Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Okay, so I though I was crazy. Like as in "insane" or "defective."

I have been using ThinkPad computers for some time now, and pretty much every time I type my name the crazy things BEEP! back at me with a loud system beep sound. Now, if it did that every time I typed an obscenity, or maybe if I typed a weak password or something, I would accept and understand this amazing audible prompt that almost always snaps my head back and makes me flinch. But no... I happens every time I type my name.

Once again, a post on Omar Shahine's blog has improved my life.

Turns out it's not me, and that technology is to blame. Phew - I was starting to get worried after going through three ThinkPads, all with the same ritual behavior. The beep actually happens when any three keys are pressed all in the same row when at least two of the keys pressed are in this list of characters:

4567rtyufghjvbnm

Now, how's that for obscure? the best technical guess I had was that maybe I was brushing the little-red-eraser-like-mouse-nub-thing (which probably has a real name) and it was complaining at me for rubbing it the wrong way while typing.

But it was my name, after all. My name is Greg Hughes. As in 4567rtyufghjvbnm. Lots of keys all on two rows, and I type fast and probably overlap keystrokes. Yep, that explains it.

And best of all, the problem can be solved. This blog post tell you how. I have made the change and what do you know - no more screaming ThinkPad. Thank goodness!

I hope this helps someone else. It's restored a small but welcome slice of sanity to my life.



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Tech
Tuesday, 27 February 2007 19:45:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 23 February 2007

I'll write up a couple/few posts about this new mobile phone over the next few days I am sure, but suffice it to say I have swapped out once again and am now using the Blackberry 8800, which was just released to the market by Cingular. You might recall my recent forays into the world of Windows Mobile with the Blackjack and Palm Treo 750.

I just fired up a personal account for the built in GPS navigation system, which is a TeleNav product. It comes preinstalled and all I can say is wow! Very, very nice. I will be using it for spoken turn-by-turn directions this evening to a weekend cabin on Mt. Hood, where I am taking the church youth group for a weekend of pain skiing and snowboarding.

So yes, I have given up the Palm Treo 750 running Windows Mobile. In the end, it was the lesser of the available evils, but was not stable enough and much of the usability was still quite clunky. It's a good device, but for what I do, once again Windows Mobile just doesn't do it. I have spent four or five hours so far with the Blackberry 8800 and I am supremely impressed. Although the trackball is a little different I like it and am getting used to it quickly. The menus are a little different than they used to be on all previous BlackBerries, but I am adjusting and I can see why they made the changes.

I wish I could write more now, but seven kids are counting on me to be ready to go to the mountain on time. Hey, at least we'll find the cabin when we get there!



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Mobile | Tech
Friday, 23 February 2007 17:09:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Dag-Øyvind Paulsen has created a useful service for people who receive Office 2007 Word documents (.docx) and PowerPoint files (.pptx). His service allows you to upload the docx/pptx file to his web server, where the system he has put together will convert the Office 2007 files to classic Office 2003/XP/2000/97/etc. style files (of the .doc and .ppt form).

The services are called, appropriately, DOCX2DOC and PPTX2PPT.

While I suppose one could argue that providing a service that enables you to go backward from a strict technology standpoint is Not A Good ThingTM, there is a market out there for people who:

  1. Don't have Office 2007.
  2. Don't want to (or can't) install the respective Office viewers.
  3. Don't want to (or can't) ask the original sender to convert the file and resend it.

So, for those people this is an interesting service.

The creator has automated the conversion process and made it possible to do the transformations online in much the same way Office 2007 allows you to do Save-As and then choose the legacy formats. The service is offered on the honor system: If you use it, you're asked to pay $2 on the page where you download your converted file. Running a system like this costs money, and while on the order of 600 people a day have converted files in the week or so the service has been online, only a very, very small handful (less than you can count on one hand) have paid. If you read this and use the service I certainly hope you'll add to the paid-user count.

