IOC Approves Amateur Radio for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

tokyo_2020_olympics_logo_detailCQ CQ CQ de IOC: The Organising Committee for the Tokyo 2020 Games have approved new competitions to celebrate Amateur Radio.

Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said, “The inclusion of Amateur Radio will afford athletes the chance of a lifetime to realise their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games – the world’s greatest sporting stage – and inspire them to achieve their best, both in sport and in life.”

Throughout the history of amateur radio, amateur radio enthusiasts have made significant contributions to science, engineering, industry, and social services. Research by amateur radio operators has founded new industries, built economies, empowered nations, and saved lives in times of emergency.

Amateur radio is a hobby and, by law, completely non-commercial. Individual amateur “ham” radio operators pursue the avocation for personal pleasure through building their own radio stations and communicating with their fellows globally, and for self-improvement via study and practice of electronics, computers, and radio and TV wave behaviour.

Radio amateurs are, thus, “amateurs” in the true sense of the word: pursuit of an activity only for the love of it. Radio amateurs can not broadcast or transmit music and other general public entertainment programming. The amateur radio use of the air waves is for personal satisfaction and for forwarding the “state of the art” of electronics and communication techniques. Amateur radio operations can be detected in designated bands throughout the radio spectrum, using a variety of modulation methods including Morse code, voice and digital modes, and image modes such as television and facsimile.

The Amateur Radio competitions were inspired by the World Radiosport Team Championships (WRTC). WRTC2014, in Massachusetts, U.S.A., included 59 competing teams from 38 countries.

Described as the “ultimate International Field Day” by radio enthusiasts, new for the Tokyo 2020 Games are the following competitions within the Amateur Radio category in response to the new flexibility provided by Olympic Agenda 2020:

  • Men’s 20-, 40-, 80-and 160-Meter Antenna Tuning
  • Women’s 40-, 80-and 160-Meter Antenna Tuning
  • Men’s Synchronized 10-Meter Tower Dive
  • Men’s Freestyle Speed Keying
  • Women’s Freestyle Speed Keying
  • Women’s Uneven (Upper and Lower Sideband) Bars
  • Women’s 10-Meter Dash-and-Dot
  • Men’s 15-Meter Greco-Roman CW Sprint
  • Men’s Synchronized PSK31 (Phase Shift Keying, 31 Baud)
  • Women’s 15-Meter SSTV (Slow Scan Television)
  • Mixed Doubles Earth-Moon-Earth (Moon Bounce)
  • 10GHz-and-Up Team Dressage
  • Men’s 6-Meter J-Pole Vault
  • Women’s All-Around RTTY Roundup
  • Women’s UHF/VHF/HF Triathlon
  • Men’s UHF/VHF/HF Triathlon

IOC spokesman Sam Morse said, “The sky is the limit when it comes to Amateur Radio at the Olympic. Actually, with the Moon Bounce competition, even the heavens no longer hold our talented amateurs back. Tokyo 2020’s balanced proposal fulfils all of the goals of the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation that allowed it. These new competitions will add to the legacy of the Tokyo Games.”

Morse continued, “The inclusion of the package of new sports will afford young athletes the chance of a lifetime to realise their dreams of competing in the Olympic Games – the world’s greatest sporting stage – and inspire them to achieve their best, both in sport and in life. We thank the amateurs who shall soon begin qualifying for the Tokyo games by wishing them the IOC’s ’73.’ ”

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The International Olympic Committee is a not-for-profit independent international organisation made up of volunteers, which is committed to building a better world through sport. It redistributes more than 90 per cent of its income to the wider sporting movement, which means that every day the equivalent of USD 3.25 million goes to help athletes and sports organisations at all levels around the world.

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Popular news websites can be malware delivery systems

jason-steerNews websites are an irresistible target for hackers because they are so popular. Why? because they are trusted brands, and because — by their very nature — they contain many external links and use lots of outside content providers and analytics/tracking services. It doesn’t take much to corrupt one of those websites, or one of the myriad partners sites they rely upon, like ad networks, content feeds or behavioral trackers.

