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November 30, 2001

Judge Rules that Excite Can Terminate Contracts with Cable Companies

In the latest development in a confusing week, Judge Thomas Carlson ruled that Excite@Home can end partner contracts for access to their backbone. The company can refuse to carry Internet traffic on the current terms beginning at 3:00am Eastern Time, tomorrow. That's midnight Pacific Time, or about 9 hours from the publication of this article.

Where it once seemed like Excite@Home could end up playing Scrooge, it now appears that continuation of the service is really up to the cable companies. The judge is quoted as saying, "flipping the switch and shutting off service" was unlikely, and "It's clear that the continued operations have substantial interests to the cable companies."

For our part, we will be upset if Comcast does not come to an interim agreement with Excite@Home before Excite@Home decides to stop carrying Comcast's customers' Internet traffic.

Update: We have now done several stories on the impact of various aspects of Excite's bankruptcy on cable companies and their customers. To see other stories, search CTDATA for Comcast Excite.

Defector: Bin Laden Bought Taliban's Cooperation

In another indication of the way Osama bin Laden ingratiated himself with the Taliban leadership, The Washington Post reports that a defector claims that bin Laden freely distributed cash to Taliban leaders in exchange for the ability to act with impugnity in Afghanistan.

This article confirms what Bob Woodward reported in an October 11 article to which we pointed at the time. He based his article on U.S. government analysis of the situation inside Afghanistan, much of which was apparently developed by the CIA. Looks like they were right.

New York Times Looks at Issues from All Sides in Excite Case

Today's New York Times has an article on the current situation in the Excite@Home bankruptcy case. This is one of the more comprehensive stories we've seen in terms of laying out the positions of all of the parties in the case.

Of course, they don't say much about how any of the possible settlements would actually affect the paying customers. But, talking about downstream impact on customers is probably beyond what can be expected in a news article. That would be crossing the line into making predictions based on expected outcomes. Who really knows what Judge Thomas E. Carlson is inclined to do at this point?

November 29, 2001

CTDATA Internet Services Not Impacted by Excite@Home Bankruptcy

Dave Aiello wrote, "Although we have pointed out that CTDATA is a customer of Comcast Business Communications, we want to assure our customers that our servers are not connected to the @Home Network. We do not anticipate any disruption of email or web services hosted by CTDATA, regardless of the outcome of the bankruptcy court hearing, taking place on Friday."

"CTDATA's only exposure to the @Home Network relates to the manner in which our main office is connected to the Internet. Our office's broadband connection is provided by Comcast Business Communications. If @Home Network service is interrupted, we expect access from our office to be inconvenient, but, this will have no effect on our customers ability to access their mail or maintain their Web Sites. Please let us know if you have any questions."

Comcast Notifies Business Customers of Policies Regarding Potential Outage

We learned that Comcast Business Communications has started preparing for a potential disruption of its high-speed Internet service as a result of the Excite@Home bankrupcy. Comcast has made the following information available:

  • On its Web Site, Comcast warns customers of the potential outage. It also says that Comcast is building out a new backbone for business customers that will not involve any of the @Home infrastructure.
  • Over the telephone, Comcast has created a recorded message at its Business Communications customer service number, 888-205-5000. This recorded message basically reiterates the information posted on-line.
  • Comcast has also created a new customer hotline number to help business customers deal with the potential disruption: 888-447-6060.

Residential customers are directed to call 888-433-6963. There they are instructed to back up their personal web space and check their @Home email daily. This information appears on the consumer-oriented web site.

After having spoken to several customer service representatives, listened to recorded announcements, and read information posted to their web sites, we have concluded that Comcast expects Excite@Home to prevail in its bankruptcy court petition. We urge readers who might be effected to contact their cable carriers, read the documentation available, make their own conclusions, and prepare accordingly.

FYI, CTDATA is a customer of Comcast Business Communications, but only for the connection our employees use to access the Internet from our main office. Our customers have no exposure to this situation. For more information, look here.

Update: We have now done several stories on the impact of various aspects of Excite's bankruptcy on cable companies and their customers. To see other stories, search CTDATA for Comcast Excite.

Comcast Told Some Customers to Backup Email and Personal Web Pages

Continuing the coverage of the Excite@Home bankruptcy wrangling... Martin O'Donnell pointed out an article in today's Seattle Times which discusses the steps cable companies are taking to limit the damage from service interruptions by @Home. The article reads, in part:

Comcast advised its customers to back up their e-mail files and personal Web pages in case the @Home service is shut down. Comcast also set up a Web link to provide its @Home customers with a dial-up Internet connection through NetZero, too. NetZero offers 10 hours of free Internet access per month.

Martin's question to Dave Aiello was "Did you get this notice from Comcast?" The answer is no, but this is because Comcast's consumer cable modem service gets its email and web hosting capabilities from Excite@Home's infrastructure. This does not affect CTDATA, which is a customer of Comcast's business service.

Update: We have now done several stories on the impact of various aspects of Excite's bankruptcy on cable companies and their customers. To see other stories, search CTDATA for Comcast Excite.

