Monday, May 31, 2004
Not a truly exciting name, but the idea certainly is interesting: A machine that plays XBOX, yet-to-be-seen XBOX 2, and PC titles, includes a full release of Windows, and will sell for around $600. They're calling it “XBOX Next PC” in focus group studies.
Sounds good to me. If you're talking XBOX and Windows, we're looking at MediaCenter PC version of Windows almost certainly, which means the hard drive(s) are for more than just games (video and audio too). The Media Center extenders and other devices will take a new leap with this. Since this is planned for after XBOX 2, I'd have to assume it based on Longhorn, so my imagination is running wild.
I've been part of these MSFT focus groups in the past (for other products, can't say more than that), and I can tell you one thing from those experiences: Microsoft is a company that will put serious money into dreaming big, and then even more money into building the things that look like they'll fly high.
Can't wait to see where this goes.
PCSTATS has posted 99 tips for enhancing performance of Windows XP, ostensibly for beginners. BUT (read on...)
... not sure I'd actually attach the word “beginner” to many of these tweaks, although none of them are complicated if you know the basics of Windows, the registry, and other topics of a similar skill level. This is actually a pretty good list, so if you have a spare day or so, you might want to give some or all of these a try. Just be sure to set a system restore point and do a backup first. For people looking to take a step into Windows that's beyond what you can do within the UI (if you don't know what “UI” means, please skip this entire article), this is for you.
... and thanks to Jake at uttlerlyboring.com for linking to the site, which is how I found it ...
I recently got a new dog, a chocolate lab. He's typically puppy (read: sort of obnoxious but totally likable), and gets along great with my black lab, Buddy, who is about 11 years old.
When I last posted an entry about the new addition to the farm, I had yet to name him, but that's changed. I came up with a good name after much serious thought and consideration:
A friend who's started a blog. This could be scary!
Looks like first post is about video cards. Now, knowing Dave, who woulda thunk it??? Dave, hardware? Nahhhh...
In an attempt to bring RSS to the masses, and to have the masses understand it, the infamous Dave Winer has created http://www.reallysimplesyndication.com/ - with the goal of spreading the word and explaining RSS in a way people can consume. Good idea, when you consider it's all about making information easy to consume, don't-cha-think?
Every publisher that supports RSS has to explain what it's about, and every one tells a different and incomplete story.
Another clue is that most the hits on Google for RSS are sites for developers. Not much for a normal person who might want to use RSS or just know what it might mean for a person who's not a scientist.
So I wanted to start a site where people from the RSS users community can answer questions to help newbies figure out what to do with an RSS feed without requiring a PhD in XML.
- Dave Winer
Friday, May 28, 2004
Jon Stewart is pretty darn funny. Read his commencement address that he gave a few days ago at William & Mary College, where he was a student back in the 80's. As always, he's both funny and makes you stop and think. And then, right when he's got you in serious mode, he slaps ya down with another joke.
“Lets talk about the real world for a moment. We had been discussing it earlier, and I ... I wanted to bring this up to you earlier about the real world, and this is I guess as good a time as any. I don’t really know to put this, so I’ll be blunt. We broke it.”
I've always been fascinated by the planets, moons, stars, galaxies, comets, and things. It's amazing to think about all that's out there and how BIG it all is. Today I was checking out a friend's web site and found a link to really cool piece of (free) software called Celestia. Wow, if you're even remotely into this stuff, you need to download this and check it out.
The video I shot gives a pretty lame idea of what you can do with this software - only my execution doesn't do the program justice. Fly from one object to another and check out anything you want.
Here's a hint: Enter ISS as an object name with a distance of about half a mile. Neat-o.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
“This fixes a critical problem where your blog cache can get corrupted. Just drop the enclosed DLL into your /bin folder and that's it.”
New web site files and setup MSIs also posted there.
I just ran across PeerFlix, which is using an interesting variation on the NetFlix business model. You let PeerFlix know what movies you own, as well as the ones that you want to see. Then you send your movies to others using the service, and they do the same.
Looks like the cost is lower than NetFlix, and they have a pay-as-you-go option as well as an unlimited number of monthly trades for $10 per month. You trade DVDs you own, and the company covers loss, theft, etc.
It's an interesting concept, and I might even try it out. I've subscribed to NetFlix for a few years now, but this looks like it has the potential to work. Not sure how the selection would be (although they claim 30,000 titles) or how easy it would be to get what you want (NetFlix is great for finding interesting titles on their web site that I otherwise might never know about), but it's intriguing, and I have a few DVDs around that others might be interested in, and for which I have no real use.
Might be a workable business model based on the “one man's junk” philosophy.
Seems like after updating to dasBlog 1.6 the emails normally sent when referrals and comments are made are pretty much hit-and-miss. Sometimes email gets sent, other times not. Or is it just my imagination? Anyone using v1.6 that's seen this behavior?
EDIT: since the hot-fix, problem seems to be resolved.
Nothing like a well-made DVD package to make a 200-minute film bearable. I wasn't a huge fan of the second film in the LOTR trilogy, and this third film's definitely long, but you have to hand it to 'em - pretty amazing what they did with all three films.
By the way: Why anyone would want to watch this film in the cropped, “full-screen” version is beyond me, but it's available if you're into that kind of thing. But I think they should make cropped versions illegal or something. Well maybe not actually illegal, but stop shipping them, they suck. Granted, not everyone has the home theater projector setup that I recently dropped some cash on (I need to post more about that and why it's a good idea and most cost-effective), but arbitrarily cropping a film is about as blasphemous toward the filmmaker as one can be, if you ask me. It's probably the former photographer in me that thinks that, but hey it's art, and I think one should enjoy it the way it was meant to be seen.
