What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – An Update

Two years ago, while watching the film Rendition I was quite taken with Moroccan actress Zineb Oukach which I mistook for Israeli actress Hadar Ratzon. This led to my making a point about the Israeli Internet being stuck in the 1990’s, a point I seem to keep on making.

Later on I used the Israeli Screen Actors Guild as an example for Israel’s laxed approach to privacy and how, for instance, Ratzon’s cellphone number, SSN and date of birth can be revealed using a simple Google search.

Now, since most people cannot distinguish between a ‘white hat’ and a ‘black hat’, it is quite likely all this made me look like a kind of stalker. Creating a portrait of Ratzon out of her cellphone digits probably didn’t help. 🙂
I get that vibe now and again from people who don’t get technology. I guess it’s true what they say: ignorance is bliss. Apparently once one’s naivete has been interrupted, one sometimes gets upset.

Okay, so in two years’ time has anything changed? Not much:
1. Israel’s leading acting agency Perry Kafri still won’t spend a couple of bucks building a website for each of its actors.
2. Two years ago, Hadar Ratzon’s page consisted of three photos, one coding error and no background information. Today it boasts eight photos, zero coding errors, some background information – but also quite a few errors including some kind of “Mongols contest” which presumably stands for “monologue contest”; Plus a characterization of Ratzon’s acting part in “Rendition” as “leading role” – a gross exaggeration.
3. Two years later, the Israeli Screen Actors Guild did nothing to curtail its privacy leakage.
4. Hadar Ratzon now has an official website! Yes, I was quite happy to be notified of this glorious fact by a friend of Ratzon who built it for her (oh, but of course). Two years ago I suggested HadarRatzon.com – but apparently she went with HadarRatzon.co.il.

And so we get enough progress to celebrate with a showreal [sic]. Here’s to hoping Hadar Ratzon is taking all this in stride:

How To Feel At Home When You Have To Work on a Public Computer

Whether you use one computer at work and another at home, or you share computers at the office, or whether sometimes you are just left stranded on a foreign computer away from civilization on some godforsaken floor in corporate land – then this post is for you. Following is my collection of portable apps and online services that will make you feel cozy on any PC.

Browser: Even for a couple of hours, browsing the net with Internet Explorer is unbearable and unsafe.
Solution: Portable Google Chrome – preferably in incognito mode.
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Passwords: Typing your password on a public computer might not be wise. Also, if you remember your passwords, chances are you use the same one for everything and haven’t changed it in years.
Solution: RoboForm2Go memorizes your passwords and logs you in automatically.
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Email, Instant Messaging, Social Networking: Why would anyone run separate programs simultaneously for each service: Outlook + Gmail Notifier + MSN Messenger + ICQ? Are you kidding me?
Solution: Portable Digsby.
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RSS Reader: Google Reader might be the easy choice, but those who cherish their privacy might go for a portable app that stores their RSS feeds locally.
Solution: GreatNews.
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Health: Especially when you are away from your native office space you should be mindful of Repetitive Strain Injury.
Solution: Workrave Portable alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and do preventive exercises.
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Focus: Away from your desk you might hesitate to shush people you just met so that you can get some work done.
Solution: SimplyNoise.com produces white noise to neutralize office noises and block distractions.
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Note: Some of these apps were mentioned in previous posts titled ‘Freewares I Swear By But You Have Never Heard Of’ (#1, #2), but I felt a post specifically aimed for the workplace was in order.

CompuServe Died! Who Did What Now?!

Know whence thou comest and whither thou goest;
 – – Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Three

CompuServe died this week. The service that started in 1969 and by the 1980s offered electronic mail, real-time chat and online shopping, was shut down by AOL, its current owner. Yes, of course I know most people have never heard of CompuServe. The Internet, just like electricity, has always been there – or so it seems.

I am pretty sure I really hope there are many people out there who would be interested in learning how all this came about and there’s no place better to start than by watching BBS: The Documentary. Spanning 8 episodes of 40 minutes each, it’s almost as long as a Claude Lanzmann’s documentary, but it’s full of geeks reminiscing about old times. Here’s the first episode:

Check out episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

RSS is Dead – Twitter Killed It

When I first read Steve Gillmor‘s piece on TechCrunchIT titled “Rest in Peace, RSS” I thought it was moronic. After thinking about it for two weeks, I am not so sure anymore:

“It’s time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore. The River of News has become the East River of news, which means it’s not worth swimming in if you get my drift.
I haven’t been in Google Reader for months. Google Reader is the dominant RSS reader. I’ve done the math: Twitter 365 Google Reader 0. All my RSS feeds are in Google Reader. I don’t go there any more. Since all my feeds are in Google Reader and I don’t go there, I don’t use RSS anymore.”

Read the entire article here.

