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August 31, 2001

Influential Web Publication Touts Database-Backed Web Sites

Steven Garrity writing in A List Apart makes a compelling argument for equiping businesses with content management systems. CTDATA has been building database-driven Web Sites, like the ones he describes, since 1998. Unfortunately, we are still having some difficulty getting all of our customers (particularly small and medium-sized businesses) to come to this conclusion themselves.

One of the reasons that content management has not become mass market is that the tools available are either extremely complex and expensive (like Vignette and Interwoven) or quite simple and free (like Blogger). There are very few content management tools that are good for general purpose Web Site design, inexpensive, and well known.

We feel that the value of content management systems is so great that clients ought to seek ways to adapt their Web Sites to user interfaces that are easily produced in low-end content management systems. In the case of tools like Blogger, Userland Manila, and Slashcode, that means producing a site that has the look and feel of a Weblog. This is possible, but it takes a mindset change from most people in small companies tasked with maintaining the corporate Web Site.

In reading the article from A List Apart and thinking it through, an idea articulated in Cluetrain Manifesto comes to mind: Markets are conversations. Instead of putting a picture of the latest widget on the corporate Web Site, most companies would be better off publishing a description of how that widget was used to solve a business problem. Then another, and another.

Computerworld: Demand for IT Workers Still Exceeds Supply

Amazingly, Computerworld published an article today headlined Demand still exceeds supply for IT workers. We find this surprising because it contradicts the information one can gather at any bar in Lower Manhattan by being a fly-on-the-wall.

This article should not be ignored just because its title and first idea are hard to believe. There is a lot of interesting (all be it anecdotal) information there. Among other things:

  • "the glut of ex-dot-com workers flooding the job market has led to a mismatch of skills between employers and potential employees...."
  • "Java programmers are not in top demand now.... Because companies are concerned with integrating legacy systems with e-business systems, {people} with cross-application integration skills {are in demand}."

August 30, 2001

MIT Professor Michael Dertouzos Dies at 64

On Wednesday, Scripting News pointed out that MIT Professor Michael Dertouzos passed away earlier this week at the age of 64. He was the author of a number of books and papers that advocated user interface improvements to make technology more accessible to non-technical audiences. He was also director of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, an extremely important technical resource and the US home of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In a Reuters news article, Tim Berners-Lee, developer of HTML, said that Dr. Dertouzos was the key person in the establishment of the W3C. Berners-Lee said, "He picked up the idea (of forming the World Wide Web Consortium) and put it together. Only someone with this stature could have pulled it off."

OSDN Says Slashcode Plugins Should Not Be Required to be GPLed

Dave Aiello wrote, "In a decision that we consider critical to the future success of Slashcode as a content management system, OSDN has announced that it will not require code written to the Slashcode Plugin Interface Specification to be licensed under the Gnu Public License. The announcement was made by Brian Aker (aka Krow) on the Slashcode Web Site."

"CTDATA is more likely to publish Slashcode Plugins than it otherwise would be as a result of the pragmatic approach taken by OSDN."

August 29, 2001

ZDnet Publishes Windows Emulator Comparison

ZDnet has done the software development community a service by taking the time to compare and contrast the Windows emulation products that are currently available for the Linux platform. Although CTDATA has pretty much committed itself to using VMware, we found the comparison between VMware GSX Server and VMware Workstation with WinToNet, Win4Lin, and WINE to be really interesting. This article is strongly recommended to anyone who is in the process of evaluating virtual machine software products.

August 24, 2001

SourceForge Project Recovers Wireless Networks' Master Password

Two weeks ago, we pointed out reports that researchers at AT&T Labs had written code to break the WEP protocol, the encryption technology implemented on 802.11b or WiFi wireless networks. The researchers described their achievement in some detail, but did not publish their code.

Earlier this week came news of the fact that two developers from a small security consulting firm started a SourceForge project called AirSnort. Reportedly, this project has already produced a fairly reliable means of guessing the WEP master password for a network through passive monitoring of encrypted traffic.

No doubt this will give network administrators fits as they try to secure networks that already contain wireless access points. CTDATA has planned to implement an 802.11b network at its Lawrenceville, NJ office, but we will have to consider the limitations of the WEP security model as we do. Perhaps, we will have to install a VPN and require that all 802.11b network traffic pass through it before accessing resources on our wired network.

August 23, 2001

Trying to Automatically Kill Hanging Programs on Windows Using Perl

One of the things that occasionally causes services on CTDATA's Web Sites to fail is a program that occasionally fails to finish running on one of our Windows NT 4 servers. We have spent a while trying to debug this, only to leave ourselves frustrated because the problem is so infrequent.

In order to improve our uptime, we are looking for ways to write an NT service that will kill processes by certain names that have run for an abnormally long time. Research on the Web has uncovered a brief thread on PerlMonks.com which discusses the writing such a service. Since no one bothered to contribute a code snippet to the thread, we will try to produce something generic, once we have solved our own problem.