Anyhow, as I was saying, this is a film that was born to be seen on DVD as well as in a theater, and it's good that videotape is a thing of the past. Between the great (okay, awesome) CG work (Gondor is pretty incredible and the battles are amazing), the terrific enhanced digital surround sound, and the fact that you can actually pause it to take a [insert bathroom metaphor here] in the middle without missing anything (200 minutes is a long time, man...), this is a hi-def showcase film.
There's really only one thing about these three films that drives me freaking crazy: Every other scene is a cut over to Sam and Frodo climbing up or down some rocky slope of varying grade, and upon closer inspection, each of these scenes are essentially the same:
< Scene cut to Sam and Frodo and possibly Gollum >
Sam: Ohhhhhh, Frodo!
Frodo: Ohhhhhh, Sam!
Sam: Ohhhhhhhhhh, Frodo!
Frodo: Ohhhhh, SAM!
Gollum: Hurry, hobbitses, Hurry! Come! Come!
Now that I think about it, the script reads a little bit like a (very) bad adult film out of context, but that's not my point. What I mean to say here is that I wish they had taken the Sam and Frodo characters' development a little further, past their simple and incessant whining about how sorry their situation is, over and over and over and... Anyhow, we got the point already. Or maybe it's just me, I dunno. I realize it's all about two little guys succeeding at the improbable, but sheez... Anyhow, I digress...
In contrast, the Merry and Pippin hobbit characters are more developed in this one, which was good.
Recommended. Fun film, and other than whiny “hobbitses” and the weird talking trees making a cameo return appearance, pretty darn cool. My sub-woofer got a real workout.
If you like movies that are meant to be played loud at home on your super-duper surround system, and if you like dark battles and stuff, it's a treat. And if you're still into this LOTR stuff at this late date, they have some cool screen savers and other stuff you can download.
The FindForward search engine leverages Google's Web API as well as technology from thumbshots.org. It's a nifty search engine interface, provides RSS and ATOM feeds from search results, and a whole bunch of other search categories in an easy to use menu format.
The search grid results are a new way of thinking about search for me - interesting.
Lots of fun ways to search here. Makes me wonder about what the future of search engines will be. When will news, email, instant messaging, web content, everything on my hard drive, and other bundles of info all be instantly searchable, and customizable to my tastes instantly and in real time?
The X1 local search program is cool, and when Longhorn (next version of Windows) is released, we can expect extensively increased capabilities in the area of searching for and using multiple types of information. But what will actually work?
Will be very interesting to see what happens.
Saturday, May 22, 2004
Scott built himself a couple of nifty calendar views to extend dasBlog ther other day - Monthly and yearly views. Cool stuff, check it out if you're a dasBlogger, especially if you type a lot of blog entries and want to be able to visualize them differently than you can now. Scott hints that he'll make them generally available soon.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
A friend and coworker of mine, Scott Hanselman, trapped me into lunch today as I was walking through the cafeteria. Well, okay, he didn't exactly trap me, he just waived me over and invited me to sit down, but “trapped” sounds better. His wife, Mo, was there as well. Earlier Scott had asked me if I would help him duplicate some DVDs from their recent trip to Africa. He made the a comment about how his DVD burner had crapped out and died on him, and then made some reference to how he had to watch DVDs on his tablet “during that period in my life when my computer wasn't working.”
Now, I have often heard people classify their lives into convenient or descriptive apportionments, like “when I was married to my third wife” or “back when the kids were still at home,” etc.
But Scott's comment started me thinking. Life in the digital age is - at least in my own experience and my observation of others - fairly consuming. Everything I do seems to have some kind of connection - either direct or not - to computers or other electronic devices and information. From the perspective of the hindsight-oriented crowd, it's a wonder the world functioned at all without all this technology. While I constantly find myself ready to hurl my Blackberry device off a cliff, I would not be able to function as effectively without it. Or at least it seems that way.
We've become a world of digitally-leashed animals, for better or for worse. Some have started to describe our lives in terms of “bandwidth” and available “cycles” when talking about how much time we have (or don't have), and for many of us, the idea of giving up our cell phones and email, while probably a welcome and wishful thought, in reality causes us to feel anxious. After all, how in the world could we possibly function?
Our interrupt-driven lifestyles may be the end of us. I wonder how long it will be before the average human lifespan in technologically-advanced countries actually starts to drop as a result of the stress of technology? Certainly technology has improved our collective quality of life to a degree, but at what point does the world start rotating backward? Lends a whole new definition to “mean time before failure,” doesn't it?
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Every blog needs the obligatory picture of a cute puppy, and/or pet pictures. Here's mine.
He actually slept last night without crying or howling (unless I slept through it, that is). That's a miracle in and of itself.
Still have not settled on a name, but I am leaning toward Deeohgee.
By way of UtterlyBoring.com:
Because we have a moral duty to protect the ignorant people, please let your friends and family know about this important product recall:
Name of product: Martha Stewart Everyday® Safety Matches
Units: 588 boxes
Distributor: Kmart Corp., of Troy, Mich.
Hazard: These matches may ignite upon impact, posing a fire hazard to consumers.
Uhhhhhh - yeah??? And the problem is??? I thought everyone knew if you dropped a box of matches enough times, it will eventually catch on fire... I'm sure there's some clever Martha Stewart joke in this somewhere, too, but I'll just let you think of it.
There are a few things, some of them admittedly old-skool, that I want my Blog to be able to do. I don’t imagine they’re all that complicated, but here they are:
- Allow people to sign up for email notifications when I add a new item or modify an existing one – Email alerts, so to speak. I can get alerts when people post comments or trackback or refer, etc. and I want to go the other way on a subscription basis.
- Similarly, allow someone – at the time they reply to a post – to choose whether or not they want to receive email notifications of any subsequent comments on the same post.
- Allow [CategoryName] in any post method’s subject line to auto-add to an existing category (which works in email-posting now, but don’t think it does in Movable Type API, etc.)
- Allow a post-classification and user-registration system so that people who are signed up can see all public and private posts, and people who are anonymous on the site only see the posts that are viewable by general public.
