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January 31, 2002

NYFD Communications Systems Failed Before WTC Collapse

In yesterday's New York Times, Jim Dwyer wrote about the huge communications systems problems that beset the New York Fire Department during the World Trade Center disaster. According to the article: "The commanders decided early on that roaring fires on the high floors of the towers could not be subdued. Many worried aloud that the buildings were in danger of at least partial failure. Confusion extended, for some, to which tower was which. Although they feared that the buildings were doomed, they could not bring their troops back in time."

This article is difficult to read, if only because it documents what most people who have followed the story carefully already suspected: that communications among the rescue workers and information about other events occurring nearby was almost totally unavailable. Many people who have worked in the neighborhood of the World Trade Center in the past could not remember which tower was number 1 and which was number 2. It is not surprising that this was a major issue in a situation where both towers were severely damaged, and an evacuation had to take place.

It is hard to imagine how any radio communication system could have stayed up and available in the conditions of September 11. We have always suspected that the changes to U.S. mobile phone base stations to provide emergency personnel with priority access would not have been enough to ensure that police, fire, and rescue workers would have been able to communicate with each other on that day.

Washington Post Publishes Series About Aftermath of WTC, Pentagon Attacks

We have been remiss in not pointing out The Washington Post's series of articles called Ten Days in September. This series, written by Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, has received rave reviews from a number of media pundits. According to the Post's own description of the series:

This series is based on interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and many other key officials inside the administration and out. The interviews were supplemented by notes of National Security Council meetings made available to The Washington Post, along with notes taken by several participants.

Read on for links to all of the articles published in the series so far....

Each article represents the activities that the President and his staff undertook in a single day. The first article represents the events that took place on September 11 itself. Subsequent articles reflect the events of September 12, 13, 14, and so on.

PerlMonks Server Migration Still Underway

use.perl.org reports that PerlMonks is still in the process of changing ISPs and access to the site has been very sporadic for the past few days. Our most recent experience was that the DNS server changes had not yet taken effect. So, a page located at the site's old TCP/IP address is redirecting people to the new location via a temporary URL.

Hopefully, vroom and friends will work out the kinks soon.

Palm i705: a Vast Improvement Over Palm VII, But Not Enough to Ditch Your Blackberry

Earlier this week Palm introduced a new personal digital assistant called the Palm i705. This is the second device offered by Palm which provides a form of wireless Internet access, and is definitely a vast improvement over the previous model, the Palm VII. However, we do not believe that this PDA will make people forget about the Blackberry line of wireless communication devices from Research in Motion.

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal agrees with us. In his latest Personal Technology column, Mossberg says that the i705 lacks the convenience of the RIM Blackberry. According to his review, "...the only reason to buy the i705 is for wireless e-mail, and here the unit is flawed. It does, as promised, collect your e-mail automatically. But the device lacks a built-in keyboard, which I regard as crucial to composing e-mail. Most people aren't fast enough or accurate enough at Palm's on-screen handwriting system, called Graffiti, to write a lot of e-mails with it, yet this is the method Palm relies upon. Palm does offer an optional clip-on keyboard, but it costs $60, balloons the size of the i705, and is cumbersome to carry around."

Skipping Dot Net Produces List of OpenSource Database Resources

Skipping Dot Net has produced a list of OpenSource database resources that it calls Open Source Databases Linkfest. This document is loaded with links to PostgreSQL and mySQL.

Shane McChesney, the author of this document, evaluated the two databases and chose PostgreSQL for his applications. According to his analysis:

For me, features won out over raw speed, and I recently opted to focus on PostgreSQL, despite it's, er, lame support for Windows deployment. Since a Windows solution isn't really what I'm looking for, I'm letting my desire to use PostgreSQL pull me into arranging for a Linux server earlier than I otherwise might have. I'll only consider MySQL further if I find performance to be unacceptable or hit some other wall with PostgreSQL. But I don't think that's going to happen.

Our choice of recommended database platforms would differ from his. As periodic contributors to the Slashcode Open Source Project, we are more likely to use mySQL. We would also tend to select mySQL because of the huge installed base that mySQL has, relative to PostgreSQL. This installed base advantage results in a more widely tested software product, a larger developer community, and more documentation and related support resources.

Was Daniel Pearl Too Close to Uncovering Pakistani Support for Terrorism?

Sesh Rengaswamy pointed out a column written by T.V.R. Shenoy that suggests that Wall Street Journal reported Daniel Pearl may have been kidnapped to prevent him from publishing stories about the Pakistani government's continued support for terrorist groups. Shenoy writes:

...I happen to know that Pearl, though based in Mumbai, knew certain people in Delhi (I shall not be more specific than that). Through this person (or persons) Pearl gained access to a report from Indian intelligence. This report gave the lie to claims made by Pakistani authorities about clamping down on military outfits.

The column goes on to suggest that one possible explanation for the differences in editorial treatment of the Pakistani and Indian governments by the major Western press outlets may be fear of abductions and reprisals on reporters in Pakistan. Shenoy suggests that the course of events indicates that these fears may be well founded.

January 30, 2002

Georgia Foundry Buys WTC Metal Scrap, Forges Medallions

Earlier today, CTDATA learned that a Statesboro, Georgia metal foundry called International Agile Manufacturing has purchased scrap metal from the World Trade Center and forged commemorative medallions that it hopes to sell for $29.95 each.

This looks like a very bad business decision by this company. We have not objected to the recycling of the bulk of the scrap metal from the ruins of the World Trade Center because, practically, there is no purpose to retaining all of it, even for a memorial. But, it is another thing entirely for companies to recast the debris into commemorative trinkets and sell them to collectors. This practice looks like profiteering to us.

Some Big Firms Taking Sites Back from Web Hosting Companies

In a somewhat surprising report, eWeek says that Royal Philips Electronics NV has brought the hosting of 350 corporate web sites back in-house. These sites used to be co-located at Exodus Communications in Weehawken, NJ. Now, they have been moved to a Philips facility in South Plainfield, NJ, which has been converted into a web hosting data center.

According to the article, Philips made this move because it was no longer comfortable with the business risk associated with doing business with Exodus, currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It will be interesting to see if other large corporations follow this approach in order to ensure that access to the web sites that support their brands is not interrupted.

January 29, 2002

WTC Memorial Planned for Eagle Rock Reservation

The Star-Ledger reports that a committee of political leaders from Essex County, NJ is raising funds for a monument at Eagle Rock Reservation commemorating the attack on the World Trade Center and memorializing its victims. Eagle Rock Reservation is located in West Orange at the crest of Watchung's First Mountain. It has a clear line of sight to the World Trade Center site, and was a place where people congregated on September 11 to view the terrorist attack's aftermath.

According to the article, "The monument and park are expected to cost $250,000. So far, the county has secured promises of $100,000 in corporate donations." The monument will be designed by Patrick Morelli who has also designed a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., located in Atlanta.

Some Linux Maintainers Chafe Under Linus Torvalds' Current Patch Management Approach

KernelTap.com reports that Rob Landey has issued a Request for Comment on adding the role of "Penguin Patch Lieutenant" to the Linux kernel enhancement process. The document suggests that a single person assist Linus Torvalds by organizing patches so that they can be approved in a more expeditious manner.

This idea is similar to the management technique used for Perl language enhancements. In that process, the holder of the "patch pumpkin" works on behalf of Larry Wall to organize patches so that he can approve or reject them. This is a good idea, considering the bandwidth required to exercise due dilligence over all the patches coming in for the Linux kernel. The biggest concern with this RFC is that it is likely to be taken out of context by Microsoft and other companies who have a vested interest in seeing Linux be less successful.

Disney Could Lose Substantial Royalty Revenue Due to Winnie the Pooh Dispute

The New York Post reports that heirs of New York agent Stephen Slesinger are suing The Walt Disney Company, asking to terminate the companies right to use Winnie the Pooh and related characters in its sales and marketing activities. If the law suit were totally successful, some analysts estimate that Disney could lose up to 25 percent of its annual licensing revenues. The article reads, in part, "The attorneys quoted a sales and consumer data tracking company's figures showing that in licensed toy sales, Pooh characters have outsold Mickey, Minnie and friends $316 million to $114 million through November 1999."

Cookie Management Vulnerability Affects Many Versions of Netscape 6 and Mozilla 0.9

InfoWorld reports that a cookie management vulnerability has been found in Netscape Navigator Version 6.0 to 6.2 and Mozilla prior to version 0.97. This vulnerability has been acknowledged by Netscape and The Mozilla Project, and updates are available.

Cox Customers Having Problems with Migration to New Backbone

Over on Doc Searls Weblog, Doc reports on the problems he and his neighbors are having converting to Cox High Speed Internet service. From the comments he posted last night, it is pretty clear that he is not happy: "I'm going down to Cox's office in the morning to corner a tech and get some kind of explanation, and hopefully some help. Given the number of other people who are also surely as {without service} as I am, the line should be long."

