Friday, April 30, 2004

The Rickshaw Effect

The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned ScientistsOhio is one of the states that, because of its high smog levels, is required to perform an emissions check on vehicles. Thus, it falls to the populace to wait in line at various E-check stations until someone adjudicates your vehicle's tailpipe gas and takes a $20 bill from you for the effort.

Aside from the fact that approximately 90% of all vehicles on the road comply and that ozone levels have dropped 30% or more in Ohio, here's why it's a bad idea for our area:

Ohio is in a valley threaded with interstate highways. That means if everyone in the metro area sold their cars and used bikes and rickshaws for transportation, we would still be an EPA offender. That's because through-traffic using highways like I-64, I-70, I-71, I-75, I-74, etc. would still be belching out carbon monoxide while we rode in our rickshaws. We happen to be at the confluence of an incredibly well-traveled set of routes. That's why national - not local - standards are needed.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

Spin Zone

The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and CultureSome random musings on the state of the media:

1) Interesting how ABC News -- or, the New York bureau of Al Jazeera, as I like to call them -- chose to devote an entire Nightline to reading a roll call of American war dead. Pity they couldn't devote a similar show to reading the roster of WTC victims, Pentagon victims, or even the gassed Kurds and hundreds of thousands of Saddam's murdered subjects: 'Nightline' plan to read war dead riles some

2) Lots of left-leaning pundits expressed glee and mock consternation over Cheney accompanying Bush to the 9/11 Commission hearings (", I'll drink a glass of water while President Bush answers your questions..."). But I can't seem to find too many mentions of the fact that Clinton had both Sandy Berger and another White House staff member with him during his testimony. The name escapes me at the moment but, true to form, I can find approximately eighteen quadrillion references to Bush/Cheney's testimony in a Google News search but virtually none mentioning Clinton's posse.

3) During Condy Rice's testimony, a lot of media attention was focused on Bob Kerrey's "swatting a fly" comment. "Kerrey expressed frustration with Rice's references to President Bush being "tired of swatting flies" in dealing with overseas terror outbreaks. "What fly had he swatted?" Kerrey said. "We only swatted a fly once, on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterward. How the hell could he be tired?"... Kerrey said. "After the attack on the (USS) Cole in 2000, it would not have been a swatting of a fly. There were a lot of military plans in place in the Clinton administration."

Hmmm... nice try, Bob. After the USS Cole attack, Kerrey said... let's see... that he did not advocate a military response to that attack... instead, he gave a speech that the best thing the U.S. could do would be to address the threat represented by Iraq's leader, none other than Saddam Hussein. The transcipt (nor the media) does not record the color of Kerrey's face after this fact was pointed out to the commission: Rice delivers tough defense of administration

4) For that matter, the right-leaning Fox News can be overbearing and unbelievably tabloid at times. "Around the world in 80 seconds" is useful if you have the attention span of a parakeet. It's compelling if you're interested in, say, the kangaroo that dragged the tobacco farmer out of a burning barn or the tragicomic drama of a tractor-trailer smashing into a bus loaded with rodeo clowns. But if you're interested in hard news and analysis that is really fair and balanced, I'm not sure where you turn.

Surprisingly, PBS' News Hour with Jim Lehrer might be the closest thing we have to truly thoughtful reporting. Alas, despite Joan Croc's $200 million bequest to PBS, their powers-that-be are still hitting up Washington's Left for their traditional grants while shilling coffee mugs and PBS "flair" for donations from the unwashed masses.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Team Enterprise

Dragonfly : An Epic Adventure of Survival in Outer SpaceMy old consulting buddy Shawn sent me a note. A little bit of background: after a stint consulting at P&G for the Information Security folks, Shawn was called up for activities in Afghanistan which he might tell you about someday over a beer. Now he's back, working for one of the largest defense contractors in the U.S. And, it appears, he's doing some fun stuff on the side. Shawn is a very bright engineer and developer, with a lot of experience in messaging, directories, and now, it would appear, spacecraft guidance systems. Here's the tail end of this message:

BTW, I'm also doing some independent research outside of work. I'm working with some associates (aerospace engineers, mechanical engineers, astrophysists, etc) on a team to build a design proposal for the Earth Return Vehicle used in future manned Mars mission. I'm responsible for design of command & data handling subsystem, computing architecture, infrastructure/environmental control net, and navigational system. I think we're seriously going to turn some heads with this one. Our team's website is Check it out and tell everyone you know. Publicity and notoriety are worth 20% of the evaluation criteria for our proposal! So if you know of any contacts to media outlets/venues to do a press release (i.e. home-town news, radio, Internet mags, etc.) let me know.

Hey Shawn, I don't think the JVM license agreement allows you to use it on mission-critical stuff like spacecraft nav systems! ;-)

Team Enterprise

Village Voice: Kerry Must Go

I guess things are worse in the Kerry camp than I thought. The Village Voice, well known for their conservative viewpoint - not, writes:

Note to Democrats: it's not too late to draft someone—anyone—else... ...With the air gushing out of John Kerry's balloon, it may be only a matter of time until political insiders in Washington face the dread reality that the junior senator from Massachusetts doesn't have what it takes to win and has got to go. As arrogant and out of it as the Democratic political establishment is, even these pols know the party's got to have someone to run against George Bush...

Mondo: Kerry Must Go

BM... V

Mr. T's blog has an entertaining rant on a recent visit to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Seems he needed to perform the oh-so-simple task of converting a leased vehicle into an owned vehicle ("I OWNZ YOU NOW"). Hours later and one AK carbine short of an ABC News Special, he came away with his mission accomplished. Guess he doesn't know about the tiny, but very efficient, BMV office located in Montgomery. My all-time longest wait was maybe six minutes. If I didn't know better, I'da thought he was describing the Reichstag-like BMV in Watertown, Massachusetts. Ah, the memories. Good times. Good times.

