Monday, July 18, 2005

Bits & Pieces A lot of interesting tidbits have been accumulating here at StratVantage Central, so without further ado, or lengthy blather, here they are.
  • Human TV: We’re used to Asia setting electronic trends, but it’s usually Japan, not China. At a recent property fair in China, models carried LCD monitors on their backs all around the show floor showing real estate videos. Hmmm, women as furniture – leading edge thinking from a progressive nation. Gives new meaning to 36-24-36!
  • Real Personal Radio: OK, it’s hard to believe a major corporation – General Motors, no less – is behind this idea. The auto giant backed a Carnegie Mellon University Human-Computer Interaction Institute Masters Program project called Roadcasting. It’s actually a great idea. Not only can you store your music playlists and MP3s on your (GM) car’s hard disk, you can also broadcast your tunes to surrounding vehicles. If you get bored with your own tunes, the system uses collaborative filtering, 802.11g Wi-Fi, and mesh networking to find other Roadcasting “stations” in range that have the tunage you like. The truly stunning thing is the range: 50km! Even more stunning is the fact that the code is Open Source! So what about copyrights? Well, the project leaders say they expect if there was commercial use of Roadcasting, performance fees would be paid through organizations like BMI. Yeah, I expect so. Don’t look for this tech in next year’s vehicles, though. The developers envision a rollout at decade’s end. Call me a cynic, but I predict rolling, thunderous convoys of beatboy, lowrider thumpers, all chilling to the same bass-heavy gangsta tune, terrorizing suburban shopping mall parking lots. Technology Review Roadcasting
  • Dated Metaphor Alert: Remember back when people were clueless about what the Internet was and could mean? Remember how techies adopted the “Information Superhighway” metaphor to try to get the point across? Well, you don’t hear much about info highways anymore. So that’s why the title of an interesting report by The Institute for Local Self-Reliance strikes the ear a bit odd. Called “Who will own Minnesota's information highways?” the report bemoans the fact that the US has fallen way behind other countries, including many developing countries in Asia, in the availability of broadband Internet. The report analyzes 10 community-owned networks in and around Minnesota. The state was a pioneer in broadband, creating MNet in 1989 to provide videoconferencing over leased lines to state and local governments, public and private universities, and public schools. The report further takes on the thorny issue of metropolitan broadband networks and whether governments or private companies should own them. New Rules
  • Get the Internet Picture: Ceiva is an interesting product: a picture frame that downloads and displays photos from the Internet. This is certainly not a device you want to put on random play! Actually, you and your friends and family sign up for the service and they can send you pix on a regular basis. It’s a pretty neat idea, but one that’s been around for a few years without taking the world by storm. I wrote about a wireless version in a previous SNS almost two years ago. Ceiva (ya know, like in rah-ceiva?)
  • Really Big Monopoly:Are the shoe and car tokens in your Monopoly game just too boringly small? If you live in London, you can play the game with full size game pieces – or could, sometime in June. The game was sponsored by ad agency Tribal DDB, who has about the most annoying Website I’ve seen in a really long time. Just try to find anything about the game on it. I dare you! Using GPS receivers, apparently participants were to motor around the real city, fake-buying properties and such. Cool idea. Really bad approach, PR-wise. The Londonist
  • A Raid on a Really Big Monopoly:You gotta hand it to the EU. Not only is it more serious about privacy than the US, but it also really doesn’t like near-monopolies abusing their power. Witness the dawn raid of several Intel offices in Europe by European antitrust regulators. Don’t hold your breath for this to happen in Redmond.