That’s actually about it. I may think of more later, but other than that, dasBlog does pretty much everything I want and need it to do.
Over a week ago my (new) cat escaped out of the house when a door blew open. She disappeared. For a couple of days, I could hear her off in the woods meowing and stuff, and a couple of times when I called she came sort of close, but never stuck around.
She's definitely a 'fraidy-cat.
Anyhow, after a week of not seeing or hearing the cat, I had to assume she was coyote dinner. I mean, she was pretty small and young, so death by dinner seemed the only option.
Wrong. Kat's still out there, still meowing.
And apparently eating well, from the looks of her. I have no idea what she's eating (mice and/or rats I hope), but it's keeping her healthy.
I tried to catch her and bring her in, but she jumped and ran when I tried. Hey, fine with me.
Anyhow, Kat Lives. Kind of reminds me of those Darth Vader Lives pins when I was in grade school (yeah, yeah, no old people jokes), only different.
Monday, May 17, 2004
I can hardly believe the email I got today. This just doesn't happen...
You may recall I just signed up for Vonage's Internet telephone service. It's cool.
And this email just arrived:
We are very excited to inform you that your monthly phone bill is going DOWN! Our price on the Residential Premium Unlimited Plan has been dropped AGAIN!
The base price of the Residential Premium Unlimited Plan will drop from $34.99 to $29.99 as of your first billing cycle on or after May 17, 2004.
There is no need to contact customer care - you will automatically receive the 14% monthly savings. The new, lower price plan will be reflected in your next billing cycle.
By adding 150,000 customers to our network, Vonage has cemented its lead in the industry. As a reflection of our commitment to our customers, we would like to reward you by passing the operational efficiency and cost-savings we've achieved through our success directly back to you.
Again, thank you for your continued support and loyalty. Without you, we would not have been able to pass this significant savings along. If you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com with the words "Price Change" in the subject line.
Manager, Vonage Customer Care
Wow. You just don't ever see anything like that anymore. A price reduction?? I don't know what to say.
So far I've enjoyed using the soft-phone so far on my laptop (talk about nifty), and am waiting for the IP phone broadband connector device bridge thingie device to show up on my doorstep still, so have not been able to use a real phone on it, but will be sure to post a review once I get a chance to use it for a while.
I just noticed - if you want to sign up for Vonage service, they have a referral program where I can send you an invitation and you'll get the first month free, and I'll get an equal service credit - good for everyone! Just email me here: and I will send you the invite - be sure to send your name and the email address you want the invite to go to.
New addition to the household that can't stand being away from people for more than ten seconds. Loud, funny, and - dare I use the word - cute. But hey, it's a puppy, so cute's ok. For now.
Buddy (my dog I've had for years) and he get along great. No, he does not have a name yet. Maybe I'll take suggestions at some point. Pics to be posted later.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
(OT comment fodder: What's the main difference between Superman and every other good-guy super hero?)
On TV you only get 30 or 60 seconds. On the web you get as much time as you can get people to give you - they call then “webisodes.”
American Express teamed up Jerry Seinfeld and Superman. If you have a few minutes, it's pretty amusing and fun. Seinfeld's not Batman, or The Flash, and he's not going to team up with The Man of Steel to save the world. But they might sell some credit cards, and I laughed.
NOTE: American Express has removed the content from their servers, but you can still see the webisodes over at Unplugged Studios, the creators of the Jerry and Superman films. It's a little tricky now because their site is Flash-based, so here are my convoluted navigation directions:
- Go to http://www.unpluggedstudio.com/
- Enter their flash site
- Look at the bottom for the American Express link.
- Click on that link and use the menu on the right to choose the "Watch" options. From there you can watch all four episodes.
Saturday, May 15, 2004
I saw “Man on Fire” today with friends. Not too bad. Not great, but all-in-all it was a fun and edgy film worth seeing.
Denzel Washington does what he seems to do best: He plays a completely controlled man whose life is otherwise out of control. He's holding his life together by sheer willpower, as they say. All that's dramatically offset (or complemented, depending on how you look at it) by the fact that he's clearly an alcoholic with a difficult past (more of what he can't seem to control), and a real desire to stop living his life. It's not necessarily that he wants to die, but you do get the impression he's not really interested in living his life anymore.
So, in true modern-American studio-produced film fashion, a strong-willed child enters his life (can you say Sixth Sense?) and changes the man - for the better, of course.
Washington plays a former assassin, we assume for the CIA or similar, who goes to Mexico to visit a friend and former killer/co-worker. He takes a job as a bodyguard for a little girl whose parents make her a target for kidnapping by a band of organized criminals and corrupt police officials.
Knowing that, you can probably guess the key plot lines in this film, and you'd be right. But after all, how many times can movie makers create films like this one and come up with something new? This film is done over and over again, in one script or another, so there's nothing really earth-shattering here.
Still, it is a fun film, and the camera work and post-production editing is pretty effective, so it stands out for those reasons. There's a lot of character development going on, at least in the beginning, and that's kind of unusual for this type of film. But ultimately it becomes a violent killing spree movie, with blood and vengeance typical of the angry-tired-burned-out-guy-pushed-over-the-edge film genre. So, depending on who you are you'll either love or hate the second half of the film. Luckily, much of the violence takes place just off camera, but you still see the spattered blood and hear the screams.
I especially enjoyed the confrontations between Washington's characters and the bad guys. The scene where Washington's character extracts information from the first in a series of criminal thugs was great, as was the same scene played out a few characters later under the overpass (pretty crappy way to die).
The occasional fade-in subtitles when people were speaking Spanish were great, until they started applying subtitles to spoken English (with subtitles also in English, duh). When the subtitles went from practical and useful translation to artsy-fartsy subtitles-for-emphasis, it got a little weird for me.
