4.30.2008

Achtung! Alles lookenpeepers!

I was chatting with a young gentleman here at Interop and made a reference to all the blinking LEDs in the Interop NOC with the phrase "Achtung lookenpeepers!"

The young person had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained that "back in the day" there was this funny German warning that we used to tape on our data center's windows to tell people not to touch anything, but just enjoy the blinking lights.

Thanks to the miracle of modern search engines, I've found it to share with a new generation of IT professionals.

Achtung! Alles Lookenpeepers!

Dies Machine is nicht fur gefingerpoken und mittengraben. Is easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken mit spitzensparken. Is nicht fur gewerken by das dummkopfen. Das rubbernecken sightseeren keepen Cotten-pickenen hands in das pockets - relaxen und Watch Das Blinken Lights.

Keep your digital gadgets sparkling clean!

This just in from a friendly public-relations person:

Alan,

I wanted to let you know about a great new product hitting the market next week — the La Fresh Tech Pack, a compact mini travel zip-up bag that contains individual towelettes to clean all of your tech devices.

This is an easy way to keep all of your digital gadgets clean while on the go. It's great for glasses, screens, lenses, scopes, cameras, PDAs, cell phones, laptops, gaming devices etc., etc., etc. And there's no need for a liquid cleaner and separate applicator cloth — it's all in one!

The La Fresh Tech Pack includes four Wet & Dry Dual Action Screen Cleaning towelette packets, three Lens Cleaning towelette packets, and three Anti-Bacterial towelette packets. All towelettes are biodegradable! The entire Tech Pack is travel friendly — it meets the TSA regulations to be carried onboard a plane. This pack is perfect for the office, computer bag, car, home, purse, or school locker.

The MSRP for the La Fresh Tech Pack is $9.99.

I could use that little dual-action screen cleaning towelette right now. The display on my Mac notebook is filthy!

Be cautious about applying any chemical to optical lenses. For those, use a soft brush or lint-free cloth. Clean wash cloths are good, as are squares cut from old, well-laundered plain white t-shirts. (White is important, because you can see if it's dirty before you use it.)

Do not use general-purpose paper tissue (like facial tissue or toilet paper) on camera lenses or eyeglasses. Even though tissues seem soft, paper is mildly abrasive, and can damage any anti-glare coatings on the lens, or even scratch it. Even with cloth, wipe gently on the lens to remove dust or dirt. Don't apply pressure on the glass.

Hurray for Floyd the Inflatable Pig!

We can all sleep easy again, now that an inflatable pig has been found.

According to the BBC story, "Floyd inflatable pig is recovered,"

A giant inflatable pig which floated away during a Roger Waters concert at the weekend has been recovered in tatters in California. The pig, which measured the width of two buses, was found by two families on their driveways in La Quinta. They will split the $10,000 (£5,090) reward offered by the Coachella music festival, from where the pig was lost.

4.29.2008

Alex Handy and the amazing Atari 2600 chips

My colleague Alex Handy, who serves as senior editor of our new publication, Systems Management News, has two passions. One is for old computer hardware. The other is for gaming.

Thus, imagine Alex's delight when he came across a real find at a flea market, as he wrote about on the SysManBlog:

I made a find at the flea market that has made me something of a celebrity in the world of video gaming. I found a handful of chips at a shop stall that seem to contain some long-lost Colecovision and Atari 2600 game code. As a game collector, this was the find of a lifetime. As a lover of free and open technology, this was a chance to give something to the world as well. There is, in fact, a great deal of interest out there in finding and playing games that were never published.

Read the rest of the post, it's fascinating, because it turns out those EPROMs he discovered were for a game that was never actually released for the Atari 2600 console... but he has the chips that says that the game was developed.

I'm not the only one who thinks this is neat: The story was picked up by the Wall Street Journal.
Yesterday, Jason Fry wrote about the adventure in "A Videogame Fan's Fantastic Find." Here's how Jason's story starts — be sure to read the whole thing. You can read it online for free now, don't know how long that'll last.

