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Admiring Sociopaths

Image by David Shankbone

Rupert Murdoch

THE corporate media has trained people — very effectively in fact — to worship money. The admiration of wealth can be achieved through subtle insinuations that those who have more money are therefore smarter (false causality argument) and that a man or woman who surrounds him/herself with a lot of belongings is most certainly always happier. The reality is a lot more complex and can probably be realised quickly by speaking frankly to those whom the media glamourises. Famously, it was reported that Charlie Chaplin spoke to Einstein about fame and said that it was all worthless, or at least something along those lines. So why is it that there are still so many people out there who envy and glamourise socipaths like Steve Jobs?

Jobs is given as just one example among many — and one that recently died. People close to Jobs attest to the Jobs experience, people some of whom end up clarifying amid his death that he was rude. In his younger days, long before he was a billionaire, this man lied to the court under oath in order to disown his daughter, so we cannot quite defend this man’s character by saying that he lost his way after he met “success” (as in money).

The reason we are urged to admire rich sociopaths is testament to the fact that the biggest media is owned by the biggest corporations and the PR industry has become so vast that those with money get more access to our minds.

Remember to appreciate people for the small things they do in their everyday life and not based on newspaper headlines that often just serve a publicity purpose for affluent people. If only more people had harnessed the skill of being sceptical of the mainstream press…

Bizarre Week, More Predictable One Ahead

[Or in general, what has been going on]

Once a year I take a break from the Internet, usually for about a week. This need not mean being absent from the Net altogether, just a lot less omnipresent (if present at all). Last year I took my longest break ever (well, since the 90s) from the Internet, lasting about 5 days of zero access to the Net. It was an interesting experience. Usually I take these breaks in summer, but due to problems with the Internet connection (although I do work to have it restored in the new house as quickly as is feasible) this time it happens in spring. Anyway, for those who might be interested, here are my experiences when stepping offline after virtually ‘living’ on the grid on a daily basis for 51 weeks.

First of all, despite initial expectations, there is not much of a yearning to get back online. When the train of thought is interrupted and online activity slips out of mind, so is the desire to get back in there. Typically, there is a feedback loop such as conversations with people and it’s this type of cycle that make it disruptive upon departure. Productivity-wise, being offline is not more productive, but it depends on the definition of productive; activities merely change a bit. It is probably a lot harder taking 7 single days off throughout the year than it is to take one week off. It’s something to do with workflow. Similarly, when it comes to coding, it often works better if a week is set aside and dedicated just to code; transitions that are too frequent lead to mental baggage and distraction; separation between home and work computer sometimes helps eliminate the temptation to mix the two.

Anyway, as I digress, hopefully (if BT keeps its promise) I will be properly back online next week. The ISP is a very bad deal (more expensive than the rivals), but it’s supposed to be unlimited without restrictions, although BT loves to embed antifeatures like throttling and Phorm (spying on packets). Until then I am focused on getting research and development done; in addition, when time permits, I re-plan the operation of Techrights which once a year requires a rethink because technology changes and means of disseminating information (e.g. IRC, microblogging, audiocasting) make delivery a constantly-changing turf. Those who stick to “traditional” paradigms like “old media” did (e.g. newspapers) are doomed to become extinct because everything evolves.

I currently have three jobs, one of which is the business I start with some friends and people whom I know can offer me contracts. This oughtn’t interfere with my operation of this site as well as Techrights (I own about 6 domains at the moment, but these two are by far the most major ones), in fact in some ways these are complementary. There has been a lot of social life recently; now, that — unlike the jobs — can really come to the expense of hobby Web sites. Maybe sleep can give way.

Identi.ca is Fun

Observation

FOR about 5 days now I’ve been spending an increased amount of time over at Identi.ca, which has a very pleasant community and helps enhance interaction with people who appreciate freedom. It can be similar in some ways to Google Wave or to Novell Pulse (thus the image above), but it is built entirely on free/libre software (AGPL). May I recommend that you too, dear reader, join the site and join the fun?

As an aside, for 3 days in a row now I’ve been the most prolific user there. A new addiction? Hopefully not. Addictions are never good.

