Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why OpenSource Software

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Cool electric alternative

The 2-passenger Myers Motors DUO

Very cool but a bit pricey at over $25,000.
Let me lease this and I am IN!!!

Motivational Monday

The Power of Positive Interactions


John Gottman's pioneering research found that marriages are much more likely to succeed when the couple experiences a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions whereas when the ratio approaches 1 to 1, marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Additional research also shows that workgroups with positive to negative interaction ratios greater than 3 to 1 are significantly more productive than teams that do not reach this ratio.

So what does this mean for you and me? For most of us it means we need to increase the number of positive interactions we have at home and at work and reduce our negative interactions.

We need to engage each other with more smiles, kind words, encouragement, gratitude, meaningful conversations, honest dialogues and sincere positive interactions. And to foster these actions we need to create personal and team rituals that help us interact more positively. If we make them part of our organizational process and individual habits they are more likely to happen.

For instance, at home you might decide to take a walk with your spouse each night after dinner and talk about the positive things that happened at work. The more you practice this the more it will become ingrained in your life. At work you might make it a point to smile at your co-workers and customers more often. As a manager you would spend more time praising your employees for the things they do right rather than always focusing on what everyone is doing wrong. A manager I know makes it a point to personally praise 5 people every week. As an organization you might gather all of your employees on a call once a day to share a positive message. Or perhaps you might gather your sales team together each week and have your team members share success stories. The ideas are infinite. The key is to intentionally cultivate more positive interactions to fuel success.

However, please know that this doesn't mean we should never have negative interactions. There is research by Barbara Fredrickson from the University of Michigan that shows if a work group in a company experiences a positive to negative interaction ratio of 13 to 1 the work group will be less effective. This implies that no one is willing to confront the real problems and challenges that are holding them back. Sometimes we need to confront a situation to move past it and, as we know, ignoring problems that stare us in the face doesn't work. Negative interactions are necessary so long as they occur much less frequently than positive interactions.

Positive interactions are essential to a healthy marriage, positive work environment and individual and team success. In this spirit when you are finished reading this, I encourage you to go thank someone at work or at home and let them know how they impacted your life in a positive way. Then make it a habit.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Motivational Moment

Thought for the Day

January 22, 2010


There is no such thing as failure, unless it is accepted as such. Every defeat is temporary unless you give up and allow it to become permanent. In fact, temporary defeat often makes us stronger and more capable. Each time we try and fail, we learn something that helps prepare us for eventual success. Only in the classroom is there a single correct answer for every problem. If you try an approach that doesn’t work, try something else. When you view adversity as nothing more than a learning experience, your successes in life will far outnumber your failures.

This positive message is brought to you by the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Visit us at http://www.naphill.org.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Are You Ready For An Open Source Car?

Are You Ready For An Open Source Car?

Software isn't the only thing open; open source could change the auto game

By Alan Shimel
Admit it, when many of you think of open source you assume software. But new concepts of open source in hardware and design promise to transform many industries. Open Source's allure of faster, more agile development, quicker innovation and accelerating evolution of technology doesn't apply to software alone.

The first time I heard of open source hardware was when both my friend Brad Feld and Fred Wilson wrote about Bug Labs in their blogs. I was intrigued by the idea but didn't quite grok it. I knew that if Brad and Fred invested in it there must be something to it and I would watch it develop. But the idea seems to have some legs.

The auto industry could be one place where open source hardware and design stand things on its head. The auto industry is certainly ready for change. It looks like the next generation of vehicles could come from upstart companies seeking a better distribution and development model than the behemoths who dominate now (sounds familiar to us in the software world doesn't it?)

I came across two articles today on open source vehicles. Two in one day is just too coincidental. Usually where there is smoke there is fire and I can smell something cooking here. The open source vehicle model has the potential bring real change to the struggling auto industry.

The first article is in The Ecologist and talks about a company called Riversimple. Riversimple has spent the last 9 years developing a hydrogen fuel cell powered electric car. The care promises to be ultra efficient and exponentially cleaner than anything available today. I will spare us all of the technical details of the car's performance and jump to the quick though (there is a good YouTube at the end of this story though if you are interested in that stuff). Another breakthrough concept that the Riversimple people have is releasing the designs for the car under an open source licensing model. Hugo Spowers of Riversimple had this to say about an open source model for autos, "There is such a yawning gap between the environmental performance of cars and what is sustainable, that I don’t believe a purely competitive world can ever get us there. Open source really does produce this constant and very rapid drive toward absolute excellence, which I think is needed in the current circumstances. I have precious little faith in regulation ever pushing us in that direction."

You know what, forget he is talking about cars and his statement can be applied to open source anywhere. Riversimple has put their money where their mouth is too. They have established the 40 Fires Foundation that is open to all to share expertise and develop technologies. According to the Ecologist article the foundation already has more than 300 members. The Riversimple folks believe the open source model will also be particularly appealing to 3rd world countries that won't have to pay the licensing and other overhead costs they currently do for large corporations and countries allowing their technology to be used in these smaller countries. Again, not dissimilar to open source software.

The second article on open source vehicles is on the TREXA EV electric platform. The platform allows 3rd parties to build upon a standard chassis with any type of body and accessories they would like. I did not see any mention of licensing though and in this case, open source I think refers more to the flexibility than in actually allowing for innovation in the underlying vehicle.

Both of these go to show that what is appealing about open source in software can be equally appealing in hardware. We may yet one day see a Red Hat of the car industry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Virus attack hits Vista machines, cripples university network

Virus attack hits Vista machines, cripples university network

Posted by Zack Whittaker

A massive virus attack has hit the University of Exeter resulting in the entire network being shut down both by the virus and the network staff in an attempt to protect the infrastructure.

