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November 30, 2002

New Jersey State Government Suffering from Overspending, Wall Street Dropoff

The New York Times reports that New Jersey is expected to have a state budget shortfall in excess of $4 billion that must be closed in the next budget proposed by Governor James McGreevey in February. According to the article, "...largely because of sharp spending increases in the late 1990's, New Jersey ran out of money earlier than New York. For the current budget, Governor McGreevey resorted to one-time fixes of the kind New York is now considering, like borrowing against future proceeds from the tobacco settlement...."

The article goes on to attribute much of the increase in state income over the past few years to taxes collected from people who work in the financial services industry:

"We had this bubble attributable almost entirely to what happened on Wall Street," said David J. Rosen, the lead budget analyst in the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. "These folks were making their money from capital gains, commissions, stock options, bonuses. They may still have their jobs, but their income could have dropped from $1 million to $150,000."

The big problem, as McGreevey admits in the article, is the unsustainable level of future spending commitments made by the State Government in the late 1990s. This is as much a pox on the house of the Republicans who led the government at the time, and the Democrats who refuse to cut state services back to a level that is in line with expected future tax receipts.

November 27, 2002

The Desolate Wilderness and the Fair Land

This article was originally published on CTDATA.com on November 23, 2000.

Dave Aiello wrote, "There is no doubt in my mind that of all American holidays, Thanksgiving is the greatest. I often wonder how a holiday like this has survived through the constant change that is our nation's history. Yet, all Americans, regardless of our beliefs, take the time to be with friends and family, and to thank God for the blessings that He has bestowed upon us."

"Each year, The Wall Street Journal publishes two articles on its Editorial page on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I want to thank them for making these articles available on their free Web Site, OpinionJournal.com. Reading them is one of my favorite moments of the season."

The Desolate Wilderness, taken from Nathaniel Morton's New England's Memorial:

Here beginneth the chronicle of those memorable circumstances of the year 1620, as recorded by Nathaniel Morton,
keeper of the records of Plymouth Colony, based on the account of William Bradford, sometime governor thereof:

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden, which had been their resting-place for above eleven years, but they
knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to
Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath prepared for them a city (Heb. XI, 16), and therein quieted their spirits....

And the Fair Land written by Vermont Royster, 1949:

.... We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing
themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that
enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth....

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family from everyone at CTDATA.

CTDATA.com Publishes Its 1,000th Article

Dave Aiello wrote, "This is the 1,000th article published on CTDATA.com since we rolled out our Slashcode-based architecture on July 21, 2000. This makes CTDATA.com one of the larger websites ever built with Slashcode, and arguably, one of the larger corporate websites in the world."

"When I think back to what my goals were for CTDATA and this site in mid-2000, I realize that many of them were not realized. Then again, we have developed some creative solutions to problems that we never anticipated. We have added features to our version of the Slashcode codebase that allowed us to integrate unique database services into a Slash-based site for AAHArefs.org. This was probably the biggest software development achievement made by CTDATA in 2002. We are now successfully running three major weblogs with almost 2,500 registered users. Neither of these two developments were on the drawing board in 2000."

"Over twenty percent of this site's content is devoted to the attack on the World Trade Center and The War on Terror. This is appropriate because the destruction of the World Trade Center is probably the single event that had the largest impact on CTDATA's business in the last two and a half years. We lost a number of friends in the attack and our business was irreversibly changed by it."

"Business is better now than it has been since April, but we still have a long way to go. I post fewer articles now than I used to, partly because I am spending more time selling development and network management services to new and existing clients. But, reaching 1,000 articles is a major milestone for this website and I am proud of the accomplishment."

"Thanks to our clients, families, and friends for supporting CTDATA through all of the trials and tribulations of the past two and a half years. Special thanks to Martin O'Donnell for helping to maintain the CTDATA Internet infrastructure and Richard Ziegler for his work on the Slash code base several years ago. Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at CTDATA."

First Snow of the Season in Central New Jersey

The Associated Press reports that the first snowfall of the year has hit Central New Jersey as well as most of the Metropolitan New York area. Here in Mercer County, the grass was mostly covered by snow at 7:00am, but the streets and sidewalks were clear because of their tendency to retain heat.

It was nice to see snow this early in the season. In many years, snow does not fall in this area until mid to late December.

The forecast appears to have overstated the amount of snow that would accumulate. Whether that is because less precipitation fell, or the air temperature was higher than expected, it is a good development because so many people will be on the road today beginning their Thanksgiving travels.

Mercury News Columnist Revisits His Technology Predictions from 10 Years Ago

On Monday, Mike Landberg of The San Jose Mercury News revisited some technology predictions he made in October 1992 that were published in the same newspaper. It's an interesting article because he was uncannily accurate with some of his predictions (DVD, Direct Broadcast Satellite, and three-bedroom homes in Los Gatos that cost $900,000).

