Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Thomas Hawk wrote about a severe problem he had ordering a camera from an abusive online retailer that's really nothing but a major, unethical sales scam operation. The fact that he wrote about it and pointed to a number of other people's experience is great, and it brought to mind a number of other things that people need to know, especially this time of the year.
First of all, there ARE unethical, bad people out there trying to sell YOU their stuff. And there are some that will threaten, extort and otherwise manipulate their "customers." It doesn't just happen to other people - it can and will happen to you, too. Protect yourself and do your homework. While the vast majority of online retailers are good, solid companies, there are the few bad apples, just like in any community, that make it bad for everyone they can take advantage of.
- If the price is too good to be true, it's probably not true. Seriously. Don't fool yourself.
- Do your homework if it's a company you have never head of or dealt with. You're trying to save money, so spend some time. That means getting information about the company. A good way to do this is to look for bad information online, by using Google or another search engine to search for "The Company Name"+scam (like this and this show some serious info). Look for the NEGATIVE information. Keep in mind that there are times when the bad guys will try to make themselves look good by posting positive information. It happens.
- Don't rely solely on the Better Business Bureau to tell you what you need to know, but do be sure to check information there. The company Thomas wrote about has a record with the New York BBB that's pretty terrible. Also be sure to use epinions.com's "Online Stores and Services" search and read through the whole lot. Again, there are bad guys that will post fake positive comments about themselves - so be a pessimist.
- Always use a reputable credit card, never use a check or debit card. If you ever need to reverse charges, a credit card with purchase and fraud protection is invaluable; You can't reverse cancel payment on a check that's already posted, and you fighting the debit card battle is painful if the money has already been pulled from your account. Credit cards provide lots of real protection, so use them for these purchases. That's why I have credit cards, really, is to protect myself if ever needed for major purchases. That and true emergencies. Other than that I think they are evil, heh.
- Did I mention "If the price is too good to be true, it's probably not true?" Okay, well it's worth repeating.
Finally, based on other people's experiences with the company Thomas had his problem with, I'd suggest you never, ever do business with Price Rite Photo, which also uses a number of other business names. Check the BBB for retailer names and aliases, and alway always always be careful and suspicious of the too-good-to-be-true deals.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
It's a question many of us in the security field have been asking for some time. How is a user supposed to know they are on the correct web site when they enter their credentials or make an online purchase? How are they supposed to know when it's not the trusted site they're on?
I was having a side conversation about more ways to solve this problem with some coworkers today (common topic in our line of work), and this evening I ran across some details on the IEBlog discussing how Microsoft is dealing with it in IE7 (found via Mark Harrison). And other browser vendors are playing nicely, too. Ahh, solving problems is such a good thing to see... Nice!
IEBlog: Better Website Identification and Extended Validation Certificates in IE7 and Other Browsers
Here are some visuals that show what the user expeience looks and feels like in the dev versions. Visit the link above to get the complete details.
Fig 1, IE7 address bar for a known phishing website detected by the Phishing Filter
Fig 2, IE7 address bar for a suspected phishing website detected by the Phishing Filter
Fig 3.1, IE7 address bar for a site with a high-assurance SSL certificate
(showing the identity of the site from the SSL certificate)
Fig 3.2, IE7 address bar for a site with a high-assurance SSL certificate
(alternating in the name of the Certification Authority who identified the site)
Monday, November 28, 2005
Because some things are truly worth repeating each year, and because sometimes people do things that are just so damn wrong... Everyone should have their own copy of this Christmas music classic:
Leave it to the Oregon Lottery to come up with the holiday marketing stunts to top all stupid holiday season marketing stunts. Thank God for the lottery people... And here we were starting to worry people might actually take Oregon seriously for a second...
So, here you have it: Scratch-and sniff lottery tickets in a beautiful fruitcake flavor. Yeah, seriously. Scratch the card, and it smells like f-r-u-i-t-c-a-k-e. Uhhh... Yuck.
People actually want to buy this crap? Wow.
To top it all off, be sure to check out the (actually somewhat amusing) MP3 files being used to promote the seasonal cash-collecting game.
It's all at http://spiritoffruitcake.com.
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Over at VoIPSpeak, there's an article describing how to set up Asterisk@Home, a distribution of the Asterisk open source PBX software for Linux, in a virtual machine on a Windows box. It uses the recently-released (and free) VMWare Player for virtualization.
Note that Asterisk@Home is actually a bit of a misnomer - it's more like "Asterisk-Plus" - a package of the Asterisk PBX with many of the more common and popular add-ons and enhancements packaged up. Installation is simplified and the heavy lifting is mostly done for you. Running in a no-cost VM environment, it's really easy to mess with and learn from. Set up a couple soft-phones and you'll be able to try it out all you like.
This one is perfect for students, who (we all know) spend way too much time on IM anyhow. So in the if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em department, have them add email@example.com as a contact on their MSN IM people lists. Chris Sells pointed out this service - which ties into the Encarta online encyclopedia - the other day, and so I tried it out.
If you ever have to research things for classes or work and want a more accessible way to do so, you'll find it cool and useful.
Just open a conversation with the "Encarta Instant Answers" contact in your list and start asking questions. You'll get results right in the IM window. If there's information available from Encarta online (did you know you can use pretty much everything from Encarta online???), the agent will offer to share it with you in an expanded window (see below).
It works quite well, and has already tied up a bunch of my time. I'll be keeping this one in my IM contact list for sure.
(click above for a larger view)
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Microsoft yesterday announced a zero-day exploit that affects Internet Explorer. The Zero Day Security weblog describes it well:
"Of course, to be compromised the user must first browse to a malicious web site. According to Computer Terrorism: Contrary to popular beliefs, the aforementioned security issue is susceptible to remote, arbitrary code execution, yielding full system access with the privileges of the underlying user.
"Several informative sites include Microsoft, FrSIRT, MITRE, US-CERT, InfoWorld, eWeek and SANS (which suggests disabling Java or using another browser and has a BleedingSnort Rule on their site).
"Get ready for a patch blast from Microsoft on this one."