New York Times Profiles Jack Eichler

Julie Aiello pointed out that yesterday's New York Times contained a profile of Jack Eichler in its Portraits of Grief section. We remembered Jack in an article on October 3, the day before a memorial service was held for him in Cedar Grove, NJ. The loss of Jack Eichler devastated his family and friends, and is a constant reminder of why we fight.

We thank The New York Times for their commitment to tell the stories of everyone who was lost in the terrorist attacks on September 11.

New York Times Portraits of Grief Section Restructured

Yesterday, The New York Times restructured the on-line version of its Portraits of Grief section, where it profiles the people who died as a result of the terrorist incidents on September 11. Many people have lauded the Times for the outstanding research work and writing that have gone into creating these articles. Don Imus suggested on his radio program that the writers of this section be nominated for a collective Pulitzer Prize.

The problem with the on-line version of this section has been window format (all content appeared in a small pop-up browser window), lack of search tools (articles could only be found if their publication date was known), and lack of integration with the regular New York Times site (searches often did not find these articles). We believe that most of these issues have been addressed in the new design.

November 28, 2001

Impact of Potential Disruption of Excite@Home Services on Comcast is Unclear

Dave Aiello wrote, "Hoping to find answers to the questions raised in the previous article about a potential disruption in Excite@Home's network services due to its bankruptcy, I called Comcast Business Communications a few minutes ago. The customer service representative I spoke with indicated that she had been told about the possibility of a disruption, but she could not tell me how many Comcast customers would be affected if it took place. She also did not know whether customers could determine their exposure to @Home Network facilities by running a traceroute or using some other network discovery technique. As far as I know, Comcast has not published a statement about the potential network disruption to any of their Web Sites."

Now that you know what we know, read on for what Dave thinks Comcast should do about it....

Dave Aiello continued:

Comcast seems to think that customers will be satisfied with free dialup internet access as a contingency until they can reroute any disrupted network traffic. Maybe this will be acceptible to consumers who are paying less than $50 per month for their cable modem service. But, customers like CTDATA will need a more robust solution, and we need it yesterday.

We hope that the Bankrupcy Court judge realizes what is at stake here. This isn't just about Mom's right to surf eBay at broadband speed:

  • Some of us depend upon this service to operate our businesses.
  • We paid a premium for a business Service Level Agreement.
  • We chose a cable company as our provider because we thought the risk of service disruption due to carrier financial problems was much lower than in the DSL market.

We want what we are paying for. Comcast and the other creditors had better go to court on Friday with good lawyers. They need to do everything in their power to ensure continuity.

Dozens of Taliban Killed as Northern Alliance Retakes Fortress

Kathleen Aiello heard radio reports about the battle for a fortress outside Mazar-e-Sharif and asked what had actually happened? The BBC reports that Northern Alliance troops, backed by US and UK commandos, retook the fortress after three days of fierce battle. Their correspondents report scenes of carnage: "...scores of corpses were strewn around, including 40 in one area smaller than a {soccer field}. Dozens of dead horses also littered the scene...."

Perl.com Publishes Article on Creating RSS Files for 3rd Party Sites

Chris Ball has written an excellent article published on Perl.com that discusses how to create an RSS file for a third party Web Site using the LWP::Simple, HTML::TokeParser, and XML::RSS Perl modules.

The RCNJ.org Web Site could benefit from a program like this that digested certain well known Web Pages (example1, example2) at Rensselaer and produced RSS files for them. Then, the Slash engine on RCNJ.org could process those RSS files into Slashboxes as if the files had been created by the sites themselves.

We're sure this type of problem comes up a lot with other news-oriented community web sites that are not designed for the Web Development or Programming communities. If you run a site that falls in that category, this article is a must read. But, it's also a good tutorial for Perl developers who want to better understand network programming and simple XML processing in Perl.

Excite@Home Could Interrupt Internet Services On Friday

CNET News.com reports that Excite@Home may disrupt service to 4.1 million cable modem subscribers as early as Friday, November 30. This disclosure was made in connection with the bankruptcy case currently underway in federal bankruptcy court in San Francisco.

CTDATA is a customer of Comcast Business Communications. We will be in touch with Comcast today in order to determine whether service to our office in Lawrenceville will be affected if the bankruptcy judge rules in favor of Excite in their dispute with their customers.

Update: We have now done several stories on the impact of various aspects of Excite's bankruptcy on cable companies and their customers. To see other stories, search CTDATA for Comcast Excite.

Rush Limbaugh Compares and Contrasts George W. Bush with FDR

Rush Limbaugh has had an opinion piece published in today's Washington Post. In it, he compares George W. Bush's latest executive orders to those that Franklin D. Roosevelt issued during World War II. Limbaugh is right to make this comparison at this time.

As he points out, FDR forcibly detained 120,000 people of Japanese descent, 70,000 of which were American citizens at the time. Limbaugh says that the Bush Administration has detained only about 1,000 resident aliens who have overstayed their visas, have criminal records, or have links to terrorist groups. He also takes this opportunity to speak out on Bush's executive order establishing military tribunals and its implications for The Bill of Rights and our civil court system.

Rush Limbaugh singles out Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy for criticism. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy is blocking consideration of many judicial nominees. He has made the rounds of "the Sunday talk shows" protesting Bush's approach to identifying accessories to terrorist activity. Limbaugh says Leahy's judicial blockade is enhancing the need for military commissions and we agree. In our view, Senator Leahy can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.

