Monday, 28 August 2006

How do you truly know when email has become a problem without a good solution? Simple. Take a vacation. This is a clue...

And that's after working through a large chunk of it already - the most obvious and highest priority stuff, anyhow.

Yes, I've tried many of the various methodologies available out there, but ultimately it's all about reviewing each one and acting on each in same shape or form. Vacations do this to email. Darn those vacations. The difference this time around is I decided that instead of ruining the vacation mood, I'd work my way through the ocean a little at a time. Highest priority stuff came first. No point in ruining the positive effects of the vacation by losing sleep over email, eh?

Anyone have brilliant ideas for how to deal with the ocean of email that results from being gone for a couple weeks? Dealing with it day-to-day is easy. It's the been-gone-for-a-long-time problem that seems to be more vexing. Mark-as-read just has too many risks.

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Monday, 28 August 2006 14:56:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 27 August 2006

There's been a recent uptick in Blackberry Blogging attention recently because Dave Winer has been talking to people about how he's blogging and reading news on his Blackberry 8700, which he apparently got a little while back. I got one of the first 8700s, have already worn out two of them (I am on 8700 number-three as of the other day - It turns out coffee is hard on electronics and the scroll wheel tends to wear loose), and I have been using various models of Blackberries since, well, since God made Blackberries, and I have been blogging with them since I can't remember when. Actually, looking back it looks like it was July of 2004 or so when I first tried it. So, what Dave is doing isn't really anything new, but he is bringing a lot of attention to it, which is cool. Certainly the direction of mobile computing is important, and how it fits into publishing and consuming critical content deserves attention.

It's funny, though. You'd think it was the new sliced bread or something. Heh.

And Kent Newsome has some good points in his thoughts on the matter:

"I think people are treating this Blackberry as a web surfing and blogging tool the way mountain climbers treat a mountain. They move right past the why and just start climbing. Because they can, because it's cool, or because they're bored. Or maybe so they can try to convince more people to use their mobile computing products…

"People will fall all over themselves trying to rationalize it away, but everyone who is actually trying to get content, as opposed to push content, knows that other than text based headlines and the occasional weather forecast, surfing the net on a Blackberry is sort of like running a race in wooden clogs. You can do it, but it's slow and painful."

I've been able to post with my Blackberry for a long time. I have also been able to read news via RSS with it for a long time. But even though it's right there 24x7 for me to use, I find that for the most part I don't. I suppose for the chronically addicted blogger or news reader, it would look like a "good" way to get a fix and feed the addiction. If your goal is to post something the second it happens, or to read whatever you're interested in as it is published, maybe this all makes some kind of sense. But for me, I just find that I can't be that connected all the time.

It will be interesting - as always - to watch.

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Sunday, 27 August 2006 21:59:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 25 August 2006

I'm a professional geek, and manager of many like me (only they're a lot smarter and more talented than I). But I have not been a computer jock all my life. Before this particular career I was a cop (or "police officer" if I want to be politically correct in my terminology). Before that, I was a professional photographer - a job I had for around eight years. I went to college to study photojournalism, and did sports and news photography, was published way-back-when in magazines and newspapers all over the place, etc. etc. etc. I was pretty good at it. My employers liked all the awards I won for them. I didn't care so much about the awards. But I felt good when I made pictures that people liked and remembered. Even more so when they seemed to matter or make a difference.

But while photography was fulfilling, starving to death was not so appealing. Besides, I'd always wanted to be a cop, and so I went from being a figurative ambulance chaser (a news photog) to being something loosely akin to an ambulance driver (except that police cars are a lot faster and you get to chase people in them - ambulance rig drivers don't do that too much, and then there's the whole catching bad guys thing, and you actually get paid to do all that - crazy). It put a notable few more bucks a month in the bank and was a great job, but it was also a bucket of stress and (eventually) painful experiences (I did a lot of child abuse investigations, and in the end it was me or the job -- I chose me).

Then came computer work. Pays a lot better and without bullets flying at me or my car. Not such a bad deal.

