Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
With only two days until National Day and the start of a week long holiday in celebration of 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the security noose around Beijing has tightened further still. The physical presence is very obvious. There is a police officer on virtually every street corner in the centre of Beijing. Police and SWAT teams are stationed outside many subway stations armed with QBZ-95 assault rifles and holstered QSZ-92 automatic pistols. Some have even been sporting razor sharp bayonets on their rifles. At other key locations armoured personnel carriers belonging to China's elite Snow Wolf Commando Unit are parked up. Surrounding them are armed personnel wearing balaclavas. Quite what their remit is remains unclear, though regular police can be seen carrying out identity paper checks and spot checks on cars and lorries.
Beyond the show of force, there are less obvious restrictions and controls. Beijingers have been told to stay inside their homes on National Day if they live on the parade route. Hotels along or near the route have been fully booked, mostly by government officials. Others have had to shut. Bars and businesses have also been told to close their doors. On the day there will be a virtual lock-down of central Beijing where, unless one has the right paperwork, there will be no crossing of certain checkpoints.
Kite flying has been forbidden as is the releasing of balloons or even pigeons. It is not known what measures might be taken against any bird that might stray too close to the ceremony which is due to start at around 10 am Beijing time on Thursday, October 1.
More subtle but just as far reaching are tighter controls on the Internet. Since March one major service after another has been unavailable except through a proxy or VPN [Virtual Private Network] based outside China. Many of Google's services have fallen victim to the blocks with YouTube, Picasa Web, Blogger and even Google News services affected. But over the last month those restrictions have become much tighter. Freegate and Ultrasurf, programs that have enabled people to jump over the so-called Great Firewall have themselves been blocked.
A new 'emergency' version of Freegate became available this week, though for many trying to obtain a copy will prove difficult in itself. It appears that it is all an effort to hide any bad news in the lead up to National Day. Stabbings in central Beijing with left 2 dead and at least a dozen injured was not widely reported. And soon after an American living in Beijing posted pictures of last week's explosion at a restaurant on Twitpic, the site which had not previously been blocked, became unavailable.
On Monday this week the Internet was extremely slow in Beijing, despite a supposed 4Mb/s service. Links continually failed especially to foreign news services. While the Internet seemed relatively stable on Tuesday it appeared that yet another Google service had become a victim of Chinese government interference. Since the early hours of Tuesday Google Docs was unavailable with only the usual 'Error' message being displayed.
Twitter wasn't exactly alive with comments. After all Twitter itself is blocked unless using a proxy or one of a few gadgets that circumvent the firewall. Most comments came from Chinese Twitter users, well versed in jumping hoops around Internet censorship.
"The GFW [Great Firewall] is too tough" said one user. Others spoke of their frustration at not being able to access documents or even to work properly. While it appears Gmail and iGoogle are unaffected, there is continued uncertainty as to how reliant one can be on cloud computing in China. Using the Internet is frustrating at the best of times but if restrictions such as this continue, business will surely be affected, especially for western companies more familiar with Google and other similar services. There are work-arounds of course. Other online editing systems like Zoho offer similar services and are so far unaffected, but for how long. The blocks also appear to be sporadic with some saying they could access Google docs while for others all that was returned was an error page.
In less than two weeks the celebrations will all be over. Maybe the restrictions will lift. But then again there are yet more 'special days' ahead. There is the Expo in Shanghai in 2010 and there will no doubt be more controversial anniversaries for the authorities to worry about. If using the Internet in China, one will probably be seeing this for a long time to come: "ERROR The requested URL could not be retrieved While trying to retrieve the URL: http:// www google com / search? The following error was encountered: Read Error The system returned: (104) Connection reset by peer An error condition occurred while reading data from the network. Please retry your request."
Monday, September 28, 2009
Google marked its eleventh birthday on Sunday with a redesigned logo which displayed "Goog11e". However the search engine giant's actual birthday is somewhat in dispute. Last year, Google put up its 10th birthday logo on the 2nd September and, according to Wikipedia, Google was incorporated as a privately held company on the 4th September 1998. Google could also choose to celebrate on the 15th September, the date when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin registered Google's domain name while they were still PhD students at Stanford University.
Google actually began as a research project as far back as January 1996 though it did not become publicly available until sometime later. Originally, the search engine used the Stanford University website with the domain google.stanford.edu. The domain google.com was registered on September 15, 1997, and the company was incorporated as Google Inc. on September 4 1998 at a friend's garage in Menlo Park, California.
The company has now become a household name and if often described as the world's favourite search engine. In China it still struggles however as it faces stiff competition from locally based Baidu as well as continued interference by government censors.