At first glance it doesn't seem like big news: Technology writer and videogame collector Alex Handy was at a swap meet in Oakland, Calif., when he found a bunch of EPROMs — computer memory chips — on a table covered with junk. When he got home, he saw some of the chips had handwritten labels that said "CPKPark Atari," and one said "CPKPARK 2600 Atari." Cryptic to most of us, but not to collectors of old videogames — for them, that notation was potentially the equivalent of stumbling across a 1955 double-die penny, a Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill stamp, or a Honus Wagner T206 baseball card.

Totally cool, eh?

4.28.2008

Jeff Atwood's Coding Horror: A blog worth enjoying

If you're not aware of Coding Horror, you should check it out.

Jeff Atwood's developer blog varies all over the map, when it comes to software design — and other related topics.

His most recent post, for example, touched on the ease of building a home theatre PC. Other current topics cover software registration, the efficiency of blog software, and multicore programming.

Questions about Windows XP Availability? Dell has the answers!

Dell knows what its customers want. It knows that while most of its consumer and business customers are happy to run Windows Vista on their new desktops, notebooks and workstations, others are not.

So, despite Microsoft's announced phase-out of Windows XP, with the sale of most new licenses ending after June 30, 2008, Dell has found a way to keep offering the software on new computers. The trick is to exercise so-called "downgrade rights" that Microsoft provided in its licenses for Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate. I'm going to quote extensively from Dell's Web page, entitled, "Questions about Windows XP Availability? Dell has the answers!"

The page begins:

Per the Microsoft® Windows Life-Cycle policy, Direct OEM and Retail License Availability for Windows XP will End-Of-Life (EOL) on June 30, 2008. To meet Microsoft’s June 30 last-day-to-ship OEM Windows XP deadline, June 18 is the last time to purchase a Dell laptop, desktop, or workstation with an OEM Windows XP license.

After June 18th you have the option to purchase Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate with a downgrade service to Windows XP Professional. If you transition to Windows Vista, don’t transition because you have to, transition because you want to! Windows Vista has some great new features to help you become more efficient, secure and mobile — features that are not included in Windows XP.

Dell continues with a FAQ. Read carefully, this is rather complicated.

Windows Vista® Business offers new features designed to help you focus more on what’s important — your business. However, some businesses may not be ready to transition away from Windows® XP, and Dell can help ease the transition. Below are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions on this topic.

Is there any way to get Windows XP after June 30th?
Customers may continue to get Windows XP Professional by exercising Downgrade Rights that come with Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate licenses. Dell has the ability to exercise “Windows Vista downgrade rights” on your behalf in the factory if your business is still reliant upon Windows XP and you’d prefer to have Windows XP Professional preinstalled on your PCs.

So, what are Windows Vista “Downgrade Rights”?
Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate have what Microsoft calls “Downgrade Rights.” Downgrade Rights means that anyone with a Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate operating system can downgrade to Windows XP Professional provided they have the media for Windows XP Professional. Customers may use one operating system at any single point in time (cannot run both operating systems simultaneously unless an additional license is purchased). For customers who decide to exercise Downgrade Rights on their own, however, please note that Dell will only support the factory-installed operating system. Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium do not have this option, as they are not capable of downgrading to Windows XP.

What does it mean for Dell to exercise “Downgrade Rights” for me? Where can I find this option?
When you are configuring your system online or through the help of one of our sales experts, you will have the opportunity to select which operating system you would like on your PC. When selecting your operating system, you will see an option called “Genuine Windows® Vista Business BONUS” and “Genuine Windows® Vista Ultimate BONUS.” With these options, you may purchase the licensed rights to Windows Vista but have Dell factory install Windows XP Professional. You will also receive a backup media disc for Windows XP Professional as well as the media for Windows Vista so you can upgrade when you’re ready. Furthermore, with these options Dell will provide technical support for the factory-installed Windows XP Professional image and your licensed version of Windows Vista.

Can I downgrade on my own?
Yes, you can as long as you have your own Windows XP Professional media (i.e. from a prior purchase). However, Dell’s standard policy is to provide technical support on the operating system that comes pre-installed on your PC. Dell does not encourage you to change your operating system on your own as this can be a complicated process.

So, if I choose to have Dell downgrade for me, does that mean I can only get technical support on Windows XP Professional since that is what will be pre-installed?
No, with this option Dell will provide technical support on both Windows XP Professional and Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate (depending on which version you choose).