Microsoft's comments have been updated with the latest information. From their Security Advisory 911302 information page:
"...We have also been made aware of proof of concept code targeting the reported vulnerability but are not aware of any customer impact at this time. We will continue to investigate these public reports.
"Upon completion of this investigation, Microsoft will take the appropriate action to help protect our customers. This may include providing a security update through our monthly release process or providing an out-of-cycle security update, depending on customer needs.
"This issue was originally publicly reported in May as being a stability issue that caused the browser to close. Since then, new information has been posted that indicates remote code execution could be possible. Microsoft is concerned that this new report of a vulnerability in Internet Explorer was not disclosed responsibly, potentially putting computer users at risk. We continue to encourage responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities. We believe the commonly accepted practice of reporting vulnerabilities directly to a vendor serves everyone's best interests..."
I was on the phone with a professional contact today, a guy who happens to do cybercrime and anti-fraud work in his job as a special agent for the FBI. That's a part of what I do in my day job, by the way - help chase down bad guys on the 'net and interact with law enforcement to shut them down. It's a fairly effective way to keep one foot in the door of my previous career (police work) and at the same time be firmly planted in the computer technology world. I also get to working with some really smart people who build great software that is used to prevent fraudsters from reaching victims.
Anyhow... So I was on the phone with my anti-fraud cohort, and he had that "FBI-agent-having-a-rough-day" sound in his voice. He's one of these guys who's always very positive, but it was clear quite a bit of work had been cut out for him and his coworkers over the past day or two.
It turns out there's a new set of fake emails running around that try to look like they came from the FBI or the CIA, and which have an attachment that is actually a virus.
Now, let's get one thing completely clear: If you ever get an unsolicited email that has a file attached, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT. It doesn't matter if it's from the President of the United States or the Creator of of the Universe... Email is inherently insecure, and if it looks out of place, it probably is. You can read the FBI's press release about the situation here, which describes the fake emails in some detail.
This is just another example of social engineering and the fact that given the opportunity, people will fall for almost anything. Oh - and if you don't have antivirus protection at your email service provider, change providers now. Seriously. Get a GMail or Hotmail account or something.
I'll tell ya one thing... Whoever had cohones enough to construct that virus variety to send email pretending to be from the FBI is in for a rude awakening. Seriously, seriously stupid move. Heh.
Last night I contemplated waking up earlier than usual, getting in the car and going down to the local Wal Mart (well, as local as can be when you live in the sticks) to get in line to buy a XBOX 360 console. After doing some rough calculations in my head last night, I realized that between travel and work, I'll hardly be home between now and the end of the year, so maybe right now isn't the best time for me to buy one anyhow. Oh, but I will be buying one, no worries there.
Still, Wal Mart is on my drive to work, and so I decided to grab my standard morning coffee from the little store at the bottom of the hill, drive into town, and do some people watching. After all, I realized, it's more the excitement and the weirdness of the hype around the event than the console itself. An XBOX 360 today is the same box and hardware as you can buy later. But the launch fans? That only happens once.
So I headed out for the big ol' St. Helens, Oregon Wal Mart. I listened to the radio on the way there, and heard stories of gamers in places like Manhattan, NY, where apparently people had been lined up forever (like lots of places around the country) and Bellevue, Washington, where Bill Gates went to the local Best Buy and picked up his own console. Somehow I don't think he needed to do that, but hey - it was cool.
Honestly, I was more interested in watching the people when they opened the store than I was in buying a console on Day One. I'm more interested, too, in how much they'll be selling for on eBay later today, and about when the day will be that they start dropping them off the backs of trucks at stores in huge numbers. One friend says he thinks it will be on Thursday night. Another person I know tells me the store he pre-ordered from called and let him know his delivery would be delayed, and that they were not sure if he would get his before Christmas. People are lining up everywhere. Clearly, the demand is high and the supply (either artificially or in actuality) is short.
Anyhow, back to the local Wal Mart. I wasn't sure what to expect in the Big Town of St Helens. I pulled into the parking lot and saw a small crowd of about 15-20 shivering people huddled right next to the front door of the store. A couple of people were (smartly) waiting in their vehicles with the heat on. I pulled up and deduced that the Wal Mart store has probably handed out numbers to the first people to show up, but that's where things got more interesting. Every employee that came anywhere near the front door was the target of sly, mean-sounding questioning. "Are they coming to open the door? Hurry up, it's f***n' cold out here! What?!? No?!?!? G*d d*mnit!"
When it came time to open the door and head for the counter - and keep in mind, everyone had a number - the race walk through the door turned into a jog, and then quickly into a sprint for the back of the store, where ten boxes sat stacked neatly behind a counter. I followed (at a walking pace, of course) to observe. A couple of people commented on the foot race and we all laughed a little. Mostly the people (at least those who didn't have a number) noticed how strange the whole thing was. All this for a video game console? Hey, for some it's what life is all about, I guess.
So, I started to think about the gamer personality. Some of the people were needlessly quiet and cagey, not really letting on as to who had what number, and some were not even providing information about whether numbers were even given out. It was amusing, really. There was this competitive hype attitude. The need to be first, to sneak around that metaphoric corner on the battle map and shoot your opponent in the back of the head.
It's really kinda interesting.
Fist fights, secrecy, celebration, celebrity, short supply, bright green boxes, launch hype, auction hype and even more random hype. Some will be upset they can't get one, others will be upset they pre-ordered and the kid down the street was first, and others will be holed up in their rooms for the next five days with lots of Mountain Dew, Red Bull, Doritos and Little Betty Snack Cakes turning a whole new shade of pasty white with a day-glow green tint brought on by the magical glow of the XBOX 360, only to emerge into a world where the colors are not quite as bright, the definition is not quite as high, and the people with guns in their hands are the ones you want to avoid. Ahhh, the life...
Merry Christmas and all that. Earlier and more bizarre every year.
But hey, dude, it's a sweet console.
Monday, November 21, 2005
The Microsoft anti-malware team has posted information about their products' ability to remove the rootkit associated with the Sony DRM mess that everyone and their brother has written about over the past couple weeks. If you don't know whether your Sony CD was one that may have installed this junk on your computer, there's a list of CD titles available here. If your CD is not on the list, it's ok. If it is on the list, Sony BMG will send you a replacement.