Google's name originated from the misspelling of the word 'googol', the name applied to a one followed by 100 zeros. The company has been busy changing its logos in recent weeks. A series of logos depicting UFOs had many on the Internet puzzling over Google's hidden message until all was revealed with one depicting Martian spaceships on what would have been the author H.G. Wells 143rd birthday. Wells is well known for his book the War of the Worlds.
Google often marks key events with logo changes, a click on which takes the Internet user to a Google search for the subject in question. Today they marked the birthday of Chinese philosopher Confucious. He would be 2,560 today. One of Confucious's well known quotations is, "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others" (己所不欲，勿施於人). This is very much in line with Google's own unofficial company slogan of "Don't be evil".
Friday, September 25, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
It is clear tat China sees Africa as important. Chinese President Hu Jintao speaking during Bozizé's visit, said, "China attaches great importance to the friendship with Central Africa, and we are willing to work with Central Africa to create a new era for our bilateral ties." But as to the real substance of cooperation, the details are rarely explained. Xinhua, China's state news organisation, often seen as just a propaganda mouthpiece for the government, is often vague and ambiguous.
Anyone familiar with the tern Newspeak, as described in the novel 1984 by George Orwell, will see similarities with the way stories are often reported by Xinhua. The reports talk of "personnel and cultural exchanges and cooperation" and efforts to "build platforms for expanding cultural, educational, sanitary, media and non-governmental exchanges, so as to deepen mutual understanding and develop friendship."
The rhetoric spoken by politicians is often empty and in China the same is true. "China and Central Africa are friends as well as friendly and cooperative partners," Chinese president Hu said. It has always been the Chinese government's persistent policy to develop long-term, stable, friendly and cooperative relations with Central Africa on the basis of sincerity, equality and mutual benefit, Xinhua also quoted him as saying.
There were few if any comments from Bozizé himself. Xinhua merely stating the Central African president "fully agrees with Hu's notion." With $59.3 million in debt reduced to $3.7 million by the West and with lucrative deals made with China, President Bozizé was probably very happy to agree.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The judge at Woolwich Crown Court said their aim was a terrorist outrage to "stand alongside" the 9/11 attacks in the US. Mr Justice Henriques called the plot "the most grave and wicked conspiracy ever proven within this jurisdiction". Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the sentences "reflected the severity of this horrendous plot to kill and maim thousands of people". He also praised the police and security services who he described as a "national asset."
"I'm satisfied that there is every likelihood that this plot would have succeeded but for the intervention of the police and the security service," Johnson said. "Had this conspiracy not been interrupted, a massive loss of life would almost certainly have resulted - and if the detonation was over land, the number of victims would have been even greater still."
The men showed no emotion when sentences were read out, though Ahmed Ali shook his head and appeared angry and frustrated at earlier sentencing remarks from the judge. "With this plot you sought the attention of the world and now you have it," Mr Justice Henriques had told him. "You have embraced Islamic extremism and it is that burning extremism that has motivated you throughout this conspiracy and is likely to drive you again."
The men's defence had been that they were planning a political stunt, including small explosions intended only to frighten people at airports. These 'political demonstrations' would be backed up by a documentary aimed at changing opinion on Western foreign policy.
Ahmed Ali, Sarwar and Hussain, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder using explosives on aircraft. They were also convicted of a more general conspiracy to murder offence. A fourth man, Umar Islam, 31, convicted of the more general conspiracy to murder charge, was also given a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 22 years in prison.
Meanwhile the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, is seeking a retrial of three other men for conspiracy to murder, after the jury failed to reach a verdict on this charge against them. A hearing on 5th October will decide whether Ibrahim Savant, 28, Arafat Khan, 28, and Waheed Zaman, 25, will face another trial.
The uncovering of the liquid bomb plot in August 2006 caused chaos in the global aviation industry and prompted continuing restrictions to the amount of liquids passengers can take on to aircraft. This had meant "massive expenditure" and "huge inconvenience for the travelling public" as a direct result of the plot, the judge said during his summing up. "Tons of liquids are confiscated from the public on a daily basis at airports," he said.
Passengers travelling by airlines may often be restricted to bottles of liquid no larger than 100 ml. The restrictions have also stretched to other key locations such as tourist sites and concert venues. In Beijing all liquids, including bottled water, were confiscated from concert goers at a recent performance in July by Stefanie Sun at the Workers' Stadium despite sweltering temperatures. They could however but drinks inside though there was only Coca Cola available in large paper cups at 10 yuan each. No reason for the confiscation was given other than a stated general security risk.
Similar restrictions also currently apply at the Forbidden City in Beijing. According to the Beijing Youth Daily published on 28th August visitors would be banned from entering the tourist attraction with bottles containing water, alcohol or any other liquids. The ban "is intended to insure visitors' safety and protect the 600-year-old building complex from any possible danger" the paper said. The restrictions come as Beijing tightens up on security as celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China approach.
