Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Engineers Rule -- Again?

I could not resist a quick comment on a 1/16 article in Wired on "How Yahoo Blew It" (via the Boston Globe's Business Filter).

The article concludes, "At Yahoo, the marketers rule, and at Google the engineers rule. And for that, Yahoo is finally paying the price."

As a former Digital employee, I found this highly ironic: being an engineering-driven company was exactly what was usually blamed for DEC going down, down, and finally out.

"And the seasons, they go round and round...", in Joni's words.

Is quoting a lyricist too cheesy? Okay, then, how about Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of gravity? As Newton's Second Law of Psychics states, "What goes around, comes around."
(...Excuse me, I'm getting a call from the Editor; just continue reading, and I'll get back to you with whatever little copy edits he might have. "What is it now? Can't you see I'm busy!?")
(Back to the serious part --)
Last summer, I went to a groundbreaking at Gordon College where Ken Olsen was being honored by naming their new science building after him. I got close enough to watch as a steady stream of his former employees came up to express their heartfelt appreciations to him, and got to see the flash in his eyes. So only then, since he was gone from Digital by the time I worked there, I felt like I got to see who Ken Olsen really was.

But I sure got to hear a lot about him from the old DEC people who were still there, and the story was told that when he came into the company cafeteria, he'd pass by all the execs and go have lunch with... the engineers.

That stuff about Google people getting a day a week to work on their own projects? That's exactly what was going on at Digital in its heyday, and it all came from Ken.

Ken Olsen, in 1972
(from, a site by and for loyalists)

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Baaack it up!" * (Before the Botnets get it)

Here’s one of the most ancient and didactic of the sacred injunctions of Computerdom, but one which potentially carries an even greater urgency for us now:


(How boring, I know: it tends to fall into that same bin with your dear sainted Mother telling you to clean up your room, or to stop doing whatever it was that you kept doing that just really drove your mother up the wall. But it’s one of those simple essentials we all know is true, yet somehow still need regular reminders to do.)

What sparked this particular ringing of the alarm was a positively scarifyin’ article by John Markoff in the New York Times last week, on the “Attack of the Zombie Computers” (which, damn, they've already archived and are charging for).

Botnets -- programs that secretly install themselves on perhaps millions of personal computers and band them together into a network to commit Internet crimes – “are being blamed for the huge spike in spam that bedeviled the Internet in recent months, as well as fraud and data theft. Security researchers have been concerned about botnets for some time... what is new is the vastly escalating scale of the problem."

"A security researcher analyzed the information contained in one 200-megabyte file that he had intercepted. The data came from 793 infected computers, and in a 30-day period, it generated 54,926 log-in credentials and 281 credit-card numbers, affecting 1,239 companies, including 35 stock brokerages, 86 bank accounts, 174 e-commerce accounts and 245 e-mail accounts."
That was in one file.
Said “David J. Farber, a Carnegie Mellon computer scientist and an Internet pioneer, ‘It’s an insidious threat, and what worries me is that the scope of the problem is still not clear to most people.’ Referring to Windows computers, he added, ‘The popular machines are so easy to penetrate, and that’s scary.’”

“The consensus among scientists is that botnet programs are present on about 11 percent of the more than 650 million computers attached to the Internet. A computer security researcher… who coordinates an international volunteer effort to fight botnets (said,) ‘The war to make the Internet safe was lost long ago, and we need to figure out what to do now.’”
Let’s revisit that last statement: “The war to make the Internet safe was lost long ago.” You know, just a moment of consideration of this concept, assuming it’s credible, must give one pause. We could quite possibly wake up one day and find the Internet down. Really down; brought to its knees.

But you don’t need the Web to crash for it to be a disaster; it could be your own personal information swiped from your computer, or the system of a company you’d entrusted some juicy bits to. Perhaps you’d hear a lonely whistling sound, as the breeze blew through your empty bank account.

I really don’t think this is alarmist in any extreme way. “Shift Happens.” We’ve just got to be truly prudent, and create our own backups. Then, if the unimaginable does occur, you can say, with considerable relief, “Well, at least I’ve got a copy of everything.” (That might be handy if you had to go to court to get your money back from the bank, for instance. You know, the one that charges you $35 for any oversight or slip of the pen?)

