2.24.2008

The LCD screens are always bright on Broadway

As LCD screens showing advertisements become ubiquitous in our society, the quality of life goes down.

I arrived this afternoon in Manhattan for FutureTest 2008. It started, as all thing New York begin, with the taxi ride from JFK to Midtown. In the seatback was an multifunction LCD screen that displayed ads, a real-time map, information about the city, ads, payment information, ads, a news ticker, and more ads.

You could turn the TV screen off entirely, but if it was on, it showed ads continuously. According to the New York Times, all 13,000 NYC taxis are expected to have on-board TV by March. During my half-hour trip, nearly all the ads were for Chase credit cards and Bose noise-cancelling headphones. Were they trying to tell me something?

When I got to the Hilton New York, what did I see? LCD screens everywhere. In the new self-service check-in kiosks (showing ads). At each station on the registration desk (showing ads). Placed randomly throughout the lobby (showing ads). And, of course, in each elevator (showing ads).

Is there no escape?

STPCon Fall 2008 Call for Speakers is now open

We haven't even held STPCon Spring 2008 yet, but we're ready for speaker proposals for the fall conference!

STPCon Fall 2008 will be Sept. 24-26 at the Marriott Boston Copley Hotel. That's right: We've moved across the river from Cambridge, where we hosted the conference in 2006 and 2007. The Marriott Boston Copley is a lot larger, which is important since we've sold out the past several conferences.

Speaker proposals are due March 10.

By the way, the Super Early Bird discounts have been extended for STPCon Spring 2008, Apr. 15-17 in San Mateo. Be sure to sign up by Wednesday, Feb. 27, to get the best deal.

A Midsummer Night's Dream in February

Last week we escaped up to beautiful Oregon. Most of our holiday was spent in the Redmond/Bend area, visiting with cousins in the shadow of the breathtaking Mount Bachelor volcanic chain. A nice, relaxing time was had by all.

Pleasant though our Central Oregon sojourn was, the high point was catching the opening performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The performance was modernized, as that play so often is... but a hippie-style Volkswagen microbus? Fairies that are, well, fairies? A Theseus that looked like a cross between a greaser and a Mafia boss? It worked.

While all the actors were excellent, special kudos go to Theseus (Michael Elich), Helena (Kjerstine Anderson), and Puck (John Tufts).

Bottom (Ray Porter) stole the show. You've never seen such a death scene.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is playing through November 2. Highly recommended.

2.15.2008

Have you seen the blue folder?

The Onion's take on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is brilliant! They are indeed America's finest news source.

Happy 8th Anniversary, SD Times!

Today is the eighth anniversary of the launch of BZ Media's SD Times. Hard to believe sometimes!

The first issue of the newspaper was dated Feb. 23, 2000. It was followed by Mar. 15, then Apr. 1, and so-on; we've been on a first-and-fifteenth schedule ever since. Traditionally, we celebrate anniversaries with the Feb. 15th issue.

Our cover stories eight years ago (you can download the issue if you'd like, or click the graphic to see a larger cover):

• eXcelon, CSI Form XML Alliance
• Compuware Puts New Face on Uniface
• Sun Targets Internet Appliances with J2ME

No .NET, no Eclipse, no Mac OS X, no Salesforce.com, no SOA. Google wasn't even a blip. Solaris 8 had just started shipping. We wondered if Linux would shatter Windows 2000, and explored the ramifications about embedding ads in applications as part of a new business model.

The cover stories in the current issue:

• Nokia Buys Trolltech
• ISVs Urged to Boost Security
• Sun SPOTs Promise Pervasive Computing

Happy anniversary!

2.14.2008

EclipseWorld 2008 Call for Speakers now open

We're now accepting speaker proposals for EclipseWorld 2008 — the technical conference specially designed for enterprise IT staff and software developers using Eclipse-based tools and technologies.

There's a lot of excitement in the Eclipse ecosystem, particularly around the forthcoming Ganymede release train this summer. That's one of the reasons why we hold EclipseWorld in the fall, so that we can present classes that teach you how to use the latest bits.