The process is rather simple from the end-user standpoint. Browse to the service web page for .DOCX or . PPTX files, browse to find the file on your computer that you wish to convert, choose the output format you prefer (you can choose from the legacy office formats, as well as .RTF, .TXT and .HTM), and then click the resulting hyperlink to download your converted file. It's pretty slick.

Being the security wonk I am, my antennae immediately went up as I thought of business users uploading potentially sensitive documents to the system, where they have to be stored in both the original and converted form for at least some period of time in order for a system like this to work. Dag-Øyvind responded by saying that he agrees, and that he warns people on the web site not to upload private, confidential or sensitive files.

His system appears to be well-secured (I did some quick checking and there is no way to browse for files without knowing the actual filenames) and while the file-naming and identification convention is strong (it uses filenames built up with a date-time value plus a randomly generated GUID, so you have to know the unique and random name in order to access any given file), the ultimate risk on a system like this is the guy who runs it. The files are cleaned up (deleted) from the system automatically every day. But, he says one should realize that since he controls the system, he has the ability to view any and all files up until the time they are automatically deleted. In other words, he's the biggest risk. I like the honesty in that statement. I asked him if the original and converted files could be deleted more often than once a day, and he said they could be and that he would consider doing so.

If you have a need to convert and don't have Office 2007 handy, this might be the right service for you.

Some technical details about how it works are available at: http://www.docx2doc.com/Newbies-Guide-To-docx.aspx



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Friday, 23 February 2007 17:01:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Well, I have had the luxury over the past couple months of not having to travel too terribly much, but this week it's back-on-the-road for me. Time to start racking up those frequent flier miles again, heh.

This week I will be in New York City (arriving this evening - I am on a plane in Chicago on a ground hold, just waiting to take off for LaGuardia... Nice to sit on a plan on the ramp for an hour and a half eh?). I'll be back home for a weekend on Mt. Hood with the youth group from church, and then Monday morning it's right back on another plane to head for Atlanta for a few days.

My hope is that I won't have to live the same crazy travel schedule I did last year, but my job calls for it, so a certain amount of it is to be expected (and accepted). If we ever get off the ground in the plane, that is. Maybe I'll spend the rest of 2007 here eating peanuts and working via Verizon broadband and a Cingular wireless phone. I guess it could be worse. I mean, they do have three (bad) movies in the tape library.

If you're in New York or Atlanta, let me know. I won't have a lot of free time but its always fun to try to meet people on the road if I can.



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Tuesday, 20 February 2007 14:13:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 19 February 2007

My friend and co-worker, Milind Pandit, is a wicked smart guy who can teach anyone a thing or two about lots of different topics. One of his areas of professional interest and knowledge is product management. The other day Milind presented a webinar focused on product management and dealing with risk, return on investment and real-world options. True to form, he eventually breaks it all down into a nice, clean metaphorical world that anyone can understand. Milind has a way of explaining things and keeping them simple (for which I am eternally grateful, heh).

Check out this webinar by clicking here.

We present a methodology for planning and tracking a product development effort. The primary tool for the methodology is a simple, one-page spreadsheet capturing actual and predicted expenses and revenues, from which IRR or NPV can be derived. Furthermore, the spreadsheet models uncertainty of predictions. By constructing the spreadsheet for a product development effort, real options are exposed. By maintaining the spreadsheet on an ongoing basis, the exercise of real options is tracked and the likelihood of product success or failure is clarified.

The simplicity of the methodology ensures that

  • a product manager can independently stay up to date on the progress of a product development effort
  • anyone from line workers to corporate board members can easily understand the state of a product development effort
  • multiple product development efforts in various stages can be compared or aggregated into a portfolio
  • investment and divestment decisions can be made rationally and with complete information

To demonstrate this methodology, we will construct and modify a spreadsheet for a commonly-understood project: the purchase, improvement, and sale of a home.



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Management | Tech
Monday, 19 February 2007 13:14:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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An a la carte menu style is in the making as the two big sat-radio companies are merging. Interesting.