If you think you might have a problem (or if you just want to make sure you're cleaned up in general), go to the Windows Live Safety Center, where you can scan your computer for this and other malicious or bad software and clean it right up. Select the "Full Service Scan" followed by the "Quick scan" option. You'll need to install the ActiveX control for the scanner.
And the other two removal tools the team works on are also able to resolve the problem:
"The Windows AntiSpyware Beta will be able to detect and remove this as well with the 11/17/05 signature release. Detection and removal will also be added to the December release of the Malicious Software Removal Tool which will be released the second Tuesday of December."
If you've not yet used the Windows Live Safety Center, it's a great place to run a scan on any computer for a variety of potential problems, without having to download and install special software programs. The complete scan checks for open ports that might cause problems, viruses, malicious software and more. It can also clean up temp files and defragment your hard drive to improve performance and reliability. This whole services thing is looking pretty promising.
Hard core console gamers are already camping out tonight in front of Best Buy stores and other retailers hoping to get their clammy paws on a new XBOX 360 console, which are in predictably short supply at stores as the launch happens Tuesday.
And be sure to check out the XBOX360 Fanboy blog for all the latest news. Heh. Bill Gates is even going to show up at the Bellevue Best Buy store to hand out the first one and play some games with the crowd.
I'm not, like, old or anything (ugh), but I'm not as young as I once was. Still, I might wake up early (I tend to do so anyhow) and truck it on down to the local WalMart, where they have exactly ten consoles that will be on sale at 7am tomorrow. Word is the Fred Meyer store (for those not in the northwest, take WalMart and fancy it up significantly) in the next town over got seven units and will be doing a lottery for whoever is in line at 5am, then selling them when the store opens at 7am. In the city, people are lined up at Best Buy stores to get one of the 50 units that each store supposedly has.
When I stopped by the WalMart on the way home, the phone at the electronics counter was ringing off the hook. The guy at the counter just shook his head, and told me that phone's rung more than a couple hundred times today with people asking about the XBOX 360 console.
So here are the real questions we're all wondering about:
- How many units shipped for launch?
- When will the truckloads of consoles hit the stores? Should we start a pool?
- Is this possibly a planned shortage thing, or is the supply really that low?
- What will they be selling for on eBay tomorrow afternoon?
I dunno... I know I'll be buying one of these, but I'm not quite sure if I'll be getting up bright and early to scrape the windshield and stand in the sub-freezing temperatures to gamble on something I might not walk away with. Heheh... Maybe I am getting old.
That infamous and terrific gadget-lover's blog, Engadget, has launched it's Engadget Holiday Gift Guide for this holiday season at http://holidaygiftguide.engadget.com/.
We know sorting through the thousands of gadgets on the market right now can be a bit of a pain for anyone doing some shopping, so we’ve gotten together our annual Engadget Holiday Gift Guide in order to help make sense of what’s worth dropping some coin on this year.
Even though online shopping means no one really has an excuse anymore not to buy early, we’re going to be running up our gift suggestions once a day until December 24th, so high-tail over to holidaygiftguide.engadget.com for the latest! And be sure to check back often, as we’ll be posting a variety of gift suggestions sure to please the full range of recipients everyone’s got, from nerds-extraordinarie to Mr. and Mrs. Enduser.
NOTE: These products are selected by the Engadget editors, not Best Buy, and we didn’t check to see whether they’re for sale at Best Buy or not.
That Sony VAIO XL1 Media Center PC is lookin' pretty nice...
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Microsoft's CTO, Ray Ozzie, posted earlier today about his views on SSE, of the Simple Sharing Extensions to RSS and OPML that Microsoft recently published as an open draft specification (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike model). Ozzie knows a lot about sharing information - He created Lotus Notes and was the founder of Groove, a terrific and innovative collaboration platform that Microsoft acquired not that long ago.
He describes the problem with sharing and combining loosely-coupled information.
"As an industry, we have simply not designed our calendaring and directory software and services for this 'mesh' model. The websites, services and servers we build seem to all want to be the 'owner' and 'publisher'; it's really inconsistent with the model that made email so successful, and the loosely-coupled nature of the web."
So he's talking about how to extend RSS and OPML to allow synchronization.
"There are many great item synchronization mechanisms out there (and at Microsoft), but we decided we’d never get short term network effects among products if we selected something complicated – even if it were powerful. What we really longed for was 'the RSS of synchronization' ... something simple that would catch on very quickly."
Note that this is not the same stuff that's gluing RSS into the core of Vista and whatnot - rather it's a simple way to mesh, communicate and synchronize information from multiple sources in XML. It's nifty, simple and smart. I think I've got my mind wrapped around it now. Very cool. Geeks, read on:
Just read a blog post over at HinesSight (a great Oregon-based blog, by the way) called "I pick up a hitchhiker." You know that feeling when you read or see something and you can literally feel your stomach bottom out? You know, the one's that stop you in your tracks and show you that your little world is not so bad after all?
Yeah, it's one of those. Read it, and remember as you go through like to take the time to stop, to take a personal inventory now and then, and to do what's right and good.
Another of the new Windows Live series of services officially launched the other day - It's Windows Live Custom Domains, and essentially it allows you to use the great Hotmail email services with your personal domain name.
All you have to do is go to http://domains.live.com/, specify your domain name (which you must already have registered), make a change to your DNS settings for the domain (the service will let you know what the settings are - this is the most complicated part of the whole deal), and create email accounts (which become passport logon accounts for the system).
I created a mail service for blogaholic.net (a domain which I have yet to launch, maybe someday) and added an email account, logged in and was sending mail - all in less than 10 minutes. Suhhh-lick!
Serious about Security
The service is really darn cool (seriously, if you're looking for the power and convenience of Hotmail and the uniqueness of your own domain name, it's hot), but the one thing that stood out to me the most was the client security Microsoft has built into the account setup process for this service. Yes, I know - basic security tools, blah blah... But it's become the rule more and more lately, which deserves mention. It's a terrific sign that the company is building better security - and better user tools to enable and teach effective security - into their services.