But I miss the creativity and fun of photography probably even more than I miss catching bad guys. So, after spending some time breaking out the old camera and lenses and messing around with them on vacation a week or so ago, I have a renewed hankerin' for doing it some more. Not as a job - I have a good job and career. More like as a passion - something more than a hobby. Just to get back into it something like the way I used to be. Of course, in order to do it right I'll have to do some investing. There's a ton of mediocre cameras and lenses out there. I like my Nikon D70 for a basic digital SLR camera, but in my photo world there's a need for something more if it's really to be taken seriously. And I'm a very serious guy. Zoom lenses? Screw that noise.

I'm still a bit of a digital photography nay-sayer. If I was an old dude, I'd probably be going off on something like "Why, back in my day, we didn't have no fancy digital cameras... All we had was cellulose film. And there we were, a bunch of chemical-burned, dry-skinned film developers, cleaning skin flakes out of the darkroom. But we liked it that way!"

Or something like that.

Anyhow, it's all digital now. But I do miss the darkroom. I was good at that. Hmmm, might need to set one up despite the ease of the digital photography world. Not instead of digital, just in addition to. For nostalgic reasons, sure, but also because as good as digital photography has become, it's still not quite up to the quality and subtlety of using a good quality film.

So what's my point? Well, nothing really. Heh. Except that I think I may start looking for some good, quality used Nikon lenses and another digital body. Then make some more trips off to The Middle of Nowhere. Anyone have a good clean AF300 f/2.8 Nikkor you wanna sell? Heh.

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Friday, 25 August 2006 22:32:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 24 August 2006

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is found in northeastern Minnesota, along the border with Canada. They call Minnesota the Land of 10,000 lakes, and the many lakes that make up the BWCA are just some of those thousands. It's a beautiful place, and as far as I am concerned everyone should go at some point in time in their lives. Just let me know when you're going and make sure you all schedule it on the same day. I'll plan my trip at another time, so I can enjoy the peace and quiet. Heh.

Actually, the number of people are parties that can enter the wilderness area on any given day and from any given entry point is pretty heavily limited. The regulations are intended to protect the area and make sure it's maintained as a relatively pristine wilderness area, which is a good idea. Some of the regs seem a bit extreme, but whatever. On the Canadian side of the lakes, it's a lot more expensive and even more restrictive in terms of the regs.

Anyhow, my good friend Cory and I spent a lot of time all week in canoes and fishing. I was feeling (and smelling) pretty strong by the second half of the week. A large part of the time it was just the two of us in the canoe, and other times we were in the boat along with Cory's dad. It just depended on the day and who was in camp at the time. One evening Cory, his sister and I went out for the evening after eagles in a canoe. We earned our eagle chaser badges that night.

Cory paddling on Disappointment Lake

Evening light on the water

I caught this northern pike on our first day out

Sunset from camp

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Thursday, 24 August 2006 22:53:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 22 August 2006

One of the highlights of our canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota was a family of bald eagles that frequented the area around our camp for a couple of days. Being a former sports photographer (a long story for another time), I still have a couple lenses that I use on a D70 digital body, and I was glad I brought them with me on the trip.

I have always been quite impressed with an amazed by bald eagles. Getting a chance to be so close in the wild (they came as close as about 40 feet to where I stood) was a lot of fun. I wonder if you can get paid to watch and photograph eagles for a living. I bet some people do.

For the photo geeks, these images are with a Nikkor 180/f2.8 lens on the Nikon D70 body. These particular images are not public domain. Click each one to view a slightly larger size. A number of people are emailing asking for copies, which is fine, just let me know.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 20:42:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Edit: Okay, so some people freaked out a bit when they read this, so let me just say that this was a great trip that allowed me to look at my life and priorities in a new way. Work was taking up way too much time and I realized how much I was not enjoying life. That's about it. It was a great experience that let me evaluate where I'm at in life and why. So please don't freak out, I'm not going nuts or anything. Sheez. Heh.

Canoes in the sunlight from the campsite I'm starting this post while on an airplane, once again. I'll finish it after I get back to Oregon. Heading home - as they say - from a place I've never been before. The last week was spent with one of my best friends in the wilderness and experiencing several of the most important things life has to offer: Nature, friends, and some stark realities of life.

As I travel home to my house and my job, I recognize I am leaving something incredibly important behind. My life has was fundamentally changed in the last week. I can feel it in my bones. It's subtle, but it's there. And I am not just saying those words, I mean it.

