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December 31, 2002

Just as Busy as Ever, But Missing Most of the Revenue

Dave Aiello wrote, "Season's Greetings from everyone at Chatham Township Data Corporation. The year 2002 is finally over, and I'm glad to see it go. For a long time this summer, I wondered if we were even in business anymore because there was a such a dearth of opportunities. But, business recovered to a 'reasonable' level in September and October, and we were fortunate enough to be able to sustain that through the end of the year."

"There were a few big milestones here at CTDATA this year. We successfully completed a project for a large financial services company in Morris County, NJ, at the beginning of April. This marked the end of our work on major projects for 2002, requiring us to find a way to generate revenue on smaller, more tactical projects."

"In July, we relaunched AAHArefs, the website we maintain for USA Hockey's Atlantic District Officiating Program. This was a surprisingly successful rollout of a second-generation training seminar registration application based on the Slash content management system. As a result of the rollout, USA Hockey was able to provide seminar admission information to over 2,000 hockey officials in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania."

"August 22 was the 13th Anniversary of CTDATA's incorporation which would not be a big milestone from my perspective if it wasn't so hard to generate income these days. Some of my friends and family stopped by to celebrate the anniversary. You can tell we were looking for anything we could find to take our minds off the lack of business."

"Our website reached 1,000 pages of content around Thanksgiving. This was a victory for us in that it showed that CTDATA was still surviving the economic downturn, and still publishing information that is useful to our website's readers. About this time, it became clear that business had rebounded in a measurable way, and this fact made achieving the 1,000 article milestone more gratifying."

Dave Aiello continued:

Over the past few days, I looked at some of the content on our website and the emails I've sent recently, looking for inspiration for this article. The best summary I can find of the current state of the business from my perspective comes from a message I sent to Art Iger, a friend who works at J.P. Morgan Chase:

... I have my head down right now, working on {several} things:
  • An e-commerce site for one of my clients, using the Interchange Open Source toolkit with Apache and mySQL.
  • Migration of the final pieces of CTDATA infrastructure to Linux.
  • Conversion of existing CTDATA-related Slash sites to the latest Slash distro.

... I'm just as busy as I used to be, if not more so, but a lot poorer/hungrier. I have no money, but, I've accomplished more on projects that matter to me since September than I did in the previous three years.

CTDATA is certainly better organized than it has been since 1990. We are fairly focused on the projects that are generating revenue for us. But, those projects are too small and too few to satisfy me, or anyone else that knows the whole situation.

I am more optimistic for 2003 than I was at this time last year. But, the economic outlook is still overcast, and the geopolitical outlook is truly scary. In some greeting cards I sent, I said that I hope that all of us are in one piece and better off in a year than we are today. Any progress without disaster would be welcome.

Before I conclude, I'd like to take a moment to thank our clients for helping us to survive the most difficult year in our company's history. I hope that CTDATA has added value to your business. I'd also like to thank our partners at other companies who helped CTDATA significantly in 2002:

  • Martin O'Donnell
  • Phil Lurie
  • Michael Weinberger
  • Shane Hanlon

On behalf of our little company, I want to extend best wishes to our customers and all of the readers of our website. We hope that 2003 is a better year for all of us, in our personal and business lives. CTDATA is still here to serve you. If we can help you to build a better web-based application, or a better Internet-based infrastructure, please let us know.

Best wishes to you and your family during this holiday season.

Dave Aiello


Chatham Township Data Corporation

Previous CTDATA holiday messages:

December 30, 2002

Washington Senator Flies Below National Media RADAR

Before Christmas, U.S. Senator Patty Murray of the State of Washington told a group of high school students that Osama bin Laden is popular in some countries because he built schools, roads, and daycare centers there. This was originally pointed out in The Columbian, a newspaper based in Vancouver, WA, but subsequently picked up by the AP and carried in newspapers across the Western U.S.

