe: finding the problem intolerable and feeling it must be possible to solve it.
  • One way to make something people want is to look at stuff people use now that's broken.
  • Another classic way to make something people want is to take a luxury and make it into a commodity.
  • You can take almost any existing technology produced by a big company, and assume you could build something way easier to use.
  • Look at big companies, this what they should be doing and do it yourself. Even if the already know it, you'll probably be done faster.
  • The best way to generate startup ideas is to do what hackers do for fun: cook up amusing hacks with your friends.

Refining an Idea

  • Start with a problem then let your mind wander just far enough for new ideas to form.
  • Is there some way to bite off some subset of the problem, then gradually expand from there?
How would you lead your startup idea-hunting expedition?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Google Reader Preview

I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and create my personalized blogging experience - online, accessible from everywhere platform (Google Readerer), showing articles as one-liner summaries ("List View") plus an ala-Thunderbird "show article webpage instead of just an RSS text-only summary" upon clicking an item. The last was trickier, and required cruder methods - welcome the "Google Reader Preview" userscript...

Google Reader Preview - A Firefox Greasemonkey userscript that replaces Google Reader’s article summary with a frame containing the actual blog item.

Currently works only in “List View” and not in the default “Expanded View” (select in upper right corner). Click any item in the list view to see the original blog within Google Reader.

Go here to install Firefox's Greasemonkey add-on, and here for Google Reader Preview.


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Back pains ? Is your wallet in your back pocket... ?

Yesterday, during a long meeting, I grew painfully aware of the uncomfortable wallet stuck in my back pocket.
It's nothing new - I've been keeping my wallet in my back-pocket for as long as I can remember , although at a short moment of enlightenment I tried hard and couldn't explain why a grown man that spends many hours every day sitting on a chair, decided to place this annoying wallet just there in the first place. Contemplating some more on this absurd issue, it seemed only logical that if someone just took a minute to analyze this weird behavior, he would certainly find that sitting like that can't be good for your lower-back.
It appears (duh) that it's a well known fact that prolong sitting while your wallet sits safely in your back-pocket can cause back-pains and even damage key nerves. They even have a name for the condition - hip-pocket syndrome or wallet-neuropathy (who wants to be the first to Wiki those terms... ?).
What's the solution ? You most likely need at least some of your wallet's content on you daily (Credit card, money, ID, etc.), you usually can't just leave your wallet lying around and you can't leave it in your front pocket as it interferes with the annoying habit of placing your hands in there. I suggest keeping less change and raising a consumer protest for Levi's to introduce a lower wallet pocket in their pants.
On the same note, I should find a better location to place my cell phone other then my front pocket - nearest to some important vitals...

Where do you keep your wallet ?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Everybody enters cryogenic sleep until Earth heals !

Two excellent books I read recently sparked what I think is an interesting thought-experiment/movie-plot I wanted to share.

Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch - The Redemption of Christopher Columbus" envisions a future society that finally reached serenity just to realize that after its share of past struggles, their environment has passed the point of no return and all they can do is sit down and watch their heritage dissolve to nothingness, or is it ? [Story begins here...].
Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" (Successor to "Guns, Germs, and Steel") studies patterns of past societies collapses attributed to environmental
misuse and correlate it to the current situation on our planet.
Overdosed on apocalyptic stories of environmental hell, I read Professor Diamond's explanations regarding the unavoidable per-capita impact of human waste on the environment (after all, we're not in cryogenic storage). And then it hit me, my very own movie plot ! Here it comes -

"Humans not many years from now realize that the environment is marching towards a point of no return after which all our technology will not stop planet Earth from deteriorating until it could support no living form. At this point of time, while Earth can still regenerate and slowly heal its past wounds our society is determined to take a brave step - put everything on hold, enter cryogenic sleep and wake up ten thousand years from now as if only a minute passed in a planet earth that is healed past the wounds of our ancestors. Everybody is prepared and the countdown begins. Ends. Our hero feels as if he just woke from an afternoon nap, walks out of the cryo chamber and find that something went terribly wrong... "

A sure blockbuster isn't it... ? How would you continue from here ?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Can your search terms be used against you ? Part 2

In a previous post I've mentioned that the US government may contact your favorite search engine and with a mere subpoena access your favorite search terms. Reuters reports that this annoying scenario has already taken place.