The companies say this means everything will be even better. Reading the press release you'd think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Forgive me for being a little less optimistic. Sure, I hope this means higher quality and more selection, but one has to worry at least a little. The competition thus far has bred some quick growth and service expansion. What happens to that now? When was the last time a single provider in a market space was good for consumers?

Anyhow, it will be fun to watch. And it's just satellite radio, so not like it's the end of the world if they screw up the marketplace. If it gets by the SEC and FCC. It probably will.

"The transaction is subject to approval by both companies' shareholders, the satisfaction of customary closing conditions and regulatory review and approvals, including antitrust agencies and the FCC. Pending regulatory approval, the companies expect the transaction to be completed by the end of 2007."



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Monday, 19 February 2007 12:26:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 18 February 2007

Nothing like having an automated buddy on the other end of the instant messaging conversation to keep ya busy eh? Well, sometimes they can be practical.

If you use Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger), and if you're a film freak (or even if you just like movies), go to your IM client program and add moviescout@botmetro.net to your contact list. Then open a conversation window and type "hi" or something similar. You can set your ZIP code and start searching.

    

Once you've found a movie you want to look at, enter the number next to the title to get showtimes and a link to more information about the film:

    

It's pretty cool. A lot like using Fandango in your browser, I suppose. But on a mobile device this is cool stuff.



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Movies | Random Stuff | Tech
Sunday, 18 February 2007 01:16:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 15 February 2007

On February 15th, 2006 I was wheeled into a surgical suite to have the intervertebral disc between the L5 and S1 vertebrae removed and replaced with a three-piece mechanical replacement joint. The Kineflex artificial disc was in FDA trials at the time, so I was a test subject for an all-metal design that was working its way to market. As of the time of this writing, it's still working though the approval process. If my own personal experience is Kineflex - High contrast side viewany indication of what ought to happen, then the Kineflex disc should be approved and shipped to the market as soon as possible. Granted, it's important that the device be used only where appropriate, but for people who today stand in the same shoes I wore up until a year ago, the artificial disc replacement (ADR) is a miracle, and can be a true life gift.

I have 15 degrees range of motion in the L5/S1 joint, which is excellent. My doctor told me at my one-year visit the other day that people with seven degrees or more range of motion are doing very well. So, that's good news. He's also very happy with the level of activity I have been able to take on since the surgery.

It's taken some time for me to get to where I feel pretty much "normal" (whatever that is). Shortly after my surgery I started to feel much much better. As time went on, I realized just how much pain I'd been in. And over the intervening months I have just gotten better and better. A couple weeks ago I went skiing with my friend up at Timberline on Mt. Hood, and was taking some of the smaller jumps without pain and without really even thinking (or at least without being concerned) about the fact that I have this metal contraption in my spine (and that, my friends, is the telling attribute of my experience).

The fact that there are days where I don't even think about my back is amazing. Who would have thought that I could go from being unable to sleep more than an hour or so at a time, and living with constant debilitating pain, to an active and almost pain-free person who can once again do almost anything I want. People who work with me and my friends can tell you how pathetic and practically crippled I was before surgery. Today they say I am a new person. When my doctor told me to go out and live my life, with no real restrictions (but to be sure to take good care of my back), I took him at his word. Nowadays I lift things the "right" way and I'm careful to respect what remains of my natural spine. But mostly I simply don't have to think about it too much.

The surgical procedure for ADR is a serious one, and not one to be taken lightly. Really, everything else should be tried before resorting to surgery of any kind. In my case they did injections, physical therapy, exercises, shrinking the disc in size... you name it. Even just medication. None of the other options helped. So, my choices were fusion of the two vertebrae or a prosthetic artificial disc replacement that was fairly new-fangled (at least in the United States, where many medical technologies actually get to market very late in the game).