The virus hit the network on Monday and is still having major implications even now - two days later. According to the IT support email:

“…this is a completely new virus and we are the only organisation in the world to experience it. None of the mainstream virus software suppliers have seen this virus, and as such, there is no fix.”

It’s unclear if this virus is entirely unique, but it does highlight the challenges of security.

According to my source within the university, they are attempting to fix the issues with MS09-050, which details a vulnerability in Windows Vista (including SP1 and SP2), along with Windows Server 2008 (SP1 and SP2), which allows remote code execution.

The network status page for the university was updated earlier on today to state that the “virus is only prevalent in machines running Vista SP2″, and as a result they brought the network offline to limit any further spread. They were also advising that anyone with a Vista machine, either a public machine or a laptop, should not connect to the network until further notice.

Since then, the status page now shows that certain areas of the network are now running and are slowly being brought online - but still avoiding machines which are susceptible to the exploit.

Internal network users would have had no access to the web or email, however off-campus users can now use the dedicated student portal, the Outlook Web Access email system and VPN capabilities. The virtual learning environment (VLE) was brought offline which means students and learners will have had no electronic access to their study materials. Even phone systems which rely on VoIP technology had been affected and were disconnected from the network.

Student residences and halls of residence are still currently offline but this will be one of the priorities, yet most of the network has now been restored. David Allen, registrar and deputy chief executive of the university, has assured students that any delay to handing in work will be treated sympathetically and will have “arranged short term extensions… as appropriate”.

Other campuses of the university and connecting networks have been isolated, removing the branch office element and cutting campuses off from each other to limit further damage.

An internal email from the network security administration has been quoted as saying, “This is what happens when SUS [software update service] admins don’t auto-approve”, suggesting someone managing the network updates hadn’t patched the exploitable computers with the appropriate fix, leading to this issue.

The virus is believed to have come from inside the network according to my source; whether via a student PC or a staff PC is not yet known. Other networks which connect to the Exeter network, such as external colleges and campuses have been patched and are “using nmap’ping the network for Vista machines to stop them accessing the network”.

Whether anything was stolen or hacked as a result of this breach is unknown.

Vista has seemed to live to die another day, and maybe for Exeter, this day will be sooner rather than later. However, universities and institutions are stuck with Vista if they have already upgraded due to compatibility issues and the lack of support available now for XP. After the disruption caused to staff and students as a result of this breach, not to mention the money lost, I wouldn’t blame them if they thought an immediate upgrade to Windows 7 or even another operating system would be a wise investment.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The so-called “God Mode”

The so-called “God Mode”

by Brandon

A rather goofy “trick” has been making the rounds over the last couple days, which was described by Ina Fried on CNET as follows:

By creating a new folder in Windows 7 and renaming it with a certain text string at the end, users are able to have a single place to do everything from changing the look of the mouse pointer to making a new hard drive partition.

Apparently people decided to call this “God Mode” because to enable this “trick” you make a folder called GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C} and double-click on it. Now you can see… the control panel. With a slightly different view than you normally see it in.

So first off, why is this completely silly? Well, the text ”GodMode” has nothing to do with making the trick work. You can call the folder “ILikePuppies.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}” and now you’ve discovered the magical “ILikePuppies” feature hidden in Windows.

Well, not really. What you’ve actually discovered are two things:

First, you’ve discovered a documented feature of the shell whereby filesystem folders can be easily made into namespace junctions, as described here on MSDN. Basically, any folder named . will show up with just the portion visible in Explorer, and navigating into the folder will take you to the namespace root defined by the portion of the name. This isn’t a user feature, it’s a developer feature.

The second thing you’ve discovered is the “All Tasks” folder. This is a special shell folder which is used as the source of the “Control Panel” search results seen in the Start menu. This folder was not designed to be browsed to directly, as the normal Control Panel folder (accessible via Start -> Control Panel) contains all the same items but with a custom view designed to be easier to navigate. The “All Tasks” folder has no custom view, so you just see the standard Explorer list view and little else.

The existence of this folder and its CLSID are implementation details and should not be relied upon by anybody for any purpose*.

God Mode? Hardly.

Props to Ed Bott for his earlier post about this “trick.”

* = Update: The intended meaning of this statement was, “please don’t use this folder / CLSID in your app for anything, since it will probably break in the future.” If you like using this view and are happy with an unsupported untested trick for your own personal use, then by all means, enjoy it.

Top 10 Skills in Demand in 2010

Top 10 Skills in Demand in 2010

By Linda Leung

In the Global Knowledge/TechRepublic 2010 Salary Survey, conducted at that end of last year, one of the questions put to respondents was "What skill set will your company be looking to add in 2010?" The skills listed by respondents include the perennial favorites: security, network administration, and Windows administration. Also included are virtualization/cloud computing and Web development. Meanwhile, an old favorite, business analysis, makes a come back. Here's the complete list, with the No. 1 skill listed being in the highest demand.

As we emerge from the recession, organizations aren't likely to go back to the go-go days of throwing money at IT initiatives or taking risks and deploying without careful thought and planning. Organizations are putting pressure on IT to only implement projects that can show real return-on-investment. The first step to achieving a good ROI is professional project planning and implementation.

Project management skills often appear in top 10 skills lists, perhaps because some organizations got their fingers burned in the 1990s through the poor implementation of IT projects such as enterprise resource planning initiatives. But even though the profession is mature (in IT terms), project managers still have work to do to advance their status within organizations. According to an article on the Project Management Institute Web site, project managers still have to develop their people skills, organizational leadership, and individual professionalism.