This year, EclipseWorld is Oct. 28-30. We're holding it again in Reston, Va. — a location that proved very popular last year!

Back to the Call for Speakers: The deadline for submissions of abstracts and bios is April 16. Speakers will be notified by April 28 if their class is accepted.

Check out the Call for Speakers, and we look forward to seeing you at EclipseWorld.

2.13.2008

Pop quiz: Who is buried in Grant's tomb? How often does eWeek publish?

Q: Who is buried in Grant's tomb?
A. Nobody is technically buried there, but Ulysses S. Grant is entombed above-ground in the monument's mausoleum.

Q: How often does Ziff Davis Enterprise publish eWeek?
A: Thirty-nine times per year, at least for 2008.

ZDE still refers to eWeek as an "IT newsweekly." It used to be that an IT newsweekly published at least 48 times per year; there were occasionally some combined issues, but the frequency was essentially weekly. But as you can see from the 2008 editorial calendar, eWeek is down to 39 issues per year.

Maybe they should change the name again.

2.11.2008

No operating system just for the little ladies

I echo the comments by Tina Gasperson, in her post, "Linux distro for women? Thanks, but no thanks." It reminds me of the tool kits for women you see in all the department stores, with pink-handled screwdrivers "just for her."

What, my wife can't use our Craftsman screwdrivers or Black & Decker drills? We're supposed to have two sets of tools, one for me and our son, one for my wife? Are we supposed to buy some Craftswoman tools, or get her gear from Pink & Decker? How condescending.

Software, including operating systems, should be written for people. Not for men, not for women, not for girls, not for boys. People.

I never knew that the Red Hat and SUSE were "for boys," and that my wife is supposed to run a different server operating system than the males in the household.

How stupid is that?

Farewell, Dr. Floyd

Roy Scheider, who played Dr. Heywood Floyd in the movie "2010" and Capt. Nathan Bridger in "SeaQuest DSV," passed away yesterday at age 75.

Oh, yeah, he did some other roles too, most notably Chief Martin Brody in Jaws. But for me, he'll always be Doktor Floyd (said in Helen Mirren's authentic Russian accent).

(If only Dr. Floyd had told Capt. Kirbuk, "You're gonna need a bigger boat...")

2.10.2008

No liquids on planes

While I'm on the subject of air travel... it was really depressing, on a recent trip, to see the family ahead of me in the security line put a sealed six-pack of Gatorade into the recycle bin. What a waste.

I don't know about you, but the ban on liquids does not make me feel safer. (And yes, the family should have known better.)

My way around the ban is to carry an empty half-liter water bottle through security, and then once through screening, fill it up from a water fountain. It's free. Buying an overpriced water bottle at an airport concession is definitely not. While on the plane, the flight attendants are quite happy to refill the bottle as needed.

Sometimes, if I'm feeling adventurous, I dump in a little packet of Crystal Light's Lemonade On The Go. Yum.

What do you do if you find a flash drive in an airline seat-back pocket?

Apropos to my posting a couple of weeks ago about the dangers of lost flash drives, New York Times columnist Randy Cohen tackles that issue in today"s paper.

A reader asks Randy,

At the end of a long flight, I gathered my children’s scattered belongings and scooped up someone’s lost flash drive, planning to mail it to its owner. A quick check showed that the drive contains a company’s proprietary information.

This is a significant issue. As flash drives become larger and more pervasive, we're going to see more and more data lost because of them.

How many of us take some simple steps to improve the odds that lost flash drives would be returned? Do you have a file called "owner.txt" with your name, address or e-mail address? Do you have an address sticker? Frankly, I don't do a good job with this, not on my flash drives.

Perhaps I should, because such things work: Many years ago, I dropped my Day-Timer notebook at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Because my business card was stapled inside, the airport's Lost & Found department returned it to me just a few days later.

Fixing an Excel 2004 printing bug under Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Symptom: Excel 2004 spreadsheets don't appear correct under print preview, and print only blank pages.