I recently received an email from one of the creators of the Kineflex artificial lumbar disc, Malan de Villiers. That was cool, hearing from someone who actually designed the device that has changed my life so dramatically for the good.

I have my life back. That's something to be grateful for.



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Kineflex Artificial Disc Surgery | Personal Stories
Thursday, 15 February 2007 21:06:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 12 February 2007

I did something today that's quite a bit out of character for me: I went to the WWE Raw live performance this evening at the Rose Garden here in Portland. As in professional wrestling.

And I had a blast.

You see, recently a friend of mine kind of got me watching a bit of the Monday Night Raw TV show now and then. I've always kind of laughed at the whole pro-wrestling thing for a variety of reasons, but tonight I can honestly say that the performance and the whole show was a lot of fun.

 Donald Trump himself even showed up in the arena to challenge the WWE boss to a match at the Wrestlemania thing on April 1st (which the boss rejected, so they came up with a decent alternative - they'll each choose someone to wrestle on their behalf and loser gets his head shaved right there at Wrestlemania).

Fireworks were everywhere in the arena and the whole experience was pretty darned well put together. And it was live on national TV to boot.

Probably the highlight of the evening, I am almost ashamed to say, was the final bout - An eight-man tag-team event that had some pretty huge dudes fighting it out. The cool guy of the bunch is John Cena, and as hilarious as it is to hear myself say it, it was a lot of fun to see him and the others perform. Afterward I asked my friends Rogan and Cory what they thought the best part of the whole night was, and they both had the same thought as me: It was at the end when John Cena stood on the ropes and looked right at us. Rogan and Cory were holding a big sign that had his name on it. It was actually kind of cool.

So there you have it. I confess. I went to Monday Night Raw live and in person, and had a great time.

Wow. That's kind of scary eh? Heh.

Tonight's show will be on TV this week on Thursday evening (for some reason it's a shifted schedule this week and they taped rather than going live).



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Monday, 12 February 2007 23:50:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 11 February 2007

Just the other day someone asked me why Internet Explorer had lost its menu bar after they ran a Windows Update. Of course, the "problem" was IE7 and the fact that the whole UI changed. Remember, IE7 is considered a critical update (and the first time an IE version has been promoted as such). The classic menu bar of the previous browser versions (and practically every other Windows application) is no longer visible by default. There are a couple ways to turn it back on, but when you do the result is not exactly optimal for some people. Maybe they're just whiners or getting old and set in their ways, but whomever you may be there is a solution for you. (Oh, and before people start saying "yeah, use firefox instead" please just stop and understand we got the point a long, long time ago. Firefox rocks, but this post is about menu bars in IE. tyvm.)

One thing many people don't realize is that the menu bar is actually still there in IE7, and one way you can access it just by hitting your ALT button. One tap and there it is, ready to use.

Or maybe you want it on all the time. To accomplish that in IE7, click on the the Tools menu (it has a little gear icon) and select "Menu Bar" from the options there. Now you have the menu bar back full-time and you can do your File, Edit, View, etc stuff all you want.

But, when you enable the menu bar, it actually appears below the address bar, which is a little weird for some people. And worse, you can't unlock and then drag and drop the menu bar to rearrange things because the address bar is not in the draggable/droppable list of UI stuff. everything appears below it. Bummer.

 

Have no fear. Chris Hanscom has posted a nice little registry hack that lets you put things back to the way you want them. The little animation above shows the three phases of menu bar goodness: Turned off completely (the IE7 default, which get a little more web page content on the screen and above the fold), Turned on and below the address bar (IE7's default location), and post-registry-hack style, with the menu bar back where you've expected it to be since dirt was first made.

So, no matter what your preference is, you have an option to meet your needs. Enjoy. And thanks to LifeHacker via Omar for the find. Check out both those blogs if you haven't already. Good stuff.



