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December 28, 2001

Yankees Move Radio Broadcasts to WCBS AM

The Associated Press reports that The New York Yankees have agreed to a deal with Infinity Broadcasting for radio broadcast of all Yankee games in the New York City market. Broadcasts will be heard on WCBS AM 880, an all-news radio station. This marks the end of a 21 year relationship between WABC and the New York Yankees.

This is a deal with huge implications in the New York media market. WABC had made its Yankees broadcast the centerpiece of its line up from March to October. It is possible Infinity's ability to carry both English and Spanish broadcasts on major radio stations played a significant role in the final agreement. It is also likely that the previously announced agreement between the Yankees and CBS for local TV broadcast of Yankee games also played a role. CBS and Infinity Broadcasting are both owned by Viacom.

The Economist Calls America Unready for Future Terror Attacks

Another article that Camworld pointed to this morning was published in The Economist, entitled America the Unready. It criticizes the majority of Federal efforts to improve security and preparedness for future terrorist attacks, while praising certain local efforts.

We agree. Even with the effort expended to improve security in commercial aviation, major airports are still not screening all checked baggage. Who among us really feels comfortable getting on a coast-to-coast flight these days?

In addition, the focus on passenger screening on scheduled flights has the feel of "closing the barn door once the cows have left". It is reasonable to suspect that the next major terrorist attack attempted will not involve the use of commercial aviation, at least in the same manner. And even if it does, the security measures actually implemented so far do not sufficiently mitigate the problems that the September 11 attacks pointed out.

Giuliani Delivers Farewell Address as NYC Mayor

The New York Times reports that New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gave a farewell address yesterday at St. Paul's Chapel on Broadway in Lower Manhattan. The church is very close to the location of "Ground Zero", the former site of the World Trade Center.

Giuliani used this opportunity to call for a "soaring, monumental" memorial to be built on the site of the World Trade Center. In doing so, he is representing the feelings of a large percentage of people in the New York Metropolitan area who know someone who was lost in the attack on September 11, and will never be able to return to that place without thinking of that terrible day.

We would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to point out that Rudolph W. Giuliani was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2001. There is no one who is more deserving of such an honor, and it only underscores the respect and admiration that the nation has for him.

Call for Metadata to Be Embedded in Radio Programs

After a holiday trip to Michigan, Cameron Barrett of Camworld suggests that the radio industry develop and implement a metadata standard for descriptions of programming. He focuses on music, but as much information could be provided about information-oriented radio programming, like financial advice and political talk shows.

Because some of us are very active listeners to radio, CTDATA has some interest in the subject. Read on for an explanation of what we know about the subject, and where we think technological progress is most likely.

We have experienced the state-of-the-art in Europe: the Radio Data System standard which provides a bit of the information that a full-blown metadata system would ultimately provide. The RDS system is interesting, if you understand how radio broadcasting is organized in the European Union, and if you understand the information that your radio is trying to deliver to you. It would have been helpful to have the PDF document that we linked into this paragraph as a reference when we traveled to Switzerland, Italy, and France this past July.

It should be noted that the Radio Data System has never gotten any traction in the United States. A few radio stations have attempted to implement the RDS travel announcement feature, but there were never enough car radios compatible with it to make it a useful service.

We think that with the consolidation of traditional radio broadcasting in the United States into larger and larger networks, it would be easier to implement such a metadata standard than it used to be. However, our understanding of the way consolidators like Clear Channel Communications operates is that they acquire stations and to achieve economies of scale in delivery of audiences for advertising. (This is documented in the book It's Not the Big that Eat the Small, It's The Fast that Eat the Slow, and in the "Clear Channel Creed" on their web site.)
As such, we expect technological advancement to be greatest in this area and not in the area of describing the programming to the audience.

Another factor in any radio metadata development would have to be the potential emergence of satellite radio in the United States. This is currently being implemented by XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio. We have never used these services and wonder if they have implemented some sort of metadata subcarrier for their services already.

Nevertheless, we expect that the European market will continue to drive any progress in this sort of technology for the foreseeable future. It is much easier to sell the broadcasters, advertisers, and the public on enhancements to a system that already works at a minimal level than to try to create a market for such services in places where most consumers do not yet see the benefits of any similar technology.

OJR Reviews Internet News Site Performance in 3 Week Survey

The Online Journalism Review has produced a three week study of the 15 most popular news-oriented web sites. The author added several other news-oriented web sites from the United States and the UK which have somewhat less traffic, but are often looked at for breaking news.

This is a well written guide to the strengths and weaknesses of many of the sites. However, the article is not as comprehensive as it could have been, because it does not characterize all of the sites that were covered by the survey and no statistical information was provided.

December 27, 2001

If You Average November and December, Buffalo's Weather is Normal

The Associated Press reports on another huge lake-effect snow storm in Western New York. This is the second such storm to occur this week. Among other things, the article points out: "It's been a drastic change for a community that enjoyed its first November on record without snow, and recorded only 11/2 inches before Christmas Eve."

Perhaps it's an irreverent thought, but this may be one of the best recent examples of The Law of Averages.

Mossberg: Microsoft Had a Good Year... at Customer Expense

In his latest Personal Technology column in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg criticizes Microsoft for continuing to tie new features in its products to its own services in an exclusive manner. Many examples of this exist in Microsoft's new operating system, Windows XP. About this tying, Mossberg writes:

So what, some might ask? Isn't it common in a free market for companies to use one of their products to cross-promote another? Doesn't AOL use its online service to boost the movies made by its Warner Brothers studios? Doesn't The Wall Street Journal run ads and plugs for its sister publications and Web sites? The difference is that these other companies aren't court-certified monopolies, and when you're a monopoly, you have to follow different rules, as the appeals court said.

We agree, and would like to add that some Microsoft design decisions in Windows XP have already had profound, negative effects on the internal security of their customers' networks the eluded detection because some features of XP remain cloaked in secrecy. Read on for an example and a call for more transparency in Microsoft's business practices....

The best example is the security hole that Microsoft mistakenly left in the Universal Plug and Play Service. We wonder why security companies must place such stern warnings on the web sites about Microsoft product features: not only the original version which contained the vulnerability, but also the version that purportedly mitigates it? What other operating system services, buried deep in Windows XP for the supposed benefit of computer users everywhere, are vulnerabilities waiting to be exploited?

We don't know because Microsoft has not been forced by the U.S. Government to do business in the open. This has traditionally been the price companies have paid for being allowed to continue to operate a de facto monopoly. Microsoft should carry the same burden as AT&T and Standard Oil did in their respective haydays.

iWon.com Picks Up Excite.com Portal for a Song

The New York Times reports that Irvington, NY-based iWon.com has purchased the remaining portions of web portal Excite.com for less than $10 million. The Times article essentially defines the story as an example of a sort of "last-mover advantage," in that iWon.com did not begin operations until 1999 and has never had more than 230 employees.

Oh how far the mighty have fallen! In the documentary Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet, produced in 1998, the founders of Excite are briefly seen writing code for their portal. The code, visible on the computer screen, was Perl. How successful could those original developers have been if they had grown their site organically, focused on performance improvements, and not gone hog wild with acquisitions?

Recording Industry Problems: Mostly About the Product

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported that the recording industry is losing large amounts of money because new releases from previously popular artists are failing to sell in expected volumes. The article does mention Internet piracy as one of the drags on industry profits, but it also lists four other major issues: lackluster album sales, eroding profit margins, skyrocketing marketing expenses, and executive salaries.

In our view, the problems that the recording industry is experiencing are quite similar to the ones that are affecting the movie industry: mediocre product. Neither unrelenting hype, nor piracy protestations from Jack Valenti or Hilary Rosen can prop up these important American industries if the new product pipeline is filled with bilge.

Many of these problems would be fixed if the established artists and industry executives were paid solely on the basis of their performance. The record companies must also rationalize their organizations and find a new distribution model that embraces the Internet and does not insult customers by treating all of them as if they are thieves.