November 27, 2001

List of Perl and Sybase Development Links Being Built

Sesh Rengaswamy asked if it would be possible for CTDATA.com to put together a consolidated set of links to Perl and Sybase Web Resources? We began the process today, and the results are two Slashboxes located on the CTDATA.com Programming Section Page.

Although these lists of links are nothing to write home about now, we are sure that they will evolve into a useful resource. The community is welcome to leverage off of them. Please let us know, by posting a comment or sending an email, if you know of a resource that should be added to either of these lists.

CTDATA Picked Up by NewsIsFree.com

Headlines from CTDATA.com and RCNJ.org have begun to appear on NewsIsFree, a news feed aggregation site with over 1,800 sources of headlines. NewsIsFree is a cool Web Site, if you have never seen it. It holds out the promise of allowing you to build your own customized, aggregated story flow from your favorite Weblogs.

According to the NewsIsFree About Us page, the site is run by Mike Krus and Pino Calzo. Looks like they are doing a great job. They turned around a request to add feeds from our sites in less than 3 hours.

Thanksgiving Weekend Brought a Number of Customer Service Improvements

This past weekend was a productive one at CTDATA. We finally cleared up a nagging disk space problem on the server where we host GCF's Corporate Web Site. We also updated the member database on AAHArefs in time for the annual officiating credentials expiration. All users of AAHArefs should be receiving new passwords over the next week. Finally, yesterday, we established a content syndication relationship between the RCNJ Web Site and the Rensselaer Entrepreneur Network. More information about that deal can be found in RCNJ.org and RPIentrepreneur.com Exchange Headlines on RCNJ.

November 26, 2001

Study of Ebay Auction Techniques Documented in New York Times

Sunday's New York Times contained an article about a study of eBay coin pricing by Charles Wood and Robert Kauffman. This article summarizes the results of a two year study of auctions of 19th century coins, and best practices for sellers that will result in maximized sale prices.

Art Iger from J.P. Morgan Chase pointed this study out in his Technology Industry Daily newsletter at least a month ago, but it looks like CTDATA never published a link to it. Belated credit to him.

Onslaught of Commercial Email Continues

In the latest article from Lighthouse on the Web, David Walker writes that the Email system as a whole is under deepening assault from spammers the world over. Walker says, "If you have 20 pieces of spam to throw out every time you log on, you may think twice about using email for important messages of any sort. Every new spam wave trains users that email is a junk medium."

We wonder whether this is really the case. Certainly, we hear complaints from customers occasionally about the amount of spam they receive. Yet, we haven't heard anyone say that they would stop using email. The only people we know who aren't using email are people who have found an excuse to avoid it up to this point.

AXA to Cancel All High Risk Industrial Insurance Policies

The Financial Times reports that AXA has announced that it may cancel all of its high risk industrial insurance policies in France, because it is legally required to provide terrorism coverage on such policies and reinsurers are not willing to hedge this risk anymore. Subsequent reports indicate that AXA has decided to cancel all of these policies. Other insurers in France are expected to follow this move.

This action is designed to force the French government to step in and provide some guidance and support to the industry. However, the fact that an entire class of insurance is being cancelled in a major industrial country is an important development and ought to concern people who care about financial continuity.

November 24, 2001

Ad Hoc Widows Groups Keep Pressure on City Government

The New York Times is reporting that the New York City Government is under increasing pressure from ad hoc widows groups to treat the World Trade Center site with reverence. The article includes explanations of meetings that have taken place between Mayor Giuliani, the leaders of the uniformed services, and the widows of the victims. Although a lot of the pressure comes from widows of police and firemen, the widows of the victims are also aggressively seeking to influence the government.

The article says, "The emergence of so-called widows' groups is more than an expression of dissatisfaction with City Hall, or the anger stage in the cycle of grief. It underscores how no government could have planned for such wholesale sorrow. And it reflects the profound and complex needs created by a singular disaster whose levels of unfairness continue to unfold."

November 23, 2001

Experts Warn Again of Potential Terrorist Disruption of the Internet

Today's New York Times carries an article about the possibility that terrorists attacks against the Internet are likely in response to the war currently being waged in Afghanistan. In addition, hackers who are not affiliated with terrorist groups are using increasingly powerful tools to disrupt the operation of a large number of Web Sites.

This article does not merely reiterate the warnings against the Nimda worm and its derivatives. It also talks rather extensively about vulnerabilities in the UNIX SSH utility.

In our experience, concerns about these sorts of attacks are legitimate. We urge readers who operate servers on the Internet to apply the patches recommended by their hardware, operating system, Web Server, and database vendors. Servers that are insecure because they do not carry the latest security patches are the greatest threat to the unimpeded use of the Internet today.

Vatican Security Consultant Believes Pope is a Prime Target of bin Laden

Ananova reports that Vince Cannistraro, former head of counter-terrorism for The CIA and now a security consultant to The Holy See believes that Pope John Paul II is a prime target of Osama bin Laden. He also believes that al Qaeda will attempt an attack on the Vatican during the Christmas season "in revenge for the West's bombing of Afghanistan during the muslim holy month of Ramadan."

