Monthly Archives: May 2007

Department of Homeland Security Not Focused on Terrorism

Department of Homeland Security Not Focused on Terrorism.

I thought terrorism is why we have a DHS, but they’ve been preoccupied with other things:

Of the 814,073 people charged by DHS in immigration courts during the past three years, 12 faced charges of terrorism, TRAC said.

Those 12 cases represent 0.0015 percent of the total number of cases filed.

“The DHS claims it is focused on terrorism. Well that’s just not true,” said David Burnham, a TRAC spokesman. “Either there’s no terrorism, or they’re terrible at catching them. Either way it’s bad for all of us.”

The TRAC analysis also found that DHS filed a minuscule number of what are called “national security” charges against people in the immigration courts. The report stated that 114, or 0.014 percent of the total of roughly 800,000 individuals charged were charged with national security violations.

TRAC reported more than 85 percent of the charges involved more common immigration violations such as not having a valid immigrant visa, overstaying a student visa or entering the United States without an inspection.

TRAC is a great group, and I recommend wandering around their site if you’re interested in what the U.S. government is actually doing. [Schneier on Security]

RUSSIA VS. ESTONIA: 21st Century State vs. State Conflict

RUSSIA VS. ESTONIA: 21st Century State vs. State Conflict.

What does “guerrilla” war between interdependent states look like in the 21st Century? Very much like the war now going on between Estonia and Russia. Russia is using the removal of a statue commemorating Russian war dead from Tallinn (the capital of Estonia) as a pretext to launch an information/economic war against Estonia in order to destabilize the state (the likely real reason is that Estonia is blocking the construction of a Baltic pipeline to Germany). So far:

  • Oil shipments have been severed. Passenger rail service has been cut.
  • Flash mobs have been generated both in Moscow (against the Estonian embassy) and in Estonia (through the mobilization of ethnic Russians living there). These mobs have been energized by a Russian propaganda machine that depicts Estonia as a fascist antagonist of Russia.
  • Russian criminal bot networks (used for phishing and other types of criminal endeavors) have been rented to conduct denial of service attacks against Estonian government computers (to prevent normal functioning and stymie its ability to counter Russian propaganda)

Of course, Estonia like Singapore and other small states, do have substantial asymmetric advantages against larger more complex big states in this type of war, if they would only use them. The key is to make the decision to become a micro-power, which requires resilience and a capacity to enlist commercial partners in defensive/retaliatory warfare, before being subjected to assault.

Remember: Vulnerability to disruption accelerates with size while the capacity to disrupt (using these methods) is scale-free (based on self-replicating computer resources and thereby within the budget of any state, no matter how small). [Global Guerrillas]

Hoffman on Hard Fantasy and the Absence of Law

Hoffman on Hard Fantasy and the Absence of Law.

It turns out that Dave Hoffman and I have more in common than just being corporate law professors and bloggers. We also both like fantasy. In an interesting post, Hoffman looks at the turn towards what he calls “hard fantasy.” Several of the writers he discusses are new to me, so I’m going to be adding some of his suggestions to my summer reading list.

Dave then turns to a question that also interests me; namely, the absence of law in fantasy:

Finally, it is worth briefly thinking about the relationship between epic fantasy and law. Although the legal aspects of fantasy role playing games are now well-marked out, there has been little work (outside of the Potterverse) on how fantasy authors imagine legal rules’ role in society. If epic fantasy is read largely by adolescent boys, this missing attention makes a great deal of sense. You don’t see law review articles about Maxim. But, if fantasy, or hard fantasy, has become a literature for the rest of the population, it is worth thinking about the complete and total absence of civil law in these books, and the light touch of criminal law more generally. Is it impossible to imagine lawsuits and magic coexisting in the same society?

In fact, it’s quite easy to imagine them coexisting. The Lord Darcy series combined mystery and police procedural with fantasy. In one of the early Anita Blake books, a zombie is raised to give evidence on a disputed will. Yet, as Hoffman points out, it is rare. In contrast, as Paul Joseph discusses in an interesting essay, law is common in science fiction. (Does that suggest that fantasy is less concerned with “social, religious, moral, and cultural consequences” than SF?)

