Friday, November 20, 2009

Comodo Personal Email Security

Until this month, I have used Thawte freemail certificates for years to secure my personal email.  This month, Thawte stopped providing certificates for personal email and have basically handed over their subscribers to Verisign as consolation.  I think they offered me a free year, but then it would be $20 or so beyond that.

I started to look around for a replacement and decided to check out Comodo since I recently switched from Verisign to Comodo for one of my application servers and I’m reasonably happy with them for service.

I was pleased to find out that Comodo (http://www.instantssl.com) offers a free certificate signed by their CA.  This last part is the important part because certificates form the basis of something called ‘trust’ on the internet.

A certificate in itself is basically just the result of a calculation performed on a big random number that is then used to encode information that cannot be modified without someone knowing about it.  The calculation is performed in such a way that only the owner of the certificate can possibly come up with the result because the owner holds on to a separate ‘secret’ that allows this to happen.  This secret is really big, very random and not likely to be guessed.  So if someone signs an email, a text message, a file or even another certificate, you can be reasonably sure that it is legitimate.

All that has to happen is that people you send stuff to have to establish some kind of comfort with what your signature looks like.  Think of it like an endorsement; you get a letter from your mom that says “I got bob to sign this” and you see your mom’s signature right underneath Bob’s signature.  Since you know what your mom’s signature looks like, you now have a good reason to believe you know what Bob’s signature looks like.  Now when Bob sends you a message and signs it, you know it is from Bob, because your mom endorsed Bob through a separate channel and you know Bob’s signature.

The Comodo certificate is trusted by everyone by virtue of the fact that the people that provide your web browser already trust them; so when they sign a certificate for you, you can then sign stuff and people can trust that it was signed by you, (or at least someone who has access to your email account).

If you want your own secure email certificate, check out:

http://www.instantssl.com/ssl-certificate-products/free-email-certificate.html

Once you have your certificate, you should be good to go, but in Outlook, you can check it out by clicking on your email options.

clip_image002

clip_image004

If your Certificate is selected in outlook you can then just choose to sign email by clicking the signature button on the toolbar. (it is likely hidden at first, you will probably have to click the little arrow button for ‘add/remove buttons’ on the toolbar).

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If you want to encrypt email (make it hard for other people to read), you first have to get a copy of the persons certificate that you want to send encrypted email to.  I usually just get them to send me an email that they’ve signed (yes, they have to set up their own certificate first) and then I just reply to them and click the ‘encrypt’ button on my reply. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cool SideWiki posts by Google

I think Microsoft tried to do this with 'discussions' that required a huge back end and nobody used it. This seems seamless and useful. Its like annotating web pages.

in reference to: Sidewiki - Toolbar Help (view on Google Sidewiki)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Google Street View

I was on my way to Halifax heading up Robie Street one day a few months back and I saw the “Google” car passing me Dartmouth bound.  So now that street view is up and running, I thought I would go back to the spot I saw them and see what they saw.

Yes, that’s my car…


View Larger Map

Monday, September 21, 2009

Billing for your time

Does anybody else hate doing timesheets?  Before I started in the IT field, my life was that of a bookkeeper.  I lasted all of 2 years before the monotony got to me and thought that I had better get into something else before someone had to talk me off of a ledge somewhere.  Keeping records was never something that held my attention for very long.

The trouble is, without some kind of record keeping, nobody will pay you to do what you do.  Somebody, somewhere is going to ask where their investment dollars are being spent, and when they do, you had better have some documentation to back up your story.

I came across this little web application recently and so far, I’m pretty impressed with it.  I had an idea that I would build something, but being busy (catching up on my timesheets for one) I decided to see if there was something available at a reasonable price.  Free is always an eye-catcher for me.

SlimTimer is a little REST application that you can sign up for a free account which allows you to create and share tasks and then use a lightweight client to use as a stopwatch while you work at your desktop.  This is perfect for a developer that does most of their billable time on a computer, not so much for a field engineer who travels around all day long.  That said, I’m already feeling more billable every minute.

Slimtimer

Having a web browser open all day long sounds good, but in practice, being a developer, the crashing browser is part of my day.  Not really an issue though for SlimTimer if you use Bubbles which is a free little web platform that allows you to run simple we applications from your system tray in Windows.  Using bubbles allows you to open the client with a single click without running your browser…neat.

Lastly, the reporting capability is very flexible and allows you to query your tasks by date, tag, user (if you are sharing tasks) and task.  You can print timesheet reports or invoices right from the application.

As I mentioned, the basic account is free, however, you can name your price and pay for premium services such as weekly backups and exporting.

If you are a developer, the service has a documented API that will allow you to interact with the service from your own applications.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cover your …um… PIN

I was disturbed the other day on my way home from work, to listen to a radio interview on CBC that depicted one lady’s experience with debit card fraud.  The fact that somebody illegally copied this person’s debit card is one thing, but the fact that she didn’t have a clue about how the technology works is frightening.

The annual re-imbursement for debit card fraud is somewhere in the range of $100 million dollars each year, and growing.  The corporate response is to replace the traditional magnetic strip with chip technology.  Chip technology is harder to copy then magnetic strips and provides an embedded encryption technology to allow for secure communication of the card data to your bank.

I did a little Googleing on the technology and found lots of corporate propaganda about how it is ‘virtually impossible’ to copy and ‘more secure’ but was unable to find out any of the specifics on how it works.  Presumably, the chip works like your web browser and does some kind of point to point encryption to send the card data to the card reader.  Then your PIN is entered into the card reader to validate the transaction.