Here and in the next few posts are images I shot while on vacation with my friend Cory in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota for seven days last week. It's one of the most amazing places I have been to. We went with Cory's dad, Andy, who has been a guide there for many, many years. It was the experience of a lifetime. We fished, we threw hatchets, we ate well, we jumped off big rocks into cold, deep water, and we talked about lots of things. We saw nature and wilderness in the Land of ten thousand lakes. I know this is supposed to be a technical weblog, but for a short time I plan to document some of the things I saw and experienced.

John Denver put it this way (and yes, I know I am showing my age here). For the first time I think maybe I really understand what he meant...

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

I'm not 27 years old anymore, that's for sure, but the idea is still the same. Sometimes we see and experience things that so effectively disrupt our ritual lives and the ruts we fall into that the best word to describe the experience is epiphany. We realize suddenly that everything in our little worlds is not quite what we thought, and that it's time to do some serious searching of the soul. In a nutshell, that's what the week was like for me.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 20:21:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Just downloaded Windows Live Writer, a blog publishing tool that was released in Beta by Microsoft while I was on vacation. Omar was using it (without being able to say exactly what he was using) and said to keep an eye out, someone was releasing a sweet blog authoring tool, and this is it. I am writing this post after a very fast and automagical installation of the Live Writer software.

Windows Live Writer Screenshot

Wow, that was cool, pasting that image in the window... Finally, a blog authoring package that lets me copy an image to the clipboard without saving it and then lets me CTRL-V to paste it into the editing window, without having to save the image on the clipboard as a file - and drop-shadows to boot!

And, if all works well, I will be able to post this to my dasBlog weblog without using FTP for the images, using the metaweblog API enhancements in dasBlog.

There's lots of great little features. Check it out and try it out.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 19:16:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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It's pretty much a classic Murphyism that returning home from a terrific vacation took me through five airports instead of two, and that it would result in arriving a day later than I was supposed to. But despite all that, the vacation I just completed was the best week I have had in a long time, and it taught me a lot about many things.

Several things to post about out of the week and a half in Minnesota, coming shortly. Pictures and thoughts, for the most part.

Suffice it to say, I found I wanted to stay there - And for a few moments, I seriously thought I would do just that. Let the soul searching commence. More soon.

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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 16:40:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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You know you're HR staff is top-notch when they solve personnel behavior problems in creative ways that actually have impact. For example, what if this email appeared in your inbox?

"If you enjoyed the pizza you forgot you didn't bring in that was in a box in the first floor refrigerator and you want to thank the co-worker who actually did buy it, please contact me for the person's name."

Nice. Of course the offender didn't reveal themselves, but I think this helped solve the real problem, and people definitely took notice.

What creative HRisms have you seen over the years?

(P.S. - Stealing is wrong. Please don't steal. It's bad.)

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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 16:31:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 11 August 2006

Fly in and out of enough airports and you'll end up dazed and confused. After flying something like a zillion miles so far this year and transiting who knows how many gates at how many airports, combined with the fact that Arizona has a history of operating on it's own unique clock like a separatist nation... Well anyhow I got to Phoenix (at least I know where I am) and realized I have no idea what time it it here. I am also too lazy to get up and find a clock (a device you'd think you'd find in abundance, but which is actually desperately missing from almost every airport).

So, Google to the rescue. Did you know Google will tell you what time it is anywhere you like? Just ask:

What time is it in Phoenix, AZ?


There ya go - It's not just about keyword search!

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Friday, 11 August 2006 13:13:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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My name is Greg, and I am a workaholic. It's been two years since my last escape vacation.

By vacation, I mean taking a trip to get completely away and check completely out of my world. One that does not include work travel on one end or the other (that's more like work plus a side trip, doesn't really count for decompression time). So, now I'm in the Portland International airport, on my way to Minnesota (by way of Phoenix, because that costs a lot less than flying direct, and how exactly does that work by the way?) where my friend Cory will pick me up and we will go north to The Middle of Nowhere, which is where he lives, almost. The airport is running like a finely tuned watch, by the way. When you consider the happenings of yesterday and the resulting increased security measures, it's good to see things moving and that people are not getting stupid or scared or otherwise freaking out.