New From Gmail: A Panic Button

We’ve all made at least one of the following email faux pas in the past:
– Forgetting to attach a file to an email, especially when emailing a group of people
– Sending an email to the wrong person, just because he has a similar name
– Sending a fiery reply to an email that made you angry

Gmail's Undo Button

Well… the folks at Google Labs have finally came up with an undo button which allows you a couple of seconds of email remorse – usually that’s all you need. When enabled, the undo option appears and if clicked within 5 seconds it will stop the email from going out and possibly shaming the sender. Now, while this is nothing new to people who use Microsoft Outlook with delayed sending, as far as I know this was not available with any of the webmail services. If you already use Gmail, check out the Labs tab under your Gmail settings.

If you don’t use Gmail but were looking for reasons why you should switch, now you have plenty:
– the mentioned ‘Undo’ button
– the two-in-one ‘Send & Archive’ button
– the ‘conversation’ method
– the ‘Gmail offline’ option
– plus, all the POP3 access you may need

….all this puts Gmail ahead of any other email service or program.

This Book Cannot Be Read Aloud

Illustration: Amazon Kindle 2 Warning - This Book Cannot Be Read AloudIf you had any doubt we are amidst a cultural war, what with file sharing, digital rights management and the free culture revolution, the dinosaurs in suits over at Amazon.com had just decided that the Text-To-Speech option on the new Kindle 2 will be disabled if the book publisher chooses that. This means that book publishers will be able to control a right that they do not possess. Read more on this at Professor Lawrence Lessig’s blog.

For us Israelis this triggers a flashback to the Anti-Mehikon: up until the 1980’s the Israeli television broadcast was in black and white as the government thought this would bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots, those who can afford to buy a color TV set, and those who cannot. As idiotic as that plan sounds today, it worked for a few years until a device was invented to restore the color bursts that were deliberetly erased at the Israeli Broadcast Authority.

All this may have sounded like fun nostalgia, if only the people of yesterday would have given up on their futile attempt at stopping the natural evolution of technologies.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download some text2speech audio files (MP3 and WAV) of the phrases ‘Amazon sucks’ and ‘Amazon’s Kindle 2 sucks’

Google: This Site May Harm Your Computer – And This One… And This One Also…

Worlds are colliding! In the freakiest bug I have witnessed so far, every search result on Google (as of the time of this posting) is now tagged with the ‘This site may harm your computer‘ warning, even when you google the term ‘Google’:
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If you are brave enough to click a result you get the even more frightening ‘Malware Warning‘ page:
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This even happens when you use your local site, google.co.il in my case:
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Update: At 15:36 GMT, almost an hour after I first noticed it, the glitch was fixed.
The impact: an estimated 17 million search results affected, an undetermined number of people bumfuzzled, and as of now 361 now 1738 people blogged about it (including TechCrunch and me).
Update 2: Google admits its fault, attributing it to human error and puts the duration of the mayhem closer to my estimate of “almost an hour”, than TechCrunch’s “about 15 minutes”.

I should emphasize this incident is not some cute thing that happened. This event has repercussions we have yet to understood. This event will be studied and articles will be written about it. Just like when all the airplanes were grounded in the days after 9/11, which allowed scientists to test the true nature of our climate without the effect of vapour trails, tests that were not possible since the time the commercial jet was invented – so will this event be analyzed to determine what happens the day the Internet breaks, including but not limited to the financial impact on the web economy.

What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – Brought To You Courtesy of the Israeli Ministry of Transport

I have already posted an elaborate list of the top annoyances plaguing the Israeli Internet*, but wherever my mouse takes me I encounter more and more prototypical examples:

Let’s say you want to check out the official website of the Israeli Ministry of Transportation. You skip Google, as you can distinctly recall the easy to remember URL from a radio spot, and so you type in: mot.gov.il – only to receive this disappointing page:
[singlepic id=90 w=500 h=441 float=center]

No, 404 is not the serial number of a new form you need to fill out, but the error message you get as someone was not clever enough to define the DNS settings properly.

Now, I should point out that the world can be divided into two groups:

  • One group is made up of those who believe that, similar to Dorothy clicking her heels three times, their typing the letter W three times magically charges the Internet, thus allowing it to flow smoothly and deliver data to their computer. Individuals within that group tend to utter phrases like ‘I clicked on the Internet’ or ‘the Internet is broken’.
  • The second group is made up of those who actually know what FTP, gopher or telnet mean, thus knowing WWW was an arbitrarily chosen name for the server that delivers HTML pages. Individuals in this group tend to skip the unnecessary typing of www in domain names, but will always say ‘double-you double-you double-you’ when dictating web addresses to acquaintances they do not consider particularly sharp.


Okay, back to the Ministry of Transportation:
Upon receiving the 404 error, you enter the same address with the WWW prefix, and lo and behold, you get the government website:
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Now take a close look at the web address in the right-hand corner:

That’s right! No www!

Now, as I pointed out in a previous post, aside from the obvious disaster of not showing your reader the requested website, there are two additional mistakes the MOT webmasters made:

  • They failed to define a human-readable 404 error page, with some helpful links
  • They failed to define a reporting mechanism that would raise a flag at the webmasters side


Related browser trick:
Clicking Ctrl-Enter instead of Enter in your address bar, results in the auto completion of the URL with a ‘www’ prefix and a ‘.com’ suffix.


