Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Karen the Bus Monitor and Internet Justice

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I’m a believer in due process, the rule of law, and letting the system take its course, even if the wheels grind slowly.  Unfortunately, if the suicides of smart but physically weak kids, kids that decide to come out as gay or who are outted by others, overweight kids, etc. are any indication, none of the aforementioned applies in the no-holds-barred arena of bullying.  Bullying is so relentless and its emotional toll so great it can make a victim of it pray for death when their pleas for justice are ignored.  With bullying, the wheels of justice tend to not grind at all.

Case in point was a headline story on CNN.com this morning.  This past Monday, a school bus monitor in Greece, NY (a suburb of Rochester) was verbally abused by a group of middle-schoolers to the point of being brought to tears when one of them taunted that she did not have family because…

“… they all killed themselves because they didn’t want to be near you.”

As cruel as that comment is, the cruelty is increased tenfold by the fact that Klein’s son took his own life 10 years ago.  The only saving grace to this story was that one of the little cro-mags was stupid enough to film it with their cameraphone and then post it on their facebook page.  Then someone else took it from facebook to YouTube.  This is a saving grace because the next folks to take this ball and run with it was the community at Reddit.  Once the Reddit folks got wind of this, it went from words of support to getting other media outlets involved to getting a fundraiser started to send this beleaguered woman on vacation.  Last I heard, as of 3PM Thursday afternoon, the fund was up to $270,000.

There are a lot of messages I hope this sends to the little turds that made this woman’s life hell on (I’m sure) many other occasions that didn’t get recorded.  First, once your actions see the light of day, you will be exposed for what you are:  a sub-human (I hesitate to say ‘animal.’  Never saw animals behave this way) and something that this world can do without.  Second, you are clearly outnumbered by the amount of good people in this world, judging by the response to this.  It’s unfortunate that your dumb asses just get more press.  And the final message is that while you are wallowing in whatever punishment your shithead parents and your castrated school administration finally get pressured into giving you, Mrs. Klein will be flying first class to a tropical location where she will be driven via limo to a 5-star hotel where she will then (after an afternoon at the spa) sit pool-side where she will drink large drinks served in coconuts with little umbrellas in them while two tanned and muscular cabana boys named Raoul and Javier fan her with palm leaves, and she will rest easy in the notion that shitheads like you will never bother her again.

 

 


There are some articles you wish you could un-write.

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Apple iPhone Will Fail in a Late, Defensive Move by technology prognosticator Matthew Lynn.


Vaya con Dios, Napster.

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If you have ever downloaded a song (and who hasn’t?), pause for a moment to pay your respects for the software that made it all possible.  It suffered greatly and gave its life so that iTunes and Spotify could live, and it forced an industry that threw up a great big middle finger to the idea of changing its business model for the better, to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new era.


Oh, how far we’ve come.

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MTV, along with the rest of the music industry, discusses the internet in 1995.  Get ready to see the less wrinkled versions of your favorite rock stars.  Bonus:  A downright coherent Ozzy Osbourne.


Google makes potentially costly patent mistake.

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Yesterday, Google Sr. Veep and Chief Counsel David Drummond posted what amounts to the Silicon Valley version of a hissy fit on Google‘s official blog.  His complaint?  That Microsoft and Apple are teaming up to try to stifle Android by using what Drummond refers to as “bogus patents.”

The patents being referred to here are patents owned by Novell that Microsoft and Apple are jointly bidding on.   If they were to be successful, it would impact Android because technology covered by those patents is being used in Google smartphones.   Google, naturally, is not thrilled about this.  Drummonds screed would not be so much justified, but you could at least understand it… were it not for the fact that Google indeed had an opportunity to bid on these patents.  Not only did it have the opportunity to bid and not put one forth, it was invited to bid jointly with Microsoft and turned that down as well.