Probably his worst prediction was the notion that consumers would pay for the information they retrieved using their computers. But, looking back on the stock market debacle of the past two years, and ahead to the possibility of AOL Time Warner shifting magazine content to AOL's proprietary service, you have to ask if his prediction might turn out to be more accurate than it appears to be today.

November 26, 2002

WSJ Runs Story About Use of Personalization Technologies by TiVo and Amazon.com

Dave Aiello wrote, "Many websites are pointing to a Wall Street Journal article about the personalization technologies in use by Amazon.com and TiVo. This article begins in the middle of the Front Page of the print edition, which means that it's somewhat whimsical. But, I'd like to point out that there's a lot of truth to it."

"For instance, the article talks about how Basil Iwanyk's TiVo thought that he was gay at one point. After he realized this and counterprogrammed it, the TiVo began to think that he was a fan of The Third Reich. At our house, the TiVo fills itself with situation comedies that my wife likes. But this only happens during the professional cycling offseason-- otherwise it's full of reruns of Liege-Bastogne-Liege."

"The article also points out that Amazon.com's use of collaborative filtering technology immediately suggests books similar to the one's you've looked at recently. This can lead to particularly interesting results when you are doing pricing research for used book selling. Amazon often thinks I'm interested in books on co-dependency and wellness issues. People who know me would have to conclude that I have an ulterior motive if I'm looking at books like those."

"The article is interesting and worth reading whether you use these services or not. And if you use them and they have you pegged as someone you are not, you have my sympathies."

November 23, 2002

Large Group of Sys Admins Lag Behind in Patching Server OSes

A few days ago, CNET News.com reported on a study that indicates that a large percentage of system administrators are slow to patch their operating systems, often waiting until they hear about an exploit to which one of their servers is certainly vulnerable.

The article talks about a study performed by Eric Rescola who identified 900 Linux servers that had both OpenSSL and Apache running when a major OpenSSL vulnerability was revealed.

According to the article, 40 percent of the systems were patched to close the OpenSSL vulnerability within seven weeks. Another 30 percent were patched about the time that the Slapper exploit was publicized and began spreading around the Internet.

The remaining 30 percent apparently remained unpatched. One of those servers was in the same colocation facility where CTDATA's servers are. On or around November 11, that server was exploited by Slapper. The subsequent network traffic was so great that it temporarily overwhelmed the routers in the facility. The only solution was for the colocation operator to take the server offline.

This article on CNET is a revealing one, and should be read by customers and system administrators alike. It clearly indicates that administrators need to patch more pre-emptively, and the customers must insist that even unexploited vulnerabilities be patched as soon as patches are released.

November 22, 2002

Third-Party Linux Software Available for Polar S710 Heart Rate Monitor

Dave Aiello wrote, "I've had a Polar S710 heart monitor for about a year, and I think it's a great product. The only problem I have ever had with using it is that I could not get the Polar Precision Performance Software to work on my Linux-based laptop. This meant that charting my exercise progress over a period of months was difficult."

"A developer named Dave Bailey may have solved this problem for me. He has developed a series of programs that allow a Linux computer to communicate with an S710, to store the workout results, and graph them in ways that appear similar to the Precision Performance Software."

"I am going to download the software, set it up on my laptop, and see how it works. I will report my progress here in future articles."

Earthweb Publishes IT Manager's Introduction to Weblog and Wiki Tools

We noticed that Dave Winer of Scripting News pointed to an article on Earthweb called Give Your Users the Power of the Press With Weblogs and Wikis. This is a good article for corporate IT managers to read if they are interested in providing basic web publishing tools to their users.

We haven't talked much about Wikis here on CTDATA, but they are useful knowledge sharing tools if they are structured correctly. According to the Portland Pattern Repository, a popular Wiki:

The ideas of 'Wiki' may seem strange at first, but dive in and explore its links. 'Wiki' is a composition system; it's a discussion medium; it's a repository; it's a mail system; it's a tool for collaboration. Really, we don't know quite what it is, but it's a fun way of communicating asynchronously across the network while dynamically sharing your ideas.

The Earthweb article says that in wiki originator Ward Cunningham's
The Wiki Way
, "...companies as disparate as Motorola and The New York Times are reported to use wikis for everything from workflow management to troubleticketing to collaborative documentation projects."

November 21, 2002

Directory Service Interruption Results in Email Access Problems for CTDATA Customers

Dave Aiello wrote, "CTDATA customers, please note that one of our directory servers went down at around 3:00am Eastern Time today. We determined that the problem was associated with database corruption. Service was re-established when we restored the database from a backup copy of the directory."

