Posts tagged Tracks
Google has been helping the popular NORAD Tracks Santa site locate Santa Claus on Christmas Eve since 2007. But this year, Jolly St. Nick will be tracked on Bing Maps, not Google. NORAD is also pushing an official Windows 8 app. It part of Microsoft being the new lead partner for the site. Goodbye,…
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Since 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has tracked Santa Claus like a Soviet missile. Back in the day, it was CONAD – the Continental Air Defense Command. When Canada joined the defense grid in 1958, offering access to Santa’s Arctic airspace, it became NORAD. To this day, NORAD staff, family and friends volunteer to track this bogey across the Yuletide sky.
These days, NORAD and Google work together to track Santa. Now that the private sector is so good at tracking things, Google can let citizens track Santa Claus themselves. For the 2011 NORAD Santa exercise, anyone with a smartphone can search ‘Santa’ on Google Maps for mobile and get a Santa target lock in the palm of their hand.
The tradition started by accident. A 1955 Sears Roebuck holiday catalog misprinted the phone number for kids in Colorado Springs to call Santa Claus. Instead of Santa, they called the CONAD Commander-in-Chief’s operations hotline. So, Colonel Harry Shoup, CONAD’s Director of Ops at the time, had his staff check the radar for Santa’s position. Isn’t that cute?
Now NORAD has a nice page where it describes all the neat-o military technology it would use for this exercise if Santa Claus was a military target. In 1998, NORAD brought its Santa tracking efforts online with it’s “ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed Santa cams.”
NORAD wasn’t the first online Santa defense grid, though. Carl Malamud has maintained a Santa-watching Internet presence at north.pole.org since the early ’90s. It’s still available in its classic form. Those were the days, huh?
Unfortunately, Malamud’s north.pole.org was also the victim of one of the first big spam attacks. “The bad side of Santa Claus’s ‘naughty and nice’ data base just swelled by several megabytes,” the New York Times wrote on December 15, 1994, citing “computer experts” as the source.
But NORAD and Google don’t fall victim to that sort of thing. Their Santa tracking technologies are infallible. You can even download iPhone and Android apps to track Santa now. Starting at 2:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow, the defense grid will be tracking Santa’s position. It’s integrated into Google Maps, and there’s an extension for Google Earth. You can follow the countdown and find all the Santa targeting links at noradsanta.org.
What do you think of all this? Is high-tech mobile location tracking in the holiday spirit? What about all the military stuff? Maybe Google tracking is to 2012 what NORAD tracking was to the Cold War. Share your thoughts about tracking Santa’s location in the comments.
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Just in time for the holidays, the Grails team has released Grails 2.0 after almost a year in development. If you’re new to Grails, now might be a good time to check it out.
New in 2.0
As befits a year of development, the 2.0 release has a lot of improvements and updates. First and foremost, there’s Groovy 1.8, which has its own list of updates and improvements. It also has support for binary plugins with this release, which makes it easier for companies to ship proprietary plugins to Grails. (Whether this is a good or bad thing is left as an exercise to the reader.)
The user experience has been updated significantly with 2.0, including a new errors view that should make it easier to see where errors are in your code. 2.0 also has improvements for unit testing and a database migration plugin for helping ease the transition from testing to production.
If you want to try out Grails without setting it up yourself, check out Cloud Foundry, Grails 2.0 is already available. Grails 2.0 also comes with plugins ready for MongoDB, Redis and Riak 1.0 releases (though they’re all in release candidate/milestone phase right now). The SpringSource folks also note that Grails will be making “more exciting announcements” around Neo4j, Amazon SimpleDB and Cassandra in 2012. I can’t attest to how exciting they’ll be, but I’m sure that some folks will find it very useful.
You don’t seem to hear as much about Grails as some other frameworks, though that might just be a perception issue on my part. If you’re using Grails, let us know what you think about the 2.0 release in the comments.
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Information on how Facebook tracks its users behaviors both on and off site has been released. Most worrisome is that Facebook keeps a running log of the sites a user has visited in the past 90 days.
Facebook Tracking Details Released
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Those of us who have used email alot, (see my email memories story here) have often wished we could know if our recipients have opened and read our messages. And while there have been read-receipts on various email services for many years, until now there hasn’t been a general-purpose tool that can track when someone actually opens your messages. Enter Zendio with their plug-in for Outlook. And while it works, it is probably the creepiest solution that I’ve seen.
For Zendio to work, all your messages have to originate from your Outlook inbox, which makes sense. You install the plug-in, which is somewhat of a misnomer because it requires all sorts of Microsoft support software, depending on which Windows OS and which Office version you are running. I tried it on XP with SP2 on Outlook 2007 connecting to my Google Apps mailbox and it seemed to do fine. It embeds small snippets of HTML code into your messages to enable the tracking feature.