US Government Shuts Down Somali Telecom Firms

The BBC is reporting that the two telecommunication firms in Somalia have had their international access severed because the U.S. Government believes that the companies have extensive ties to al Qaeda. The companies, The Somalia Internet Company and al Barakaat are the leading international communications companies, and Somalia Internet Company is the country's only Internet Service Provider.

As we said in an article on October 10, Somalia appears to be the African country most like Afghanistan in that political turmoil has been exploited by a number of terrorist groups. This has made Somalia the host country for many terrorist training camps.

The al Barakaat company is of particular interest because it also had a money transfer network that is thought to have been used by al Qaeda in the past. In fact, the BBC article says that "Al-Barakaat, Somalia's largest company with interests in telecommunications, banking and postal services, closed its financial businesses after its assets were frozen." We found more information about this in a U.S. State Department Fact Sheet dated November 7.

November 21, 2001

Verizon Adding Three New Overlay Area Codes in New Jersey on December 1

Verizon has announced that three new area codes will be added for Northern and Central New Jersey beginning December 1. These area codes will be overlays, meaning that a second area code will be added in each of the existing 201, 973, and 732 areas.

When changes like these are implemented, phone companies also implement 10 digit dialing. So, beginning December 1, callers in the current 973, 201, and 732 areas will have to dial both the area code and the local number to place each call. This is definitely going to confuse people when it first takes place, especially since callers in the 609 and 856 areas will not be required to use 10 digit dialing.

We are posting this to our Web Site as a matter of record and a service to our customers. CTDATA's main telephone number will remain 609-844-1200, which is our new telephone number that became effective on July 1, 2001.

Muslim Cleric in London Implicated in Spanish Investigation of al Qaeda

The Independent reports that Abu Qatada has been identified as the "spiritual leader" of al Qaeda in Europe by the Spanish anti-terror investigation that we first pointed out yesterday. According to this latest article, the indictment has now led to a total of 11 arrests in Madrid and Granada. The article further states that Judge Garzon has concluded that "Mr. Yarkas had four main contacts in Britain, the most important being Mr. Qatada. Three other contacts of the Madrid al Qaeda cell are named as Abu Walid, Abu al-Hareth and Abu Bashir. Mr. Walid is described in the indictment as 'Qatada's second man' and is said to have moved from Britain to Afghanistan. Mr. al-Hareth is described as the 'Osama bin Laden unofficial representative in the UK'."

Should We Implement a Slashcode Web Site History Module?

We are considering adding a module to the right side of the home page of the CTDATA Web Site that will automatically display the headlines from one year ago. This would be a sort of automated On This Date in CTDATA History Module.

We find that sites that have run a content management system for more than a year often refer to stories from a year or two years ago, see the Thanksgiving retrospective on Scripting News. However, we are not familiar with any Web Site which does this automatically.

If you have an opinion, pro or con, please vote in the poll that we've posted. Your comments are also welcome, either attached to this story or to the poll.

November 20, 2001

Buffalo Bills Retire Jim Kelly's Number 12

Ernie Aiello pointed out that the Buffalo Bills retired the Jim Kelly's number 12 during a ceremony honoring him for his achievements in nine seasons as Buffalo's starting quarterback. This is the first number that the Buffalo Bills have retired in their 41 year history.

Indictment in Spain Alleges Madrid Islamic Group is Affiliated with al Qaeda

Today's New York Times reports that Spanish Investigative Judge Baltazar Garzon indicted several members of a Madrid-based Islamic group for participating in activities which supported the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11. This group was also apparently involved in a foiled plot to attack the American Embassy in Paris as well.

The article characterizes the Islamic group, called Soldiers of Allah, as a terrorist cell affiliated with al Qaeda. In part, the article says that "Judge Garzon's account is based in part on years of telephone intercepts by the Spanish authorities. The document makes clear that Spanish intelligence has been watching Mr. Yarkas and listening to him in his interactions with other suspected Al Qaeda operatives around Europe and Asia since at least 1997."

The article also says that Judge Garzon has become well known internationally for attempting to have General Augusto Pinochet extradited from the United Kingdom to face charges that he violated the human rights of Spaniards who were in Chile at the time that Pinochet was the dictator there.

Tourism Suffers in Washington DC as Government Protects Itself

The Washington Post has run a number of interesting articles on the precipitous decline in tourism that has been experienced in Washington DC. In just today's paper there are articles about the decline in visitors coming from overseas (including illegal aliens) and the cancellation of White House Holiday tours for the general public. The latter article also alludes to the restrictions on the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, as well as the cancellation of regular tours of the White House and the Capitol.

We wonder if the wholesale cancellation of these tours is necessary. Major League Baseball managed to hold World Series games in Yankee Stadium this season without incident. The Capitol Police, the Secret Service, and the other security agencies ought to be able to come up with a plan to allow at least a more limited number of people to tour these facilities. People who wanted to see the White House would certainly understand additional security measures.

After September 11, we pointed out the high-profile effort by our ex-Presidents to demonstrate faith in heightened airport security by flying on commercial airlines. If the our nation's leaders want people to go back to living their lives as normally as possible, at some point they have to decide what the right balance is, between security and accessibility, for the tourist attractions in Washington.