It's a never-ending game of cat and mouse for security professionals and 2009 proved to be another fun filled year. According to Symantec's Security and Storage Trends to Watch report, the number of spam messages containing malware increased nine-fold to represent more than 2% of e-mails, while other criminals manipulated people's love of social networking sites to launch attacks. Twitter, for example, spent much of 2009 battling DDoS and other attacks. Meanwhile, top headlines, such as the H1N1 flu and the death of Michael Jackson were used by criminals to lure people to download malware.

Symantec predicts more of the same in 2010, warning that attackers will continue to use social engineering to get to consumers' sensitive data, and criminals will take Windows 7 as a challenge for seeking and exploiting vulnerabilities in the new platform. Mac and smartphones will also be targeted more by malware authors, Symantec says.

Despite the economic challenges of '09, organizations continued to hire security pros. The most sought-after security skills were information risk management, operations security, certification and accreditation, security management practices, and security architecture and models, according to a survey last year of 1,500 U.S.-based security pros by security certification provider ISC2. 2010 is expected to be another busy year from security professionals.

Networking administration skills never lose their luster. It's the second most sought after skill in the Global Knowledge survey and it will be the top skill sought by CIOs in the first quarter of 2010, according to a survey of IT chiefs by Robert Half Technology. In 2010, organizations are expected to upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Windows 7 client, and perhaps install Exchange Server 2010 and SharePoint 2010. Enterprises are going to need network administrators to ensure network traffic continues to move without a hitch.

Meanwhile, Cisco hopes to push more data-intensive traffic onto corporate networks. Video is a key focus for Cisco in 2010 as it works to finalize its control of video conferencing maker Tandberg and through its 2009 purchase of Pure Digital, developer of the Flip video camera. At the end of last year, Cisco introduced two TelePresence certifications: the Cisco TelePresence Solutions Specialist for midcareer voice or networking engineers seeking to specialize in the planning, design and implementation of Cisco TelePresence; and TelePresence Installation Specialist aimed at installation technicians.

The projected cost savings and efficiencies are no-brainers for organizations seeking to implement virtualization and cloud computing. With the cloud computing space now taking shape it's difficult for enterprises to find pros with substantial relevant experience. Instead companies are drawing expertise from a range of IT skill sets, including storage, networks and desktop, according to a Network World article. Initially companies will set up cross-functional teams to buy and implement virtualization, but eventually cloud computing will be an expected skill set of systems administrators. In a few years, it could even be a standard skill set of all IT pros because it touches different aspects of IT.

For details about virtualization certifications from leading virtualization software vendors VMware, Citrix and Microsoft, see Global Knowledge's Top IT Certifications in Demand Today newsletter of June 2009.

Business analysis roles were commonplace in many organizations in the 1990s when big projects, such as enterprise resource planning initiatives, required the critical thinking that business analysts could provide. But as businesses began moving at a faster pace, business analysis fell by the wayside. Factors such as the economic downturn and regulatory compliance have forced companies to take a step back and to think through business problems and their solutions, and business analysis is making a comeback, as a result. Kathleen Barret, president of the International Institute of Business Analysis says the discipline is a phoenix rising.

The IIBA describes the job of a BA as a "liaison among stakeholders in order to elicit, analyze, communicate, and validate requirements for changes to business processes, policies, and information systems." IT pros are good candidates for BA jobs because they have a broad perspective of a company's business, says Barret. There are three types of BAs: enterprise BAs who identify opportunities for business change and defines the work to be done; transition BAs who fine-tunes the plans; and project BAs who work on project teams that implement the changes. Annual salaries average around $75,000 with enterprise and transition analysts earning more, Barret says.

For more about business analysis, see the IIBA's Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge.

With project management and business analysis skills appearing in this skills list, it's no surprise that business process improvement skill is also here. Business process improvement and business analysis go hand-in-hand. Business analysts identify areas for improvements to business processes, while business process improvement or management pros use BPM techniques and technologies to help companies optimize their business processes.

A recent BPM survey by IT researchers, the Aberdeen Group says the top reasons business are driving BPM activity are the need to reduce operating costs and to improve cash flow. However, the top barrier to adoption was the lack of knowledge about BPM. According to Gartner, among the competencies required for successful BPM initiatives include process skills, tools and process assets, and transformation skills.

To learn more about BPM, go to the Web site of the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI.org), which promotes the standardization of common business processes; and the BPMinstitute.org, which describes itself as a peer-to-peer exchange for business process management professionals.

If you are -- or you know friends who are -- addicted to the FarmVille game on Facebook you'll know the power of Web development. In just a few short months, FarmVille's popularity has spread across the globe as Facebook fans tend to their farms and purchase virtual goods. The game, including others by FarmVille developer Zynga, has netted the start-up more than 200 million monthly unique users for its online apps. One financial analyst reckons Zynga could be valued at $1 billion if it were to go IPO in mid-2010.

Developing Facebook games is just one extreme of the vast Web development spectrum. Building iPhone apps could also be very profitable, writes Web developer and blogger Glen Stansberry. As moderator of the Freelance Switch job board, Stansberry listed other popular Web development skills including Framework knowledge, widget development, content management system customizations (for small businesses looking to create a unique look to their standard Wordpress and Drupal blogs), and Javascript Plugin creation.

Databases are the hearts of key business systems that drive payroll, manufacturing, sales, transaction processing, and more. Programmers must be able to build programs that quickly and efficiently interface with the database management system (DBMS), while database administrators "must be able to bring the full power of database features to bear on business problems", writes Oracle- and IBM-certified DBA Howard Fosdick in his whitepaper Database Skills Availability: Critical to Your Selection of Database. "DBA expertise can be the Achilles' heel of database projects - many IT projects have failed due to the inability to secure DBA talent or successfully address DBA issues," he adds.