Microsoft Engages in Marketing Crimes, Caught Astroturfing

Due to recent (and suspicious) trolling activity I’ve promised to post some new examples of Microsoft astroturfing.

Let it be clear that the following are not speculations. Most of them are clear examples that are well recorded, confirmed, and they are also quite recent (there are far more known examples if one goes further into the past). The issue has become so serious that the EU has decided to crack down on fake blogger astroturfing.

But back to the web, and with sneaky marketing campaigns likely to be more effective than upfront marketing campaigns, what is stopping companies from simply risking it and continuing existing practices?

First, you are encouraged to have a look at this comprehensive ‘smoking gun’ court exhibit. Therein, Microsoft actually provides an admission that it intends to pay supposedly ‘independent’ professionals to praise Microsoft in public. But let’s consider some more recent evidence and examples, shall we?

Here is a case that got exposed a few months ago. Microsoft secretly paid influential bloggers to recite Microsoft slogans.

The stodgy old media industry has a rule that newspaper reporters, and TV news hosts, shouldn’t trade on their public trust to endorse products.

They got exposed and harshly criticised (only by a single site). Where was the press? No coverage of Microsoft astroturfing? Is the story not important enough? Were journalists scared of Microsoft’s wrath? Regardless:

What would possess a collection of online publishers and venture capitalists to pimp a Microsoft advertising slogan?

Valleywag today reported about a site tied to a Microsoft ad campaign where the likes of Michael Arrington, Om Malik and others seemingly lend their support to the “people-ready” catchphrase.

I sent e-mails both to Arrington and Malik and–surprise, surprise–heard nothing back. (Obviously, they are not yet sufficiently “Coop-ready.”) Microsoft was still checking for me into whether money exchanged hands. But even if not a single shekel exchanged hands, I must wonder about the absence of common sense. Why would ostensibly independent voices come across as Microsoft shills? If they were hoping for a free dinner with Bill Gates, there are smarter ways to go about it.

Here’s more from the marketing person who is responsible for this scam.

“The main thing I’m pissed off about right now is that they pulled all the ads, which mean we’re taking a revenue hit. We’re running a business here, and have payroll to make. We run ads to make that payroll. Those ads have now been pulled.”

Microsoft once again corrupts confidence in the blogsphere. They turn ‘citizen journalists’ to marketing people in disguise.

Microsoft uses proxies to hire its shills, but you can always follow the money (if you try hard enough) and find Microsoft.

The sad fact is that Microsoft needn’t even hire many shills when it can keep its own employees very busy.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates emphasized the importance of blogging in a May 2004 speech during the company’s annual CEO summit. But Gates doesn’t blog; same for Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

[...]

Many Microsoft employees do blog, reportedly more than 4,000 of them. The number of employee bloggers was comparatively quite small, about 300, before the launch of Channel 9 and the success of Scoble’s blog.

Last year could be called year of the blog at Microsoft. Employee blogrolls swelled and Microsoft bloggers disseminated lots of vital information about the company. Increasingly, employee bloggers are becoming Microsoft’s primary evangelists. They are certainly a group over which the company can exact some control and which can spin information to Microsoft’s advantage.

I’ve personally seen cases where Microsoft employees in disguise attacked the authors of open source blogs. It was only IP address lookups that revealed this.

The following two reports lack confirmation, but they are noteworthy nonetheless.

1. Example from October 2007:

Unleash the Astro-Turfers!

Already on Apple oriented developer mailing lists one can see the astro-turfing has begun. A really amateurish attempt by ‘Mac Developer’ (no one uses a stupid handle like that) turned up today.

2. Just shortly beforehand:

It’s unfortunate that paid blogging is becoming all the more prevalent in communities like 1UP. And it’s not just the blogs or reviews, it’s also the message boards. Microsoft, for instance, also has a person (or people?) who is paid to post on some of the popular gaming boards (and no, Jeff Bell wasn’t part of that plan). But it’s not just Microsoft — I know of a few other game publishers who pay users to blog. They don’t necessarily require bloggers to say positive things about their products, but it’s certainly implied with the paychecks.