Movie Sound Specialist Demonstrates How to Build a 1.5T SAN for Under $35k

In an article that really ought to interest people running small high tech companies, CIO Magazine profiles Lew Goldstein, sound supervisor at C5 Inc. in New York City. Goldstein built a 1.5 Terabyte storage area network from individual components for less than $35 thousand. Martin O'Donnell has been preaching this approach to server construction for several years now. It's time to take another look at this approach, in light of the economic realities that most of us are facing.

December 26, 2001

In Memory of Monteria Ivey

Julie Aiello pointed out that The New York Times has reported that Monteria Ivey died two weeks ago at age 41. Ivey and his comedic partner, Stephan Dweck, appeared regularly on the Imus in the Morning radio program, to which many CTDATA.com readers listen regularly.

Monteria Ivey was a graduate of Dartmouth College, and was obviously an intelligent observer of the contemporary social scene. However, he will be most remembered for a type of joke made at a friend's expense that he called a "snap". One example from his obituary:

When he was growing up, his family was so poor they used to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people's fingers.

It is difficult to know where he and Dweck's humor ended and their depiction of life on the streets of New York City began. Nearly anyone who has spent time there has heard this sort of comment from one black person to another on the street or the Subway. Ivey and Dweck raised it to an art form.

ZDNet OpEd Unfavorably Compares Content Management and ERP Software

Over on ZDnet, Eric Knorr wrote an op-ed piece comparing enterprise-level Content Management systems to ERP systems like SAP. We have made similar analogies for some time, calling Content Management systems the equivalent of industrial robots that can be used as key pieces of an assembly line, but largely useless on their own.

Many of our customers in the Financial Services business have used enterprise content management systems like Vignette and Interwoven to deliver major Web Sites. Development of these sites turned out to be much more difficult than expected, because these publishing systems don't work at all if workflow is not created around them.

O'Reilly Network Picks Its Best Articles for 2001

The O'Reilly Network, a service of the technical book publishing company, has chosen its best technical articles for 2001. A number of these articles, including Performance Test: 802.11b Takes a Lickin' and Keeps on Tickin' and the meta-article Using Tomcat, look useful despite the fact that they were published several months ago.

Greek Orthodox Church in Lower Manhattan to Rebuild

The Associated Press reports that St. Nicholas' Greek Orthodox Church will be rebuilt. St. Nicholas is the only church destroyed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that took place on September 11. Prior to its destruction, was only 22 feet wide, 56 feet long and 35 feet high.

Over $2 million has been raised to permit the reconstruction. This includes a donation of $500 thousand from the parishioners of Basilica di San Nicola of Bari, Italy. Bari's patron saint is St. Nicholas.

December 21, 2001

Palm Handwriting Recognition Infringes on Xerox Patent

Money.CNN.com reports that Judge Michael Telesca ruled that Palm's Graffiti handwriting recognition system infringes on a Xerox patent. The case now moves to the damages phase of the trial, where fines and/or terms of a license agreement may be imposed.

This case has been underway since 1997, when Palm Computing was a subsidiary of U.S. Robotics, the modem manufacturer later acquired by 3Com. Of course, 3Com later spun Palm off into its own company.

This is also an indication that Xerox will benefit financially from fundimental computing research which took place at the PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox PARC also invented the Graphical User Interface, laser printing, and Ethernet.

Microsoft Expected to Push AT&T Comcast to Drop VPN Restrictions

Computerworld reports that Microsoft is expected to use its stake in AT&T Comcast to push for policy changes. High on the list, apparently, is the right to use virtual private networks (VPNs) at the consumer price point. Comcast has prohibited VPN use on its consumer-grade service since the Summer of 2000. AT&T Broadband does not prohibit it, but also does not provide technical support.

Minnesota Flight Instructor Tipped FBI on Moussaoui in August

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that an unidentified flight instructor in Minnesota contacted the FBI in August to report that Zacarias Moussaoui was taking instruction on a Boeing 747 flight simulator. According to the article, agents from the FBI arrested Moussaoui the next day. He was subsequently charged with the commission of six felonies by the U.S. Government.

Although the Minneapolis office of the FBI did pick up Moussaoui, Minnesota congressman Jim Oberstar said that the office's response to the flight instructor's calls was so "bureaucratic" that a less-determined tipster might have stopped calling.

Apparently, the same flight school's Phoenix, AZ office contacted the FAA earlier in the year regarding the training requested by Hani Hanjour, believed to have been at the controls of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Although the FAA observed Hanjour in class, it seems they were more concerned with ensuring that Hanjour learned English than assessing the purpose of his training.

Rush Limbaugh Has Successful Cochlear Implant Surgery

Rush Limbaugh and The House Ear Clinic have announced that Rush Limbaugh has undergone successful cochlear implant surgery in Los Angeles. This was the next step in the treatment regime for Auto-Immune Inner Ear Disease (AIED), an ailment that began to affect him several months ago. An FAQ about the surgery and its expected outcome was also posted at RushLimbaugh.com.

December 20, 2001

Argentina Spirals into Further Chaos as President Resigns

The BBC reports that Fernando de la Rua has resigned as President of Argentina. This is the latest development in a nationwide series of riots over the deepening financial crisis gripping the country. de la Rua was forced to flee the presidential palace in a helicopter after tendering his resignation.

The BBC has done an excellent job assembling background information on the entire crisis. This Q&A on Argentina's Economic Crisis is a particularly good overview for those readers who are unfamiliar with the situation.

CTDATA.com Style Guide

This is a brief guide to the conventions used in CTDATA.com stories.

Parts of a story

Stories are divided into Intro Text and Body Text. Content entered into Intro Text appears on the CTDATA.com home page and the relevant section page. Many stories on this site are completely contained in the Intro Text section.

Body Text is generally used for stories longer than three or four paragraphs, although there is no hard-and-fast rule about the maximum length of the Intro Text section of a story. It is not necessary to end the Intro Text block with a <P> tag unless the text visible to the reader in the Intro Text block is less than 3 lines.

If a story continues into the Body Text block, the Intro Text should generally end with a paragraph that invites the user to read on, and summarizes what else is contained in the story. For example:

Read on for a summary of the article and some thoughts on what we've noticed in looking at our sites....

This example is taken from http://www.ctdata.com/cm/2001/12/19/0620244.shtml.

Importance of the first link in a story

This site is a Weblog. You will find that nearly all stories are discussions of information that appears elsewhere on the World Wide Web. Therefore, stories should be written so that the first hypertext link is the main point of interest for the reader.

The implication of this is that we do not generally provide links to the main page of the subject's source site. For example, if a CTDATA.com article points to an article that appears in the New York Times, the first link in the Intro Text section of the CTDATA.com story is to the URL of the specific New York Times story, not to the home page of the New York Times itself.

However, stories that are driven off of content from other Web Sites are quite often attributed in the following manner:

Qwest Stops Expanding DSL Service Areas

Posted by dave_aiello on Dec 20 2001 6:45AM
from the no-competition department.

EE Times reports that Qwest has halted the expansion of the number of central offices where it deploys DSL service equipment. Qwest acquired USWest a while ago, and is now the Regional Bell Operating Company for the Northwestern United States....

Example is from http://www.ctdata.com/broadband/2001/12/20/0645238.shtml.

As you can see, the publication that the link is attributed to (EETimes) is in bold text. If it were a link, many people would click on it and not on the link that points to the story we want people to read.

Link Text

Wherever possible, link text for the first link should summarize the entire Web Page that the link points to. In the example shown above, the link text (Qwest has halted the expansion of the number of central offices where it deploys DSL service equipment) summarizes the EETimes story.

Note that link text is pulled out by the Slash engine and stuck into a Slashbox called "Related Links" that appears on each story page. Therefore, link text should be kept as concise and in context as possible.

Other information typically printed in bold

Stories also generally print the following things in bold:
  • names of companies or institutions
  • names of people
  • name of CTDATA or CTDATA.com
Companies and institutions are generally bolded the first time they are used in a paragraph. Names of people, CTDATA, or CTDATA.com are generally bolded whenever they occur. Here are the exceptions:
  • If following the bolding rules seems overly repetitious, then bolding of the above items should occur once in the story.
  • Elements that are normally printed in bold may be turned into links at the author's option. However, the link should only be made once, and it should occur as high in the story as possible.