Anyhow - vacation. Yeah.

We're spending about a week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness doing some fishing (that with an"F" not a "Ph" - like I said, no work). I have never been there, but I am told it's amazing and have always wanted to go. The fishing should be fun:

"The Canadian Shield lakes of the border waters gives an angler a wide variety of fishing opportunities. Fishing experts attest to the fact that the smallmouth bass fishing can't be matched anywhere. The deep cold lakes are home to the lake trout. Every lake has northern pike waiting to give you a battle while walleyes are sitting on the reefs ready to fill your frying pan . Don't overlook the slab-sized panfish. Spring and fall fishing is usually the best, although because there is very little fishing pressure on most of the lakes, fish can be caught at any time."

Most of all I am looking forward to catching up with my friend and spending a week resting the brain. See ya when I get back. Meanwhile you can just be jealous or feel good for me, whichever your personality supports, heh:

Located in Northeastern Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) includes around a million acres of wilderness, with over 1,000 pristine lakes and streams, and over 1,500 miles of canoe routes.  It is considered by some as the most beautiful wilderness they have ever seen.  National Geographic named it one of 50 Destinations of a Lifetime.  In other words, a vacation you do not want to miss.

The BWCA is a true wilderness experience, without motors, no electricity, no telephone lines, and no roads to the inner lakes. Summer and Fall are wonderful times to visit the Boundary Waters and its surrounding award winning resort communities of Ely, Gunflint, Grand Marais, Isabella/Finland, and Crane Lake. 

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Friday, 11 August 2006 09:21:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 10 August 2006

Don't think terrorism isn't ever coming back to our shores. As many as 20 aircraft were to be targeted for bombing in a plot in the UK. Sky News is just now reporting that an "alleged plan involved people boarding flights and detonating explosives on planes over UK and US cities" and that "the threat was imminent." The security level in the UK has been raised to "critical" and flying onto and out of the UK is definitely impacted. "This will mean immediate and severe disruption at all UK airports," officials are saying on TV.

20 people have been arrested in London. British officials are stating that this would have been bigger than 9-11.

I for one am glad there are good people out there thwarting these kinds of plans. Thank God for them.

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Thursday, 10 August 2006 05:05:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 09 August 2006

Proof that cyber-crime is real, Consumer Reports is out with their State of the Net survey. It's pretty much as bad as we all know. From MSNBC:

"...American consumers lost more than $8 billion over the last two years to viruses, spyware and various schemes.

" Additionally, it shows consumers face a 1-in-3 chance of becoming a cybervictim -about the same as last year."

Thing is, prevention is much less costly than reactively paying for damage already done. You want to prevent the guy from getting into your place? Or do you prefer to let him in but then keep him from walking out the door with your money? Or are you like most people, who are resigned to watching him walk out the door with the prize, throwing your hands up in the air, and blaming someone (anyone, really) else?

How do we convince people, and what will it take?

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Wednesday, 09 August 2006 13:57:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 08 August 2006

Commenting on his motorcycle helmet, a friend of mine incriminates himself. Name changed to protect the innocent. Only 80?? Heh.

Joe Smith says:
I got rid of that halo thing I had on my helmet and put on retro reflective vinyl stickers

Greg Hughes says:

Joe Smith says:
It didn't stay on above 80

Greg Hughes says:
oh hehehe

Greg Hughes says:
maybe you should put it back on then?

Greg Hughes says:

Joe Smith says:
Ummm, hehe

Joe Smith says:
and 80 is where it started to come off

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Tuesday, 08 August 2006 19:24:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 07 August 2006

UPDATE - AOL apologizes (not as if it makes a difference at this point, though):

"This was a screw-up, and we're angry and upset about it. It was an innocent enough attempt to reach out to the academic community with new research tools, but it was obviously not appropriately vetted, and if it had been, it would have been stopped in an instant," AOL, a unit of Time Warner, said in a statement. "Although there was no personally identifiable data linked to these accounts, we're absolutely not defending this. It was a mistake, and we apologize. We've launched an internal investigation into what happened, and we are taking steps to ensure that this type of thing never happens again."