Bill Barnes, The Most Dedicated Substitute Teacher in Bucks County

Julie Aiello pointed out this Bucks County Courier Times article about her friend, Bill Barnes. Bill has a reputation in Central New Jersey and Bucks County, PA for achieving his goals with relentless effort. According to the article:

Bill Barnes was born 14 weeks premature, weighing 3 pounds, 8 ounces. The lack of oxygen during the delivery damaged sensitive brain tissues controlling muscle movement and motor areas causing cerebral palsy....At an early age, his parents told Bill that he'd have to work a little harder than some people to do certain things. Some things he'd have to do differently....

{Five} years ago, Bill enrolled at the College of New Jersey to pursue a master's degree in elementary education. He attended college part-time, while working full-time at Dow Jones {on} the graveyard shift. He took a third job in the summer as director of {a camp for handicapped children}....This year is his second as a day-to-day substitute teacher....He is on lists in three school districts, Bristol Township, Council Rock, but mostly he works in Neshaminy, where he lives.

It's with great pleasure that we point out this article about his effort to earn a full-time teaching position in a Bucks County public school. We support him, and look forward to the day when he is hired for the job to which he aspires.

January 28, 2002

Ex-Enron CEO's Wife: We are Broke

Dara Khani pointed out a Reuters story that quotes the wife of Enron ex-CEO Kenneth Lay as saying that her family is broke in the wake of the Enron collapse. Linda Lay also claimed that her husband did "absolutely nothing wrong" while presiding over the company which is the subject of what is considered to be the largest bankruptcy case in history.

The article reads, in part: "Asked what had happened to the reported $300 million in compensation and stocks her husband earned over the past four years, Linda Lay said the couple relied on now-worthless Enron stock and did not have a diverse portfolio."

This article quotes extensively from an interview that Mrs. Lay gave to NBC's Today Show over the weekend. Obviously, she wasn't asked any truly probing questions, other than the inevitable "How does it make you feel...?"

Verizon Announces High Speed Wireless Network

Washtech.com reports that Verizon announced the immediate availability of a high speed wireless data network in most cities on the East Coast between Norfolk, VA and Boston. Verizon's Express Network is the first third generation (3G) wireless network to be deployed in the United States.

According to Verizon, the new service will cost $30 per month for time-limited use, and the subscriber must also participate in a standard mobile phone calling plan costing $35 or more per month. Average download speeds are expected to be 40 to 60 kbps, although Verizon claims that the network is burstable to 144k.

NJ Transit Regularly Not Collecting Fares on Rail Lines

The Star-Ledger reports that New Jersey Transit Rail Operations are failing to collect fares from passengers, resulting in an increased revenue shortfall that is contributing to fare increases. Rail tickets are already fairly expensive in New Jersey, and some regular passengers are shifting from monthly tickets in order to take advantage of lax collection.

Admittedly, this problem has been exacerbated by overcrowding during peak periods as a result of the disruption of PATH service from Newark Penn Station to Lower Manhattan. But, NJT really must staff its trains with sufficient conductors to collect fares due from passengers. Otherwise, revenues will fall as daily commuters attempt to beat the system.

HP and Intel Back Mono, Open Source Alternative to .NET

InfoWorld reports that Hewlett-Packard and Intel have announced their support for the Mono Project. Mono is an attempt to implement an open source version of the Microsoft .NET architecture. Microsoft has been promoting .NET as a framework for Internet-based services which developers can tie applications into, but the backend of these services is intended to stay closed to Microsoft competitors.

A large number of companies are interested in integrating their software with .NET services, but are hesitant to do so if it gives Microsoft leverage over them in dealing with their own customers. Mono may provide companies that have this concern with a level of comfort that will allow them to proceed with experimentation with .NET-like internet services.

January 25, 2002

O'Reilly Network Loves iPhoto

Derrick Story wrote a review of iPhoto from a professional photographer's perspective for The O'Reilly Network. This is the second review of iPhoto we've written about this week, and both were extremely favorable. (See also our article about Walt Mossberg's review in The Wall Street Journal.)

What makes Story's review interesting is the fact that he is willing to use a bundled software package for professional purposes. This is a major endorsement, which will give Apple a lot of credibility in the technical professional community.

Washington Post Covers Resume Spamming

Washtech.com, part of The Washington Post, has published an article on resume spamming. This adverstising technique is most frequently used by some disreputable employment services seeking to place job candidates under the H1B visa program. However, over the last few months, some individual unemployed technology workers and legitimate employment agencies have strayed into this unpopular territory. As the article explains, this has resulted in a backlash:

When Neil Schwartzman, a Canadian anti-spam activist, checked his e-mail account and found two copies of a resume, he retaliated by putting up a Web site denouncing the person who sent them. The site, called Bernard Shifman Is a Moron Spammer, is one of several reachable through Schwartzman's Spam Flames page.

It has been visited more than 1 million times in its first three days alone, Schwartzman said, by people eager to chime in with their own heated opinions.

January 24, 2002

Gillmor Gives Tips on Preparing Companies for Mobile Network Usage

Dan Gillmor steps out of his usual publication to write an article in Computerworld called Eight Ways to Get Ready for Mobile Usage. This article has some good advice, including thinking about WiFi security now, not later, and think about how your Web site's information will look on small screens.

These are things that are worth thinking about today, even if your budget is limited to maintaining the services you already have. When spending picks up again, WiFi is going to be everywhere. Get ready.

Mossberg: iPhoto is a Strong Argument for Getting a Mac

Dave Aiello wrote, "For a few weeks now, I've been quietly wispering the word iMac to friends. The reasons are: applications and operating system."

"Apple is in the process of redefining the choice between PC and non-PC computing devices. I now look at the iMac not so much as a computer that does not run Windows applications, but as a device that makes things I want to do easier."

"It appears that Walt Mossberg agrees with me. In his latest Personal Technology Column that appeared in The Wall Street Journal today, Mossberg called iPhoto 'a strong argument for getting a Mac' if 'digital photos are your passion'. He also says:"

Every Mac comes with a suite of free, elegant digital media programs, which are in most cases simpler and more capable than their Windows counterparts. There's iMovie, the easiest and best video editor I've seen. There's iTunes, a very nice MP3 music jukebox that can also burn audio CDs. There's iDVD, the best and simplest program I've tested for creating home-made DVDs. And now, Apple has rounded out the quartet with iPhoto, a program for organizing, managing and sharing digital photos.

Dave Aiello continued, "Criticism of the notion of a computer as a digital home hub not withstanding, we need to start evaluating computing devices on what they let us do now, not what they will theoretically support if we spend a year researching the issue. Run the servers on Linux, keep a PC around for office productivity work. But, we should have a different standard for the family virtual photo album. I want to create my own DVDs today, and Apple has a compelling bundle that I can buy on the way home."

Graduating College Seniors and Unemployed Jamming Graduate Schools

The New York Times reports that graduating college seniors and unemployed people are applying to graduate schools in record numbers. This trend may extend the unemployment/underemployment problem beyond the point where the U.S. economy turns around. According to the article:

Students at the University of Pennsylvania here give a simple explanation for the sudden enthusiasm for graduate education: the difficulty of finding jobs. Dave Feygenson, a senior, would have liked to work on Wall Street first and attend graduate school later if he could find a job. But after searching for a job in vain, he has applied to Ph.D. programs in finance at the nation's top schools.... "Why fight the economy?" he said. "Why not get it done now, since I cannot find a job anyway."

Why not go to grad school now? Ever hear of the law of diminishing returns? If you are thinking about going to grad school now, make sure the education you are getting makes you a better job candidate. Don't kid yourself into thinking that further study of your greatest academic interest is inheirently a better investment than pounding the pavement. Business and law schools aren't always good investments either.

You'd be surprised how much you can learn on your own when you really need to find a job.

NY Times Magazine Tries to Explain Parental Behavior Problem in Youth Ice Hockey

Dave Aiello wrote, "Jason Silver pointed out an article which appeared in last weekend's New York Times Magazine which attempts to explain the parental behavior problems which are currently plaguing youth ice hockey. This is an important article, because it provides some accurate statistics about the sport, which is probably the fastest growing organized amateur sport in the United States today."

"CTDATA is an active supporter of youth hockey. We have operated the Atlantic District Officiating Program Web Site since 1995. I, personally, have officiated ice hockey at the youth, high school, and college levels for over 20 years. It is on that basis that I state that Charles McGrath, the author of the New York Times Magazine story, has only told part of the story about spectator behavior problems in the sport."

Read on for some examples of what he left out....

Dave Aiello continued:

Charles McGrath fails to point the number of initiatives undertaken by USA Hockey, the organizing body of amateur hockey in the United States, and its constituent districts, leagues, and local associations, to address spectator behavior problems. Among them:

  • The Zero Tolerance Policy regarding verbal and physical abuse of officials and inappropriate spectator behavior. The best document available on USA Hockey's Web Site is this slide presentation in PDF format. It primarily illustrates the penalties and procedures that are to be used when conduct detrimental to a game takes place.

  • The Rediscovering Youth Sportsmanship Program designed by St. Barnabas' Health Care System and the Atlantic Youth Hockey League. Note that the AYHL was critical in the development of this curriculum, but the curriculum was designed for all youth sports.