The major database vendors are Oracle, IBM and Sybase. Oracle runs three main certification programs for database professionals. Oracle Certified Associate is the first rung of the Oracle certification ladder. Next is the flagship Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) credential, which certifies an individual's ability to manage, develop, or implement enterprise-wide databases and other software. Oracle Certified Master (OCM) is Oracle most advanced accreditation. IBM offers a dizzying array of certifications surrounding its DB2 product series. The main credentials are IBM Certified Database Associate, Database Administrator, Application Developer, and Advanced Database Administrator. Sybase has two sets of certifications for its Adaptive Server Enterprise product: ASE Administrator Associate and ASE Administrator Professional; and ASE Developer Associate and ASE Developer Professional.

As previously mentioned, Microsoft shops are expected in 2010 to upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Windows 7 client, and perhaps install Exchange Server 2010 and SharePoint 2010 as well. Windows administration skills is going to be key for many enterprises implementing and maintaining existing and upgraded systems.

Microsoft Windows Server 2008 certifications at the MCTS level cover configurations for Active Directory, networking, and applications. Certifications available for the MCITP level are Server 2008 Server Administration, Enterprise Administration. In a November blog posting in Microsoft's Born to Learn blog, the company wrote that the first of its Windows Server 2008 virtualization exams would be entering beta soon. The exams will cover server virtualization, desktop virtualization, and virtualization administration. Windows 7 pros can certify as MCTS: Windows 7 - Configuration, and MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7.

Our recent article "Top Certifications in Demand Today" listed desktop support as a hot skill. In Global Knowledge's 2010 salary survey, it was named as the 10th most sought-after skill this year. In the June article, we quoted Robert Half Technology Executive Director Dave Willmer as saying that businesses will need desktop support personnel to support new workers as organizations begin hiring as the economy improves. The introduction of Microsoft Windows 7 is also expected to generate additional interest.

Microsoft currently provides the MCITP: Consumer Support Technician, and MCITP: Enterprise Support Technician certifications, but they are based on Windows Vista. Microsoft, in its Born to Learn blog, in November said that it is working on a MCITP: Windows 7, Enterprise Desktop Support Technican certification. Prospective candidates are advised to prepare for 680: Win 7, Configuring and 685: Win 7, EDST

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Technology Promises to Make Tap Water Cleaner as Green Consumers Flee Bottled Water

Technology Promises to Make Tap Water Cleaner as Green Consumers Flee Bottled Water By: Dennis McCafferty |
A number of new tech advancements are bringing clean tap water to the public, including one that not only lets consumers purify their own water but evaluates how pure the water is and others that use the moisture that's in the air for clean water.

For a relatively bland product—by definition, it should have no taste, be colorless and otherwise lack distinguishing characteristics—water sure can stir up controversy. Especially when it comes to the constant debates over the merits of bottled verses tap.

The bottled water industry is frequently criticized for being an environmental polluter—what with all the discarded plastic bottles, often made from petroleum. A 2001 report indicated that about 1.5 million tons of plastic is expended in the bottling of 89 billion liters of water each year. Then, there's the debate over whether the products themselves are really as "pure" as billed.

Seeking alternatives, researchers are constantly trying to come up with ways to make tap water cleaner and healthier. That's easier said than done, as one research finding indicates that there are more than 2,100 known drinking water contaminants in what flows from the tap.

Fortunately, progress is being made on all fronts.

Technological developments have improved the recycling rates of water bottles to more than 30 percent now, up by nearly one-third over the 2007 rate, according to the International Bottled Water Association. Since 2000, the average weight per bottle has declined by nearly 27 percent, to 13.83 grams. And Nestle Waters is coming out with a bottle that contains 25 percent less plastic than the current version, weighing an average of 9.3 grams. It's now rolling the product out in its Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Nestle Pure Life and other brands. The company also plans to develop a bottle made entirely of recycled materials by 2020.

Certainly, such progress means that Americans can be somewhat relieved of the "guilt factor" when it comes to buying a bottle at the local convenience store. But many still seek filtered tap water products as the ultimate "earth-friendly" solution. The challenge is coming up with technologies that effectively remove trace amounts of heavy metals like lead, mercury and aluminum, as well as carcinogens like chlorine and fluorine—not to mention nasty bugs like E. coli.

Fortunately, there have been entrepreneurial tech advancements here too: A product called ZeroWater allows consumers to not only purify their own water through a filtration system, but evaluate how pure it is. It provides what it calls a TDS Meter (which stands for "total dissolved solids") that gives a quality rating. It works for bottled, tap and well water. It also provides a recycling program for its filters.

Getting clean water from the air is another area of continued interest. An invention called EcoloBlue uses a multi-staged filtration system in which air passes through an air filter and is then condensed to extract water particles, which are sterilized by a nanometer. The sterile water is transferred to a storage tank before passing through a series of filters. After a three-stage filtering process by carbon, RO membrane and bio-ceramic filters, the water passes through a UV light system and is transferred into a cold or hot tank. The hot water cycle is complete, and the cold water will pass through one more light system before completing the purification process.

Another similar solution, Dewpointe, also uses the moisture that's in the air for clean water. With an estimated 3.1 quadrillion gallons of free water in the atmosphere, the Dewpointe water-generation system extracts this moisture for a reported 99.99 percent pure water product.

More Plastic, More Petroleum? No More

More Plastic, More Petroleum? No More By: Dave Greenfield |
Novomer generates a bioplastic technology that cuts the use of oil in half, creating a cleaner, greener plastic.