Denzel Washington can carry pretty much any character (man, has he made a lot of movies recently), and he certainly has to in this film, which lasts somewhere around two and a half hours. It didn't seem that long though. The young actress who played the little girl in the film (Dakota Fanning) also carried a lot of the weight, even when on the screen with Washington, which is really saying something.
For people who enjoy a good action film with a decent story and can handle the mad-revenge kind of violence, this one is worth seeing. If you don't have the stomach for a killing spree, ya better stay home.
A little while back, I blogged about technologies that have been around for a while that I had not yet “made the leap” into. As is usually the case, once I make a list, I tend to act on it (I should probably make more lists ). Here's an update on my previous post.
- MP3 Players - Still checking these out, not sure it's where I want to go. I am thinking some of the upcoming multimedia devices might be a better option for me. Maybe. We'll see.
- IP Telephones - I made the leap and signed up for Vonage. I even downloaded a soft-phone, which is a program that runs on my computer and acts just like a regular phone (well, pretty much like one). So I can use the soft-phone anywhere I go on my laptop, or the real phone at home. Cool stuff.
- Picture/Audio/Video Blogging - I've made the leap here in the area of blogging with audio using audioblog.com, which is a coolio service that works great and has a nifty feature set. Pictures and video might be in the future, but since I am already a little self-conscious about posting my voice, we'll see.
- Windows XP Media Center PC - Have not gone there yet, and probably won't until I get a better idea of what's available. I have some relatively picky requirements for home, since I want to do multi-room and feed into my home theater system, etc. Microsoft is going to be releasing lots of new stuff for XP Media Center edition that will meet my needs I think, including devices that may turn out to be better than a plain-old MP3 player (as mentioned above).
Weird that I'm totally geeky in certain areas (I have a freakin' GPS device in my car that I can speak commands to, and it speaks back to me and shows me the maps and stuff, for gosh sake - freaks people out when they use it). I guess these days our areas of geekdom have to be limited to what's important to each of us as individuals. There's just too much geek-fodder out there to do it all.
But I'll try.
Friday, May 14, 2004
SearchExchange.com reports that later this month, Microsoft will release the new spam filter for Exchange 2003, as well as Service Pack One and the first Feature Pack.
Nice that they are separating the fixes (service pack) from the feature enhancements. Notable among the feature enhancements for me are the improved/new admin tools and the RPC-over-HTTP setup tools. Nice.
Speaking of which... If you have not yet enabled RPC over HTTP, let me tell you - it's very nice to be able to connect to the Exchange server securely over the Internet. It's also a bit complicated to set up (involves some registry editing, client software patch download, and a good understanding of the vague), and has not been all that well documented. However, there is a recently-published technical article at the Microsoft Download Center called “Exchange Server 2003 RPC over HTTP Deployment Scenarios” that covers the setup on both the server and client sides. Read carefully and follow every step, and it will work. Note also the system and network requirements. They are not optional. You'll need to have a compatible environment for this to work.
Okay so here's a question for ya:
RSS - what does it stand for?
I've always seen it referred to as Really Simple Syndication, like they say here. But I've found others (although not recently) referring to it as Rich Site Summary.
So, which is it? I know the original RSS format, a Netscape thing intended to assist in building news portals and delivering content, eventually grew and branched into differing “standards.” Is that where the terms split maybe?
- in "RSS 0.91" it stands for "Rich Site Summary"
- in "RSS 1.0" it stands for "RDF Site Summary"
- in "RSS 2.0" it stands for "Really Simple Syndication"
So much for “standards.”
Not like it matters, really - but I was just wondering.
Since I am plugging security-related stuff today:
“Join Mike Nash, Microsoft's senior executive in charge of security, for his monthly security update. This month, learn more about Authentication, Authorization and Access Management. Mike's guests will talk about the Microsoft Identity and Access Management Series and Public Key Infrastructure and how each can be used in corporate environments to enhance security and reduce costs. In addition, Mike will report on the latest details of what Microsoft is doing across the company to improve security through guidance, tools, training and technology.”
Signup: Register Online
Date: Tuesday, May 18, 2004
Time: 8:30AM-9:30AM Pacific Time (GMT-8, US & Canada)
Microsoft's new TechNet Radio audio show is an informative way to learn about IT. Their first bradcast is called “IT Security at Microsoft,” and it covers a lot of ground. Worth the listen!
Learning about how other companies deal with network and information security, especially big ones like Microsoft, is a valuable exercise in developing your own IT security strategy. Microsoft has over 300,000 network devices, and more than 50,000 employees. They are pretty free-form in terms of allowing their employees to install software as needed, run beta and “dogfood” software in production, and have some interesting ways of dealing with the environment. Microsoft's similar to where I work in terms of culture and whatnot. I've had the opportunity to visit Redmend and to talk with people there on a regualr basis, but even so this broadcast was useful and made me think.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Well, ok, I don't actually hate them... Heck I live in a town called “Deer Island,” so I guess I can't really hate them... But the one last year that jumped in front of me, the one I drove around just barely, the one where I was on a motorcycle, and it was dark, and the ditch I drove into in order to avoid the deer, well, it had a big fallen tree branch in it, and I never knew you could total a motocycle just from the cost of the broken plastic...
Yeah, well anyhow deer are ok with me unless they're in the middle of the freakin' road in the woods at night. Then they just suck.
But anyhow, none of this matters, especially since I got right back on that horse again this year (or more specifically I got back on all 203.5 of them).
My real point is, I laughed out loud while reading a pretty funny blog entry. And I thought I'd share the laughter. The link was gleaned from several other blogs I read. Enjoy.
Not like anyone actually wants or cares to hear about my pain, but not much else happening right now, and this is (after all) my blog.
So, this would be the one where I talk about my subsiding back pain and start to think about blogging with audio: You know, I was really excited about getting the audioblog.com stuff set up (and I still am excited), but I find myself getting a little self-conscious about posting my voice on my blog for some reason. Have been thinking about how to use this capability - have a few ideas, but will probably think of more....
