Iran repression: the other side of the technology story

The news has been full this week with stories of what is going on in Iran, and more specifically with how technology is helping protesters get their message out. Without Twitter and its ilk, the story goes, no one would know what was really happening under the boot of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Unfortunately, the protesters are not the only ones benefitting from technology. Iran’s oppressive government, with help from Nokia and Siemens, has implemented a subversion scanning system currently deep-inspecting nearly every piece of data flowing in and out of the country. Apparently this includes virtually all phone calls. Better yet, they are now using crowdsourcing techniques to help put names and addresses to photos of protesters. Protesters who will undoubtedly be “disappeared” once identified.

Those folks in Iran using Twitter to let us know about what is happening there are taking their lives into their own hands, thanks to technology sold, implemented, and serviced by suppliers from supposedly enlightened democratic nations. If I was one of the employees from Nokia or Siemens responsible for their wonderful new spy system, I would be asking my bosses some pretty pointed questions right at the moment. Right before I put in my resignation.

New age health: Neti pot and Salt crystal lamps

I’m not really a gullible person. I tend to prefer claims backed up by multiple reputable research sources. That said, I am willing to try things that are a bit “out there” if the potential negatives are balanced out sufficiently. I mean, even if something doesn’t really work, if it does little or no harm it may help purely via the placebo effect.

This brings me to a couple of things I’ve invested in recently. The first actually has a fair amount of supporting medical research to support it. The second is pretty much debunked. Yet I’ve adopted both into my life, well aware of the limitations of each. I’m referring to the use of neti pots (or nasal lavage) to improve sinus health, and the second is the use of Himalayan salt lamps.

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Facebook landrush: 3 million names registered in first day

I’m not really a Facebook user. I set up an account sometime in 2007, and then promptly forgot my login ID and password. Nothing about Facebook really appealed to me: I’m not sure why, perhaps at least partly because a lot of what it does I had already more or less been doing for a decade with my own website/blog.

However, I heard a few weeks ago that the Facebook folks were going to start allowing people to set up personal or “vanity” urls. So instead of “”, you could have something like “”. I thought I should probably lay claim to some kind of recognizable URL, and so I dug through my old notes and tried to dredge up my old Facebook account information.

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I have Gravatars?

I installed a new WordPress theme several weeks ago. I noticed a couple of days ago that posts had funny looking “blank portrait” images beside them. I right clicked on them, and noticed that the images were linked to Gravatar. I remember reading about “Gravatars” (globally recognized avatars) quite some time ago, but I more or less dismissed it as not relevant to my interests. I think when I read about it, there may have even been charges associated with the service

Well, apparently it is relevant to my interests now. Automattic (the company responsible for WordPress) has acquired the service, and now you can set yourself up there for free. If go to the Gravatar site or alternately have an account on, you can associate an image with your email address… or apparently several images with several different email addresses. Anyway, once you’ve done that, if you use that same email address to identify yourself on a blog or website that supports Gravatars, your image will appear there without further setup.

All of this was news to me, but apparently Gravatar support is actually “baked in” to WordPress since version 2.5, and any “compliant” WordPress theme inherits this support. I didn’t notice it earlier probably because I was using a non-standard theme. None of this probably means much to most of my visitors but… I found it intriguing to discover something I had completely missed. Sort of like discovering an old friend of yours has been hand carving collectable duck decoys for years and you never had a clue they did any such thing. Exactly like that… except completely different.


My “new” antique clock stopped running today. This doesn’t surprise me a lot- it has travelled half way around the world, and it is pretty old, so it being a bit out of sorts is somewhat expected. But I had some learning to do in order to figure out what was going on, and to see if it could be “fixed” without major challenges. I’ve collected some of what I found here for future reference.

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My antique clock arrives

The first thing I bought on eBay is the last to arrive: an antique mantle clock, circa 1870 France, shipped from Germany. It took a long time to get here, and apparently spent a while in Canada Customs. Both the main outer box and one of the internal boxes was opened by our friendly border monitors who were, no doubt, worried that I was receiving… actually, I have no idea what they would have thought I was receiving from Germany. But the clock is here, so now it is time to dig into the details.

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New XBox stuff announced at E3: Natal and full downloads

E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) has suffered through some setbacks in the last few years. The industry show is basically a venue for the manufacturers of computer games and game related products to communicate with the media. Normal citizens like you and I are not allowed to attend. The big vendors like Microsoft and Nintendo decided a few years ago that the show was costing too much money for not enough return, and they withdrew en masse. E3 went through some gyrations to try to re-invent itself, but has basically come back identical to what it was, just a bit smaller. I’m not sure what has really changed, but the big vendors seem to be back.

This post isn’t about E3, though: instead, it is about a couple of interesting (to me) announcements that Microsoft made at the event. Project Natal, a full-body motion interface with no actual controller, and XBox Live full game downloads.

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