Use of CTDATA versus CTDATA.com

CTDATA is used to refer to Chatham Township Data Corporation. CTDATA.com is used when stories need to refer to the Web Site itself in a way that does not relate strongly to the company. Examples:
  • CTDATA builds Slashcode based Web Sites.
  • We have added a new feature to CTDATA.com.

Use of First Person versus Third Person

First person viewpoint is generally used in the following cases:
  • Whenever a story is submitted by a registered user of CTDATA.com or an Anonymous Coward and their personal reflections or insights add value to the story.
  • When a story is created entirely by an author and the story loses impact if "I", "me", or "my" are removed.
  • When a story is created entirely by an author and its viewpoint deviates from the established corporate position of CTDATA. This can only be determined by the general sense of previous postings on CTDATA.com.
Stories written in first person should be attributed to a specific person, the name should be printed in bold print, and the article should be written as a quotation. When an author writes a story in first person, the story should begin with the author's full name in bold print, and the entire article should be written as if it was a quotation.

When first person stories extends into the Body Text block, that block should begin with "Name of person continued:". The rest of the story should be written inside of <blockquote> tags.

Third person viewpoint is used on all other stories.

Note: If you think that an article written in third person have any political implications, be sure that they agree with positions taken in other articles on CTDATA.com that are written in third person. If there is any non-trivial difference, rewrite the article in first person, and attribute it to yourself.

To be continued....

What is the "Managing CTDATA" Section of CTDATA.com

The Managing CTDATA section of CTDATA.com exists to convey useful site administration information to people who are joining the web site as authors. Experienced authors may contribute information to this section, but generally won't find much they don't know here.

Qwest Stops Expanding DSL Service Areas

EE Times reports that Qwest has halted the expansion of the number of central offices where it deploys DSL service equipment. Qwest acquired USWest a while ago, and is now the Regional Bell Operating Company for the Northwestern United States. Qwest CEO Joseph Naccio reportedly blamed the decision on the 1996 Telcommunications Reform Act, and added that it is unfair to incumbent local carriers, since cable TV multisystem operators do not have to allow broadband competition.

Of course, there are areas in Qwest territory where neither DSL nor cable modem services are available. Some people living in those areas had reasonable expectations of broadband access in the near future, due to the competitive market that appeared to be developing in 1998 and 1999. With this decision, many of those people's hopes are dashed.

CTDATA Launches "Broadband Internet Access" Section of its Web Site

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over the past few weeks, we have covered the Excite@Home bankruptcy, Comcast's and Cox's virtual private network restrictions, and the merger of AT&T Broadband and Comcast. We believe that stories like these will be of on-going interest to our customers and friends. As a result, I created the Broadband Internet Access section of CTDATA.com."

"When we have time, we will relocate the stories that logically belong in this section and add directives to our web server to help people find those articles in their new homes. Please let us know if you have any comments or questions about these new features of our Web Site."

What is the Broadband Internet Access Section of ctdata.com?

The Broadband Internet Access section of ctdata.com is a place to document our experiences with cable modems, DSL, and other high speed Internet access services primarily designed for residential or small office customers. We will also report news affecting these markets in this section

Argentine President Declares State of Siege

The Washington Post reports that Argentine President de la Rua declared a state of siege in order to put down riots in cities across the country resulting from a downward economic spiral that has lasted for more than three years. Argentina has been struggling to make payments on over $132 billion dollars in public debt, the by-product of years of runaway government spending.

Argentina had been the leading economy in South America because the rest of its economy has been run in a very sound and responsible manner. Because of the paradox of unchecked government spending and a hard currency economic policy, 18 percent of its able-bodied workers are jobless and 40 percent of its population is now at or below the poverty line.

The situation in Argentina is nothing short of a disaster. Much more attention would be paid to this issue, if the terrorist attacks on the United States had not taken place and war had not subsequently broken out.

Boingo Wireless to Integrate Public WiFi Networks

802.11b Networking News reports that a new company has been launched to integrate public WiFi networks in the United States. Boingo Wireless founded by Earthlink founder Sky Dayton, will offer a software layer that will integrate independently-owned wireless networks being built by independent businesses with which Boingo hopes to partner. In effect, Boingo will provide a roaming service for WiFi networks.

Boingo's software will provide single user login, WEP key management, WiFi network profile management, preferred network priority, VPN (virtual private network) service to Boingo's public servers, quality of service (QoS) tracking, and connection logging. These are most of the services that would be necessary to establish a nationwide wireless internet service based on the 802.11b protocol, provided the physical infrastructure is built.

AT&T Accepts Comcast's Revised Offer for its Broadband Unit

CBS Marketwatch is reporting that AT&T has accepted Comcast's revised offer for AT&T Broadband. The complex deal is valued at $72 billion. The new company resulting from the combination of Comcast and AT&T Broadband will be called AT&T Comcast Corporation.

This appears to be an excellent deal for shareholders of both companies. AT&T reduces its corporate debt substantially. Its shareholders gain financial and voting control over the biggest cable company in the United States. Comcast shareholders gain a substantial interest in the largest cable company in the United States. They also gain a true voting interest in the future of that company, which they did not have in Comcast if they were Class "A" shareholders.

The announcement indicates that AT&T paid approximately $4,100 per cable subscriber in assembling the AT&T Broadband unit. The agreement with Comcast apparently values each AT&T Broadband cable subscriber at $4,500.

In a way, this brings a close to the Excite@Home bankruptcy saga. AT&T Broadband and Comcast will undoubtedly merge the backbone infrastructures that they are building to replace the @Home Network.

December 19, 2001

ActiveState Ships Komodo 1.2 for Linux and Windows

NewsForge reports that ActiveState has shipped Komodo 1.2 an Integrated Development Environment for Linux and Windows. According to the article, "It is optimized for programming languages such as Perl, Python, and Tcl and now features cutting-edge XSLT and PHP editing and debugging capabilities."

CTDATA holds a commercial license on the product and is currently evaluating it as a Perl development tool.

Who are the Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal and What Do They Want?

George Kuykendall pointed out this National Review article Red Stars Over Philly, subtitled "The Mumiacs and their cause". This is an article that was written about the antics of Mumia Abu-Jamal's supporters during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000. Describing the press conference that occurred at the Old First Reform Church, on July 24, 2000, the article said:

Their message was clear: The state is a murderer, George Bush is a murderer, America's claim to be a democracy is a sham. "Stop State Killing," said the big banner behind the speakers. Posters showed a police-style picture of Bush, with the words, "Wanted for Murder." Jamal's image was everywhere, as Che Guevara's used to be, so long ago....

Abu-Jamal's fate should be decided on the basis of fact and law, not insinuation or rhetoric. His supporters never address the merits of his case, only the inheirent biases of the judiciary and the institutions that imprison him.

Gillmor: Scrap New Telecom Bill and Fix Old One

In the San Jose Mercury-News, columnist Dan Gillmor asks Congress to scrap the Tauzin-Dingell Telecommunications Bill. Tauzin-Dingell is an attempt to modify the terms of the telecommunications laws written in 1996 to allow Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) to offer high speed Internet access without allowing competing companies to offer the same service using their lines. Gillmor argues, quite convincingly, that the RBOCs have not earned the right to close off their networks to competition.

Wegmans to Open Stores in Key South Jersey Towns

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Wegmans Food Markets will open two supermarkets in southern New Jersey, and one in Chester County, PA, within the next year. Wegmans is a Western New York-based supermarket chain which has expanded into Northeastern Pennsylvania and Central New Jersey over the past few years and has redefined the concept of food retailing in these areas.

Prior to the arrival of Wegmans, supermarkets in the area were generally smaller and carried less selection than supermarkets in other demographically similar parts of the country, such as the San Francisco Bay area. Now, supermarket chains wanting to compete in the lucrative Princeton, Bridgewater, and Manalapan, NJ markets must build big stores and add services including restaurants, catering, and on-site child care. This is also going to become the case in the communities where Wegmans plans to build in the near future.

