August 29, 2006
Is IT in a world of its own?
The IT world is always in a frenzy. That's the nature of the industry. One minute, they're talking up Windows Vista, the other, they're saying that Linux Desktops should rule and then, the Macs speak up and say their platform is the grandest.
Or they could be saying how cool Office 2007 will be vs how cool it is that Open Office frees the world from the domination of proprietary document formats.
Back in Small Business Land however, folks are still writing lots of Word documents and hacking databases in Excel. Small Business Land has come a long way from those days of the paper tape calculator and the electronic typewriter. But the tools they're using have stagnated again.
When we had a ledger sheet of ruled paper, we could write into cells. It was considered revolutionary when the spreadsheet program came along and allowed us to record information without reaching for more paper. We could automate all kinds of calculations or simply append more and more rows of information.
But life moves on. That is, as the business and the job grows, we find we need to enter more than one thing in a cell - either we put commas between the words or we make more columns or we make rows. That solved, respondents and bosses want more and more reports - laid out this way and that way, summarising based on different criteria and layouts. Thank goodness for Cut and Paste. And lots of elbow grease. And days when it's not the end of month.
A multi-table relational database with a screen designer, report writer offering multiple views to the same data would greatly improve overall administrative efficiency. Sure, such a system requires conscious and upfront design. And commitment to walking away from that simplistic Excel grid which worked when life was simpler. These tools have been in our midst for ages, as the tech heads will tell you. But when will someone in Small Business Land wake up to this? When they creep into Medium Business Land?
August 25, 2006
The Hindenbook Report Update
With the Dell/Sony battery recall well under way and now achieving 'The Hindenbook' moniker, Qantas have issued a warning that states -
"could only use them on battery power or through the aircraft power supply available in some first and business class cabins once they have first removed the batteries from the unit."
Batteries subject to recall should not be used while awaiting a replacement battery pack from Dell. You may continue to use your notebook computer using the AC adapter power cord originally provided with your notebook.
Via The Age
August 23, 2006
The captured Press
The New York Times executive editor Bill Keller says that he doesn't know what was in his head at the time he decided, on the eve of the last US Presidential election, to withhold a story on warrantless eavesdropping by the Bush administration. The paper's public editor suggests, diplomatically, that Keller seems to be dissembling, and perhaps he should tell readers more, just in case what was in his head was a reluctance to publish something that might have influenced the election, which is, after all, what great newspapers are supposed to do.
Readers are, predictably, furious. One of them notes:
Mr. Keller’s job — specifically noted in our Constitution as a key safeguard of our democracy — is to provide accurate information to allow informed citizens to vote responsibly for the well-being of our country.Such a safeguard isn't noted in our own democracy. Should it be? And should our newspapers have a public editor?
The Apple Wi-Fi Brawl
Those chaps from SecureWorks, David Maynor and John Ellch, must have expected some notoriety when they demonstrated a Wi-Fi security flaw in the Apple MacBook. They couldn't have been prepared, however, for the immediate breach in the walls of Hell which followed.
Some of the demons which broke loose threatened to kill the messenger, and his dog.
Washington Post security blogger, Brian Krebs, under assault from the same demons, posted the transcript of an interview with Maynor and Ellch which seemed to confirm that although the demonstration used a third-party wireless card, the MacBook's default device drivers were also vulnerable.
Apple officially challenged that claim. Apple spokeswoman Lynn Fox announced, "Despite SecureWorks being quoted saying the Mac is threatened by the exploit demonstrated at Black Hat, they have provided no evidence that in fact it is. To date, SecureWorks has not shared or demonstrated any code in relation to the Black Hat-demonstrated exploit that is relevant to the hardware and software that we ship. Whatever they are claiming to have found, they haven't shared it with us."
Our official position on this is that we do not have a clue, although we think what has been established is that the Mac community could learn a thing or two about the rules of public discourse. And we cannot wait to see what happens when the bell goes for the next round.