Twitter is something that I personally think is a complete waste of time 99% of the time.  It’s the 1% in situations like this that it becomes like a train wreck… you can’t not look.  Brad Smith, Drummond’s counterpart at Microsoft, tweeted this in response to Drummond:

@BradSmi
Brad Smith

Google says we bought Novell patents to keep them from Google. Really? We asked them to bid jointly with us. They said no.
Ouch!  Now normally, in the absence of anything substantive, this would descend into the back and forth of he-said/he-said triviality, except that Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s head communications guy, tweeted this:
@fxshaw
Frank X. Shaw
Free advice for David Drummond – next time check with Kent Walker before you blog. http://t.co/PfKle9H
The link goes to the text of an email sent by Kent Walker, another Sr. Veep and big-shot attorney for Google sent to Brad Smith (see previous tweet) regarding Microsoft’s invitation to bid on the same patents extended to Google in October of 2010. 
Brad –
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you — I came down with a 24-hour bug on the way back from San Antonio. After talking with people here, it sounds as though for various reasons a joint bid wouldn’t be advisable for us on this one. But I appreciate your flagging it, and we’re open to discussing other similar opportunities in the future.
I hope the rest of your travels go well, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
– Kent
If the first tweet was the slap in the face, the email was the punch to the gut that knocked the wind out of the whole argument.
Will Android be greatly affected by this?  Only if Google is stupid enough to fight this out in court, which they don’t, and only if Microsoft and Apple want long and protracted legal battles, which they don’t, so I doubt it.  I foresee an out-of-court settlement… maybe an agreement where the technology in question can be licensed.  Something like that.  It will cost Google though.  It never ceases to amaze me that when you are peeing in the tall grass with the big dogs in an industry that relies as much on idea theft as it does on innovation, the stakes are very high, and a seemingly innocuous email that simply said, in effect, “No thanks,” can cost your company billions of dollars.  That’s big money even in Google/Microsoft/Apple dollars.  Welcome to Pirates of Silicon Valley II:  Electric Googaloo.

Your security sucks.

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Earlier this year, the DHS conducted a test at various government facilities and the facilities of some the companies that our government contracts with.  The test was simple:  leave USB drives and CDs  in the parking lots of the building, and watch what happens when the employees notice them.

Now any one of my friends that work in I.T. could have answered this question within a few seconds:  The majority of employees picked them up, walked in the building and immediately chunked said USB drive into a slot, or, in the case of the CDs, opened a CD tray, inserted the CD, and closed the door.  That answer, of course was correct, but lets get into the details of how correct it was.  Of the total number of employees that picked up the items, 60% installed them on their work machines.  Another interesting part of the test was that some of the thumb drives/CDs had official-looking logos on them.  Of those, 90% were installed.

Welcome to what security professionals talk about when they mention the term ‘social engineering.’  I.T. security hardware and software has made monumental leaps forward in the past 20+ years.  Human security has not.  Human security is why laptops disappear from Los Alamos and why Picassos disappear from San Francisco art galleries.  Why is this?  Don’t think about it in terms of trying to decipher what makes people tick at a granular level.  Instead, apply a little of the ol’ Occam’s Razor, and think about the inherent differences between computers and humans.  When you do that, you can boil it all down to one, all-encompassing, overriding principle:

People can choose.  Computers can’t.

I had a CIS (Computer Information Systems – what they called computer science majors when I went to college) professor in college that loved to say the following quote so often that we got tired of it.  By the way, the religious reference comes from the fact that he was Boston Irish Catholic.

“Next to Gahd, computahs ah the most pehfect beings on the planet.  They only do what you tell ’em to do.”

Us being nerds, we all looked at each other to see who would start the philosophical argument as to whether God was actually “on the planet” and whether computers were in fact “beings.”  But on a certain level, the guy had a point.  The nugget of clarity that you should take away from this bit of insanity is the combination of the concept of perfection and the lack of its association to people.  The guy clearly viewed a perfect being as something that executed your commands immediately upon receiving them, assuming those commands are valid. 

A computer not only does that but it does it billions of times per day.  I can certainly think of a whole host of humans who today will not execute ten commands, of any level of complexity, in a day.  Not only does a computer execute these commands, they can be configured to also remember the commands and the results of those commands indefinitely (just ask any executive or politician who has every had an ancient email dug up with something incriminating on it), or until its storage media gives out, whichever comes first.  I can’t remember the complete sequence of how I got out of bed this morning… or rather, my brain can, but retrieving that information is a whole different animal.

When it comes to security however, it almost always boils down to a matter of choice.  Computers don’t get to make their own choices without us defining what those choices are, and that’s what separates them from us.  Along with sentience (awareness of our own existence), it is what makes us the masters and computers the tools.  To all the nerds in the house… if you’ve ever programmed an IF statement, then stand up, raise your sword high and exclaim “I HAVE THE POWER!!!!”  because you have just defined the criteria to allow a computer to make a choice it did not previously have the power to make.