For example, when I created the firstname.lastname@example.org email account, it required me (as the administrator for that email domain) to set a temporary password. In other words, if I create accounts for others (yes, just let me know), I only know the password they'll use to log into the account the first time.
Once I logged in to activate the email account and start using it, I had to provide the temporary password, and it required me to choose a new one and confirm it. But even better than that, as I typed the new password, a color-coded "password strength" bar showed me the complexity strength of my password. It went from Red (weak) to Yellow (so-so) to Green (strong) as I typed. Nice! That's what we need more of - simple, powerful tools to help end users be more secure in real time. Great work, whoever decided to put that in, and to whoever built it. It's quite effective.
[UPDATE: Apparently this is a feature that shipped earlier this year and was included in the LCD package and which was PM'ed by Trevin in Windows Live Identity Services - cool! Looks like I found another blog to subscribe to!]
On the same page, the user has the option to set their password to expire every 72 days. Unfortunately, that box is not checked by default (it really should be), but the fact that it's available is very good. Hopefully they'll change their tun and check that box by default, and let people un-check it of they don't want it. I'm always a proponent of more-secure-by-default.
If you want to find out more, Omar Shahine (Lead Program Manager on the HotMail front-door team) has info here and here, and the Custom Domains team has a blog here.
A couple months ago I took early delivery of a ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC, and I like it a lot. There are a few things I'd improve (like maybe offer a faster proc and faster hard drive spin speed as an option, and possibly higher resolution video), but overall it's great.
But I ran into my first problem last week. The "push-through" latch - which sticks out of the machine's screen either on the screen surface side or the top surface side, depending on whether you've rotated into slate mode - broke and fell out. So not I have a Tablet without a latch. Luckily, the lid tends to close shut. he only real problem is it also tends to rotate if you push on it the wrong way.
Looking at the base side of the latching mechanism, it appears something in there broke. Not good. And the thing, is, all I've done with it is open and close it normally... No torture, drops, hard landings, hard closings or anything.
Bummer. Seems like the convertible Tablet PC latch market needs a better design. Someone out there should design the perfect latch, patent their Really Good Idea and run with it.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Recently I've been targeted by teenagers who are suddenly waking up and wanting to learn about things in their newly-discovered/interesting world. Well, okay so maybe it's a phase, but hey - you take advantage of these periods when they present themselves, you know? Often the reason for the Q&A is a science fair project, or else it's that magical "how do you hack computers" series of questions. Science fair projects I can help with. Hacking? Not quite so willing. But I'm always game to help people learn more about computer security and IT.
One thing that keeps modern teens and kids interested in learning is something that reads well, is on the Internet, and doesn't present itself like a text book. That's why I really, really like "How Stuff Works" (howstuffworks.com) as a resource for adults and kids to learn about cool things and, well, how they work. The power of the site is that it takes complicated topics and makes them understandable.
The How Stuff Works site has been around since before the Internet became uber-popular. I can remember reading lots of great content there many years ago. A guy names Marshall Brain (no joke) was the originator of the site and idea. His related books (appropriately titled 'Marshall Brain's How Stuff Works' and 'Marshall Brain's More How Stuff Works') are terrific for teens and younger kids. He's also written other great books. Parents should pick up a copy of 'The Teenager's Guide to the Real World' for every kid on the planet.
Anyhow, HowStuffWorks.com is one of the most visited sites on the Internet. you can learn all kinds of cool stuff there, explained in ways anyone can understand. That's what makes it so great. Here's a few examples I've sent various people lately:
Want to instantly turn off a blogger? Ask them to link to you without a compelling reason. Seriously. Unless it's a truly compelling and timely topic, never ask for a link. If you do, prepare to be ignored.
Robert Scoble wrote a short-but-right-on-target post today that I can totally relate to. And keep in mind, my blog is like 1/100th of what his is from an attention perspective, so the impact of blatant link begging on me is nothing even close to what it is for him, I'm certain.
Like Robert, I've also been getting a lot of emails and even a few phone calls recently from PR people, bloggers, marketers and other people who don't quite "get it" asking me to write about specific things on my blog. Some have even gone so far as to offer something in return as payment. At first I just laughed and tried to figure out why anyone would actually take the time to ask me to write, then I looked at my pageviews and did some fuzzy math in my head. Okay, so lots of people read the content on this site, that's cool. Not as nearly as many as the big guys, but a lot nonetheless. My AdSense income amazes me more than anyone. But my voice is mine, and it's not for sale.
I'm not saying I don't want to hear about cool stuff - send it on. What I am saying is if your request takes the form of "will you please link to this?" or "hey you should link to this" or "you should write about this for me," I'm really not interested. Of course, if you think something is really cool and it catches my eye, too (and you're not pulling a fast one or crying wolf), I'm going to be interested.
I've gone so far as to reply to one or two of the more truly blatant, entitlement-laden requests with words like "I don't take requests" or "Sorry, I don't do performance blogging." Most of them I just ignore and immediately file in the electronic circular file. It's not that I don't want to hear about good and cool stuff. I just don't want to be anyone's hired or begged PR publisher.
PR people often operate in the old-skool world (been there in a prior career), one where lazy print writers looking for something new to write about love to get calls from PR agencies with some pre-written copy that can be regurgitated or copied verbatim and published. Bloggers don't work that way. If you (hypothetically) send me a book to review, I will try to read it when my schedule allows and if it catches my interest. If I find it especially compelling I might write about it. If I don't like it, I'll most likely just let it go. If it's really, really bad, I might just write about that, too. But probably not - I prefer to emphasize the positive here. So, unlike the print world, there' some risk involved. One thing's for sure: There's no promise or guarantee I'll write anything. And if the request is to take a book or software or anything else in turn for a guaranteed review, don't ask. I'm not for hire. Some people have asked if they would have a chance to respond to anything negative before I write it. I tell them no, but that my blog has comments and if they have a blog (they should), they can always participate in the conversation. It's amazing how many people that puts a stop to. Heh.
I agree with Robert's suggestion. If you see something cool and want me to blog about it, send me a link and tell me what's got your interest and why. I don't care whether it's a link to your site and your comments or if it's pointing to the original info, or whatever.