This lady on the radio had it in her mind that the mere presence of the chip on her new card made her transactions more secure.  This may be true to a point, but ‘virtually impossible’ to copy and ‘impossible’ to copy are not the same. 

For starters, the use of the magnetic strip isn’t going away completely.  It won’t be until 2015 that the chip will be fully implemented in Canada.  Even once that happens, if you use a card reader that takes a Magnetic strip, it can be copied at that time…not the chip mind you (yet) but the same information that technology today allows to be copied.  A transaction can still be made from this if your PIN is compromised.  Many countries have no plans to move to chip technology and have access to the interac network.

The only real protection you have is to protect your PIN.  This means that you need to make sure that nobody ever gets access to both your PIN and your card.  Since you can’t guarantee that nobody will get access to your card information, it’s up to you to protect your PIN.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Don’t use and easy to guess PIN.  Your birthday, your anniversary, kids birthdays, etc. are a mistake and can be easily guessed by bad guys.  Use something random.
  2. Don’t write down your PIN…anywhere.  There are only so many things that a 4 or 5 digit number written on a discarded post-it note can be.
  3. Don’t tell anyone your PIN.  Your wife, your kids, anyone.  You may be able to control how you protect your PIN, but if anyone else knows, you have no control over what they do with it…don’t fool yourself.
  4. Cover the PIN-pad when you enter your PIN.  This may look a little silly at times, but be paranoid about it.  Pin hole cameras and shoulder surfing is the norm for this type of crime.
  5. Change your PIN often.  Go to the bank and they will let you change your PIN.  Do this at least twice a year, then if someone gets your PIN and card info, you cut them off at the knees as soon as you change the information.
  6. Get a new card periodically.  If you get a new card, the old one is no good anymore, if someone has stolen it, they get nothing.
  7. Watch your statements and question every transaction that you don’t recognize.  Use common sense.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Are you Tweeting Yet?

I have to admit, when I first heard about Twitter, I immediately conjured the image of hundreds of my new ‘friends’ bombarding me with notifications about how bored they are or how much housework they managed to accomplish that day before droning onto the Internet.

For those that don’t know, Twitter is referred to as a micro-blogging utility that is part of the new social media craze that was made popular by sites like MySpace and FaceBook (to name only a couple).  The difference with Twitter is that you are limited to a very brief (140 characters or less) post but the idea is that you post more frequently and since messages are short, it favors mobile use via SMS.

Since I have been guilty (once or twice) in the past of driving my head in the sand when it comes to the evolution of the Web, I decided to take a closer look into this new micro-blog service and see what the point was.  What I found was a bit surprising.

The Timeline

Basically, the timeline shows all of your updates, and those updates which you have chosen to ‘follow’ in the order that they were posted to the twitter servers.  If you are keeping up with lots of people and have a lot to say yourself, this could be a very long list.  Not to worry though, you’ve only got 140 characters per friend to read through.

Following and Followers

I guess the main point of Twitter is to collect as many followers as possible.  I had heard about the battle between Ashton Kutcher and CNN to be the first twitter user to reach 1,000,000 followers.  I guess this was where I first got the feeling that twitter wasn’t really for me…I mean, after all, what the hell do I care what the Punk’d artist is doing right now.  CNN tweets might be interesting, but I envisioned a barrage of messages about OJ Simpson and Barack Obama news that isn’t all that relevant to me.

The long and short is, when you start to follow another Twitter user, you are then notified every time that they post something to twitter.  If you follow 100 people and they all post something every day, you will see what all 100 people are doing every day.  The flip side of this is that if they follow you, and you post something every day, 100 people will see what you are doing ‘right now’.

Sounding a Re-tweet

Unlike the ‘head for the hills’ call that you may be thinking of right now, a re-tweet is like the quintessential ‘grape-vine’ of the twitter world.  Very simply, if one of those 100 people who are following you decided that you posted something useful, they can simply re-tweet your message so that people who follow them will get your message too.  If you assume that each of your followers has 100 followers and 5 of your 100 followers re-tweet your post, then you can reach 600 people with your short 140 character message in very short order.

Usually when someone re-tweets one of your messages they will give you a ‘mention’ so that their followers can decide if they want to follow you directly or not.

Di – @Mentions

Think of a mention as an introduction of sorts.  Twitter’ers (or is it tweeters) will often include the username of someone they are somehow linked to when they are basically inviting their followers to check someone out.  If you see a tweet with @shawncrosbys in there somewhere, in most cases you will get linked to my profile where you can then choose to follow me.

Essentially when a tweeter puts a @mention in a tweet, they are basically saying, “meet my friend @shawncrosbys, perhaps you might like to follow him too”.

Saved Searches

I finally ‘got’ what twitter was all about when I started using TweetDeck as a front end for twitter.  It wasn’t the program itself that made the difference, but what it did do was allow me to arrange a number of searches on one screen and keep updating the results in near-real-time.

You see, when you’ve only got 140 characters to put out a thought, people tend to be very specific and clear with the words they use, this ‘frankish’ manner of posting makes for surprisingly relevant searches.  Try searching for your company name or your industry, there’s some tricks to searching, but since these updates are frequent, you can get the latest information on your search term by searching the public timeline and saving the search to refer back to later.

The flip side of all this is that other people use these saved searches to keep track of keywords that they want to keep up with.  Any time you tweet with a keyword they may be watching they may see your tweet (so long as you leave your profile public) even if they aren’t following you.  Chances are good that if you tweet something useful, you will pick up a new follower.  There are some special types of keywords that you can use that are basically ‘accepted’ as keywords throughout the twitter-sphere (does this ism exist yet?).