AOL, over on their research wiki site, on Sunday posted an article describing their release of search data collected for more than a half million AOL users over a three month period. They claimed the data was made "anonymous," and that it was being released for research reasons. Problem is, it's not anonymous enough. Each unique user was replaced with a unique random identifier. That means you can see everything that user 336072 searched for. What if someone examined everything you searched for over three months? Even without knowing your name explicitly, do you think they might be able to find out some interesting things? Have you ever done a "vanity" search?

It's just not anonymous enough. I have a copy of the data that I downloaded before it was taken offline, and I've poked around in it a bit, so I know. Not only that, but spammers and search engine "optimizers" out there are going to have a field-freakin-day with this data. No, I won't share it with anyone else. It never should have been released in the first place, so I am not going to add fuel to the fire.

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch wrote about it in his blog entry entitled "AOL Proudly Releases Massive Amounts of Private Data," and updated his post a couple times as AOL mysteriously removed the data file from the web, as well as the page announcing the availability.

Arrington: "AOL must have missed the uproar over the DOJ's demand for "anonymized" search data last year that caused all sorts of pain for Microsoft and Google. That's the only way to explain their release of data that includes 20 million web queries from 650,000 AOL users."

When you consider that AOL search is - get this one - actually Google's search with a different face on it, you can imagine what the emails and phone calls that went flying around between the two companies on Sunday afternoon might have sounded like. Ouch.

Yeah, and so much for the privacy of AOL's users. If you're an AOL user, is that what you signed up for, to be a guinea pig in AOL's poorly-planned foray into academia? I think not. This is identity theft just waiting to happen, that's what this is. Again from Arrington:

"The data includes personal names, addresses, social security numbers and everything else someone might type into a search box. The most serious problem is the fact that many people often search on their own name, or those of their friends and family, to see what information is available about them on the net. Combine these ego searches with porn queries and you have a serious embarrassment. Combine them with "buy ecstasy" and you have evidence of a crime. Combine it with an address, social security number, etc., and you have an identity theft waiting to happen. The possibilities are endless. "

Google says "do no evil" and keeps this kind of data under wraps when challenged in federal court. AOL? Not so much.

Any would-be AOL boycotters better be prepared, though. Last we checked, you can't even cancel your account at AOL without being put through the ringer. Several years ago when I canceled mine it was a several-months-long experience before I was able to decipher enough to get the billing truly stopped. Coming and going, that's how they get ya in Dulles... There's a reason PC Magazine ranked AOL "Number One" in a list of things you'd really rather not be on...

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Monday, 07 August 2006 02:25:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 05 August 2006

The U.S. Senate on Thursday ratified the first and only international treaty designed exclusively to combat computer crime. You can read the full text of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime here.

What does this mean? Well, a lot of things. But all told, it means law enforcement officials from around the world will have a more agile, speedier, and more capable framework for cooperating in combating bad guys that are out to hurt others on the Internet. For those of us working to stop bad guys, it makes doing so more possible and can help remove some barriers that tend to get in the way. For those of us in the United States, the provisions are not really anything new. But for other countries that ratify, it means a much enhanced ability to work together.

The Senate did not consider an optional provision of the convention that deals with combating Internet hate speech, which would likely have run afoul of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Summary of the Senate activity is in an article at

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Saturday, 05 August 2006 13:57:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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A new spoof video on YouTube take a different direction (as in, levity used to make a point rather than get a laugh) on making fun of the Apple marketing TV campaign and, well... just watch it. Not sure how accurate it is (but I bet someone will research this and let me know).

"That's iLife!" OUCH...

Click to watch:

(via MacSpoofs)

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Saturday, 05 August 2006 12:45:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 04 August 2006

There are a couple interesting security-related headlines on ZDNet this morning, coming out of the Black Hat event. The first discusses how Microsoft's handing out a beta version of Vista to Black Hat attendees and says their security testing of Vista is the largest commercial penetration vulnerability test in history. In the other article, SPI Dynamics points out that many potential threats and gaps exist today in the use and consumption of RSS and ATOM feeds, and that many feed readers don't do security checks to ensure a feed is not malicious before - for example - running script that is delivered in an entry. A large number of common feed aggregators/readers (including the one I use) are on the list. This is something for the authors of those programs to address, for sure.