  • They Doth Protest Too Much: I remember as a child, my mom would often chide me when I vigorously denied having done some heinous thing: “Got a guilty conscience?” Well, RFID manufacturers and their minions are responding the same way regarding the privacy-invading possibilities of the technology. You may know RFID is the practice of putting small tags on things and then reading information, usually an identifying number, off the tag at a distance with a reader. There’s a group called CASPIAN that’s pretty concerned that this sort of thing could get out of hand if it graduates from involving pallets of stuff destined for Wal-Mart to involving individual items that we buy, like clothes and razors. So a CASPIAN sympathizer got press credentials to go to an RFID convention and took pictures of item-level RFID tags. Gillette and other RFID backers, in deference to CASPIAN and others’ concerns about privacy, have said they have no plans for item-level RFIDs. So why did the conference organizers get all medieval on the reporter and insist she not publish the photos? Read her site and decide for yourself. Spychips Spychips pix
  • Microsoft Asks Crackers for Help:Well, the turtle seems to be coming out of its shell, recognizing a changed world outside, and asking for help. In March, Microsoft held a two-day gathering of outsiders and in a stunning change of approach, opened the kimono and asked them to exploit flaws in Microsoft computing systems. TechRepublic’s members are divided on whether this is a good idea or not. Note that, in a somewhat quixotic attempt to draw a distinction, I don’t use the term “hackers” for people who break into systems. They are properly crackers, or, let’s face it, criminals. Hackers are people who find imaginative solutions to computer problems. Nuff said. TechRepublic.
  • Tivo Anywhere: Yeah, if you really need to see that Will & Grace re-run while at work waiting for your code to compile, then you can get a Slingbox and stream it over the Net. PC Magazine
  • Google – It’s Bigger Than All of Us: And now it has pictures of all of us. Well, at least it has pictures of everywhere we live. The company bought satellite imaging company Keyhole and now offers a free service called Earth 3.0 that lets you see images of anywhere on Earth, including 3D renderings of about 40 American cities. Not to be bested, Microsoft has announced MSN Virtual Earth. It remains to be seen how well the two services compare, but you can use some of Google’s technology without downloading the 10MB client simply by using their Google Maps search engine. Here’s where I live. PC Magazine
  • Quantum Crypto Gets Practical: I’ve written before about an exciting security technology called quantum cryptography. Basically, it allows for tamper-proof networks. If a cracker so much as disturbs a single photon on a fiber optic line, the network will know it. A researcher from Internet pioneer BBN BBN Technologies is building the world's first continuously operating quantum cryptography network, a 12-mile 10-node glass loop under the streets of Boston and Cambridge. Network World
  • Money for Old Magazines:My wife gets after me because I am saving the first two years of Wired magazine for posterity. Well, I’ll get the last laugh, I just know it, because Intel has paid a guy $10,000 for a 1965 copy of Electronics Magazine that featured and article that formed the basis of Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's famous Law. The bidding for my Wireds starts at $5,000. I’m not greedy.
  • Advertising in Your Face: Ever looked at the “chrome” of your browser – all those bits at the top and sides of your browser that are not Webpages – and thought, “Gee, I’d really prefer to be seeing a McDonald’s ad instead of this useless stuff?” Well, you’re in luck. Ooqa-ooqa™ by United Virtualities animates the chrome with wonderfully entertaining and enlighting advertising! The company says Ooqa-ooqa “adds up to 20% more PRIME inventory to leverage the advertising offer, as well as a whole new way of engaging users all while never blocking content.” The image above is my IE browser on Ooqa-ooqa. Any questions? United Virtualities
  • Now That’s Advertising! If you hate spam (and who the heck could like it?) you’ll enjoy this Matrix-esque advert for a technology called CaseKeys. Enter the Spaminatrix. Ubergeek
  • Random Bonus Bit: Apropos of Nothing – Have you ever wondered what the pompitous of love is? And how to spell it (certainly not pompatous!)? Only a true Stevie “Guitar” Miller fan, in a very deep voice, would know. The Straight Dope