If you have an opinion, email or comment. I am wanting to get a Bluetooth headset that I can use with my Bluetooth enabled computer. Any thoughts, opinions, or recommendations?
I’ve checked Amazon but some of the people who review stuff there get so freakin’ radical about the tiniest little things and write off-the-cuff, not-well-reasoned reviews (I guess that’s the kind of people who are attracted to writing in public?), so I don’t know what to believe anymore.
Anyhow, if anyone has an idea, let me know.
"Never again," cried the man, "never again will we wake up in the morning and think Who am I? What is my purpose in life? Does it really, cosmically speaking, matter if I don't get up and go to work? For today we will finally learn once and for all the plain and simple answer to all these nagging little problems of Life, the Universe and Everything!"
The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is coming soon to a theater near you! Heck yeah!
“Exactly!” - Deep Thought
Thanks to Travis for the link :)
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
For now let's call it a pound of “ouch” with an ounce of “anticipation-of-relief...”
This was a first time for me, seeing as how I've never had any kind of surgery or anything similar to what you might call a surgical procedure. This was minor, though: Today I had epidural injections of a corticosteroid and a nerve blocker put into my lower back. I've had pain for years now, constantly, that ranges from annoying at times to completely unbearable at others. Having done nothing up to this point to try to fix the problem other than taking anti-inflamatories, I decided at the doc's recommendation to try these shots and see what happens. If they don't work, he and I will see what's next. I just know I can't live comfortably with the pain any more, it's just become worse as time goes on.
So, anyhow, went to the hospital, they gave me some stuff that made me slightly loopy, and I was awake the whole time. Lots of needles in the back, stuff injected into the epidural space in my spine, kinda hurts, and now I am fluctuating between feeling pretty okay and having shooting pain, especially as the blocker wears off and the numbness subsides.
I am told by the doc that the pain may get somewhat worse before I start to feel better, and so far, he's right. But hey, this is I guy I am highly confident in as far as his medical abilities, and since this is what he said would likely happen, I guess I am not really surprised. I'll ride it out and see how it goes over the next day or two.
Anyhow, there are people out there who have been asking about this, and although it's completely non-tech, I thought I'd just post an update. I'm okay, the pain is there, expect it to get better.
I've suggested a new team building event idea to the boss. Now we just have to work out the budget. I hope that happens soon, since I'm holding my breath here and all... ;)
Give Us ‘The Green Light’ And We Will Push Your Physical, Mental and Cultural Limits To The Ultimate Edge In Your Own Adrenalin-Pumping And Off-the-Rails... "9 ½ Day Adventure of a Lifetime"
Woah dude - sweet.
Thanks to Rory for the heads-up post that led me there.
Microsoft is making it possible for people to get their hands on Windows Server 2003 and learn more about it, without having to install the OS or dedicate one or more computers to the task. They provide it to you and allow you to connect with a remote terminal session.
From the site: “Ever wanted to test Microsoft's newest software in a totally secure sandbox environment? Wouldn't it be great to be able to test new servers immediately, without formatting hard drives or dedicating one or more computers to the project? Now you can, with the TechNet Virtual Lab.
“As part of the TechNet Virtual Lab, you will have full access to Windows Server 2003 through five modules: Active Directory - New User Interface, Active Directory - New Functionality, Group Policy Management Console, IIS 6.0, and Security. You get a downloadable manual and a 75-minute block of time for each module. You can sign up for additional 75-minute blocks anytime.”
And better yet, it's free. So sign up here and start learning.
Finally, someone has the right answer to how to clean a compromised system. So, you didn’t patch the system and it got hacked. What to do?
Click here to find out.
Is it the one correct answer - If you have already been compromised? Three cheers for Jesper M. Johansson, Ph.D., CISSP, MCSE, MCP+I, Security Program Manager at Microsoft for pointing this out. Maybe.
However, it should be noted (as was done to me by a security professional whom I respect greatly) that there are many options other than and in addition to patching available to prevent system compromise. Here's what my colleague said in email:
“I can't believe they actually published that! While instilling fear and hopelessness it has no redeeming value and makes MS look bad (by implying a 'justification' for the pain of the patch process). There are other alternatives to cleaning systems and validating what has been altered besides reformatting. Things like Tripwire, regular audits, etc. etc. etc. The real decision is what is it worth to not have to reformat? Also you don't need any of the MS patches to prevent a system from being compromised.”
All valid points. I agree on one level or another with everyone here: Prevention and planning are worth a ton of cure. But when you have been compromised at the system level (i.e. did not plan and prevent), you're assuming a fairly large risk if you continue to use the compromised system.
Office 2003, SharePoint, etc. Things you never knew or might not otherwise find:
MSFT tool to remove hidden history and collab data from Office documents - A couple of months ago Microsoft released a nifty tool that will permanently remove hidden and collaboration data, such as change tracking and comments, from Word 2003/XP, Excel 2003/XP, and PowerPoint 2003/XP files. When you distribute an Office document electronically, the document might contain information that you do not want to share publicly, such as information you’ve designated as “hidden” or information that allows you to collaborate on writing and editing the document with others. Before you email that doc to your customer or partner, or post it to a web site, run this tool and clean things up.
A couple of quick ways to stay up-to-date on SharePoint resources and information - Check out these resources if you're interested in SharePoint Portal or WSS 2003 - good stuff to be found:
I'll post a more complete OPML file sometime soon.
Monday, May 10, 2004
Earlier I posted my first audio blog entry. This is just a quick note about how to set up audioblog.com to post directly to dasBlog...