Bureau of Motor Vehicles

Robbers Die Trying to Hold-Up Suicide Bomber

My Life Is a Weapon : A Modern History of Suicide BombingLesson learned: never stick up a man wearing an explosives belt. Second lesson learned: never try to take the explosives belt off by force. Thanks to B for the link.

A Hamas suicide bomber blew up two armed Palestinians who tried to rob him at gun point in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas claimed the “stickup men” worked for Israeli intelligence, while Palestinian security forces said the two were ordinary thieves.

Rather than give up his explosives, the bomber detonated them, killing himself and the two robbers near the border fence between Gaza and Israel...

Robbers Die Trying to Hold-Up Suicide Bomber

Monday, April 26, 2004

Nine languages benchmarked

Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy ComparisonThe following is a "Nine Language Performance Round-up, Benchmarking Math & File I/O". Accurate? Dunno. Interesting, though.




Visual C++9.618.86.43.510.548.8
Visual C#9.723.917.74.19.965.3
gcc C9.828.89.514.910.073.0
Visual Basic9.823.717.74.130.785.9
Visual J#9.623.917.

Whickety whack Benchmarking 9 languages

The Ghetto Mini-Pattern

Rick James, the Ultimate Collection, BeotchNo, this doesn't involve tales of Warsaw or Rick James. As a designer, architect or developer, have you ever been confronted with an unwieldy, nasty, fugly ball of application code that desperately needs a rewrite? Yet, there's too much working business logic to simply throw it away. Enter the Ghetto mini-pattern.

...Hide your ugly code inside a Ghetto. The ghetto is a single file or class where issues of code cleanliness do not apply. It is entered by reputable developers with no small amount of trepidation, and left as quickly as possible. On the other hand, it does the job, and it keeps the bad elements away from more cultured code...

Name: The Ghetto


Kick-ass HTML coder? Checkity check"S" emailed me a hookup to this article in which DARPA is funding several efforts to improve P2P architectures for the raw processing power, bandwidth efficiencies, fault-tolerance in routing, and so forth.

Darpa is pushing toward a world of ultralow-cost, low-power, ad hoc mesh networks. The programs are part of a broad military drive toward ubiquitous computing based on next-generation networks, including RFID and wireless sensor nets...

DARPA looks past Ethernet, IP nets

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Revenge trip

Man on Fire (2004)I just got back from seeing the film Man on Fire. The screen adaptation of the A.J. Quinnell novel has received mixed reviews, but I found it remained generally true to the spirit of the book.

Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a broken-down, alcoholic, ex-special forces assassin. Visiting his friend Rayburn (Christopher Walken) in Mexico City, he ends up taking a job as a bodyguard to make ends meet. A kidnapping spree has spread throughout Latin America and a wealthy young couple hires Creasy to fulfill the terms of a kidnap-insurance policy.

Pita (Dakota Fanning)'s spunk and unabashed friendliness slowly penetrate Creasy's veil of pain and alcoholism. Soon, he's not only protecting her, but is also coaching her at swimming and helping with studies. Then, in the turning point of the film, despite Creasy's quick-witted defense, Pita is kidnapped from her piano lesson and Creasy left for dead with multiple gunshot wounds.

Corrupt cops, mobsters, and other officials are all taking their cuts from the kidnapping game. As Creasy begins to recover, he sets off on the ultimate roadtrip of revenge. And all hell breaks loose.

I rated this film four stars. Tony Scott has to tone down the nausea-inducing quick cuts, fades, over-exposures, and other tricks of the trade. When he gets into story-telling mode, he does his best work, as Fanning and Washington are nearly perfect in their roles. Do yourself a service and read the books. Nothing matches the entire Creasy series.

A.J. Quinnell's Man on Fire

Stupid people, behaving stupidly

Nothing PersonalJason Starr's Nothing Personal is a pure crime novel, plain and simple. Less noir and more documentary, it describes the lives of two families, the DePinos and the Sussmans. Joey DePino is a working stiff with a major league gambling problem and a violent loanshark after him. His wife, Melissa, is disenchanted with her life, especially as she sees friends like Leslie Sussman get ahead. Leslie is married to David, an ad exec, and living in a ritzy Upper East Side apartment.

But David's life isn't all peaches and cream. A beautiful Asian co-worker, with whom he's had an affair, has turned psychopathic. As Joey struggles to pay off his debts and David grapples with having his affair exposed, things go south in a hurry. And, typical of Starr's work, lives are lost in the process.

This is Starr's second book and, while not as cleverly plotted as Cold Caller, you'll get diabolical pleasure out of watching some stupid people do irrevocably stupid things. It's realistic, compelling stuff and Starr is a consistently entertaining author.

Jason Starr's Nothing Personal

Saturday, April 24, 2004

No, I am Doug Ross

Poems from a Beach, by Doug Ross I received this email a few days ago:

from doug ross to doug ross,

dude...please work on your representation of a doug
ross. you are totally off base w/ how i am portrayed.
i'm slightly dorky but you have taken it to another
level. chill be cool. be doug ross. thank you.

another doug ross.

My response:

When you search for Doug Ross on Google... who do you come up with?

When you need a hard-core hacker for those tough-to-crack problems, who do you
go to?

When you need a "Doug Ross" with 18" guns, who do you ask for?

That's right... me. All other Doug Rosses I'm aware of use me as a role model.