Protecting the data on your machine is just the start. For example, I’ve got one bank account that I use (sparingly) to buy things over the phone or Web, but I just leave a little in there, and the bulk in other, disconnected accounts. It’s not foolproof, but it lessens the odds of potentially getting thoroughly cleaned out in one swell foop.

Related, here:
"Hey, NYT, What About Fair Use?"
* - “Baaack it up!” Couldn’t resist quoting the anonymous garbageman who woke me with this cry every early morning, numerous years ago, as he guided his truck in backwards to pick up the refuse from the restaurant I lived next door to.
(That was “Maddies,” for you Marbleheaders, which is actually named “The Sail Loft.”)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Great Signs, and one wonders...

Found while searching for something else -- some irresistably funny signage:

(The bottom line reads, "Also, the bridge is out ahead." Oh; thanks.)

Another clever one:
Kudos to North Vancouver.

This is from an inscrutable weblog named, "City Comforts, temporarily known as Viaduct, the blog." Huh? It then contains the mysterious description, "What was this Blog About?", which they claim was, "Cities, architecture, the 'new urbanism,' real estate, historic preservation, urban design..." So naturally, the current item at the moment is on the new Apple iPhone (but I'm linking here to Macworld's take).

It appears they have a big debate going on in Seattle about fixing the Viaduct, asking the timeless question, "Could Seattle do without its elevated highway?" Funny to read from a Boston perspective, where they went in the opposite direction and Dug Big, for the greatest public work project/boondoggle in history. With that in mind, we applaud Seattle's elevated thinking.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Planting Seeds of Synergy

I just participated in a reasonably unique event this past weekend, and thought it would be a very good one to share. In a word, it was and is all about chemistry.

Mitch Ditkoff, founder and fearless leader of Idea Champions, a New York-based corporate training company (who I occasionally do some writing and training for), decided to bring together all the different people who work for them, to see what untapped interactions might result.

He announced it as, “a gathering of great souls, mavericks, innovators, free electrons and other assorted gypsies who will be working with Idea Champions in 2007.” (That’s pure Mitch-ese; but it’s always offered with a wink.) “The purpose of this gathering is for us to get to know each other a little better. I know all of you, but all of you don't necessarily know each other. There are a lot of synergies, positive sparks, and collaborations just waiting to happen…”

And, boy, did they ever. The old saw, “the atmosphere was electric” found its full expression in that room. I thought I’d pass this wonderful idea along, for anyone who collaborates with physically disconnected knowledge-worker units. For all the unquestionable benefits of electronic communication, I've come to the conclusion that there's a level where it's still very much a face-to-face world.

(That great "out of the box" illustration above was done for I.C. by Kent Lew.)
Mitch and his team are also notable for developing Free The Genie, “a deck of 55 creative thinking cards that help aspiring innovators get unstuck, out of the box, and achieve extraordinary results.”

(Blogospherists: no less a luminary than Seth Godin said about Free The Genie, "This is really, really good stuff.")

Related, here:
The "(How-Not-To-Approach-An) Innovation Committee" skit

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year, Month, Day...

In what I promise is the last of these meandering, relatively off-topic holiday posts:

I'm in NYC for a bit, so I decided to go, for the first time, to Times Square for the New Year's madness. You know, it's one of those either you've-got-to-do-it-once or once-is-enough things; I thought I'd go and see which one it turned out to be. That would be the latter; although it was fun and I am glad I went. Once.

Almost chickened out when I read in the days before that the city expected one million people -- 1,000,000 people! -- to be there, and that the police would be herding them into "pens" to keep things under control. So I decided to just go into the area for awhile earlier, then leave, just so I could catch the flavor and energy of it all. Of course, once I got there, obviously the only proper thing to do was stay for the climax.

There had to be vids of it on YouTube, because there were so many people holding their camcorders over their heads taping it, and sure enough, a search on YT for "Times Square New Years 2007" produces an ample supply.

I picked this video because that's as close as I got: at 57th Street on 7th Avenue, 15 blocks away. We could see The Ball, though it's hard to spot here; it descended into the spot where the fireworks come from. The papers suggested that you get there by 5 pm to get a penned-in spot in Times Square, where you would then not be allowed to leave for food or any other calls of nature. Uh, no thank you; I was going for a good time.

...and you are there! Sort of.