It's really pretty simple: I used the Blogger-API capability of dasBlog (you'll need to turn it on in your config) and directed audioblog.com to publish my blog entries use the Movable Type option. You could specify XML-RPC, but if you do you won't get the headlines properly translated into dasBlog, so Movable Type is the one that works best. Very cool that dasBlog allows you to post this way, and even more cool that audioblog.com appears to properly emulate Movable Type when posting. When I tried to use another audio blogging service (AudBlog), it didn't play well with the Blogger API - But audioblog.com works like a charm.
Three cheers for audioblog.com - I signed up to test their new service last night, and today I got an email with my new account info. Within 5 minutes I'd posted my first test audio blog entry. Their service is smooth, it works (other services out there are glitchy at best in my recent experience), and it's very well designed. Quite cool. Just imagine what you can do with this kind of service. From any computer or phone you can post audio blog messages in real time. You can record up to an hour at a shot, and if you want to go longer than that, you can chain multiple recordings together into a play-list. Wow - this is great!
Update: Looks like they went live today! $4.95 a month for unlimited recording and up to 1GB of audio data transfer a month - very nice. See their Service Features page for more info.
Also check out the interview with the creator of audioblog.com, Eric Rice at ITConversations.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
UPDATED: Apparently, somone one mis-spoke, and Microsoft has corrected earlier reports - see eWeek's coverage of the change in the story.
Sorry guys, all you software thieves out there will not be able to install SP2 after all (unless this all changes again). From a business and antipiracy perspective, I agree with not allowing it to install. From a security perspective, I was looking forward to seeing what impact (if any) the loosening of the reins might have.
But I don't hink Microsoft has a responsibility to provide anything to people who steal software.
It's a change of direction for Microsoft, but apparently they will allow SP2 for Windows XP to be installed on pirated copies of the OS when the service pack is released later this year. This was not the case with SP1, which has protections in it that keep people with pirated copies of Windows XP from installing it successfully.
"It was a tough choice, but we finally decided that even if someone has pirated copy of Windows, it is more important to keep him safe than it is to be concerned about the revenue issue," he added. He admitted, however, that it is more than altruism that helped Microsoft come to this decision. "Having these unsecured users means bigger worm and virus outbreaks - which also impacts the Internet and consequently, our legitimate users as well." - Microsoft group product manager Barry Goffe
Considering the potential positive impact of SP2 on the computing world, this is probably a good idea. After all, keeping users from spreading viruses and becoming launching platforms for hackers is an important part of securing the Internet and - in a broad sense - the Windows OS.
There are a number of technological leaps I have not yet made, many of which are pretty commonplace nowadays. Most who know me look at me as one of those guys who's always first to acquire and use new technology, but in some cases that's just not true.
Here are a few facts about me and technology adoption, and where I see myself in the near future with regard to each:
- I don't own an MP3 player - In fact, I never have. Sure I've listened to MP3s on my computer before (but not nearly as much as everyone else I know). I have not jumped on the MP3 wagon yet. I do digital media for sure - I've run Windows Media servers at work for a few years now, I have a hacked TiVo at home and have even put together my own PVR before, and I've used a Pocket PC and Smartphone in the past (both of which can play MP3s with Mobile Windows Media Player), but never have I actually owned an MP3 player. My boss once told me about how he uses audible.com, which is a cool service where you can download electronic books and stuff. That may be what eventually gets me to buy one. We'll see. iPods are looking pretty cool to me.
- I don't yet do IP telephony - This is an area I was exploring earlier today, and it's what got me thinking about the things I have not yet bought into. I was researching Vonage phone service and features, after I started playing with the idea of audio blogging (Maybe you can see the connection, I know it's a stretch, but that's how I got from virtual-there to virtual-here, so to speak). This is something I am seriously considering trying out. Vonage not only now allows you to have a IP phone bridge device for your normal phone to plug into, they also support installing and using a software phone on the laptop (or whatever computer you like). I like the idea of being able to travel and have my phone ring on my laptop when I am logged in. They also have some cool voice mail features, including delivery of voice mails as email attachments and the ability to access your voice mail on the web. Now, how cool is that?
- Picture/Audio/Video Blogging - I know this is not exactly something that everyone's doing, but when it comes to my list of things I think I should have done by now, this is definitely on it. I've wanted to do picture blogging for some time, but I don't have a camera phone (I use a blackberry phone since that's what really meets my hectic needs and work-style). The idea of being able to record an audio blog entry, however, is pretty cool to me - and if I could combine a camera-phone image with called-in audio recording and post them together, well that would be really cool. I'm definitely looking into this. Not sure what practical use it has, but it sounds like fun to me. Oh, and it has to work with dasBlog, which has a number of interfaces for getting remotely submitted blog entries created. For audio blogging on the road, I am looking at AudioBlog.com (Looks awesome and just went into closed beta release - I've applied) and AudBlog.com (which I have already tried, and while it's kind of cool, it just doesn't seem to work too well for my needs - and it's a bit limited in terms of what you get for the buck). Fun stuff, coming soon I hope.
- Windows XP Media Center PC - I have been saying I want to get a Media Center PC for quite a while now, but still have not done so. With the new possibilities created by Microsoft's planned releases of new networked/connected Media Center “extender” devices, the level of desire has been continually increasing on my part. I need to buy a new computer for home anyhow (mine's pretty much dead), but I guess my only fear is that before too long some new OS and the accompanying mega-hardware requirements will replace what's on the market now. I dunno - I'll have to keep thinking about this one.
Apparently now is the beginning of a prime period during which we'll be able to best see the International Space Station as it races across the sky. If you haven't ever taken the time to step out and watch the sky to see this before, you should do so - Realizing that there are people up there on that thing is really pretty mind-boggling when you think about what it takes to make something like the space station happen and work.
SPACE.COM: During the next couple of weeks, North Americans will have many opportunities to see the International Space Station, due chiefly to a seasonal circumstance. From now through the beginning of July, nights are shortest and the time that a satellite in a low-Earth-orbit (like the space station) can remain illuminated by the Sun can extend throughout the night, a situation that can never be attained during other times of the year.