Microsoft issues Vista challenge
News Focus: Software giant wins over the Black Hat crowd by stressing its commitment to Vista security--and asking for help.

Blog feeds may carry security risk
Popular RSS and Atom feeds could carry malicious JavaScript code that would compromise a PC, an expert warned.

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Friday, 04 August 2006 13:41:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 03 August 2006

I just downloaded and installed Zoundry's Blog Writer over lunch, a free and ultra-feature-filled blog editor. This thing is slick! I am writing this post with the new editor.

I think I found my new blog editing app that I have been dreaming of for so long. At least it's going to get a real trial run. I have fought with Rocketpost so many times (it has never worked for me, and the authors don't seem to answer email anymore), and while I love BlogJet, the feature set in Zoundry is pretty incredible.

I'll write more about it tonight, after I get a chance to play around with it some more.

zoundry1.JPGUPDATE: I am having a hard time getting the app to play nicely with my web hosts's FTP. Seems to upload image files, but the "test" mechanism says it does not work correctly, which is kind of strange. I have filed a post on the support forums, we'll see how that goes. I can upload images, as witnessed at right...

UPDATE AGAIN: One super cool feature I noticed was that Zoundry totally used the newly-implemented blog autodiscovery calabilities that have recently been baked into dasBlog by Omar. None of the old manually setting up and remembering the URL for the blogger API or any of that stuff. Nice!!

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Thursday, 03 August 2006 22:04:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 02 August 2006

I have a tendency to bleed a little on this blog, meaning I grab the latest source code version and compile it myself to run it on the server almost all the time. The last official release of dasBlog (which is an open-source .NET blogging server application) was v1.8 and it was born nearly a year ago (wow, that long?). But for those who compile it themselves from source, it's been changing regularly over the past year and we've been enjoying the trickle-flow of feature enhancements.

And sometime soon now, says Scott, the official dasBlog v1.9 release will be out.

v1.9 will include some significant feature enhancements. Here is a mostly complete list (at least at this point -- the list is blatantly stolen from Scott's blog):

  • Much better multi-user/blogger support including a Top Posters macro and total comments - from Christoph De Baene
  • TagCloud - from Scott
  • Huge (100x+) speedup in Macro execution - from Scott
  • Support for If-Not-Modified to speed up execution, improve RSS bandwidth and CPU cycles - from Scott
  • Direct Feedburner Support with 301 redirection for RSS and Atom feeds. Don't lose a single subscriber. We're the only blog with direct support for Feedburner and Feedflare I believe. - from Scott
  • Delete comments directly from your mail reader - from Omar
  • New themes out of the box, 18 at last count - from Many Folks
  • New XML-RPC support for newMediaObject - from Omar and Giuseppe Dipietro
  • New support for RSD so client software can autoconfigure itself - from Omar
  • Pluggable Rich Text Editor, choose from FreeTextBox or FCKEditor or write your own adapter - from Josh Flanagan
  • Support for CoComment - from Scott
  • Organized source, build, and packing for clarity - from Josh Flanagan
  • New Feed Icons - from Omar
  • Automatic disabling of Comments after a certain number of days. Also manual "close comments" support - from Omar
  • ContentLookAhead show future dated posts - from Josh Flanagan
  • Other misc fixes and suggestions from Tomas Restrepo, Jason Follas, Rene Lebherz and Steven Rockarts. Added entry CPU usage optimizations from George V. Reilly.
  • Better strings and support for Portuguese, Turkish and Vietnamese from Ph?m Ð?c H?i.

If you're a sourceforge nut, know how to use Subversion and want to compile it yourself, go for it. Or wait a bit longer for the release. I am running the latest code on this weblog, and it's pretty darned slick.

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Wednesday, 02 August 2006 21:57:59 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Yesterday I was in Seattle and had a couple extra hours between appointments, so I headed over to Kirkland to check out the Smart Cars being sold at the Green Car Company. I climbed in a few of the ones they have on the lots there, and then I took one for a test drive.

Obviously, there's something appealing about a small two-seater that the EPA states will get 42 MPG, but which real-world people say they actually get anywhere fromSmart ForTwo Demo Car at Green Car Co. 45 to 60 or so MPG. Seriously - 60 miles to the gallon. For someone like me, which commuted 80+ miles a day in a full sized pickup that gets about 15 or 16 miles to the gallon, that's a big difference.