Humans, on the other hand, are a two-fold problem.  The first problem that choice presents is the choice to ignore best practices and procedures that have been repeated to them over and over and over again.  From the perspective of I.T. workers everywhere, this is the one we are all familiar with.  The desire of a few to have a safe and secure network in which to get your day’s work done does not hold a candle to the desire of the rabid frothing masses to stream porn, listen to Pandora, play Farmville and Mafia Wars while chronicling every nanosecond of their personal lives in 200 character burst transmissions, instant message, download hacked games without paying for them, or to have a mouse cursor with a cute little animated kitty chasing it.  Let’s face it… productivity just isn’t sexy anymore.

The second part of this problem is the 5% that choose to exploit the stupidity of those mentioned in the paragraph above.  These are the folks that scamper behind the bushes tittering after they leave the thumb drive out in the parking lot.  Why do they do it, because 1) they choose to, and 2) they are, as Paul Newman described himself in The Color of Money…

“I am a student of human moves.”  – Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) from The Color of Money

They know how you think.  They study how you behave.  They know that the bulk of the world, on a certain level, will behave as you do… which means you will behave without thinking.  And they exploit that.

And there is the rub.  The organization that achieves near impenetrable security is the organization that can get its humans to think a little more critically about security related issues.  Maybe you should think before hitting the submit button.  Think before downloading that file.  Think before uttering what should be un-utterable… your password.  Think about the fact that when you fuck up the network, it ruins people’s work, costs the company money, and directs everybody’s anger at the I.T. department  and not your dopey ass.  And think about human moves and how about changing them would make the job of the cracker/phisher/black-hat/etc. that much more difficult.


Want to do a project timeline without having to buy MS Project?

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If you have Excel, you can.  Here’s a link to a really good tutorial that will get you what you need in less than 5 minutes.


Everloop

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Everloop is a social networking site directly geared toward users between the ages of 8 and 15, although younger users are allowed to open accounts.  It encourages, but does not require parental involvement and the site is COPPA compliant.  It also just secured $3.1 million in additional funding from such investors as vFormation, Band of Angels, Deena Burnett-Bailey, Envoi Ventures, Richard Chino, and Wayne Goodrich… and this is over and above the funding it secured previously.  There are other sites trying to market social networking for kids.  Clearly Everloop is the one the VC crowd thinks is the most viable.

The problem I have with Everloop is not because of Everloop, but because of facebook.  Everloop is trying to solve a problem that facebook has no desire whatsoever to solve, and that is the problem of the consequence of children using social networking with little or no supervision, though the argument of exactly whose responsibility it is to ensure safety is a debate for another article.  To Everloop, children seem to be a class that needs some semblance of protection even though somehow that class fits into its revenue stream (rest assured, Everloop will advertise the hell out of those kids).  Facebook has so many users already, it can operate under the same premise the Chinese government operates under:  Use ’em however you want.  There’s more where they came from.


Why it’s a really bad idea to steal somebody’s laptop.

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The guy who had his laptop stolen – author of O’Reilly’s Complete Web Monitoring, Sean Power.  Incidentally, this should have been the thief’s first clue that he stole a laptop from the wrong guy.

The douchebag that stole it – Paolo Votano (bottom photo, guy on the far right)

Prey – the software that helped him find the perpetrator.

The blow-by-blow of how he got it back with the help of Twitter and some chick who will be forever known as “The girl in the purple sarong.”


Anatomy of a poorly executed smear campaign.

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It all starts:  A mystery client hires top PR firm Burson-Marsteller to execute a smear campaign against Google by claiming that Google’s Social Circle violates the privacy rights of Gmail users.

May 3, 2011:  John Mercurio of Burson-Marsteller tries to convince a blogger to write an op-ed piece critical of Google which Mercurio claims he can get re-printed in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, The Huffington Post, and other “top-tier media outlets.  After turning down the opportunity with a skeptical “Who’s paying for this?”  The email exchange is made public on the internet.

May 6, 2011:  USAToday publishes an article outting former CNBC news anchor Jim Goldman and former political columnist John Mercurio as the two Burson employees behind the campaign.

May 12, 2011:  The Daily Beast uncovers and confirms that the mystery client is facebook.