November 19, 2001

Forbes: Harry Potter Box Office Records Not What They Seem

Forbes Magazine says that the box office numbers posted by the new Harry Potter movie should be taken with a grain of salt. Why? It opened on a massive 8,200 screens, most likely much higher than the previous record holder The Lost World (Jurassic Park 2). Also, average ticket prices are 17 percent higher than in 1997, when The Lost World debuted.

According to the article, "This is how massive conglomerates like AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal, Sony, and News Corp. release movies. Tons of screens at the opening, set a 'record,' advertise their success--the 'number one movie in America!'--and hope that everyone interested sees it before word-of-mouth spreads. Most of the record-setters and certainly seven of the top ten were forgotten within weeks of their initial release."

Doonesbury Strip Shows Bush Thanking Terrorists for Attack on America

In another in an unending series of unfunny, partisan criticisms of conservatives, Sunday's Doonesbury strip depicts President George W. Bush thanking terrorists for attacking the United States. Cartoonist Gary Trudeau ought to know that the George W. Bush-as-idiot bit wasn't funny last year, and it looks really out of place now.

November 16, 2001

What is the Military Justice To Which Terrorists May Be Subject?

With all the talk of Military Justice, it would be nice if we knew:

  • who may be subject to it,
  • under what circumstances it will be used, and
  • what the conditions will be.

The White House has published the President's Military Order, and it answers most of these questions.

Senator Leahy Challenges Bush on Military Tribunals

Today's Washinton Times is reporting that Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy criticized President Bush's decision to impose military justice on foreigners suspected of terrorist activities. Leahy said that use of military tribunals might give the world the impression that the United States is seeking "victor's justice". The article quotes Leahy as saying: "We need to understand the international implications of the president's order, which sends a message to the world that it is acceptable to hold secret trials and summary executions, without the possibility of judicial review."

We wonder what Senator Leahy means when he says summary executions? The first article that comes up when you search Google for "summary execution" is an Amnesty International reports that says that the Taleban summarily executed "scores of Afghan civilians" in Yakaolang last December. According to the description of the incident, "A Taleban commander is alleged to have ordered his forces to kill all men between the ages of 13 and 70 whom they consider to be anti-Taleban."

Well, if that's what summary execution really means, then Senator Leahy ought to choose his words more carefully. No member of the Bush Administration will ever issue an order like the one that the Taleban commander allegedly gave. And, of course, it's outrageous to even hint at the prospect.

November 15, 2001

Biztravel.com Dies Quietly

Kathleen Aiello pointed out that Biztravel.com quietly went out of business on September 15. They claim that they are a victim of "...the economic downturn, the ever-increasing economic pressures of the travel industry, and ultimately the further-reduced demand for travel resulting from the tragedy of September 11, 2001."

CTDATA used Biztravel regularly. We also used it to book personal travel. As far as we know, it was a subsidiary of Rosenbluth International, so the parent company is still in business. As we found in a Google search, this news was reported in the press, we just missed it. Guess we didn't have any travel needs that we couldn't solve with our own cars since September 11.

Question About Perl's exit() Statement Generates Huge Response on PerlMonks

Dave Aiello wrote, "Yesterday, I posted a question to PerlMonks called How aggressively does Perl clean up when you exit()?. This question arose out of a discussion at one of our consulting clients where one of the client's managers expressed doubt about the robustness of a procedure we are using to exit from batch jobs we are writing during fatal error conditions."

"This question generated a much larger response than I expected. At last check, the question had seven or eight high quality responses, and the original question had been awarded over 100 experience points. I guess you can never tell the sort of question that will hold the attention of a technical community like the one that frequents PerlMonks."

"More importantly, I am convinced that the best policy when it comes to a question that falls between the cracks in printed Perl documentation is to do as much on-line research as possible, but also to pose the question on PerlMonks. I have never been disappointed."

Fox Editorialist Likes Imus' Current Event Interviews

George Kuykendall pointed out an editorial by Eric Burns of FoxNews.com. Burns thinks that Don Imus is the "best interviewer on the air", at least when it comes to complex issues like the War on Terrorism. This is an interesting perspective, particularly because Imus appears on MSNBC, not Fox News.

The most questionable point made in this article is the one that Burns uses to try to get a laugh. Burns says of Imus, "...when he's not interviewing someone about the conduct of the war, he's probably telling a penis joke." If you are an Imus listener, answer this question: When is the last time you heard Imus tell a penis joke? The Imus In the Morning "cast" make jokes about the telling of off-color jokes all the time, but they don't do it much.

Poster Boy for Dotcom Bubble Takes Package at Merrill Lynch

The New York Times reports that Internet stock analyst Henry Blodget has accepted a buy out package from Merrill Lynch and will leave the company soon. Blodget became a poster boy for Internet stock mania when he predicted that the stock of Amazon.com would rise to $400 per share.

Blodget's resignation from Merrill will ultimately appear as a point on the timeline representing the lifecycle of the Dotcom bubble. No one should cry for him, he made more money in the last three years than most families will see in two generations.