Few materials are as versatile and durable as plastic. The problem is that manufacturing them has always used an enormous amount of petroleum. One company, Novomer, thinks it has a solution: Its bioplastic technology cuts the use of oil in half, creating a cleaner, greener plastic.

“With about 10 percent of all crude oil and natural gas in the U.S. being used for plastics manufacturing, the benefits of [Novomer's] PPC [polypropylene carbonate] being commercialized are not only for a greener solution when compared to current materials, it is also lower in cost and offers higher performance for many applications," says Colleen Ryan, spokesperson for New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

NYSERDA recently granted Novomer $800,000 to commercialize its bioplastic technology. Novomer will be working with both Kodak and the Rochester Institute of Technology to complete the project.

The Problem at Hand

Recently, a campaign against disposable water bottles highlighted the connection between plastic waste and oil consumption: Americans go through 1,500 plastic water bottles each second. At the same time, 17 billion barrels of oil are used each year to produce the bottles used in bottled water alone. At a time when gas prices have been at an all-time high, finding a way reduce the amount of oil needed to produce plastics is becoming critical.

Novomer’s technology produces plastics from CO2 and petroleum. The PPC materials created by Novomer use only half the oil of traditional plastic manufacturing. A zinc-based catalyst is used to bind CO2 to liquid epoxides in a reactor. This creates a viscous liquid that is used to make bottles, plastic wrap and coatings for products.

The best part, from an economic standpoint, is that bioplastics such as this can be produced using existing manufacturing technologies and infrastructures. So it is comparable in price to conventional plastics and will not require more petroleum to create new technologies or manufacturing plants.

Green technology catches on when it is economically feasible, especially in the current economy. Not only is Novomer's process no more expensive than traditional methods and it uses much less fuel, but the company's Novomer’s bioplastics have a vastly improved oxygen barrier compared with conventional products. This will help food stay fresh longer, which may result in less food waste. In addition, the bio-PPC weighs less than traditional plastics, which will also reduce the cost of transportation.

The domino effect, in this case, may be positive—at least from the perspective of the CEO selling the technology. “Novomer's ability to reduce petroleum usage by at least 50 percent—while also converting CO2 from pollution into valuable materials—has the potential to transform the plastics and materials landscape on a global scale,” says Jim Mahoney, Novomer’s CEO.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tech Tools Tell the Story of Earthquake in Haiti

Tech Tools Tell the Story of Earthquake in Haiti

With phone service out, many people turn to Twitter and Skype to communicate.
By Ian Paul

The worst earthquake to hit the Caribbean in 200 years struck Haiti on Tuesday. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the Haitian Capital of Port-au-Prince, where it devastated the tiny nation, causing an unknown number of deaths and widespread destruction. But despite being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti's Internet connected devices were key tools in telling the rest of the world about the emerging crisis.

Twitter, Blogs, and Facebook

Twitter was a key tool for distributing images and information from Haiti -- just as it has been in a number of other crises across the globe. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that images sent via Twitpic and other Twitter-based photo services were hitting the Internet long before news agencies produced anything similar. And as Haitian officials were giving their reports on what happened, eyewitness accounts from Haitians in messages of 140 characters or less were already widespread.

Haitian radio and television host Carel Pedre was one of the most prominent figures using Twitter to communicate with the outside world. "DIGICEL IS WORKING! CALL UR FAMILY NOW!!" Pedre posted in one tweet early Wednesday morning. Another Twitter user, Miami-based Marvin Ady, posted photos on Twitpic he said he'd been receiving from Haiti. Richard Morse used Twitter to convey a sense of how the people were reacting to the devastation: "I'm hearing singing and praying from the carrefour feuilles area. My prayers go out to the folks there."

A Wordpress-powered blog called Haitifeed is also delivering a steady stream of first-hand accounts as well as mainstream media reports from across the globe.

Reports from citizen journalists are also coming in to CNN's iReport desk where they are vetted by CNN's editorial staff.

On Facebook, a group called Earthquake Haiti already has over 14,000 members. The group is largely being used for people to show support and trade news reports; however, there are some users who seem to be posting critical information including pleas for assistance to injured Haitians.


With telephone service toppled due to the earthquake, those on the ground turned to Skype to speak with the media, aid organizations, or to communicate with loved ones overseas. A Connecticut-based missionary organization that works in Haiti used Skype to communicate with their people there to get a sense of the devastation. Pedre also used Skype to give CBS News and many other media organizations a first-hand report about Haiti's crisis.

Pedre Speaks with CBS News:

What's not clear, however, is whether Haitians are using these technologies to communicate and help each other. From what I've seen so far, the use of tools like Twitter and Facebook are more helpful for delivering news about Haiti to the outside world instead of aiding those directly affected by the crisis--a recurring theme that we've already seen play out in places like Iran and India.

Google may pull out of China after cyberattacks

Google may pull out of China after cyberattacks

Following attacks targeting Gmail accounts of human rights activists, Google will stop censorship of Google.cn

By Nancy Gohring

Google has decided to stop censoring its results in China and could end up closing its operations and shutting down its search engine there, the company said Tuesday.

The decision follows an attack on Google's servers in mid-December that targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google said in a blog post.

“These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered -- combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web -- have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China,” David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, wrote in the post.

In mid-December the company detected a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” coming from China on its infrastructure that resulted in some of its intellectual property being stolen, Drummond wrote. He didn't disclose exactly what had been stolen.

Google later discovered it was not the only company targeted. “As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses -- including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors -- have been similarly targeted,” Drummond said.

Google said it is in the process of notifying those companies and also working with U.S. authorities.

In addition, it found that the primary goal of the attacker seemed to be accessing Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Drummond said only two Gmail accounts were accessed, and that only account information and not the content of e-mails was accessed.

