Nanette Gottlieb and Mark McClelland (editors).
London, New York: Routledge, 2003.
paper, 249 p., ISBN 0-415-27919-4, UK£18.99.
Routledge: http://www.routledge.com, http://www.routledge-ny.com
For those who believe that the Internet will allow the creation of virtual communities of interest rather than of geographical proximity or of historical or ethnic origin, then this collection of case studies has some timely lessons as to its limits. For whilst Japan is rightly regarded as one of the most technologically advanced countries and the source of many electronic devices now taken for granted, household penetration of the PC-based Internet is still low. However, Japan does lead the world in mobile Internet use with not far from market saturation. The reasons for this apparent paradox are almost totally socio-economic and well analysed in the various studies.
Japanese use of the Internet expanded rapidly from 1992 and this meant by 1998 not only did the number of characters on Web pages exceed that published in Japanese newspapers and magazines in a year but Japanese rose to become the second most widely used language after English, before it was toppled by Chinese. Whilst English may still dominate use it now represents less than half the total and emphasises the point of communities using their own language for communicating amongst themselves and English when they wish to go "international"! The cases explain the background as to why many individuals in Japan spend many hours by themselves and yet to maintain their humanity wish to communicate with others so they need something portable to be used within tight personal space for leisure purposes. Therefore Japan's commuting network has been the driver for the success of many of the Walkmans, hand-held computer games as well as the ubiquitous i-mode phones. The latter have addressed the wish for individuals to exchange bursts of information during times in between work and home whilst waiting for a train, riding in a taxi, sitting alone somewhere. Hence the devices themselves have become an expression of individuality rather than possessions or tools. This provides an interesting contrast to Western experience even if the texting is following in the same pathway.
When one considers that the Japanese pay to use the Internet itself, the plethora of services provided may at first prove surprising from an Anglo-Saxon perspective. But then apparently over one-half of the subject of mail between Japanese university students was on everyday events. With over 20,000 Web sites designed to fit the tiny screen of the cell phones the attraction in their use is to be "cool and cute"! Important features in Japanese society. For the youth it also represents the ability to have personal space away from the family influences. True also for many of the married female users as well as other groupings. Another factor must be that it takes more time and effort to connect a computer to the Internet than to use a cell phone!
The cases provide a wide variety of different examples of how the Internet has been used in attracting brides to a farming community in Japan's northernmost island to communicating with marginalised groups in Japanese society. The latter including the Burakumin, Japan's largest minority group comprising certainly over one million Japanese ostracised from mainstream society by their ancestors' hereditary association with occupations involving blood, death, and other impurities traditionally considered polluting. Their use of the Internet has been to both dispel stereotypes to a wider public and support the community as a whole. The Internet is thus used as with other groups in ongoing campaigns for recognition and redress and in fostering both domestic and international networks. English is used to construct an external identity whilst Japanese is for local support and combating discrimination.
Apart from the fascinating insights into Japanese society, the studies in the book show how the Internet had opened up spaces or made accessible existing spaces, whether for discussion of masculinity, women's or other issues for questioning, debate and dissent but not that of the social mores and power structures as some commentators had suggested it would have the power to do. Rather to quote McClelland, "the Internet ... has allowed 'pre-existing images, narratives and practices' to become more accessible and visible". Therefore supporting the notion of "glocalization" advanced by Appadurai among others arguing that global technologies are put to very local uses. One instance in the book being the wonderful description of a Blues jamming session performed over the Internet between Japanese in a Blues bar in Tokyo and Americans in an ISP's office in Clarksdale, Mississippi!
The book covers a specialist area but even so has many generic lessons for the way in which the relationship between the Internet and society is developing, with particular reference to the actual manner in which it is being used and the limits thereof. It makes an interesting read. — Gregory Reece-Smith
Christopher R. Hughes and Gudrun Wacker (editors).
China and the Internet: Politics of the digital leap forward.
London, New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003.
cloth 174 p., ISBN 0-415-27772-8, US$90.00.