The absence of law from fantasy is especially curious given that most fantasy takes place in a vaguely Middle Age, vaguely English setting. Law was pervasive in the Middle Ages. You had a substantial body of common law (especially dealing with property disputes), constitutional law (Magna Carta), statutes, canon law, and even transnational law in the form of the Law Merchant. Since many in those same era also believed in magic, why should one not be able to combine them?

Some good fantasy author ought to sit down with sources like Maine’s Ancient Law or Hale’s History of the Common Law of England and see what they come up with. [®]

How to be a great receptionist

How to be a great receptionist

Being a pretty good receptionist is easy. You’re basically a low-tech security guard in nice clothes. Sit at the desk and make sure that visitors don’t steal the furniture or go behind the magic door unescorted.

But what if you wanted to be a great receptionist?

I’d start with understanding that in addition to keeping unescorted guests away from the magic door, a receptionist can have a huge impact on the marketing of an organization. If someone is visiting your office, they’ve come for a reason. To sell something, to buy something, to interview or be interviewed. No matter what, there’s some sort of negotiation involved. If the receptionist can change the mindset of the guest, good things happen (or, if it goes poorly, bad things).

Think the job acceptance rate goes up if the first impression is a memorable one? Think the tax auditor might be a little more friendly if her greeting was cheerful?

So, a great receptionist starts by acting like Vice President, Reception. I’d argue for a small budget to be spent on a bowl of M&Ms or the occasional Heath Bar for a grumpy visitor. If you wanted to be really amazing, how about baking a batch of cookies every few days? I’d ask the entire organization for updates as to who is coming in each day… “Welcome Mr. Mitchell. How was your flight in from Tucson?”

Is there a TV in reception? Why not hook up some old Three Stooges DVDs?

Why do I need to ask where to find the men’s room? Perhaps you could have a little sign.

And in the downtime between visitors, what a great chance to surf the web for recent positive news about your company. You can print it out in a little binder that I can read while I’m waiting. Or consider the idea of creating a collage of local organizations your fellow employees have helped with their volunteer work.

One amazing receptionist I met specialized in giving sotto voce commentary on the person you were going to meet. She’d tell you inside dope that would make you feel prepared before you walked in. “Did you know that Don had a new grandchild enter the family last week? She’s adorable. Her name is Betty.”

In addition to greeting guests, internal marketing can be a focus as well. Every single employee who passes your desk on the way in can learn something about a fellow worker–if you’re willing to spend the time to do it, they’ll spend the time to read it.

Either that, or you could just work on being grumpy and barking, “name and ID please.” [Seth’s Blog]

Former Nortel Subsidiary Picks Fonality's PBXtra Over Nortel

Former Nortel Subsidiary Picks Fonality’s PBXtra Over Nortel. Today, I spoke with Fonality’s CEO Chris Lyman and Amon Prasad, Director of Information Technology for BLADE Network Technologies. BLADE Network Technologies is a former subsidiary of Nortel and get this – they selected Fonality’s Asterisk-based PBXtra over a comparable system from Nortel. Even though Nortel offered their former subsidiary a discounted price, it was still much more than PBXtra. Chris and Amon explained to me that Fonality was able to offer PBXtra at less than 50 percent of the cost of a proposed Nortel system and that included junking the existing Nortel phonesets with all new VoIP phonesets. Ecstatic over this “win” besting a well-known PBX manufacturer, Fonality stated, “BLADE is one example of how Fonality is now regularly beating out incumbents including, Cisco, Nortel and Alcatel in the small to medium business (SMB) market. PBXtra is now deployed in more than 2,000 SMBs with over 45,000 users in 37 countries.”

Amon told me that one of the main reasons BLADE chose PBXtra was that it scaled better and was easier to manage than a Nortel system. He also mentioned that Nortel’s digital and IP hybrid solution has hard system limitations, which require a significant system overhaul to increase capacity beyond 90 seats.