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Tech
Sunday, 11 February 2007 11:14:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 07 February 2007

I spent a good day and a half (off and on) trying like heck to get rid of some drivers that ended up being problematic in Vista on my new Z61t ThinkPad (which is a nice laptop by the way). The integrated Verizon WAN card was not happy (it needed updated drivers) and one of the virtual device drivers for the DVD-RAM drive was causing Vista to complain a lot. Despite al my attempts, the system would not allow me to remove or change them. There was not much helpful information about why my attempts were failing, though. After a while it was obvious there was a pretty serious access control problem.

It became clear that the issue I was likely up against was the new permissions and user account access limits established by Vista and its new security model. In order to get Vista to allow me, for example, to uninstall the software in question I had to go into the user managment applet in the control panel and disable User Account Control (UAC), despite the fact that my account was configured as an admin. Now all has been rectified and is well.

Interestingly, I have seen one application that, when run, included a button to elevate the privileges of the user running the app temporarily and just for that app so configuration data could be saved. Cool stuff and well-designed.

So, Vista's User Account Control certainly works - maybe even almost too well (if that's really possible). While I had to disable it to remediate some issues realted to drivers that were installed under XP originally, that's not necessary for items installed under Vista post-upgrade. And UAC is turned back on now, just as it should be.



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Wednesday, 07 February 2007 21:48:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 04 February 2007

If you happen to be at the RSA security conference in San Francisco this week, get in touch and hopefully we can meet up sometime. I'm here through Thursday doing a bunch of media briefings and whatnot (for work) and (whenever I can) attending sessions. My cell number is in the right sidebar, or email me (greg-greghughes-dot-net).



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IT Security | Random Stuff
Sunday, 04 February 2007 22:36:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 02 February 2007

Bad guys are not stupid. What the lack in morals they sometimes make up for in creativity and smarts. That's why they can be so dangerous. Think like a bad guy: If you wanted to find a way to take advantage of a large public event in order to gain fraudulent access to thousands (or more) individual computers so you could install keystroke logging software and trojan software to allow you to grow your rogue bot network, what would you do?

Well if it was today, maybe you'd think to yourself, "Hey the Superbowl is this weekend. Let's set up a fake site and trick people into going there with an email and screw 'em all over."

Or, if you were smarter, you'd just take over the server that houses the site for Dolphins Stadium.

If this doesn't tell you why you should be focused on security, then what does?

The news item is here, and an advisory with a description is here.

The official Web site of Dolphin Stadium, home of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLI, has been hacked and seeded with exploit code targeting two known Windows security flaws.

In the attack, which was discovered by malware hunters at Websense Security Labs, the server hosting the site was breached and a link to a malicious JavaScript file was inserted into the header of the front page of the site. Visitors to the site execute the script, which attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities.

According to Dan Hubbard, senior director, security and technology research at Websense, the malicious site hosting the script has been taken offline by law enforcement officials but the hacked Dolphin Stadium site — which is attracting a lot of Super Bowl-related traffic — is still hosting the malicious JavaScript.

A visitor to the site with an unpatched Windows machine will connect to a remote server registered to a nameserver in China and download a Trojan keylogger/backdoor that gives the attacker “full access to the compromised computer,” Hubbard said.

Oy. What's it gonna take??



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IT Security | Safe Computing | Tech
Friday, 02 February 2007 12:58:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 01 February 2007

One of my all-time favorite coworkers and human beings is Phillip Forteza, who works in the QA department. He's started blogging, and I'm excited about it.

Phil is one of those guys that smiles, smiles, smiles - regardless of the day or the situation. He is a truly good person, one of the kindest I have ever met, and I am always glad to see him. I only wish I was as up-beat and positive as Phil is every single day, though good and bad. If I'm every feeling down and out and I happen to run into him, it's a guaranteed fact that his powerful attitude will lift me up and remove that monkey from my back.

Check out what Phil has to write, it's more than worth the read. We need more people like Phil in this world, but alternatively more spreading of The Phillip Way is a pretty good option.



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Thursday, 01 February 2007 21:36:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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