Category Archives: Internet

There’s no Bullet List like Stalin’s Bullet List

This may only appeal to a rather narrow slice of my own small readership.
Edward Tufte – author of books such as Envisioning Information, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, and the essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint – is embarking on something of a tour. He’ll be teaching a one-day course entitled Presenting Data and Information in, among other places, Seattle and Portland.
I got the mailer today. I’ve already asked my company to pay for the $360 registration. If they won’t, I’ll probably do it out-of-pocket.
I was surprised by my enthusiasm at the prospect of attending this course. Obviously, this says something about what really interests me…

Fighting a War

Since Monday afternoon, I have been fighting a war. The smoke has cleared, and the front is now quiet, and I have a chance to look over the battlefield.
Starting sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning, a virus author controlling a large army of zombie machines started a massive propagation campaign, sending hundreds of thousands of messages to myriad targets on the Internet. Besides their binary payload, the messages had one crucial thing in common:
Their headers were forged to appear as though they’d originated from the company of my employ – from a randomly generated username (usually invalid) at my company’s domain.
As these messages reached their targets, immense numbers were rejected or bounced. They “returned” to their apparent port of origin. Us. Even though our inbound mail server is a buffed dual-Xeon 2GB spam-processing machine, it quickly developed a backlog of over 90,000 messages. All “legitimate” – because they were bounces, not actual spam or viruses. From myriad IP addresses, because the originating spam campaign had myriad targets.
In the end, we built a script snippet that would delete any bounce messages – related to the given storm surge or not. First pass took 20 minutes and deleted over 43,000 messages from the backlog. A tweak, another run, and 15,000 more were gone. Two hours, several passes, and no more surges later, we’d caught up.
More than anything, this simply reminds me that there’s a shadow war on the Internet – one that most users rarely see the depths of. spambots, virus campaigns, zombie armies, cancelbots, incessant probes, firewalls, VPNs, virus filters, spam filters… there will come a time when this overhead becomes too burdensome to do business online. Not sure what will happen, then. The Internet shares part of the UNIX philosophy, in that it “doesn’t prevent you from stupid things, so as not to prevent you from doing clever things”. But the stupid is growing, and doing its best to eat the clever.

Buzz ball in Microsoft’s court

In the “Apple vs Microsoft” camp of computing, it’s pretty hard to deny that the power of buzz has been on Apple’s side for at least a year and a half. As Microsoft stumbled – shutting down their engineering to focus on security (and still having some serious issues right after), “rebooting” their Longhorn (now Vista) development plans – Apple was getting all the good media buzz. Halo effect from the rampant success of iPod/iTunes, the Mac mini, Mac OS X 10.4, and several highly-visible “Web 2.0″ personalities making the Mac their personal computing choice.
Well, the pendulum is swinging again.
Yes, the iPod nano is sweet. But the iTunes Phone was a non-starter. The record companies are, in their greed, ready to hamstring ITMS. There’s no new Mac OS X version coming down the pipeline for a bit, and it’ll be hard for Apple to excite people with new hardware until they truly get their Intel transition underway (the rumored dual-core Power Macs will still be G5s). The news isn’t bad – there just isn’t much at the moment.
In Redmond, however, Microsoft looks to be ready to blow out its constipated pipeline. Xbox 360, IE7, Vista, Office, Sharepoint v3, SQL Server, Longhorn Server – all this and more should be shipping over the next 24 months. Microsoft, for better or worse, looks to be embracing (and expanding) some of the technologies and practices they’ve been lambasted for ignoring (RSS, anyone? Blogs? Hi, Scoble!)
What does this mean? Lots of press about a resurgent Microsoft in the near future, with concomitant articles about an Apple being “under attack” (by MS on one side, and the labels on the other). People who switched from Windows to Mac OS X during the Tiger buzz will start to blog about having second thoughts or even switching back as they see news about the bright-and-shiny from MS (this is already starting). Microsoft diehards will let loose their I Told You So posts. Apple diehards will fall back into almost predictable zealot stance (shaolin monkey school).
That is, unless Microsoft fails to follow through on the proto-buzz they managed to generate in the past month (hitting a current high after PDC and the company meeting), or if Apple pulls something Big out of the bag at MacWorld in January (or at WWDC in July). Those are possibilities, sure.
But for now… I’m putting my money on a “resurgent Microsoft” theme starting in the tech media, and staying with us for a while.
Postscript: All I’m talking about it buzz here, kids. IE7? Summer 2006. Vista? Late 2006. First Apple Intel machines? June 2006. Office 12? Early 2007. We can judge the products when they ship.