Now, don't let me scare you away. I write about many things - stuff I care about. Some of it I discover by reading something someone else wrote or sent to me. If I happen to have the same level of interest as you when you show me something, I might take you up on the info. Conversely, if you specifically ask a blogger to link to you for selfish reasons, prepare to be ignored unless it's something very special and urgent.
I've written almost nothing all week until today, partly because I got tired of these calls and emails with blatant requests. It's not fun. It feels like work, and that's one thing this blog is not. Plus, I have been pretty busy recently with my job and life. We all need a break now and then.
Anyhow, Robert - you got that one right, man.
Developers who need to test their apps on machines where another process has the CPU(s) pegged can write their own stress-testing apps, or you could just go and grab a copy of Max CPU from Kenny Kerr.
Whether you have a multi-proc, dual-core 64-bit Itanium, or some old-skool legacy proc, or anything in-between, run your tests under external stress with this tool and get an idea how your app behaves in a processor storm.
It requires the .NET Framework 2.0, and will run natively as either a 32-bit or 64-bit process depending on your operating system.
Kenny is also the author of Window Clippings, which (by the way) is now my default screen capture tool for capturing images of windows on the desktop. It's much faster and simpler than anything else I've used in the past (including some I've paid for). And it will even send the images straight to OneNote if you want it to.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Word's out that Bruce Willis has offered to give a reward of $1 million to any civilian that gives up Osama bin Laden. So if you know where he is, collect your reward. Add that to the $27 million in other rewards, and you'd be pretty well set.
Bounty hunters, time to go do your thing.
If you're a network admin, you know scripting can get a lot done. the recent Scripting Week (which took place in October) included five webcasts intended to help you learn more about using scripting to make your job easier and better. Details are here. Here are some direct links.
Scripting Week Webcasts
The new Microsoft Dynamics CRM v3.0 packages and and an early SDK version have been released to MSDN's subscriber downloads, as the product reached RTM status just recently. This new version of CRM (which stands for Customer Relationship Management) is substantially improved over previous versions. The robust features and functionality are way too many to describe here in complete detail. Suffice it to say that among other great things, highly-configurable interfaces, web-based configuration tools, business workflow (escalation and routing, yay!) and the ability to do customizations to meet business needs without any programming are all really nice to have.
The SQL Reporting Services interface is terrific and there are a large number of reports shipped right out of the box with the product. Pivot tables in Excel leverage live CRM data and can be quickly and automatically created by clicking an icon right there in the web interface, no complex connectivity configuration needed. Integration with Outlook for both the Service and Sales/Marketing components of the system are terrific. The seamless experience between Outlook and the CRM server, as well as the ability to work offline in Outlook to do your work on the road and then sync back up later is great. Being able to link emails straight to CRM cases, to schedule appointments in both CRM and Outlook and have them synced two ways, and to manage contacts in both places (among many other things) is a huge time saver. The web interface is rich and functional. For the IT staff, deployment is simple and reliable and the set of back-office tools for configuration, management and maintenance is very useful and saves time.
Here's what's been released on MSDN's Subscriber Downloads:
The CRM v3 product launch "mantra" (and you can expect to hear more and more of this over the next few months) will sound something like "it works the way you do, the way your business does, and the way IT wants and needs it to." No secrets there, it's on the web site. And I have to agree with those catch-phrase messages - this product hits those nails on the head pretty well.
You can check out the official MS Dynamics CRM v3 data sheet here.
And if you're wondering what all this "Microsoft Dynamics" stuff is about, it's the new Business Solutions product line brand name. You can read about that here.
Monday, November 14, 2005
If you've used Urchin's web site analytics package in the past, you're familiar with the detailed reporting it can do from a web site marketing and usability standpoint. It's been considered one of the luxury stats packages for some time. Well, Google bought Urchin recently, and today announced that they have now morphed the Urchin software into the Google Analytics service, and that it's available for free. Yes - that's right - free:
"Google Analytics is absolutely free! We're very pleased to be able to offer this web analytics solution for no charge, allowing anyone with a website to track conversion data, analyze the flow of visitors through their site, and identify elements of their site that could be changed to improve visitor retention.
"This free version is limited to 5 million pageviews a month - however, users with an active Google AdWords account are given unlimited pageview tracking. In addition, Google Analytics is completely integrated into the AdWords front-end and with your AdWords campaign, making it easy to track your AdWords ROI."
Well, I won't be risking five million page views a month anytime soon, so I figured I'd sign up and check it out. And for those who are interested in running the software in-house, it's still available for purchase, don't worry.
Understandably, the service is up and down a bit this morning. Things were going well for me til about 5:30am Pacific time today, when everything on the Google Analytics site suddenly went into the ether. After a few minutes of hung browsers and dead pages, a "maintenance" page appeared. Well, that makes sense - it's a brand new service at launch, so I am sure there are several kinks to work out.
UPDATE: As of Tuesday at about noon, I am more than 30 hours into my 12-hour wait period to start seeing stats from my web site, which checks out okay by the service (meaning the code if there and working). Still no data to view. Hmmm...
On top of the free stats service, anyone who uses Google's AdWords services on their sites gets the added benefit of AdWords integration into the Analytics services:
"If you have an AdWords account, you can use Google Analytics directly from the AdWords interface. Google Analytics is the only product that can automatically provide AdWords ROI metrics, without you having to import cost data or add tracking information to keywords. Of course, Google Analytics tracks all of your non-AdWords initiatives as well."
Google's hard at work for sure, spending that cash in some smart ways. Makes me wonder how many new things we should expect to see from the company next year - I bet it's a lot.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
I've been a T-Mobile Hot Spot subscriber for more than a year now. I have used it all over the country, and it's always there when I need it, whether I am traveling or if I'm just dropping into a Starbucks for coffee on a whim. It lets me leave my desk and still work from time to time - and we all have those times when the value of sitting in a coffee shop where no one can find you in person is seriously valuable.
One thing that's always frustrated me is the fact that I always have to open the web browser and load some random page to authenticate to the HotSpot service. It's a pain, and today (while sitting here logged onto a Starbucks HotSpot in Beaverton, Oregon) I decided to see if there was anything available to automate the process for me.