I don’t need Windows XP Professional, but I still want Windows XP Home Edition. Is there any way for me to get this from Dell?
No, Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP MCE both End-of-Life (EOL) on June 30, 2008 and do not have the capability to transition to Windows Vista (i.e. these licenses do not include Downgrade Rights provisions). Microsoft created that capability only with Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate. Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Home Premium are unable to downgrade to Windows XP.

What do I do when I’m ready to upgrade my computer to Windows Vista?
You will use the Windows Vista DVD provided to you to install Windows Vista on your computer. If you upgrade and then realize you’re not quite ready for Windows Vista yet, you also have the freedom to go back to Windows XP Professional using the Windows XP Professional CD provided with the downgrade service.

Good job, Dell! I wonder if other manufacturers will follow this lead... or if Microsoft will convince Dell to cancel this program.

Andrew Binstock interviews Donald Knuth

The inventor of TeX doesn't believe in designing code for reuse. The man known for his incredible compilation of algorithms, "The Art of Computer Programming," isn't a fan of multicore development.

Donald Knuth is a computer scientist's computer scientist. Nothing compares to the TAOCP, the first three volumes of which occupy a place of pride on my bookshelf.

After finishing up the revising the first three volumes, on Fundamental Algorithms, Seminumerical Algorithms and Searching & Sorting, om 1998, Dr. Knuth resumed working on Volume 4, Combinatorial Algorithms.

It turned out to be a big volume. How big? Who knows?

Today, he's still only partway though, having completed four sections, or fascicles, of that work, encompassing his vision of the MMIX RISC computer (2005), generating tuples and permutations (2005), generating combinations and partitions (2005) and generating trees (2006).

Addison-Wesley just published Volume 4, Fascicle 0, "Introduction to Combinatorial Algorithms and Boolean Functions," which is kind of a prequel. It hits the shelves on May 4.

Andrew Binstock, himself an Addison-Wesley author, was invited to interview Dr. Knuth on the occasion of the publication of Fascicle 0. I enjoyed reading the interview, and am sure you will also.

4.27.2008

Windows XP Service Pack 3: More security

Microsoft officially released Windows XP Service Pack 3 to manufacturing, and according to the company, it’s going to available on the Web on Tuesday, April 29.

It’s been about four years since Windows XP SP2 came out. What does the new version have? According to a Microsoft white paper, “Overview of Windows XP Service Pack 3,” there’s not much beyond roll-ups of previous bug fixes and security enhancements:

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) includes previously released Windows XP updates, including security updates and hotfixes. It also includes select out-of-band releases, and a small number of new enhancements, which do not significantly change customers’ experience with the operating system.

Windows XP SP3 provides a new baseline for customers still deploying Windows XP. For customers with existing Windows XP installations, Windows XP SP3 fills gaps in the updates they might have missed—for example, by declining individual updates when using Automatic Updates, and updates not available through
Windows Update.

Windows XP SP3 includes all previously released Windows XP updates, including security updates and hotfixes, and select out-of-band releases. Windows XP SP2 was released in August 2004. Since then, Microsoft has released hundreds of updates. Windows XP SP3 includes all of these updates.

Microsoft is not adding significant Windows Vista functionality to Windows XP through SP3. However, SP3 does include Network Access Protection (NAP) to help organizations that use Windows XP to take advantage of new features in the Windows Server 2008 operating system.

There are seven specific areas of new functionality that Microsoft cites: “Black Hole Router” detection, Network Access Protection, Descriptive Security Options User Interface, Enhanced Security for Administrator and Service Policy Entries, Microsoft Kernel Mode Cryptographic Module and Windows Product Activation. These are described as:

"Black Hole" Router Detection: Windows XP SP3 includes improvements to black hole router detection (detecting routers that are silently discarding packets), turning it on by default.

Network Access Protection: NAP is a policy enforcement platform built into Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and Windows XP SP3 with which you can better protect network assets by enforcing compliance with system health requirements. Using NAP, you can create customized health policies to validate computer health before allowing access or communication; automatically update compliant computers to ensure ongoing compliance; and optionally confine noncompliant computers to a restricted network until they become compliant.

Descriptive Security Options User Interface: The Security Options control panel in Windows XP SP3 now has more descriptive text to explain settings and prevent incorrect settings configuration.