August 19, 2006
"Blogging is a marketing cost, not a direct income generator"
Blogging on the Web (you thought I was gonna say Internet, didn't you?) has now become so much a part of computer culture that only
died dyed-in-wool-bricks-and-mortar corporates don't understand it (how's that for a mixed metaphor?). We've seen all kinds of with-it corporates figure that it adds to their visibility and exposure if the CEO blogs, or the Product Managers blog or (quick draw of breath) the backroom nerds blog. It helps people understand their corporate culture, where they're at, where they're heading to.
Some blogs shut out two way communication - they have no reader feedback, comments or anything. It's one way, from "we" to "you". What do you call a blog with no comments facility? No, gosh, not a WebpageThatSucks. Surely not?
Some people make lots of money by blogging. And teach other people how to do that. Larry O'Brien however muses that he's only the 21,000th in a 51.4 million blog list. And figures that Blogging is a marketing cost.
And there you have it Charles.
Pause for effect.
August 18, 2006
On Second Life
Quite recently, one of our close friends confessed to us that he'd developed an addiction for Second Life, the online virtual world inhabited, we notice, by the avatars of 524,234 real people. He explained, with a sense of genuine wonderment, that it offered him "some insights into my actions that I find, frankly, embarrassing". When we asked him how long he spent on this virtual world, he pleaded the 5th Amendment, but he did explained that "The relationship you have with yoour avatar is quite indescribable".
The effect it had had on him seemed to be similar to that which might have occurred after a long psychoanalysis.
We're quite curious about the extraordinary richness of these virtual worlds, one aspect of which has been picked up on in the forum by
Newman Stephen and Extulit. CBS News recently explored the phenomenon, suggesting
When reality gets hard to take, there's an escape to a parallel universe — a virtual world without end where real people create online personas called avatars. Anything is possible. .It's created its own thriving economy, which has even been written up in Business Week. Even the military is examining their potential.
We're interested in your take on this. Are you smitten by one of these games? Is it preferable to real life? What effect has had it had on you? Where do you think it might lead?
Why Terry loves Live Writer
Although this appears to be posted by CW, it's actually from Terry Lane, who's forgotten his Movable Type password, but has been smitten with love for Microsoft Live Writer, and wants to tell the world about it ...
Bleeding Edge and our companion blog, dpexpert.com.au use the Movable Type blogging software which is OK but which has an absurdly cumbersome interface for creating new entries. Keeping the blogs up to date with regular entries is a pain in the posterior.
Images must be uploaded one at a time and the link copied and pasted into the entry text. Alignment -- left, centre, right -- must be done by adding code by hand. Formatting text -- bold, italics etc -- can't be done with the usual Ctrl-B or Ctrl-I. And the miserable little text entry screen involves constant scrolling to get to edit points. It is truly horrible.
Thank Gates for Windows Live Writer! WLW works like a mini-Word. All the familiar keyboard shortcuts work. Pictures can be dragged and dropped and resized and aligned with the mouse. Adding links is a breeze. And all without any scrolling.
Live Writer is truly WYSIWYG, creating the entry before your very eyes based on the layout it has retrieved from your own blog! It knows everything about fonts, type size, column width and categories because it has acquired the specs from your own blog. Very clever.
Live Writer works with all the popular blog software as well as linking to a Microsoft blog service.
The only painful thing about Live Writer is making the initial connection. It insisted that the user name and password it was being given were incorrect. It turned out that an API password has to be set in Movable Type's user profile page and that is the password to be given to Live Writer. The normal password for access to the editing interface will not work.
It took about three hours and much profanity to get to the point where the connection was opened, but once opened it works like a dream. 1000 thanks Mr Gates. Why are you being so helpful and generous? We are waiting for the catch!
August 16, 2006
4.1 million by 3.4 defects per million is?
Following some discussion on batteries and the Dell recall, someone took out the calculator and did their sums. Over at Computerworld, Sony spokesman Rick Clancy is reported to have said:
"It's a number you can count on two hands," Clancy said, adding that it is inconsequential "when you look at it by Six Sigma standards." Six Sigma is a measure of engineering quality that ensures a process will not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities."