O'Reilly Network Publishes an Article on Web Site Accessibility

Our friends at Camworld.com pointed out this article on The O'Reilly Network that talks about designing web sites for accessibility by the handicapped. We have an interest in this because we know a visually impared person who is very interested in using the Internet, and because we want our sites to be as accessible to all audiences as possible.

Read on for a summary of the article and some thoughts on what we've noticed in looking at our sites....

The article gives a number of interesting tips to web publishers looking for a quick gauge of how well they are doing in this regard:

  • View the site through a text-only browser like Lynx, make sure the content renders meaningfully, and that the site is still navigable.
  • Use the <em> (emphasis) tag if you mean to emphasize something, rather than <i> (italics) tag which only indicates a display style.
  • Use XHTML or HTML 4.01 to better separate form from content.
  • Provide long form descriptions of graphics, forms, and applets in separate HTML files. Don't depend on conveying the entire purpose of an object in the <alt> text.

The article also explains how to make image maps and tables more accessible, and provides background on U.S. Federal Government regulations on web site accessibility. Readers who are interested in these aspects of the story really need to read the full article.

With respect to our Slash-based sites, CTDATA.com and RCNJ.org, we looked at this issue six months to a year ago, realized that viewing them through Lynx was a reasonable approach, and found that our content came across pretty well.

It seems that thinking about rendering key web site content in RSS and VoiceXML makes all developers more aware of the issues that visually impared people would have with the presentation of most Web Sites. We view these XML content formats as important to expanding the audience for our web sites via content syndication. So, the fact that the technical requirements have the side-effect of improving site accessibility is a "win-win", as far as we are concerned.

The author's suggestion to substitute <em> (emphasis) for <i> (italics) confuses us a little. We don't find that italics provide enough visual emphasis for emphasized text. Our style uses bolded text for things like publication names and the names of people or organizations. We wouldn't switch in this case because we think that people reading a syndicated feed and sight-impared users don't lose much readability or context if they cannot detect the fact that certain words are bolded. On the other hand, visitors to our sites that are able to see definitely would lose some readability if the bolding was changed to italics through the use of the <em> tag.

December 18, 2001

Mumia Abu-Jamal's Death Sentence Overturned

The Associated Press reports that the death sentence imposed on Mumia Abu-Jamal has been overturned by U.S. District Judge William Yohn. The judge denied all of his other appeal claims, including a request for a new trial. According to the article, "The judge said jurors should have been able to consider mitigating circumstances during sentencing even if they did not unanimously agree that those circumstances existed."

The judge ordered the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to conduct a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal within 180 days or to sentence him to life imprisonment. We fully expect him to be sentenced to death again, after the judge revises his sentencing instructions.

Happy 14th Birthday, Perl!

Now, on to something really important... a number of sites have reported on this date in 1987, Perl 1.0 was released. (Reports / information: PerlMonks | use.perl.org | history.perl.org )

Camworld Doesn't Like the Scripting News Awards Either

Yesterday, Cameron Barrett, operator of the Camworld web site and nominee for Blogger of the Year in the Scripting News Awards, called the awards The Dave Winer Big Ego Awards. This is more strongly worded than our critique, which we published yesterday. But, it finds fault with many of the same issues that we did.

Update: Camworld publishes reader comment on the article, including a comment submitted by Dave Aiello.

How Hypocritical is the French Government on the Death Penalty?

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week, we criticized the Government of France for demanding that the United States not execute Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who has been implicated in the conspiracy surrounding the September 11 terrorist attack. At that time, we asked what right the French government had to oppose the death penalty in a situation where over 3,000 Americans had been killed in a coordinated terrorist attack?"

"Two weeks ago, The Christian Science Monitor reported on the latest burining issue in France, and perhaps this gives an insight into the depth of the hypocracy of the French position on the death penalty. On November 28, France's highest appeals court ruled that children who are born with Down's Syndrome had a legal right to be aborted and can sue the doctors who attended the pregnancy for financial support."

"The implication of this ruling is truly chilling, and not inconsistant with other recent judicial decisions in France. Andre Vingt-Trois, Bishop of Tours said, 'I think with great sadness of all families who have welcomed Down syndrome children, who have showered them with love and received great love in return. This ruling amounts to a declaration that such love was worthless.'"

"Then, there is the article written by Siegfried Mortkowitz of Deutsche Press-Agentur and republished yesterday by The Drudge Report which says that France has undergone an unprecedented crime wave in 2001, prompting likely presidential candidate Charles Pasqua to call for a reimposition of the death penalty."

"The French position on the death penalty is not indicative of their government's great mercy toward those who are guilty of crimes against society. Taken together with the news accounts I've pointed out here, they are an indication of a severe social values crisis that goes well beyond anything that has been experienced in the United States recently. The only coherent approach for the U.S. Government to take is to listen politely to French envoys, and then to continue to do what they know is right."

December 17, 2001

Plastic.com is Back

Dave Aiello wrote, "After a hiatus of over two weeks, Plastic.com has made (what I hope will be) a triumphant return. I liked this site from the outset, regardless of the fact that I know the people who built it. Apparently, it went on hiatus because Carl Steadman took it off Automatic Media's hands and it took a while to move it and get the kinks out. Probably this is Carl's avocation."

"One question that this raises is, did any of the Plastic staff make the jump with the acquisition? I haven't seen a post from Joey Anuff yet. Hope to see one soon...."

Dave Winer Launches Scripting News Awards

Over on Scripting News, Dave Winer decided to start a series of awards for weblogs called The Scripting News Awards. This type of thing is important, if only to give people who are not running a weblog at the moment a sense that this is a large movement within the web publishing community.

There are, however, a couple of fairly obvious issues with the process defined by Dave, and the subsequent nominations for the awards. Read on for more...

In no particular order, the issues are:

  • Extremely Manila Focused

    One of the questions that people outside the Manila community often ask is, how much discussion of non-Manila sites actually occurs on Scripting News? Some insight might be gained from an analysis of the nominees for the Scripting News Awards. Excluding the category which is limited to Manila sites, 20 of 31 nominees (64.5 percent) are running Manila.

    Of the non-Manila sites whose engines we could identify, two are Blogger, one is Post-Nuke (PHP), one is Greymatter, one is CityDesk. That leaves out a lot of web publishing platforms.

  • Narrow Subject Matter

    A number of sites are focused on gee-wiz technologies, or exclusive clubs to which most webloggers relate with great difficulty. Among them:

    • Segway News, about the gyroscopic scooter. Live since December 1. Worthy of an annual award already?
    • ICANN Weblog, not a Manila site, but, definitely for the Internet insiders.
    • Davos Newbies, Lance Knobel's web site. Yes, we are capitalists. But, the new world order stuff is a little too much during the war.

  • Many Better Dead Weblogs From Which to Choose

    So many sites have died in 2001 that were valuable. How could 80 percent of the "Gone But Not Forgotten Category" be Manila sites? What about:

    ...just to name a couple? Maybe Feed was not a Weblog, in the classic sense. But, we can come up with a number of dead weblogs that were at least as good as the ones that Dave nominated that exist outside the Weblogs or EditThisPage communities.

We are not looking for a nomination for CTDATA.com to any of these awards, although people tell us that the War On Terror coverage was particularly interesting in September and October.

What we are saying is that when we heard about the possibility of a set of annual weblog awards, we expected more diverse technological bases, and more different points of view (from a content perspective). Maybe the nomination process should have been opened up as well.

al Qaeda Successfully Broken Up, But bin Laden Not Found

The Washington Post reports that remnants of al Qaeda forces are fleeing the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan after being routed by the Northern Alliance with U.S. Special Forces and air support. Unfortunately, there is no sign of Osama bin Laden in the area, contrary to some previous reports.

At U.S. Central Command headquarters, General Tommy Franks refered to to the battlefield situation as "confused" and said that it would take some time to assess the situation.