You can imagine how stupid/ignorant/DOH! I felt when my google search pointed me right back to T-Mobile's web site, where I found a description of their Connection Manager software. After hitting the 'back' button on the browser a few times to return to the page confirming I was signed on, I decided to read that page for the first time and sure enough, right there in the menu bar is a link to "Download Connection Manager." Heh.
Turn off your speakers if you're in the coffee shop before you click on the link, though, or you'll quickly become the target of startled stares from everyone else in the shop when the completely unnecessary Flash movie with LOUD SOUND. Kinda like this (you'll need those speakers back on again, dude).
Download the file, run the installer, and choose from a completely goofy skinned app or a Neapolitan-colored stylized app. I chose the lesser of the two evils.
Then things got interesting. It immediately required me to disable the Wireless Zero Configuration Service in Windows XP, which will no doubt break everything else I had set up for wireless connections prior to installing this thing. It sure as hell better work... Why can't things be simple an non-intrusive?
Now, clearly this software does more than automatically log you onto their regular WiFi HotSpot network. It sees a WPA-protected network, which means encryption and privacy. +1 for that. And the the EDGE/GPRS options obviously refer to using their data cards to connect from the road. Cool to have that in one place. Too bad there's no task bar icon when the app in on the screen.
The interface works well and there's really a whole slew of options. One of the coolest was the fact that when I went to the "Tools>Settings" menu and chose the "VPN" tab, it automatically detected my Cisco Systems VPN client and all of it's profiles and let me choose which to use when clicking the big, fat "VPN" button in the T-Mobile UI. It works great, and I'm connected as I type. Nice feature:
VPN options dialog - click to view full size
Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of using the software is the availability of the secured wireless network. Seems like they could offer this without having to install custom software, but oh well...
Access to a secured network - click to view full size
Here's where the automatic logon happens - they give you the opportunity to provide your T-Mobile account name and password, and you can save it for later use:
Save your credentials to authenticate automatically later - click to view full size
Of course, it failed miserably when I first tried. I had to randomly select a whole slew of messy windows that kept popping up when I was trying to fill in the account dialog. Some of them were especially helpful:
Not sure what they're wanting with this dialog
But eventually (after fighting several windows that continually took focus away from the "enter your authentication info" dialog box) I found success:
Success - click to view full size
Sure enough, wireless zero config is disabled and I am connected using their software. Good enough for now, but that will likely have to change due to the complexity of some of the networks I have to access with this thing. We'll see.
As I was typing this, without warning yet another random box pops up and steals focus. Apparently it was downloading every single T-Mobile HotSpot location in the entire freakin' world. Weeee... Anyhow, it was bit confusing for a second, and all these windows just popping up, downloading stuff without asking and stealing focus are aggravating and just plain bad design. But it does work:
Random pop-ups everywhere - click to view full size
So... Despite the fact that it's custom, proprietary software, there are some cool things in this app. For example, the Available Networks dialog is better than anything built into Windows:
Nice network list visuals - click to view full size
Well, I'll leave it installed for now. Maybe I'll get lucky and the other networks I access will just work. Not counting on it though. Heh.
Somewhere there must be a third-party app that will automagically log me on. Just haven't found one yet. Maybe I'll make one.
I saw this when it was posted on the anti-malware weblog the other day, and I thought, "Sure, makes sense, yep uh huh." But I guess others found it to be big news. The Microsoft anti-malware software (Windows Defender) and the Anti-spyware beta software will be able to detect and remove the Sony DRM rootkit that's been discussed in extreme detail over the last week. the Malicious Software removal tool will eradicate it as well.
I think this is great and all, but in my book it's not actually huge news. Big news would be if they didn't detect and remove it. Glad to see the MS software and team is for real and doesn't worry about business boundaries. Bad is bad is bad, and doing something about it is good. It's what we expect.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
If you already have a bunch of XBOX games, you've likely been wondering what's the dealio with the new console? Will you be able to play your old original XBOX games on the new XBOX 360? If so, will they play better? Will they be displayed in HD?
Well, Microsoft has posted the official backward-compatibility list of games you'll be able to play on the new console when it launches on November 22nd. There's also a Q&A page that answers a lot of questions about backward compatibility and how the legacy games will work. It looks like the list will likely grow over time, so you can check back to see if more games get added.
As of the time I am posting this, there are 207 titles on the list. Not too shabby, and definitely more than I expected.
And - even bigger news - every game title on the list will be up-scaled to HD resolutions of 720p and 1080i and will use the 360's anti-aliasing engine. Wow, that's great news! Yes, it's up-scaling, but the end result is better game experience on the old titles when using the new hardware. Nice. To do backward compatibility, you'll need a hard drive accessory (which is an option for the less-expensive "Core" XBOX 360 package, and is included in the premium package.
Microsoft notes that: "A software emulator is required for each original Xbox game you play on your Xbox 360™ console. Please check back for more details as we approach the launch date."
From the Q&A page come these useful nuggets of information:
Xbox.com: How is your backward compatibility solution going to work?
Todd: As you’ve heard from us before, backward compatibility on Xbox 360 is done through software. Now that we’ve solved the technical challenge and the emulator is working, we’re certifying each original Xbox title by hand to run on Xbox 360.
What I’m really proud to tell you and your readers is that it’s easy to get the emulation software, and it’s free. We’ll give gamers a choice—you can get the latest software updates from Xbox Live, burn a CD from xbox.com or sign up on Xbox.com for a CD that can be delivered to your home at a nominal shipping and handling fee. Once you get the CD, put it in your Xbox 360 and you’re ready to go.
Xbox.com: Will there be any benefits to playing original Xbox games on my Xbox 360 console?
Todd: Absolutely. One of the great things about gaming on Xbox 360 is the satisfaction of knowing that every game will be playable in high definition. We are now proud to reveal that this extends to the original Xbox games as well. Every original Xbox game will be upscaled to 720p and 1080i, and will take advantage of Xbox 360’s anti-aliasing capabilities, delivering a picture that is clearer and crisper than anything available on Xbox.
UPDATE: Rory comments on the slashdot comments on the XBOX 360 backward compatibility announcement. Slashdot readers were typically (and predictably) assinine, and Rory is his typical genius self.