Potentially, malware injected on any well-trafficked news website, could infect tremendous numbers of people with ransomware, keyloggers, zombie code, or worse. Alarmist? Perhaps, but with good reason. News websites, which can include both traditional media (like the Chicago Tribune and the BBC), or new-media platforms (such as BuzzFeed or Business Insider) attract a tremendous number of visitors, especially when there is a breaking news story of tremendous interest, like a natural disaster, political event or celebrity shenanigans.

Publishing companies are not technology companies. They are content providers who do their honest best to offer a secure experience, but can’t be responsible for external links. In fact, many say so right in their terms of use statements or privacy policies. What they can be responsible for are the third-party networks that provide content or services to their platforms, but in reality, the search for profits and/or a competitive advantage outweighs any other considerations. And of course, their platforms can be hacked as well.

According to a story in the BBC, news sites in Russia, including the Moscow Echo Radio Station, opposition newspaper New Times, and the Kommersant business newspaper were hacked back in March 2012. In November 2014, the Syrian Electronic Army claimed to have hacked news sites, including the Canada’s CBC News.

Also in November 2014, one of the U.K’s most popular sites, The Telegraph, tweeted, “A part of our website run by a third-party was compromised earlier today. We’ve removed the component. No Telegraph user data was affected.”

A year earlier, in January 2013, the New York Times self-reported, “Hackers in China Attacked The Times for Last 4 Months.” The story said that, “The attackers first installed malware — malicious software — that enabled them to gain entry to any computer on The Times’s network. The malware was identified by computer security experts as a specific strain associated with computer attacks originating in China.”

Regional news outlets can also be targets. On September 18, 2015, reported CBS Local in San Francisco, “Hackers took control of the five news websites of Palo Alto-based Embarcadero Media Group on Thursday night, according to the CBS. The websites of Palo Alto Weekly, The Almanac, Mountain View Voice and Pleasanton Weekly were all reportedly attacked at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

I talked recently with Jason Steer of Menlo Security, a security company based in Menlo Park, Calif. He put it very clearly:

You are taking active code from a source you didn’t request, and you are running it inside your PC and your network, without any inspection whatsoever. Because of the high volumes of users, it only takes a small number of successes to make the hacking worthwhile. Antivirus can’t really help here, either consumer or enterprise. Antivirus may not detect ransomware being installed from a site you visit, or malicious activity from a bad advertisement or bad JavaScript.

Jason pointed me to his blog post from November 12, 2015, “Top 50 UK Website Security Report.” His post says, in part,

Across the top 50 sites, a number of important findings were made:

• On average, when visiting a top 50 U.K. website, your browser will execute 19 scripts

• The top UK website executed 125 unique scripts when requested

His blog continued with a particularly scary observation:

15 of the top 50 sites (i.e. 30 percent) were running vulnerable versions of web-server code at time of testing. Microsoft IIS version 7.5 was the most prominent vulnerable version reported with known software vulnerabilities going back more than five years.

How many scripts are running on your browser from how many external servers? According to Jason’s research, if you visit the BBC website, your browser might be running 92 scripts pushed to it from 11 different servers. The Daily Mail? 127 scripts from 35 servers. The Financial Times? 199 scripts from 31 servers. The New Yorker? 113 scripts from 33 sites. The Economist? 185 scripts from 46 sites. The New York Times? 76 scripts from 29 servers. And Forbes, 100 scripts from 49 servers.

Most of those servers and scripts are benign. But if they’re not, they’re not. The headline on Ars Technica on March 15, 2016, says it all: “Big-name sites hit by rash of malicious ads spreading crypto ransomware.” The story begins,

Mainstream websites, including those published by The New York Times, the BBC, MSN, and AOL, are falling victim to a new rash of malicious ads that attempt to surreptitiously install crypto ransomware and other malware on the computers of unsuspecting visitors, security firms warned.