Legal System Starts to Punish Firms for Lack of Security

Over the weekend, Tomalak's Realm pointed out a Crypto-Gram article which reported that two judges separately punished a U.S. Government agency and three corporations for lax Internet security. A Federal judge ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior to disconnect some of its computers from the Internet because an Indian tribe proved records could be altered and funds diverted. In a separate case, a Texas state judge issued an injunction against three customers of Exodus Communications for permitting a denial of service attack (DOS) to take place.

Bruce Schneier, the author of the article says, "I like this kind of stuff. It forces responsibility. It tells companies that if they can't make their networks secure, they have no business being on the Internet. It may be Draconian, but it gets the message across."

Microsoft Released Patch for Dangerous IE Bug

On Friday CNET News.com reported that Microsoft released a patch for Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6.0 that is meant to close a dangerous hole in the browser. CTDATA originally reported on this flaw last Wednesday. The patch apparently fixes several problems that, if left unpatched, may not become apparent at the same time.

The flaw that is present in IE 6.0 appears particularly dangerous, in that an attacker can "alter HTML information in a way as to trick IE to open a damaging executable file without asking the {user} for confirmation."

Governments More Willing to Cooperate with America on Terrorism

The Washington Times reports that countries with al Qaeda training camps have become more willing to work with the United States to disband them. Somalia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Yemen, and Sudan are all seen have all announced their commitment to crack down on terrorists, or have approached the United States for aid in doing so.

According to the article, "Western nations, such as Germany and Spain, can largely handle the problem themselves, aided by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement... Poorer nations such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Yemen and possibly even Sudan will need more direct aid by the CIA and the Pentagon."

December 14, 2001

Comcast and Cox Continue to Deny Residential Customers VPN Access

Computerworld reported yesterday that Comcast and Cox deny virtual private network use to customers paying residential rates. According to the article, AT&T Broadband, AOL Time Warner, and Cablevision do not prevent residential customers from using VPNs.

We covered this issue in an article published over a year ago. At the time, we were very critical of the development, but we had also not yet become Comcast Business Communications customers at our Lawrenceville office. Read on for our views on this issue...

CTDATA's view on this issue has changed slightly since becoming Comcast Business Communications customers. For the additional money we pay for the business-class service, we expected to be on a separate backbone from the residential customers. This proved not to be the case, as business customers were just as vulnerable as consumers to the shutdown of the @Home Network, which nearly happened two or three weeks ago. Having said this, both Comcast and Cox successfully negotiated continued access to the @Home Network backbone, which was absolutely in the best interest of all of their customers.

We have seen the differences between the deployed hardware at Comcast consumer and business customer premises. There is no doubt that business customers get more robust, flexible equipment. For instance, business customers receive a router managed by Comcast, while consumers receive a cable modem which must be connected directly to a single PC.

Some business customers like us have a tendency to consider a carrier managed router on our premises to be an impediment to network flexibility, but we have learned to live with it. We also need to remember that most businesses don't want to deal with IP address assignment and other semi-technical issues; They just want their Internet access to work.

We are not certain that it's fair for Comcast and Cox to prohibit VPN use to consumers in this fashion, because it implies that VPN users are consuming a great deal more bandwidth than typical consumers. We aren't sure that's the case. Consumers who download a lot of music and video use a lot of bandwidth as well.

But, the key issues for people who are serious about using VPNs for telecommuting are uptime and support. The Quality of Service guarantees and 24-hour tech support that Comcast offers to business users are important, and worth the extra money if they live up to their end of the contract. So far, they are doing that for us, and we appreciate it.

December 13, 2001

Transcript of Bin Laden Video Tape Released by Defense Department

The United States Department of Defense has published a transcript of the English translation of a video tape showing Osama bin Laden speaking about his reaction to the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to the Department of Defense Press Release:

The transcript and annotations were independently prepared by George Michael, translator, Diplomatic Language Services; and Dr. Kassem M. Wahba, Arabic language program coordinator, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. They collaborated on their translation and compared it with translations done by the U.S. government for consistency. There were no inconsistencies in the translations.

Webloggers Were Not Impressed with Nunberg Essay on "Fresh Air"

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier this week, I pointed out an essay about Weblogs by Geoffrey Nunberg that appeared on 'Fresh Air'. I thought it was interesting. Many other more prominent members of the Weblog community, including Doc Searls and Dave Winer found it condescending at best."

"I guess that I must not look at weblogging with as much of an anti-establishment view as they do. It's safe to say that some weblog writers see their writing as a struggle to establish a news channel outside the sphere of influence of the big media companies. Of course we are doing that, but not everyone who writes for a weblog does so because they feel that their voice is not being heard due to some sort of conspiracy."

"I found Nunberg's essay interesting because he is talking about weblogs to people who don't know about weblogs. Who cares what the subtle undertones of his message are? If I missed them, a lot of other listeners probably did too."

French Government Opposes Death Sentence for Moussaoui

The New York Times is reporting that the French Government will oppose use of the death penalty in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who has been indicted as a participant in the conspiracy surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11. According to the article, Moussaoui is charged with six felonies, four of which may result in a death sentence.

It is too early for the French Government to attempt to inject itself in proceedings against Moussaoui. At this point, it is not clear that the United States will seek the death penalty against him.
But, if the United States does seek the death penalty, what right does any foreign government have to oppose it? Over 3,000 people lost their lives in these terrorist attacks. If such an attack had taken place in Europe, the demand for re-imposition of the death penalty would be great.

December 12, 2001

Perl.com Publishes an Introduction to Software Testing in Perl

Perl.com published an article by chromatic introducing software engineering testing methodology and the Perl testing tools that can be used to implement it. This is a valuable article, but is best understood when it is looked at side-by-side with an uninstalled Perl module.

For an idea of just how rigorously code can be tested in an automated fashion, take a look at Perl module test output. The output is even more impressive with the verbose option turned on. Isn't it sad that so many Perl modules have such rigorous verification methods, while so many corporate Perl projects don't even use strict?

Microsoft Has Let "Devastating Browser Download Hole" Exist Since November 19

Yesterday, Newsbytes reported that Microsoft will patch a flaw in Internet Explorer that allows malicious code to be silently downloaded and executed. The vulnerability definitely affects IE for Windows 5, 5.5, and 6, and may affect some versions of Outlook, Outlook Express, and Eudora. Microsoft was made aware of this problem three weeks ago.

If the vulnerability is a "devastating browser download hole" as the Newsbytes article says, Microsoft's response was not nearly fast enough. Also, the security by obscurity approach taken by the organization that discovered the problem is preventing people who are at risk from making a proper assessment of potential security threats.

Gertz: John Walker Lindh Warns of New Strike Against America

Bill Gertz reports in today's Washington Times that John Walker Lindh has warned U.S. intelligence officials of a possible new terrorist attack on America, to take place around the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan ends on Sunday, December 16.

Lindh is the American who is part of the Taleban guerrilla force that was defeated in fighting near Mazar-e-Sharif. The warning was apparently developed from the debriefings that Lindh was subjected to by U.S. intelligence officials at a U.S. Marine Corps base near Kandahar.

Damian Conway Interviewed by Pair.com

Damian Conway is interviewed in the December 2001 issue of the Pair Networks Insider Newsletter. The interview is quite interesting because it discusses:

  • the delay of his planned book on Perl modules (for O'Reilly),
  • the number of separate projects he must juggle that he considers full-time jobs,
  • the aspects of the Perl language that make it his favorite programming tool,
  • the issues with keeping CPAN useful during the transition between Perl 5.6 and Perl 6,
  • the ways in which rank-and-file Perl developers can contribute to the OpenSource movement, and
  • the areas he recommends Perl developers focus on if they want to be prepared for the future.

This is a very interesting and wide-ranging interview, and it is highly recommended.

Probably the most revealing aspect of this interview is the honest explanation of the time demanded by the maintenance of successful projects that he has done previously, combined with the new work he has taken on. This is a common problem that becomes increasingly significant as people achieve increasing levels of success and recognition.

The value of perfoming professional work inside the context of a business is that additional people can be engaged to maintain, while the vanguard continues to create value. Too many of the most productive people in the OpenSource community are working without a corporate support system, or work with less corporate support than they need. This will continue to be a problem as long as developers are not compensated sufficiently for their contributions to the community.