We have to chuckle at the disingenuousness of Murray's speech. How likely is it that a millionaire leader of worldwide terrorism would build daycare centers at the same time that he was in league with groups like the Taliban, who are notoriously anti-woman? The implication of her statements is that the United States has not provided foreign aid to the Islamic countries of the world-- another misleading notion.

We can excuse Murray for assuming that the average American adult is stupid. But, she was speaking in front of impressionable high school students. There is no excuse for this degree of misrepresentation.

The Washington Post broke its silence on the matter in an editorial about Murray's speech in its Christmas edition. It referred to Murray as "inept but entitled to have her say"-- as if all of her misstatements were OK in light of her patriotic criticism of American foreign policy. But, The New York Times has failed to mention the incident at all. How long will "the paper of record" be silent? So far, it's been 12 days.

Buying Custom Printed Stationery in Central New Jersey

Dave Aiello wrote, "I decided to bite the bullet today and get estimates for new CTDATA stationery from three commercial printers in the Trenton-Princeton area. My needs are simple:"

  • 500 letterhead, one color printing, on white bond paper
  • 500 second sheets, essentially blank bond paper matching the letterhead
  • 500 #10 envelopes, matching letterhead
  • 1,000 business cards

"I asked three printers for quotes. The printers are:"

"It was an interesting experience driving around and getting quotes. This is something I had never done before. Normally, I'd just walk into one printer, get a price, and give the go-ahead. I decided not to do that this time. Read on if you are interested in the outcome."

Dave Aiello continued:

Both Alphagraphics and Allegra came up with detailed quotes while I waited. Their substantial facilities were visible to me when I was standing at the reception desk. Both seem to do a large business. They also came up with quotes that were within 15 dollars of each other on a $250 job.

PrinTek looked like a somewhat less substantial business, but that may be because they are located in a low rise office complex that is populated with more small non-industrial offices than businesses like commercial printers. I am not swinging them the business primarily because they did not give a detailed estimate. Too bad because their price was $40 to $50 less than the others bids I got.

I think I am going to order the printing from Allegra, in spite of the fact that they are 6 percent more expensive than Alphagraphics. I chose Allegra because of their reasonable price, proximity to East Windsor, and large client list (for instance, UMDNJ has placed Allegra on their vendor list through a competitive process).

I hope that this experience is of some value to other Princeton area businesspeople. I'm glad I took the time to go out and look at three commercial printers in our area. I feel fairly confident now that I am buying competitively priced printing services.

Doc Searls: Looking for a Fax Machine that Connects to a LAN

Doc Searls started talking about his search for a SOHO fax machine that can be put on an Ethernet network. This is interesting because he does not want or need a number of the multifunction bells and whistles that seem to come with every one of these devices now. The thread that develops from this will probably be worth following.

Internet Peering Dispute Dogs Some Maryland School Districts

On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that Internet access at schools in Prince George's County, Maryland, was slowed by a peering dispute between America On-line and Cogent Communications Group, a smaller Internet Service Provider. Cogent provides Internet access to several educational organizations including school districts and George Washington University.

Peering is the term used by Internet Service Providers for providing reciprocal network access to customers of affiliated ISPs. These peering arrangements allow small ISPs to provide their customers with nationwide and international network access.

Many peering agreements have come under pressure recently as a result of the economic downturn in the USA. This is what happened in the case discussed in the Washington Post article. A similar thing happened to CTDATA in November as a result of a dispute between our colocation provider and the company that provided bandwidth to them.

It is virtually impossible for conscientious Internet access buyers to perform a comprehensive due diligence analysis of their providers. Peering agreements can change without notice to the end customers and they can be broken just as easily. This is one situation where the Internet would benefit from more governmental oversight.

December 23, 2002

"Install Slash for Dummies" Proves Very Useful

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over the weekend, I completed my first Slash 2.2.6 installation. I got a lot of ideas and useful help from a recent HOWTO document called Install Slash for Dummies by Evan Erwin."

"The document took me step-by-step through the installation. I can't say that I had an install that was free of head-scratching. Installing the Slash-related Perl modules (aka Bundle::Slash) did not go perfectly smoothly. The problems I had were more likely to be attributed to the idiosyncracies of the distribution that I am using, rather than the install document itself."