Zendio shows you exactly when someone opened your message, and tries to geolocate the recipient. It wasn’t completely accurate for my simple test, although it did come within a few miles of where I was, as you can see here:
You can also include trackable links or other objects in your message, similar to how ConstantContact and other email campaign managers work. If someone clicks on the link, you get a report showing you the details. You can also see a summary report of the behavior pattern of the particular times of day that someone is using their email client, and how long it takes from when you send something to when it is actually read. That is what got my creepiness meter moving up.
Zendio includes the ability to make pretty signatures and email stationery, but it also appends (for the free trial) its own annoying trailer to each of your emails. All of the messages are sent via your own email server.
Outlook has its own read receipts that only work when your recipients are using Outlook themselves, and most other products generally request that you acknowledge the read receipt when you open the message. Zendio removes these restrictions.
The service is $10 a month per user. There is a 30 day free trial available. You need to be running Outlook 2003 or later on XP or later Windows machines. Outlook 2010 is only supported on 32-bit OS.
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The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has a crack group of analysts tracking the Internet, including tweets and Facebook messages, that takes the pulse of the world. Located in McLean, Virginia the CIA Open Source Center is know as the “vengeful librarians” according to a report from the Associated Press. These librarians are tracking up to five million tweets a day from places like China, Pakistan and Egypt.
It is sometimes disconcerting to know what the U.S. intelligence complex is doing, right in your backyard. McLean is a beltway city in Northern Virginia that is best known for Tysons Corner, one of the shopping hubs of the East Coast. On the outskirts of the city limits there is also the George H.W. Bush CIA complex, on of the agency’s main hubs in the D.C. region.
Open Source Center Set Up After 9/11
The CIA facility was set up after a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission. According to the AP, its first priority was to focus on, “counterterrorism and counterproliferation.” The reports generated from the CIA Open Source Center invariably make their way to president Barack Obama’s desk.
The Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 was when social media like Facebook and Twitter really came to the forefront of the center’s analysts. The analysts correctly predicted the Arab Spring that came to Egypt and Tunisia this year. Essentially, the CIA is using social media to predict where groundswell will turn into real action and follow breaking trends and news.
The U.S. media does much of the same thing, albeit on a much smaller scale. One prominent example was during the Discovery Building hostage crisis in Silver Spring, Maryland in September, 2010. A news startup owned by the owners of Politco, TBD.com, was able to track the tweets and social media happenings around the building and the circumstance, giving a correct and at times chilling view from the area.
(Disclosure: I worked for TBD.com at the time and was in the newsroom during the Discovery Building news. I also lived in McLean, Va.)
Tracking Facebook, Citizens, The World
Facebook has been long accused of having secret ties to the CIA. Some of the more outrageous claims believe that Mark Zuckerberg was recruited by the CIA to build Facebook as a data-mining project and that Facebook hatched as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative. These types of rumors seem ridiculous, but there is no doubt that governments around the world are using Facebook data to keep an eye on citizens.
The AP report made little mention of what the CIA is doing on the domestic front except for noting that the CIA is using its social media records to compare it to the track record of polling organizations to see how accurate the results are. Think of it as a calibration technique; the polling organizations are often quite accurate and can be used a somewhat of a loose standard to judge the accuracy of the Open Source Center’s results. On the domestic front, the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have its own social media tracking program.
While it may seem underhanded and sneaky for the CIA to be tracking social media use to know the pulse of the world, the practice is not something that should surprise anyone. Much of this data is open to whoever is looking for it and the large companies and data specialists of the private sector likely have similar operations focusing on a variety of aspects of humanity from market trends to politics, sports or fashion.
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Google, it’s long been said, has an economic interest in making the web better because more time spent online means more ads clicked. The company reminded Analytics users today that they too have an interest in speed, saying that page load speed impacts not just their own site conversion rates but also their AdSense offerings and standing in Google search results. It’s not just browbeating, though: the new tool will allow site owners to try out different methods of optimization and track the resulting consequences in terms of load time.
Web analytics expert Alastair Croll posted an in-depth discussion of the impact that slow pages have on sites in September 2009, arguing that the following occur as pages slow down:
- Fewer search queries per user
- Less query refinement
- Less revenue per visitor
- Fewer clicks, and lower satisfaction
- A longer time for visitors to click something
- Fewer searches per day
- Lower search engine rankings
“Google now provides even more intelligence to allow site operators to better understand conversions. This is a great thing – it helps legitimize the movement behind web performance optimization which has been growing for almost 10 years now. With more and more metrics to track, businesses will need to practice restraint. It’s so easy to aimlessly look at ‘metrics’; concentrating on using data to solve real business problems is all that really matters.”
As the scope of Google Analytics expands, it grows more intelligent about the nature of the web and thus more capable of offering its users more and better information.
Optimization specialist Robert Kingston, however, wrote yesterday about the new feature and argued that it uses a pageview sample rate low enough that it’s unlikely to surface meaningful insights to owners of small sites. That setting appears unchangeable at present, but it’s hard to imagine Google letting a long tail of data go underutilized.
Google Analytics is of course wildly popular all over the web; software research firm BuiltWith has identified more than 12 million sites on the web that use the service. No other analytics service tracked by the firm has been found on as many as 1 million sites.
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