Of course, compensation is not necessarily an issue of the community being unwilling to fairly compensate the most productive developers. Many developers fail to seek compensation when it might be available. Not seeking financial compensation is not necessarily altruistic if it means that the pace of future advancement or future maintenance is constrained.

At CTDATA, we are just as guilty of not seeking funding to scale the business to support our value-added work as anyone or any other company is.

Linguist's Essay on Weblogs Presented on NPR's "Fresh Air"

Dave Aiello wrote, "Dave Winer on Scripting News pointed out this RealAudio stream of an essay by linguist Geoff Nunberg that was a segment of the December 10 edition of Fresh Air, the National Public Radio program." (Note: The link points to a stream that requires RealPlayer. Here is the text summary of that day's Fresh Air program.)

"This is a really interesting essay because it describes weblogs, a type of news or information-oriented web site. CTDATA.com, Scripting News, and Slashdot are all examples of weblogs, to one extent or another. Nunberg likens weblogs to a novel called Diary of a Nobody written in 1892 by George and Weedon Grossmith. As far as I know, this is a new insight. I will have to read at least a portion of the book to better understand what he means."

"I found his attempt to explain weblogs to the average NPR listener entertaining. And, I think that his description has contains a number of useful ideas that can be applied to explaining weblogs to other new audiences."

December 11, 2001

Technologies on the Horizon: Segway and Satellite Radio

A couple of technologies that have large potential audiences, but uncertain immediate-term futures debuted recently. The hype surrounding Segway reached epic proportions before it was finally demonstrated on Good Morning America. Dave Winer of Scripting News was invited to a preview of the personal transportation device and described the experience of actually using one for 10 minutes.

Over on the Saltire weblog, Steve McLaughlin has done some investigative research on satellite radio broadcast services operated by XM and Sirius Satellite Radio.

Read on for more information....

In both cases, these technologies seem to be in search of a killer application. It's hard to imagine how the Segway device will compete with the many personal mobility alternatives, but we all have a tendency to think in terms of the applications for which we use personal transportation today. Perhaps there are other latent transportation applications that will become obvious once Segway devices become available. Does it sound like it's hard to assert this notion with a straight face?

The satellite radio services have more obvious applications, but to a seemingly small portion of the radio listener market. XM Radio has struck a number of relationships with cable channels and radio syndicators that has resulted in preemption-free programming. This is important to people who like to listen to syndicated talk programs like CarTalk or MoneyTalk.

From our perspective, there are only a few diehards who are committed enough to syndicated programs to pay $10 per month for a satellite radio service in order to listen wherever they are. Furthermore, some syndicators are already creating subscription streaming media sites (biggest example: Rush Limbaugh) and these sites offer more functionality than satellite radio. Having said all of this, satellite radio could take off if someone with a loyal following like Imus or Howard Stern created a channel and endorsed the medium.

Remembering 90 Days Ago

Ninety days ago this morning, the World Trade Center was destroyed in a terrorist attack. Since the attack, we have witnessed an amazing concentration of will on the part of the American people to remember the victims, care for their families, and bring justice to the individuals and groups who participated in the acts of war. We must not forget the shock that we all felt that morning, and the anger that followed, when we realized the barbarity of the acts that we witnessed on live TV.

Schumer Calls for a Bigger Government

The Washington Post carries an Op-Ed piece by New York Senator Charles Schumer called Big Government Looks Better Now. Although he makes the case for increased security at a number of transportation and utility facilities:

To ask each town and village to guard all the power lines, gas lines and aqueducts is too much; to ask large private-sector companies such as airlines and food processors to be wholly responsible for the security of their products is also too much. It is not just that Washington is the only entity with the ability to raise the resources our new situation requires; the notion of letting a thousand different ideas compete and flourish -- which works so well to create goods and services -- does not work at all in the face of a national security emergency. Unity of action and purpose is required, and only the federal government can provide it.

... he doesn't make the case for the nationalization of these security functions that he hopes to. There are already too many agencies with overlapping missions. Left to their own devices, Congress will further dilute the "unity of action and purpose" that Schumer demands.

In our view, Congress would be best served by consolidating the federal agencies with security-related roles first. By this we mean agencies like The FBI and The ATF. Congress can do this while imposing beefed-up security standards to be implemented by private, state, and local police and civil defense forces.

December 10, 2001

Customers Experiencing Problems with New Backbone at AT&T Broadband

CNET News.com reports that customers of AT&T Broadband report wide-ranging problems with the new backbone that AT&T is activating to replace the @Home Network. Although AT&T reports that it has migrated 850,000 customers to the new network, users are reporting apparently throttled downstream connections, intermittent service outages, limited access to peer networks, and complete lack of service.

This is no surprise, given the fact that a partially constructed backbone was rushed into service. The chaos that has followed AT&T Broadband's break with Excite@Home is certainly bad PR for AT&T. Their willingness to allow such a prolonged network disruption gives the impression that they take their residential customers for granted. The less than flawless restoration gives their customers little to smile about.

Washington Post Magazine Tells Story of Afghani WTC Victim

The Washington Post Magazine published an article by David Finkel about the death of an Afghani-American who was a victim of the World Trade Center terrorist attack. Taimour Khan worked on the 92nd floor of World Trade Center, but he was born in Pakistan of an Afghani family.

This article touches on his entire life, including his youth on Long Island, college experience at SUNY Albany, and his family's effort to come to the United States almost 30 years ago. The article also provides first hand interviews of relatives of the Khan family who are still living in Pakistan, as well as villagers who are their neighbors.

NY Times Documents Recovery Work on WTC Night Shift

Today's New York Times reports on the recovery work that takes place on the night shift at the site of the World Trade Center. The article estimates that half of the debris, or approximately 600 thousand tons, has been removed to date. Several bodies of police and firefighters were recovered over the weekend from airtight stairwells that were just opened for the first time.

The article says, in part: "The work goes steadily to midnight. More debris is removed and two more bodies are recovered. A group of ironworkers stand on a
gnarled beam, one end of which juts out over the pit like a gangplank. They stand with their arms folded and they can smell the
bodies. A chaplain attends to every corpse. No one goes to the morgue alone, without a friend. Mr. McKee, the signal man, looks
at his watch and confuses 10:40 with 4:50."

Damage to Retailers and Small Business Continues to Widen

Today's New York Times reports that retailers and small businesses continue to be damaged by the terror attacks on September 11. This article is primarily about small consumer-oriented retail businesses in Manhattan, but the problems that it documents have hurt small businesses of all sorts in New York and New Jersey.

According to the article: "Small businesses, including many retail establishments, account for two of every five jobs
in New York City and roughly half of all jobs statewide, so the drought among
small-business owners presages economic pain that is likely to spread far beyond Lower
Manhattan. And while numerous grant and loan programs have sprung up to help small
businesses recover from the disaster, business owners have complained, in a growing
chorus, that the grants are too small to stem their losses and that loan agencies are not
approving loans."

December 6, 2001

Experts Make Using Linux Look Harder than It Is

On Newsforge, Robin Miller wrote a column called Making Linux look harder than it is. He begins:

Many "gurus" teaching new users about Linux make it look harder than it needs to be, and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can make PowerPoint-style presentations in Linux, you can view Web Pages that use Flash animation and other "glitz" features, and that you can manage all your files though simple "point, click, drag and drop" visual interfaces. Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?

This is a good and useful question to be asked at this time. For at least a year, we have advocated the use of Linux as a base operating system combined with liberal use of VMware to developers trying to gain fluency on the Linux platform. If everyone that ever considered using Linux took a step back and looked at what is actually available on the platform, instead of focusing on what is not available, it might look like a stronger alternative to Windows than it is generally considered to be.