Enhanced security for Administrator and Service policy entries: In System Center Essentials for Windows XP SP3, Administrator and Service entries will be present by default on any new instance of policy. Additionally, the user interface for the Impersonate Client After Authentication user right will not be able to remove these settings.

Microsoft Kernel Mode Cryptographic Module: Fips.sys is a FIPS 140-1 Level 1–compliant, general purpose, software-based, cryptographic module in the kernel mode level of the Windows operating system. It runs as a kernel mode export driver (a kernel-mode DLL) and encapsulates several different cryptographic algorithms in an easy-to-use cryptographic module accessible by other kernel mode drivers. It can be linked to other kernel mode services to permit the use of FIPS 140-1 Level 1–compliant cryptography.

Windows Product Activation: As in Windows Server 2003 SP2 and Windows Vista, users can now complete operating system installation without providing a product key during a full, integrated installation of Windows XP SP3. The operating system will prompt the user for a product key later as part of Genuine Advantage. As with previous service packs, no product key is requested or required when installing Windows XP SP3 using the update package available through Microsoft Update. Note: This update affects the installation media only and is not a change to how activation works in Windows XP.

I'm glad they're not messing with the activation protocol — it's bad enough already.

Microsoft blinks, a little, about retaining Windows XP

Microsoft has long insisted that it would stop selling new retail and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) licenses of Windows XP after June 30, 2008. Sure, some consumers and business customers said that they’d like to be able to keep buying new PCs running Windows XP. Yes, Galen Gruman and the folks at InfoWorld began a write-in campaign to delay the shut-off.

Despite this, you can’t blame Microsoft for insisting that the old software had to come off the store shelves at some point. When a new model comes out, most companies stop selling the old one. Sometimes that's a big mistake, as Ford learned when it overhauled the Taurus in 1996. But you've gotta keep moving forward.

So, I was surprised when the company unexpected blinked a little, as you can see by viewing their License Availability Roadmap for Windows. Previously, the company asserted that retail and OEM licenses for Windows XP – including Home Edition, Professional Edition, Tablet PC Edition and Media Center Edition — would be available though June 30, 2008. (System builders can issue licenses through January 31, 2009, but those specialized uses don’t apply to the general PC market.)

But there's a new footnote:

As of April 2008, Microsoft is extending availability of Windows XP Home Edition for OEMs to install on Ultra Low-Cost PCs. The new OEM end date will be the later of either June 30, 2010, or one year after the general availability of the next version of Windows.

Fascinating, eh?

I wonder if we’ll see more backpeddling before the clock runs out for Windows XP Professional.

We love you, Chief James Ibori!

It's sure nice of the former governor of the Delta State in Nigeria to write me offering to bring me all this profit. Yet somehow, I doubt that it's really Chief James Ibori writing to one of our info@ email accounts.

Subject: LETTER OF INTENT!

Goodday , I am looking for your cooperation in building a Tourist Hotel or Real Estate in your country. I am sorry if this is not in line with your business.

I need an experienced person like you to assist me to set up , develop the project and assume responsibility of ownership as chairman but will be bringing in profit /distribute profit monthly or annually. I shall give you more info. Please contact me at my private email.

Governor James Ibori

4.26.2008

Systems Management News applies for BPA membership

Shelton, Conn., April 22, 2008Systems Management News has applied for business publication membership in BPA Worldwide. The magazine is published by BZ Media LLC (Huntington, N.Y.).

BPA Worldwide will track circulation for Systems Management News based on business/distribution, demographics and geographic coverage. The magazine will have 12 months to complete its initial circulation audit.

“BZ Media has put in the effort and the investment to build circulation on Systems Management News right from the start and we are demonstrating that by applying for membership with BPA Worldwide just a week after our first issue shipped,” said Publisher Ted Bahr.

“We are pleased that Systems Management News has applied for membership in BPA Worldwide,” said BPA president and CEO Glenn Hansen. “We applaud the publisher for providing advertisers and prospects with the solid assurance of an independent circulation audit conducted according to our world-respected, uncompromising standards. With a BPA audit, media buyers can be confident that circulation claims are accurate, and that they have the verified data that they need to assess a publication’s effectiveness in serving its market.