Hash Tags

These are special ‘keywords’ that may or may not show up in saved searches with other twitter users.  They are intended as a way to group tweets informally so that if people typically keep up with a particular hashtag (as opposed to specific people) then you can add these hash tags to your tweet and people will see them when they search.  If you check out wefollow or similar websites, you will see a listing of #hashtags that people say they are keeping up with.

Say for instance, I want to tweet that I will be attending the ITANS meeting in Halifax this thursday night, I may tweet something like:

I’m heading to #ITANS in #Halifax this thursday, anyone else?

The idea is that if people are following the #ITANS or #Halifax hash tags in a saved search, they will see you message even if they aren’t following you specifically.

Address Shortening

Something you will see quite often in twitter is little, basically un-readable internet addresses.  When you click on them, you get redirected to another longer URL.  Supposedly the idea is to conserve the number of characters it takes to post an internet address and there are a number of free services that allow you to do this.

An added side benefit to this is that there is some tracking put into some of these services so that you can then go back and track how many people actually clicked your link.  For instance, if you click http://bit.ly/NWMmT you will get to my blog and I can log into bit.ly and see that someone clicked this link from this blog post.

For someone like me that publishes a blog, this is a neat way of promoting my blog and then seeing how useful twitter is for getting my blog promoted.

Putting it all Together

So there you have the basics, I’m sure there is a whole mess of other Twitter-isms that I haven’t covered here, but the basics are simple.  You can use these little 140 character posts to reach lots of people very quickly.

I’m sure that many a teenie-bopper may find ways of keeping in touch with all their peeps or the latest actor/actress gossip, but there are many benefits that allow businesses and professionals to reach many people very quickly.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Beware of Registry Cleaners…

I recently helped my parents with their slow computer by running a registry cleaner I found on the internet on their computer.  As it turned out, it seemed to fix their problem and sped things up remarkably on their system.

Thinking I could make my home computer work better, I downloaded it and ran it on my system as well…bad idea.  I didn’t make it any faster and to top it off, my network connections went haywire and ended up killing my Remote Access Server that I used to connect to my home PC when I’m at the office.

Luckily I found this which fixed the problem.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Maybe not so Cut and Dry…

In a recent post, I weighed in about my views on not paying for media that someone else holds the copyright on.  Essentially, I take issue with somebody using technology to make a copy of something that is intended to be sold so that they don’t have to buy it.

I’ve been a guitar player now for a few decades on and off.  I would hardly call myself an artist, but I enjoy playing from time to time and recently, some friends and I have spent some time banging away together and enjoying each others company while playing a few songs that we’ve each learned.

I think the majority of the songs that I’ve learned have come from playing the old jam sessions with much better players than I who have taken the time to show me some chord progressions and fingerings and I pick up a small percentage of it that makes it sound reasonably good.  In some cases, I’ve looked at what is called a ‘guitar tab’ to figure out a song.

A guitar tab is when someone who has some good talent with a guitar listens to a song and writes down what they hear in a format that other guitar players can easily read and mimic to be able to learn to play a song.  Very similar to my experience with my more gifted friends, I initially saw nothing wrong with the practice, when my wife asked me how my beliefs on copyright protection impacted my used of these Guitar Tabs.

Its easy to just ignore the issue and keep on going.  There are plenty of sites on the Internet which publish these tabs and if my friends have them all printed off, I’m not really doing anything wrong by reading them and playing them…am I?

Surely I am not infringing on someone’s rights by interpreting one of these tabs and playing the music.  Wouldn’t that mean that by singing along while driving my car and listening to the radio I’m doing the same thing?

Apparently, some music industry lawyers believe that guitar tabs are infringing on the rights of their clients.  The Online Guitar Archive (www.olga.net) has a notice on their website that they are essentially the ‘Offline’ Guitar Archive while they duke it out and others have followed suite in an effort to save their litigated bacon.

I came across a very good article that examines US copyright law and its relation to guitar tabs specifically.  This 32 page document looks at copyrights and debates whether or not a guitar tab site constitutes ‘fair use’ of copy written material since a) the purpose and character of the reproduced work is different.  b) the tab is intended as an educational tool as described in the preamble to the description of ‘fair use’ in the act.  c) Using a tab does not impact or impede the copyright holders ability to profit from their work and d) the copyright holder would (and have in some cases) reasonably not object to the particular use.

In my opinion, I think that the existence and distribution of guitar tabs is fundamentally different than making a duplicate of digital media and using it instead of the original, but I have to stop short of saying that one is right and the other is wrong because to date, I don’t think anyone has successfully challenged the letter and intent of the law in this regard.  If it is wrong, is it then wrong for me to sing along with the radio?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Word on the Free Market Economy…

I recently commented on a friends blog about the ‘merits’ of piracy and their potential role in the marketplace.  Granted, my comments were a bit tongue in cheek and I don’t begrudge the views of my esteemed colleague, but I thought I would take some of my own space in the blogosphere to weigh in on the topic.

It’s not uncommon for moderately techno-savvy people I know to shake their heads and squint when I take the position that I refuse to download and distribute media that I don’t have a legitimate right to do any such thing with.  I can remember vividly some discussions with my kids about why I wasn’t going to allow them to install lime-wire or other media sharing applications on our home computer.  I also have been known to take a hard line about them even ‘borrowing’ media that has been ‘burnt’ so that they can play it on our equipment at home.

In our home, we use digital media quite frequently.  Every single song we own has been purchased legitimately from an on-line store like iTunes or puretracks.  We buy DVDs from either Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  We have ripped some of the CDs that we’ve bought over the years so that we can load them on our MP3 players, but I flatly refuse when someone asks me for a copy.  It is common for us to loan or give books away after we have read them, but lending of written texts is not a right that is typically reserved by these copyright holders…copy, reproduction and redistribution is.