Routledge: http://www.routledge.com, http://www.routledge-ny.com
This book is the product of workshops held in late 2000 and February 2002 and as such presents an interesting mix of analysis of how Internet usage has been increased since the first e-mail left China in September 1987 to over 30 million users today and the politico-economic challenges it faces within China. The "Politics of the digital leap forward" is a most apt sub-title for these less than 175 pages of analysis and description of the conflicts between the belief amongst China's leaders that a development leap forward can be achieved on the back of computer technology and the question of whether technologies like the Internet undermine the power of authoritarian regimes. In fact several of the chapters concentrate on the dilemma of any ruling party that wants the benefits of access to information while lacking the will to promote active participation by citizens or to relax its control over the provision of content.
In China's case this is complicated by the wish to create more Chinese language usage and hence the expansion and improvement of information and entertainment offered in the language has been "largely provided on the Internet by organisations with strong links to the state". As such the collection of articles not only show there is little evidence to support the view that the Chinese state is being eroded by ICTs but rather goes on to suggest that most states are having a high degree of success in monitoring the information and even using it as means of control and as another one of the state's levers of influence. As outlined in the book, whilst China has used commercial interests, both domestic and foreign, to supply the necessary technology and expertise to monitor its users, the fact that it is available from Western sources confirms it is already in use outside of China! Hence it is unlikely the Internet will be the forum within which true democratic dissent is expressed and organised, one of the hoped for uses by some of the original thinkers on the Internet. Yes it may well act as a catalyst for change if instability arises for other reasons. However, as the chapters in this book illustrate, almost all states have passed legislation in the name of protecting the public in order to monitor and control Inernet-based communication. In this context it was fascinating to read examples of how, when Taiwan's hackers responded to assaults on their island's computer systems from mainland China in 1999 with eight waves of their own attacks, the chaos became so great that calls for a ceasefire went out. Similarly how the Chinese authorities encouraged cyber warfare launched against the U.S. targets following the Hainan spy-plane incident triggered off counter-attacks by American hackers. The articles help in making clearer the limits as well as the opportunities presented by the Internet.
The book records how both mainland China and Taiwan have established their own digital warfare units in order to be able to ensure they can defend their own interest of course, but how great is the step to virus creation? It also identifies how specialist groups have been established by the state to use the Internet to join in the war against "opponent" groups such as the Falungong.Some of the chapters on the way in which China is encouraging ICT deployment and the way in which this is influenced by the country's political system, culture and history make compulsory reading for anyone wishing to understand China. The examples cited show how the establishment of personal links between the top managers of corporations such as AOL and Murdoch and the Communist Party elite have paved the way for the former's commercial entry into China. As part of this process the book also cites: "James Murdoch is reported to have described the banned Falungong movement as 'dangerous' and an 'apocalyptic cult'". It goes on to note that China "is not entirely powerless when it comes to spreading its own 'spiritual pollution' around the world when it was revealed that these foreign corporations (AOL Time Warner and Murdoch) had agreed to throw their support behind efforts to permit China Central Television's English language channel to broadcast in the United States".
When it comes to controlling the behaviour of its own population, what emerges is on the one hand the crude measures such as the mass closure of Internet cafés or campaigns by Beijing municipal authorities to confiscate satellite receiving equipment to channeling all international Internet traffic through gateways located in the three cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou; adding this"appears to be a major factor in contributing to the slowness on Internet traffic in China". These are in addition to the blocking of direct access to politically suspect sites by the primarily urban young males who dominate China's Internet users.
Whilst attempts have been made to stimulate the spread of broadband by breaking up the monopoly on telecommunication services held by China Telecom so that there are now six major operators, it is no surprise to learn that "China Telecom has managed to remain the most powerful operator". Some of the means cited by Junhua Zhang may seem a little extreme as the turf wars between two state-owned operators not only involved the usual verbal abuse but also from 1994 to 1999 in the province of Hunan, saw dozens of people from both sides shot dead and about 400 injured during tussles. This is but one of the examples from the book on how important it is to understand the "tight relationship between the economic and ideological dimensions" of regulation in China.
A useful insight is provided as to both the limitations and the real opportunities for the Internet in China, although, as the editors note, "the ability of the state to appropriate advanced technology remains hampered by the political and social structures within which it is used. This includes the weakness of the rule of law, stark gaps of development between regions, obstacles posed by bureaucratic competition, fear of losing control over domestic dissent and over the activities of foreigners. From a longer historical perspective such problems are symptomatic of the enduring crisis of identity that permeates the culture of a society still struggling to come to terms with the transition from a world civilization to a nation state". This book is a useful addition to understanding a little more on the paradox which is China. Gregory Reece-Smith
Andrew B. King.