Now, that doesn't sound like much. But one of my respondents (a former manufacturing manager) whipped out her (mental) calculator and we spoke Six Sigma for a while. 3.4 defects per million? If you sell 4 million batteries, there's at least 13 batteries waiting to explode some where. OhMiGosh! Think of the product liability exposure even when things are doing well, Six Sigmawise. Think of the numbers if there was a genuine weakness in the product or it's manufacturing.
Time to lift the mean, sharpen the bell curve, lose the tail. Or give up Manufacturing and take up Law.
Is Dell the only worry or do we have too many plugpacks and rechargeable batteries?
In recent news, Dell is issuing a massive battery recall. Although used in Dell equipment, these batteries are reportedly supplied by Sony. Which brings to mind, the proliferation in our households now of plugpaks, rechargeable NiCd, NiMh and LiOn batteries - I mean, if the cell phone is ubuquitous, so then must be the need to charge it. But it's not only cellphones. Landline phones are frequently wireless now and those come with a plugpack and a battery.
The outsourcing offshore isn't endemic to Australia - much of the western world now relies on oem factories in China and other countries to massively produce these batteries and plugpaks. You have major Japanese brand names as well as little known China / Taiwan / Korea brands who give you batteries and plugpaks with your equipment. Obviously, anything sold in the country must meet electrical standards of the country. But what if there is a mistake like in the Dell case. Will a smaller brand with less image to maintain (or with less resource to spread the message) be able to announce or afford a recall?
Now, it's not the major items that you buy. If you were to put money down for say a 1000 dollar notebook, you would expect some credibility in corporate standards of behaviour from the manufacturer. But it's all the little things. Deskbound calculators. Those more common reading lamps. Electronic console games. In the IT section, routers, modems, computer supplies, plugpaks for your speakers, radios, home printers, external hard disks. What about digital cameras? - the list goes on and on. In spite of this, I can guess controlling the release of plugpaks to the public would be easier - because these are mains operated devices and therefore the electrical authorities have some say in the matter, compared to controlling the sale of batteries that are charged by these plugpaks.
So, does buying a name brand appliance or battery/plugpak give you better safety odds than buying a lesser known brand? Do they come from the same oem factory? Are they built to the same quality standards? Does it matter? How often do we expect things to burst into flames? Do we wait for Time to Tell?
August 15, 2006
MS PC Backyard Programming
10 Print "Go back 25 Years."
20 Print"Growing up with a Commodore Vic 20 & C64 and trying to get my head around writing my own software with Basic was always fun and an integral part of computing. Having programming tools available to you to 'program the computer'"
30 Goto 2005
40 Print " Microsoft Visual Studio Express versions of their programming suites are FREE forever rather than the initial 12 months that were originally offered."
50 Goto 2006
70 Goto Today
80 Print " The latest addition being the Microsoft XNA Game Studio so you can create your own games for the XBox 360. "
90 Goto Summary
100 Print "All of these are extremely powerful programming tools that allow anyone to create their own Windows, Internet or XBox applications for next to nix and brings back that old fashioned part of computing where you 'programmed your computer', not to mention the educational value of such tools"
Is Sol playing with a straight bat?
Communications Day has an interesting report that suggests Telstra might have fudged the figures when it claimed that the Fibre To The Node Network that it said it would build if the regulator wasn't a threat to Civilisation As We Know It.
In a special report, US telecoms expert David Bernstein says Telstra could build a high-speed broadband network for a fraction of the $4 billion price it cited for what constitutes a mid-speed, rather than high-speed network.
"Something is profoundly wrong," writes Bernstein. He takes Telstra's arguments apart point by point, quoting equipment and roll-out prices from global suppliers and telcos, and declares that, based on published prices for Alcatel equipment, AT&T in the US is able to roll out comparable fibre to 19 million homes for $5.6 million. "It's a disservice to Australians, who for a similar sum could have a world-class network, three to 10 times faster, if Telstra simply matched Germany's Deutsche Telekom," he says.
He speculates that Solstra's real motive is "to control both cable TV and wireline, given that competitors have already transferred hundreds of thousands of broadband users to their own DSLAMs".