But separately, Google found that Gmail accounts of “dozens” of human rights advocates in the U.S., China and Europe have been “routinely accessed by third parties,” Drummond wrote. Those break-ins most likely happened as a result of phishing scams or malware and not through a security breach, he said.

“We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech,” Drummond wrote.

Google, like many other technology companies, has come under fire for bowing to censorship requirements imposed by the Chinese government. Google has argued in the past that it is better for China if Google operates any service there that increases access to information, even a censored one.

But Drummond said Google has always pledged to monitor conditions in the country and reconsider its approach if necessary. The company has now decided to review the feasibility of its operations in China.

“We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China,” he wrote.

It would be a remarkable and unexpected turnaround for Google, which has invested heavily in China to tap into its fast-growing Internet population, which already outnumbers that of the U.S. and is growing fast.

It has, however, been a difficult road for Google, which has struggled to win significant market share against Baidu.com. The Chinese search leader accounted for nearly 70 percent of online searches in China late last year, compared to about 20 percent for Google, according to China IntelliConsulting.

Simultaneous with the disclosure of the hacking incident, Google’s Enterprise division president sought to reassure corporate customers the data they have stored in Google’s servers is likely safe.

“We believe Google Apps and related customer data were not affected by this incident,” Google Enterprise President Dave Girouard wrote in an official blog.

“This attack may understandably raise some questions, so we wanted to take this opportunity to share some additional information and assure you that Google is introducing additional security measures to help ensure the safety of your data,” Girouard wrote, without being specific about what Google will do differently.

The Center for Democracy and Technology praised Google’s decision to reconsider its position in China.

“Google has taken a bold and difficult step for Internet freedom in support of fundamental human rights. No company should be forced to operate under government threat to its core values or to the rights and safety of its users,” Leslie Harris, the CDT’s president, said in a statement.

Monday, January 11, 2010

TRON returns in December 2010 in 3D.

Greetings program. The game grid is waiting for YOU.

Security Alerts from Sophos

Sophos enews: the newswire which brings you up-to-the-minute reports on virus, spyware and spam issues, new Sophos products and enhancements.

Spammed out Amazon Shipping Update contains malware
Online shoppers are being warned to be wary of a fake Amazon Shipping message which comes with a dangerous attached Trojan horse. Learn more about the threat now, and check that your computer systems are protected.

Banking malware found on Android Marketplace
Android smartphones such as the Google Nexus One and the Motorola Droid have been making the headlines, and now it is reported that a Trojan designed to phish online banking details was published in the Android Marketplace. The app has now been withdrawn, but could have allowed its authors to commit identity theft. Discover more about the growing problem of mobile malware.

Bogus tax refund emails lead to online phishing frenzy
As 2010 started, hackers began spamming out fake notifications of tax refunds claiming to come from the authorities. As Sophos expert Paul Ducklin explains, some of these attacks use an interesting social engineering trick called "transitive phishing". Discover more about the hackers' plot, and be on your guard against similar attacks.

Sophos videos - helping you educate your workforce about security
If you're responsible for ensuring your company stays safe from the latest security threats then you'll appreciate the value that video demonstrations can bring to your organisation. Keep your workforce interested in security issues by using our video content in your own training sessions. You can even subscribe to the Sophos YouTube channel to be automatically informed whenever we post a new video.

Friday, January 08, 2010

SpamAssassin '2010' bug blocked email across world

SpamAssassin '2010' bug blocked email across world

New Year email marked as spam.
By John E. Dunn

If you sent an email in the first few hours of 2010, there is a chance that it never reached its recipient thanks to an embarrassing '2010' bug buried in the open source SpamAssassin anti-spam engine used by many Internet Service Providers.

According to a UK-based techie who first blogged on the issue, the fault lies with the 'FH_DATE_PAST_20XX' rule used in conjunction with many others by the program to score the likelihood of an email being spam. This assigns an especially high score to any email it encounters that has within its header a date beyond a defined point in the future, normally a reliable sign that the email in question is suspicious.

Unfortunately, due to an oversight this rule was not updated in compiled versions of Apache SpamAssassin 3.2.0 thru 3.2.5 in time for the turning of the year, and so any email sent with a sending date between 2010 and 2099 would have had the higher score applied to it automatically.

Although this on its own would be unlikely to have stopped an email, it is likely that the number of false positives would have increased dramatically until service providers noticed the issue. Non-packaged versions of SpamAssassin would not have been affected, though only a small minority of users download the software in this form.

It is impossible to say how many emails were affected, but reports have emerged of false positives in Sweden, Germany, and The Netherlands. According to Daniel Axster, CEO of Swedish open source anti-spam company CronLab, the effects of the bug would have been global, affecting every country from the point it crossed the date line.

"Almost all ISPs use the standard rule set with some modifications," he said, describing the problem as probably having affected providers for anything from minutes and hours to days in some cases.

According to Axster, the lessons were that providers should update filters regularly, archive spam for a period of a month or more in case of problems, and offer end users a mechanism to check their filtered emails for false positives. All of these techniques were used by his company.

"Customers should simply not accept having their emails deleted if suspected as spam, but rather have them stored for a while so the ISP can do further analysis on the emails," he said. "ISPs and filtering providers need to up their game."

SpamAssassin issued a fix rapidly once it had been made aware of the problem, with advice offered from a help page on its website.

For ordinary users who worry that they might have been affected, but without a spam review report to check, the solution will have to be more basic - hit the resend button.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

An idea to save Detroit

An idea to save Detroit and other beleaguered urban areas: return it to farmland

By Joe McKendrick

Detroit, Michigan is one of those places even hard luck has chosen to pass by. The city, long tied to the auto industry, has lost most of its manufacturing base, and close to a third of the 139-square mile cityscape is abandoned land and buildings.