About BPA Worldwide: A not-for-profit organization since 1931, BPA Worldwide is governed by a tripartite board comprised of media owners, advertising agencies and advertisers. Headquartered in Shelton, Connecticut, USA, BPA has the largest membership of any media-auditing organization in the world, spanning more than 25 countries. Worldwide, BPA serves more than 2,500 media properties—including over 1,900 B-to-B publications, more than 400 consumer magazines and newspapers, 100+ Web sites, and events, email newsletters, databases, wireless and other advertiser-supported media—as well as more than 2,600 advertiser and agency members. Visit www.bpaww.com for the latest audit reports, membership information and publishing and advertising industry news.

4.17.2008

Love my little Flip Ultra video camera

Here I am at STPCon, the Software Test & Performance Conference, and we’re shooting great video with a $140 video camera.

I purchased the Flip Ultra video camera in January, after I asked a friend of mine – a professional videographer – what I should buy. I’m not good at video, not by any standard, probably because my real interest is in still photography.

Yet, increasingly, I can’t ignore video. Professionally, journalists are posting video interviews on the Internet, and we need to start doing that too. More importantly, I wanted to share videos of my son’s music performances with family via YouTube.

I told my friend that I wanted the equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera, but which did video. (My Canon PowerShot S2 IS still camera shoots video, but it’s too complicated.) He recommended the 60-minute Flip Ultra, and I bought one from Amazon in early January for $165. The price has since fallen to about $140.

It’s about as easy to use as one could imagine. There’s a power switch. There’s a big red button that starts and stops recording. You can push arrow buttons to digitally zoom in and out. A built-in USB connector lets you mount the device as a drive on your Mac or Windows laptop, and suck the videos out by drag-and-drop.

I’m delighted with the Flip Video, and we’re even using it this week at STPCon to cover keynotes and do interviews with speakers and attendees. It's great that I can hand the camera to one of our conference staff, and they can figure it out instantly.

What do I like about the Flip Video?

• It is super easy to use, and requires no training
• The videos come out in a format where you can upload them right to YouTube
• It’s small enough to stick into my pocket
• It has good resolution (640x480, 30 frames/second)
• It holds an hour worth of video
• The sound and video quality is pretty good
• It has a tripod mount, which really improves video quality
• It uses AA cells, instead of rechargeable batteries
• It only costs $140 for the 60-minute version
• It comes in fun colors (but I bought the boring black one)

What don’t I like?

• I wish it had more zoom capability
• I wish that it used plug-in memory cards, to give it more capacity
• I wish that it had a mode for recording audio only

In short: Recommended if you’re looking for a point-and-shoot video camera.

Not recommended if you want advanced features, such as optical zoom, more than one hour of recording, remote control, integrated lighting source, multi-speed record, higher video resolution, titling/special effects, support for external microphones or removable film cards.

By the way, David Pogue reviewed the Flip Video for the New York Times on March 20. I agree with his assessment of the product.

How quickly memory-card readers go out of style!

Two of my computing devices have built-in card readers, and that's great.

My Fujitsu LifeBook T4010 tablet computer has a built-in SD Card reader, which is handy when I'm using my Canon S2 IS digital camera.

My big 30" Dell monitor not only has a very handy USB hub, but also has an multi-port card reader which supports SD, SM, MS and MMC cards in one slot, and CompactFlash cards in a second slot.

I use the CompactFlash port for the memory cards that drive my big Canon EOS 10D digital SLR and also my wife's Nikon CoolPix 3200 camera.

In addition, I have a nice external multi-port card reader that I use with my Mac notebook while traveling. The four-slot reader works with CompactFlash, MD, MS, MS Pro, MS Duo, SD, MMC and SM cards, and so it supported all of my family's cameras.

Think I have it all covered? Think again.

Two weeks weeks ago, my son and I bought a new pocket-sized camera, a Nikon CoolPix L18. Wonderful camera, I'm going to write more about it shortly. Needless to say, the 4GB card I bought for it was a new type: SDHC.

Which none of my card readers could read.

Which meant for the first few days, we couldn't do anything with the photos that we'd taken with the new camera.

Which caused a special trip to the store to buy an SDHC card reader. (I got a SanDisk MicroMate.)

Isn't that annoying?

4.16.2008

Explaining Mommy's cosmetic surgery to children: What a crazy and sad world

There are many wonderful children’s books written to help young people deal with terrible things in their lives.