The tainted ads may have exposed tens of thousands of people over the past 24 hours alone, according to a blog post published Monday by Trend Micro. The new campaign started last week when “Angler,” a toolkit that sells exploits for Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and other widely used Internet software, started pushing laced banner ads through a compromised ad network.

 According to a separate blog post from Trustwave’s SpiderLabs group, one JSON-based file being served in the ads has more than 12,000 lines of heavily obfuscated code. When researchers deciphered the code, they discovered it enumerated a long list of security products and tools it avoided in an attempt to remain undetected.

Let me share my favorite news website hack story, because of its sheer audacity. According to Jason’s blog, ad delivery systems can be turned into malware delivery systems, and nobody might every know:

If we take one such example in March 2016, one attacker waited patiently for the domain ‘brentsmedia[.]com’ to expire, registered in Utah, USA , a known ad network content provider. The domain in question had expired ownership for 66 days, was then taken over by an attacker in Russia (Pavel G Astahov) and 1 day later was serving up malicious ads to visitors of sites including the BBC, AOL & New York Times. No-one told any of these popular websites until the malicious ads had already appeared.

Jason recently published an article on this subject in SC Magazine, “Brexit leads to pageviews — pageviews lead to malware.” Check it out. And be aware that when you visit a trusted news website, you have no idea what code is being executed on your computer, what that code does, and who wrote that code.

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A free BMW 7-Series car – and a check for $1.5 million!

2016_BMW_7-Series_(G11)_sedan,_front_viewLook what I fished out of my spam folder this morning. This is a variation on the usual lottery scam, and more enjoyable than most. But really, a BMW 760Li? While the 6.6-litre twin-turbo Rolls Royce engine would be zippy on Phoenix-area highways, we certainly don’t need the cold-weather package here. Anyway, the M4 two-door coupé is more my style.

To be serious: When you get spam like this, simply delete the message. Don’t reply, don’t click any links, including unsubscribe links.

From: “Mrs Rachael Adams”
Subject: BMW LOTTERY DEPARTMENT

Date: July 21, 2016 at 1:51:03 PM MST
BMW LOTTERY DEPARTMENT
5070 WILSHIRE BLVD
LOS ANGELES. CA 90036
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

NOTE: If you received this message in your SPAM/JUNK folder, that is because of the restrictions implemented by your Internet Service Provider, we (BMW) urge you to treat it genuinely.

Dear Winner,

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a prize of a brand new 2015/2016 Model BMW 7 Series Car and a Cheque of $1,500,000.00 USD from the international balloting programs held on the 2nd section in the UNITED STATE OF AMERICA.

Description of prize vehicle; Model: 760Li Color (exterior): Metallic Silver Mileage: 5 Transmission: Automatic 6 Speed

Options: Cold weather package, premium package, fold down rear seats w/ski bag, am fm stereo with single in dash compact disc player.

The selection process was carried out through random selection in our computerized email selection system (ESS) from a database of over 250,000 email addresses drawn from all the continents of the world which you were selected.

The BMW Lottery is approved by the British Gaming Board and also licensed by the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR).

To begin the processing of your prize you are to contact our fiduciary claims department for more information as regards procedures to claim your prize.

Fiduciary Agent: Mr.David Johnson
Contact Email:[redacted]

Contact him by providing him with your secret pin code Number BMW:255175HGDY03/23.As the subject of your email for swift response

You are also advised to provide him with the under listed information as soon as possible:

1. Name In Full :
2. Residential Address :
3. Nationality :
4. Age :
5. Sex
6. Occupation :
7. Direct Phone :
8. Present Country :
9. Email address :
10. pin code Number BMW:255175HGDY03/23

Note that you have to send email to Mr.David johnson .You are to provide him with the above listed details as soon as possible so he can begin with the processing of your prize winnings.