August 22, 2001

Happy 12th Birthday, CTDATA

Dave Aiello wrote, "On August 22, 1989, Chatham Township Data Corporation was officially incorporated. Twelve years is a long time-- many times longer than the lifespan of most of the companies that were built to capitalize on the Internet boom."

"So much has changed since I posted a story marking this anniversary one year ago. For a long time I had suspected that the boom we experienced from 1998 to 2000 would come to a tumultuous end. This has played out in many ways, perhaps most symbolically in the recent demise of The Industry Standard, and the announcement in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that they were looking for a new name for the column that has been called Boom Town. Today, we are living through an over-correction, where much valuable technology is being jeopardized in an attempt to purge failed business models from our economy."

"CTDATA would like to be bigger and more well known. But, we'll settle for being a stable, predictable small business for the time being. We hope to continue to support the Slashcode Open Source Project, which has been the basis for many of our greatest technical achievements. We are actively working to develop new products, including software that can be deployed as Web Services. We will also continue to expand our Internet service offerings through our partnership with Intellidyne."

"Finally, I'd like to thank our customers and friends for their support over the past year. We would not be in business without their support and encouragement."

August 21, 2001

What Does Possible Excite@Home Bankruptcy Mean to Comcast Users?

The New York Times is the latest media outlet to report on the warning that Excite@Home may not be able to continue as a "going concern". This disclosure was made in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Of course, a free registration is required for access to stories on nytimes.com.)

We are concerned about this because CTDATA is in the process of getting a broadband connection in Lawrenceville from Comcast Business Communications. Comcast is a member of the @Home Consortium, and uses its facilities extensively in providing Internet services.

Update on August 22: Just to confuse things a bit more, reports indicate that Excite@Home has fired the audit firm responsible for the filing in question (Ernst & Young).

Update on November 28: We have now done several stories on the impact of various aspects of Excite's bankruptcy on Comcast. To see other stories, search CTDATA for Comcast Excite.

August 17, 2001

Industry Standard to Cease Print Publication

Everyone is reporting that The Industry Standard is shutting itself down. For the moment, only the on-line version will remain, and it will only have a skeleton staff. Little can be added to what has already been written elsewhere. Probably the most interesting take on the situation came from Plastic.com, which pointed out that the magazine remained true to the industry it covered and went out of business along with it.

Web Informant Provides Good Advice on Dealing with Code Red

By now you know that if you are running a Windows NT 4 or 2000 server as a Web Server, and you are using the typical components (IIS and Microsoft's content indexing component), you are potentially vulnerable to exploit by the Code Red virus. David Strom has produced an excellent summary of the issues that should concern people managing such installations for his Web Informant newsletter. Among the things he includes that are not often pointed out:

  • products that incorporate IIS and are potentially vulnerable,
  • versions of Microsoft OSes that are not as vulnerable as NT 4 or 2000,
  • tools that can be downloaded for free that identify some key vulnerabilities,
  • issues with these tools, primarily the differences in results produced by tools that supposedly do the same things.

August 15, 2001

Web Techniques Gives Practical Advice on User Registration Systems

WebTechniques magazine continues to publish highly relevant articles on user interface design. The latest is an article by Janice Crotty Fraser, an ex-Netscape employee who now works for Critical Path. In it, she says, "My task was to redesign... {the Netscape} registration system; the goal was a short, consistent, usable interface within three weeks. But because the changes that I had specified had a huge impact on the system engineering and our marketing partners, it took more than six months of battles to get the new system slated for implementation."

Although a discussion of the incredible inertia within Netscape that the article hints at would be interesting in itself, Fraser never revisits it. Instead, she discusses practical techniques like storyboarding the existing registration process (instead of merely flowcharting it), eliminating site-wide navigation from the registration pages, and using visual groupings to make the forms easier for users to understand at a glance.

We built an online registration system for AAHArefs.org ourselves in 1999. So, we know how hard it is to build in ease-of-use for all types of potential users. This article covers many of the stumbling blocks that we solved by trial and error.

August 14, 2001

SportBrain Dies, Unrelated WSJ Article Explains Why

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week Nancy Many from California called me to point out that SportBrain declared bankruptcy. Sportbrain was a company that made an electronic pedometer with an interface for other wearable biometric devices."

"I was given one of these devices as a Christmas gift by my brother and sister. It turned out to be an interesting device. I liked it enough to write several articles about it on this Web Site."

"Although the Wall Street Journal's StartupJournal.com does not mention SportBrain, they did publish an article last Friday that discusses the market for biometric devices. The article makes an excellent point which is well worth repeating here:"

As Internet health-information companies have discovered, as many as 100 million people may be surfing the Web for information about illnesses and fitness. But it's hard to find people to pay for "wellness."