LA Times: Clinton Let bin Laden Slip Away

In yesterday's Los Angeles Times, Mansoor Ijaz criticized President Clinton for failing to apprehend Osama bin Laden despite several opportunities offered by the Sudanese government. The article says:

From 1996 to 1998, I opened unofficial channels between Sudan and the Clinton administration. I met with officials in both countries, including Clinton, U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and Sudan's president and intelligence chief. President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted, offered the arrest and extradition of Bin Laden and detailed intelligence data about the global networks constructed by Egypt's Islamic Jihad, Iran's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Ijaz characterizes himself as "an American Muslim and a political supporter of Clinton".

Howard Kurtz Covers Tom Friedman

In today's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz profiles and interviews Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times. Friedman was prominent before the War on Terrorism began, but he has truly become required reading since September 11: CTDATA.com has pointed to his column at least three times.

We point this story out for a number of reasons, beyond the obvious recognition of Friedman's ubiquity in this war. First of all, Howard Kurtz's choice of subjects for his "Media Notes" column and his straight news stories has been astutue recently. These choices help explain why the war is covered in the manner it is. Kurtz also reveals the bredth of criticism that Tom Friedman receives, both in the Middle East and domestically.

We've criticized Friedman here on CTDATA.com, but readers should not conclude that we consider his perspective similar to a stopped clock. We see the world differently than he does at times. But, his perspective is deserving of respect and understanding even when we don't agree with him.

Finally, we point out that the war in Afghanistan must be reaching a crucial point. We say this because the media has begun interviewing themselves. Kurtz's article on Friedman is a good example. Hopefully, this is an indication that this phase in the War on Terrorism is coming to an end.

December 5, 2001

Boston NPR Affiliate Translating Major Stories from al Jazeera

Dave Winer pointed out on Scripting News that Boston's NPR affiliate is translating the lead stories from al Jazeera on a daily basis. According to the translation page, "Each weekday, WBUR's Ahmed Ahmed monitors the news from Al Jazeera, the influential Arabic satellite television network. Check back each weekday to see how the Arabic media is covering the war on terrorism." The page is updated each day at approximately 8:00pm, Eastern Time.

Friedman: The Intifada is Over

Tom Friedman of The New York Times boldly predicts in today's edition that the Palestinian intifada is over. Why? He says, "It ended with last weekend's spasm of suicide bombings against Israeli kids - a signal that the Palestinian national movement was being taken over by bin Ladenism, which is the nihilistic pursuit of murderous violence against civilians, without any political program and outside of any political context. If there is anything left of the Palestinian national movement for independence, it better act now to rescue itself. Otherwise it's headed for the same dark cave as Osama bin Laden."

Friedman is totally right on this one. Whatever mistakes Israel may have made in its previous dealings with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians are making Israel's position look more and more reasonable.

Users Begin to Defect from AT&T Broadband

Over the weekend, Patrick Logan, a customer of AT&T Broadband's version of the @Home service wrote, "I called AT&T yesterday and cancelled my AtHome cable service. I will not tolerate the way my family was treated as pawns in their little game. Now I can only hope Verizon does a little better with their DSL service.... What's really behind this bankruptcy and shenanigans? I never used At Home's web pages or multimedia features, etc. I only wanted a fast connection from my home to the Internet."

This is the kind of defection that AT&T is facing as a result of negotiating in bad faith with Excite@Home. It's amazing that one large cable company can come out looking like such a loser in this situation, while other companies appear more reasonable. All AT&T had to do was preserve enough good faith with the existing leadership of Excite@Home so that they could also be a party to an interim agreement, when it was finally negotiated.

Say anything else that you want about the management of Comcast, Cox, and Rogers, but they knew what was in their customers interests when it mattered. They were the companies with the biggest customer relationships with @Home, other than AT&T Broadband, and they didn't get greedy.

Patrick Logan is a technical user who obviously knows what his options are. But, he is undoubtedly not alone in his unwillingness to just sit there while AT&T Broadband takes his business for granted. This is exactly the kind of thing that Locke, Levine, Searles, and Weinberger were talking about in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

December 4, 2001

Exicte@Home Network to Cease Operations on February 28

CBS Marketwatch is reporting that Excite@Home announced that it would shut down the @Home Network on February 28. This should allow ample time for Comcast, Cox, Rogers, and other cable companies who have not already been cut off by Excite to migrate their broadband customers to new backbones. The article says, "Comcast expects that all of its high-speed Internet customers will be transferred to a new Comcast-owned and
managed network well in advance of the expiration of this three-month period."

Cox is also expected to be able to accomodate its customers on a new backbone before @Home shuts down.

Perl Links Slashbox Updated on Programming Section Page

We've updated the Perl Links Slashbox on the CTDATA: Programming section page. The changes include:

  • Link added to CPAN.
  • Links added to pages maintained by Perl community leaders Larry Wall, Randal Schwartz, and Damian Conway.
  • Vendor section added with links to ActiveState, O'Reilly, and Roth Consulting.
  • Link and search form for Perldoc.com relocated to a separate Slashbox.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

How to Identify a Virus and Perform a Quick Risk Assessment

Dave Aiello wrote, "Today, someone decided to release another Visual Basic worm that can spread itself via email. These things happen regularly because Microsoft wants to keep Visual Basic in all of its Office applications, in spite of the danger of code run amok."

"This gives me the opportunity to provide a Secret of Highly Paid Consultants: how to quickly identify and assess the risk associated with a virus you just heard about. Read more if you are interested in this very timely information...."

Dave Aiello continued:

Symantec has an excellent web site called Symantec Security Response that I use to identify viruses and separate them from hoaxes and jokes. This site is really helpful, but must not be well known because I get a number of virus alerts from well-meaning friends and acquaintances every week that turn out to be false.

Anyway the most useful parts of Symantec Security Response are:

  • Expanded Threat List and Virus Encyclopedia: a searchable database of viruses, trojan horses, worms, and evil macros that Symantec has identified over the years.
  • Hoaxes: an alphabetical list of the warning emails that are wasting your time.
  • Jokes: an alphabetical list of programs that can be run on your computer, that try to look like viruses, but are meant to be jokes. As we said as kids, "So funny I forgot to laugh."

I can't think of the last time someone warned me about a virus, and Symantec hadn't already documented it-- that's how good this resource is.

If you know of any other resources like this, let us know. We'll check it out and possibly post it here.

Mail Cross-Contamination at Trenton May Be Worse Than First Thought

The Associated Press reports that anthrax investigators think that tens of thousands of letters mailed around the country may have picked up trace amounts of anthrax at the Trenton Regional Mail Handling Facility in Hamilton, NJ. A scientist who is part of the investigation is quoted as saying, "There seems to be the potential for not just hundreds and not just thousands but tens of thousands and maybe more letters to be potentially at risk for some level of cross-contamination."

This article does a good job of highlighting the debate among investigators. Since scientists still do not know what the minimum safe level of anthrax is, people who live and work in the Trenton area and people receiving mail which passed through the Trenton mail handling facility will keep wondering if they are at an increased risk.

HP Announces Free J2EE-compliant Version of its Application Server

Following up on yesterday's article on changes in the application server market, we learned that Hewlett-Packard Middleware recently announced a "zero cost" J2EE-compliant version of its Hewlett-Packard Application Server. HP-AS is the next generation of the Bluestone Application Server, which HP got control of when it took over Bluestone Software in January 2001.

Prior to its acquisition by HP, Bluestone had a very good reputation locally. It had cut its teeth in the consulting services business and was known later as a pillar of New Jersey trade groups for technology companies and software development companies. The product now known as HP-AS was developed as a platform for implementing scalable web applications at their consulting division. It has always had a long feature set, but third-party developers sometimes criticized it for having weak documentation.

It will be interesting to see how HP has improved the product since they took over the company. And, now that they have a no cost version, it should be much easier to evaluate. In our experience, very few commercial application server vendors provide true J2EE compliance at the no cost price point, if they offer such a price point at all.

Some Health Care Web Sites Crippled by Bad User Interfaces

IBM DeveloperWorks published an article by Peter Seebach which says that a number of important healthcare-related web sites contain content that is inaccessible to many users because they require plug-ins, contain browser specific code, or require JavaScript to be turned on. This is troubling because more potential users of healthcare web sites are accessing them through devices that are not PCs. Also, some more technical users have legitimate (security) reasons to have JavaScript turned off in their web browsers by default.