Speed up your site: Web site optimization.
Indianapolis, Ind.: New Riders, 2003.
paper, 528 p., ISBN 0-735-71324-3, US$39.99.
Companion site to book: http://www.WebSiteOptimization.com
New Riders: http://www.newriders.com
Andrew King tackles the number one problem with Web site usability: slow downloads. Every user on the planet has this complaint, even those with broadband. Speed Up Your Site is a cornucopia of nearly 500 pages of techniques for addressing the problem. It should be read by every Web designer.
Although the obvious justification for speedy downloads is fiscal (spend your money at my site instead of that slow one), what motivates King is empathy for frustrated users waiting around for Web pages to load. King's strong connection to the user is what sets this book apart from other technical manuals. He cites survey after survey documenting users' attitudes about using the Web. He is conversant with relevant literatures in psychology and human-computer interaction. Invoking Csikszentmihalyi, King hopes we can all have "flow experiences" with the Web that pleasurable sense of losing track of time as we become absorbed in satisfying activity. King did not have to bring Csikszentmihalyi into a book of this type; he could have made his argument purely on business grounds. That he did not warms the cockles of this user's heart.
King declares that his book is not for beginners. But I believe it's for anyone with a Web site, say, someone like me. Although I can't directly use much of what's in the book, which is beyond my technical capability, Chapters 15 and 16 on "Search Engine Optimization" are a goldmine of tips everyone can use to optimize the chances that their Web site will be found by the search engines. These chapters make fascinating reading, discovering how the search engines rank sites and learning useful factoids such as that multiple keyword searching has become the norm. King even offers social solutions to improving the visibility of your site, suggesting, for example, that you find sites similar to yours and request a link to your site, or an exchange of links.
Everyone should be aware of Speed Up Your Site so we can make the case that as users we know perfectly well how much Web sites can be optimized. It's not rocket science, just good engineering. Unlike phone menus which are rigid and expensive to change, Web sites host malleable documents that we can reasonably expect to be constantly improving.
Speed Up Your Site is a well-constructed volume with carefully placed sidebars, summaries, case studies, further readings, and online resources. Conversations with Csikszentmihalyi and Ben Shneiderman, a noted user interface researcher, enliven its pages. The crisp writing is a pleasure to read. Detailed examples provide hands-on resources for implementing the suggested optimizations. Quick! Read and enjoy this book. Bonnie Nardi
SSL and TLS: Designing and building secure systems.
Boston: Addison-Wesley, 2001.
paper, 528 p., ISBN 0-201-61598-3, US$39.95.
I was recently involved in an e-commerce project and was given the task to enable the SSL connectivity for the new Web site. This proved to be a fairly painless job, given the excellent open source software available and a plethora of HOWTOs on the subject to be found on the Web.
While the project wore on, a number of issues cropped up that I just couldn't get to the bottom of despite many hours of 'googling' and reading through mailing list archives. I realised that I definitely needed to know more about SSL and its inner workings from the ground up.
It was with this goal in mind that I turned to SSL and TLS by Eric Rescorla. Rescorla is a regular contributor to the OpenSSL (www.openssl.org) mailing list, and this was a plus point straightaway for me as OpenSSL was being used as part of the project. Indeed, OpenSSL is used to demonstrate several examples in the book. He is also the author of several RFCs in the area of securing Internet traffic. TLS is the successor to SSL, although its replacement of SSL is progressing slowly.
First impressions of the book are that it is very well laid out. Each chapter has a useful introduction and summary, and the preface helpfully suggests paths through the text according to what the reader wants to get out of it. The index and bibliography are thorough as well. Of course this should be the case for every technical book, but so often I get frustrated at the short cuts an author or publisher has taken in this area.
This thoroughness and attention to detail are in evidence throughout the book. It is obvious that Rescorla knows the subject very well indeed. The first chapter beings with defining the 'threat model' for the Internet, encouraging the reader to think about what exactly they require from SSL/TLS. From there the book moves quickly into an introduction to cryptography and communications security. As Rescorla says, this section obviously doesn't cover as much detail as a dedicated book on the subject, but there's enough here to understand SSL/TLS. An interesting snippet from the text is that British Intelligence had separately invented public key cryptography several years before Diffie and Hellman at Stanford, and this was only revealed almost twenty years later.