Central NJ Post Office Closings Put Some SAT Scores in Limbo

The College Board has not received SAT test results from dozens of high schools around the country because of the closing of post offices in Trenton and Princeton. Apparently test results from these high schools were sent by U.S. Mail, and happened to be passing through one of the closed post offices when contamination was initially detected.

This is a truly high profile side-effect of anthrax contamination. A lot of people are upset and frustrated about this, and relatively little of this kind of reaction has taken place to date. Of course, you can't compare the loss of SAT test materials to the deaths of postal workers from inhalation anthrax.

November 14, 2001

Times of London Finds Nuclear Bomb Plans in Bin Laden Safe House

Thursday's edition of The Times of London reports that they have discovered partially burned plans for a nuclear weapon in an abandoned Al Qaeda safe house in Kabul. Also found in the safe were plans for missles and bombs of various types.

The article says, in part: "While the terrorists may not yet have the capability to build such weapons, their hopes of doing so are clear. One set of notes, written on headed notepaper
from the Hotel Grand in Peshawar and dated April 26, 1998, says: 'Naturally
the explosive liquid has a very high mechanical energy which is translated into
destructive force. But it can be tamed, controlled and can be used as a useful
propulsive fuel if certain methods are applied to it. A supersonic moving missile
has a shock wave. That shock wave can be used to contain an external
combustion behind the missile . . .'"

Red Cross Buckles Under Pressure: Liberty Fund Will Go Entirely to Victims

The Washington Post is reporting that the American Red Cross has reversed itself and will distribute 100 percent of the Liberty Fund to the families of September 11 victims. Harold Decker, CEO of the Red Cross said, "Americans have spoken loudly and clearly that they want our relief efforts directed at the people affected by the Sept. 11 tragedies."

Too bad it took the resignation of the previous CEO and weeks of pressure from critics like Bill O'Reilly of the O'Reilly Factor to get them to change their policies.

Consumers Not Seeking Broadband Access in Expected Numbers

Monday's Chicago Tribune reported that telecommunications executives have become frustrated that a many consumers are unwilling to pay a premium for high speed Internet access. This article is interesting as far as it goes. But, the real issue is the lack of compelling, consumer-oriented applications that are not in imminent danger of being taken away.

One of the applications that has driven consumer broadband installations is acquisition of MP3 music files. If the entertainment industry developed a service model for delivering MP3 and other media content over the Internet that did not try to curtail "Fair Use", many more consumers would eventually have broadband installed. But, the entertainment industry has been cynical in its attempt to impose restrictions on digitally perfect recordings. In the process, they have nearly killed the only compelling reason for most consumers to have broadband.

Howard Stern Criticizes Imus Ranch: "Biggest Scam-Foolery I've Ever Seen"

In an article in today's New York Post, former WABC Program Director John Mainelli reports that media personality Howard Stern criticized fellow Infinity Broadcasting personality Don Imus for the "stunning" appointments of the ranch that he built to host children with cancer and serious blood disorders, as well as children who have lost loved ones to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the World Trade Center Disaster.

CTDATA donates a small amount of money each year to the C.J. Foundation for SIDS and The Imus Ranch through the WFAN Radiothon for Tomorrow's Children. We think Stern's criticisms are sour grapes. Don Imus, his family, and his co-workers have worked tirelessly for the benefit of the charities they support. Stern should be so generous with his time and resources.

Sky Marshals Stop Flight to Reagan National

The Washington Post is reporting that U.S. Sky Marshals ordered a USAirways flight to Reagan National Airport to land at Dulles yesterday. The Sky Marshals took action after a passenger failed to comply with the new FAA rule that requires that all passengers remain seated for the last 30 minutes of flights into Reagan National Airport. The passenger apologized, saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just wanted to go to the bathroom."

The marshals did the right thing. The airline industry will only eventually return to normal if all passengers feel safe. Passengers will no longer feel safe unless everyone follows the instructions of the flight crew. The era of ignoring the instructions of the crew, for example, of passengers getting up before the aircraft is parked at the gate, ought to be over.

November 13, 2001

Library of Congress Creating Archive of September 11 Web Sites

ComputerWorld is reporting that The Library of Congress has announced that it is creating an archive of Web Site content about the September 11 disasters. The site is already accessible at http://september11.archive.org/.

The archive site contains a means to suggest Web Sites that have content that ought to be included because of they contain relevant content. We have already submitted CTDATA.com and RCNJ.org for inclusion.

How the CDC Mobilized to Research Anthrax

Today's New York Times contains an article about the Centers for Disease Control's approach to investigating anthrax cases in New York City, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. The article begins telling the story from the time the second case of anthrax was discovered until now. It's an interesting article, but, it does not have technical details that would be interesting to our readers in the medical field.

One question that keeps rising out of descriptions of how governments operate public health agencies is how much of their information gathering involves the use of modern information technology? On the basis of things that are said in this article (such as, "But in the initial stages of the inquiry, communication among team members was difficult because some epidemiologists in the field were not privy to information gathered by colleagues...."), we think it is fair to ask that question.

November 12, 2001

Free Software Foundation: SourceForge is Drifting

In an article on the Web Site of Free Software Foundation Europe, Loic Dachary says that SourceForge is "drifting" because it is now using proprietary software components and because some portions of the Web Site that allowed OpenSource projects to be exported have been removed. SourceForge is a Web Service operated by VA Linux Systems that provides version control and communications services to OpenSource software projects.