"I would recommend Install Slash for Dummies to anyone installing Slash 2.x for anything less than the fifth time. There is no doubt that you can learn from it."

December 20, 2002

T-Mobile Provides Concrete Stats on Treo Communicator Use

Dave Aiello wrote, "I've been using a Handspring Treo 180 for about eight months now. To give you an idea of how much I use it, I will reveal a few aggregate statistics from my November bill:"

  • 666 minutes voice use
  • 633 text messages (SMS)
  • 5.53 megabytes of GPRS data access

"Of course the statistic that stands out from this bill is the 633 SMS messages. There probably aren't too many people in the USA that send or receive over 500 SMS messages a month. It sure helps when you have a keyboard on your phone."

December 19, 2002

Washington Post Highlights Practical Limits on Some Webloggers Freedom of Speech

The Washington Post has run an article in today's edition that provides an overview of some of the hazards of publishing potentially sensitive information in a Weblog. The article talks about situations like violating the letter of a nondisclosure agreement, and writing about office politics even if certain elements of the story are fictionalized.

The article also did not mention the possible impact on one's career that publishing politically incorrect viewpoints on the Internet might have. We see this as a significant risk associated with blogging as well.

This article is more useful to people who are very familiar with the structure and content of a typical weblog than it would be to someone who is casually interested in expressing himself on the Internet. There are definitely risks associated with telling the world what you think. But, someone who is not already a weblogger may not be able to put those risks into proper context after reading this article.

December 18, 2002

Discussion of Slash Integration with E-commerce Systems on Slashcode.com

Dave Aiello wrote, "Over on Slashcode, Tim McCormick started a thread about Integrating Slash with E-commerce. I replied to it suggesting Interchange as a good candidate for integration with Slash, and I added an outline of the Interchange configuration that I created for a client."

"I would like to put up a more detailed discussion of the Interchange installation here on CTDATA.com, but I haven't had time to put it together yet. Watch for that article within the next week."

December 17, 2002

Russian Software Company Found Not Guilty in Landmark DMCA Case

CNET News.com reported that a jury in San Jose has found Elcomsoft not guilty of four counts of violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The company was charged with "desiging and marketing software that could be used to crack {Adobe} eBook copyright protections, plus an additional charge {of conspiracy}...." According to the article:

ElcomSoft attorney Joseph Burton said Tuesday's win is important as one of the first setbacks for publishers seeking to assert the law against programmers. But he cautioned that the acquittal did not mean software developers should consider themselves immune from future criminal prosecutions under the law.

The "not guilty" verdict in the case may have been inevitable in light of the jury instructions. Reportedly, "the judge told jurors that in order to find the company guilty, they must agree that company representatives knew their actions were illegal and intended to violate the law. Merely offering a product that could violate copyrights was not enough to warrant a conviction...."

On the basis of these instructions to the jury, we wonder if the legal actions taken by the RIAA and the MPAA against casual users of p2p file sharing depend for possible legal success on an overly-expansive view of their the trade groups' rights as publishers' representatives.

Ben Stein on Ruining American Enterprise

Steve Mushero pointed out an article from the 85th Anniversary issue of Forbes where Benjamin J. Stein offers a tongue-in-cheek set of suggestions to America's government called How to Ruin American Enterprise. This article articulates 12 relatively recent political and cultural developments that have had chilling effects on the productive capacity of American Business.

As a casual observer of what makes this country work and what stops it cold, I hereby offer a few suggestions on how we can ruin American competitiveness and innovation in the course of this century. I think the reader will agree with me that we are already far down the road on many of them....

Stein clearly believes that these developments combine to make our country less productive. But, he apparently also feels that many of the trends he articulates can be halted or reversed if sufficient political will is brought to bare on them.

December 13, 2002

Stop the Madness, Switch Web Browsers Now

There's continued evidence that running Microsoft Internet Explorer is a security risk. According to ZDNet, Microsoft has issued cumulative security patches aimed at solving problems, but the patches don't provide as much protection as they appear to at first glance. This is just the latest half measure Microsoft has taken to close security gaps in this important piece of software.