Sol's also in some hot water over basing earnings projections last week on the assumption its rivals would be paying $22 a month for the use of its suburban lines, despite the fact that Telstra had already been informed the price would be $17.70. Solstra's shares dropped 9c yesterday on the news, and prompted legal giant-killers Slater and Gordon to declare there were grounds for a class action over shareholder disclosure.
Instead of bleating about his poor little company being bullied by the mean old regulator, maybe Sol should take on board recent comments by British Telecom's chief technology officer, Matt Bross. “If you defend the traditional model too hard you will miss out on opportunities,” he warned.
In a post on Communications Day chief, Grahame Lynch's blog, Geoff Long comments "That last remark was aimed at carriers that still want protection through the regulators. They believe that too much liberalisation will mean investments don’t get made, and many argue that developing countries can’t afford to completely open up their networks to competitors and other deregulatory measures. Bross, on the other hand, argues that they can’t afford not to.
“'You need to open up the network to unleash creativity and innovation. To be competitive in this converged future you’ve got to embrace the globalisation that’s taking place,' he said."
August 14, 2006
New GYM Services
Just a quick post with some of the latest GYM products...
Yahoo7 Fuel Maps are using their mapping service to map the local price of fuel so you can find the cheapest price in your area. The range and number of servo's listed is a little limited at this time though it has quickly become a great reference in only a week of knowing about it.
Windows Live Writer is part of the Windows Live product line and this one has come as a little surprise to the blogging community overnight. It is a WYSIWYG blog authoring.tool and available for download now.
August 10, 2006
ADSL gets cheaper ... but not here
Here's something that will make you grind your teeth. International research company Point Topic reports the cost of DSL broadband services is "cheaper than ever", with the average worldwide price of DSL entry-level services falling by 9.3 per cent in the last quarter.
Some operators have cut prices by 50 per cent, and offered major upgrades at the entry level. Broadband speeds in Japan have been increased by eight times, and in Canada four times. Thanks to good old Telstra, however, and superb government planning, prices in Australia have gone up, and broadband speeds slashed. Telstra profit might be down, but it's just revealed that its broadband revenue is up 64.5 per cent, to $1.191 billion. That's your money, folks.
We wonder what our dear old Communications Minister - the one who claims that we Aussies have nothing to complain about - will make of this. And this: In Japan fibre-to-the-home services now provide 100Mbps links for approximately US$25.90 per month.
It's ironic that Telstra is attacking her for not giving them even more. It's the poor old consumer who should be giving her a tongue-lashing.
August 09, 2006
Memo editors: Bloggers use PhotoShop too
Isn't it wonderful the way PhotoShop, in the hands of a skilled operator, can enhance an image. And no doubt Adnan Haji was a talented re-toucher. Unfortunately, Haji is a freelance photographer for Reuters, and when his altered images of Israeli strikes on Lebanon appeared on the agency's news service on the weekend, they drew the attention of the blogging community, one of whom happened to notice - unlike Reuter's pic editors - that they'd been manipulated. In a particularly obvious way.
In one, Haji intensified plumes of smoke from smoldering debris. In another, he changed an image of an Israeli plane to make it look as if it had dropped three flares instead of one. The sharp-eyed viewer tipped off Charles Johnson, at Little Green Footballs, which caused a considerable problem for Dan Rather, back in 2004.
Reuters sacked the photographer. Too bad they can't retouch the tatered image of Reuters' journalism.
August 08, 2006
Fraudband: the regulator made them do it
We wonder if Solstra propagandist Phil Burgess has been re-reading Goebbels. According to him, the reason Australia is falling behind the broadband-civilised world isn't the short-sightedness and greed of Telstra management. It isn't the failings of the Howard Government. No. It's Graeme Samuel's fault, apparently.
Bolt out of the blue for the environment
Don't be surprised if we see a spectacular ideological pirouette from Andrew Bolt, that expert climatologist who has so frequently proclaimed in the public prints that global warming is a scare campaign promulgated by Green "dimwits" trying to interfere with humanity's right to enjoy and profit from a boundlessly generous planet. Only a couple of weeks ago, the dimwits were making him see red yet again, and making him feel thirsty.