Google’s Gmail Notifier

Google has finally come out with a Gmail Notifier for MacOS X, written by software engineer Greg Miller in his 20%. (All Googlefolk are expected to spend 20% of their work time on a project of personal interest).
Not that this niche hasn’t been addressed by the Mac community – most notably GmailStatus – but Gmail Notifier includes some spiff features, such as showing header excerpts of unread messages, allowing you to directly view only your unread messages, and the ability to make Gmail your default mail program. I’ll miss GmailStatus’ support for Growl, but Gmail Notifier has already taken over.
Also, a little side note. The new Google Desktop for Windows has a nice feature – not only does it index your desktop (and Outlook while it’s open), but it also indexes your Gmail account and makes that available. No Gmail importer for Spotlight on MacOS X 10.4 – so I went ahead and added a Gmail account to Mail.app, with a ruleset that marks any new Gmail messages as read it into a Gmail Archive folder. Voila – my Gmail messages are being archived by Spotlight.

Princeton doesn’t get it.

Engadget noted on Saturday that Princeton will be offering digital textbooks starting this fall – with a focus on the intensely onerous and user-hostile nature of the DRM involved. Princeton’s response this morning? A letter from Thomas Bartus of their Office of Communications telling them to take down the “protected image” of the Princeton school logo they posted with the story.
They don’t get it.
Not to say that it comes as any surprise, having worked 15 years in large universities (Such as UW, where they’re force-feeding Napster and Dell to the students). But still… Princeton – or the people making these decisions at Princeton – doesn’t get it.

.NET on Rails

Laughter. Of course, I make a smack about MS jumping on the Google/37signals AJAX bandwagon, and my humor is slower than the Internet. Back on June 28th, Microsoft announced that they’ll be adding AJAX support to ASP.NET.
Of course, it won’t ship with the Visual Studio 2005 product, and developers won’t even see a preview version until September, but the announcement should be enough to prevent the larger, slower moving shops from jumping to, say, Ruby on Rails.
I gotta step up the funny.

What’s in a name?

Scoble wants people to “…call Longhorn all the bad names you can. Let’s get it out of our systems.
Oh, yeah, and link back to his post so he can follow the link-tracking on Technorati, Bloglines, and the supah-seekrit blog-tracking thing he’s privvy too. Always nice to kill two birds with one stone.
Longtime was the name used in Wired’s fictitious article about Linus Torvalds being hired by Microsoft, and it’s still the name I use when speaking of it. And that includes when I’m speaking to my “featured in a MS Windows Server 2003 advertisement” CIO.
We could call it Copland. Or Rhapsody. Because I think that’s the more apt comparison. Microsoft is obviously struggling both to get Longhorn out the door (witness the long delays and last year’s Longhorn Reset) and to make it relevant (witness the Gnomedex ballyhoo about RSS in Longhorn and IE7) Even with the betas looming, there seems to be confusion about what Longhorn is going to be.
God help us when we find out what changes the server product will force upon us.
What’s hurting Longhorn is the same thing that has hurt every spoken-of-in-advance Microsoft strategic technology in the last decade – Microsoft. Too many back-door promises have already been made (“Just wait until Longhorn!”), too many products were delayed for Longhorn technologies (there wasn’t going to be an IE7, remember?), and too many projects (MS and non) are trying to get some Longhorn Importance rubbed off onto them.
It’s still a year away. Long enough for them to demonstrate support for security updates via podcasting, and announce “.Net on Rails”…

Lowest Common Denominator

There’s been a lot of talk in the blogs (I really dislike blogosphere) that “small is the new big“. 37signals loves it, of course. Scoble talks about it in Microsoft land.
Brought it up with my CIO this morning, and he even brought up the “old” concept of Extreme Programming. However, we came to a very quick agreement on why – if they’re so great – you don’t see these models implemented more: the prerequisite.
You have to start with a group of functional, motivated, communicating people who have very little ego in regards to a shared project. This includes the management, and the money – not just the core project team. The moment you throw in someone who is entrenched in his work flow, who is dogmatic about a given implementation or technology, who is in “coasting” mode, or who clams up every time something might possibly be construed as criticism (even constructive), then these hi-efficiency models grind themselves to pieces.
It’s like a hi-performance engine. To get those levels of performance, everything has to be tuned just so.
If you don’t meet those prerequisites, then it’s back to the more structured models – because the structure can help route around the damage of the low-performance parts.
Either that, or you swap out parts. But that’s another issue entirely.

Tom’s TIB

Okay kids, go read this. You’re going to have to have a PDF reader of some flavor to actually get into the goodness but, trust me, it’s worth it. While it has a lot of your typical “what color is my parachute” and “who moved my cheese” stuff in it, there is also an overwhelming amount of the very-uncommon “common sense” that is missing in too many minds these days. Such as:

Management Rule/Role No. 1: GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY.

“Manager” = Hurdle Removal Professional.

“Thank you” trumps all!

Fun…is not a…Four-Letter Word (so, too, Joy).

Just go grab it. There’s at least one thing in there you need.