“Fonality’s PBXtra is extremely attractive to me since it allows me to worry less about my phone system, so I can focus more time on my regular job. In Fonality’s support model, everything is easily included so if there is new software, I get it for free. Nortel was trying to charge me around $5,000 a year just for service and support, but high quality service and support comes free from Fonality.” said Amon Prasad, director of information technology at BLADE.

“We were excited to find out that we can now have employees work from an IP phone at home or a softphone on their laptop while keeping their same four digit extension,” said Prasad. “Fonality makes this process so much easier because we can give remote workers a handset at their home or remote office and they can plug it into their DSL/cable line and be connected. It’s just that simple.”

“Signing BLADE is just another proof-point that the SMB market is ready for another option. They are sick and tired of overpaying for a phone system that has a limited feature set.” said Chris Lyman, CEO of Fonality.

“Sick and tired is right! For the cost of one Nortel system, I could get two Fonality systems and still have change left over!” said Amon Prasad, director of information technology at BLADE.

The tradional PBX manufacturers (Nortel, Avaya, Alcatel, etc.) as well as Cisco will have to come down in price to compete with a plethora of low-cost, feature-rich, IP-PBX phone systems on the market. Even low-cost handsets based on the SIP standard will help drive prices down. Unless there is a compelling case for an “expensive” handset, built-in video/webcam for instance, or a presence-aware OCS 2007 phone such as the Polycom CX700, the traditional PBX manufacturers will no longer be able to charge exorbitant prices – and that is great news for the enterprise looking to deploy VoIP. [VoIP & Gadgets Blog]

Microsoft starts dropping Longhorn features

Microsoft starts dropping Longhorn features.

Microsoft has announced that several cool virtualization features will be dropped from what was promised for Longhorn release. Bink quotes a seemingly angry quote complaining about the lack of live migration, no hot-adding of resources, CPU core limitations, etc.

I’m sure there are many that will be very disappointed about this move.

I am not one of them.

Even though my business is based on the Microsoft virtualization platform (not Vmware) from a customer and partner scenario I am not looking forward to Longhorn’s virtualization feature set. That is not what I find exciting about the new server.

What I am particularly excited about is the new IIS 7 modular configuration and management, the new Longhorn Core Server free of the usual junk. Given the past year or so, I’d just like a reliable platform that Longhorn promises and they can release all the “cool” features when they feel they are ready.
[Vlad Mazek – Vladville Blog]

Joey Stanford: iFolder

Joey Stanford: iFolder.

SLED 10 has a nifty program called iFolder. iFolder is all about file sharing – making, sharing, and backing up files easier. Emplify has some debs up. Does not work in Feisty. It probably needs some MOTU guru to work on packaging this properly.

iFolder is a simple and secure storage solution that can increase your productivity by enabling you to back up, access and manage your personal files-from anywhere, at any time. Once you have installed iFolder, you simply save your files locally-as you have always done-and iFolder automatically updates the files on a network server and delivers them to the other machines you use. [Planet Ubuntu]

The end of “desktop vs. web apps”

The end of “desktop vs. web apps”. Hybrid apps are no longer the future—they’re now.

In my career I’ve heard lots of predictions—Apple will go out of business; soon there will be only six or seven websites; the browser is dead; we’ll all be running “thin clients”; Java will replace C/C++ everywhere—that I haven’t believed.

The most recent is the prediction that desktop apps are dead, that soon everything will be a web app.

I actually believe that’s correct, in a way—you’re going to see fewer and fewer desktop apps that know nothing about the internet.

But the thing about software industry predictions is that they’re usually somewhere between dead wrong and partly right in a way. This particular prediction is partly right, in a way—but it misses out totally on all the fun.

A tour

What’s a web app, what’s a desktop app?

Where does the code run? What kind of code is allowed to run? What kind of resources can the code access?