Alas for Herr Professor Doktor Bolt, one of those dimwits is the boss's son. According to The Independent, James Murdoch has made his particular branch of the News Empire - Sky - "carbon neutral" by directing it to switch to renewable energy sources and cut back on air travel and electricity. He's been rewarding staff who switch to bicycles, buy green "hybrid" cars and install low-energy bulbs at home.
Ten days ago, he persuaded his father to screen Al Gore's acclaimed film on climate change to News Corporation executives at their annual summit in Pebble Beach, California. Sources present say the environment was a key topic, and its impact was very quickly felt throughout the Murdoch empire. Last week, The Sun newspaper announced its conversion to the green cause with two dramatic pieces warning about climate change. On Friday, the paper's 8.5 million readers were urged to watch Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, which one writer branded "more hair-raising than any Hollywood horror".It's a particularly inconvenient truth for Bolt. Not only does he have the problem of managing a career-saving epiphany, he's going to find it a real stretch to replace the environmental loony template that's helped him churn out so many of those repetitive "Me Clever, Them Stupid" pieces. And on top of that, he's going to have to learn to ride the company bicycle.
The broadband bluff
What a mess the Government has got itself into with its inept handling of its telecommunications policy. Back in March we suggested that Communications Minister Helen Coonan was engaged in a high-stakes poker game with Sol Trujillo, and he was going to call her bluff. Our view then was that the Government was going to have to at least threaten to put some money on the table for a national high-speed broadband network - and be prepared to actually spend it. Coonan's pathetic muttering about a regional network wasn't going to fool anyone.
We've now lost another eight months since Telstra upped the ante on Coonan, on what increasingly looks like a complete fantasy. None of the players is actually holding any aces. We all know that Telstra simply cannot afford NOT to have a faster broadband network that will allow it to recoup revenue that it's losing on its fixed phone network.
It can do that without building a Fibre to the Node (FTTN network). FTTN is the wild card, the Joker in the pack. It would be an incomplete solution - covering just 4 million homes - and it would allow Telstra to lock out its competition, while holding its customers to ransom with ever higher charges. We can't understand why Kenneth Davidson thinks that would be a good thing, and how he rationalises the comment that "Telstra's copper network is no longer well maintained", and is bound to fall apart completely if we get more rain, but Telstra has been doing a pretty good job of romancing the commentators on this issue.
Of course Telstra would build an FTTN network if the government was weak enough to grant all its conditions, but the political fall-out - even in a country that's the international Sleepy Hollow of broadband and consumer issues - would surely be catastrophic.
It does look like the G9 consortium is pushing its alternative network purely as a counter bluff, although it would probably build it if Canberra tipped in some cash. A lot of cash.
We can go on for another couple of rounds of this sort of huffing and puffing, and lose another year or so, at least, before we even start planning for a new network, but our international competitiveness will continue to decline, we'll lose entrepreneurial people overseas, and enormous opportunities will go down the drain.
We can't see any real progress being made until the Government faces up to the fact that it has comprehensively bungled its telecommunications competition policy, and the Telstra sale, and when all the bluffing rounds have concluded, it's going to have to put some cash on the table to get the game moving.
Or are we missing the bleeding obvious? What's your view?
August 07, 2006
Telstra pulls the plug on FTTN
The game's afoot, as they say. Telstra has thrown down the gauntlet to the Federal Government, with the announcement that it has scrapped its plans to develop a $4 billion Fibre To The Node (FTTN) network.
Telstra's Phil Burgess rang ACCC chairman, Graeme Samuel, this morning, to inform the competition regulator that since he wasn't accepting Telstra's version of its costs in providing services - which would have allowed the company to kill off competition - it was off home with its bat and ball.
As surely as night follows day, there will be a high speed broadband network built. I don't think we need to be held hostage by Telstra to achieve that.
August 04, 2006
More security "beat-ups"
We know we're going to infuriate a couple of readers who are convinced that there's nothing much to worry about with online financial transactions, and accuse us of trying to sensationalise the issue - you can follow the comments here - but over at Black Hat, there's been a succession of things that we silly old worry warts find less than comforting.