Anything you can do to deviate from the standard configuration of Windows, Outlook (or Outlook Express), and Internet Explorer limits the risk that your machine will be exploited successfully. CTDATA recommends switching browsers and email clients where possible.

A nice alternative for both web and email is Mozilla, the Open Source web browser that evolved from the Netscape Communicator product line. News Factor Network reports that "Mozilla is overtaking Internet Explorer in terms of features, if not yet market share". According to the article, Mozilla incorporates ad blocking features and W3C standards that Internet Explorer does not.

Mozilla has the added advantage of being Open Source. This is particularly important when security risk assessment must be done. When a security issue is suspected with Mozilla, independent researchers can refer to the source code to determine the scope of the impact. With IE, these independent researchers must do all of their investigation through inference or reverse engineering. This increases the time associated with finding and reporting problems with the software product.

December 11, 2002

Latin American Immigrant Money Transfers Reach $13 Billion Per Year

The El Paso Times reports that money transfers from Latin Americans living in America to people in their home countries have reached $13 billion per year. This information is contained in a report called Billions in Motion: Latino Immigrants published by Pew Hispanic Center at USC and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Among the interesting statistics revealed in this article and the underlying report:

  • 47 percent of Hispanic immigrants send money regularly.
  • 45 percent of Mexican immigrants send money, compared with 57 percent from El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
  • 60 percent are male; 59 percent are married; 59 percent have no high-school diploma; average age is 37.
  • 57 percent make less than $30,000 per year.

Among the demographics we would like to have seen reported:

  • percentage of remitters who are in the United States legally (either through legal immigration or amnesty).
  • percentage of remitters who have payroll taxes deducted from their wages, or who pay self employment taxes.
  • percentage of remitters who receive public assistance (in the form of Social Security, unemployment, AFDC, Medicare, Medicaid, or some other form of health-care subsidy).

Regardless of their immigration status, anyone transferring money to relatives or friends outside the United States should be paying taxes on any income earned while living here. If remitters are not paying taxes, then state and federal government agencies should not allow remittances to go through.

Bell Canada Using Novel Approach to Public WiFi Deployment

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that Bell Canada is deploying wireless access points of the same form factor as pay telephones. As a result, they are able to remove one payphone from a bank of payphones at a train station or airport terminal and insert a WiFi access point with a DSL connection to the Internet.

This is a solution that is brilliant in its simplicity. Let's hope that they have an equally brilliant idea of how to get travellers to pay for the use of these services.

December 9, 2002

Comcast CEO is Latest Cable Industry Bigwig to Slam TiVo

Earier today Slashdot pointed out that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts gave a speech that focused on the threat Personal Video Recorders represent to the cable industry. Roberts reportedly said that downloading TV programming to a hard drive in the consumer's home threatens the life blood of the of TV entertainment.

The cable industry is pushing hard to roll out video on demand to check the spread of satellite television services and recording devices like TiVo. But, the free timeshifting of televised entertainment is the biggest development in broadcasting in the last 10 years. It will be very difficult to get users who have already adopted TiVo or ReplayTV to surrender their new-found freedom.

December 7, 2002

Feds Raid Massachusetts Software Company, Investigating Possible Links to al Qaeda

Dennis Villone pointed out the MSNBC report that FBI and Customs agents staged a high-profile raid at a software company in Quincy, MA. The company, Ptech, makes enterprise knowledge management and business process modeling systems.

The raid took place because the U.S. Treasury Department has designated Yasin al-Qadi, an investor in the company currently believed to be living in Saudi Arabia, a "terrorist financier". According to the article:

SOURCES FAMILIAR with the raid told NBC News on condition of anonymity that investigators also were trying to determine whether the company, Ptech Inc. of Quincy, Mass., used its software to gain access to sensitive government data.... The company’s client list includes the FBI, NATO, the FAA, the Air Force, the Naval Air Services Command, the Energy Department, the IRS, the Postal Service and the House of Representatives.

