Podcasting

Podcasting is the latest craze to sweep across parts of the internet. It works like this: producers of audio content make it available by publishing an RSS feed with enclosures pointing at mp3 versions of their content, the end user then subscribes to a feed using their choice of software, which can then sync the chosen feeds with their iPod (or similar). Of course, you don’t have to get the content this way – you could just monitor the feeds and download the mp3s yourself – but the original concept revolved around getting alternative audio content automatically onto your iPod, hence the name.

Promoted by people like Dave Winer and Adam Curry, who describes the history of podcasting in a post at iPodder.org, the idea has started to take off in a big way and there are now a variety of programs for all platforms that pull content, an increasing number of feeds to subscribe to, and community resources like a centralised directory and web-based aggregator. This’ll really reach critical mass if major broadcasters can be convinced to climb aboard and produce feeds of their content – but although podcasting is already attracting the attention of broadcasters over the pond, right now it’s still mainly an internet subculture closely related to blogging.

Despite some criticisms of “audioblogging”, such as this Audioblogging Manifesto, I think that podcasting is a really fantastic development. Although there are plenty of good points in that transcript, there’s still a place for podcasting. It’s not hypertext so arguably not really the web, but so what – it’s something different: pick’n'mix radio for the masses – or at least those of the masses who have access to reasonable bandwidth and diskspace. (In case you think that in today’s world of broadband internet connections and multi-gigabyte hard disks these aren’t concerns, bear in mind that Adam Curry himself recently had problems with bandwidth availability, and he’s someone for whom I’d guess resources aren’t usually a problem.)

Still, that’s an isolated example and with the current uptake of broadband I doubt that such issues will really be a problem for too long. And the concept’s a great one – I’d love to be able to syndicate mp3 content from my favourite radio stations and listen to it when I wanted to – like on my twenty minute walk into work, or at lunchtimes – you get the idea. Realplayer streaming from the BBC radio website isn’t quite the same thing. In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for the content being put on the net by bloggers and enthusiasts, which half the time is more interesting than commerical radio any way.

Lastly, hope you like the UK, Mr. Curry!

Ebay phishing attempt

I received an email today purporting to be from the ebay security team requesting that I access my account. The email, in HTML format, kindly provided a link to a page hosted at disguised as a link to ebay’s site. Since my mail client displays messages as plaintext (making it obvious where links actually go), this was a pretty obvious phishing attempt. (Hey! Another argument against HTML email, as if we needed one.)

In addition to this and the fact that I’m paranoid at the best of times, something else helped me spot that this was a fake: I don’t even have an ebay account, and never have. So I forwarded it to spoof@ebay.com, where they recommend you send abuse reports of this kind. If you’re interested in seeing what the fake site looked like, here’s a screenshot – it’s a pretty good likeness.

Note that on the fake page, they say that you can use your “registered email” address instead of your ebay ID, which differs somewhat from the real ebay sign-in page. There are a few other minor differences, but even so when you compare the two they do look very similar. Beware!

Arnos Vale Cemetery

Lying on the slope between the Bath and Wells roads, Arnos Vale is in the process of being restored. (More information: Friends of Arnos Vale, Arnos Vale Centery Trust.) Currently much of it is overgrown, the gravestones competing with trees for space on its slopes. This makes it an atmospheric place to take a walk.

[Gravestones, brambles and trees]

Many of the stones have vanished completely under swathes of ivy, leaving just rows of green shapes ranked beneath the trees. Others are only partially subsumed, and you can still just about make out the names of the dead in between the leaves and shoots.

[Two gravestones partially covered in ivy]

The cemetery contains a few large tombs and interesting monuments, some of which are listed. One of the most ornate and unusual is the tomb of Raja Rammohun Roy Bahadoor, a Hindu reformer and thinker who died in Bristol in 1833 (Wikipedia entry, Banglapedia entry). His mausoleum reminds me of the tombs of the Rajput Maharajahs in Jaipur, although Rammohan Roy was from Bengal on the far side of the country.

[The Bengali-style tomb of Rammohun Roy]

There are plenty more buildings and monuments scattered around the grounds. Some are in the process of being restored and are hidden under scaffolding and tarpaulin, others stand untouched among the trees. A great place for a stroll on a Sunday.

Photo – Clifton Suspension Bridge

Polly and I went for a walk last weekend in Leigh Woods, on the far side of the River Avon. On the way back, I took this photo of the suspension bridge from the approaching road.

[Clifton Suspension Bridge from the approaching road]

I like it because it’s just an everyday view of the bridge, the kind you get when you’re using it, rather than admiring it from afar. Also, although you can see that it’s a bridge, you get no sense of what it spans – the far side almost looks like a continuation of the near.

FBI seizes Indymedia server

I spotted this story last Thursday on Boing Boing, and meant at the time to blog it here as my small contribution to the hue and cry, but didn’t. What finally made me pull out the old finger was spotting the BBC’s coverage of the story which appeared today.

In case you’re not au fait with the story, the basics. Indymedia, an alternative media collective, had a large number of their sites hosted in the UK by a US owned company called Rackspace. Last thursday, Rackspace responded to a court order issued by the FBI and handed over hardware containing the Indymedia sites – obviously removing them from the internet in the process. The exact reasons for this are still unclear but appear to involve the Swiss and Italian authorities and may have something to do with pictures of policemen filming protesters that were posted on one of the sites; the exact legal procedure which enabled it is also somewhat fuzzy. Analysis and speculation can be found at the Register and at Statewatch.

I’m glad to see the story being run by major news organisations like the BBC and the Guardian, even if it did take them a few days to pick it up. The fact the independent news and comment sites can be removed from the web without warning in a western country which supposedly supports freedom of speech and the press is alarming to say the least, even if you’re not overly sympathetic with the general ideological slant on most Indymedia sites. The Reg says it better than I can:

…the procedure ought to send shivers down the spine of every publishing organisation on the Internet. It is clearly perfectly possible for their operations to be crippled without warning, without their being told what it is they’ve done, and without explanation.

Let’s hope this one gets a good airing. It needs it, becasue it smells pretty bad right now, even four days on.

Update 2004-10-14

Electronic Frontier Foundation press release.

Servers are returned by the FBI: BBC, EFF.

Update 2004-10-15

The Register: “Indymedia seizures: a trawl for Genoa G8 trial cover-up?”