At the high school level, the National Federation of High Schools deals with spectator behavior as a component of the larger sportsmanship issue. The NFHS has made this a priority since 1990, as their document The Case for Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity in High School Activities indicates. I would say that the National Federation has a better handle on the spectator behavior issues in the sports they govern than USA Hockey does, but that is primarily because there are more full-time, paid administrators involved (a.k.a. athletic directors and principals at high schools) who can be held accountable for the actions of their spectators, players, and coaches. USA Hockey is catching up, but their task is more difficult because it must make its case directly to the individual parents and relatives of its players.

Charles McGrath also points out that the incident which provoked his article-- the killing of Michael Costin by Charles Junta took place after a practice session for a summer youth hockey league. These leagues are typically instructional and not competitive, and they generally rely on the management of the rink where they are based for organization. Because this took place after a practice and not a game, many of the safeguards that are in place to limit spectator aggression did not apply in this case.

There is no question that there are serious spectator behavior issues in ice hockey at the youth and high school levels throughout the United States. But, it is unfair to suggest that those problems are not being addressed by USA Hockey, the National Federation of High Schools, and their constituent state and regional groups. The evidence presented that hockey is the worst sport in terms of spectator aggression is anecdotal, at best.

In my opinion, Charles McGrath makes a sincere effort to call the public's attention to the issue of spectator violence in youth ice hockey and youth sports in general. But, he did not put the problem in its proper perspective because he failed to point out that the organizing bodies are aware of the problem, that they have identified many of the root causes of aggressive spectator behavior, and they are working with local leagues and organizations to ensure that policies are in place to stop spectator misconduct before it gets out-of-hand.

January 23, 2002

Friedman Reveals Many Reasons Why Arabs Secretly Root for bin Laden

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote an excellent editorial today cataloging the many reasons that Arabs quietly root for Osama bin Laden. Among other thoughts Friedman collected in a number of candid talks with Arab journalists, business people, and Muslim community leaders:

  • a "serious Arab journalist in Bahrain who said that Arabs could never have pulled off something as complex as Sept. 11",
  • a European convert to Islam who said that "the bin Laden tape where he boasted of the World Trade Center attack" was clearly doctored by U.S. authorities,
  • a Pakistani who confided that all of the students in his children's elementary school believe the urban legend that all of the Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were told to stay home on September 11.

Friedman also offers a constructive suggestion to the U.S. Government that we have not heard elsewhere: "The Bush team has yet to provide a dossier, in Arabic, detailing all the evidence against bin Laden. It is not too late for that, although facts alone will not be enough."

But most telling is the point he makes near the end of his column: "...{We} have to admit that bin Laden touches something deep in the Arab-Muslim soul, even among those who condemn his murders. They still root for him as the one man who was not intimidated by America's overweening power, as the one man who dared to tell certain Arab rulers that they had no clothes, and as the one man who did something about it."

Scientists Reportedly Discover "Ultimate" Stem Cell in Adults

Slashdot pointed out an article in New Scientist that reports that scientists believe they have discovered an "ultimate" stem cell in adult that can turn into any cell in the body. According to the article:

Until now, only stem cells from early embryos were thought to have such properties.... If so, there would be no need to resort to therapeutic cloning - cloning people to get matching stem cells from the resulting embryos. Nor would you have to genetically engineer embryonic stem cells (ESCs) to create a "one cell fits all" line that does not trigger immune rejection.

This would be the answer to the prayers of many Americans who have profound reservations about the notion of creating embryos for the purpose of dismembering them for components. We can only hope that these initial research results are confirmed.

Port Authority, MTA Unveil Lower Manhattan Rail Integration Plans

The New York Times reports that The Port Authority of NY and NJ and The Metropolitan Transit Authority unveiled their proposal for reconstructing the downtown PATH station and connecting it to the Subway system. The plan involves the construction of an underground concourse with moving walkways that runs from The World Financial Center east to the Fulton Street Subway Station.

Included in the New York Times article is a diagram of the proposal, which is very useful in visualizing what it would look like, and how much time it would take to complete.

January 22, 2002

Web Informant Examines Digital Home Hubs from Apple, Sony, Microsoft

David Strom writing in his Web Informant newsletter evaluates digital home hubs from Apple and Sony, and also mentions the technologies announced by Microsoft at the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago. Strom questions the notion that consumers would accept anything other than a TV-like device as the hub of digital entertainment in their homes:

The reason is simple: most of us already have a digital hub for our homes, and it is called a TV. Well that isn't being totally fair: we have home theater installations that involve TV, DVD, VCR, game console, cable box, receivers, speakers, and CD players. But the TV is the component that has more status and more face time than the others in most homes, let's face it. There isn't enough room in the living room, or home theater surround system, for a PC to poke its ugly head into this mix. And any successful innovation for a digital hub has to start with the TV, not the PC.

An announcement that Microsoft made earlier today about reorganization of its television-related units may indicate that it agrees with the notion that a digital entertainment hub must either be a television itself or a component that is commonly used in conjunction with a TV (like an Xbox?).

We would not be surprised if any of these three companies develop products that look like a combination between TiVo and Xbox in the foreseeable future. It is the inevitable outcome of TiVo's success in captivating early adopters with its personal video recording appliance.

Microsoft Reorganizes TV Units, Division Supporting UltimateTV Eliminated

SiliconValley.com reports that Microsoft is restructuring its TV-related units in order to shift more of its resources to Xbox development. These changes will most impact the UltimateTV set-top box which competes with certain personal video recorder models from TiVo and ReplayTV.

It seems to us that one likely outcome of this restructuring is that personal video recording features will appear in the Xbox fairly quickly. Also, Microsoft TV-related offerings may consolidate on Xbox hardware, rather than on traditional PCs.

Server Configuration Changes Temporarily Shutdown CTDATA.com Mail Servers

Due to an unexpected problem on our primary mail server resulting from a configuration change, email service was interrupted between 9:00 and 10:00 am Eastern Time today. All services have now been restored. Customers, please let us know if you are experiencing continuing problems.

The best way to get in touch with us if your email account is not available to you is to call Dave Aiello at 609-844-1200 x 101.

O'Reilly Network Discusses "Internet Wayback Machine"

The O'Reilly Network is carrying an article that explains the "Internet Wayback Machine", a web site with 100 terabytes of web archival information. Included in this article is an interview with Brewster Kahle, president of Alexa Internet the designer of the Wayback Machine, and a subsidiary of Amazon.com.

Looking at the Internet Wayback Machine itself, located at http://www.archive.org/, we were able to find content that appeared on CTDATA.com back to December 1996! Similarly, content from RCNJ.org goes back to November 1998.

The Internet Wayback Machine is not just a fun web site, it's a great research resource. We can only imagine the uses people will find for this site.

January 21, 2002

O'Reilly Network Article Explains Slash Plug-in Architecture

ONlamp.com has published an article by chromatic explaining the Slashcode plug-in architecture and how to use to build applications on top of recent versions of Slash. This is an excellent article, and it demonstrates the evolution of the Slash engine from a framework that helps web publishers build Slashdot-like web sites to a more general purpose tool for doing web publishing and building web applications.

Some people in the Linux and BSD communities don't evaluate Slash because of the perception that it is only useful for building sites that look like Slashdot. But, the Slash architecture has really been opened-up in the past year, and it compares more favorably to more general web publishing frameworks than ever before. We are really looking forward to the introduction of the O'Reilly book Running Weblogs with Slash, because it will raise the level of understanding that the programming community has in Slash as a platform.

January 20, 2002

New Jersey Anticipates Record Budget Deficit in 2002

The Star Ledger reports that due to the slumping economy and extraordinary expenses from the terrorist attacks, New Jersey will have its largest budget shortfall in history. As a percentage of its total budget, New Jersey's budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2002, will be the largest of any state in the nation.

Huge Doubts About a Merger Between AOL and RedHat

Doc Searls has some serious doubts about a humorous potential merger between AOL-TimeWarner and RedHat. Regarding the Washington Post's assertion that acquiring RedHat could make AOL a threat to Microsoft, Searls said, "Right. That's like saying we could attract billions of people to Mars if AOL would buy it and supply it with enough oxygen."

We agree. AOL is a content company, not a software company, per se. Can anyone see a strategic fit considering the fact that when AOL acquired Netscape, it divested the server software to Sun Microsystems?

January 18, 2002

RedHat 7.2 Upgrade Process Has Trouble with Some "Third Party" RPMs

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier this week, I reluctantly concluded that I needed to upgrade my laptop from RedHat Linux 6.2 to 7.2. I say 'reluctantly' because I knew from previous experience how complicated a Linux upgrade can be."

"I ran into a problem almost immediately when the RedHat 7.2 installer failed to upgrade my XFree86, Gnome, KDE, and related packages. It did not do this because it detected that I had upgraded these packages myself with non-RedHat versions of these packages (probably when I installed the original version of Nautilus from the now defunct Eazel). The big issues I had with this were:"

  1. the installer provided a cryptic message about third party packages being installed and warned me that there might be some instability if I continued the installation, and
  2. X Windows was almost totally inaccessible after the upgrade was completed.

Read on for a bit more explanation of the problem and the eventual solution.

Dave Aiello continued:

The behavior of X Windows after the upgrade was a real head-scratcher. After successfully displaying the graphical login screen, both the Gnome and KDE desktops could not be rendered at all. In their place was a single graphical UNIX shell window stripped of its title bar. Neither the mouse nor the keyboard seemed to provoke any response from this window.