We don’t do this because we feel the need to fritter away our money on big corporations that are ‘just in it for the money’ or because we are afraid of getting virus or even because we want to make sure that the money goes to the artists.  We do this for the same reasons that we vote, pay taxes and write our politicians…because it is how our society is supposed to work.

I am troubled when I hear an argument that it is ok to copy music and media (illegally) because anyone can do it easily.  To be honest, when someone gives me that argument, I don’t even continue the conversation because there is actually no thought being put into the repercussions of such things.

Don’t misunderstand me, at one point in my life, I saw nothing wrong with downloading software off the internet with ‘patches’ and key generators.  I can remember being slightly enamored with ‘Napster’ and ‘Morpheus’ when it first came out.  These have all gone the way of the dodo by now, but it never really entered my head that I was doing anything really wrong.

At one point, one of my kids became the quintessential computer addict for chat programs, email, and whatever else they do on the internet; and at one point was getting frustrated that the restrictions I had placed on her home computer account didn’t allow her to connect to a file sharing service on the internet.  Knowing that I was the key to solving this problem, she came to me and asked me to ‘fix it’ for her.

Somewhat hypocritically, as I listened to what she was trying to do, I decided that what she wanted was just not right.  I didn’t think that she should be able to swap around whatever she wanted on the Internet (perhaps do to some control issues on my part, but more on that another time) and I flatly refused to help her.  During the ensuing battle, I came to realize that what I was doing was really no different, and I argued my way into what has now become a principle that our family now follows…to the letter.  I can list many arguments for why its only right to buy what is not yours to own, but I don’t think there is as much grey area there as others would like to believe.

Perhaps you could call it dogmatic, perhaps rigid, perhaps some may call it naive.  But the principle is quite simply this: you stand by what you believe, no matter how easy it is not to.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

SPAM – An environmental concern

Yes, you read it right.  Spam, otherwise known as UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) is partially responsible for polluting our atmosphere.  According to ABC News, spammers generated over 62 trillion junk messages last year which from an energy point of view is far from trivial.

Instead of sending messages asking for money or marketing Viagra, the electricity used sending the e-mails could have powered 2.4 million homes for a year or driven a car around the planet 1.6 times, according to the report.

I did my part today by installing Exchange server 2003 service pack 2 which includes a handy little thing called Intelligent Message Filter or IMF.  This is a tool by Microsoft which assigns a spam rating to every email that comes in and then you can set a filter to delete, archive or reject email based on the rating without the intended user (victim) ever even knowing about it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Some good points on Page Design

This is actually a very informative video…I love it!  Daryl sent me this.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mikogo: Free Online Meetings

I love free software…especially when it works well.  I got a ping from my boss today to check out this mikogo product that he heard about.  Imagine my surprise when I tried it and it worked.

Mikogo is very similar to Webex from a user perspective.  Essentially, you set up an account and share your desktop or specific applications.  You can whiteboard, send files, record the meeting, switch control, presenters, etc.

To use it, you go to the website: http://www.mikogo.com and download the little application.  Once you have an account set up, you can start a meeting and then send the meeting ID to people you want to have join the meeting.  It would be a great feature to have a button that would create a direct link that I could copy and paste into an email or instant message rather than email instructions to people on how to connect…I favor the ‘click here’ method of starting a meeting.

At this point, I’m not sure what spam I’ve invited into my mailbox, so I used my gmail account that does a pretty good job of filtering crap out of my inbox.

Nice catch bill…

Monday, March 9, 2009

Internet Voting Success…

Over the past two weeks, over 11,000 Ontario NDP party members voted for their leader using the Intelivote platform for Internet and Telephone voting.  The event was reported by officials to be ‘an unqualified success’ using a combination of mail in ballots, Internet voting, telephone voting and kiosk voting from the convention floor.

The Intelivote platform has been used internationally to deliver electronic elections successfully.  Voters are issued a Personal Identification Number that they can use to participate in any one of the voting channels, there is no need to declare how you intend to vote in advance, no need to pre-register for voting, and no need to leave your living room if that’s what you choose to do.

Once again Intelivote has proven itself as the world leader in electronic democracy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Download details: Business Contact Manager Database Admin Tool

A while back I wrote about using Business Contact Manager in office 2007.  A few people in our office wanted to use it and wanted to be able to share their contacts as a workgroup.

Initially, we looked at it using the standard setup where one person basically has the ‘Master’ copy of the database, and the rest just share it.  Since our group is a small group, this looked like a good fit at first, but quickly we realized that if the master guy was out, there were problems sharing data and we lost our major advantage we had gained.

I then found this tool that allows you to create a database on a machine that doesn’t have office 2007 installed.  So I ran it on my file server and it worked perfectly.  Now people connect to the central database and keep in sync at all times.