The other day my co-worker Matt (a truly-all-around-good-guy who will almost certainly laugh (I sure hope) and turn bright red (like I certainly would) when he reads this) wrote on his blog that he was...
"...curious where I would rank if you searched for "bit-shift". So I loaded up my favorite web browser, pointed it towards google and off I went. Was I on the first page...Nope. Page two you say? Notta. When I loaded up page three I was beginning to get depressed. But Wait! There at the bottom of the page, second to the last link was Bit-Shit.Net. Woohoo! At least I beat out a link to an Intel article on 64 bit-shifting, HA! Take that Intel."
Heh. The emphasis in the above quote is mine. You see, the funny thing is that Matt made a similar slip (typo? psychological? Hmmm...) a couple weeks ago in a blog post, which I dutifully pointed out (in person), and which he promptly changed before I could do a screen-grab and post it here for all to see. I'm not sure why he has a recurring problem typing "shift," but I am sure it's pretty darn funny from a reader's perspective. No spell checker maybe? Or is that word allowed in the spelling dictionary? Heh... All in good fun here, Matt. I don't think he'd ever purposely type that word. Must be a deep subconscious thing.
Anyhow, hopefully some post linkage here will help drive a little search-engine-bot attention to Matt's site, where (by the way) he's writing about interesting thoughts of his and whatnot. I've subscribed to his feed and added him to the blogroll over there on the side of this page somewhere. Google indexing and ranking is driven by many things, especially inbound links. So, check out his blog. I like his writing style - some of my favorite weblogs are the ones that follow whatever happens to be on the author's mind at the time. Now all we have to do is get Matt to stop thinking about sh... Oh, never mind. Hah! (Just kiddin' ya there Matthew ).
So - What can we learn from this? Simple, really: Accidentally type about poop, someone notices, and hopefully it generates a little more traffic to your site. And it just goes to show, at it's core the universe really is awfully entropic.
Or maybe the lesson is something more like "type sh*t once, shame on you. type sh*t twice, shame on... well... you."
Thanks for the fun fodder there, bud.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Want to create some of your own holiday cards and stationery? Hey, might as well get started now. Head over to Office Online and download templates for:
- Greeting cards
- Recipe cards
- Mailing labels
- Meal menus
- Gift labels
- That dreaded Family Holiday Newsletter
There are content categories for holiday cards in general, Christmas, Hanukkah, and lots of others, too.
Lots of stuff there to use and customize. Enjoy.
I've spent way too much time in the past 24 hours driving my cat absolutely crazy with a little laser pointer. It's hilarious to watch her chase that bright red dot all over the room, across the floor and up walls and around/over furniture. But hey, it's great exercise. Heh.
I got the little laser pointer with my new holography book that recently arrived in the mail. I decided recently to give the one form of photography I've not yet done a try. The rest of the needed materials are on order, will be here before too long.
I've wanted to make holograms since I was a kid. My dad's a physicist and he has mostly always worked with lasers in some shape or form (and he still does today). I remember when I was a kid and he brought a laser home one night and showed me how it worked. I think he explained the inner workings, too, but that night I was amazed by what I saw. I was completely hooked and since then have been fascinated with them. I still enjoy learning about them. Add to that several years of professional photography experience, and - well - this is just a natural when-I-get-around-to-it hobby for me.
The book I just received is called Shoebox Holography, and I ordered a good, inexpensive laser pointer with the book. The book is very good, and any teachers or students looking to use holography for school projects would find it excellent and easy to understand, as well as quite complete in its explanations. Recommended.
But the cat's getting locked out of the room when I make holograms. Something about that combination seems unworkable.
Web services - are you ready for it? Take the quiz at CIO magazine online. Find out where you rank. I scored 80. Of course, we're already grokking them. How about you?
Platform, vendor and language independence - sounds pretty good to those people who are responsible for tying all these systems and companies and technologies together. When Microsoft launched their .NET initiatives a while back, the industry thought it was a lock-in situation - that Microsoft was making a move to own a market and that the effort was doomed to fail. But as it turns out, what the .NET story and other efforts have driven (at least in part - it's not just a Microsoft thing at all) is the continued growth of interoperability - through web services. Walls have been torn down in the process, not built up.
And now we're starting to see the popular landscape (this is not anything new, it's been around for years now) shift more toward a services-oriented model of application development. Some say it's Google taking on Microsoft. Whatever. What really matters (or should matter) to businesses today is participation. Time to get on-board if you're not on this rocket ship already.
(via Adam Gaffin)
If you didn't notice, Research in Motion - the wildly successful and smart company that created and sells BlackBerry devices and the services they run on - has been the subject of great debate recently, due to a patent conflict that's working it's way through the U.S. courts. In a nutshell, there's this other company that claims they own the rights to the concepts that the BlackBerry devices run on. RIM says not so.
People have been all but freaking out every time a news article comes out that suggests the patent dispute could cause BlackBerry services in the U.S. to be shut down. Anyone who reads the court decisions and can follow the parallel court cases can tell that the likelihood of this is very low. But hey, "news" is just acting like it's old typical self (meaning hyperbole and emotional button pushing). The patents claimed by RIM's opponent (a company called NTP) have been challenged and practically invalidated. But since that's happening in another court, I guess the news services just selectively choose what to report on.
Anyhow - What I think is the most interesting event to come out of the recent news, though, is the fact that the U.S. Government's Department of Justice has made an argument in the courts that the RIM/Blackberry services are necessary as a matter of national security. As it turns out, their highly-secure infrastructure and right-now capabilities of the network and servers has become a critical piece of how many government employees and agencies communicate.
The government department wants 90 days notice before a U.S. trial court enforces the potentially crippling injunction on BlackBerry devices in the United States to ensure public workers can keep using the devices, which many users call "CrackBerrys" for their addictive nature.
Lance Johnson, an intellectual property lawyer in Washington, D.C., said the filing is good news for RIM.
"This really throws a wrench into things [for NTP]," Mr. Johnson said. "It brings to this [legal] forum a national-security and government-functioning imperative that was not there before."
The U.S. government also said the extra time is necessary so the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can reconsider the validity of wireless e-mail patents held by NTP. The Patent Office has already overturned the five disputed patents filed by since-deceased inventor Thomas Campana Jr., although NTP has asked the patent office to reconsider its decision.