What to do with all that abandoned space? Let the city take it over and convert it to parks and recreation areas? Not plausible for a cash-strapped municipal government stretched far beyond its means just providing basic services.

John Hantz, founder and owner of Hantz Financial Services — and still a city resident — has another idea, based on some projects he’s seen in some other areas. Turn a huge swath of the city back into farmland.

Hantz was recently interviewed by Fortune’s David Whitford on the proposal. Hantz is also willing to commit $30 million of his own money, and sees a lot of upside potential to the idea:

“Farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in.”

Hantz believes by consuming large pieces of available land across the city for farms, the result, in economic terms, will be a ’scarcity’ of available property — which would help increase the value of surrounding properties.

The Detroit farms won’t resemble the quaint spreads with barns and silos you see across rural North America, however. Rather, they will be multi-level state-of-the-art complexes employing the latest in farm technology, “from compost-heated greenhouses to hydroponic (water only, no soil) and aeroponic (air only) growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings.”

Hantz also has some powerful supporters for the proposal. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, now chairman of CityView, a private equity firm that invests in urban development, is a booster for urban agriculture. The American Institute of Architects also agrees that “Detroit is particularly well suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.”

Fortune’s Whitford also quotes Alex Krieger, chairman of the department of urban planning and design at Harvard, who says cities of the future may resemble “a checkerboard pattern” with “more densely urbanized areas, and areas preserved for various purposes such as farming.”

It’s an irony, since a century ago cities grew to huge proportions as people fled agrarian lifestyles to pursue better opportunities. Now, agriculture may pave the way to a new urban renaissance.

NASA Mars rover Spirit has survivability option?

NASA Mars rover Spirit has survivability option?

NASA Mars rover celebrates sixth year on Mars, faces uncertain future

As NASA celebrates its Mars rover Spirit’s sixth anniversary exploring the red planet it is hunting for a way to keep the machine, which is mired in a sand trap, alive to see a seventh year. On its Web site, the space agency this week noted there may indeed be such an option.

That option would be spinning the wheels on the north side of Spirit, letting it dig in deeper in the Martian sand but at the same time improving the tilt of the rover’s solar panels toward the Sun.

According to NASA: “Spirit is in the southern hemisphere of Mars, where it is autumn, and the amount of daily sunshine available for the solar-powered rover is declining. This could result in ceasing extraction activities as early as January, depending on the amount of remaining power. Spirit's tilt, nearly five degrees toward the south, is unfavorable because the winter sun crosses low in the northern sky.”

Unless the tilt can be improved or luck with winds affects the gradual buildup of dust on the solar panels, the amount of sunshine available will continue to decline until May 2010. During May, or perhaps earlier, Spirit may not have enough power to remain in operation, NASA stated.

"At the current rate of dust accumulation, solar arrays at zero tilt would provide barely enough energy to run the survival heaters through the Mars winter solstice," said Jennifer Herman, a rover power engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on NASA’s Web site.

NASA said it was determining the type of research a stationary Spirit could do in the future. For example, it could study the interior of Mars, monitor the weather and continue looking at the deposits uncovered by its wheels, a task it has already been performing.

A study of the planet's interior would use radio transmissions to measure wobble of the planet's axis of rotation, which is not feasible with a mobile rover, NASA said.

Getting the rover moving is still the first priority, NASA stated. In the past couple weeks, Spirit's right-front wheel, which had stopped operating in March 2006, showed signs of life this week by spinning slightly during one of the attempts to move the rover. The wheel however stopped later in another test and has not worked since.

Still, NASA scientists said movement of the right-front wheel for about 3.5 minutes was a surprise. It is not clear whether the wheel will work again, since it stopped during the final drive segment and it’s not clear whether extrication from the sand trap would be possible even with an operable right-front wheel, NASA said.

NASA said Spirit’s other four wheels all drove forward in the most recent attempt to extricate Spirit from the sand trap but that positive note was tempered by the fact that while Sprit moved forward, it also dug in a little further. According to NASA, the rover moved 2 millimeters (0.08 inch) forward and 4 millimeters (0.16 inch) downward. That ratio of forward to downward movement is well below what would be necessary over longer distance for extrication, NASA noted.

Spirit has been stuck in a place NASA calls "Troy" since April 23 when the rover's wheels broke through a crust on the surface that was covering brightly-toned, slippery sand underneath. After a few drive attempts to get Spirit out in the subsequent days, it began sinking deeper in the sand trap.

Even in the best of conditions, moving the stuck rover could take weeks.

Still there is little doubt the highly successful rover might be on its last legs regardless of the approaching winter. NASA said in February, it will assess Mars missions, including Spirit, for their potential science versus costs to determine how to distribute limited resources.

Cellphone Encryption Code Is Divulged

Cellphone Encryption Code Is Divulged

BERLIN — A German computer engineer said Monday that he had deciphered and published the secret code used to encrypt most of the world’s digital mobile phone calls, saying it was his attempt to expose weaknesses in the security of global wireless systems.

The action by the encryption expert, Karsten Nohl, aimed to question the effectiveness of the 21-year-old G.S.M. algorithm, a code developed in 1988 and still used to protect the privacy of 80 percent of mobile calls worldwide. (The abbreviation stands for global system for mobile communication.)

“This shows that existing G.S.M. security is inadequate,” Mr. Nohl, 28, told about 600 people attending the Chaos Communication Congress, a four-day conference of computer hackers that runs through Wednesday in Berlin. “We are trying to push operators to adopt better security measures for mobile phone calls.”