Remediation: On some machines, there is a problem with the "high" print resolution. In order to get the spreadsheet to print properly, go to File -> Page Setup. The last drop down is for "Print Quality." If it is set to "High," pick another setting like 300dpi or 600dpi. Then try print preview again — it should work.

We had this issue on one machine running Mac OS X 10.5.1 Leopard and Excel 2004 11.3.7, and it took a while to run it down. It is unclear if this is an Excel bug or a Leopard bug.

2.09.2008

With one free bag, the Friendly Skies got a little less friendly

Air travel is enough of a nuisance these days. Why do airlines have to keep finding ways to make things worse?

Take United Airlines, which is my default carrier because it has so many non-stops out of SFO. Here's a notice they just sent me, rescinding the long-standing rule that travelers can check two bags for free:

As of February 4, 2008, United has a new checked baggage policy. Non-elite Mileage Plus® members and non-members traveling on non-refundable Economy tickets within the United States, Canada and U.S. territories, may check one bag for free and a second for a $25 fee. The new policy applies to tickets purchased beginning February 4, 2008 for travel on or after May 5, 2008.

Thank you for choosing United.

From snack boxes — inedible junk for $5 — to this. How long, do we think, before the "free" non-alcoholic beverages cost $5 as well?

It's amazing that people believe vendor-sponsored research

One of the open secrets of the technology industry is that many — if not most — technology analyst firms are "pay for praise."

Such analyst firms conduct research designed to flatter their clients who sponsor that research. Those clients then promote those "objective" research results as justification of their innovation leadership, and as proof of their marketing hyperbole.

Often, when technology journalists hear about a company being named to a research firm's list of leaders, the question we ask ourselves is, "How much did that cost?"

Some analyst firms are more honest than others, of course. And some are much worse. Lee Gomes, in a Jan. 30 story in The Wall Street Journal, wrote about the practice in "Vendors Still Paying For IT Research That Flatters Them." His story hits the nail on the head.

Lee focused on one notorious flatterer, Aberdeen Group, beginning with,

There were many excesses during the Internet bubble; one involved the Aberdeen Group, which passed itself off as a technology consulting and research operation, but which was for the most part a "pay-for-praise" operation. If you saw an Aberdeen report saying that Acme MicroMacro sold world-class solutions, you could be sure that Acme had written Aberdeen a world-class check.

He continues that under its new owners, Harte-Hanks, Aberdeen has a new business model that discloses the vendor relationship:

The current Aberdeen comes up with a research topic, typically involving some new technology trend, and then approaches tech companies selling products associated with the trend. For what customers say is roughly $30,000 a company can become a report sponsor. Aberdeen, which wouldn't discuss its fee, then sends questionnaires to tech users, asking about their current activities and future plans for the area in question. The reports are meant to be a snapshot of the marketplace and don't mention specific companies.

The result, reports Lee:

The potential conflict in this approach, though, is clear. The reports are big business — there were 212 last year — each typically with four or five sponsors. But if much of your top line is dependent on getting tech companies to sponsor your research reports, you've got quite an incentive to design questionnaires that will yield the kind of reports tech vendors will want to sponsor.

In that regard, Aberdeen delivers. The reports seem to invariably discover that "best in class" companies use, or are thinking about using, or somehow embody, whatever technology the report happens to be discussing.

While Aberdeen is noteworthy for participation in such non-objective research, it's surely not the only one. Think about the biggest, more influential analyst firms in IT. I'm sure you can think of several household names. Nearly all of them play the same game: their reports are meant to flatter their sponsors, not offer honest advice to enterprise IT managers who are relying on those reports to help make difficult technology decisions.

It's a shame that when it comes to analysts, you just can't trust them, most of the time.

Adobe Stock Photos is going away, and for a very good reason

Adobe sent out a notice that one of its services, Adobe Stock Photos, is going to be discontinued. The service will be turned off on April 1.

I have no idea how popular Adobe Stock Photos is, but the company offered up a helpful FAQ to explain a few things. From it, you can learn that:

Adobe Stock Photos is a royalty-free image service introduced with Adobe Creative Suite® 2 software in May 2005. Offering one-stop shopping from within Adobe Bridge in Creative Suite 2 and Creative Suite 3 as well as standalone CS2 and CS3 applications, Adobe Stock Photos provides a convenient way for creative professionals to search across multiple image libraries at once and purchase royalty-free images.