In the case of web apps, some code runs on the server—and a bunch runs on the client, too. A browser—a desktop app—is implied. And that browser renders HTML, runs JavaScript, makes network requests, plays audio and video and Flash, stores some data locally, knows how to launch other apps, etc. Web apps run a bunch of code on your desktop: in fact, they don’t exist without a desktop app.

And then, of course, you can trick out your browser (depending on which one you use) by installing some cool extensions—which then run on your desktop too, even though they’re all about the web.

Well, then I think about Dashboard widgets, which are, essentially, little bits of browser chipped off and running in a special layer. They’re HTML plus JavaScript, just like web apps, but they’re like mini-web-apps stored locally.

However, widgets can also contain Cocoa code and can access local resources. They can also have nothing at all to do with the web, even though they’re made of web dust.

Then there are feed readers. They’re specialized browsers that access a certain type of structured data and display it in a structured way. (A feed is a mini-web-app with just one command: GET.) Like widgets and browsers, feed readers do their display with HTML and can run JavaScript and audio and video, whether or not the feed reader is a “desktop” or “web” app.

iPhoto is perhaps a desktop app—except that I’ve installed FlickrExport, and iPhoto itself reads and writes RSS feeds. Similarly, iCal subscribes to calendars published via Google. My Address Book syncs over the web.

Text editors know about FTP and can usually display HTML. SubEthaEdit even does collaboration over the network. VoodooPad is a wiki—a web thing, clearly—that can generate websites, yet is a Cocoa app. Skitch makes it super-easy to share locally-created images over the web.

MarsEdit gives me one interface for a bunch of different weblog systems. Adium does the same thing for chat, and uses HTML for display, even though it’s not a browser.

Delicious Library talks to Amazon. Coda is clearly a web app, in the sense that it’s entirely about the web and does HTML, networking, and so on. Google Desktop lets you search your Gmail messages on your desktop. Webmail is a special browser just for GMail. QuickSilver is web-savvy, and it’s also pretty savvy about the files and apps on my hard drive.

And then there’s iTunes. I can’t imagine wanting to store my songs anywhere but on my desktop, especially when I sync my iPod. But I also like the integration of the music store—which may not be HTML (I don’t know what it is), but it’s something conceptually similar. And of course the music store exists somewhere in the internet, even though the code to display and interact with it lives in iTunes. iTunes is a specialized web app container.

Look, it works the other direction too

If you haven’t checked out Apollo, Silverlight, Slingshot, DjangoKit, and POW, you ought to.

The idea behind these is to write web apps that run on your desktop.

Here’s what the Joyent site says about Slingshot: “Joyent Slingshot enables Rails to break free of the browser. It breaks down the wall between a Web application and a desktop application without losing what makes a Web application great…”

Well, that sounds pretty cool. I haven’t tried any of these yet, but it’s an exciting direction. (Aside: we did similar work at UserLand years ago. But that was then, and the world is slow to catch up.)

Last thing: Twitterrific

I’ve said before that I wouldn’t use Twitter were it not for Twitterrific. None of my browsers can provide the user interface that Twitterrific provides: floating window, not in widget space, doesn’t crash when my browser crashes.

The Twitter folks were smart to provide an easy-to-use API that makes apps like Twitterrific possible. And Twitter works with IM and phones, and you can put a widget on your weblog, and who knows what all else.

It’s smart because we live in a multiple-platform world—and in a world where different people have different tastes. There’s not one soda everybody drinks: there’s diet, and vanilla and cherry, and diet-vanilla-cherry, and caffeine-free. Plus root beer.

It’s a hybrid world

Rather than make a prediction—like “Look out! Hybrid apps are coming!”—I’m just recognizing what is true right now: hybrid apps are here.

Anyone who wants to do everything in just one desktop app, the browser, can—provided they don’t mind giving up protected memory and all that modern goodness.

But most folks are going to make app-by-app decisions, and developers are going to try a whole bunch of different approaches.

If it looks like an exciting age of experimentation, that’s because it is. []