If the patents are overturned, the four-year-old court case would be rendered moot, legal experts say.
The real test of technology success today is acceptance and dependence, let's face it. And RIM has put together a quality service and set of infrastructure and devices over the past several years. You want to know how hard RIM is to knock over? Pretty hard, I'd say. A little more coverage is available here.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Time for a weather post, so someone out there can complain about how lame weather posts are...
The temperature has officially dropped below the freezing mark here in my part of rural northwestern Oregon for the first time this fall. Just a little crunchy effect walking across the lawn, and dang, it's kinda cold outside.
Snow is on the mountains and the ski hills have started to open. That's a lot more than you could say for last year, when the ski season was pretty much terrible. Maybe we'll end up with another of those storms that snowed us in a couple years ago. Well, we can always hope.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Well, it's getting more and more interesting (and official) with each passing day. The anti-spyware team at Microsoft has announced the new name for their anti-spyware application (which really handles more than spyware). It's going to be called Windows Defender, and will ship with Vista. That's good news. Even more good news comes in the later part of the blog announcement, where Jason Garms explains the package will also be available to Windows XP users.
They'll be delivering the malware signature updates over Windows Server Update Service (WSUS), as well. As a result, "Windows Defender" will begin appearing in the WSUS product list and a category called "signatures" will also appear. It sounds like a beta will be released sometime in the future that will take advantage of those update facilities.
Read the announcement here.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Yahoo! released a new version of it's mapping web service today, and it has a bunch of notable changes and improvements. the first thing I noticed was the "ajax-y" UI, which lets you do the gotta-have-it, grab-and-drag scrolling that's all the rage, and which adds a fairly nifty animated zooming feature that's quite a bit fancier than the competition's. Plus Yahoo! Local is integrated. And you can mash-up with their APIs. Check out this cool mashed-up application that shows local events using maps, images, local search, and other services all combined.
Another cool feature of the new mapping service is live traffic conditions for major thoroughfares, color coded for easy analysis:
I also like that I can get multi-point driving directions from Point A to Point B, then Add Point C and D and on and on - The result is one full set of directions for a full trip worth of driving, all on one map. Quite useful, and very easy to use.
Check it out at http://maps.yahoo.com/beta/ and provide Yahoo! with your feedback by clicking here.
The security geek in me is a happy guy today. The Anti-Malware product team at Microsoft has fired up their new blog. They're "the team responsible for building Microsoft's antivirus and anti-spyware technology (along with anti-rootkit, anti-bot, and other stuff)." Malware, for those who are not yet familiar with the term, is short for "Malicious Software."
"We already have two pieces of technology our technology shipping: the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, which helps to remove some of the most prevalent malware from a user's machine. We also are shipping a beta of the Windows AntiSpyware technology. We'll talk more about these in future blog posts. We also have a bunch of other cool stuff in the pipelines."
This will be one worth watching, I imagine. The security threat landscape has eroded, changed and reshaped itself significantly in the past year, and things are only getting more and more complicated. So, it's good to see the face of a critical team in Redmond and to have some insight into what they're addressing.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Do you live in or around Toledo? Are you a professional, experienced network administrator with Unix/Solaris experience? If you are, Corillian is looking for someone to join the Corporate IT department to support network and computing needs in the company's Toledo office, as well as other offices in the region.
If you or someone you know fits the bill, get in touch. I can be reached at 503-629-3771 (my desk number) if you have any questions. I'd be glad to chat. We're looking for experienced professionals that can operate both on their own and in a team. This is a terrific job for someone who has the self confidence and skills to own making all sorts of technology things happen reliably and well.
Note: I am posting this because readers of this weblog might be interested in the job opening mentioned here. This post is my own doing, and is not a communication by or on behalf of my employer. I am just trying to make people aware of some opportunities that I happen to know about. I won't be compensated for this hire or anything, since the position reports into an organization I manage, anyhow. Do not pass go, do not collect, etc...
Here's the high-level job description for the position:
LAN Administrator - Toledo
Manages and is primary person responsible for maintenance, setup and changes related to the corporate local area network infrastructure. Evaluates and/or recommends purchases of computers, network hardware, peripheral equipment, and software. Consulting management regarding use of computers and networks to satisfy business needs. Installs, configures, and maintains servers and workstations. Maintains proper levels of security of systems and information using patches, virus management, and domain-level security tools. Travel and providing after hours support on a rotating schedule is required
Essential Functions/Job Duties:
- Manages operations and maintenance of corporate computer network infrastructure, along with associated systems and attached devices. Provides reports and maintenance of corporate computer network infrastructure, along with associated systems and attached devices. Provides reports and maintains physical, logical and information security related to all networked systems. Protects against internal information systems damage by viruses and users.
- Assists users in-person with network and computer issues and questions.
- Performs desktop and portable computer setup, maintenance and repair and associated record-keeping/tracking in Help desk issue tracking software, in support of desktop support personnel as-needed.
- Keeps abreast of new developments and trends in areas of responsibility; makes recommendations to manager regarding enhancements, additions or replacements.
Knowledge, Skills and Ability Requirements:
- Training and/or certification in computer network systems management and maintenance; extensive experience and/or training in LAN infrastructure and software, maintenance, configuration and troubleshooting; experience working with applications and performing system setup and network configuration on workstation- and server-role computers.
- Specific knowledge, experience and training in Active Directory administration, setup and troubleshooting. Experience building, maintaining and troubleshooting LAN infrastructure equipment and software; Excellent organizational, decision making and communication skills.
- Administration experience with Solaris 7, 8, 9, and 10, and HP-UX 11i Operating Systems.
- Windows NT/2000/2003 Server, Server hardware, PC?s and other networked computer equipment.
- Experience with Weblogic.
- General office environment. Considerable stress may occur at times. Occasional lifting in excess of 50 pounds to an overhead position. Travel is required.
© Copyright 2014 Greg Hughes
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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"Computers used to take up entire buildings, now they just take up our entire lives."
"So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? And the honest answer is this... You won't. And accepting that greatly eases the anxiety of your life experience."
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