And Intel has just come out with some patches for some wi-fi security holes in Centrino chips.
Maybe these things aren't happening. Mayvbe we're just making these things up. Maybe we should all just ignore the growing potential for a systemic calamity.
August 03, 2006
Bleeding Edge attended the local launch of the latest version of Dragon Naturally Speaking at lunch time. It looks even better than the previous version, achieving very high recognition rates without any training - although allowing it to tune itself to your particular voice and speech patterns is essential, if you want to get the best results ... up to 160 words per minute.
The demo went pretty well, except for the bit where the presenter actually tried to introduce mistakes "ice cream" for "I scream" etc., and then had a minor hassle correcting it. But that was nothing to this bit of video from a Microsoft presentation on speech recognition, which was more of a train wreck-ognition. Against that, you may recall that our occasional contributor Jeremy Howard was very impressed by the speech recognition in Microsoft Office 2003. Microsoft has clearly made some advances there, because when we initially looked at it, it was appalling, and when AnandTech compared it with the last version of DNS, earlier this year, there were quite a few irritations.
Dragon Naturally Speaking has some other advantages, however, including the fact that it works across other applications. What I'm interested in looking at, however, when I actually review it, is whether it's again overtaken the Microsoft entry.
Remember our rootkit warning?
According to an AusCERT expert, here's how to protect yourself from the Haxdoor Trojan that's believed to have infected more than 10,000 PCs in Australia and has been transmitting identity details - logins, passwords, even 178 tax file numbers according to the Australian Tax Office - to thieves: don't browse the Web while you're logged in with administrator privileges. Great! Because Windows makes it so easy - NOT!!! - to run without admin privileges.
According to AusCERT, most anti-virus programs can't detect Haxdoor, largely because it has rootkit capabilities. And doesn't this make you feel comfortable: Haxdoor is known to have infected the computers of some of our registered tax agents. So if they've got your files on their PCs, you could be out of luck.
And AusCERT's got another alert. An email titled "National Bank Goes Bankrupt" links the curious to sites that automatically install Haxdoor via Internet Explorer and Firefox. There's some more information here.
We weren't kidding when we wrote that column that alerted readers to the fact that rootkits mean online banking may now constitute an unacceptable risk, which our banks and government authorities are ignoring. And subscribers might think about observing the advice we gave them about detecting rootkits.
Patch to save laptop battery life
The Mobility Guru points out that Microsoft has released a patch to improve battery life in laptops using USB 2.0 devices under Windows XP SP2.
A flaw in SP2's Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) driver means that even if the USB 2.0 device - an external hard drive or TVtuner/video capure card for instance - isn't running, you can still lose close to one fifth of your battery life, just by having it plugged in. You might like to install the patch.
August 02, 2006
Vista leaks confidence
Bleeding Edge plans to lower a canary into the mine shaft where Stephen seems to be holed up, to detect whether the poor lad might be suffering from oxygen deprivation. We haven't had a post from him in a while (yes, we know we haven't posted for a while either, but that's just one of those little excursions into despair that occur when people stop subscribing, and we start to contemplate a diet of bread and dripping ... What? They don't make dripping any more?) and in the meantime, a crisis of confidence seems to have broken out in the Windows Vista community.
High profile blogger Robert McLaws seems to be leading the dirge, suggesting that the code has been going to Hell in a hand basket, and if Microsoft doesn't postpone Vista, chunks of sky will begin to plummet earthwards.
Beta 2 was a disappointment on many levels. It was nowhere near as stable as it should have been, and was a huge memory hog. Later builds have improved stability and performance, and have introduced visual tweaks and enhancements that make Vista feel more like a finished product. But several events are conspiring to make life a lot more difficult for beta testers, and I forsee problems if they are not addressed.McLaws wants the release to be set back four to six weeks, which would allow the development team to have a week's holiday in order to commune with friends and family before the final death march. Ed Bott agrees, except he'd like to see the shipping date postponed until March, which would possibly allow the developers two weeks off.
So what about you, Stephen. Should they ship in April? Or perhaps May? Or is everything still hunky dory?