Sounds great, right?

In case you're wondering what's going on, and why Adobe Stock Photos is being put out to pasture, the FAQ has another question:

Q: Why is the service being discontinued?

A:
Adobe has decided to concentrate its efforts in other areas.

How many staff meetings between product managers and customer-service executives did it take to develop that informative explanation?

2.08.2008

Say “goodbye” to first-generation cellular telephony

If you were an early adopter of mobile telephones – perhaps you have a car phone, a bag phone, or an expensive handset like the Motorola MicroTAC – you used the analog AMPS cellular phone system.

AMPS, or Advanced Mobile Phone Service, used FM signals in the 800MHz band. Range wasn’t great, but when you had a phone connection, the sound quality was generally good.

While AMPS got the U.S. mobile phone system off the ground in 1983, carriers hated it, because each tower could only handle a small number of connections.

That's why carriers were quick to move toward multiplexed digital systems, such as GSM and TDMA, because they could support more callers per frequency (and therefore, at lower cost). Sure, digital signals sounded much worse than the analog AMPS calls, but too bad.

AMPS-based telephony also had other problems. If you had wide-spectrum UHF receiver or scanner, you could listen to the analog phone calls. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission swiftly required that new scanners and receivers omit the AMPS band, but older “gapless” radios (like the Yaesu FRG-9600) could handle such signals.

The AMPS cellular network was also the foundation of appliances, such as wireless security systems. Unlike landline-based security systems, whose phone lines could be cut, the transmitter of an AMPS-based security system could still call for help if needed.

For years, the FCC has mandated that some carriers continue to operate their AMPS networks, in order to support those security systems, and also serve customers with older handsets. However, that requirement ends on Feb. 18, 2008, when the FCC “Analog Sunset Order” goes into effect. At that time, we can expect to see AMPS turned off.

Goodbye, analog cellular. You did your job well.

2.05.2008

Good luck, Microsoft, with the Yahoo thing

Seemingly everyone this week is distracted by Microsoft’s hostile takeover bid for Yahoo.

• Pundits wonder if other suitors will emerge, and how Google will respond.
• Microsoft-bashers want the company to fix its software, instead of screwing up Yahoo.
• Microsoft-boosters drool over the synergy between Yahoo and MSN.
• Analysts correctly note that there’s a lot of overlap in content and services.

Microsoft’s fervent desire, of course, is for more advertising revenue. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are tired of watching Google kick them from one end of the football field to the other. Since they can’t innovate their way out of this mess, they’ll try to spend $42 billion on a Hail Mary pass.

Even without competing suitors, it’s not certainly that the deal will succeed. Microsoft, after all, is a confirmed monopolist, accused of tying its dominant operating system closely to its Web offerings. Windows and Internet Explorer already “favor” MSN. If MSN merges with Yahoo, those bonds will only deepen.

Google's current dominance of paid search notwithstanding, Microsoft’s going to have a challenge getting this transaction past an anti-trust review.

Yesterday's Windows double-shot

Yesterday, both Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista Service Pack 1 were released to manufacturing. Customers are set to receive the new bits in March.

Both are long-awaited updates.

Windows Server 2008
(aka “Longhorn Server”) is a significant revamping of Microsoft’s server platform line. The deeply embedded virtualization capabilities, if nothing else, warrant a lot of attention. There are also many improvements to Internet Information Services; IIS 7.0 should be a lot fast and more stable, as well as easier to develop for.

Windows Vista SP1… well, it's hard to be enthusiastic. It’s been a full year since Windows Vista shipped, and the platform has totally failed to gain traction. It’s hard to find anyone, outside of Microsoft and its closest partners, who are enthusiastic about Vista. Sales of Windows XP remain brisk, and there are even petitions asking Microsoft to maintain XP as a parallel product line to Vista. SP1 promises to fix many of Vista’s most painful shortcomings. It’s about time.