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Just a Random Hoax

Did you know that Bill Gates:

  • Will give you lots of money if you forward an email to test Microsoft’s email tracking program?
  • Once posed for Tiger Beat magazine?
  • Will team up with AOL and do a survey with NASA, whose astronauts will collect prayers from school children all over America and take them up to space so that the angels can hear them better, all to help a little boy whose body is a burlap bag filled with leaves?
  • Authored a list of 'Rules Kids Won't Learn in School?'
  • Said, “If GM had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon?”
  • Pay off a couple’s mortgage for helping him change a flat tire?
The answer to all these questions is, of course, no.

Yet each of these silly assertions has been circulating on the Internet for years. In fact, the first hoax, about forwarding an email, began in 1997 and still is in the top ten hoaxes the wonderful Urban Legend Reference Pages site receives queries for on a daily basis.

Yet most of these hoaxes strain credulity. I mean, really, a body made of a bag full of leaves? Angels can hear prayers better in space? And most of the people who forward hoaxes can vote? It’s enough to shake your faith in humanity.

But the typical hoax preys on the core goodness that dwells inside most humans. Who wouldn’t want to help a sick kid, or believe that uber-billionaire Bill Gates might drop thousands – the equivalent of nickels – on good Samaritans?

The motivation for other hoaxes, however, can be more varied. I’ve written before about the Britney Spears hoax that linked to a fake CNN Webpage – that page was just clever, but could have contained dangerous code. It was created as a satirical joke by a cartoonist to make a point about misinformation.

I also wrote about another hoax that claimed that the Australian army modified a video game to use in training troops, but forgot to take out a critical piece, resulting in kangaroos taking up arms against the virtual troops.

One of the things that hoaxes require to flourish is the essential laziness of human beings. Rather than take a minute and run a Google search on the hoax subject, people are much more likely to hit the forward button and send it to everyone they know. This next hoax is a good example of this.

WIN $100000...IF YOU ANSWER....

Open Microsoft Word and type:

=rand (200,99)

and then HIT ENTER

This is something pretty cool..!

Worth a check..! try it..!

At Microsoft the whole team couldn't answer why this is happened and they added a prize of $100,000 to the person who could answer this...

Try it out yourself...

Bill Gates still doesn't know why it happens, it was discovered by a Brazilian. Just test it...

Go ahead and try it. You’ll see that the document fills up with the quick brown fox doggerel. Pretty interesting, huh?

Well plug “=rand(200,99)” into Google and follow any of the top five links. You’ll discover that the rand function is a real, but poorly documented, feature of MS Word that allows you to quickly slam in a bunch of test text so you can check the formatting of the document.

The Microsoft Knowledge Base article How to insert sample text into a document in Word explains the use and syntax of the function. There’s even a similar function in Excel that stuffs random numbers into a spreadsheet. Bill Gates is not baffled by these simple functions, and there is no reward for figuring out what’s going on.

In poking around Google researching the function, however, I ran into another interesting tidbit of information.

If you’ve worked with print or Web designers, you may be familiar with the sample text they use to demonstrate a layout. Rather than use real words, which could distract the reader from assessing the layout, designers use text similar to the following:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

For some unknown reason, this is called Greeking, despite the fact that the text is almost, but not quite, Latin. As discussed at The Free Online Dictionary of Computing, “The point of using this text, or some other text of incidental intelligibility, is that it has a more-or-less normal (for English and Latin, at least) distribution of ascenders, descenders, and word lengths, as opposed to just using ‘abc 123 abc 123’, ‘Content here content here’, or the like.” There’s much more at the Lipsum site. Don’t you just love the randomness of the Net?

Hoaxes Can Have Real Consequences

There are many reasons why people perpetuate hoaxes – generosity, empathy, the love of puncturing self-important egos, and the desire to share interesting inside information. Yet all these admirable motives not only contribute to significant misinformation being perpetuated, but real-world consequences like the deluge of mail that Craig Shergold’s family got due to the “send a business card” hoax.

Like many hoaxes, this one started with a grain of truth, and in fact predates the general use of the Internet. Young Craig was diagnosed with cancer and in 1989 made a request that people help him enter the Guinness Book of World Records by sending him business cards. By 1990, more than 16 million cards had arrived and he was in the book.

But the cards didn’t stop, and once the Net got a hold of the meme years later, all hell broke loose. Because the hoax mutated, one of the addresses given for the English Shergold was in Atlanta, the Children's Wish Foundation International. According to the Urban Legend Reference Pages, “The foundation had to relocate because of all the unwanted Shergold mail. The U.S. Postal Service in Atlanta holds the hoax mailings (now more than 100 million) for a required length of time and, after they remain unclaimed, releases them to an Atlanta paper recycler.”

The moral of the story is: If you get mail that asks you to forward it to everyone you know, don’t. Check the email out at the Urban Legend Reference Pages or by simply doing a Google search. If it does check out, though, think twice about forwarding it to everyone you know. There’s enough spam in the world as it is.