Mrs.Rachael Adams.
———————
THE DIRECTOR PROMOTIONS
BMW LOTTERY DEPARTMENT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

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Quick-draw: Six-shooter or smartphone?

5D3_0451

 

The modern gunslinger carries an iPhone on his belt, across from the six-shooter. If the phone rings, hope he doesn’t grab the wrong device.

Prescott, Arizona, July 24, 2016.

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Ramsey Canyon and Fort Huachuca – A bird photographer’s paradise

blue-grosbeakWe spent a long weekend in southern Arizona viewing wildlife, with time spent at birders’ paradises in Ramsey Canyon, as well as two canyons in Fort Huachuca: Huachuca Canyon and Garden Canyon. Wow. We saw and photographed so many incredible birds and butterflies, including (my favorite shot) the Blue Grosbeak.

The rarest sighting was that of the Elegant Trogon. Birders will make a special trip to this area simply to see that bird. There are only about 50 breeding pair in the United States. We were lucky and got excellent photos.

During our time there, we stayed at the Ramsey Canyon Inn. Incredible gourmet breakfasts by Chef Vince. Recommended!

We  saw and photographed Painted Redstarts, Arizona Woodpecker, Hepatic Tanager (called that because it’s the color of liver!), Buff-Breasted Flycatcher, Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Cassin’s Kingbird, Verdin, Magnificent Hummingbird, Broad-Billed Hummingbird, Black-Chinned Hummingbird, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and many, many others.

There were also quite a few species of butterfly everywhere. I only remember a few by name, the Arizona Sister and the Double-Tailed Swallowtail (the Arizona state butterfly), and impressive swarms of Bordered Patch. Plus various dragonflies, jackrabbits and Coues White-Tailed Deer.

What a beautiful part of the world. We’ll be back.

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The Birth of the Internet Plaque at Stanford University

BirthInternetLIn the “you learn something every day” department: Discovered today that there’s a plaque at Stanford honoring the birth of the Internet. The plaque was dedicated on July 28, 2005, and is in the Gates Computer Science Building.

You can read all about the plaque, and see it more clearly, on J. Noel Chiappa’s website. His name is on the plaque.

Here’s what the plaque says. Must check it out during my next trip to Palo Alto.


BIRTH OF THE INTERNET

THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE INTERNET AND THE DESIGN OF THE CORE NETWORKING PROTOCOL TCP (WHICH LATER BECAME TCP/IP) WERE CONCEIVED BY VINTON G. CERF AND ROBERT E. KAHN DURING 1973 WHILE CERF WAS AT STANFORD’S DIGITAL SYSTEMS LABORATORY AND KAHN WAS AT ARPA (LATER DARPA). IN THE SUMMER OF 1976, CERF LEFT STANFORD TO MANAGE THE PROGRAM WITH KAHN AT ARPA.

THEIR WORK BECAME KNOWN IN SEPTEMBER 1973 AT A NETWORKING CONFERENCE IN ENGLAND. CERF AND KAHN’S SEMINAL PAPER WAS PUBLISHED IN MAY 1974.

CERF, YOGEN K. DALAL, AND CARL SUNSHINE WROTE THE FIRST FULL TCP SPECIFICATION IN DECEMBER 1974. WITH THE SUPPORT OF DARPA, EARLY IMPLEMENTATIONS OF TCP (AND IP LATER) WERE TESTED BY BOLT BERANEK AND NEWMAN (BBN), STANFORD, AND UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON DURING 1975.

BBN BUILT THE FIRST INTERNET GATEWAY, NOW KNOWN AS A ROUTER, TO LINK NETWORKS TOGETHER. IN SUBSEQUENT YEARS, RESEARCHERS AT MIT AND USC-ISI, AMONG MANY OTHERS, PLAYED KEY ROLES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SET OF INTERNET PROTOCOLS.