Perfectionism vs. Good Enough

Assume for a minute that some definitions exist:

good enough: The fuzzy range of software goodness which your customers are willing to accept your product and pay the negotiated price.

perfectionism: The software goodness required by which your best developer would showcase her software in a trade journal.

So... Is there not room for both? I mean a healthy software environment should consist of a tension between perfectionism and good enough...

My response:

It's "prioritization", not "perfection". The trait I look for, aside from technical ability and communications skills, is simply the ability to prioritize.

Nothing is ever perfect. Of those facets of our jobs that demand attention, which should be dealt with first? THAT, my friends, is prioritization. And very few folks I've come across have that ability.

When you have 30 days to ship a product, the developer who can figure out which tasks _must_ be accomplished to ship in 30 days... and spec out the tasks in the right order... is worth his or her weight in gold.

It all comes down to getting working software in the hands of users. Prioritization, IMO, is the key.

perfectionism vs. good enough

Friday, April 23, 2004

Is Cold Fusion Heating Up?

Nuclear Transmutation: The Reality of Cold FusionIs Cold Fusion really making a comeback? After all the controversy, ridicule and failed experiements, MIT's Tech Review reports:

Fifteen years after the first controversial claims hit the headlines, cold fusion refuses to die. A small cadre of die-hard advocates argues that experiments now produce consistent results. The physics establishment continues to scoff, but some scientists who have been watching the field carefully are convinced something real is happening. And now the U.S. Department of Energy has decided that recent results justify a fresh look at cold fusion...

Is Cold Fusion Heating Up?

Vulnerability Issues in TCP

Internetworking with TCP/IP Vol.1: Principles, Protocols, and Architecture (4th Edition)TCP under attack.

The vulnerability described in this advisory affects implementations of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)... if exploited, the vulnerability could allow an attacker to create a Denial of Service condition against existing TCP connections, resulting in premature session termination. The resulting session termination will affect the application layer, the nature and severity of the effects being dependent on the application layer protocol. The primary dependency is on the duration of the TCP connection, with a further dependency on knowledge of the network (IP) addresses of the end points of the TCP connection.

The Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is judged to be potentially most affected by this vulnerability...

NISCC Vulnerability Advisory 236929: Vulnerability Issues in TCP

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Writing a Great Employment Ad

Recruiting on the Web : Smart Strategies for Finding the Perfect CandidateA writer on JOS asks how best to write a high-tech employment ad. I wrote:

I've wondered whether putting something cryptic that --- only hard-core tech-heads would understand --- might filter out the non-conforming folks and leave you with some good candidates.

Kind of a Google Ad serving program, only offline. For instance, I was searching for "swish++" and got a Google employment ad.

So... how about something like this (modify to fit technologies you're interested in):

"AES, Blowfish, GRE tunnels, multi-factor, PGP SDK, IPtables/NetFilter, ... if you're savvy, email us a CV at"

Whatcha think?

p.s., uhmmm, not to be a shill, but do email me a CV if you're savvy in those areas and a great C/C++ Win32/Linux developer to boot!

Writing a great employment ad

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Tech Support Repartee

Running an Effective Help Desk, 2nd EditionWhen I worked at a consumer software company that shall remain nameless, we had a database feature called "Zap". This would not only delete the database and its underlying tables, but it would rewrite the area of the disk where the tables were, scrubbing it clean to meet some infosec requirement.

Anyhow, since this was such a destructive operation, the user interface would confirm the user's desire to Zap with a series of escalatingly alarming prompts.

"Are you sure you want to Zap the database? This operation will destroy the database entirely and cannot be undone."


"Are you absolutely certain you want to Zap..."


"Please confirm that you want to Zap... this is your final warning..."

So not long after adding this feature came the invariable tech support request (add hick accent if it helps):

"Ah jest zapped mah database and I wanna get it back. How kin I get it back?"

The tech support rep thought for a while and came up with the best response to this type of request that I've yet heard:

"Sir, do you have access to a time machine? Because time travel is about the only thing that will get you that data back..."

p.s., I'm licensed to use and parody hick accents as I was raised in West Virginia.

The Joel on Software Forum - Tech support repartee

Top Ten Worst Album Covers of All-Time

Top Ten Worst Album Covers of All-TimeThis is funny. Mad props to "L" (or whoever emailed her the link... probably "M").

Have you ever been to one of those parties where everyone sits expectantly and watches two people dance around like retards in a retard shop? Right. No one has, because those parties don't happen. Maybe it was a simpler time when songs like “Poor Little Fool” and “Splish Splash” had some kind of mind controlling power over teenagers. It caused them to pull their pants up too high and wear the worst socks ever made. No wonder there was such condemnation of Rock and Roll in the fifties. Look at what it did to their stupid kids. Granted, this one isn’t terribly offensive, but they get worse...

Top Ten Worst Album Covers of All-Time

Uhmmm... some more Top Ten Worst Album Covers of All-Time

Tuesday, April 20, 2004



The finals of the 2004 TopCoder Collegiate Challenge ,a programming competition seeking the brightest computer coders in the world, took place last Thursday and Friday at the Boston Park Plaza hotel. The original field of 700 competitors in the Algorithm Competition began the qualifying rounds online in February.

Through numerous elimination rounds, the field was whittled down to 32 for the Boston finals, eventually reaching a final four on Friday afternoon... TopCoder

Saturday, April 17, 2004

More Cutaways

Click to zoomI did a Google image search for cutaway, because I like cutaway drawings. I came up with the accompanying drawing of how the rescue of a number of sailors trapped in the sunken USS Squalus was accomplished.