The article goes on to state that Ptech "categorically denies having any connection with any terrorist organization."

Other Newspapers Begin to Focus NY Times Political Bias

Other newspapers are focusing on the obvious political bias of the management of The New York Times, and that focus isn't just about selling newspapers or fanning the flames of controversy. As The New York Post reports, the decision to reverse the spiking of two sports columns that differ with Times editorial policy on Augusta National has accentuated the controversy surrounding the situation.

The real problem at The Times is not the fact that they are relentlessly hectoring the members of Augusta National Golf Club, or that they are repressing dissenting views held by some of their own senior reporters and columnists. Rather, it's the fact that the editorial policy has an excessive impact on story selection and perspective.

An example from Saturday's New York Times is the story Some Tentative First Steps Toward Universal Health Care, a news article that discusses insurer proposals around the country that would further shift the burden of paying for health care to the states and the federal government. The reporter found many proposals that, taken together, would bring the country much closer to single-payer health care systems. Yet, all of these are proposals, and this is not reflected in the headline.

Beyond that, the article contains no alternative viewpoints. Couldn't the reporter have found someone in a public policy or insurance administrative position who could have pointed out holes in even one of these proposals? What about pointing out the issues associated with treatment of people who are in this country illegally, and the legions of Americans who want the federal government to stop these abuses?

The problem that The New York Times is experiencing is part and parcel of its editors' disingenuousness. The motto shouldn't be All the News That's Fit to Print-- it should be All the Left Wing Opinions that Are Fit To Print, or All the News That Fits Our Agenda.

December 4, 2002

Nobody Ever Said Installing Open Source Applications Was Easy

Dave Aiello wrote, "Earlier today, Martin O'Donnell and I had a relatively long talk about installing Interchange, the Open Source E-commerce Platform. I have been struggling with this, on behalf of a client, for several weeks-- interrupted by a vacation, a major U.S. holiday, and two family birthday celebrations."

"In the course of the conversation, I suggested that there comes a time in the initial implementation of any major Open Source application where the implementor asks whether the software is ever really going to work?"

"My past experience tells me that the answer to that question is yes."

"I cannot think of a situation where I stayed the course and was disappointed. The only times I have been frustrated with Linux for an extended period of time were situations when I had not made the implementation my top priority, or when I had rationalized the decision to cut my losses."

Read on for more about perseverance on Open Source application installation....

Dave Aiello continued:

This is a particularly difficult time to be uncertain about anything that is important in our lives. We are within two weeks of the shortest day of the year, and the lack of sunlight is often enough to depress people. We are also living through uncertain times: a severe economic recession, a dearth of IT jobs, and a sense of enhanced risk of terrorist attacks near where we live.

But, we need to remember that this is also a time of year associated with miracles. It seems to me that nearly every religious tradition in America associates this time of year with some sort of miracle: not just Christmas and Hanukkah, but holidays like Diwali and Eid al-Fitr.

The expectation of celebrating one of these holidays ought to momentarily take our minds off the frustration of not knowing exactly how to tweak the configuration of the application that just won't run right, no matter what we try.

It's also important to change gears periodically-- to walk away from the computer. Be with family and friends. Watch TV. Exercise. These activities often provoke new thoughts in my mind. Quite often, these thoughts result in new approaches to problems that I'm trying to solve. Some of my best ideas have come to me while running, mowing the lawn, or shoveling snow. One new idea is sometimes enough to solve the deployment problem so that you can move on.

Nobody ever said that installing Open Source applications was easy. But, we need to remember why we began the installation process in the first place. Think of the benefits your users will experience. Think of the new customers that your business will obtain. Think of how much more productive you and your co-workers will be.

We also need to remember the personal by-products of getting the installation done. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes with understanding a major Open Source application well enough to install it successfully. That understanding is particularly valuable when you need to determine whether to actually use the application that you finally managed to install.