In our opinon, there has always been "counterparty risk" associated with using the SourceForge service (i.e., will OpenSource projects be able to continue if SourceForge ceases to exist?). But, people involved in OpenSource projects have not acted as if this was a major concern until relatively recently.

Airbus A300 Crashes on Takeoff from JFK

All news agencies are reporting that American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on takeoff from JFK Airport in New York. It was a scheduled flight to Santo Domingo. The plane was an Airbus A300, a wide-body jet, with about 250 people aboard. Radio and TV reports indicate that this may have been a mechanical problem with one of the engines. Another report has indicated that the FBI believes that an explosion may have taken place on board the plane.

Red Cross Discloses That Much Donated Blood Will Be Destroyed

A front page story in yesterday's Washington Post revealed that Red Cross officials collected hundreds of thousands of blood donations knowing that the blood could not be used for victims of the terrorist attack on September 11. They also knew that unfrozen blood has a shelf life of 42 days, and that there was no FDA-approved plan for freezing large quantities of donated blood. As a result, the Red Cross and blood banks across America will end up burning a large amount of donated blood in order to destroy it.

This is the latest in a series of troubling revelations about the management of the American Red Cross. The difficult part of reading these reports is understand which of them are legitimate criticisms and which are exaggerations. For instance, the Washinton Post emphasizes the amount of blood product likely to be destroyed, while the Red Cross places it emphasis on the fact that many blood donations will be used for platelets and plasma instead of whole blood. This information and more is available in the section of the Red Cross's site that discusses how donations made in the aftermath of the terrorist attack are being used.

November 9, 2001

NYFD Commissioner Von Essen Will Not Seek Reappointment

In an article that is as much a short biography as it is a news account, The New York Times is reporting that NYFD Commissioner Thomas Von Essen will not seek reappointment to his post in the Bloomberg Administration. Von Essen is a 31 year veteran of the department, who began his career at Ladder Company 42 in the Bronx.

This is another in a series of revelations about the New York Fire Department that is difficult for outsiders to understand. Everyone knows about the protest that rank and file firemen made at Ground Zero and City Hall in response to cutbacks in the number of firemen involved in the recovery effort. But, no credible explanation has been given for the humiliation of the Fire Commissioner by the men of the Department in the manner illustrated in this article. Regardless of the explanation, it reflects badly on the Department and the entire recovery effort.

November 8, 2001

Is SportBrain Coming Back to Life?

Marilyn Bailey wrote: "I simply want to know what to do with the SportBrain now that they've shut down. Is there another address where we can download our data?"

It appears that SportBrain has undergone a bankruptcy reorganization and is planning to relaunch. Little information is available except for the announcement that appears on the SportBrain homepage. We always try to confirm news like this before we post it. But, considering the fact that we are talking about a defunct company being resurrected, we thought it best to post this information now. If we find out it's a hoax, we will update this story.

Bill Clinton Says Attacks on America Are Payback for Past Injustices

George Kuykendall pointed out that The Washington Times is reporting that former president Clinton made a controversial speech at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service yesterday. In the speech, Clinton said that America is "paying a price today" for past social injustices including slavery and wars against American Indians.

Bill Clinton needs to realize that the people who are attacking us today weren't affected by these social injustices. To raise these issues, even tangentially, to the current war on terrorism is a disservice to America.

Currency Traders Allegedly Attempted to Use Attack to Hide Losses

The New York Times is reporting that a lawsuit filed yesterday alleges that traders at First Equity Enterprises and Evergreen International Spot Trading conspired to hide $105 million in missing funds by claiming it was somehow lost as a result of the World Trade Center attack on September 11. The lawsuit claims that three executives absconded with the money and were attempting to steal an additional $160 million from clients of the firms to cover up the original losses.

This is not the first report of an attempt to use the terrorist attack to cover up unrelated problems. Although the vast majority of loss claims will undoubtedly be legitimate, we have often wondered how many bogus claims would be filed for things like destroyed automobiles.

This kind of activity is insidious because fraud deprives those who have suffered legitimate losses of resources they deserve. Fraud investigations also delay the distribution of insurance settlements and charitable relief. Americans must have no tolerance for deception in this time of need.

November 7, 2001

Ugh! McGreevey Governor-Elect in NJ

The Associated Press reports that Jim McGreevey won the gubernatorial election in New Jersey by a decisive margin over Brett Schundler.

This is not so much a McGreevey victory as it is a defeat for the establishment in the New Jersey State Republican Party. After years of debacles like the proposed Newark Arena and the financing of EZPass, who can blame middle-of-the-road voters in New Jersey for voting for McGreevey or staying home? Combine this with the fact that many diehards in the State Republican Party never got over the fact that Schundler defeated their candidate, Bob Franks, and you have the recipe for disaster.

For our money, Schundler was the only reasonable choice. But, he would not have been able to break through the status quo in Trenton. We will surely experience frustration with New Jersey's State Government over the next four years, but we hope that frustration will contribute to a more complete purge of the governing class in future elections.