At 8:40 AM on 23 May 1939, [the submarine] USS Squalus was just beginning a test dive in the Atlantic, not far from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All indications were that everything was ready for a safe dive. However, just after she submerged, the engine rooms began to flood -- somehow the main induction valve, a large opening that brought air to the engines while on the surface, had opened. Quickly, the submarine's after compartments filled with water, drowning 26 men there, and Squalus settled to the bottom, 243 feet deep. In the forward compartments, sealed by watertight doors, 33 men remained alive. Their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Oliver F. Naquin, began survival planning. Since the water depth and temperature made ascent with the self-contained 'Momsen Lung' very dangerous, he elected to wait for rescue from above.

Within a few hours, other ships were searching for the missing Squalus, unfortunately in the wrong place. However, in the early afternoon a distant signal rocket was seen from a sister submarine, USS Sculpin (SS-191). Communication via the sunken sub's rescue bouy was soon established...

USS Squalus (SS-192) -- Rescue of Survivors, 23-25 May 1939

Click to zoomHere's a brutally cool cutaway of the F35. Click on the image to zoom it to full-size.

Click to zoomNot exactly sure what this is, but it might be a Fusion Reactor. Found it on Columbia University's Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics site. Click on the image to zoom to full-size. Looks a tad bulkier than the Mr. Fusion reactor featured in the film Back to the Future.

Book Review: Jason Starr's Cold CallerThompson's protege. Just posted the following review of Jason Starr's Cold Caller on Amazon.

If Jim Thompson were a Yuppie, he might have written this book.

Bill Moss is a failed advertising exec living in Manhattan. Restarting his career as a telemarketer (for a lot less money), he and his co-workers are routinely humiliated by a petty and racist supervisor. But things get more tolerable for Moss when a chance lie he tells to the company's President results in a surprise promotion. Then he gathers enough courage to live out his long-time fantasy of an encounter with a 'lady of the evening'. Feeling guilty afterwards, Moss batters the woman.

Then, when his boss threatens to fire him over an unrelated manner, Moss snaps. Now he's got a dead body in his office and a bunch of violent pimps chasing him. And things go downhill from there.

_Cold Caller_ is a seductively easy read that has several exquisite plot points. If you liked Thompson's _The Killer Inside Me_, I can almost guarantee you'll think as I do about _Cold Caller_: it's deliciously good.

Cold Caller, by Jason Starr

Cutaway Drawing #403

In my ongoing series of links to cutaway drawings, the above depicts a 19th century sailing vessel used by privateers and even some navies. Worth noting are the location of the magazine, the infirmary and the Captain's quarters. Click on the drawing to expand the image if you can't make out the captions.

Preparing for a Hospital Stay? Helpful Tips from The Onion!

General Hospital - The Complete ScrapbookThe Onion has some excellent advice for those preparing for a hospital in-patient experience. My favorites:

- If you are going to the hospital for treatment of a severed limb, remember to bring the limb.
- Be forewarned: Hospitals apply a vast mark-up to the items in the in-room minibars.
- Wear clothing that is loose-fitting and comfortable, yet appropriate to bleed in.
- Whatever you do, don't check into any facility called "General Hospital." That place is full of back-stabbing, narcissistic lunatics.
- Pack several extra pairs of slippers. Slippers in the hospital are like cigarettes in prison.
- Bring $500 in fives to "grease the wheels," if you get my meaning. The good mashed potatoes.
- If bruised, find a hospital known to have a good bruise ward.

Preparing for a Hospital Stay

What changes have been made to the refurbished Statue of Liberty?

Whickety whack @ hTmL, beeeoch

The Onion

Friday, April 16, 2004

Architects vs. IT Architects

Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan : The Role of Traditional Japanese Art and Architecture in the Work of Frank Lloyd WrightI was having an email discussion with "B" regarding my previous blog entry: the "urban cube on a roof". The linked JOS thread had the standard, flip comparison of architects and IT architects. "B"'s quote was worth pasting here:

I don't understand the nuiances of what my architecture friends state, but they are not happy that their millenia old discipline is being slighted by IT people claiming to have a "deep connection" to their discipline. Face it, even the best architects in IT (at Sun, Microsoft, IBM, etc) create stuff that would get you fired, jailed or executed if applied to the world of "real things". By any measure, IT architecture (if you can call it that) is today where true architecture was when people were building grass huts.

Hard to argue with that.

Cringley on MSFT and GOOG

Sun Certified System Administrator for Solaris 8 Study Guide (Exam 310-011 & 310-012)I'm going to use GOOG as Google's stock symbol until I'm notified it's incorrect. Anyhow, Cringely had an interesting (and, IMO, somewhat misguided) missive about Sun, Microsoft and Google. The gist of the article is that 'you can compete with Microsoft by ignoring it'. Like Google did. His reco for Sun is to spend the cash from the Microsoft settlement by giving employees a sabbatical and letting them come up with ideas. Like Google does - the sort of approach that resulted in Orkut and Google News.

I contend, however, that this is misguided because Sun is not Google. Their approach, technology, focus on software, hiring practices, etc. etc. are diametically opposed. Sun still hasn't produced a Java IDE that can remotely compete with Visual Studio. How in the heck are they going to invent a multi-billion dollar software technology analogous to Google? Ain't gonna happen, IMO. But I hope they surprise me. I know some very good folks who work for Sun.

Google, unlike Microsoft, actually is a technology company, and this technology extends beyond development all the way to operations, which is almost unknown in the software/Internet space. Google has figured out the best computer power per dollar of investment. They've also realized they cannot and should not scale their support linearly with the number of servers. They've introduced better system management tools and better automation, but with a business objective in mind. Corporate IT everywhere else is still thinking in terms of headcount with the more heads the more powerful the manager. Google is smarter than that. They invested in their data center operations from the start while most companies invest as little as possible and pay more after the fact...