That experience also allows you to cross that fine but unmistakeable line between newbie and experienced administrator. It can take you to the beginning of the path that leads to contributing code or documentation to the project. And, it opens the door to lower Total Cost of Ownership that we all believe Open Source software can deliver.

The Power of "rpm -qa"

Dave Aiello wrote, "You'd think that someone like me who fancies himself a skilled Linux user would have a clue when it comes to the use of rpm, the Red Hat Package Manager. But, here's an example of how much I haven't learned yet."

"I just discovered a powerful way to identify groups of packages that are already installed. If I want to find most of the Perl-related packages, I can enter the following command in a shell:"

rpm -qa | grep perl

"The fact that I knew to do this with the ps command (i.e. ps -ef | grep perl) in order to find defunct processes, but I didn't attempt to leverage the same technique to finding installed rpms ought to scare me to death. After all, this is a UNIX-like operating system, and the techniques you learn in one subsystem are ususally valuable in another."

"I'm sure that truly experienced Linux people who read this will conclude that I am a poseur. But, I promised myself a while ago that I would disclose as many of my truly embarassing technical gaffes and gaps in knowledge as possible-- just so I could point to them later and prove to my critics how much I've grown."

December 3, 2002

Philadelphia Inquirer "Discovers" Carbon Dioxide Risks in Indoor Ice Arenas

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports that several members of Millersville University's club ice hockey team were sickened by concentrated exhaust fumes from a malfunctioning Zamboni ice resurfacing machine at the Lehigh Valley Ice Arena. The incident occurred in September, when Millersville was playing Lafayette College.

The article gives the impression that everyone who participates in these sports is taking a significant, but previously unknown, risk:

.... Little known to the public, the potential danger of fume poisoning exists for hundreds of thousands of adults and children who play and watch hockey and figure skating in ice arenas all over the country....

Yet, there have been very few incidents in New Jersey or Eastern Pennsylvania over past 20 years that were in any way similar to the one that occurred at Lehigh Valley in September. We have to wonder if the Inquirer will write a similar article warning people who live in homes with attached garages.

December 2, 2002

CTDATA Going Long on Used Books

Dave Aiello wrote, "Used books have been on the CTDATA radar screen since Martin O'Donnell told me about a Fred Bernstein essay documenting the process of selling used books on Amazon that appeared in the New York Times back in April. When the bottom fell out of our consulting business over the summer, this was CTDATA's major source of income."

"Our consulting business has stabilized, but I've decided to continue to expand our used book business in order to backfill a small portion of the revenue we've lost due to the economic downturn. It's clear to me after toying with used books as a business concept over the past eight months that there is still an unmet need in the marketplace. Those businesspeople who can exploit a competitive advantage will be able generate measurable amounts of cash for the foreseeable future."

"We are increasing the size of our used book inventory as quickly as possible. Our goal is to take advantage of the inevitable increase in sales that will take place during the holiday gift-buying season. We think a larger inventory of sought-after used books will be a good investment even after the first of the year."

"I also believe that this is a sideline business for CTDATA, and not the primary focus. We are working on ways to leverage the knowhow we have developed in small-scale e-commerce to boost our core consulting and software development business. Look for more details about how we will do this here on CTDATA.com in the next few weeks."

Lawyers Try to Create "Vicarious Liability" When Employees Using Mobile Devices Get Into Accidents

A report in Tuesday's New York Times says that lawyers are attempting to construct new theories of negligence in order to sue companies whose employees are involved in motor vehicle accidents while using mobile communication devices. There will be no end to such legal inventiveness until our legal system is resturctured. But, the article is interesting in that it is yet another indication that lots of people are getting distracted while using their gadgets, and getting into accidents as a result.

We feel that safety precautions need to be followed while using mobile phones and other mobile devices while operating a vehicle. Since most peoples' primary mobile devices are still telephones used for voice calls, best practice indicates that people should use headsets. However, for email and internet access devices, this admonition is useless.

There are few excuses for looking at a website or texting while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. That type of device interaction is much more distracting than participating in voice calls.