The G.S.M. Association, the industry group based in London that devised the algorithm and represents wireless companies, called Mr. Nohl’s efforts illegal and said they overstated the security threat to wireless calls.

“This is theoretically possible but practically unlikely,” said Claire Cranton, an association spokeswoman. She said no one else had broken the code since its adoption. “What he is doing would be illegal in Britain and the United States. To do this while supposedly being concerned about privacy is beyond me.”

Some security experts disagreed. While the disclosure does not by itself threaten the security of voice data, one analyst said companies and governmental organizations should take the same steps to ensure the security of their wireless conversations as they do with antivirus software for computer files.

“Organizations must now take this threat seriously and assume that within six months their organizations will be at risk unless they have adequate measures in place to secure their mobile phone calls,” said Stan Schatt, a vice president for health care and security at the technology market researcher ABI Research in New York.

Mr. Nohl, who has a doctorate in computer engineering from the University of Virginia, is a widely consulted encryption expert who waged a similar campaign this year that prodded the DECT Forum, a standards group based in Bern, to upgrade the security algorithm for 800 million cordless home phones.

Mr. Nohl has now set his sights on G.S.M., whose second-generation digital technology is still the most widely used wireless-communications standard in the world. About 3.5 billion of the world’s 4.3 billion wireless connections use G.S.M.; it is used by about 299 million consumers in North America.

In August, at a hackers’ forum in Amsterdam, Mr. Nohl challenged other computer hackers to help him crack the G.S.M. code. He said about 24 people, some members of the Chaos Computer Club, which is based in Berlin, worked independently to generate the necessary volume of random combinations until they reproduced the G.S.M. algorithm’s code book — a vast log of binary codes that could theoretically be used to decipher G.S.M. phone calls.

During an interview, Mr. Nohl said he took precautions to remain within legal boundaries, emphasizing that his efforts to crack the G.S.M. algorithm were purely academic, kept within the public domain, and that the information was not used to decipher a digital call.

“We are not recommending people use this information to break the law,” Mr. Nohl said. “What we are doing is trying to goad the world’s wireless operators to use better security.”

Mr. Nohl said the algorithm’s code book was available on the Internet through services like BitTorrent, which some people use to download vast quantities of data like films and music. He declined to provide a Web link to the code book, for fear of the legal implications, but said its location had spread by word of mouth.

The G.S.M. algorithm, technically known as the A5/1 privacy algorithm, is a binary code — which is made exclusively of 0’s and 1’s — that has kept digital phone conversations private since the G.S.M. standard was adopted in 1988.

But the A5/1 algorithm is a 64-bit binary code, the modern standard at the time it was developed, but simpler than the 128-bit codes used today to encrypt calls on third-generation networks. The new codes have twice as many 0’s and 1’s.

In 2007, the G.S.M. Association developed a 128-bit successor to the A5/1, called the A5/3 encryption algorithm, but most network operators have not yet invested to make the security upgrade.

The encryption key itself does not enable surveillance of mobile calls, which must still be overheard and identified from the digital stream of thousands of calls transmitted through a single cellphone station.

The undertaking is complex because a digital call typically hops among up to 60 different broadcast frequencies during a single conversation, as the mobile network operator maximizes the use of its available bandwidth.

In a statement, the G.S.M. Association said efforts to crack the algorithm were more complex than critics have asserted, and that operators, by simply modifying the existing algorithm, could thwart any unintended surveillance.

The group said that hackers intent on illegal eavesdropping would need a radio receiver system and signal processing software to process raw radio data, much of which is copyrighted.

But Mr. Nohl, during a presentation Sunday to attendees at the Berlin conference, said the hardware and software needed for digital surveillance were available free as an open-source product in which the coding is available for individuals to tailor to their needs.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, the chief executive of Cellcrypt, a company based in London that sells software, said Mr. Nohl’s efforts could put sophisticated mobile interception technology — limited to governments and intelligence agencies — within the reach of “any reasonable well-funded criminal organization.”

“This will reduce the time to break a G.S.M call from weeks to hours,” Mr. Bransfield-Garth said during an interview. “We expect as this further develops it will be reduced to minutes.”

Monday, January 04, 2010

Motivational Monday

20 Tips for a Positive New Year


1. Stay Positive. You can listen to the cynics and doubters and believe that success is impossible or you can know that with faith and an optimistic attitude all things are possible.

2. When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement: My purpose is_______________________.

3. Take a morning walk of gratitude. It will create a fertile mind ready for success.

4. Instead of being disappointed about where you are think optimistically about where you are going.

5. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a college kid with a maxed out charge card.

6. Transform adversity into success by deciding that change is not your enemy but your friend. In the challenge discover the opportunity.

7. Make a difference in the lives of others.

8. Believe that everything happens for a reason and expect good things to come out of challenging experiences.

9. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip, energy vampires, issues of the past, negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

10. Mentor someone and be mentored by someone.

11. Live with the 3 E's. Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy.

12. Remember there’s no substitute for hard work.

13. Zoom Focus. Each day when you wake up in the morning ask: “What are the three most important things I need to do today that will help me create the success I desire?” Then tune out all the distractions and focus on these actions.

14. Instead of complaining focus on solutions. It’s the key to innovation.

15. Read more books than you did in 2009. I happen to know of a few good ones.

16. Learn from mistakes and let them teach you to make positive changes.

17. Focus on “Get to” vs “Have to.” Each day focus on what you get to do, not what you have to do. Life is a gift not an obligation.

18. Each night before you go to bed complete the following statements:

• I am thankful for __________.

• Today I accomplished____________.

19. Smile and laugh more. They are natural anti-depressants.

20. Enjoy the ride. You only have one ride through life so make the most of it and enjoy it.