The Green Car Company gets these cars from ZAP in California. ZAP imports them into the United States from Europe, where you see these little things quite literally everywhere. When I was in Germany earlier this year I saw bunches of them.

You might think safety would be an issue, but not really - check out a crash-test video here. ZAP does all the "Americanizing" retrofit process so it is legal to license in the states, and the emissions stuff has also been taken care of. All those changes add to the price, though - the Smart ForTwo sells for just under $27K - and the convertible is $2K more than that.

Anyhow, about the car. I was impressed. It's well put-together and if you ever get a chance to sit in one you will be shocked by how much room is inside. I mean, there's a lot of room - much more than I need to fully stretch out. Even a person much taller than me should be able to sit comfortably. The seats are good and the finish is what you'd expect to get from a real car. In other words, this is not the Yugo or Metro style little car. It's for real. A number of modifications to meet the U.S. auto standards have been made, and overall it appears to be a solid, well-made machine.

After staring at these things for awhile, then sitting in them and being more impressed than I had planned on, I asked if there was one that could be taken for a test drive. Truth be told, after sitting in one and hearing the gas mileage stories (and even after hearing the sticker price), I wanted to see what they're really all about. The car has - get this - a 0.7 liter engine (heheh) that's (not get this) superturbo-charged. It has an electronic shifting system, and you can run in in automatic mode or  shift by hand using the electronic lever that has become common in many cars these days. A step-up option on the car includes shift paddles behind the steering wheel, for those who don't want to move their hands the 24 inches from the wheel to the shifter.

This car is fun to drive, for sure. It will do 85 miles per hour, so highway driving is perfectly realistic. In fact one of the employees at Green Car Co. drives one four days a week on his long commute (his is much like mine - lots of miles each way), and he is getting around 65 miles per gallon on the highway. Wow. It also turns on something smaller than a dime, and can fit in the smallest parking spot you can imagine (in fact you can fit two of them, at least, in a standard parallel curb spot by parking them nose-to-the-curb).

So, the test drive. After being shown the controls (nothing unusual) and handed the keys, I took it out on the road to cruise some corners, neighborhoods and hills. Kirkland is good for that sort of terrain. I headed out the lot and stepped on the gas, and the car wrapped up and took right off - with a bit more power than I'd assumed it could muster. This was going to be fun, I thought.

The car handles well. The wheelbase is quite long and wide for  such a small car, and I felt completely comfortable driving it around corners and in all the street conditions.

There are two things that stand-out as somewhat unusual about this car when you drive it for the first time.

The first thing in the brake pedal, which feels quite strange when you apply it because the pedal is attached to a mechanism that lowers into the floor rather than being hung from above on a pivot. So when you step on it, its kind of sinks down as you push it with your foot. It's not bad, just unusual.

The second things that stood out is the automatic shifting, which lags between gears. I mean that as it shifts, a clutch mechanism (there must be a clutch in there somewhere) disengages and the transmission shifts, then the clutch re-engages. The result is a period of a second or less when the engine is not powering the drive train. It's weird feeling, but not that big of a deal. This car is designed differently than any other I've driven, so I can accept the fact that it's different. And in this case different is not bad - it's just not what you are used to. By the way, if you are doing electronic shifting using the floor shifter or the paddles, you don't experience the lag between gears. And if you're interested in maximizing both power and fuel economy, electronic shifting by hand is the way to go anyhow.

The air conditioning was better than I thought it would be on a tiny car. The stereo was adequate but not something that will blow you away or anything.

Overall, this was a fun and interesting car. The fuel economy is insane, it handles very well, and it sure got stares and waves even during my 15 minute test drive. If it was less money I'd buy one without hesitating, but the thousands of dollars that are added to the sales price of a European one (one assumes to cover the cost of the "Americanization" and then some more dollars added on for the "new and cool" factor) cause me to have to do some serious math. I could save lots of money every week in fuel costs, but to get to $27K, it would take a huge amount of savings to justify the purchase.

But chances are I will be sitting down and doing the math.

And this video shows just how, uhh, versatile the car can be...

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Tuesday, 01 August 2006 09:48:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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