...Google shows, just as Adobe did a decade before, that companies CAN compete with Microsoft. But to do so they have to unlock the intellectual talent of their employees and then USE that knowledge. Bringing this story back where it started, I can't see where Sun is doing this. They do not appear at present to have a culture that can grow the company beyond their present business model...

Shake Your Groove Thing

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Why won't this work?

The Loftcube project. Philo asks Joel:

Why won't this work?

An itty-bitty loft you can park on rented roof space. Since this is so incredibly appealing to me if I were single, I have to conclude there's a reason it won't work.

Since you're in urbia, I figured you'd have some theories...

Loftcube: Why won't this work?

And a surprisingly cogent discussion on ARM's from the inimitable FC message board:

HOUSING TARDS: Please talk me out of getting an ARM mortgage.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

More on Gmail

Google Pocket GuideFrom Miscoranda, more analysis of Google's Email Beta:

Details, details. Whilst most people are speculating about privacy concerns, spam handling capabilities, and the length of the beta phase of gmail, I'm still busy examining the minutia of the service...

...The second screenshot is what you get when you click on "Compose email", and shows how relevant entries from your personal contacts lists are displayed in real time, updated with each character you type. The JavaScript that drives all of these features is heavily obfuscated, presumably to deter automated interaction with the interface...

...One of the most common class of questions that I've had is whether the service is suitable for professional use. Commercial business use is forbidden by the Terms of Use...

Miscoranda: More Gmail Beta Testing

100 Flicks that Deserve More Love

Night Falls on ManhattanLooking for flicks and sick of the run-of-the-mill crap? Check out CHUD's Top 100 Films that deserve more love.

Straight out of Naptown

Steel Toes: A Novel by Eddie LittleI just posted this review of Eddie Little's novel Steel Toes.

Straight out of Naptown

Picking up almost immediately at the point that _Another Day In Paradise_ left off, Bobby Prine is killing time in a hard-core Indiana youth facility, trying to avoid the next race riot that will either kill him or send him packing to adult prison. On the razor's edge, he determines that only escape will save him from the fate that awaits him in either correctional facility. With a couple of friends, he does manage to flee... the crew makes their way to New York and then Boston, hooking up with a variety of other crime gangs, some of whom are very dubious partners. Prine's small crew manages to fund themselves through a moderately successful set of crimes, ranging from check-kiting to hijacking.

But a truly big score awaits: a Boston museum is displaying a collection of rare coins that a major collector desperately wants -- and he's willing to pay as much as $600K. Realizing that the competing gangs may double-cross his group, Prine tries to set up a triple-cross. But an increasingly serious drug habit and some girlfriend problems have helped cloud his mind. As the violence escalates, the reader feels just as trapped as Prine: can he survive long enough to realize one final, big score? And clean himself up in the bargain?

Little is straight out of the Eddie Bunker school of crime writers: guys who know exactly what they're talking about and wrap you into a near-psychopathic experience. You'll feel the anger, the addiction, the joy and rgaing pain that Prine experiences. Because this is raw, moving and -- ultimately -- stunning material.

Steel Toes, a novel by Eddie Little

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Google Challenging Microsoft's Monopoly?

Google Pocket GuideInteresting perspective from Mitch Wagner: his contention is that Google is building the world's largest fault tolerant platform. Search, web mapping, web logging, even email are secondary to Google's goal of owning the underlying infrastructure on which billions of folks depend.

"Google is building a huge computer with a custom operating system that everyone on earth can have an account on," wrote Jason Kottke, a web designer and developer, in his weblog,, last week...

"Google's money won't be made with search," Kottke wrote in Feb. 2003. "That's small peanuts compared to selling access to the world's biggest, best, and most cleverly-utilized map of the web. And I have a feeling that they know this... but they're just not letting on..."

...The misconception about Google's core business leads to the surprise over Google's challenge to Microsoft. How could an Internet search company challenge a desktop operating system monopoly? But in retrospect, Google's challenge to Microsoft is obvious. Established technology vendors are not generally challenged by competitors doing the same thing, but better and cheaper. They're challenged by companies that do something different that makes the established technology relatively unimportant...

For example, Microsoft itself didn't unseat IBM by making better, cheaper mainframes...

Google Challenges Microsoft Monopoly

Inquirer on Outsourcing

Strategic Outsourcing: A Structured Approach to Outsourcing Decisions and InitiativesInsightful article from the Inquirer on the drawbacks of outsourcing, with emphasis on call-centers. This should (but probably won't) be must-reading for C-level execs:

[Outsourcing of] ...Customer support is a real stretch, in fact it is basically saying that you don’t want to deal with the only source of income you have. Technical support outsourcing is just plain stupid.

Outsourcing your tech support is more or less the kiss of death for an organisation. Dell recently came to this conclusion. It outsourced its bread and butter corporate support to India, and customer satisfaction went into the toilet. It backpedaled pretty quickly, which is a pretty good indicator that it was hurting sales...

...What most people don’t seem to realize is that it is worse for the company that does the outsourcing. There are two reasons for this, neither one of which is obvious. First is an expansion of the "Institutional Memory" concept I wrote about earlier. If you outsource, you effectively destroy the ability to promote from within. The other is that you place your only contact with the customer in the hands of people who have no economic justification to care...