What bums me out about all this viral stuff is that, to some extent, you don’t know who to trust anymore. There was a time when, if you no longer believed in what the professional editors where saying, you could at least count on your fellow gamers for honest opinions. Not anymore. In a sense, perhaps that helps elevate the importance of the professional word once again, which I suppose is a good thing for us. But I’m still not happy about it.

What do you think about this one?

Microsoft regularly flies customers and industry experts to its campus in Washington to listen to the feedback given by those people.The company invites dozens of key customers and partners to the event,where they spend brainstorming as a group.But as of late, Microsoft has changed it’s strategy and the company is making extensive use of blogs to get direct customer feedback.

Within a year,more than 1000 Microsoft employee blogs featured developers and product managers talking directly to customers every day, instead of once a year.Microsoft employees read dozens of blogs every day to see how customers react to Microsoft products and services. In fact,Microsoft employees have taken a bigger leap and even contribute to other’s blogs in the expanding space of Blogosphere.

How about this one?

Microsoft has announced the “Microsoft BlogStars” contest, to Hunts for Developer Bloggers in India. After feeling the power and increase of the Bloggers community in India, Microsoft tries to trap and hunt Bloggers in India to buildup the blogging community, for writing blog posts supporting towards Microsoft Technologies.

Remember the Ferrari laptops fiasco?

A former Microsoft manager said it was a case of bribing bloggers.

This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I’m upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers. Don’t even get me started about PayPerPost.

Another article: Microsoft’s Laptop Giveaway Becoming PR Disaster?

This thing is starting to feel like a PR disaster. Bloggers are starting to smell blood and this thing very well may begin to turn into yet another episode of bloggers gone wild.

And another one from eWeek: Bribing Bloggers

It’s a bribe. Period. You say nice things about us, you get nice things from us. Heck, just say neutral things about us-we’ll give you a killer new laptop and we know that you’ll be inclined to say better things about us.

You must have gotten the impression that Microsoft had learned its lesson and stopped that sort of laptop giveaway. But no! 4 months later I found evidence that Microsoft carried on with this malpractice.

Microsoft Belgium rang me yesterday (I don?t think they realised it was a public holiday here!).

[...]

The phone call yesterday was to confirm my address – the laptop (a Sony Vaio – dunno which model or spec yet) is en route with Vista Ultimate and Office Ultimate pre-installed.

Let’s not get started with the issue of brainwashing and pressuring journalists because that could make another very extensive post. To give just a couple of examples, consider these:

1. The Inquirer, renowned for its anti-Microsoft biases, got invited for some Microsoft ‘treatment’.

The Vole (Microsoft) supposedly invited The INQ over for tea because we are notorious “Microsoft doubters” – and we were accompanied by other supposed Vole doubters such as the folk from lifehacker and a very nice man from Slashdot, as well as some Microsoft MvPs.

As you can see, the Inquirer was not alone. There was a party, and there was plenty of Kool-Aid for everyone!

2. Linux.com (yes, a Linux site) is no exception.

I spent December seventh, eighth, and ninth in Seattle as Microsoft’s guest. Microsoft flew me there from Florida at its expense, put me up in a nice hotel, provided decent food, and comped me and four other invitees to this “special conference” with presentations about the marvels of Vista and other recent or upcoming Microsoft products. They didn’t quite play the old Beatles song “Love Me Do” in the background, but it was the event’s unstated theme.

What do you reckon? Would that journalist think twice about criticising Microsoft after a jolly good time and freebies from Microsoft?

Going further into the past, there are far more examples, but in order to keep the length of this post moderate, we’ll provide just two examples:

1. The Los Angeles Times ‘dared’ to expose the sort of manipulation we are still seeing today (even amidst the ISO/OOXML fiasco).

In 2001, the Los Angeles Times accused Microsoft of astroturfing when hundreds of similar letters were sent to newspapers voicing disagreement with the United States Department of Justice and its antitrust suit against Microsoft. The letters, prepared by Americans for Technology Leadership, had in some cases been mailed from deceased citizens or nonexistent addresses.

Notice the fact that once again, as usual, Microsoft uses one of its proxies to do the ‘dirty work’. One need only follow the money though.

