18 February 2013, 19:42

Meteor echoes through the cyberspace

Meteor echoes through the cyberspace
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Hey, hope you had a great weekend. One of the top stories throughout the weekend remained the meteor which exploded near Chelyabinsk – by different calculations (from NASA and Russian scientists), somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometers from the ground. And it’s a good thing, too.

Hey, hope you had a great weekend. One of the top stories throughout the weekend remained the meteor which exploded near Chelyabinsk – by different calculations (from NASA and Russian scientists), somewhere between 30 and 50 kilometers from the ground. And it’s a good thing, too. The blast is estimated to be equivalent to 500 kilotons of TNT; for example, the Hiroshima bomb was equivalent to only 16 kilotons. In other words, despite the preliminary price tag for this event being in the range of one billion rubles, the locals really got lucky – it could’ve been much worse, if the explosion was closer to the metropolitan area. Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned, some bloggers are having a field day flexing their comedy muscles. Apart from the popular themes of aliens taking over Russia, real-life Angry Birds Space games and the Russian Post finally delivering the end of the world, only a meager month and a half late, the blogosphere has been subjected to dozens of now-obligatory fake Twitter accounts. A few of them even managed to rise to relative popularity, amassing a few hundred followers, which are treated with regular jokes about space, meteorites and Chelyabinsk and such. For some reason one of the extraterrestrial accounts managed to get suspended over the weekend – not sure how that happened. By the way, analytics show that throughout the day the traffic was rerouted – from social networks to news sites, smashing the notion of the latter dying out. If the news is big enough, it’s worth getting from a trusted site, not just the grapevine, it seems.

In any case, the hype seems to be dying down – show’s over, folks – unless you’re local – according to some media reports and social media buzz, the population is now set on outrunning the authorities in their efforts to recover the shrapnel – only they’re not doing it for science, but for cash. I looked it up on avito.ru, a classifieds website, and found about a dozen of offers in the city of Chelyabinsk alone, from 1500 rubles per piece to a whopping 100,000. Funny thing is, some of these are not even from last Friday’s explosion – but all were posted over the weekend. I guess current owners decided that “a meteorite is a meteorite” and decided to cash in on the hype and sell their stash while people are into that stuff. And when I turned off filtering to Chelyabinsk, I was treated to a few dozen offers posted after the incident of various degree of ridiculousness. For example, one guy from Tomsk is selling a 3 kilogram (7 pound) rock for 500,000 rubles, claiming it was found somewhere in Siberia. One Muscovite offers a “red Cuboid” meteorite for one thousand rubles. The picture attached is a photo of a standard brick. Finally, a company from Ufa offers to “excavate meteorites” by renting out heavy machinery; the company offers own construction services as well. An interesting way to promote a business using hype, I’ll say. Even entrepreneurs over the Atlantic decided to get in on the action – ebay.com has several listings of space rocks which have the title “Similar History as Chelyabinsk Meteor”. I don’t know about you, but I find such marketing efforts to be just a bit too cheesy for my tastes. But yeah, anyway, if you live far away from Chelyabinsk, or other places where more meteors were reportedly sighted over the weekend, but would like to get your hands on physical reminders of the vastness of the universe, check out online auction sites and classifieds. Just remember that a rock not necessarily comes from space if one says so. Oh, and according to the latest media reports, the local authorities are looking into these online classifieds – not sure, why, though. Probably because according to initial reports, no fragments were found; so, most likely, the authorities simply don’t want any scammers selling regular rocks under the guise of meteor shrapnel. By the way, it seems that the official international name for the meteorite is Chebarkul – the name of the lake where the bulk of the rock finished its journey. This is the also the last echo of the blogosphere aftermath – this word is the only one related to the Chelyabinsk event in the Russian top 10 trending topic list. That’s internet for you – things happen fast and they’re forgotten even faster.