Books help kids cope with the loss of a loved one, such a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend. Books help children understand cancer and strokes. Books helps kids relate to the handicapped, or to the loss of a pet, or to natural disasters.

These books are blessings to parents, family and teachers.

And now, there’s a book that helps kids ages 4-7 understand why Mommy got a tummy tuck, a nose job and breast implants.

While it’s clear that many people (and not just women) choose to have plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons, think about the horrible messages that Dr. Michael Salzhauer’s book, My Beautiful Mommy, is sending to our children about their parents’ values, about our society’s values, and about their bodies.

No wonder why so many children and teens have problems with body image. If you are contemplating buying this book for your child – for heaven’s sake, think about what you’re doing to yourself, and to your family.

Read more about this in Newsweek.

Cell phones will soon plague European airspace

Bet you thought that Europeans were savvy, sophisticated and civilized. Well, going by a recent decision by the European Commission, they’re not.

As reported by BBC News,

Mobile phone calls will be allowed on planes flying in European airspace under new European Commission rules.

The decision means that mobiles could be used once a plane has reached an altitude of 3,000m or more.

It follows six months of consultation by the European regulator and the first services could launch next month.

What do I think about this? It’s terrible!

Air travel is unpleasant enough as it is, without hearing someone in the seat next to you (or behind you, or in front of you) shouting into a cell phone as soon as the plane reaches cruising altitude.

Just a year ago, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission rejected cell phone usage on aircraft in the United States, as I discussed in “The FCC grounds cell phones.”

It's a shame that the European Commission went the other way. According to the BBC story, “Europe clears mobiles on aircraft,”

The plan is to install small mobile phone base stations, called pico cells, in aircraft that will be switched on after take-off. The base station generates a bubble of coverage in and around the aircraft. Calls made via the pico cell will be routed to terrestrial networks via satellite link. Across Europe radio spectrum has been set aside for the technology.

The story adds that captains can turn the service off. Call me a Luddite, but I hope they do — permanently. I hope airlines refuse to implement it.

I hope it all just goes away.

Keep tight on those passwords, ladies and gentlemen

The old wartime expression was, "Loose lips sink ships." Should a modern-day equivalent be, "Loose lips sink networks?"

InfoSecurity Europe today issued a press release that says,

A survey by Infosecurity Europe of 576 office workers have found that women far more likely to give away their passwords to total strangers than their male counterparts, with 45% of women versus 10% of men prepared to give away their password, to strangers masquerading as market researches with the lure of a chocolate bar as an incentive for filling in the survey. The survey was actually part of a social engineering exercise to raise awareness about information security. The survey was conducted outside Liverpool Street Station in the City of London.

The release, entitled, "Women 4 times more likely than men to give passwords for chocolate," also said,

This year’s survey results were significantly better than previous years. In 2007 64% of people were prepared to give away their passwords for a chocolate bar, this year it had dropped to just 21% so at last the message is getting through to be more infosecurity savvy. The researchers also asked the office workers for their dates of birth to validate that they had carried out the survey here the workers were very na├»ve with 61% revealing their date of birth. Another slightly worrying fact discovered by researchers is that over half of people questioned use the same password for everything (e.g. work, banking, web, etc.)

Fascinating results... and alarming, says Claire Sellick, event director for the conference:

After the survey was completed, each worker was told ‘We do not really want your personal information this is part of an exercise to raise awareness about information security as part of Information Security Awareness Week which runs from the 21-25 April 2008. We will tabulate results to find out how good people are at securing their information.’ At this one man told one of our pretty researchers you look so well dressed and honest I did not think you could be a criminal, which was a sentiment echoed by many others.

Claire Sellick continued “This is precisely the problem, whether a criminal approaches you on the street or online, they will often not be who they appear to be, a criminal can often look very presentable. Many of the social engineering techniques used by face-to-face fraudsters have been adopted by criminals to encourage people to open spam emails or visit websites that are infected with viruses, trojans or malware collectively known as crimeware. The crimeware silently takes control of PCs and other devices then steal identities and cash or in many cases joins the PCs to a network of controlled PCs as part of a “BOTNET” to launch attacks on other people or organisations.”

Check out the release — you'll find it fascinating and worrisome.

4.15.2008

Get your issue! Get your SysManNews premiere issue!