I spun my wheels for about 2 hours searching Google and reading the printed RedHat 7.2 documentation. This is what you get for beginning the upgrade process at 9:45pm, Eastern Time.

In the morning, I used one of the telephone technical support incidents I got when I purchased the RedHat Linux 7.2 Professional Edition. The support person I spoke with concluded that none of the X Windows, Gnome, or KDE RPMs had been touched during my first upgrade attempt. He told me to perform another upgrade and to select all of the X Windows, Gnome, and KDE packages explicitly. This ended up working.

There are still several annoying problemes with the new RedHat configuration that I am trying to work out:

  • the Enlightenment Window Manager configuration is messed up, and
  • the new Nautilus desktop is not configured properly, so it is only displayed within a portion of the machine's virtual desktop space.

Undoubtedly, I will have more to add about this operating system upgrade process in later articles.

Limbaugh Reportedly Regains 80 Percent of Hearing in One Ear

The Drudge Report says that Rush Limbaugh has regained 80 percent of his hearing in one of his ears. This is the result of the successful activation of a cochlear implant that he received in December.

According to the article, Rush's brother David Limbaugh said, "We talked on cell phones, it was just great!"

January 17, 2002

Television Industry Trying to Unify Itself on Anti-Copying Technology

News.com reports that TV networks, film studios, and consumer electronics firms are attempting to create a single standard for copy protecting broadcast television. Among other things, the article says:

The latest effort, a plan to insert digital tags into broadcast TV shows that would prevent them from being put online, is just part of that broader aim. But as more TV content shows up at digital swap meets, copyright owners see it as an increasingly urgent issue. They say they'll have a standard ready by the end of the first quarter of the year.

The big question is, how will appliances like TiVo will respond to these digital tags if they are implemented. It is possible for TiVo to do an on-line software upgrade to implement watermarking according to industry wishes. However, up to now, devices like TiVo have depended upon techniques like limiting the number of output interfaces built into them to hinder distribution of high quality copies.

Cox Having Trouble Serving Its Customers in Fairfax County, VA

ISPworld reports that Cox Communications is having difficulty providing good customer service to its broadband customers in Fairfax County, Virginia. According to the article:

There seems to be two layers of technical support, a local ? and clueless ? layer working a local help desk from 8 AM ? 9 PM and the more clueful national Road Runner support desk. The trouble-shooting litany (that I can repeat by heart, thereby making me qualified to work the local help desk) is "Unplug your cable modem, wait two minutes. Plug it back in. What lights do you see? Do you see the cable light come on and stay on?"

This is the same kind of advice, masquerading as technical support that Comcast Business Communications provided to CTDATA last weekend, as we reported. It is an example of bad support, regardless of who receives it. But, what we take issue with is the fact that business customers pay up to five times the monthly rate that residential customers pay, and they sometimes receive the same lame troubleshooting advice, especially in off-hours.

Justice Department Releases Photos, Video of Suspected al Qaeda Members

The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Ashcroft released video tapes and photographs of alleged members of al Qaeda who may be planning further attacks. Reportedly, the video shows the suspects declaring their intent to commit terrorist acts in the future. Ashcroft asked for the public's help in bringing to justice the men depicted in the photos and video tapes.

Mercury-News Columnist Says Handspring Treo is "a Dud"

Mike Landberg in the San Jose Mercury-News is one of the first columnists in a major publication to report that he really dislikes the Handspring Treo 180. He writes, "Handspring's much-touted new Treo 180 'communicator' at $399 -- the latest attempt to merge a personal digital assistant with a mobile phone -- turns out to be yet another kludge that's too much of a PDA to be a good phone and too much of a phone to be a good PDA."

In a way, it's good to see this device get a bad review. Any portable device combining telephony, email, and Internet access is bound to have some design compromises built into it. Most of the other reviews we've seen have had an almost-too-good-to-be-true quality.

Contractors Already Recycling Structural Steel from WTC

The Daily News reports that scrap yards in Newark and Jersey City are cutting up structural steel from the World Trade Center and sending it on to manufacturing plants as far away as South Korea. Some relatives of victims of the terrorist are outraged, as expected. According to the article, almost 160,000 tons of steel has been removed from the World Trade Center site so far.

The article points out the difficulty of the issues involved in this aspect of the recovery process:

  • How big a portion of the debris from the World Trade Center ought to be saved?
  • Should the rest of the salvaged material be recycled?
  • How long should the material bound for recycling be kept for forensic analysis?

January 16, 2002

U.S. Release of Handspring Treo Delayed Until March

News.com reports that Handspring has delayed the U.S. introduction of the Treo 180 until March. Handspring CEO Donna Dubinsky cited unspecified parts shortages for the delay, although assembly of the devices has begun at a Solectron plant in Mexico.

Perhaps a better explanation for the delay may be found later in the article: "Handspring said more than 20 wireless carriers worldwide have been testing the Treo on their networks. Dubinsky also told CNET News.com that the company is launching in Europe first because carriers there are moving more quickly to work with the Treo." Yesterday, we speculated that delayed shipment in the United States was the result of a lack of carrier buy-in. Sounds like we were right.

Actually, this development may be a blessing for American gadget freaks. If Handspring really does ship the Treo in Europe first, we will find out whether the product works well without having to buy it and commit to a service contract with a GSM-based carrier.

Bill O'Reilly Radio Program May Debut in March

In the New York Post, John Mainelli reports that Bill O'Reilly's radio talk show will debut in March and the affiliates are likely to include WOR, a 50,000 watt AM station in New York City.

The main point of Mainelli's column, however, is that WOR intends to run O'Reilly's program on tape against Sean Hannity's radio program, rather than live when he would be opposite Rush Limbaugh. The article says, "{WOR} would air O'Reilly on tape to 3 p.m.-- when {FoxNews}
colleague Hannity is on WABC (770 AM) - and start talk
legend Bob Grant's show two hours later, trimming the
length of Grant's show from three hours to two."

January 15, 2002

Why Hasn't Handspring Released Treo 180 Yet?

About two weeks ago, David Pogue said that Handspring would ship the Treo 180 on January 14. That date has come and gone, so we began asking our friends who are generally in the know: Why didn't Handspring ship when Pogue said they would?

One thing that is clear in surveying other news cites: David Pogue did not name January 14 because of a Handspring press release. A couple of other sites pointed out that Pogue went out on a limb with this prediction.

Then, there's the idea that carrier support in the United States is not yet in place. News.com reports that Handspring has not announced a carrier deal although they intend to ship finished product in January. Carrier support is probably necessary in order to permit the Treo to be sold at the lower price that was to be available to customers who signed service contracts.

FWIW, PalmInfoCenter contradicts the News.com article, saying, "According to Handspring, it has already lined up an impressive collection of wireless service providers. In the U.S., this includes Cingular and VoiceStream. They also have agreements with companies in Canada. However, none of these have officially been announced."

Mobile Phone Billing Systems Not Designed to Support Data Services

EEtimes.com reports that European mobile communications companies have found that their billing systems do not make it easy to bill customers for data services such as the new GPRS extension to GSM. This could prove to be an obstacle to flexibly priced, value-added mobile data services in the forseeable future.

Among the problems cited in the article:

  • operators can only typically charge for the time that people are connected, the number of SMS messages they send, or the number of data bytes downloaded
  • operators generally cannot charge for SMS messages received
  • value-added services delivered through SMS, therefore, cannot be tariffed on a per-message basis.

Among the services that the article claims are being held back as a result of this are a Microsoft Hotmail to SMS gateway and a wide range of location-based services. Amazingly, the article also says, "billing for new mobile data services was already recognized as a stumbling block well over a year ago by analysts and industry players."

Another Obstacle to Using USB with VMware 3.0 Workstation for Linux

Dave Aiello wrote, "I finally got a working mp3 player to use with my Windows 2000 Professional virtual machine that is running under VMware Workstation 3.0 for Linux. I thought this was the last thing I needed to take advantage of the new features of the new release of VMware."

"In the course of trying to get the mp3 player to connect, I discovered that VMware's USB support only works if the parent operating system itself supports USB, regardless of whether the child OS supports it natively. I guess this makes sense, in that it would be hard to make a machine running Windows NT 4.0 as its base OS support USB. But, I assumed that I would have no problem because my base OS is derived from RedHat Linux 6.2. Wrong."

Dave Aiello continued:

In the Using USB Devices in a Virtual Machine document from VMware, note the following passage near the beginning: "You can use up to two USB devices in your virtual machine if both your host operating system and your guest operating system support USB. Note, for example, that Windows NT and Linux kernels older than 2.2.17 do not support USB.... Although your host operating system must support USB, you do not need to install drivers for your USB devices in the host operating system if you want to use those devices only in the virtual machine." {Our emphasis in the preceding quote.)

So, I needed to run uname -r in order to find my kernel version. I needed 2.2.17. The output of uname -r was:


I can't believe that after rebuilding the Windows 2000 Professional Edition virtual machine, I now must upgrade the kernel of my parent machine or just move to Red Hat 7.x.