Speaking of ‘things happening fast’. If you recall, Microsoft recently took a jab at Gmail, trying to get some users switch to their own email service outlook.com, which was launched last summer. This is not the first time Microsoft attacked Google – previous commercials highlighted things like Google giving you ads instead of bona fide recommendations. The latest ad portrayed a technologically-impaired guy flabbergasted by ads shown in Gmail; the system erroneously thought he could not pay his bills based on his correspondence –that’s when the user finds out that *gasp* Google reads emails and targets advertisements accordingly. The campaign is cleverly named “Scroogled” and it’s been running for a little over a week now. Oh, yeah, and they’ve actually concocted yet another Scroogled ad, posted February 14th, on Valentine ’s Day. The Google mail-man drivers around delivering Valentine’s cards – but not before scanning them and adding ads which correspond to specific words (but fail to be relevant due to complicated nature of real language). Meanwhile, the Outlook.com mailman simply does his job – gets mail from point A to point B without any snooping. So what’s the result? Well, of there have been no official announcements. However, the website – that’s scroogled.com – has a link to a petition, which urges visitors to “Tell Google to stop going through your email to sell ads”. Well, this petition managed to gather a whopping… 8700 signatures. Wow. That’s just… embarrassing. That’s about 0.002% of the total Gmail userbase. And if you take a look at the commercials on youtube, you’ll see that they’re not treated very well. I guess people don’t take it too kindly to such negative commercials. Oh, and I’ll finish off this segment with a little irony. After reading about Scroogled on various websites I’ve noticed that suddenly a banner appeared, offering me to sign the aforementioned petition. That’s because, guess what, Microsoft uses personalized tracking to deliver you relevant ads – in other words, doing a very similar thing to what it condemns Google for.

But let’s get back to Russia. The largest Russian social network is again a source of controversy. Last week the network’s administration has blocked a “childfree” community page, which united users who do not want to have kids. Ethical, physiological and evolutionary issues aside, apparently this was a decision made by the St. Petersburg prosecution. Turns out that encouraging childless life is nothing more than propaganda of infringement of children’s rights. According to the filed document, the community – actually, several communities – had “extremely negative information which encouraged illegal actions towards children and mothers”. These pages also “rejected family values and cultivated disrespect towards parents”. Thus the prosecution pointed out that these community pages violated both network’s terms of service and legislation of the Russian Federation. The former states users must not post anything encouraging illegal activity. And the latter – well, according to the “Law on Children”, it’s illegal to post information which questions quote unquote “family values”. It should be noted that the law does not provide a legal definition of “family values”, leaving it free for interpretation. This law also includes swearwords and pornography – and there’s tons of this content in the social network. The thing is, the law only prohibits to expose children to the aforementioned information. As to why only “childfree” community pages were targeted, and not, for example, multimillion-user “funny” pages full of obscenities – well, the social network has issued an official statement clarifying the situation. According to VK’s spokesman, the pages had “shocking content and various encouragements”; the pages were not blocked because of the whole ideology of “childfree” per se. Well… maybe, I guess. There is still a number of childfree community pages in the social network, most of them are closed – that means that administrators can screen applicants and make sure no children are exposed to the aforementioned harmful information. Meanwhile, a legislative assembly deputy from St. Petesburg has thanked the prosecution for closing down the offensive pages and suggested in a Tweet that those openly opposing childbirth should be held criminally liable. Boy, that escalated quickly. Frankly, I’m not really sure if that Twitter account is the real deal due to the… opinionated nature of some of the tweets – but I guess that’s just the deputy’s style. Anyway, moving on.

As long as we’re talking about children… or lack thereof. Remember that Facebook recently introduced their ‘Graph Search’ feature? It’s still in beta and not available for everyone – but it’s supposed to help navigate the wild jungle of likes and check-ins and answer your questions about things, places and people. Basically, it promises to answer your questions through existing Facebook activity. Of course, there is a chance of it being abused – specific information can be both a tool and a weapon. For example, looking for someone living in a particular area and of a particular age can be dangerous… but Facebook just promised it won’t be – minors will not be tagged by the search, meaning that predators will not be able to find underage victims in a specific area.

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