Gotta have those Eclipse Java Development Tools

What’s the most popular part of the Eclipse ecosystem, beyond the framework itself? By a wide margin, it’s the Java Development Tools project.

BZ Research conducted its fourth annual Eclipse study late last year. We’re publishing some of the results in the Feb. 15 issue of SD Times, but this one’s worth sharing now. We asked Eclipse users, “Which Eclipse ‘bits’ are currently used by your organization?” Here were the top 10 responses:

57.7% Java Development Tools (JDT)
34.6% Web Tools Project - J2EE Standard Tools
34.6% Web Tools Project - Web Standard Tools
24.8% Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF)
21.1% Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP)
21.0% C/C++ IDE (CDT)
20.0% Web Tools Project - JavaServer Faces
19.0% Graphical Editor Framework (GEF)
19.0% Web Tools Project - AJAX Tools Framework
16.9% Visual Editor (VE)

The full study, which tracks trends from 2004-2007, along with many verbatim comments, is available for purchase from BZ Research.

A clean hi-fi is a happy hi-fi

It's amazing how dirty a stereo can get after three decades, especially when it's been sitting gathering dust for the past half-dozen years or so. Potentiometers get scratchy, switches get noisy. Analog circuity is more sensitive to dirt and dust than all-digital components.

Bothered by a noisy left channel, we cleaned the old Marantz 3200 preamp and 140 power amp. The tools? Liberal quantities of canned air on blow out the dust, and tuner cleaner to restore the mechanical switches and pots.

What a difference it made to the audio quality! Not only did the scratchiness and flakiness go away, but the sound quality is better across the board.

Accessibility is part of the joy of old audio equipment. As with old cars, it's easy to work on them and keep them in fine fettle. The new digital stuff... not so much. What can you do with a bunch of chips? Nothing, really.

2.01.2008

Keep an eye on those flash drives – and USB ports

USB ports, as any IT security expert can tell you, are trouble just waiting to happen. Sure, they’re fine for keyboards and mice. However, think about the other things that can be plugged into them, like portable storage devices ready to hoover your data.

I was fascinated by Andrew Binstock’s recent post regarding the internal USB ports on enterprise workstations. Those ports are designed for applications that use dongles. The problem with dongles is that they easily fit into a pocket. But if you lock the dongle inside the computer, it’s less likely to fall into the wrong hands, or the wrong pocket.

USB-based flash drives are potentially even more dangerous than stolen dongles, as shown by a new study from the Ponemon Institute. This study was commissioned by and paid for by RedCannon Security, whose PR agency sent me the results. RedCannon sells stuff to secure USB flash drives. They paid for this study in order to drum up business.

With that said..

According to the study, 87% of their study’s respondents say that their company’s policies forbid them copying unprotected sensitive information onto a USB flash drive. However, 51% say that they have copied confidential info onto a flash drive — and 57% believe that other employees routinely use flash drives to store and move confidential info.

What’s so bad about that? Even assuming that all the employees are behaving totally above-board… 28% of respondents say that a flash drive has been either lost or stolen. The study doesn’t ask, unfortunately, how many respondents have lost a flash drive that contains confidential, proprietary or sensitive info.

Even so, a challenge is that flash drives frequently are used to backup information, to bring information home (to work on it), and to share information with other people. That came up last week, in fact, when I was in my New York office… the fastest way for one of our staff to give me some files was to copy them onto a flash drive.

Those files are still on the flash drive, which is in my briefcase. But what if it fell out? What if someone stole my briefcase?

Now, had those files been confidential (they weren’t), and I were to lose the flash drive, that would be a bad thing. Or what if I then reused that flash drive to give different data to someone else… and that person also copied those “confidential” files? The potential for inadvertent data loss is obvious. And that’s assuming no malicious intent.

With malicious intent, every USB port (and Firewire port) is a potential hole that an attacker can exploit to steal data, corrupt files, or plant malware.

Do you have polities and measures in place to prevent the copying of confidential data onto portable storage devices, and for securing USB ports? If not, you should.

About Me

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Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.