What we do is secret: Usernames and passwords part 1.

Are we trapped by passwords?

Usernames and passwords. It’s the price of being online. It’s our key into many websites. We have been using them or decades. Or maybe we’ve been a slave to them. Having to come up with new passwords all the time is a pain. Usernames are a shit fight too. And it’s not getting easier.

In the next two weeks we are going to look at them both – passwords and usernames.

The News of the World controversy came down to passwords. In all the furore over the “hacking” of people’s voicemail, the fall of am empire and the tabloid juice, an under reported question has been – HOW did these people get into voicemails.

Turns out it was the easiest thing in the world – so easy even Paris Hilton worked it out once. Turns out UK phone carriers give you a default voicemail passcode. It’s quite a bit of hoop jumping to change it. Faking your caller ID, trying the default password and bam! You’re in.

Passwords are important, but they are a pain. Technology should make life easier, yet password tech gets more complicated. There’s a tension there. We want to be lazier with our passwords. But we are asked to he more devout than ever.

Whats going to win? The fight for easier acces? Or tougher privacy.

What I wish for is a say. Some simple band forums ask for difficult passwords that are beyond what that site needs. It seems every few years security gets tougher and tougher. The standard these days seems to be more than 8 characters and throw in some numbers.

OK, some sane password practises are good. Don’t use the same password everywhere, for one. But not all sites are equal and not all sites need an insane password combination. Especially when you’re asked to sign up to something.

Facebook are trying to solve this with their “connect” technology. If a site allows, you can just use your Facebook profile to log into other sites. But Facebook is a scary key – I would say Facebook needs a level one password.

So what we need is level two passwords. And a company that makes them. And if that security is breached, then that guy can see my Bob Dylan forum posts, and maybe sign me up to get some more news from my local cinema. And make it work like Facebook Connect – tie it to my browser, and I can easily hop through simple sites that need simple protection.

And then maybe I need a work key. Internal intranets. Mailing list programs. Any array of sites. I have my Apple ID, my Google ID, my Facebook, my work one….seems like a lot. But imagine a window that pops up when you need a password and you can choose which “key” you used. Some saved in your browser – some not.

You wouldn’t have one key for everything in your life. But you wouldn’t be happy to have 100 of them either.

But we are not even having these conversations because hackers are getting better at what they do. Who knows what they can do with my Bob Dylan forum password? It’s fucking annoying, and hackers are cunts. And it seems it’s better to be safe than sorry.

And how scary is it that most operating systems saves your passwords? A stolen computer could destroy every aspect of your life. I am pretty happy my bank does all sorts of crazy things before I can get in.

And it seems passwords are an arms race. They get harder and more complex, and hackers get better at cracking them. There is such minimal work done in shutting down hackers (and spammers) that I don’t see this arms race stopping.

Then there is going beyond passwords.

Retina scanning and all that seems to be the stuff of sci fi, but it might be getting closer than we think. But the question is this – what can we use other than passwords to show the internet that we are really us?

There’s talk of all sorts of scanning. Your touch screen technology on your phone, your camera on your computer could all come into play. Facial recognition software has advanced plenty in the last few years. It’s still a while off, but there is certainly talk of it.

It’s a recurring theme in these columns. If something isn’t working it will be replaced. And I don’t know a single person who thinks passwords work for the internet. Something has to change.

I don’t want to be hacked. No one does. But I have literally hundreds of passwords in my life, due to the fact I have set up accounts for many people. And more often than not, I’m clicking on that little link that says “forgot your password?”.

Lets make it easier for people. If only one step. And not lose security. Surely we are smart enough to do that. A level two password technology that can get me into simple things.

Because technology is supposed to make our lives better, and that better life seems to be locked away. And I’m still waiting for that email to come through to remind me of my password.

Continuous Hit Music: The Only Ones – Special View

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds.

Artist: The Only Ones
Title: Special View
Original Release: 1979
Label: Epic
Store: Egg Records, Newtown, Sydney
Price: $24.99

Eggs Records has become an essential part of the Newtown record scene. It has the biggest range of second hand vinyl, and a fine selection it is. Plenty of 70s and 80s stuff – I picked up lots of Replacements vinyl here. Also the originals of all the Wilco records and other great finds. The only shame about Egg is that they certainly know how to price a record.

It’s old school vinyl-ing. The guys go on buying trips around the world. They are always at the record fairs. They sponsor trivia prizes and are generally part of the record community of Sydney, of Australia and beyond.

But onto this record. The Only Ones.