Today is the official launch of Systems Management News, the newest print-and-online publication from BZ Media.

How can you help us celebrate? I so glad you asked!

• Download the premiere 4/15/2008 issue as a PDF.

• Visit and explore our great Web site, SysManNews.com.

Subscribe to the twice-monthly newpaper; it's free to qualified IT professionals.

• Tell all your friends in IT operations and data-center management about Systems Management News.

Thank you for your support!

4.08.2008

How to get mentioned on my blog: Send cool toys

Today's treat from the post office box: a seven-wheel Encrypta cryptex, courtesy of SanDisk.

SanDisk is showing encrypted USB keys at Interop, and wanted to meet with me to see them. If I get a chance, I'll swing by.

As I wrote a couple of months ago in "Keep an eye on those flash drives — and USB ports," the enterprise danger represented by lost USB keys is significant.

Enough about SanDisk.

The cryptex is cool. It's 7 1/2 inches tall, made of wood, and has brass fittings. Made by Encrypta Gifts, it's the perfect addition to my vast collection of desk toys. With prices starting around $50 (quantity one), SanDisk spent pretty well on this promotion.

My most recent desk-toy purchase was a Dr. Zoidberg bobblehead.

Update: I've not even had the Cryptex for two hours, and I've already taken it apart and changed the password (preprogrammed to be something promotional) to something vaguely obscene. Now it's a better desk toy.

4.04.2008

Macs can do anything better, including generate their own power

I always chuckle when rereading the "Top Secret Leopard Features Unleashed!" post from Roughly Drafted. I even have it bookmarked.

Written in August 2006 — a year before Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard came out — it details some of the great features that should be included with the forthcoming version.

About 1/3 of the way down the post are a set of graphical "trading cards" for possible features, like the Cold Fusion Extreme power generating network hub.

Some of the other ones are even better, like Leopard's new 66-bit precision math libraries. Enjoy!

4.03.2008

Czar or Tsar?

The Russian word, Tsar, is loosely translated as "Emperor," but comes from the old Latin word Caesar. Sometimes, Tsar is spelled Tzar. More rarely, it's Czar.

In the United States, arguably the most famous tsars are from Russia. Tsar Peter the Great. Tsar Nicholas II. Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Tsaritsa Catherine the Great.

Few Americans, I suspect, would write those as Czar Peter or Czaritsa Catherine.

So why do we use "Czar" as an informal designation for heads of specific U.S. initiatives, like "Drug Czar" or "Cyber-Security Czar"?

It's a mystery.

Speaking of mysteries,
let's hope that our latest Cyber-Security Czar, Rod Beckstrom, does a decent job. On paper, he has little to no experience in IT security. Bruce Schneier wrote a minimalist but scathing review of Mr. Beckstrom's credentials.

Mr. Beckstrom is co-author of "The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations." I hope his Department of Homeland Security team won't be leaderless.

Systems Management News: We have liftoff!

They did it!

Kudos to Dave, Mara, Dan, Alex, Michelle, Jeff, Catherine, Brenner, Michele and the entire Systems Management News gang: The debut April 15, 2008, issue of the newspaper shipped to the printer on Monday. Ya-hoo! We've got launch!

And that's not all. Yesterday, we sent out the first issue of Systems Management Week, the e-newsletter from the editors of SMN. It'll come out every Wednesday. Congrats to Adam and the whole newsletter team!

But wait, there's more! We also launched our Web site, SysManNews.com. We'll have daily news there, RSS feeds, everything. In the spirit of agile methodologies, it seems like there's a new feature or element being added every day. Way to go, Craig, James and Pam!

If you think we're excited... you're 100% right.

You can subscribe to Systems Management Week and Systems Management News online — c'mon, it's free!

4.02.2008

A critique of Apple's marketing to Windows users

I was chatting with my colleague Ted Bahr about Time Machine, the backup software included with Mac OS X 10.5.2 "Leopard."

Ted is a multi-platform guy. He uses an iMac at home, but in the office, he has an ancient Dell laptop running Windows XP. Although he likes the Mac, he's far from passionate about either platform.

Shortly afterwards, I stumbled across one of Apple's fun "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads about Time Machine, and instant messaged the URL to Ted so that he could watch it.