You can find out when you can see the station at any of several web sites, including:
Here are a few links to SkyWatch data for cities people who know me are likely to be in. If yours is not listed, check out the full city list.
German police arrested the 18-year-old author of the Sasser virus. Apparently he also confessed to authoring other viruses, including NetSky.
Which is good. But not amazing. For the most part, the bad guys eventually get caught.
What amazes me is the fact that so many companies and government agencies were actually shut down by the Sasser worm. A friend of mine who works for a government agency called me tonight to tell me that last week the city, county and related agencies where he works were shut down by the worm.
My response: “WHAT?!?!?!!?!?” The departments that were shut down in my friend's account of the situation included public safety departments and a fire/police dispatch center among others... No small potatoes when you consider how critical it is that things just need to work. Maybe someone needs to lose his or her job.
Good vs. Bad, or “Dude, that's pretty extreme.”
I'm serious - this one was so easy to avoid, there's simply no excuse for having a problem. I can think of one only reason any company or agency would be affected, and come to think of it, it's a problem rampant the world over.
Sadly, some IT professionals aren't - well - they're just not very professional.
So, here's an important message for companies and agencies employing lazy IT staff: If they don't prevent the outbreaks, they're not doing their jobs. The mark of a good IT crew is not that they respond to a virus outbreak and make everyone feel good that they're able to disinfect computers and (hopefully) go to tape backups to restore ruined data. The good IT crew is not the one that tells you it will take two to three days to recover, and then “delivers” in one day.
So what, then, makes for a good IT crew? And how do you know if you have one? It's very simple: While everyone else is freaking out about viruses and other threats, your company is still operating and you're not really too concerned, because your company just doesn't ever have many network security issues. Besides, if there was going to be a problem, you would have heard about it from the IT crew by now. In other words, things just work, problems are prevented, work doesn't stop, and you don't have to worry. That's what a good IT crew does for you.
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth Big $$$
Believe it or not, I'm not supposed to be an exterminator. My job is to make sure the virus outbreak never happens in the first place, and the people who work in my department share in that responsibility. Ultimately, I am the one responsible (and held accountable) for network and data integrity when it comes to viruses and intrusions, but we all take a significant amount of pride in making sure problems never get a chance to occur.
What many may not realize is that it's actually pretty easy to do. In fact, it's a lot less work to prevent the problems than it is to react to them after they occur. Keeping a problem from happening is akin to preventing a cancer from ever growing; You can be so much more confident, and if the ability to prevent is there, it's simply negligent to assume the reactive posture. The removal of a cancer is painful, time consuming and expensive. Worse yet, you almost always have to wonder if you got it all, if it will ever resurface, and what the result will be when it does.
To be perfectly clear about where I'm going with this: I believe that organizations need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward avoidable downtime. Virus outbreaks should be very few, very far between, and extremely isolated in scope. If a virus infects an entire network, something is not being done correctly. If data is lost and can't be recovered, there's simply no excuse.
Kick Me If You Like, But I Know I'm Right
Some who work in the IT field will read this and be upset with me. Am I really telling people like my boss to fire their employees if they can't prevent the problems from happening?
Yes, in a matter of speaking I am. After all, if I can't (or rather “won't,” since pretty much anyone can) protect the company from internal and external threats, I am not doing my job and my boss needs to find someone who can (and will). While there are occasional threats that cannot be prevented, he knows that those are so rare that he'll know when the exception to the rule occurs.
IT professionals around the world, regardless of the organization's size or business, should hold themselves to this standard. If you're an employer, you're responsible for maintaining or hiring people who meet the standard.
We no longer live in a world where the guy your neighbor knows who “works in computers” is sufficient for a professional IT job. Even the interns I hire require a special skill and work ethic that's hard to find. High standards make for quality work and results, and I think that's the way it should be. To expect less in this day and age is to neglect the needs of the real world of IT.
It's Bigger Than Just Your Organization
By the way - when the people responsible to do the prevention at your organizations fail in their duties, who do you think those failures impact? It's not just your employees and customers. The nature of the Internet is that your failure will almost certainly impact many organizations outside of you own. That's what virus writers count on, that the poorly-designed and -managed networks of the world won't be proactively managed, and that employers who don't know the difference won't do anything about it.
If you're the employer and you can't for the life of you determine whether your IT employees know how to do their jobs, here's your best clue: They probably don't. It's one of those things where you know if they're doing their jobs. How? It's a dangerous world we work in; If they are not educating you and keeping you aware, they're not doing their jobs.
For the Record - Bad Employers Are Part of the Problem
Before I finish, I should say that I realize the world is not black-and-white, that there are many aspects of operational IT work that can put a very good and responsible IT professional in a position where he or she is doomed to fail. There are times when, despite the best efforts of the individual, the budget or company priorities actually prevent you from doing good security. I only see two options for you there: One is to make them aware, change the outlook and attitude, and failing that the second option is to find a place to work that will leverage your skills and and fits your priorities.
Line In The Sand
So, here's the challenge: I think that anyone responsible for day-to-day IT security who walks away from these words upset that I'd adopt this position probably needs to take a look at why they're upset. Seems to me if one does one's job, there's nothing there to be upset about.
Anyhow, that's what I think. It's a little more black and white in writing than in real-world practice, but I've read and re-read my words, and I'm good with them. This started out to be a short post about the 18-year-old kid who wrote a computer worm. It ended up becoming a bit of a rant about what really matters to my employer. Catching this kid doesn't mean less viruses and worms - We still have a job to do, and it's just getting more and more complicated as time goes on.
And since all good blog entries should include a question, tell me: What do you think? Click the comments link and talk back if you're so inclined. I could be wrong, you know.