There was actually several years where the first thing I did in a record store was go to the “O” section. Because I was looking for this album and Oasis’s What’s the Story Morning Glory. I have clear memories of finding one with Isabelle in Perth in 1999 or so. I wanted one ever since.

Special View is not actually an album, but a compilation compiled from two albums, and marketed as an album to the US market (they did the same thing for Robbie WilliamsThe Ego Has Landed). And because of that, it is by far the best Only Ones album.

I loved this band for a while. They were looped into the punk scene, but had a great guitar player and a snarly singer, and didn’t seem to just be angry. I always loved the melodic, new wave-y side of punk best, and this was one of the very first albums that started me down that road.

Of course, I came to them through Another Girl, Another Planet, their timeless hit, probably on a compilation like ‘The World’s Greatest Punk Album Ever’. Then everyone seemed to cover the song – most famously for me, the Replacements. The Reservations covered Another Girl, Another Planet many times.

It is just a blistering song. The sly build up, that rush of guitar soloing, and that snarl! Something about girls, something about planets, and maybe something about drugs. It was endlessly hip.

It is by far the best song on the record, but there are some excellent songs that fill this record out. The Whole Of the Law is a very pretty tropicalia love song. Peter And the Pets should have been a hit. And some decent new wave fare in Out There In the Night, City Of Fun and more. It’s better than, say, Blondie.

So after over a decade of hunting for it, I was pretty happy to find this on vinyl, finally. I don’t really listen to the band anymore, but was really happy to revisit it. As far as I know, this record has never been reissued and so this is an original Epic printing (with the awesome Epic label on the record). $24.99 is a pretty Egg records price. Expensive but where else are you going to get it?

Special View has now been superceded by deluxe editions of their three albums, a hits collection and a complete collection. Shame, because lots of American fans, and myself, know and love this album in this order and sequence. And this album cover – once again great.

Oh well. They can erase it from history. I have my copy now.

PS. I saw a reuinited Only Ones on telly a couple of years ago and they looked awful. I could not even fake interest to go.

Wk32: I predict a riot – technology in the age of protest.

I wanna riot...

I make lists of topics for this blog, and more for months I have been sitting on the idea of writing about technology’s use in events of social unrest. Well, looks like the events in London will bring this one forward.

Although this might get a tad polotical, it’s political about the technology and how people feel about it rather than the events of the actual riots.

It was only recently that technology played a part in social unrest and political protest. It happened mainly in the middle east. People in Egypt organised themselves using social media. They were so effective that the government actually shut the internet down.

That didn’t deter people. Through clever use of phone lines linked to twitter, people could say tweets and still spread the word. People could actually speak their tweets. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/feb/01/google-twitter-egypt) In the wider world, we applauded the people of the middle east for not letting a facist government shut them down. They were called innovators.

That was January. And the technology world moves fast.

The role of social media has gotten quite a lot of attention in the London Riots. I am going to be forgiving and suggest it’s because we all want answers, and in this 24 hour news cycle, everything is being picked apart. Some poor editor out there is going for new angles to try and save their business.

But it’s the uneasy vibe of these headlines. As if Social Media is helping these kids wreck this city. People are talking about Blackberry messenger as if it was some new system that thugs have made up to hide from the public.

It reveals, for me, the darker side of the public perception of social media. Or maybe it’s just the right wing, insecure part of the public. But let’s not forget that a lot of people are scared of new technology, and social media is one of the big ones.

Following people’s comments on twitter, there were plenty of people calling for the shutdown of the Blackberry messenger service, and lesser so, Twitter and Facebook. The fact they were saying this on Twitter seemed to be lost on them.

These people come from the same insanity that Murbarak did. Looking at the riots and thinking, isn’t there an off switch for this? Has Apple made an App for that? Murbarak actually managed to turn the internet off. People calling for Blackberry to step in were left having to scream at a wall.

So what actually happened?

So, to the surprise of no one, all these kids have phones. And they talk to eachother with them. Then, to the surprise of no one with half a brain, they use Blackberry messenger. Like a lot of people. I’ve used it a lot. Why? Because it’s free.

Blackberry started life as a business tool. Sending emails and a phone together. They added, in the background, a little chat service. But what it really turned out to be was more like Twitter – leaving short messages. But direct to one user – NOT public.

Lots of people in my world use Blackberry Messenger. And so do these kids, it seems. They also use Facebook and Twitter. And god knows what else. This is not a new thing. To imagine that these gangs learnt a whole new broadcast and chat program just so they can riot is insane. That they chose one that is pretty secure is only half luck. Blackberry’s technology is old, cumbersome and on the descent. No one has even tried to crack it. No one gave a shit.