...When you outsource the call centre, this chain of command and ability to promote from within is irrevocably shattered. Those one in 100 people that HR would kill for get washed away in the next bidding cycle. There is no bottom up knowledge and personnel transfer, the bright ones simply go away...

Web Services

Understanding Web Services: XML, WSDL, SOAP, and UDDILooking for a good overview of web services? WebServiceResource is in the process of creating a portal around the topic. Tutorials, books, technologies all play a part. If it's maintained and built out, it could become a very interesting site.

WebService Resource

Monday, April 12, 2004


BlackoutFrom SecurityFocus comes this excellent technical recap of the problems that resulted in the "Big Blackout" of 14 August 2003. Interestingly, one of the key failures was that of a GE Energy automated alarm system (and, no, it wasn't running Windows :-). Read on...

...To nobody's surprise, the final report on the blackout released by a U.S.-Canadian task force Monday puts most of blame for the outage on Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., faulting poor communications, inadequate training, and the company's failure to trim back trees encroaching on high-voltage power lines. But over a dozen of task force's 46 recommendations for preventing future outages across North America are focused squarely on cyberspace...

...That may have something to do with the timing of the blackout, which came three days after the relentless Blaster worm began wreaking havoc around the Internet -- a coincidence that prompted speculation at the time that the worm, or the traffic it was generating in its efforts to spread, might have triggered or exacerbated the event. When U.S. and Canadian authorities assembled their investigative teams, they included a computer security contingent tasked with looking specifically at any cybersecurity angle on the outage...

...In the end, it turned out that a computer snafu actually played a significant role in the cascading blackout -- though it had nothing to do with viruses or cyber terrorists. A silent failure of the alarm function in FirstEnergy's computerized Energy Management System (EMS) is listed in the final report as one of the direct causes of a blackout that eventually cut off electricity to 50 million people in eight states and Canada.

"There [were] a couple of processes that were in contention for a common data structure, and through a software coding error in one of the application processes, they were both able to get write access to a data structure at the same time,' says Unum. 'And that corruption led to the alarm event application getting into an infinite loop and spinning.'"

SecurityFocus: Tracking the blackout bug

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Linux unsafe for Defense apps?

Linux, Second Edition (Hacking Exposed)Interesting assertion from the head of one of the real-time OS vendors. While he has a vested, business interest in suppressing embedded Linux... one wonders whether there isn't some merit to his statements. The key question: is anyone performing the strict vetting of the Linux kernel and its modules that the Green Hills RTOS underwent?

A storm has erupted in the embedded community, with real-time operating systems house Green Hills charging that Linux is fundamentally insecure and wide open to security breaches by "foreign intelligence agencies and terrorists." ...

...O'Dowd claimed the salient issue is that Linux isn't held to as a high a security standard as is the proprietary "Integrity" RTOS made by Green Hills. "If all they would do is hold Linux to the same standard they hold us to, I'd be happy... At the [Federal Aviation Administration], they have received from us documentation of every single line of source code and tests of every line of code and boundary condition. It costs us $500 to $1,000 a line to review our source code. It would cost billions of dollars to review Linux." ...

...O'Dowd's tough stance may attract attention because he is also taking an unusual public stab at a competitor — embedded Linux powerhouse MontaVista Software. "MontaVista is outsourcing their development to Russia and China. That's not wrong if you're building toaster ovens," O'Dowd said in an interview. "If you're building national security applications, that's a different story. Nobody's even checking if there's anybody putting anything [dangerous] into Linux." ...

EE Times -Green Hills calls Linux 'insecure' for defense

Slashdot followup

When you buy a RTOS, you usually aren't getting compiled executable code. You usually get source code that you need to port to the hardware you are building.

Data sheets like this [] implies that Green Hills adheres to this common practice. So all the open source is more trustworthy than a black box arguments don't apply. Anyone who wishes to deploy a system based on Green Hills' RTOS can audit the code, it isn't hidden from them. Also, this PDF [] linked says:

INTEGRITY178B has been audited and approved by the FAA for DO178B Level A use.

Which to me implies that it has had a more thorough external audit than most open source packages.

One final argument is that an RTOS is usually very small. Their Velocity [] RTOS can run in 3KB of RAM. When the OS is stripped down to something that small, a full audit seems like a much less daunting task.

This implies that he isn't arguing security through obscurity. He is arguing for the cathedral approach vs. the bazaar. Don't get me wrong, he still is spreading FUD. Its just a different FUD than you think. He is ignoring the role that Linus Torvalds and some of his trusted lieutenants like Alan Cox play in planning a direction, vetting ideas, and protecting the stability of the code base. Patches don't just come out of the blue from anonymous sources and applied without any examination, no matter what Dan O'Dowd may think...

Slashdot followup on O'Dowd's assertions

The Rundown -

The Rundown (Widescreen Edition)The Rundown... just posted this review of the DVD on Amazon.

Can't you just imagine the Hollywood pitch meeting that resulted in "The Rundown"?

"Let's see... 'The Rock' will be this really tough bounty-hunter who gets sent to the Amazon River basin to bring back a wanna-be archaeologist (Seann William Scott)... he has to get him out of this hick mining town run by the evil boss (Christopher Walken)... but, in the process, they get lost in the rain-forest! While trying to get back to civilization, they stumble across a priceless treasure and have to keep it from the bad guys! See, it's 'Romancing the Stone' and 'Commando' all in one! It's a can't miss movie!"

Surprisingly, it _is_ a can't miss concept. The lightweight plotting is fleshed out with humor and decent acting by all players. Scott is nothing to write home about, but Rosario Dawson's barmaid character adds beauty and depth. Walken does his usual turn playing the psychotic mine owner. And the Rock has all the requisite charisma, athletic ability and charm to fully justify a 'Rundown 2'.