Monday, September 14, 2009
The message was released by As-Sahab, Al-Qaeda's media wing, and distributed to several Jihadist websites which regularly carry propaganda for the terrorist organization. Part of the taped message condemns the United States support of Israel. "We have already shown, and we have stated many times in more than two decades since the start of our disagreement with you, which is caused by your support for the Israelis who are occupying our land of Palestine, and which led us to carry out the events on September 11, 2001," the voice says. "The time has come for you to liberate yourselves from fear and the ideological terrorism of neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby," the voice in the tape says.
In several parts of the tape, the al-Qaeda leader refers to recent events. He refers to Obama's speech in Cairo, which took place on June 4, and about former President Jimmy Carter's visit to Gaza in June. Bin Laden also condemned the Israeli invasion of Gaza, earlier this year, saying that American bombs were used by Israel during the conflict.
The terror leader said the United States should work towards Iraq's release instead of "fighting for its liberation." If not, President Obama could suffer "the same fate as former President Kennedy and his brother," bin Laden said. Both President Kennedy and his brother Robert were assassinated. The al-Qaeda number one also criticized Obama's decision to keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, saying the Bush-era leadership at the Pentagon had remained in place. Obama's promise to cooperate with the Republicans was in reality a "cover" and a "big trick" to let Gates remain on his current post, Osama claimed. "You have only changed the faces in the White House," Osama bin Laden said.
The message which comes just two days after the US marked the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, carries much f the same rhetoric seen in previous recordings. "We carry our weapons, fighting evil from East to West," Bin Laden said, and insisted that "Patience is our weapon." and that al-Qaeda would "Never compromise." In his last known message, in June, he said that U.S. President Barack Obama had planted the seeds of "revenge and hatred" towards the US in the Muslim world.Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding in the mountainous terrain on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Sites like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter aren't just used for social networking ; increasingly, they are being used by small and medium enterprises as platforms for marketing and communication, and even multinationals have woken up to the potential of these platforms. Some of them have begun to use Twitter, for instance, as a frontline interface with customers to redress their grievances. In a recent poll on a popular media website in China, 84 per cent of those who responded said China's Internet blocks made their work more difficult; 90 per cent said it made their personal life and entertainment access more difficult. And strikingly, about 60 per cent said they would consider leaving China because of the Internet blocks.
Admittedly the sample size was small, a little over 150, and it may have been weighted in favour of heavy Internet users. The respondents primarily came as a result of a Twitter feed put out by the media site Danwei themselves, and a technology blogger in China known as Flypig. Given that both Twitter and Danwei's site is blocked within China, the fact anyone replied to the poll at all is an achievement in itself. It also illustrates how difficult it is to promote an idea or message under such restrictions. A business idea would have failed just as badly.
One businessman working in China as a safety consultant told tvnewswatch that videos posted on his website showing the achievements the company had made in mine safety could not be seen in China since they were hosted by YouTube, which is blocked. The argument might be to use a Chinese equivalent site which isn't blocked. However many westerners are both unfamiliar with those sites or of the language in which they are displayed.
While some of these blocks may be temporary, the uncertainty over when the services will return and if they'll be blocked again is not acceptable to business. YouTube has been blocked since March 2009, and Facebook & Twitter have been down for over two months. In the 24-7 world of online commerce, that level of service interruption is total. YouTube may come back someday, but no IT or Marketing department will ever again be able to rely on the platform in China. The same goes for Twitter and Facebook. Even Google has been restricted and blocked to the point where it is not a 100% reliable business tool within China. For business owners the bad news is already in the market and they are responsible for finding a way around it.
The frustration is heightened by the realisation that traditional methods of using technology to get around the Great Firewall of China are being hampered. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are increasingly being blocked and proxies are also unreliable. While some enable access to sites blocked by the firewall, sites requiring user identification is impossible due to security issues.
This hurts China at several levels, and reflects poorly upon it. With its crude censorship of the Internet, China is in effect choking the flow of ideas. By drawing up its moat and cutting itself off from the online world, China is showing itself up to be a paranoid power that lacks the self-confidence to deal with the free flow of information -- to the point where it is beginning to neutralise, slowly but steadily, its other advantages as a place that's open for business.
Mandelson, a former EU trade commissioner, said that while Europe had gained though its trading with China, the benefits were dwindling. "I have no doubt we have gained. But I have previously estimated that these barriers were costing us [Europe] something in the region of €20bn [£17.5bn] worth of trade – and I think if anything that is growing," he said in Beijing this week. He said that while it was in everyone's interests for China to continue growing, "We need a constant dialogue with the government to exert quite legitimate pressure; when we are open to China's goods and services, it must become progressively and more speedily open to ours."