Saturday, May 08, 2004
I decided today to look for cool stuff and tie up a few loose ends from the past week. Nothing big - Just a few things that will probably change the way you work or live in the future that I thought you might like to know about, if you don't already. Not that I really know how they all work, I just find them very, very interesting:
How to Bundle Active Directory Application Mode with Your Directory-enabled Application - Microsoft created ADAM to let developers us Active Directory as a dedicated LDAP service. Someone was asking me what I know about it, and how to ship ADAM with his application. This article talks about how to bundle the ADAM setup as part of your app's setup. ADAM is cool. This makes it cooler. It may not change the way you live, but the potential is there to change the way people like me work.
Mono Beta 1 has been released - What the heck is it? No, you won't end up in bed for weeks wishing you could just die. Think of it this way: Write C# code and run it on Windows or Unix. This is big. It's a .NET framework for Unix, and when you think about it, the possibilities are - well - pretty interesting. Interoperability, here we come. It's worth noting that Microsoft released the whole .NET thing to the community to do this kind of thing. And for those who wonder why anyone should care, the abstraction layer of the .NET framework allows you to write and deploy much more secure (read: managed) code. That matters. That's probably not a great explanation, but someone else can chime in and comment if they want.
Keyhole is Super-Cool and Addictive - I ran across Keyhole a month or two or more ago, but forgot to blog about it. I don't know why, I mean this company has only mapped out the entire earth - more than seven terabytes of map images are on their system. I think the first time I saw their technology and started looking for it was when the news shows started doing these fancy fly-over maps of Iraq to show their audiences where certain cites, battles or whatever were happening. In the future, this kind of tool will be commonplace. Imagine tying this capability into a GPS-enabled application and speaking instructions to your car, then having it show you, step-by-step and in 3D detail, to your destination. Or dream up your own uses and ideas.
Well, During an excellent presentation about Longhorn by Chris Sells the other day where I work, he showed some forward-looking stuff that reminded me of the coolness of this new application. When Longhorn arrives and we get its amazing 3D graphics system, we'll no doubt see some amazing new things taking advantage of applications like this one. At any rate, no need to wait for Longhorn to see what this can do. Anyone with eyes and brain (and hopefully broadband) should truly enjoy themselves on this site today. Oh, and if you happen to have a nVidia graphics card, be sure to check out Keyhole NV and see Mars. A free trial account is available, and it's worth the download is you have a computer that's less than three years old (older than that might be too slow).
Longhorn - The Next Version of Windows - As mentioned above, Chris Sells, who works for Microsoft and speaks regularly about Longhorn, the way-cool next version of Microsoft's operating system, spoke at Corillian (my place of work) the other day. Chris is a great speaker and he convinced me about the one necessary assumption upon which Microsoft appears to be betting the company: Longhorn will be to Windows XP as Windows 95 was to Windows 3.1. They want people to flock out to get Longhorn the same way they did with Windows 95. they'll spend more in marketing the next version of Windows thank they've ever spent marketing any other product, ever.
Now, if you were around for the debut of Windows 95, you know what I mean and how big a deal this statement is. For those of you who are too young to remember, but are old enough now to be interested (yes, I am speaking to you Scott), well hold on tight - The ride's about to begin. The world of computing as we know it will (once again) change dramatically.
Want to see where things are heading? Check out these concept videos that show some of the new capabilities that will reach our homes and offices one day soon. They're geared toward business solutions, but show a lot of the new features and make you think about the possibilities. Note that one of the videos (the commercial real estate one) leverages the Keyhole world imagery application and data mentioned earlier - in combination with mapping applications like MapPoint. Neat stuff.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
Two of my coworkers, Scott and Patrick, have been musing about what it means to be a coder. Or a geek. Or whatever. I'm not a coder (to be sure). But many people do consider me to be a geek. So at least in certain circles, they're not really the same.
Anyhow, Patrick had an interesting comment about his son. He mentioned that he has taken to calling himself “geek, son of geek.” Heheheh that's cool. He also mentioned his son's a little miffed that they don't have a t-shirt that says that.
Have no fear, my friends. Your fears and miffed-ness are silenced by my own personal form of geekdom.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
And the list of nifty OneNote SP1 Pre-Release information (and the coolness factor) just keeps on growing…
Andrew May, of the OneNote dev team, today posts a pre-release article that will be published in its final form whenever the final version of OneNote SP1 is released. I’ve started playing with some one the command line switches described in the article.
Whether or not OneNote is running at the time, you can use the command line switches to start up some type of OneNote functionality. Whether it’s starting or joining a shared, network-based note-taking session, opening a OneNote page and automatically starting to record video or audio (or passing a command to stop a recording in progress), importing content, or any one of several other functions, the new ability to script and remote start OneNote in a variety of ways is something that many will find useful and powerful.
Already a few ideas are running around in my little head – Shared note-taking sessions that are always available, programmatically starting new sessions or creating new notebooks and pages based on variable input from any one of a number of sources… Custom name the notebook and session, start sharing it, import content from some source or the clipboard, and start collaborating... The sky’s the limit!
By the way: If you're a developer or technical implementer of OneNote, Andrew May's blog is a required read. Great stuff there. If you're an IT decision maker, don't miss Chris Pratley's blog. Read and learn.
It's faster, it's fixed up, it's super cool and stuff.
Omar says dasBlog v1.6.4121.0 has been posted to the GotDotNet workspace (note - takes forever to load, be patient). So you can download it, install it, use it, and enjoy it. There's nifty easy installers for the whole thing, ZIPs with just the upgrade files, packaged source code - you choose how and what you want to do. Instructions are here.
I upgraded last night, and the site runs faster and there's some cool fixes as well as new/improved functionality. For complete info about the changes, see the release notes.
Now all I have to do is get around to translating my blog entried from my old LiveJournal from back in the day to dasBlog. In my spare time. :-P
If you run it, get it. If you don't and you're looking to start a blog of your own, this is the stuff. Need a place to host yours? Email me, maybe I can help.
© Copyright 2014 Greg Hughes
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