It is not surprising that consumer-oriented web sites such as these make stupid presumptions. Many IT departments with customer-facing web sites limit their usability testing to platforms that they think people have in their homes (i.e. AOL or IE, Windows 9x or ME, etc.). Of course, many customers attempt to access these sites from work, where they use exotic operating systems like Windows NT 4.0 and browsers like Netscape Communicator 4.x.

The article is well-written because it returns again and again to the added support cost of poor user interface design. Added costs are the only metric to which some poorly managed insurance and healthcare companies respond. We agree that these problems are endemic in that industry, and more attention needs to be directed at these problems before they will be solved.

Treo 180, Fusion of Palm-based PDA and Mobile Phone, Opens to Raves

Last week, The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC published separate reviews of the Handspring Treo 180. This is the latest device promising integration between mobile telephony, PDA functionality, and electronic mail.

Walt Mossberg hailed the Treo 180 in his Personal Technology last Thursday. He said, "...the Treo is a true breakthrough. Unlike other combo devices, which were either phones with Palms jammed into them or Palms with phone features added, the Treo is a true hybrid." This is high praise, coming from a columnist who is fairly unique because he focuses relentlessly on usability of new technology products and is quite critical of products that are not ready for the market.

Another review which came out late last week was written by Gary Krakow of MSNBC. He also really likes the Treo 180, and uses its impending release as a backhanded way to criticze the Microsoft Stinger project. This is interesting because Microsoft is one of the partners in the MSNBC partnership.

Krakow's review pays more attention than did Mossberg's to the wireless telephone calling plans for GSM-compatible vendors who will support the Treo out of the box. This is probably something that Mossberg would have talked about as well, were it not for the length limitations imposed on his Personal Technology column by the page size of the print version of the Wall Street Journal. Krakow does not have these limitations, so he included the information, and we found the high level comparison of Cingular and VoiceStream plans to be enlightening.

As active users of all three genres of mobile technology (mobile phones, PDAs, and e-mail enabled pagers), CTDATA is quite interested in the development of the Treo product. There is a good possibility that we will buy at least one of these, when it becomes available, provided that GSM service is available in the areas where we primarily work, in Central and Northern New Jersey, as well as New York City.

Details of Excite@Home Deal with Comcast, Cox, Rogers

News.com reports the details of the agreement we discussed yesterday. Comcast and Cox have agreed to pay Excite@Home $160 million for three months use of the existing backbone. Toronto-based Rogers Cable, the largest cable system operator in Canada, also struck a three month "transitional deal". In the article, several cable business analysts refer to the deal as the end of Excite@Home because the major cable systems have decided to build out their own backbones.

In a followup article published later, News.com reports that AT&T is expected to drop its bid for the @Home Network assets. AT&T has been the only bidder for the assets since the company declared bankruptcy on October 1.

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.

December 3, 2001

Surgeon General Says CDC Labs are a "National Disgrace"

Reuters is reporting that U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said that the United States should be "ashamed of the condition of the laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta". He also said that the public health labs at state and local levels need to be renovated, and that the U.S. needs to train more epidemiologists to deal with an increased number of threats to public health.

We agree that the state of public health services in this country is sad. However, the blame for this can be laid at the feet of President Clinton who obviously knew about the goals of terrorist groups and rogue nations to build biological and chemical weapons capabilities. Clinton instead chose to invest huge amounts of money in diseases which had large political constituencies. There is nothing wrong with spending money on AIDS, breast cancer, and other preventable or curable diseases. But, we ought not to have sacrificed the ability to detect and control outbreaks of things like anthrax and smallpox.

Application Servers Not the Cash Cows They Used to Be

News.com is reporting that the Java application server market is becoming commoditized making life difficult for many enterprise software companies. The article states, "Now these software makers are finding it harder to eke out a profit, especially on their low-end application servers. Why? Because of a glut of me-too products, indistinguishable to buyers, along with brutal competition from very low-cost, or no-cost, alternatives."

Application servers have become critically important in Fortune 500 Web Development projects. Projects based on application servers like WebSphere or WebLogic are really expensive, although the bulk of the cost relates to the size of the development team and the complexity of the typical project where application servers are used.

The low-cost and no-cost alternatives include Tomcat, a part of the Jakarta project within the Apache Web Server project. Another project, which is less well-known, is JBoss an Open Source application server that aims at J2EE compliance.

Palestinian Terror Offensive Kills and Wounds Hundreds

If you read any of the newspapers this weekend, you must have seen that four major terror attacks occurred in Israel over the past two days. At least 31 people were killed and 200 were wounded in these attacks. Today's Washington Post reports that few expect Yasser Arafat to respond to calls for a severe crackdown on terrorist organizations within the Palestinian territories such as Hamas.

In spite of the tit-for-tat nature of the battle between the Israeli army and various organized and unorganized Palestinian groups, it's pretty obvious that Israel can control its aggression better than the Palestinians can. It's time for Yasser Arafat to take action against his own dissident groups. He needs to demonstrate that he is capable of controling them, otherwise it seems rather pointless for Israel to negotiate with his government.

Excite@Home and Cable Companies Strike Three Month Deal

WashTech.com (the Washington Post's section that covers the technology industry) reports in today's edition that Excite@Home has reached a tentative three month agreement with a dozen cable companies including Comcast and Cox. This is important because the two companies are major customers of the @Home Network and neither of them are ready to switch over to their own alternative backbones.

Apparently AT&T Broadband has been left out of this deal. It's surprising that a company with such a large ownership stake in Excite@Home can be excluded from an agreement of this nature. There must be even more animosity between AT&T and the other parties to the bankruptcy negotiations than we had imagined.

This agreement is exactly what we called for last week. We congratulate the parties involved for doing the right thing for the customers so far, and encourage them to finalize the deal ASAP.

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.

NY Times: FoxNews Coverage of Afghanistan Unabashedly Pro-American

In the business section of The New York Times this morning, Jim Reutenberg reports that the Fox News Channel is encouraging reporters and anchors to take a pro-American position on daily events in the War on Terrorism. According to the article, "Ever since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the network has become a sort of headquarters for viewers who want their news served up with extra patriotic fervor. In the process, Fox has pushed television news where it has never gone before: to unabashed and vehement support of a war effort, carried in tough-guy declarations often expressing thirst for revenge."

Isn't FoxNews simply keeping the news of the day in context with the events of September 11? Why is the New York Times surprised, in the hundred channel environment of digital cable and DirecTV, that someone decides to do the news with a pro-America viewpoint?

One has to wonder why the Times doesn't connect this story with the kind of information being conveyed in Bernard Goldberg's upcoming book about CBS News. Don't FoxNews' editorial stance seem a lot more reasonable when placed in the same context with Goldberg's revelations about CBS? America needs Fox to be out there not just to cater to the tastes of conservative viewers, but also to provide an avenue for conservative perspectives within the media establishment to get a fair hearing.

December 2, 2001

AT&T Broadband First to be Cut Off by Excite

News.com reports that over 750,000 AT&T broadband customers have lost cable modem service as talks between AT&T and Excite@Home have been broken off. AT&T apparently didn't bother to update its own web site with the status of negotiations, waiting until midday Saturday to make a public statement.

News.com also indicated that service to some Comcast and Cox subscribers was interrupted at times on Saturday. We did not notice any disruption at our office, but then again, we weren't paying attention most of the day.

December 1, 2001

Bancroft Adds Value to Haddonfield

Mary Kuykendall wrote a letter to the editor of What's on in Haddonfield calling on the Borough of Haddonfield, NJ to resolve its differences with Bancroft Neurohealth the parent organization of The Bancroft School.

Bancroft is an excellent organization that provides neurological rehabilitative services, education for children with special needs, and residential care. They are very important to the communities of Camden County and South Jersey as a whole. They also are a large employer which can be relied upon in these troubled economic times.

We support Bancroft and appreciate the services that they provide to the community. We agree with Mary that a compromise should be struck quickly between Haddonfield and Bancroft, regardless of the issues in dispute.