"All email and user authentication services have been restored. If you are still having access problems, please call us at 609-918-9650. We apologize for any inconvenience that this outage may have caused."

November 20, 2002

CTDATA Provides Another Vital Service to USA Hockey Volunteers in NJ, PA, and DE

Earlier today, CTDATA rolled out the latest revision of the Officiating Membership Database for AAHArefs.org, the website that we operate for the Atlantic District of USA Hockey.

USA Hockey is the national organizing body of amateur ice hockey and in-line hockey in the United States. It is affiliated with the U.S. Olympic Committee. The Atlantic District is the regional administrative division spanning the states of New Jersey and Delaware, as well as the eastern half of Pennsylvania.

The AAHArefs Membership Database provides certification status for over 2,400 ice hockey officials in the Atlantic District. CTDATA has operated this database and the AAHArefs.org website continuously since 1995.

November 19, 2002

Concentrated Effort Results in Breakthrough on Critical Network Issues

Dave Aiello wrote, "Since CTDATA recovered from the network disruptions that occurred in the first week of November, I have been working overtime on clearing up some network management issues that inexplicably cropped up at the same time. Last night, I made these issues my complete focus and resolved the problem that was holding back most of the other changes."

"CTDATA still uses a substantial amount of proprietary (closed source) software in its infrastructure. One of the most frustrating aspects of this is that sometimes I can work endlessly on resolving technical problems, only to find that paying the cost to upgrade to the latest version of the software solves the problem. This is what happened last night."

"I spent all of the time I possibly could on our network management problems for a week. Almost out of frustration, I went to CompUSA and plunked down $200 for a box with a small manual and a CD in it. I brought it back to the office, installed it, and it solved the problem."

"My reaction to this is probably not what you expect. This does not make me think that proprietary software upgrade cycles are justified. I think it's unacceptable that I can't determine why the upgrade solved my problem. So, I feel more committed to getting Microsoft Windows operating systems and Windows applications out of CTDATA's infrastructure than ever."

November 14, 2002

Cycling Season Ending on Two Sad Notes

Dave Aiello wrote, "When I got back from my vacation yesterday, I read two stories about road cycling that made me upset and put some of the problems I have been worrying about in perspective."

"Last Sunday, Javier Otxoa rode in his last professional cycling race. He is retiring from the sport as a result of injuries he sustained in a cycling accident nearly two years ago. That accident left him in a coma for two months, and killed his brother Ricardo who was riding with him."

"Javier Otxoa has made a spectaular recovery to get back to this level of fitness, and all cycling fans should give thanks for that. But, it's hard not to compare his improbable recovery to that of Lance Armstrong. Seeing Otxoa lose his battle for full recovery is upsetting, and leaves me wondering what might have been."

"And in even sadder news, cycling physiology pioneer Dr. Ed Burke was laid to rest this week in Colorado Springs after sustaining a massive heart attack while on a group ride with friends. Burke was a prolific author on the subject of training for cycling and other aerobic sports, and will be remembered with Chris Carmichael for their revolutionary improvements in training techniques."

"When highly trained athletes like these leave the stage as a result of such terrible accidents, it scares me more than I can describe. How can 'weekend warriors' like me ever feel that they are doing enough to mitigate the risk of a sudden death or permanent injury?"

Outages and Performance Problems that Affected CTDATA Customers Last Week

Dave Aiello wrote, "Last week, a number of CTDATA customers experienced complete outages on their email servers and websites as a result of an Internet service disruption between our colocation provider and a major telecommunications company. This was the result of a billing dispute that was entirely unrelated to CTDATA's accounts payable."

"I am extremely upset with the parties to this dispute, because their quarrel resulted in business interruptions for many of our customers, and indefinite responses from us to our customers regarding when their service would be restored. Our customers know that we haven't had a sustained service outage in a long time, and we work hard to maintain our reputation for dependability."

"The disruption lasted from mid-afternoon Wednesday, November 6, until sometime on Friday, November 8, with the exact restoration time somewhat dependent upon the client's network configuration. We apologize for the disruption and are instituting changes to our network configuration in order to avoid disruptions of this nature in the future."

Dave Aiello continued:

In addition, there was a severe network performance degradation on Monday, November 10. The problem stemmed from execessive network traffic generated by a virus-infected server in our colocation facility. Although this server is not owned or managed by CTDATA, it still affected our customers' ability to access their email servers and web sites.

This problem was remedied quickly by colocation facility management. It took the infected server off-line. The long term fix for this sort of problem is to segregate the network at the colocation facility and institute explicit bandwidth limitations for each server (also known in the industry as "traffic shaping").

The performance problem that occurred on Monday was not related to the outage that occurred last week. We will do our best to avoid this sort of problem in the future by tighter network management. But, we can never totally eliminate this sort of problem unless we open our own Internet data center.