There are of course other more fundamental issues at stake beyond the use of the Internet. EU's recently imposed tariffs on steel pipe imports and the United States' consideration of restrictions on Chinese-made tyres concern China greatly. But China too has suggested moves that would hit the west extremely hard. Recently China talked of restricting the export of rare earths that are widely used in developing technologies and the electronics industry. This has concerned many who believe that China is setting out to monopolise certain manufacturing sectors.
There also remains unsolved issues of so-called bribery allegations connected with the arrest of several Rio Tinto staff. The issues are relatively complex but some have accused China of not playing on a level playing field when it comes to domestic and foreign negotiations.
As Mandelson continued his tour of the Chinese capital he met with Premier Wen Jiabao. But while Xinhua, the state run news agency, reported on the business secretary's visit, there was no mention at all of his concerns. Running under the headline "Premier says China's market economy status good for boosting trade with EU", Xinhua quoted Wen as saying the "vitality of the China-Britain all-round strategic partnership" was important. Mandelson's comments were edited down to one line; "We need to develop a clearer and consistent channel for communicating with China, especially on trade and climate change issues."
There is, it appears no free market, no free press, no free flow of information and no level playing field when it comes to doing business in or with China. Anyone who says otherwise is probably hoodwinking themselves.
tvnewswatch, Beijing, China
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Google has teamed up with one of the world's biggest board game manufacturers to create an online version of Monopoly. The Internet search has joined forces with Hasbro to produce the game which will use Google Maps. In Monopoly City Streets, which launches at 18:00 GMT today [Wednesday September 9], players will be able to buy any of the millions of streets around the world. They can then build football stadiums and skyscrapers as well as the more traditional houses and hotels.
Chance cards will give players the ability to build prisons and rubbish dumps on their rivals' streets. Starting with $3 million, each player could in theory be competing with millions of other online players in what may become the biggest online game ever. The free to join game will see far more inflated prices than in the traditional game. London's Downing Street may be bought for $231,000, while Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, where the White House stands, will cost $2 million. Rent is paid automatically each day, from $50,000 for a house to $100 million for a skyscraper.
In a statement Hasbro said, 'It's a chance to escape the harsh reality of recession and enjoy building up an empire.' The official website states that "on the 9th September, a world of property empire building on an unimaginable scale will be launched!" The goal is simple, the site says; "Play to beat your friends and the world to become the richest property magnate in existence." The traditional board game is well known to last many hours before an outright winner is determined. Given the size of the project, the online version could last months, or even years. However the game will, according to the official blog, only run until 31st January 2010.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Monday, September 07, 2009
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
It is not the first time GMail has suffered from an outage. In May a major technical issue affected millions who were unable to use GMail, Google News or its main search engine. Similar outages also occurred in February and March this year. The search giant has also been the target DDoS attacks and restrictions to its service in a number of countries. In June this year China blocked both the search engine as well as GMail services.
On its official blog Google's Engineering Director David Besbris said, "We know many of you are having trouble accessing Gmail right now - we are too, and we definitely feel your pain," The free GMail service has been ranked as the world's third most popular e-mail program, behind services provided by Microsoft and Yahoo.
Users around the globe first experienced problems at 19:45 GMT on Tuesday with both email and chat facilities being affected. According to the company the "widespread outage" lasted about 100 minutes. Google said it took the matter extremely seriously given that many people relied on the service for both personal and professional communications. "I'd like to apologize to all of you — today's outage was a Big Deal, and we're treating it as such," said Ben Treynor, Vice President of Engineering and Site Reliability Czar. Following a thorough investigation Google said it was compiling a list of things that needed to be fixed or improved.
Part of the problem lay in routine maintenance. After taking a small fraction of GMail's servers offline to perform routine upgrades increased traffic effectively overwhelmed the system, Google said. A few of the request routers became overloaded and in effect told the rest of the system "stop sending us traffic, we're too slow!". This transferred the load onto the remaining request routers, causing a few more of them to also become overloaded, and within minutes nearly all of the request routers were overloaded. IMAP/POP access and mail processing continued to work normally because these requests do not use the same routers.
To prevent similar problems occurring again Google says it was "increasing request router capacity well beyond peak demand to provide headroom". as well as looking at "more subtle" actions. Despite the glitch, Google has insisted Gmail remains more than 99.9% available to all users, and that events such as this were notable for their rarity. Google moved out of Beta in July signalling a more stable and reliable service. However, this recent outage, given its widespread impact, will shake confidence for both current and prospective users of the service.