The only thing is, that the database needs to be backed up properly.  I created this script and set it to run through the scheduler:

backup.cmd

   1: @echo off


   2:  


   3: set SQLCMD="c:\program files\microsoft sql server\90\tools\binn\sqlcmd.exe"


   4: set DBSERVER=MYSERVER


   5: set DBINSTANCE=MSSQLSERVER


   6: set DBPORT=1433


   7: set DBCONNECT=tcp:%DBSERVER%\%DBINSTANCE%,%DBPORT%


   8:  


   9: set DBNAME=%1


  10: set BACKUPPATH=E:\backup\bcm


  11: set BKFILE=%BACKUPPATH%\%DBNAME%.bak


  12: set BKRESULT=%BACKUPPATH%\%DBNAME%_BackupResult.txt


  13: set ZIPCMD=e:\software\util\7za.exe a -tzip


  14:  


  15: DEL %BKFILE%.zip


  16:  


  17: %SQLCMD% -E -S %DBCONNECT% -Q"SET NOCOUNT ON; SELECT '%DBNAME% Backup started at - ' + CONVERT(varchar, GETDATE());" > "%BKRESULT%"


  18:  


  19: %SQLCMD% -E -S %DBCONNECT% -Q"BACKUP DATABASE %DBNAME% TO  DISK = N'%BKFILE%' WITH FORMAT, INIT,  NAME = N'Full Database Backup', SKIP, STATS = 10" >> "%BKRESULT%"


  20:  


  21: %SQLCMD% -E -S %DBCONNECT% -Q"SET NOCOUNT ON; SELECT 'Backup completed at - ' + CONVERT(varchar, GETDATE());" >> "%BKRESULT%"


  22:  


  23: %ZIPCMD% %BKFILE%.zip %BKFILE% >> "%BKRESULT%"


  24:  


  25: DEL %BKFILE% >> "%BKRESULT%"


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ONLY A foolish MAN WOULD ATTEMPT THIS

My wife forwarded this to me last night…Just try reading this without laughing till you cry!!!

Pocket Tazer Stun Gun, a great gift for the wife. A guy who  ScreenShotpurchased his lovely wife a pocket Tazer for their anniversary submitted this:

Last weekend I saw something at Larry's Pistol & Pawn Shop that sparked my interest. The occasion was our 15th anniversary and I was looking for a little somethin g extra for my wife Julie. What I came across was a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse- sized tazer. The effects of the tazer were supposed to be short lived, with no long-term adverse affect on your assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety....??

WAY TOO COOL! Long story short, I bought the device and brought it home. I loaded two AAA batteries in the darn thing and pushed the button. Nothing! I was disappointed. I learned, however, that if I pushed the button and pressed it against a metal surface at the same time; I'd get the blue arc of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs.

AWESOME!!!

Unfortunately, I have yet to explain to Julie what that burn spot is on the face of her microwave.

Okay, so I was home alone with this new toy, thinking to myself that it couldn't be all that bad with only two triple-A batteries, right? There I sat in my recliner, my cat Gracie looking on intently (trusting little soul) while I was reading the directions and thinking that I really needed to try this thing out on a flesh & blood moving target. I must admit I thought about zapping Gracie (for a fraction of a second) and thought better of it. She is such a sweet cat. But, if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I did want some assurance that it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?

So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately y on the bridge of my nose, directions in one hand, and tazer in another. The directions said that a one-second burst would shock and disorient your assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would purportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water.

Any burst longer than three seconds would be wasting the batteries.

All the while I'm looking at this little device measuring about 5" long, less than 3/4 inch in circumference; pretty cute really and (loaded with two itsy, bitsy triple-A batteries) thinking to myself, 'no possible way!' What happened next is almost beyond description, but I'll do my best.. .?

I'm sitting there alone, Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as to say, 'don't do it dipshit,' reasoning that a one second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn't hurt all that bad. I decided to give myself a one second burst just for heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button, and . .

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD . . WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION . . . WHAT THE HELL!!!

I'm pretty sure Jessie Ventura ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in the fetal position, with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles nowhere to be found, with my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position, and tingling in my legs? The cat was making meowing sounds I had never heard before, clinging to a picture frame hanging above the fireplace, obviously in an attempt to avoid getting slammed by my body flopping all over the living room.

Note: If you ever feel compelled to 'mug' yourself with a tazer, one note of caution: there is no such thing as a one second burst when you zap yourself! You will not let go of that thing until it is dislodged from your hand by a violent thrashing about on the floor.. A three second bu rst would be considered conservative?

IT HURT LIKE HELL!!!

A minute or so later (I can't be sure, as time was a relative thing at that point), I collected my wits (what little I had left), sat up and surveyed the landscape. My bent reading glasses were on the mantel of the fireplace. The recliner was upside down and about 8 feet or so from where it originally was. My triceps, right thigh and both nipples were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, and my bottom lip weighed 88 lbs. I had no control over the drooling.

Apparently I pooped on myself, but was too numb to know for sure and my sense of smell was gone. I saw a faint smoke cloud above my head which I believe came from my hair. I'm still looking for my nuts and I'm offering a significant reward for their safe return!

P.s... My wife, can't stop laughing about my experience, loved the gift, and now regularly threatens me with it!

If you think education is difficult, try being stupid !!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Google Latitude: Tell Your Friends Where You Are - BusinessWeek

Can you imagine a service that would keep tabs on you by hooking into the GPS on your cellphone and showing the world where you are right now.  Not only that, but someone could keep tabs on everyone they know this way that had the service set up.

What a crazy thing to do…

Google Latitude: Tell Your Friends Where You Are - BusinessWeek

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Please spare me…

This message is for any Canadian parent who has the audacity to think that it is their right to teach their children to be ashamed of their country because the anthem does not conform to their own ideals (or lack thereof)…

I have never been more offended than when I read this article in the globe and mail about how a school in New Brunswick has effectively banned the playing of our national anthem because the phrase “God keep our land” is not inclusive of the entire class.  Spare me your self-righteous indignation…

I remember back in the early 80’s while I was in Junior high school, our school band did a sort of exchange trip with the junior high school in Bellisle outside Saint John.  At the time it was to me like the ‘town at the end of the highway’ with perhaps a little corner store and a gas station and not much else.  God only knows what kind of place it has become, but from the sounds of this, if the folks in that area don’t stand up and be proud of their country, it isn’t a place I would want to return to.