This is a light, fun action movie that is simple entertainment at its best.

The Rundown (Widescreen Edition)

11 Types of (College Hoops) Message Board Posters

A Season on the BrinkFound a link to this post on the Peegs (Indiana) message boards:

This is off a Big Ten message board, I just thought I'd pass it along.

The 11 Types of College Sports Message Board Posters:

1. John Wooden: The Xs and Os guy who thinks he's the only one on the board who knows what a pick and roll is. Quote: "The reason Wisconsin always get so many foul shots at home is because our inverted swing offense puts opposing players in defensive situations they aren't accustomed to...(bleep). Maybe if you ever played organized basketball you would understand this."
Natural habitat: Iowa City, Champaign, Madison, Lawrence

2. Odysseus: The "classy backstabber." Makes every compliment backhanded. Quote: "Hey guys, congrats on winning the Big Ten from a Spartan fan, even though it was clearly a foul, and your title will always have a asterisk, and your mom's a dirty whore. See you in Indianapolis!!!"
Natural habitat: Madison, East Lansing

3. Blanche DuBois: The pathetic faded debutante holding on to past glory. Quote: "Putting on the Indiana uniform is a greater honor that winning three Nobel Prizes and sleeping with Britney Spears in the same night
Natural habitat: Bloomington, Lawrence, Chapel Hill

4. Fox Mulder: The conspiracy theorist. Quote: "Obviously ESPN is controlled by a secret cabal of Duke grads. I mean, Digger Phelps and Dick Vitale are both 33rd level Freemasons. Put it together, people."
Natural habitat: Champaign...everybody else is in on it.

5. The Voice of the People: The person who always tries to get people to e-mail members of the media to tell them how much we hate them; and why, therefore, they should say nicer things about us. Quote: "Here is Terry Boers' e-mail.e-mail the Score and tell them what a bunch of effing morons they are for not devoting four hours a day to Illini athletics. We need to get the Chicago media behind us!"
Natural habitat: Champaign, Iowa City

6. The Invisible Hand: The person who claims to have intimate connections with coaches, players and recruits. Often creepy. Quote: "I don't want to give away my sources, but I can state with absolute certainty that Shaun Livingston ate corn within the past 24 hours."
Natural habitat: Durham, Lawrence, East Lansing

7. The Fanboy: The seventh grader on his dad's computer. Quote: HEY GUY DON'T YOU THINK PEIRRE PIERCE SHOULD BE TEH BIG TEN POY!!?!??? HE IS TEH SHIZNIT!?!?!?
Natural habitat: Iowa City, Champaign, Ann Arbor

8. Sister Mother Superior: The grammar police, who tries to win arguments by pointing out spelling errors. Often replies using larger than necessary words to show linguistic dominance. Hilarity usually ensues. Quote: "Perhaps I would take "you're" [sic] arguments more seriously, were you to more rigorously adhere to the syntactical rules of the mother tongue. As it is, your (notice how it's spelt) ruminations leave me nonplussed." Natural enemy of: The Fanboy.
Natural habitat: Ubiquitous

9. The CyberLawyer: The person who takes message board arguments way too seriously. Quote:
"If you believe that Devin Harris is better than Deron Williams, please state ten distinct reasons. Cite carefully following Bluebook format. Any failure to comply with these rules will result in me winning. If you use statistics, please include standard deviation figures for each category."
Natural habitat: Madison, Champaign, Iowa City

10. Keyser Sose: The classic hit-and-run artist who gets a password three days before the big game, flaps incessantly, then disappears, never to be seen again. Quote: "Ten Reasons Missouri will beat Illinois:"
Natural habitat: Missouri

11. Rodney Dangerfield: The person who believes that any failure of anyone else to conform to their own rose-colored view evinces a lack of respect for themselves, the program and the United States of America as a whole. Quote: "It's disgusting that the Big Ten coaches didn't put Greg Brunner on the first team. Obviously they don't know anything about's a slap in the face to all of us."
Natural habitat: Ubiquito

11 Types of Message Board Posters

Saturday, April 10, 2004


 76, 81 and 92 Screen SizesI need me a monitor setup like this.

76", 81"and 92" Screen Sizes.
Resolutions from 5120 x 1024 pixels to 25X VGA
at 6400 x 1200 pixels.
All-aluminum custom-built construction.
Ultra-widescreen format for simultaneous display of
multiple pages, windows, applications, graphics, full-
screen audio and video applications.
Ultra-Speed™ Display Technology
Lightning-fast pixel response supporting full-motion
high-frame-rate digital video playback.

Grand Canyon Monitors Features
Digital FortressExcellent quote from the director of the NSA.

I am not really helped by being reminded that I need more Arabic linguists or by someone second-guessing an obscure intercept sitting in our files that may make more sense today than it did two years ago. What I really need you to do is to talk to your constituents and find out where the Americans want the line between security and liberty to be."

-- NSA Director Hayden

Terrorism Research Center

Friday, April 09, 2004

False advertising words?

Selling OnlineIs Google entitled to sell search terms that happen to be trademarked? A fascinating lawsuit brought by Pets Warehouse contends that the major search engines (Google, Overture and Kanoodle) have no right to sell trademarked "ad words".

A trademark infringement lawsuit against Overture, Google, and Kanoodle will move forward, after a judge rejected motions to dismiss the suit...

...The suit alleges the defendants infringed on Pets Warehouse's (PW) trademarks by selling its name as a keyword to their paid placement advertisers. It also accuses them of unfair competition, trademark dilution, deceptive practices, and interference with prospective business advantage.