* For a lack of a better term, ‘Israeli Internet’ is what I call the ad-hoc collection of websites run by Israelis.
** As with my previous posts, all the information was checked, double checked, and was correct at the time of its publishing.

The Five People You Meet in Web 2.0 Hell

38-year-old Eddie is convinced his digital life would be better upon meeting five types of people and showing them the unexpected negative impact they have on others:

[singlepic id=60 w=320 h=240 float=right]The Under-Tagger – This guy would spend a week going through old video cassettes, finding the amazing CNN footage from 1983 he was looking for, but upon uploading it to YouTube would title it: ‘She Lied!’ and would tag it using three keywords or less, at least one of which is misspelled. The Under-Tagger assumes that since you can clearly recognize the people in the video, there is no need to be petty and elaborate on it in the title, description or keywords, and as a result of that no one can find his video even when searching for relevant keywords.

The Non-Linker – This guy would spend an hour blogging on a recent survey or commenting on an obscure news item, spewing lots of words and ideas without supplying a single link to the actual survey or the original news item. If this guy writes in a different language, say Hebrew, he would never consider supplying the English spelling of names of people or companies he writes about. The Non-Linker believes he is the alpha and the omega and thus his readers need not check out additional data on other websites.

The Voluntary Spammer – A relic of Web 1.0, this guy truly believes everything he reads in emails he receives, and feels it is his moral duty to forward them to all his friends. From a new computer virus and PowerPoint slideshows, to ladies dying from perfume spraying and cash giveaways from Microsoft, this guy assumes the newspapers do not report the big stuff, and that everyone in his contact list is interested in the small stuff. The Voluntary Spammer tends to get offended when you try to explain this to him over the phone, claiming he only wanted to help.

The Armchair Activist – This guy had joined dozens of groups on Facebook from curing AIDS to freeing Tibet, and truly believes he has done his part. Without once leaving his house or donating a buck to causes he really believes in, the Armchair Activist feels so good about himself he often tries to recruit his friends in the hope that AIDS would really be cured if only one million people click a button.

The BCC-Denier – This guy sends an invitation to his new exhibit by email, adding hundreds of people to the TO section, assuming that since all of them know him, they should all know one another. A direct result of this gross faux pas comes from recipients who RSVP by clicking Reply-All, and people who harvest email addresses revealed in the email for their weekly newsletter.

What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today? – Brought To You Courtesy of the Israeli Screen Actors Guild

Update 1/2010: Hadar Ratzon now has an official website at HadarRatzon.co.il

I have already posted an elaborate list of the top annoyances plaguing the Israeli Internet, but wherever my mouse takes me I encounter more and more prototypical examples:
Today, while preparing to reply to a recent reader’s comment in a post I wrote about Israeli actress Hadar Ratzon, I stumbled upon her private cell phone number, her home number, home address, and email. Yes, believe it or not – all it took was a simple Google search, as apparently Shaham, the Israeli Screen Actors Guild thought it wise to upload her resum? to their website, including the mentioned contact details. Upon expanding my search I found around 150 members’ resumes, many of which included contact details and even the coveted national ID number (an SSN equivalent).

This is what where we are headed in this 21st century: never mind the criminal acts, like the occasional stealing of Ministry of Interior records and uploading it to the nearest P2P network – no need for criminal acts when the government ships the database by regular mail and it gets lost. Never mind the illegal reverse telephone lookup which lets you easily spy upon a caller, revealing its name and address – no need for illegal acts when a body of government passes regulation to reveal contact details of pet owners, so that as long as you are stalking someone who has a dog, you can get all your spying needs fulfilled legally.

[singlepic id=55 w=240 h=360 float=right]Forget about sex tapes leaked to the internet – that is just entertainment compared to the tidal wave of bank frauds, phishing scams and identity thefts headed our way. You thought The Net was a silly 1995 film with Sandra Bullock? Better think again. Lucky for Bullock she is not a member of the Israeli SAG, so I cannot use her cell phone number as a gimmick to end this post – but if you liked the 2007 film Rendition, just pick up the phone and convey that to cast member Hadar Ratzon – you already know how to find her phone number.

It’s not about abortion. It’s about the next 20 years. Twenties and thirties, it was the role of government. Fifties and sixties, it was civil rights. The next two decades, it’s gonna be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records, and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on a will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?

– Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) – The West Wing TV Series


* As with my previous ‘What’s Wrong With the Israeli Internet Today?’ posts, all the information was checked, double checked, and was correct at the time of its publishing. On average, things I complain about tend to get fixed, usually within a few weeks, so if you stumbled upon this page and got different Google results, it probably means that the relevant people read my post. No worries, in the age of Internet Archive, nothing posted on the internet can ever be removed.

** Hadar Ratzon was somewhat surprised an hour ago when I rang her up. Although she knew Shaham had her resum?, she was not aware that any Tom, Dick or Harry can just run her digits and get her on the phone (or show up at her doorstep, for that matter). She did not sound too happy about that.
On a related side note, she acknowledged visiting the mentioned previous post about her on my blog, and insinuated it was the trigger for improving her official Agency page.

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