New PerlMonks Discussion on Sybase Interfaces

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over on PerlMonks, Michael Peppler posted an article comparing sybperl and DBI::Sybase. This may seem like navel-gazing to many of our readers, but it is critically important to a consulting project that I recently started."

"As I argue in my reply, many developers are using sybperl by default. This is a problem because sybperl has a documentation deficit when compared to DBI. Furthermore, much of the example code floating around in the securities industry is not of high quality. This almost always results in trouble when in the hands of a less experienced developer."

"DBI has a heck of a lot more documentation and good sample code than sybperl. But, as long as companies start using sybperl before the call people like us, we will have to continue to support it. So, I suggested that increased sybperl documentation and sample code be produced by the community."

November 6, 2001

Airline Yield Management Software Cannot Deal With Current Scenario

Art Iger, our friend at J.P. Morgan Chase, pointed out an article in yesterday's San Jose Mercury-News which discusses the huge problems that airlines are having filling seats on their flights. The article focuses on yield management software, statistical price modeling software that uses past demand for seats to determine future seat pricing. The issue is that the incidents of September 11 introduced a huge discontinuity in demand, and that has resulted in a significant reduction in the percentage of filled seats, which has persisted until now.

The concept of yield or revenue management is an interesting one to study. If you are interested, we highly recommend the book Revenue Management by Robert G. Cross as a non-technical overview. It is also available as an audiobook.

VMware Workstation 3.0 Now Shipping

Yesterday, VMware announced the shipment of VMware Workstation 3.0. CTDATA continues to endorse this excellent product, and we consider several new features must-haves for those developers who need to use multiple operating systems. Among the new features that we find particularly compelling are:

  • USB support
  • Larger virtual disk support (beyond the previous 2M barrier)
  • DVD ROM support
  • Windows XP support

    Upgrades are $99 for most existing licensees. The full version is $299. Those prices are for download, shink-wrapped pricing is slightly higher in both cases.

  • Fox Provided Emmy Updates to World Series Viewers

    TVinsite notes that Fox provided in-game updates on the Emmy Awards to viewers of Game 7 of the World Series and that irked unnamed executives at CBS. So what? Many of us have muttered at the TV during sports events, knowing that some other important news event is taking place, but the in-game update feature keeps rotating scores of other sports events. The fact that the winner of awards such as "Best Comedy Series" was flashed across the screen during the game made perfect sense at the time.

    As the TVinsite article says, if CBS is upset that Fox did this, they should have waited until the next Sunday to stay away from Game 7.

    November 2, 2001

    NYFD Members Protest Rescue Worker Cutbacks at Ground Zero

    The Associated Press is reporting that three members of the New York Fire Department were arrested in a protest about a cutback of rescue workers at the World Trade Center site. The cutbacks were ordered by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and specified that no more than 24 police and 24 firemen be present at Ground Zero at any one time.

    This is a sensitive issue which was bound to come up at some point. How long should the search go on for those that have been lost? If there are bodies which can be substantially recovered, they should be recovered and treated with respect. This is particularly the case with the bodies of firemen and policemen. No one wants bodies to be found at Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island next week or next year because contractors got too aggresive with debris removal.

    Microsoft and Justice Department Agree to Settlement

    Completing one of the highest profile negotiations between the Federal government and a corporation in history, Microsoft and the Justice Department have finally proposed a settlement in the Anti-Trust Case to District Courty Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

    Regardless of what you think of the proposal, the war has rendered this litigation a minor issue for the Government. They are right to end the case as quickly as they can, and focus their resources elsewhere.

    White House Chief of Staff Recounts Role on September 11

    An article in today's Boston Globe recounts White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card's speech before the Boston Chamber of Commerce. In his speech, Card makes news by saying that he may not stay in his post for too much longer, although it is not clear how he anticipates leaving.

    But, the most amazing aspect of this article is the fact that it repeats the criticism of the President's actions in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Will the left in this country ever give up criticizing President Bush for not going directly back to Washington?

    November 1, 2001

    Fire Drill in Office Building Reflects New Seriousness

    Dave Aiello wrote, "Today, I participated in a fire drill at a large corporate office building in Whippany, NJ. It was the first fire drill I have witnessed since September 11. I was surprised at the seriousness with which the staff took the drill. Then, I remembered that the thought of the World Trade Center on September 11 must have crossed peoples minds. I know it crossed mine."

    "Glad that people are not fooling around anymore. Too bad it took such a tragedy to make it happen."

    On-Line vi Reference Manual: Useful If You Get Stuck

    Dave Aiello wrote, "Aside: I feel like we are returning to our geek roots with this article."

    A couple of days ago, we found ourselves casting about for a reminder of what ex commands are useable in the vi file editor (present on nearly all UNIX systems). In searching the Web, we found this handy vi Reference, which should get most people through the day, until they can get back home and pick up their O'Reilly book.

    NY Times: WTC Vault Space Intact

    Today's New York Times reports that a security firm engaged by ScotiaBank is quietly recovering the gold that the firm held in a vault in the basement of the World Trade Center. The implication of this article is that several basement storage areas in the World Trade Center may contain undamaged, or only slightly damaged, goods.

    If the U.S. Government storage areas are not damaged, law enforcement agencies with offices in the World Trade Center might not have lost as many pieces of evidence and records of investigations as previously thought.