Social Media is a broadcast network – and it’s filled by the words of people. We cannot and should not censor it.

It has made it easier for people from all walks of life to gather. Be it protesters or rioters, of even the nutjobs who attended that recent Christ rally in the US. Social media unites people with similar interests.

And lets not forget the good social media did at the same time. So much information and communication about trouble areas, what the avoid and even on the basic level, how dangerous it was. God knows how many more idiots would have hit the streets thinking that it was an over reaction if not for the sea of Facebook and Twitter updates.

Google Maps of fires popped up within minutes. People were checking of friends and family. And the clean up project has been powered by social media. Using the same technology, strangers of all walks of life and gathering to clean up this mess. Should we kick them off Twitter too?

In the coming days, the British Conservatives will ask Blackberry to hand over the data. It will be a sad day if they do. Especially as they took such a stand in Egypt and the Middle East. And it will set a precedent. Will goverments be able to get private data from undesirables.

There will be a price to pay for the riots. People will hate kids even more. The fires of racism will rise and the BNP will probably win a few extra seats. And in the tech world, we might see tighter controls, censorship, big brother-ism and more mistrust. It will take a pretty extraordinary people and government to not go down that scared route. And David Cameron is the last person in the world to be extraordinary.

And yes, there are lots of important issues surrounding these riots to consider. But this is a digital culture blog. So shut up.

Technology doesn’t choose politics. The rioters in London and the protesters in Egypt are different people. But they were both better served by our advances in technology. That’s the way the world is now.

Don’t let the irrationally scared set policy. Because this is going to happen again.

In our fractured world, people are going to want to stop people gathering in groups, and letting ideas take shape. And technology brings us together and helps us develop ideas. If anything, the clash is going to get bigger. And then we’ll have a real fight on our hands.

Continuous Hit Music: Radio Birdman – Radios Appear

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds.

Artist: Radio Birdman
Title: Radios Appear
Original Release: July 1977 (1978)
Label: Trafalgar
Reissue Label: 4 Men With Beards (2010)
Store: Hum on King Street, Newtown, Sydney
Price: $24.99

Newtown in Sydney, the part of town I’ve been drawn to for all my years in Sydney, has been pretty good with record stores. Even with the fall of CD stores left and right, the three on King Street survived the last five years. Pretty amazing.

HUM is a small chain store, but a pretty hip one. The Newtown store stocks a healthy shelf of new release vinyl, and they keep some in their store window to entice passers by. It’s a good place to pick up something new, say an Arctic Monkeys record. They order a lot and not all of it moves. I found this album in a small pile of lightly discounted new records. The price sticker for $34.99 crossed out and it cost $24.99.

Radio Birdman. You know, of all those underground 80s Australian bands, the Birdman are not my favourites. I guess I leaned towards the wussier side of things – Go-Betweens and that. But they are as good a raw and dirty rock band as any produced, anywhere in the world. And this album, their debut, has some of their signature songs – New Race and Aloha Steve & Danno are probably the ones people have heard of. Both blistering pieces of rock. But there are longer, dirge-ier moments and I have to confess, that stuff loses me sometimes.

Still, this is the record I reach for when I want to hear Birdman. Anglo Girl Desire. Their cover of You’re Gonna Miss Me. Non Stop Girls. Damn this is a good record. I would even say this album is a better introduction than any of the best-ofs out there.

I discovered Birdman, along with 50 other important bands, from Clinton Walker‘s wonderful book Stranded. They are given great importance in that book as being pioneers. Pretty interesting that they missed out completely from Triple J’s recent Hottest 100 Australian albums poll. It made number 13 in the book The 100 Greatest Australian Albums.

This version is actually the international tracklisting and cover. I want to be a stickler for the original Australian version – but I just can’t. Just look at that beautiful album sleeve. It is just the best. Possibly the best Australian album cover ever. And whoever looks after their catalogue should be shot. It takes Americans to reissue and take care of their music. The original might be a bit more pure, but this version cuts out a stooges cover and adds Aloha… so as sacrilegious as it sounds, this is my version of this record. And it’s the one I grew up with.

4 Men With Beards are an interesting vinyl reissue label. I am seeing their logo on more and more releases. And they have pretty great tastes. Velvets, Gainsbourg, Burrito Brothers – really evergreen stuff. Their stuff also sounds really great, their records are sturdy and their print work is top notch. This record comes with an insert – I don’t know if it’s a recreation of the original but it’s nice. Pretty happy that there’s a lot of 4 Men stuff getting into the country. (The sleeve says the record is manufactured by Rhino – so perhaps 4 Men are really just facilitators?)