The next few chapters introduce the protocols, including a history of SSL which gives a quick insight of the workings of the IETF and the challenges faced when big industry players want their own way. The IETF had chartered the Transport Layer Security working group with standardizing an SSL-like protocol (i.e. harmonizing Netscape and Microsoft's implementations). There are a couple of amusing quotes here: "The primary open issue seemed to be what the name of the new protocol would be " (since this might reflect on whether Netscape or Microsoft had emerged victorious). In the end "... the TLS group decided to name the protocol TLS, which all parties were equally unhappy with. "
Rescorla uses network traces and clear diagrams to illustrate the concepts introduced in the text. Sometimes I feel that other books use network traces to pad out their content, but here they are genuinely useful, showing how clients and servers handshake and the like. Some important diagrams are also handily reproduced inside the front and back covers for quick reference.
Chapters five and six cover security and performance, which gave me exactly the information I had found hard to track down on the Internet, such as which algorithms are the best to use, etc. It helps to have a prior understanding of TCP/IP to get the best from this section though (this goes for following the network traces as well).
Chapter seven concerns protocol design, and gives the reader a guide to securing application layer protocols with SSL/TLS. Chapter eight looks the implementation of several common tasks that SSL programmers need to address. Examples of code (in C and Java) are used to illustrate these. These weren't my primary area of interest in the book, but it's good stuff nevertheless.
The last few chapters give a description of using HTTP over SSL (which I assume most people will be looking to do), securing SMTP with TLS and looking at alternatives to SSL/TLS. The HTTPS coverage looks at proxies, virtual hosts and session caching amongst other things and is essential reading. The SMTP chapter is interesting in that it gives an example of a situation where TLS doesn't work, as the security requirements for SMTP are a poor match for the security TLS provides. The 'contrasting approaches' chapter is excellent as well, and looks at IPsec, Secure-HTTP and S/MIME, pointing out that SSL is not the only tool available for securing network traffic. Rescorla was actually one of the primary designers for S-HTTP, and as with several other sections of the book is careful to point out areas where he may be accused of bias towards one approach or product ahead of another (with a 'Full Disclosure' paragraph). This might seem unnecessary, but I think it is another example of the thoroughness that Rescorla demonstrates throughout the book. As you might expect, all of the code and a (small) errata for the book are maintained on an accompanying Web site at the excellently named www.rtfm.com.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is even mildly interested in SSL/TLS. Its clear and accessible style and excellent technical content surely make it the book on the subject. I've even seen it endorsed by Phrack (!) if that publication's target audience is looking at the book, then shouldn't everyone whose job it is to secure traffic be doing the same? Jolyon Brown
Leonardo's laptop: Human needs and the new computing technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002. paper, 256 p., ISBN 0-262-19476-7, US$24.95. MIT Press: http://mitpress.mit.edu/
Ben Shneiderman has a highly respected international reputation on the science and engineerings of human computer interfaces (HCI). In this book, he has taken this passion and looked at it in a most imaginative manner.
Taking the creative genius of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) as a role model for integrating scientific disciplines, Shneiderman considers how de Vinci might have applied his imagination to today's information technology. Shneiderman states that the purpose of the book " ... is designed to raise your expectations of what you get from information and communication technologies. It presents a vision of truly helpful technologies in harmony with human needs" (p. 12).
Shneiderman makes the case for a paradigm shift from computing which has been largely user-unfriendly, centred around machine-centred automation to user-centred tools which enable the user to do a better job. Information technology becomes part of the user and not an "add on" barrier which has to be overcome.
The book begins with a short synopsis of de Vinci's life and moves on to discussing the history and development of computing, making a plea to developers to design software which generates better use experiences. Shneiderman calls this "universal usability" which enables all citizens to succeed in using information and communication technologies to support their tasks.
Having reached this utopia, then Shneiderman looks at how technology could improve and transform human activities and relationships, education, politics, medicine and creativity by harnessing international communications to share knowledge and disseminate it. To this end, Shneiderman provides a framework to examine each of these areas based on activities and relationships looking at how each sector collects information, relates by communication and collaboration the information gathered, from which creative innovation follows and finally donated and disseminated for the good of all.
The book is illustrated throughout by da Vinci's drawings, which are a delight to study. A very useful book for the students of today and anyone who would like an insight into how information technology could develop in the future. Peta Jellis
Copyright ©2003, First Monday