Ted's immediate response: "I'm sorry, I don't have time to download QuickTime to view it." He then called Apple "stupid" for putting a barrier between a Windows user and its marketing materials aimed at converting Windows users.

Ted is an absolute whiz at detecting the weak marketing efforts, and he's right on the money here. Who are the targets of the "I'm a Mac" ads? Windows users, who might be tempted to switch to the Mac. In some cases, the Windows user might stumble across the ad. They might go looking for it, after seeing an ad on TV. Or, the user might be sent the link, as I did for Ted.

Apple wants — or should want — those users to be able to watch those ads. They should make sure that it's super-easy.

Do those Windows users have QuickTime installed? Some do, certainly. But not all. Ted didn't, for example. I would guess that this is not unusual in a business. In fact, in a tightly managed enterprise environment, a Windows end user may not be allowed to install the QuickTime application or browser plug-in without contacting IT.

Therefore, suggests Ted, Apple's Web repository of "I'm a Mac" ads aren't really marketing at all, they're just there to cater to zealots. If Apple was truly serious about reaching Windows users with its Web site, he says, the company would post the ads in both QuickTime and Windows Media formats, giving users a choice of which to watch (or better yet, sniff out the platform and play the correct one automatically). No plug-ins required.

Ted's right. While Apple may be delighting its existing customers by delivering streaming media in QuickTime, its purpose with the "I'm a Mac" ads isn't to evangelize the benefits of QuickTime, but to sell Macs. Apple shouldn't require that prospective customers install special software (even if that software is free) in order to view marketing materials.

4.01.2008

Microsoft wins OOXML approval from the ISO

There aren’t hanging chads, but there’s something fishy about the just-completed standards vote for OOXML.

Microsoft, creator of the Office Open XML file formats, pulled out all the stops in order to win OOXML's approval as an ISO/IEC standard. It succeeded. However, the bitter struggle leaves behind a bad taste.

The question is, did Microsoft cross the line? Was the company merely lobbying hard, which it was certainly permitted to do? Or did it using dirty tricks to discredit opponents, challenge votes, and otherwise inappropriately influence the outcome of the standards process?

I’ll be honest: I don’t know. I suspect that the company’s eagerness to win business for its Microsoft Office business unit – by putting OOXML on an equal standards playing field with its top competitor, the OpenDocument Format from OASIS – pushed it to do anything needed to win the votes.

To put my prejudices out on the line (as if you can't tell already): I’m not a fan of OOXML. I believe in draft standards that were developed by multiple parties – vendors, customers, researchers – in an open, transparent process.

The best standards come from evolutionary technologies that evolve to suit new requirements, and which have time to converge onto a strong, vendor-neutral platform for future development.
OASIS’s ODF is such a format, and deserved to become ISO/IEC 26300.

By contrast, the OOXML specification was created by Microsoft specifically to drive its Office products, and was rubber-stamped by Ecma, a vendor group. The 6,000-page spec didn’t evolve out of years of industry work on interoperability. Rather, it evolved out of a proprietary format that Microsoft used to lock customers into its products.

OOXML does not serve as a foundation for other players to come together to interoperate and innovate. OOXML does nothing for the industry. It does nothing for consumers. The only beneficiaries of OOXML are Microsoft and its partners, who now can assure governments and multinational customers that by storing documents in OOXML, they're storing them in a de jure standard format.

Thus, I was delighted last September when Microsoft failed to win fast-track approval from the ISO. It was only a temporary victory, however. The revote took much of March, and just closed, with Microsoft apparently succeeding in its lobbying effort.

That lobbying effort is troubling. If you read anti-Microsoft blogs like Groklaw, you can see numerous allegations of influence-peddling, committees being urged to vote Abstain instead of No at the ISO, scandals in countries like Norway and Denmark over their votes, and reports of formal complaints filed by Microsoft against countries like India which voted against OOXML.

OOXML passed anyway, trumpeted by ECMA and Microsoft even before ISO could announce the vote results. ISO/IEC 29500 makes a mockery of the standards process, and my respect for the ISO is gone.

I.B. Phoolen is back!

BZ Media's columnist-about-town, I.B. Phoolen, is back with two stories.

The first is in SD Times, and the second is in Software Test & Performance Magazine.

Read I.B.'s blog for the story links and descriptions.

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.