In court documents filed on Wednesday, the Bush administration asked a federal judge to force Google to comply with a subpoena to reveal the search terms of the search engine's visitors. The subpoena is part of an effort to test the effectiveness of a 1998 law, the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, which penalizes Web site operators who allow children to view pornography. It's fair to note that the requested search results do not expose information on specific home-users but are a random sampling of COPA relevant search terms and web site accesses.

It's interesting to note that Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo have all already handed the requested selection of search requests and indexed Web sites, but Google is standing firm.

Watch out what you're searching for...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Parking a $800,000 Domain ?

DNJournal reports that the domain has changed hands for $800,000, one of the three biggest reported domain sales this year.
Now, how do you utilize a $800,000 domain ? Looking at what the buyers, InnovationHQ Inc., and Logicbank LLC, just did, it appears that parking the domain with Google ads is a winner solution...
You can argue that Innovation HQ's that owns more than 12000 domains isn't all for Google ads and they are just waiting for the right buyer, but looking at their homepage
Innovation HQ, Inc. Is currently interested in purchasing high quality generic domain names that do not infringe on anyone's intellectual property rights such as,, and

It starts to look like the $800,000 domain is worth its google ads in gold.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Civet Coffee - Best Marketing Campaign Ever ?

Civet Coffee or Kopi Luwak is sold for more than 300$ a Kilo making it one of the most expensive coffee beans in the world.
What's interesting (beside the price) is its method of preparation. Civets are cat-like animals living across southeast Asia that like to eat the best and ripest coffee berries. Enzymes in their digestive system break down the beans. Workers collect the "pre-processed" beans from the plantation floor after they've been "expelled" from the cats. They wash away the dung and roast them to produce the unique coffee.

300$ a kilo for "cat poop coffee" ? Praises for their PR guy... !

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Defeating Your Electronic Shackles

An Israeli prisoner that was forced to wear an electronic shackle that verifies he doesn't violate his home arrest, had outsmarted the device (original article is in Hebrew).
The shackle monitors the suspects relative location and if the suspect leaves a defined detention area, the device signals through the telephone line to the local police. How did he defeat the system ? He stopped paying his telephone bills and his line was disconnected...

From Schneier's

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Safeguard Strategic Installations From Google Mapping

From Yahoo News -

Concerned over satellite images of its strategic installations being made available in the public domain by internet search engine Google, India has decided to constitute an expert group to suggest ways to safeguard the country's interests.

And I was thinking, why should Google go out of its way to blur the Indian buildings ? You want your buildings blurred ? I say build them blurred in the first place... !
On the same note, here are other solutions the Indian expert group might want to consider:
  1. Cover your nuclear reactors with huge shades, paint them with clouds from below and trees from above.
  2. Paint your airport buildings roofs with reflective paint (effective in daylight sweeps only !)
  3. Create a building cover by sewing together thousands of car covers. Cover your governmental buildings before Google sweeps (need inside information here...), remove afterwards.
  4. Place a huge magnifying glass over your atomic establishments (Fire hazard).
  5. Place a huge mirror over your submarine base, reflect the bastard.
  6. Place a huge monitor over your Prime Minister's residences, facing the sky. Broadcast what a second satellite views just a few kilometers away.
  7. Cover your police stations with small mountains.
  8. Build your army bases over modular wheeled plates. Shift them around regularly.