I don’t think this record, this reissue is particularly rare. But I’m pretty thrilled to own this record on vinyl – if only for that awesome album cover looking in all it’s glory. Let the Birdman fly, eh?

Wk31: Wait A Minute Mr Postman – The Problem With Email

Is this really the best way to deliver your mail?

Have you ever sat in a corporate seminar that taught you how to email? I have. Many times.

One time, the instructor told us this: that emails are legally binding documents, like mail. And should be treated like mail. Like legal documents.

This is, of course, bullshit.

Email is like language itself. We, the people, define it. And we have decided that the formal document is just one of it’s many uses.

But when we divide up what we use email for, we see that other alternatives are creeping up.

The crux of all this is that email serves a lot of purposes. And some people treat it like one thing.

It can be quick sharp text messaging.
It can be short notes and banter
It can be a long letter
It can be a 40 page report.
It can be….anything.

With links and attachments, emails can be absolutely anything.

And we send 107,000,000,000 of them a year.

But are they the best at everything? It’s quickly seeming like a no.

It seems insane that email might become redundant. And maybe we will replace it in parts.

Email has it’s limits and it’s drawbacks.

Spam is a problem. I hate keeping track of people’s changing emails. Both those problems are solved in Facebook’s message system. Some universities don’t give their new students email addresses. They get a social media account.

I don’t have to update my Facebook address book when someone changes work. It’s constantly updated for me. In a way, Sean Parker’s failed dream of Plaxo has come true.

Think about it. Before Facebook, there was still a chance you could lose track of someone. If you don’t have their email address, then what?

Spam is less of a problem on Facebook too. A Spam Robot can’t trawl the net for your Facebook inbox and send you a message. Those message are protected.

Ok, yes, there’s limits. No attachments. And maybe you want the odd unsolicited message. And more.

Let’s get to those.

Why else do people use email?

I subscribe to things. Band newsletters, site updates etc. And Twitter is just far better for that. And more instant. Most mailing list send outs have a link to read them online. And they will never go to spam if I just follow the headlines from Twitter.

No attachments? Plenty of sites to store files. As we head into an era of could computing, why send me that mp3? Why not just share it with me on my the cloud? Who needs downloads?

The irony, of course, is that most of these services take an email to sign up to. Facebook’s Connect service is a big challenge to that. Some sites like Rootmusic allow you sign in from your Facebook account – no email required EVER.

Emails are easier to store, and easier to file. But not THAT easy. I’ve been dragging certain emails around for years. And have lost many more. My gmail account, almost a decade old, is unsearchable, full of crap.

The fact it’s supposed to be everything is one of it’s problems. Useless notifications about some WordPress setting are mixed in with important receipts. Newsletters mixed with work figures. Personal emails mixed with links to jokes.

Everyone has thousands of emails under their belt. Thousands is probably cutting it short by a long way. Millions is more like it. Being a desk jockey, my whole job is just pushing emails around. Is this really the best way to communicate?

Google Wave is considered now a failure, but I thought it was interesting. The Google team obviously thought about what was wrong with emails tried to address them. Instead of twenty mails back and forth about one thing, it all sits in one “conversation”. It wasn’t perfect, but they tried to address the way people loop in others or exclude people as email trails grow and grow.

It might sound like a small issue but all that crap you get at the top when you reply to an email – the “to” and “from” stuff. Useless. Sometimes I have something to send but cannot be fucked coming up with a subject title all the time.

Email has not really developed the way just about everything else online has. I can’t embed videos. File sizes are still a problem.It is a formatting nightmare all around. And they aren’t as instant as they first seemed. God knows how many times I’ve asked someone if they have my email yet.

Spam and security are still issues. I still have to manually allow graphics in my emails in most cases. Most identity fraud and hack jobs use email as their way in. Yet we still hang on to email as our main means of communicating with eachother.

It’s one of the nice things about technology. If what you have isn’t perfect, and not improving, then someone somewhere is quietly reinventing it.

And email is far from perfect, and definitely not improving.

A few years ago, friends of mine started to abandon the landline. It was a bit risky, but they felt like they never used it. They will learn to live without it.

Maybe that day is coming for email. Not soon, but it’s coming.

It’s an interesting experiment to think about. Can a person survive without an email address these days? And if not, are we getting closer to the point where that can be true?

It’s obviously unfeasible right now. But not so impossible as we once thought.