January 14, 2002

Seattle's Amazing Humming Telecom Boulders

Martin O'Donnell pointed out a Seattle Times article that explains the difficulty AT&T Broadband is having getting consumers to sign up for high speed internet access. Among the issues cited are the high cost of residential service relative to perceived value, and the relatively small portion of the Metropolitan Seattle Area where the service is available.

But, by far, the most interesting aspect of this story is the amenity AT&T Broadband is offering select Seattle-area neighborhoods: a $900 faux rock that houses the gear necessary to provide high speed Internet access. According to the article, "At $900, rocks are twice as costly as {steel wiring cabinets}. If word gets out they're available, Davis says, every neighborhood might want one. Residents consented, but still aren't entirely satisfied. 'It's weird,' says neighbor Margot Fetzer of the knee-high, humming boulder. 'It looks like papier-mache ... with a little lock on it.'" The article includes a photo of the rock-shaped wiring cabinet.

Sounds like the kind of thing people will want Comcast to install in Lawrenceville, NJ.

Comcast Broadband Access Woes Continue

Subscribers to Comcast broadband services in Central and Southern New Jersey continue to report problems. CTDATA, a customer of Comcast Business Communications for Internet access at its Lawrenceville, NJ office, was without Internet service from about 1:30 on Sunday afternoon until Monday morning.

We placed a call to customer service around 2:00pm on Sunday and entered a trouble ticket. Comcast engineering did not return our call until 9:36 AM on Monday morning. When they did call back, we were told that their engineers are troubleshooting network problems on a site-by-site basis. Also many of the businesses who have lost Internet access have been out since the January 4 network cutover. That's a total of 10 days.

The fact that we have lost connectivity 10 days after the cutover is suprising, considering the information that Comcast provided to us today.

Update: Our office's broadband service was restored on Monday in the middle of the afternoon. That means we were down for approximately 24 hours. We have yet to receive a reasonable explanation for this outage.

January 12, 2002

French Filmaker Captured NYFD Actions in WTC Collapse

The New York Times reports that an unedited video created by Jules Naudet shows NYFD actions during the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. Reportedly, the video has been circulated among most firehouses in New York City. However, only the first few seconds of the video have been seen on broadcast television, since it is some of the best footage of the first airplane's impact with the north tower.

January 11, 2002

Ford to Close Edison Truck Plant

The Associated Press reports that Ford is closing the Edison, NJ Truck Assembly Plant in addition to five other plants in North America, throwing about 22,000 people out of work. An additional 13,000 Ford employees from outside the United States and Canada will also lose their jobs.

A similar New York Times article quotes Charles J. Brady from Credit Lyonnais Securities as saying, "They've really announced that they're going to do everything an ongoing business should do everyday: control costs, make quality products.... The inherent admission is, `we fell asleep'."

This will be a tough blow for the New Jersey economy, coming so quickly after September 11. In the Newark Star-Ledger article, Governor-elect James McGreevey said, "We've asked them to stop any permanent decision in an effort to set forth to Ford the potential array of financial incentives which could be available. The state could offer low-interest rate financing guarantees and other financial incentives to help retool the plant to build another product."

McGreevey's also said, "For 10 years, we have largely neglected manufacturing in this state," adding the pattern must be reversed. Ford sold 58,000 fewer trucks made in Edison last year than the year before, in spite of incentives like zero percent financing. What could the State of New Jersey have done to change that?

John Udell Visits Dartmouth Security Think Tank

Following up on the article where Brett Tofel tipped us to an Open Source JSP editor, we started looking for more information about the Institute for Security Technology Studies. A few days ago, John Udell from Byte published an account of his visit to ISTS. Udell provides a good overview of the Institute's areas of expertise as well as current research focuses.

The article includes an explanation of Brett's current work (developing software that improves the efficiency of forensic server log analysis) and a good quote from him. We always like to point to articles where friends of CTDATA get some press.

LinuxJournal: Apple Importing OS Development Talent from Open Source UNIX Community

Over on LinuxJournal, Doc Searls reports that Apple is importing a lot of Open Source UNIX development talent into its Darwin Project, the core of MacOS X. According to the article:

While Apple pitches radical hardware and practical software to the
masses, UNIX geeks are quietly adding big value to the company's
open-source, BSD-based operating system....

In past years at Macworld my Linux Journal shirt would have seemed more out of
place than a leisure suit. But this year it fits right in. There were people in line wearing
Sun and SGI schwag too. One guy told me he thought OS X was "subversive"
because it "seeds" millions of otherwise unsuspecting households with open-source
UNIX. "I can go to my Mom's, fire up her iMac, open a shell, ssh to my own server
and get some real work done", one guy said to me.

When you combine the low level features of MacOS X with the cheap, powerful software tools that Apple is providing for digital media management (iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, iDVD), it's pretty easy to see why people at the geeky end of the spectrum are looking at Apple products quite differently than they did even a year ago.

jEdit: a Syntax-Aware OpenSource Program Editor

Dave Aiello wrote, "The other day, I asked my friend Brett Tofel from the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College what Integrated Development Environment he would use to develop an understanding of Java Server Page development if cost was a consideration? Brett said, '...{I} don't use an IDE per se. I do my editing in jEdit which is
syntactically aware of jsp and highlights/ formats/ etc. correctly (cost=free).'"

"After a little further research, I located the jEdit Web Site and got more details about the program. JEdit is a programmer's text editor written in Java, being developed by a team led by Slava Pestov. It provides all of the features that Brett mentioned out of the box. It also has a large number of plugins which extend its functionality, and a plugin manager that makes it easy to install the plugins and try them out."

"I just started using this program, so I can't say I swear by it. But, initial indications are that it will be useful. And, it's definitely interesting to try an OpenSource product for this task, when the alternatives are definitely commercial and many of the good alternatives are quite expensive."

January 10, 2002

PATH Train Found at WTC, No One Aboard

The Associated Press reports that recovery workers have reached the only train that remained in the World Trade Center PATH station after the September 11 terrorist attack. No bodies were found on the six car train, because it was out of service at the time that the PATH station was abandoned.

PATH rail operations typically left a train parked in the World Trade Center station after 8:30am because the number of trains that were arriving in the station to discharge passengers was not as great as earlier in the rush hour. The parked train would be moved out either to the yard west of Journal Square Station in Jersey City, or the yard west of Penn Station in Newark during the afternoon, once congestion in those yards abated. This allowed all of the tracks to be utilized during the afternoon rush hour.

F-16 Crashes Near Garden State Parkway

The Associated Press is reporting that an F-16 crashed over land near Atlantic City, NJ. The report indicates that debris from the crash was scattered across the Garden State Parkway. The aircraft was reportedly part of the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard stationed at Pomona and it was being used in a training mission.

Update: According to the most recent AP report, the pilot ejected safely.

Lessig Says Copyright Holders Policies are Limiting Consumer Demand for Broadband

In Tuesday's Washington Post, Stanford University Professor Lawrence Lessig says that the restrictive policies of the publishing, recording, and motion picture industries are limiting consumer demand for broadband services. According to the article:

... {Piracy} is not the most important reason copyright holders have been slow to embrace the net. A bigger reason is the threat the Internet presents to their relatively comfortable ways of doing business.... Online music is the best example of this potential. Five years ago the market saw online music as the next great Internet application. A dozen companies competed to find new and innovative ways to deliver and produce music using the technologies of the Internet....

These experiments in innovation are now over. They have been stopped by lawyers working for the recording industry. Every form of innovation that they disapproved of they sued. And every suit they brought, they won. Innovation outside the control of the "majors" has stopped.

... {Innovation} and growth in broadband have been stifled as courts have given control over the future to the creators of the past. The only architecture for distribution that these creators will allow is one that preserves their power within a highly concentrated market.

Doc Searls: NY Times Doesn't Know How to Maximize Value of Its Archives

On Sunday, Doc Searls took The New York Times to task for launching "Topics of the Times", another attempt to monetize its article archive. Doc is right that as long as the current Times stories are free, portions of their archives that can only be accessed for a fee are of dramatically less value. Doc said, "{Times columnist Tom} Friedman's authority only goes up as more and more people can link to him. It is not increased one bit when a few suckers shell out $4.95 for stuff nobody else can see."

Some people who work for CTDATA subscribe to WSJ.com, the web site for the Wall Street Journal where most of the content is reserved for paying customers. We do not feel the same way about WSJ.com as we do about the New York Times. WSJ.com is one of the few truly profitable pay-for-content media sites. We think this is because they began service under that model and they have been fairly consistent in their approach.

The New York Times should be as consistent as the Wall Street Journal has been in implementing their web publishing model. The best way for the Times to charge for archives would be to provide value-added archive research tools for a fee, but make the stories themselves free. Then, web publishers could link to Times content without any second thoughts, and the value of Times content would be that much greater.

Google Zeitgeist Provides Insight into How Google is Used

Dave Aiello wrote, "A number of other Weblogs have pointed to Google Zeitgeist, a statistical summary of user activity on the Google web site. I have mentioned Zeitgeist to a few of friends and many had never heard of it."

"The current Zeitgeist is a sort of year end retrospective for 2001. It's interesting, because many of the illustrated search queries correlate to current events, such as searches done on September 11, or related to television shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Zeitgeist is only one example of the kind of useful feedback information that Google is providing about how Internet users throughout the world are behaving. I will try to illustrate some other information available from Google in future stories on CTDATA.com"

"FWIW, someone asked me what the word zeitgeist means. Although Google defines it in its marketing information, I've provided a link to Dictionary.com for your convenience."

