Monthly Archives: April 2015

By Me Today: How Tech Companies Like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Viber are Helping Connect People Following the Nepal Earthquake

UPDATE: Embedded above and online here: a video I recorded with WSJ Live about the story.

The story begins:

Global technology firms are pitching in on earthquake rescue efforts in Nepal with services such as free calls to and from the country to functions that track survivors and relay the news to worried relatives and friends overseas.

Search giant Google Inc. on Saturday launched its Person Finder service, which allows users to post and search for information about missing friends and loved ones. The feature, which Google created in response to the destructive 2010 earthquake in Haiti, showed it was tracking 5,100 records as of early Monday afternoon Asia time.

Facebook Inc. activated Safety Check, which allows users in areas affected by the earthquake to select a notification alerting friends on the social network that they are OK.

“When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote Saturday in a post on his Facebook page, referring to the feature developed last year. “It’s moments like this that being able to connect really matters.” The post was shared more than 41,000 times and received more than 263,000 likes.

The Best Story You Will Ever Read about Iceland, Coffee, International Trade, and Culture

Adam Gopnik, writing in the The New Yorker:

There’s this:

The account of a richly complex foreign culture, based on a two- or three-day trip–beginning with the taxi from the airport, including the meeting with the minister of economics (always surprisingly young, and always with a degree from Harvard or Stanford)—is one of the least attractive of all American journalistic modes.

And this:

When my wife, Martha, recites the names of her grandparents to curious Icelandic strangers, they nod appreciatively and wrinkle their brows, rather as someone might who shares a common background in a small town in Wisconsin: if I don’t know them, I know folks all around them. Indeed, she and our children were referred to throughout our trip as “Western Icelanders,” not, as I’d assumed, because her family had originally emigrated from the west of Iceland but because “Western Iceland” is the Icelandic shorthand for Canada.

And this:

She has a fetishistic relationship to coffee, which she drinks in an impossibly thick brew from early morning until shortly before she goes off to a sound sleep at midnight. After dinner, she timidly asks if anyone wants coffee, real coffee—and, despite the hysterical rejections in this age of frazzled nerves and pervasive decaf, makes a pot, from which she drains a cup or two. In this, she is exactly like her mother, the only person I have ever met who would order a cup of coffee before dinner at a good restaurant, just to get in the mood.

And this:

One might even see the Icelandic coffee cult as one case of a too-little-touched-on aspect of the human comedy: our tactical amnesia about trade.

And this:

Iceland has rebounded, in large part, one senses, because Icelanders are accustomed to sudden switches in destiny—the politician in the three-piece suit who represents the city of Reykjavík at a reception for foreign authors turns out to double as the bass player of a metal band called HAM—and are also accustomed to displaying coöperative behavior in the world’s least coöperative circumstances.

And this:

Culture counts, but a culture is never a reduced essence of something indigenous. It is whatever particular recipe of cosmopolitanism its people have produced. In America, the recipe is so multipartite that it produces Kosher Thai restaurants. In Iceland, it’s one part coffee to one part anything else.

And finally, this:

Going to a beautiful, remote place reminds us, above all, how relentlessly interdependent the world is and always has been in supplying pleasures that are, almost by definition, imports. Hope, Emily Dickinson says, is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul. Civilization, one might say, is the thing over there at the corner table, drinking coffee in a cold climate.

Heck, just read the whole thing.

By Me Yesterday: Google Access Disrupted in Malaysia

The story begins:

Access to Google Inc.’s Malaysia website was disrupted Tuesday, the company said, with some users redirected to a website saying “Google Malaysia Hacked.”

“We’re aware that some users are having trouble connecting to google.com.my, or are being directed to a different website,” a Google spokesman said. “We’ve reached out to the organization responsible for managing this domain name and hope to have the issue resolved shortly.” Google services like Gmail haven’t been compromised, he added.

A tweet from Google Malaysia’s official Twitter account said the disruption was due to a domain name system, or DNS, redirection. DNS servers act as virtual address books and help direct Internet traffic.

Some users who tried to visit Google’s Malaysia site were sent to a website with a black background and white, red and yellow text saying “Google Malaysia Hacked by Tiger-Mate. #Bangladeshi Hacker.”

