Sunday, 20 November 2005

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.



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Helping Others | Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Sunday, 20 November 2005 15:49:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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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.

LiveDomainsCreateAll 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 greg@blogaholic.net 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.

Set_password_LiveDomainsOnce 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.



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IT Security | Tech
Sunday, 20 November 2005 12:10:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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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.



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Tablet PC | Tech | Things that Suck
Sunday, 20 November 2005 08:33:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 19 November 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:



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Random Stuff
Saturday, 19 November 2005 18:26:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Jeremy Zawodny linked to the Warning Label Generator, where you can make fun warning labels (what else?) of your own creative design:

Warning Label Generator

Eh, forgive the creative wording. Hey, it's accurate.



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Humor | Random Stuff
Saturday, 19 November 2005 17:46:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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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.



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Blogging | Random Stuff | Things that Suck
Saturday, 19 November 2005 17:00:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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