2. Going further into the past, remember OS/2?

Some years back, Microsoft practiced a lot of dirty tricks using online mavens to go into forums and create Web sites extolling the virtues of Windows over OS/2. They were dubbed the Microsoft Munchkins, and it was obvious who they were and what they were up to. But their numbers and energy (and they way they joined forces with nonaligned dummies who liked to pile on) proved too much for IBM marketers, and Windows won the operating-system war through fifth-column tactics

Should honest guys finish last? â–ˆ [originally published in Boycott Novell]

The Impact of Trolls

IN recent days, attacks on my character have returned and they are reaching a peak. I mentioned this before on various occasions in this blog, but it is worth repeating. Some of the stuff that you find on the Web with my name attached to it is fake. You cannot assume anything which has my name as the poster (even with a valid E-mail address and homepage URL) is really from myself. Forgeries have gone quite far, even as far as Digg. Check out these fake accounts/images for example:

These are only a few examples among more from Digg and there are similar cases of forgery in several other places.

I digitally sign all my outgoing E-mail messages, but I don’t/cannot do this when posting in Web sites other than my own. Moreover, in USENET, it leads to unnecessary clutter. Digital signatures cannot be verified by people who are not IT-savvy, either. Most people are foreign to the very notion.

I don’t know if people are targeting me specifically and I prefer to think it is not the case. Bear in mind, however, that I insisted that those who attack me cannot be paid (or ‘compensated’ by companies that dislike my postings), but my friends are certain that they are, which has me frustrated. Maybe I’m being naive, but the attackers use open proxies (zombies) for anonymity, which speaks volumes.

Some of the abusive posters have done this for many years and death threats were made too. At the moment, others defend me so sometimes I don’t have to, with the exception of many cases where people pretend to be me and post to many forums lies such as “I cut off my [put whatever you like here]“. They also use e libel to try and portray me as a criminal. Some said I should contact Homeland Security.

The trolling has reached my own sites, but I use IP block lists to stop this. One of the abusers has been trying (compulsively) to enter the site almost every day for about a month (since s/he was blocked for flooding blog posts with very libelous things). In other sites, my comments get attacked, ranked poorly en masse (as a matter of principle for who I am, not the content being posted) with attacks on character in particular.

I know people who never let go their identity on the Web. They did the right thing by staying invisible. Anything you say or write can be used against you. I’ve had someone harass an artist to pressure me to take down an image and then there were hundreds of messages accusing me of being a ‘pirate’. They’ll use anything they can (and make stuff up!) to use against me. They repeat and repeat (Big Lie propaganda technique). Those who know me can ignore, but I don’t know outsiders might think. It’s frustrating, but it won’t stop me.

I was told that would be worthwhile to write about this in public, maybe just for future reference. I know someone who decided never to write or comment on another site, which cannot be controlled. I’m not ready to do this yet.

Beyond Just Being Rude…

[sarcastic tone filled with amazement /]

THERE’S rudeness and there’s unbelievable tactlessness. This morning I witnessed both.

So…

There I was going to the swimming pool only to find out that in a nearby jacuzzi, a couple decided it would be acceptable to have sex. Not quite so secretly, either. Later on it turned out that I was not the only one who saw this. That the couple almost refused to behave or just leave in shame. The unfortunate thing is that a father with two kids complained about it as well. Not that these very young children could actually understand what was going on…

I have a 2-year old photo of the jacuzzi that I speak of…

Jacuzzi

Sometimes, adults can act like children.

The Good Life? Only for Aristocrats

Wine bottle

A long time ago I mentioned the UK rich list, which actually got this site many visits I do not really deserve. For what it’s worth, here are some more shocking figures.

Richest 2% own ‘half the wealth’

The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute.

I find this highly disturbing and this requires immediate change, or else society will collapse. Environmental issues aside (they are partly a result of greed), the gap between the rich and the poor seems to be widening. I am not entirely sure about it, but it seems as though the middle class gradually vanishes, which is something that projects such as the one-laptop-per-child (OLPC) concept try to address and resolve. Here’s another BBC article. It was published earlier today and it elaborates on this very humane initiative.

$100 laptop project eyes launch

Ultimately the project’s backers hope the machines could sell for as little as $100 (£55).

The first countries to sign up to buying the machine include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand.

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