January 9, 2002

The Web Runs on Love, Not Greed

Last week, Kevin Kelly got an article published in the Wall Street Journal called The Web Runs on Love, Not Greed. Somehow, Dave Winer of Scripting News got permission to republish it electronically.

This article is a good summation of the Internet experience of the past year. A lot of people have become jaded, saying that the implosion of many Dot Com businesses indicates that the Internet has somehow failed to live up the expectations of the general public. Kevin Kelly refutes this by pointing out the numerous unbelievable successes that exist right under our noses:

In our disappointment of grand riches, we have failed to see the miracle on our desks. Ten years ago, it was easy to dismiss visions of a wondrous screen in our homes that would provide the whole world in its magical window. The idea of a universal information port was considered uneconomical, and too futuristic to be real in our lifetimes. Yet at any hour of today, most readers of this paper have access to the full text of the Encyclopedia Britannica, precise map directions to anywhere in the country, stock quotes in real time, local weather forecasts with radar pictures, immediate sports scores from your hometown, any kind of music you could desire, answers to medical questions, hobbyists who know more than you do, tickets to just about anything, 24/7 e-mail, news from a hundred newspapers, and so on. Much of this is for free. This abundance simply overwhelms what was promised by the most optimistic guru.

Felten Interviewed by Business Week

BusinessWeek published an interview with Princeton Computer Science Professor Edward Felten that took place at the Future of Music Policy Summit. Dr. Felten is best known for challenging the anti-circumvention portions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act through his lawsuit against the Recording Industry Association of America.

In the article, Felten says:

No one knows how to give customers [in the digital world] what they want without the copyright holders being stolen blind. The solution to the problem of illegal copying of music is mostly not a technology problem. I think there will be a movement toward offering different kinds of services. Interactive applications that help you find music you like, help you index and search, give you additional information about the artist you're listening to.

U.S. Government Changes Goal of Motor Vehicle Research Program

The New York Times reports that the U.S. Government is abandoning its $1.5 billion gasoline-powered vehicle efficiency project. Instead, the government will operate a program to encourage the development of motor vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Efforts to increase fuel economy have failed primarily because consumers and businesses want large, flexible vehicles. Most of the fuel economy efforts have been focused on incremental changes to vehicles that end up making them smaller and lighter. If American auto manufacturers were able to produce SUVs that ran on hydrogen, were about the same price, and required as little maintenance as gasoline-powered vehicles, consumers would buy them.

January 8, 2002

LDAP Tools Discussed on Ask Slashdot

The latest Ask Slashdot discusses tools for managing LDAP, also known as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. LDAP is the basis for many authentication services in the iPlanet, Novell, and Microsoft Active Directory realms.

Several posts suggest using a Java-based tool called LDAP Browser/Editor by Jarek Gawor. Looks like it's worth downloading and trying out, if you manage a directory.

Computerworld Provides Further Details on Boingo Wireless

Computerworld reports on the progress Boingo Wireless is making toward a debut. Sprint PCS Group has made an investment. Their access software is in public beta right now. The final version is expected to be released in February. More information on Boingo may be found in the article we published on December 20.

In Memory of Dave Thomas

Dave Aiello wrote, "While listening to Imus in the Morning, I learned that Dave Thomas passed away last night. He was the founder of Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers, one of the largest fast food franchisees in the world. The company he founded also came to own Tim Horton's, the Canadian donut franchisee with significant operations in the Buffalo area. Dave Thomas will also be remembered for tirelessly supporting the cause of adoption."

"This is a sad moment for many of us who were around in the early days of CTDATA. If you ask people like Martin O'Donnell, Brett Tofel and Ed Anuff, they will tell you that a lot of CTDATA and Vision Software history took place at Wendy's. During 1988, 1989, and 1990, we haunted the Wendy's on Route 9 in Latham, NY."

NYC Commercial Real Estate in a State of Flux

Camworld pointed out an excellent article from Sunday's New York Times that reports on the state of the commercial real estate market in New York City. According to the article:

The attacks on the World Trade Center removed 13.4 million square feet of office space for at least several years and temporarily rendered an additional 12.1 million square feet unusable.

But rather than causing the market to tighten, as might have been expected when 25 percent of the downtown submarket suddenly vanished, the attack released a flood of sublet space, as if by magic. According to a report by Grubb & Ellis, the brokerage and services company, 10.1 million square feet was offered for sublet in the three months after the attack, as companies that had been holding excess space put it on the market in hopes of attracting tenants who had been displaced from downtown buildings.

Four Year Old Security Issue Reportedly Reappears in IE 5.5 and 6.0

Newsbytes reports that security experts have discovered that Microsoft Internet Explorer fails to implement a security standard created in 1997. The standard, referred to as the "same-origin policy" requires that JavaScript code executing in the context of one Web site should not be able to access the properties of another. When this policy is not implemented "... a grab-bag of techniques {are available to attackers} for stealing other users' browser cookies, reading some files on their hard disks, and 'spoofing' the content of legitimate sites".

According to a SecurityFocus report on the flaw, "This violation of the 'same-origin policy' is a severe security vulnerability. There are many ways that an attacker could exploit this vulnerability."

January 7, 2002

LinuxLookup Reviews VMware Workstation 3.0

LinuxLookup has published a review of VMware Workstation 3.0 for Linux. They generally like the product, although they are more concerned with the apparent degradation of Windows virtual machine performance than we have been here on CTDATA.com. All in all, it is a good review, and worth reading in conjunction with other evaluations of the new version of the workstation product.

Perl Receives Criticism at MIT Lightweight Languages Workshop

An article that appeared in Dr. Dobb's Journal discusses the MIT Lightweight Languages Workshop. The workshop was held at MIT's prestigious Artificial Intelligence Lab.

A number of passages in the DDJ article indicate that Perl was criticized by some attendees at the workshop. Perhaps this is to be expected, considering that the conference took place in an academic setting, and that attendance was probably dominated by artificial intelligence researchers. However, there is no doubt that Perl has been a highly useful language in many practical applications. It would be nice if languages were evaluated on their merits, and on the relative utility of the applications that have been produced with them, rather than on the basis of their lexical or syntactic purity.

There is a discussion thread on PerlMonks that addresses the workshop and the articles in DDJ and on Perl.com that describe it.

Northern New Jersey Gets its First Measurable Snow Fall of Winter

In New Jersey, a measurable amount of snow has fallen over the past 18 hours in the area north of Trenton. At least two inches of snow has been observed in Hunterdon and Morris counties. Apparently, more snow has accumulated in Northwestern New Jersey than anyplace else.

Snow has continued to fall this morning in the area around Morristown. But, the temperature has been slightly above freezing, limiting further accumulation.

Reinstalling Windows 2000 and Office 2000 Takes Hours

Dave Aiello wrote, "If you have been following this site recently, you know that I jumped at the opportunity to upgrade my copy of VMware Workstation for Linux to Version 3.0 in order to take advantage of greater virtual disk capacity and USB support. I subsequently discovered that in order to practically use these new features, I had to recreate the virtual machines that I use everyday."

"Last night, I began the process by backing up my Windows 2000 virtual machine's user files, reinstalling the Windows 2000 Professional operating system, and reinstalling Office 2000 Standard Edition. In the course of doing this, I had the opportunity to frequently visit the Microsoft Windows Update web site. This site is a repository for patches to the Windows operating systems. A related site called Microsoft Office Product Updates contains the patches for that product line."

"As you may guess from the title of this article, the process of securing the operating system and application suite took longer than I expected. Read on for a summary of my experience."

Dave Aiello continued:

It's difficult for me to understand the design choices that Microsoft has made in the Windows 2000 update process, and why it differs from the Windows NT update process in this respect: as far as I know, most updates to Windows NT are cumulative, while updates to Windows 2000 are done in stages.

If I wanted to update Windows NT to a reasonably secure state, I believe I can just apply Windows NT Service Pack 6a and be done with it. (Feel free to comment on this story if you think I am wrong in this assessment.) Admittedly, NT Service Pack 6a is a huge file, and it may be more practical for some people to get it on CD than to attempt to download it.

In the case of Windows 2000 Professional, in order to get to a reasonably secure configuration, I had to:

  • apply Windows 2000 Service Pack 1a
  • apply Windows 2000 Service Pack 2
  • apply several "Critical Updates"
  • apply additional patches to Internet Explorer to get to a reasonably safe version of IE 5.5

Most of these updates had to be done one-at-a-time, followed by a reboot. Windows 2000 Service Pack 1a was particularly large, and the second stage download took a long time, apparently due to the load on Microsoft's server.

The Office 2000 Standard Edition installation and update process was similarly complicated and time consuming.

The biggest advantage to the Windows 2000/Office 2000 update processes, in my opinion, is the fact that you can download some executable code to your machine that cooperates with the Windows Update web site to determine which patches need to be applied to the software that is presently installed on your system. This is a definite improvement over Windows NT.