On a more serious note (?) Google should definitely have a "blur API" you can use as a request to blur ones buildings. What about painting a huge crossed "G" over required rooftops ?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Pricing Software Vulnerabilities

Two weeks ago, a person going by the nickname "fearwall" tried to auction a flaw in Excel on eBay, the auction was pulled shortly afterwards (article, screenshot).
It appears that after fearwall reported this Excel-crashing flaw to Microsoft he decided to see how much money he could sell it for.
Currently, it's hard for freelance security researchers to receive monetary compensation for their time. The ones that can actually profit from researching vulnerabilities are the bad guys. Exploiting such a security vulnerability to take control over world-wide machines translates immediately to an easy income as these machines are used to steal bank accounts, spam and advertisements (more information here). As Microsoft and other software companies are somehow not liable for these acts of exploitation, besides the bad publicity behind it, their incentive to research these security holes before launching a new application is not very large.
On the other hand more ethical options for researchers looking to sell vulnerabilities do exist - The iDefense Vulnerability Contributor Program and the 3Com Zero Day Initiative pay anywhere between $100 to $1,000 for a vulnerability.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Crack In The Wiki Model ? Take Two

When it rains, it pours.
It was only logical that after the latest Wikipedia "scandals", kind souls will search deeper to uncover further populist issues with the Wiki model, and that's exactly what technology writer Rogers cadent uncovered.
Rogers found that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, has been busy updating his own biography even though Wikipedia's policy is that these acts should generally be avoided.
Now, it's one thing if Wales was just trying to fix a false bio as happened in previous cases but apparently Wales tried to increase his role in placing the cornerstone of the Wikipedia's concept over that of Larry Sanger and tone down his past association with online adult content.
I'm assuming that Wales didn't want to cover anything up but was just frustrated when he realized that his bio doesn't reflect his own views. Still, there is an issue here and in my view, it is not the problematic editing of one's own biography - rather, we should realize that this kind of views are highly subjective and two different people (Sanger/Wales) given the same facts might still write the article differently being sure each one is right and the other is wrong. As Wikipedia offers no means of final decision (In delicate subjective matters, who can rule who is right and who is wrong ?) the plausible outcome is a Wiki page update war, repeated over and over, which is exactly what happened here.
But is this issue even relevant to the general public ? These subjective views and Wiki wars are not on cornerstone notions as the weight of an Electron or the outcome of world war II, just on miniscule details that should usually hold no interest to the public but only to the participating members, in this case Wales/Sanger (cute comics here). And as predicted, a recent research shows that comparing 42 science-related topics, Wikipedia and Britannica offer quite the same scientific accuracy, so the model seems to hold and here is your bottom line. Or is it ?
Some think not and that is the reason for the upcoming release of "Digital Universe", that would offer a free online encyclopedia moderated by experts. The Digital Universe, by the way, is the brainchild of no other than Larry Sanger...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Spamming For Vigilante Justice

Worms propagating through emails use different techniques to lure unsuspecting recipients into opening an attached document, a new worm replica, that emails itself further and further.
Most worm writers create their email content with Social Engineering in mind. The latest headlines, for example, discussed a Sober worm variant that tries to frighten you into opening an attached "questionnaire" by mentioning that it was sent from the FBI offices after your computer's IP was detected at illegal web sites. Here's an example -

Dear Sir/Madam,
We have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal
Web sites.
Important: Please answer our questions! The list of questions are

Yours faithfully,
Steven Allison
Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI was so concerned by this worm that they've actually rushed to issued a warning on their website.

Now for the punch-line. It appears that a slightly revised version of the above email, caused an alleged pedophile in Germany to hand himself over to the local police after mistaking the automatically generated worm text as an official warning that he was under investigation !

Amazing, though I was somewhat annoyed to see that the different newspapers tried to spin this as the doings of a nice worm writer, while the only intent in the emailer's mind was to cause as many people as possible to install the worm.

On the other hand, that does raise an interesting idea, an experiment of sorts. Suppose someone really tries to call for vigilante justice "the Sober way". He writes the following email and send it to millions randomly selected email addresses across the globe.

You thought you'll get away with this, but guess what ? I've got
it all on tape !!!
Now here's the deal. As much as I'd like to see you rot in jail for the
rest of your life, I'll graciously give you exactly 24 hours to do the right thing and turn yourself in, before I'll make the tape public and your sentence will be
much more painful.

This is my first and last warning and you know I'm not
joking !

Your 24 hours start now -- You know who

What do you think will happen ?