I’m sorry, I like to think of myself as tolerant, but this crosses a line for me.  If you don’t like the anthem, get the heck out of the country…I’m disgusted that these parents and this school administrator have kowtowed to some over-zealous, unpatriotic, special interest group that could not possibly represent the views of the people of this country.

The principal needs a backbone and stand up to this kind of pressure.  I’d be happy to give a civics lesson to any one of these people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

RSS Popper: Home - Free RSS add-in for Outlook & Outlook Express

This is a free plugin for outlook 2003 to allow rss feeds in outlook.

RSS Popper is a news aggregator add-in for Outlook & Outlook Express. News items delivered directly to Outlook as e-mails. No need to use a separate program for reading RSS anymore. All RSS/RDF/Atom formats are supported.

RSS Popper: Home - Free RSS add-in for Outlook & Outlook Express

Friday, January 23, 2009

Grass Roots Agile

I’ve been doing a great deal of reading lately on Agile software development, Scrum and XP in an effort to get up to speed on how to implement an Agile Software development practice in our organization.

This article is phenomenal because it touches on many of the principals that I feel strongly about in software development and highlights one of the biggest problems that I see with traditional software development.

Software development efforts fail because the traditional ceremonial approach to software development is fundamentally flawed. Worse yet, many adaptations of the most popular iterative and incremental processes are little more than reinventions of faulty practices resulting in slightly varied manifestations of the same problems that have plagued the software industry for years.

The article talks about fundamental practices that have to be implemented as a grass-roots movement within the team. Things like unit testing, continuous integration, adaptable requirements, defect management, etc are all covered here. Check out the whole article, its a pretty good read.

http://techdistrict.kirkk.com/2009/01/22/grass-roots-agile/

Mom’s work is never done..

My wife sent me this video…love it.

What’s really funny is that both my wife and I have said each of these things at least once.

Windows Live Writer

I initially set up this blog as a way for me to explore the whole Web 2.0 world and as a working example to a co-worker who I had discussed the idea with for sharing industry information within our team.  At that time, I was using the Google toolbar as a means of facilitating the process.  Since that time, I’ve done a little more exploring and I ended up installing Windows Live Writer because I wanted to update my messenger client.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out how good this actually works.  The nice thing about it is that it is a full featured text editor that has nice formatting features and tools for inserting and positioning images, creating tables, links, maps, tags, videos, etc.  I found that although the built in editors for blog tools are nice, this one allows me to maintain a whole bunch of blogs with a common interface and publishing tools.

To get started you have to go and download the live installer at http://download.live.com.

This installer allows you to install the whole suite from windows live, including office live and messenger.  You don’t need all of this to use the writer, but the other tools have their uses too…I just haven’t found a need for them yet.  You just uncheck features you don’t think you need.

Once you have the writer installed, you can fire it up and add your blog account to it.  It downloads all of your labels, styles and so on and then opens an editor window.  You can add as many accounts as you like and switch between them easily.  Also, it creates a menu item in your Internet Explorer tools menu so that you can easily blog while browsing by clicking the ‘blog this in live writer…’ menu item.

I also encourage you to check out some of the plug-ins from the online gallery…tools to insert and format code snippets, videos, etc.  There is also a plug-in for integrating the blogger with firefox.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

pdf 995: create PDF documents easily for free

Creating PDF files is very easy to do, and free.  This piece of software allows you to create PDF documents by ‘Printing’ them to a file.  When you install this driver, it creates a printer that you can print to and then prompts you for a file name.

This is nagware, so you can register it to have it print PDF documents quietly, but otherwise it just displays a little splash screen every time you use it…I’ll live with the splash screen.

pdf 995: create PDF documents easily for free

CamStudio - Free Screen Recording Software

I often have a need to create little computer howto videos to show people how to do things on some computer screen. We’ve used commercial software in the past, but one day I came across this little nugget that does screen capture to avi and converts to shockwave if you want it to…and its free.

CamStudio - Free Screen Recording Software

Introduction to the Dojo toolkit, Part 1 - JavaWorld

Introduction to the Dojo toolkit, Part 1 - JavaWorld

This article introduces Dojo, an open source javascript programming toolkit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Perf4J

I've been waiting for someone to come up with something like this. Perf4J is essenatially a logging utility that outputs performance statistics the same way that Log4J outputs debug messages in Java code. Awesome...

Perf4J 0.9.7 -:

"Perf4J is a set of utilities for calculating and displaying perfomance
statistics for Java code. For developers who are familiar with logging
frameworks such as log4j or java.util.logging, an analogy helps to describe
Perf4J:
Perf4J is to System.currentTimeMillis() as log4j is to
System.out.println()"

OpenEdit DAM

Source Digital Asset Management / OpenEdit DAM

Looks like a new Content Management system. Open source and free. Not real sure about it

Free JavaFX Programming Training Online Course

Free JavaFX Programming Training Online Course

This may be interesting, there is an online course with discussion forum to learn JavaFX. JavaFX is a new technology to do Rich Interface development both inside and outside the web browser. It is based in Java and uses all of the familiar java libraries behind the scenes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Linux Permissions

I was describing to a new coworker how to set up secure shell (ssh) to use private key authentication instead of password authentication. As I was showing him, I mentioned that it was important to make sure that the user’s key file had the right permissions on it. He responded that he had trouble wrapping his head around Linux permissions, so I thought I would post something here.

File permissions in Linux hinge greatly on the ownership of a file. In Linux, each file is owned by a user and a group. Permissions are then assigned based on what the owner can do, what the assigned group can do, and what everyone else can do.