"In the last article I posted about SportBrain, I pointed out the limitations of the device when it used in connection with sports that do not involve running or walking. Now that SportBrain is no more, finding alternative devices that deliver similar functionality is more important than ever before. If you are a stranded SportBrain user, read on for my suggestions regarding alternative exercise measurement devices...."

Dave Aiello continued:

I am extremely interested in Polar Heart Rate Monitors these days, particularly their new S-Series. However, the high end S-Series devices for cycling (the S-510 and S-710), which are supposed to include support for pedal cadence and power, have not come out as expected. I understand that Polar has had manufacturing problems, resulting in units that failed accuracy tests. Ship dates for these models have come and gone for nearly half a year.

The less sophisticated products in the S-Series, including the ones designed strictly for running and race walking, have been shipping for the last month or two, and I have heard of no problems with them.

A couple of other products I am interested in trying come from the Nike TechLab, which is a group within Nike charged with creating electronic devices that are unique enough to differentiate Nike from other sporting goods manufacturers. The products are HRM Triax 100 and SDM Triax 100.

(These devices are profiled on the Nike TechLab Web Site, but that site is almost entirely Flash based. Keep that in mind if you go to Nike's Web Site. I am pointing to RoadRunnerSports.com, a reseller of all sorts of running gear from whom I buy a lot of my personal equipment.)

The HRM Triax 100 mates a Nike running watch with a heart rate monitor. The resulting product looks similar to some of the Polar heart rate monitor products, although there is no mention of any ability to upload the data from the HRM Triax 100 to a PC or to the Internet.

The SDM Triax 100 replaces the heart monitor with a speed sensor that is strapped to the laces of the user's sneakers. This small device measures speed and distance traveled in a manner that appears quite similar to that used by the SportBrain.

More information to be added to this article later....

August 9, 2001

Rice University Intern at AT&T Labs Breaks WEP Protocol

EE Times reports that Adam Stubblefield, a 20 year old intern from Rice University, successfully broke the WEP protocol while doing research at AT&T Labs in Florham Park, NJ. WEP, the Wired Equivalent Protocol, is considered the strongest form of encryption available on 802.11b wireless local area networks. Stubblefield reportedly recovered the 128-bit WEP key by implementing an attack specified in a previously published research paper.

According to EE Times, the exploit was accomplished with off-the-shelf hardware and code that was written and tested in less than a week. Not bad for an undergraduate on an internship.

AT&T Broadband Shuts Down Consumer Web Servers

CNET News.com is reporting that AT&T Broadband is filtering incoming Web traffic so that its subscribers who pay only for its consumer-level cable modem service can no longer operate Web Servers. The reason AT&T gave for this action is that it wants to stop the spread of the Code Red viruses. But, it is probably safe to say that many people running Web Servers on their home cable modem were not using Windows and IIS in the first place.

We realize that the Terms of Service on the AT&T Broadband consumer cable modem service does not permit the operation of Web Servers. But, we wonder why CNET did not look at this story more critically? Is it really appropriate to filter all inbound Web traffic, if only one type of Web Server has been targeted by the virus? Isn't it possible that the virus is the justification that AT&T has been waiting for to enforce a policy that they know will be really unpopular?

Of course the simple answer is that those who wish to operate Web Servers should switch to a commerical service offering. We encourage those people who think that to investigate the actual costs, service limitations, contract complexity, and lead time associated with these services. The conclusion we came to when analyzing commercial cable modem services is that they are only desireable where there are few broadband alternatives.

August 6, 2001

Marv Levy Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame

Dave Aiello wrote, "On Saturday, former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Through my uncle, Denny Lynch who works for the Buffalo Bills, many people in my family have met Marv Levy and have developed a great deal of respect for him."

"My sister Julie sent me this link to the text of Levy's induction speech from the Buffalo News. I thought it was an excellent speech, capturing many of the high points of a great career. So, I decided to link to it from here."

August 3, 2001

CTDATA Back from Hiatus

Dave Aiello wrote, "Some of you may know that Kathleen Kuykendall and I were married on July 7 in Philadelphia. We spent our honeymoon in France, Italy, and Switzerland, and we returned from that excellent and refreshing trip a couple of days ago. This brings CTDATA back from a sort of hiatus that it has been in, at least from the perspective of new content posted to this Web Site and to RCNJ.org."

"Our core infrastructure, our Web Sites and mail servers that serve our customers, survived my time away quite well. I would like to thank Martin O'Donnell and George Kuykendall, for keeping an eye on things to make sure that none of the components went down and stayed down for very long."

"Now, I plan to get back to work, to focus on meeting existing customer needs, and deploying new Web Services that have been on hold due to the amount of time and resources I had to personally commit to the process of getting married. Kathleen and I really wanted to stay in Europe longer than we did because we had such a wonderful time. But, since all honeymoons must come to an end eventually, I am looking forward to reading though my e-mail, getting involved in Slashcode again, and playing around with Java Server Pages."