Urban Legend Reference Pages


Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: It’s here: A wireless networking company called The WiMAX Guys. Our main business is new installs for people who want to set up wireless hotspots such as hotels, warehouses, apartment buildings, and office buildings or hotzones that cover cities. We also sell a knowledge-based Web portal called the MAX K-Base. Check out our main Website at My wife created a bit of a stir when her op-ed piece was published in the Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper after the election. Her article, “Two Nations, Handcuffed Together,” has been commented on or linked to by more than 85 Websites. She’s now created a Website to capitalize on her newfound pundit status. Check it out at Coming At Some Point: A new eBook, Be On the Wave Or Under It™ will collect the best of SNS’ insights over the last couple of years, along with additional material from CTOMentor white papers and new material. It will make a great gift for associates and friends in need of a guide to the latest and greatest technology. Watch for more information in upcoming SNS issues. Several issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $91.48. Thanks Dave!
  • The Raw File – SNS is dedicated to delivering the scoop on the latest and greatest. However, I collect lots of information that never makes it into the newsletter before it gets old. I’ve collected all this aging info into a page called The Raw File. This page is the raw information I gather for SNS articles. It’s not pretty, and some may be a little incoherent, but chances are there are still things in TRF that might be news to you. So therefore, use The Raw File at your own risk – it’s 45+ pages of the best stuff that didn’t make it into SNS. The Raw File
  • Hedwig and the Angry Half Hour – Alert SNS Reader Ken Florian didn’t quite answer my question as to why in heck India is 12 and a half hours ahead of us, but he reminded me of something this first generation American (my grandparents were Canadian) used to know: “FYI, the ‘Newfies’, (Canada’s version of the ‘polish joke’) in Newfoundland are also a half-hour time zone east of the Atlantic zone…1.5 hours east of the American Eastern time zone. TV programs in the Atlantic provinces are quoted as ‘5:00 Atlantic 5:30 in Newfoundland.’”
  • Why Go to Bangalore When Fargo Will Do? Alert SNS Reader Marv Vikla resonated with my story in the last SNS about offshoring vs. nearshoring vs. noshoring: Your article is right on about using rural American staffers as an offshore alternative. "Distance is dead" doesn't have to mean you go 12 1/2 hours away to find cost effective resources. I lived and worked as an IT manager in Asia in the early 90's, including India, The Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore - all with a large English-speaking, well educated population. Ignoring the language differences (for most their brand of English, such as Singlish, was a second or third language), the cultural hurdles were huge. Try to explain work process improvements to someone as a way to reduce labor costs when they are chipping away concrete from the roof to reduce the thickness of the roof so the walls for the new floor addition won't need as tall a wall! Our culture does not translate to most of these workers so they blindly program even though they don't understand what they are building. As for management oversight, periodic trips to India quickly blows all but the biggest budgets. I lived in Singapore and the travel time was from 8:00pm to noon the next day to get to Bangalore. Putting an American on-site is very costly and few will put up with living there. I made seven trips to India over a two year period and always left feeling awe for the culture and fondness for the people. Still, I kissed the floor of the plane each time I boarded when I was leaving. I know some Indian companies like Tata show how they can use a combination of local and remote resources to get the job done. In my experience transferring the requirements through another set of hands does not improve the product. I remember the local manager (Indian with overseas experience in the UK) of one of the big multi-national consulting firms in Bangalore told me how he found people. He looked for people who went to the best schools and graduated in the top few percent of their class, they worked for several years in the best companies, then they went to the best graduate schools and finished at the top of their class and he hired them for USD4000/year. That was in 1994. Since then I'm sure the cost has gone up considerably. Why go to Bangalore when Fargo will do?
  • Get Perpendicular – This bit (pun intended) comes by way of Larry Kuhn, another Alert SNS Reader who, like Roger Hamm, appears to have too much time on his hands. Ever wonder how disk drives store bits and how their manufacturers manage to continually increase their capacity? This little flash movie explains all in terms most people can actually understand. I think the music, however, should be Ringo Starr's Vertical Man. Hitachi
  • When Public Information Can Hurt – Reinforcing my point from a previous SNS that making even public information freely available can invade your privacy, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling in June that limits Web distribution of public information from the legal system. It stipulates that all Social Security Numbers be stripped from posted info (duh!), that details from ongoing criminal cases not be posted (double duh!), and that accusatory material from lawsuits won’t be routinely posted. Interestingly, the article describing the ruling can no longer be found on the Minneapolis StarTribune site. StarTribune (via Google)