The big disadvantage is the number of cycles necessary to complete the process. I must have done five or six large downloads, taking 10 minutes to one hour over a broadband connection, waited anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour while each set of patches was applied, and then waited for a reboot to take place. All in all, the process took several hours, and I decided to go to bed once I started the Internet Explorer 5.5 update process.

I have been trying to find the time to do these reinstallations since Thanksgiving, so I am glad to have the bulk of it behind me. The only significant efforts left are to reinstall Visio 2000 and QuickBooks 2001, and to restore the data files that I created with Office and these applications. But, trying to bring a single workstation up-to-date from the base installations reiterated to me the fact that the greatest component of the total cost of ownership of Windows operating systems is keeping up with the patches they require in order to avoid exploitable security holes.

At this stage of the evolution of end-user computing, it is not practical for most people to choose an operating system that is not based on Microsoft Windows technology. But eventually, something has to give because the update process is on the verge of mind-numbing.

January 5, 2002

CTDATA's Experience with the Comcast Backbone Cutover

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last night, Comcast executed a cut-over of its cable modem customers in Central New Jersey to a new backbone which supposedly does not utilize the @Home Network infrastructure. In a previous article, we documented the instructions that Comcast provided to help us know what to do after the cutover."

"When I arrived at the office about 8:30am, we definitely did not have connectivity. The instructions from Comcast appeared to say that we should call 888-447-6060 to see if the cutover was complete before rebooting the router. I called the number. The recording said that the Central New Jersey cutover was scheduled for 11:00pm on January 4 and the recording would be updated when the network changes were complete."

"By 8:45am, I decided to try rebooting the router despite the fact that the Comcast recording implied that the network changes were not yet complete. Once the router reinitialized, we had Internet connectivity. Every service and every site I've tried has worked seamlessly."

"I'm not sure that this will be the experience of all Comcast customers in Central New Jersey. I suspect that others following my approach but waiting for definitive word from Comcast are confused right now. But, the bottom line is that the network is working, at least from our vantage point. We will provide updates if the situation changes."

Update: The Philadelphia Daily News reported Saturday that some Comcast customers in South Jersey have experienced problems. CTDATA's broadband connection continues to perform well.

VMware Workstation 3.0: Upgrade Not as Easy as We Hoped

Dave Aiello wrote, "For the past few weeks, I have been trying to upgrade the copy of VMware Workstation on my Linux laptop. I expected to easily upgrade the existing virtual machines that I had on my laptop, and be able to utilize all of new features that we touted in our story about the VMware Workstation 3 shipment."

"Unfortunately, I ran into problems that I can only describe as frustrating when upgrading my Windows 2000 vitual machine. Read on for an explanation of what those problems were, and a couple of important tips to maximize the value of the time spent upgrading to 3.0."

Dave Aiello continued:

I began the upgrade process by reading the Workstation 3.0 Release Notes. This document is really important. If I had not followed its directions and backed up my existing virtual machines, I would have been in serious trouble, later on.

I have four vitual machines on my laptop:

  • an Office Software Workstation running Windows 2000 and including primarily Office 2000, pcAnywhere, QuickBooks Pro, and Quicken;
  • a Windows Web Development Machine running Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 6 and including Netscape SuiteSpot 3.x, Microsoft SQL Server 6.5, MKS Toolkit, and pcAnywhere;
  • a Windows Java Programming Machine running Windows NT 4.0 and including Netscape Enterprise Server 3.6, jRun 3.x, Epicentric Foundation Server 3, and JBuilder 5;
  • a RedHat 6.2 Server Virtual Machine that I intended to use for Slashcode development, but never really used.

Backing these machines up was a pretty serious job in itself because of the limited disk space that I have available. Although I have a 20 gigabyte hard disk on my laptop, the amount of space in the Linux home partition is not sufficient to comfortably have both 6-8 gigabytes of virtual disks and gzipped backup copies of them as well.

Here is where my relative lack of Linux operating experience hurt me. I managed to use the GNU tar utility to create gzipped tar files of each virtual machine in /home/daiello/vmware, but the partition filled to 99 percent. For some reason, I could not effectively copy those files from one partition to another. When I tried to mv the files to other partitions in the file system, I experienced I/O errors in most cases. The work-around was to tar the files to the place I wanted to store them, but it took a few frustrating hours hours to realize this.

I wanted the new version of VMware so that my Windows 2000-based virtual machine would have USB. The Windows 2000 virtual machine, like most of my virtual machines, chafe under the 2 gigabyte virtual drive limitation of VMware Workstation 2. Creating a second 2 gigabyte virtual disk for each machine has always been an option, but machine configuration in these situations is not as smooth and simple as I would like. So, easily surmounting this limitation would be a big deal to me.

The first difficulty that I ran into that frustrated me was the fact that existing virtual disks still cannot be resized in VMware Workstation 3.0. I sort of assumed that with the increase in the maximum size of virtual disks, they would have created a way to resize them while the virtual machine was shut down. Apparently, they have not done this.

My next idea was to back up the user files from the Windows 2000 virtual machine and rebuild it from scratch with a new 3 or 4 gigabyte virtual disk. The easiest way to do this would be to use Samba to copy the files off the virtual disk directly to the native Linux file system. Once the virtual machine is rebuilt, I could copy the files back to the same relative places on the new virtual disk.

Easy? No. The problem is that when I installed VMware, I said I wanted the modified version of Samba that ships with VMware installed because I had not turned on the Samba that is native to my host machine. The VMware version of Samba is not at all necessary in my configuration anymore because of the implementation of virtual Network Address Translation (NAT).

I spent several hours with Samba and Linux books, and finally realized that I could not start Samba on the parent machine because the VMware version of Samba was already running. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling VMware. This did not solve the problem because the configuration file /etc/rc.d/init.d/vmware apparently was not fully recreated.

Here's an excerpt of the question I posed to VMware support about the issue:

I want to start the parent machine's native smbd and nmbd, but
the VMware versions of those daemons are already running. It appears that the file
/etc/rc.d/init.d/vmware contains the mechanism to start and stop the smbd and nmbd daemons, but the file is read only to me even when I am root.

Is it safe for me to chmod this file and change it so that the VMware versions of smbd and nmbd are never started? If so, how would you recommend doing it? Is there a better way to do this that I am not aware of?

Here is a brief summary of my progress toward fixing this problem:

  • January 5, 2002: I have waited for VMware Support to reply to my question, but, I'm not sure that's worth my time. I am thinking about proceeding with editing the VMware configuration file and seeing what happens.

  • January 6: I found a file called /etc/vmware/locations that contains variables that are used in /etc/rc.d/init.d/vmware. When I changed the value of VMNET_1_SAMBA from "yes" to "no", VMware's version of Samba no longer started when my machine entered runlevel 5 during startup.

    In order to get the parent machine's Samba to start, I simply had to create an alias to the file that starts the Samba services at the proper runlevels. Once I figured out how to modify the VMware configuration, the rest was easy.


I would suggest that your milage may vary (YMMV) on the VMware Workstation upgrade. You will probably love it, if you don't have a significant investment in VMware 2 virtual machines. You will also benefit tremendously if you had VMware 2 virtual machines, you realize the limitations of the virtual machine upgrade process, and plan accordingly. But, it's more work than I expected, and the scope of the effort wasn't apparent to me until several weeks after my initial upgrade attempt.

This story will be updated as I continue to work through the VMware upgrade process.

January 4, 2002

Making Web Sites Less Useful to Email Address Harvesters

A couple of weblogs have re-published links to a WebTechniques article from August 2001 that describes how to make web sites less useful to email address harvesting programs. These so-called Spambots traverse web sites like search engine robots looking for email addresses. The lists of email addresses produced are then used to send spam to the addresses.

The article focuses on explaining how Spambots work and explaining how to combat Spambots by using mod_rewrite, an optional module for Apache.

This is yet another example of why everyone who is hosting web sites ought to consider using Apache. Tools like mod_rewrite generally come out first for that web server, they are widely used, and therefore they are extremely well-tested and well understood by a large percentage of the community.

(Idea for this story came from Camworld.)

NY Times: Treo 180 Will Ship January 14

In yesterday's New York Times, David Pogue reported that the Treo 180 will be available from Handspring on January 14. This piece of information was contained in an article that reviewed the Motorola V220 (unfavorably) and the Treo 180 (favorably). Handspring itself has not announced a firm date for Treo 180 availability.

The article also points out that Handspring plans CDMA versions of Treo devices, at some point in the future. This would allow much wider use of Treo's in the Northeastern U.S., because Verizon operates its wireless network on the CDMA standard. Currently, the only mobile carrier in the Northeast using the GSM standard (on which the forthcoming Treo 180 is based) is Voicestream.

NIPC Warns of Security Holes in Windows XP

ZDnet reports that The National Infrastructure Protection Center issued an unusual warning to consumers about two security holes in the Windows XP operating system. The NIPC is an agency that brings together state and federal government resources with those of the private sector to protect the nation's electronic infrastructure.

According to the NIPC advisory, the problem stems from the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) feature that is installed and running by default in Windows XP, and may be active on Windows ME, Windows 98, and 98 Second Edition.