"Not withstanding PW's exclusive right to control the use of its famous Pets Warehouse mark, Kanoodle, Google and Overture actively assists [sic] competitors of PW in what is best described as a 'bait and switch' of PW's actual and potential customers,"
(Ed: fascinating and -- at face value -- accurate description of how 'ad words'-style programs operate)the suit says... consumers clicking on results on the sites might end up buying from competitors, perhaps without even realizing they aren't on the PW Web site...

Suit Against Google, Overture, Kanoodle Moves Forward

Putting a stake in the heart of 'strcpy'

C Programming Language (2nd Edition)It's about time. Microsoft finally whacked strcpy and his friends. I used to have all sorts of cheesy tricks to force myself and other developers working with me to avoid this class of unsafe function. I wasn't worried (at the time) about buffer overflows causing cracks in my security foundation. I was simply concerned about stability. I had one goal for the software I wrote: never crash and never leak (tough goal in ANSI C, I know!). So I used to #undef strcpy and attempt other cheesy tricks. But using sprintf, strncpy and other alternatives to formatting C's ASCIIZ string buffers has always been flat-out risky.

Every once in a while, we all need to do some serious spring-cleaning, whether it's around the house or in our code. And invariably, when we do start the clean-up effort, we wonder where some of the moldy old crud came from, and why we never noticed it in the past. Some things we keep, and some things we toss out. And if you're anything like me, you replace some of things you throw away with shinier, newer versions.

Let's face it, the C Runtime library is in dire need of a good scrub, and I don't mean a tidy-up, I mean getting in there with steel wool and bleach!

Saying goodbye to an old friend

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Behind the Curtain at Microsoft

Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out
<br />From Technology Review:

On Tuesday Microsoft turned on Channel 9, a community weblog designed to give visitors a glimpse inside the software development process at Microsoft. The site's founders, five Microsoft employees, hope to counter widespread resentment and suspicion among outside software engineers over Microsoft's autocratic control of Windows, the planet's dominant computing platform.

Behind the Curtain at Microsoft

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Garmin eTrex GPS (Yellow)In the future, everyone will be featured on a magazine cover. And they complain about GMail. Geez.

When the 40,000 subscribers to Reason, the monthly libertarian magazine, receive a copy of the June issue, they will see on the cover a satellite photo of a neighborhood - their own neighborhood. And their house will be graphically circled.

On one level, the project, sort of the ultimate in customized publishing, is unsurprising: of course a magazine knows where its subscribers live. But it is still a remarkable demonstration of the growing number of ways databases can be harnessed. Apart from the cover image, several advertisements are customized to reflect the recipient's particulars.

Putting 40,000 Readers, One by One, on a Cover

Google Pocket GuideT he Secret Source of Google's Power...

Much is being written about Gmail, Google's new free webmail system. There's something deeper to learn about Google from this product than the initial reaction to the product features, however. Ignore for a moment the observations about Google leapfrogging their competitors with more user value and a new feature or two. Or Google diversifying away from search into other applications; they've been doing that for a while. Or the privacy red herring.

No, the story is about seemingly incremental features that are actually massively expensive for others to match, and the platform that Google is building which makes it cheaper and easier for them to develop and run web-scale applications than anyone else.

The secret source of Google's power

And a related, important article that was linked on the above page: a fascinating description (from academia, no less) of Google's server- and file-system organization.

The Google File System

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Google Pocket GuideNow that Google's going into the email business, everyone's wondering: what will the interface will look like? How will it be different and improved from conventional mail? Will ads or related links get in the way?

Kevin Fox is a Google employee responsible (I think) for GMail's user interface. Here are some screen shots:


Monday, April 05, 2004

Culture and Customs of NigeriaTurns out he wasn't really the widow of General Sani Abacha...

A Nigerian conman who tricked people into handing over money and personal data in expectation of receiving a huge windfall has been sentenced to 20 months in prison by a Welsh court.

Peter Okoeguale, 33, who was arrested in Wales while is the process of committing one such '419' scam, also faces deportation from the UK at the end of his sentence...

Nigerian '419' scammer sent to prison -

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Justice League of America Archives Vol. 3
Justice League of America unveils anti-terror reorganization
Superman: "We recognize a compelling need to change."

METROPOLIS (UPSI) -- Saying the terrorist attacks of September 11 "marked a turning point for the Justice League," acting director Superman unveiled a dramatic reorganization marking a change in the JLA's priorities from crime-fighting to preventing terrorism. The association of crime-fighting super-heroes, consisting of Batman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Aquaman had been criticized sharply in recent months for failing to protect the American public from terrorist attacks.

After September 11, said Superman, "It had become clear that we had to fundamentally alter the way we do business." The super-hero outlined a series of steps designed to change the Justice League from its former crime-fighting stance to one aligned against terrorist groups. The head of the JLA also acknowledged that its earlier anti-terror efforts were flawed, bowing to strong criticism by the press.

"It's no secret that (former JLA counter-terror head) Aquaman had undergone counseling for a substance-abuse problem," Superman stated, "he did not meet our expectations for counter-terror leadership. And let's be clear about all of our activities prior to 9/11: Lex Luthor and the Joker are not the threats they once were... they live in retirement homes." Superman, who took over as acting head of the JLA only a week before the attacks, unveiled a list of Justice League priorities, the first of which read, "Protect the United States from terrorist attacks."

"When I replaced the Flash as acting head of the JLA," the man of steel stated, "the terrorist threat was not in our normal scope of operations. In fact, on 9/11, I myself was flying from New York to an undisclosed location for a class reunion.

[Story continued on page A12]