If you look at the properties of any file in Linux, you can tell all of this information. Usually, you can use the ‘ls’ command to reveal pretty much everything:

ls_output

What you can see is that each file has an owner and a group. In this case all of these files are owned by scrosby user and assigned to scrosby group.

The permissions for the file are laid out in order from left to right in one long string shown in the first column of output. The first character is a file description, the next three characters are the permissions that apply to the files owner. The next three after that are the permissions that apply to the group assigned to the file and the last three characters are the permissions that apply to everyone else.

The next part is the actual permissions. The basic permissions are Read (shown by the letter r), Write (shown by the letter w) and eXecute (shown by the letter x).

When the read flag is set for the owner, then that means that the owner can read the file. This would be shown as:

-r--------

A file that looks like this is read-only for the owner. If I wanted a file to be read/write for the owner, it would have:

-rw-------

If I wanted a file to be read/write for the owner and the group, it would look like:

-rw-rw----

If I wanted a file to be read/write for owner and group and read only for everyone else, it would look like:

-rw-rw-r--

Scripts and directories also will sometimes have the x flag set. If I want a file to be read/write for user and group, and executable by the group, it would look like:

-rw-rwx---

These permissions are set using the chmod command or in today’s world, there is usually a dialog box with check boxes to set permissions. If you are a dinosaur like me though, the command line is a bit quicker and more reliable for this type of thing. The command line uses a bit mask to create permissions. If you are familiar with binary code, you will know that three 1’s (ie 111) is equal to 7 in binary, 010 is 2, 011 is 3, and so on. If you want to set all three bits (read, write, and execute) you set all bits to 1 (which is machine talk for ‘on’) convert it to decimal…or 7. If you only want to enable read and execute, you set the first and third bit to 1 like 101 which is 5 in decimal. This is set for all three user categories (user, group, others).

For example if I want a file to be read/write/execute for owner, read/execute for group and unreadable for everyone else, the bit mask would be 750. This mask is used with the chmod command to set the permissions:

chmod 750 somefile

Screen Capture and Print Screen software

Screen Capture and Print Screen software

I came across this utility for taking screen captures. Nice little program..(did I say free)...that allows for quick screen captures directly to file. You can hook it into a hot key like ctrl-printscrn and then have it prompt you for the region, window, etc...prompt for the file name, pick your file format and boom...(did I say free?)

There are preferences to add drop shadow, etc as well. I think there is a professional version that has a few extra features for only a few bucks, but this one works well for me.

Interesting Facts

Got this forwarded by Janet...interesting...


In the 1400's a law was set forth in England that a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Hence we have 'the rule of thumb'
-------------------------------------------
Many years ago in Scotland , a new game was invented. It was ruled 'Gentlemen Only...Ladies Forbidden'...and thus the word GOLF entered into the English language.
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The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime time TV were Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
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Every day more money is printed for Monopoly than the U.S.Treasury.
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Men can read smaller print than women can; women can hear better.
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Coca-Cola was originally green.
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It is impossible to lick your elbow.
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Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
The first novel ever written on a typewriter: Tom Sawyer.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
The San Francisco Cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king from history:
Spades - King David;
Hearts - Charlemagne;
Clubs -Alexander, the Great;
Diamonds - Julius Caesar
------------------------------------------------------------------------
If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air the person died as a result of wounds received in battle. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Q.. Most boat owners name their boats. What is the most popular boat name requested?
A. Obsession
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Q. If you were to spell out numbers, how far would you have to go until you would find the letter 'A'?
A. One thousand
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Q. What do bulletproof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers, and laser printers all have in common?
A. All were invented by women.
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Q. What is the only food that doesn't spoil?
A. Honey
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In Shakespeare's time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes.
When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase.... 'goodnight, sleep tight.'
----------------------------------------------------------------------
It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month, which we know today as the honeymoon.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts... So in old England , when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them 'Mind your pints and quarts, and settle down.'
It's where we get the phrase 'mind your P's and Q's'
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Many years ago in England , pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. 'Wet your whistle' is the phrase inspired by this practice.

OpenID

I came across this technology as part of my foray into the world of Web 2.0. Many sites today are using a sort of single sign-on for the web that allows web-site developers to be able to link in with an external third party to perform identification for users so that they (the users) don't have to maintain a whole lot of usernames and passwords. Essentially, the website gives the user the option of linking their identity from this central provider to their internal user databases.

OpenID

Monday, January 19, 2009

Refcardz

Free Cheat Sheets for Developers | Refcardz

This seems like an interesting resource. These are short 2 and 3 page PDF documents that give the skinny on popular technologies. On on ESB, SOA, XML, etc. It requires you to create an account with a valid email address and emails the link to the document to you.

Wii Fit

Check this out and see why Wii Fit is the latest in physical activity


Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Dream of Eagles

I just finished my seventh book in the series written by Jack Whyte about the rise and fall of the almost mythical empire that centered around Camulod, King Arthur, Merlin, Lance and all the others known mainly from legends.

What an awesome story, I was gripped from a few chapters into the first book...granted, the first few chapters were a little dry, but once the story began, I was entranced by the real-ness of the story. So many parts rang true that I found myself asking "did it really happen this way?"

Jack Whyte has done an amazing thing with this series. I went out today and grabbed "Uther" since it is written in the same setting as the other books, but from the vantage point of Uther Pendragon, father of Arthur, High King of Britain.

Summary of Life

I got this as an email from my Dad. I liked it so much I thought I’d post it here.

GREAT TRUTHS THAT LITTLE CHILDREN HAVE LEARNED:
1) No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
2) When your Mom is mad at your Dad, don't let her brush your hair.
3) If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person.
4) Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.
5) You can't trust dogs to watch your food.
6) Don't sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.
7) Never hold a Dust-Buster and a cat at the same time.
8) You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
9) Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.