Regardless of your opinion about Microsoft, you have to support any government effort to expose security holes in esoteric operating system-level services when they impact consumers. Microsoft needs to deal with this issue in public, and take aggressive action to prevent unwitting consumers from having their computers harnessed in distributed denial of service attacks.

US Government Source: bin Laden Probably Alive, May be Injured

The Washington Times reports that a U.S. Government source believes that Osama bin Laden is still alive and may be injured. These conclusions are based on intelligence observations of activities of close bin Laden associates as well as review of the latest video of bin Laden broadcast on al Jazeera.

According to the article, "...his left arm remained still during his 33-minute diatribe against
America and the West. The motionless arm has led some government
analysts to conclude that he either injured the limb in a fall or in a
bombing raid. The tape most likely was made in early December."

Feds Drop Effort to Prosecute Senator Toricelli

The Star-Legder reports that federal prosecutors have dropped their investigation into the finances of Senator Robert Toricelli, a democrat from New Jersey. Key to the decision to drop the investigation was the behavior of David Chang, a prominent contributor to Toricelli. According to the article, "...Chang presented prosecutors with growing credibility problems. Before he agreed to cooperate with the government, the prosecutors themselves had disparaged Chang as a man who 'simply cannot be trusted on his word.'"

This development lifts some of the clouds over Senator Toricelli's reelection bid this coming November.

January 3, 2002

Canadian Company Claims RDF Standard Infringes on Their Patent

News.com reports that UFIL Unified Data Technologies claims the Reference Data Framework infringes on that a U.S. patent it holds. Reference Data Framework (RDF) is an XML-based metadata standard that "allows programmers to write software to access Web resources, such as Web page content, music files and digital photos".

We first learned of this development from Ed Dumbill's article posted yesterday on the O'Reilly Network Web Site. In a related article also posted yesterday, Dale Dougherty pointed out that O'Reilly had received a letter warning it of potential patent infringement.

Perhaps future stories about this alleged patent infringement will illustrate the relationship between the RDF standard and the patent in question. At this point, we can't determine what the relationship is because all of the terminology is different.

Three Firemen from Same Brooklyn Firehouse Found at Ground Zero

The New York Daily News tells the story of three firefighters from NYFD Ladder 118 who were found side by side on New Year's Day in the wreckage of the lobby of the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel at Ground Zero. Lieutenant Regan and Firefighters Agnello and Vega were found together with four other firefighters and three civilians.

This article illustrates why the New York Fire Department must be allowed to recover its own members wherever possible. They were obviously protecting each other as best they could when the World Trade Center collapsed upon them. The least that the recovery contractors and the NYC government should do is allow them to be recovered from the site together. And, this is apparently what actually took place.

Comcast Experiences Snags in Customer Migration to New Backbone

News.com reports that Comcast broadband customers have reported problems with migration to the new backbone that Comcast has been building to separate its infrastructure from Excite@Home. Over the next few weeks, all Comcast broadband customers will be cut-over to their new network.

CTDATA, as a Comcast Business Communications customer has received several notices from the company about pending network changes. Read on for a copy of the latest message that we received from Comcast....

Note: The following message was sent by Comcast Business Communications to CTDATA. CTDATA is a customer of Comcast Business Communications for the broadband connection at CTDATA's headquarters in Lawrenceville, NJ. The network change described below only affects CTDATA's headquarters, it does not affect CTDATA's managed Internet hosting customers.


Dear Valued Customer:

Please note, due to some schedule changes, we will be transitioning your Comcast Commercial Internet Service
(CCIS) to the new Comcast-managed network at approximately 11:00pm on January 4, 2002.

Here are some important tips for a smooth transition:

  • Prepare for a temporary shut-off of service when the cutover is made. While it is possible that service could
    be disrupted for up to 24 hours, we currently anticipate service will be restored much more quickly for most

  • Once the service has been restored, you must reboot your Comcast-provided router to regain
    To check if service has been restored in your area, call the Information Hotline at

  • If you have a problem with connectivity, please verify that service is restored in your area by calling
    1-888-447-6060 and then reboot your Comcast-provided router. If you require technical support, please call
    our Customer Service team at 1-888-205-5000.

  • If your DNS is provided by a third-party: If you require a static IP address prior to the network cutover, send
    an email request to: jumpstartdns@comcastbusiness.com. Be sure to provide your company's name, service
    location, and the MAC address of the Cayman Router (i.e., the Ethernet MAC address for the router's
    Ethernet "B" or WAN port), at least five business days prior to the scheduled conversion date.

  • For a list of "Frequently Asked Questions," please refer to www.comcastbusiness.com/info.

We appreciate your patience during this transition. Thank you for choosing Comcast.


Comcast Business Communications Online Team

January 2, 2002

Lithium-Ion Batteries for Laptops Have Finite Lifespans

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over the past two months, I have found that the lithium-ion battery on my Dell Inspiron 7500 laptop has deteriorated in terms of its ability to keep the laptop running without being connected to an external power source. The laptop is approaching two years old, but I did not use it regularly for the first six months I owned it."

"Having owned portable devices with less sophisticated battery technology, I began searching the Dell Support Web Site for information about how to deep-cycle or recalibrate my lithium-ion battery. I found a program that supposedly provides this capability, but it only works if you are running a Microsoft Operating System. It was only after I began searching for Linux-specific help with lithium-ion batteries that I found information about the expected life of lithium-ion batteries. Read on for more details."

Dave Aiello continued:

Answers began to come from the Dell|Talk Inspiron Power Management Forum. This user-to-user support area repeatedly indicates that lithium-ion batteries have finite lives, and these lives are determined by the total number of recharge cycles to which the battery has been subjected. One participant in the discussion pointed to an article about laptop battery life on an Australian computer dealer's web site that suggests that lithium-ion batteries have a life of 1,000 recharge cycles. Therefore, "If you run your Laptop on {normal AC power} all the time you may ruin a perfectly good battery within 6 months."

I was surprised by this, and so I sought a way to confirm this independently using the Internet. I found an article on ComputerHope which indicates the performance characteristics of lithium-ion batteries. The article lists among the "Distinct advantages of today’s Li-ion batteries" are:

  • No memory effect
  • 500 to 800 charging cycles

To me, this means that I probably have exhausted the number of recharge cycles that could reasonably be expected to be gotten from the original lithium-ion battery that came with my laptop. So, I decided to go ahead and buy a replacement battery from iGo.com because it was the most widely recommended source for OEM-quality Inspiron batteries.

My question is, why isn't lifecycle information for lithium-ion batteries more widely known?

Washington Post Provides Further Analysis of Case Against Moussaoui

The Washington Post published an article in today's edition that provides more background on the case against Zacarias Moussaoui. The new information disclosed in this article includes the fact that lack of evidence of criminal activity at the time prohibited the FBI from searching a laptop computer that contained information about jetliners, crop-dusters and wind currents.

The article also says that classified French intelligence reports indicated that "Moussaoui had radical Islamic beliefs and identified a friend {of Moussaoui's} as having fought in Chechnya with an Algerian Muslim group that included a known bin Laden associate." But, this information was insufficient to charge him under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires evidence that the target is an agent of a foreign power, including organized terrorist groups such as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

This article provides a good illustration of why suspected terrorists may need to be held by the U.S. Government without immediate criminal charges. It was obvious to investigators that Moussaoui was participating in some sort of organized conspiracy, but they did not have enough information to determine the nature of the conspiracy at the time. Unfortunately, after September 11 it became clear that he was involved in the coordinated terrorist attacks.

Moussaoui Enters No Plea to Charges, Judge Says His Plea is "Not Guilty"

The Associated Press reports that Zacarias Moussaoui has appeared in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia for arraignment on charges that he conspired in the September 11 terrorist attack. He is reported to have said, "In the name of Allah, I do not have anything to plead," when asked how he pleaded by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema. The judge deemed that a plea of "not guilty" and set a trial date of October 14, 2002.

Unfinished Business

Dave Aiello wrote, "Season's Greetings from Chatham Township Data Corporation. The year 2001 is finally over. A couple of months ago, some of us wondered whether it would ever end, and if it did, in what kind of shape the world would be."

"Veteran readers of this web site have to wonder why our holiday message didn't get published until after New Year's Day this year. Normally, it appears in the week leading up to Christmas. The reason is because it's really hard to say anything that puts the events of the past year into perspective."

"I will remember 2001 because it was the year that CTDATA.com became a true weblog. As such, you can read about what happened over the past year, particularly since September 11, and what we thought about it at the moment. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, I started the War on Terror section of CTDATA.com. Friends have said that they found these articles interesting. I found the process of writing them cathartic, particularly during the six week period when our business ground to a halt."

"The year ended with our business in fair condition. I was able to negotiate a contract that required one programmer to do Perl / Sybase programming for a financial services firm in Morris County, NJ. This project has been CTDATA's corporate lifeline. It has lasted from mid-October through the end of the year, and has paid pretty well. We expect to be looking for new project work toward the end of January, and we hope that business in this part of the country is on the rebound."

"On behalf of our little company, I want to extend best wishes to our customers and all of the readers of our web site. We hope that in 2002 we can begin to rebuild our lives, businesses, and communities from the damage that undoubtedly took place in 2001. CTDATA is still here to serve you. If we can help you to build a better web-based application, please let us know."