By Me Yesterday: FireEye Report Says China Likely Beghind Decadelong Cyberespionage Campaign

The story begins:

SINGAPORE—State-sponsored hackers in China are likely behind a sophisticated, decadelong cyberespionage campaign targeting governments, companies and journalists in Southeast Asia, India and other countries, a U.S. cybersecurity company said in a report released Monday.

FireEye Inc. says the attacks have been designed to glean intelligence, likely from classified government networks and other sources, pertaining to political and military issues such as disputes over the South China Sea.

Beijing’s claims in the contested South China Sea overlap with those of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines—a U.S. treaty ally. Recently released satellite images show a dramatic expansion in China’s construction of artificial islands on disputed reefs, intensifying concerns about Beijing’s territorial ambitions.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based FireEye said the hacking efforts are remarkable because of their duration—noting some elements have been in place since 2005—and stand out because of their geographic focus.

Some of the cyberattacks have taken the form of specially crafted emails, written in recipients’ native languages, with documents that appear legitimate but contain malware, the report said.

Other attacks are intended to penetrate isolated networks, cut off from the Internet for security purposes, by tricking their administrators into downloading malware on their home computers. The malware is then implanted on the administrators’ portable drives, such as USB sticks, that are later plugged into the secure networks, infecting them, it said.

Video from Thailand Shows Pedestrian Bridge Built Around Overhead Cables

I don’t know the context, but it looks like the people who built this pedestrian flyover in Thailand simply worked around the existing overhead cables.

The remarkable video, which I first spotted on Facebook here, is embedded above and available on YouTube. Gets interesting about a minute in.

By Me Today: GrabTaxi’s Splashing the Cash New R&D Center, More Staff

The story begins:

Southeast Asia-focused Taxi booking app GrabTaxi says it’s about to splash the cash, mostly on new hires.

The Singapore-based company said Wednesday it will spend $100 million over the next five years on a new research and development center in the city-state, with a “significant portion” of that sum going to lure talent.

GrabTaxi, which launched in 2012 and operates in 20 cities across six countries, said in December it secured a $250 million investment from Japanese telecommunications and Internet giant SoftBank.

That brought its total funding nearly $340 million, with its valuation as of December reaching $1 billion, according to data from The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource.

Among the new hires GrabTaxi says it has recently made are Kevin Lee, who was head of Asia for U.S. data mining software company Palantir Technologies. Another is Arul Kumaravel, who previously held a senior engineering role Amazon.com.

By Me Yesterday: Cyberdefense Spending is On the Rise in Asia

The story begins:

Spending to defend against cyberattacks is picking up speed in Asia, and the growth rate could outpace the global average this year.

The latest development underscoring the trend: the US$810 million acquisition of U.S.-based cybersecurity provider Trustwave Holdings Inc. by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., Southeast Asia’s biggest telecom company by revenue.

The deal, announced Wednesday, follows recent high-profile breaches of companies such as Home Depot Inc., health insurer Anthem Inc. and Sony Corp.’s Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. Hackers also targeted Malaysia Airlines’ website in January. In March, South Korean investigators said state-owned Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. and its business partners were targeted in cyberattacks aimed at stealing internal data that included plant blueprints and employees’ personal information. Korea Hydro operates South Korea’s 23 nuclear reactors.

Executives and analysts in Asia say they are increasingly contemplating their digital defenses in light of more-frequent attacks.

Recommended: New HBO Documentary ‘Going Clear’

2015 04 05 scientology

Worth a watch: “Going Clear,” a new documentary about Scientology that recently aired on HBO. There’s more about the film on Wikipedia.

A WSJ review of the documentary begins:

Watching “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” can be a depressing experience, and not just for the two hours in which the HBO documentary runs. The haunting archival imagery—a powerful element here—fades after a few days, and much of what is said has been said before. Yet whether you come away seeing Scientology as a cult that ensnares vulnerable people or as a faith of self-empowerment, the film leaves a terrible taste of too much information. This must be its point, but take heed just the same.

The film is based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief.”

I haven’t read that book (yet), but I have read Wright’s long, detailed, fascinating 2011 New Yorker story “The Apostate.

It centers on longtime Hollywood screenwriter Paul Haggis, who left Scientology and has since become an outspoken critic of the church. It’s an excellent piece of journalism.