GREAT TRUTHS THAT ADULTS HAVE LEARNED:

1) Raising teenagers is like nailing jelly to a tree.
2) Wrinkles don't hurt.
3) Families are like fudge..mostly sweet, with a few nuts.
4) Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground.
5) Laughing is good exercise. It's like jogging on the inside.
6) Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fibre, not the toy.

GREAT TRUTHS ABOUT GROWING OLD

1) Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
2) Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.
3) When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
4) You're getting old when you get t he same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.

5) It's frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions.
6) Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician.
7) Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

ISPs Injecting Their Content Into Websites

ISPs Injecting Their Content Into Websites - Rogers tests new cap warning system, raises neutrality alarms... - dslreports.com

A collegue sent me this article. I suggests that Rogers has aquired a technology that allows them to modify traffic being downloaded by their clients to include a frame that has their DSL bandwidth information at the top of the browser.
I think this may be another technology led 'feature' that has not passed muster with the needs of their clients. Overall, I think I am fundamentally opposed to this type of activity simply because it has the potential to impact the intended message by the website author albeit without malicious intent by Rogers.
That said, website authors have always had to deal with new technologies impacting the message, but I think this one falls outside the control of the author.
If this is a fine service for Rogers customers that they want, why not have an opt-in that allows them to run a little app in their system tray or something.
No, I would say that this move has little to do with the needs and wishes of their clients, but more to do with an internal issue at Rogers that they are trying to solve.

Ricardo Montalban dies at 88

Ricardo Montalban dies at 88 -- Newsday.com

No more Khan?!?! I can't believe it. It seems that all of my childhood icons are rapidly dying off. My mother used to hate me watching Fantasy Island...she would say "that's all just fantasy, its not real..." Oh well, her heart was in the right place.

Khan was a truely frightening villain, back in the day...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Writing User Stories

I've been doing some reading about Agile Software development and how to implement scrum for a small development team. Mike Cohn is definitely an authority on Agile and scrum and I was catching up on some of his articles and I found this one that explains the benefit of capturing requirements in terms of user stories.
To clarify, user stories are little statements that define the value to a stakeholder that is to be realized in a system. These stories should not make references to technology or interfaces unless absolutely necessary. A user story just describes something that a user has to be able to do.

Advantages of the "As a user, I want" user story template Mike Cohn's Blog - Succeeding With Agile®: "In my user stories book and in all my training and conference sessions on user stories I advocate writing user stories in the form of “As a , I want so that .” While I consider the so-that clause optional, I really like this template"

I've spent a little time re-wording some of our 'enhancement' requests and requirements lists to follow this wording which I've found really helpful in clarifying what the software should do.

AVS - Overview

This is a link to an open source version control system and bug tracking tool. It runs as a windows service based on Java. It appears to have a bug tracking feature and complex data model for revisions.

AVS - Overview

Jailer 2.7.1 Released: DbUnit compatible Test Data Extraction

Jailer 2.7.1 Released: DbUnit compatible Test Data Extraction

I found this little application today while reading my feeds. It looks like a tool that can extract data from a database using a java model to do unit testing. Not sure what the applicatin would be, but perhaps it would provide a means to do some high level testing of our system.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Backlogs and Defects

Recently we’ve been looking into dealing with our big bug list that we manage in Bugzilla and as per the norm, we spent a few minutes (or hours) going down the list of bugs and enhancements that we’ve identified as being important to discuss what we are going to do with them.

I think the big problem with this is that it is challenging to come away from these meetings with any real action plan to get them done.  Since everything is treated as a bug, you never really feel like the project is moving forward at any great speed.

I got discussing this point with one of our analysts, and at the end of it, it seems that we have two main ‘types’ of bugs in the system.

Backlog

Speaking ‘agile-ly,’ a backlog is a list of user stories that are required in a system.  They are new features that represent value in the system to the stakeholders, the users, the owner or the team.

Backlog is a way of keeping track of all those to-do’s that you eventually want to realize in a system.  These items should not presume an implementation.  A valuable backlog item specifies an item of value to the end user or stakeholder.  It shouldn’t refer to a needed button or column in an interface.  This limits developers which often results is kludged code.

An example of a proper story in the backlog would be:

“As a client I want to be able to view my current balance without having to call someone.”

As opposed to:

“The main client screen has to have the client’s current balance on it.”

Although both stories may be similar in nature, the first story has an opportunity for the developer to add this feature as a hot-key or an email alert, or have the ability to put it on all screens.  It also helps clarify what the actual point of the feature is.  Too often the developer gets bogged down in technical details and forgets that someone needs to use the feature.

Defects

Primarily our bug database is where the QA team puts things that are broken so that someone on the development team knows it needs to be fixed.

Reporting a defect requires that the QA department is aware of how the component is supposed to work in the first place.  In order to do this, there has to be a document or something that describes the tested feature and what the acceptance test is.

Ideally the original story from the backlog would have a description of what the acceptance test should look like.  This is the best way to determine whether or not the feature actually works.

At the end of the day, I think that maintaining a separate list of defects from the product backlog is a good way of planning the progression of a product.

Get rid of all that Techno Junk

HP Consumer Buyback and Planet Partners Recycling Program

According to their website, HP is offering cold hard cash for all your old computer junk...(so long as it functions I think) Instead of going to the landfill, you can get a quote and ship to them and they will send you some moolah.

Dilbert - Changing requirements « Running Agile

Dilbert - Changing requirements « Running Agile

This is Funny...and so true.