KEY STANFORD RESEARCH ASSOCIATES AND FOREIGN VISITORS

  • VINTON CERF
  • DAG BELSNES
  • RONALD CRANE
  • BOB METCALFE
  • YOGEN DALAL
  • JUDITH ESTRIN
  • RICHARD KARP
  • GERARD LE LANN
  • JAMES MATHIS
  • DARRYL RUBIN
  • JOHN SHOCH
  • CARL SUNSHINE
  • KUNINOBU TANNO

DARPA

  • ROBERT KAHN

COLLABORATING GROUPS

BOLT BERANEK AND NEWMAN

  • WILLIAM PLUMMER
  • GINNY STRAZISAR
  • RAY TOMLINSON

MIT

  • NOEL CHIAPPA
  • DAVID CLARK
  • STEPHEN KENT
  • DAVID P. REED

NDRE

  • YNGVAR LUNDH
  • PAAL SPILLING

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON

  • FRANK DEIGNAN
  • MARTINE GALLAND
  • PETER HIGGINSON
  • ANDREW HINCHLEY
  • PETER KIRSTEIN
  • ADRIAN STOKES

USC-ISI

  • ROBERT BRADEN
  • DANNY COHEN
  • DANIEL LYNCH
  • JON POSTEL

ULTIMATELY, THOUSANDS IF NOT TENS TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS HAVE CONTRIBUTED THEIR EXPERTISE TO THE EVOLUTION OF THE INTERNET.

DEDICATED JULY 28, 2005

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Internet over Carrier Pigeon? There’s a standard for that

pidgeonThere are standards for everything, it seems. And those of us who work on Internet things are often amused (or bemused) by what comes out of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). An oldie but a goodie is a document from 1999, RFC-2549, “IP over Avian Carriers with Quality of Service.”

An RFC, or Request for Comment, is what the IETF calls a standards document. (And yes, I’m browsing my favorite IETF pages during a break from doing “real” work. It’s that kind of day.)

RFC-2549 updates RFC-1149, “A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers.” That older standard did not address Quality of Service. I’ll leave it for you to enjoy both those documents, but let me share this part of RFC-2549:

Overview and Rational

The following quality of service levels are available: Concorde, First, Business, and Coach. Concorde class offers expedited data delivery. One major benefit to using Avian Carriers is that this is the only networking technology that earns frequent flyer miles, plus the Concorde and First classes of service earn 50% bonus miles per packet. Ostriches are an alternate carrier that have much greater bulk transfer capability but provide slower delivery, and require the use of bridges between domains.

The service level is indicated on a per-carrier basis by bar-code markings on the wing. One implementation strategy is for a bar-code reader to scan each carrier as it enters the router and then enqueue it in the proper queue, gated to prevent exit until the proper time. The carriers may sleep while enqueued.

Most years, the IETF publishes so-called April Fool’s RFCs. The best list of them I’ve seen is on Wikipedia. If you’re looking to take a work break, give ’em a read. Many of them are quite clever! However, I still like RFC-2549 the best.

A prized part of my library is “The Complete April Fools’ Day RFCs” compiled by by Thomas Limoncelli and Peter Salus. Sadly this collection stops at 2007. Still, it’s a great coffee table book to leave lying around for when people like Bob MetcalfeTim Berners-Lee or Al Gore come by to visit.

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It’s a fake award for SD Times – thank you, scammers!

faux-awardScammers give local businesses a faux award and then try to make money by selling certificates, trophies, and so-on.

Going through my spam filter today, I received FIVE of this exact same message praising SD Times for winning the “2016 Best of Huntington” award. The emails came from five different email addresses and domains, but the links all went to the same domain. (SD Times is published by BZ Media; I’m the “Z” of BZ Media.)

The messages read:

Sd Times has been selected for the 2016 Best of Huntington Awards for Media & Entertainment.

For details and more information please view our website: [link redacted]

If you click the link (which is not included above), you are given the choice to buy lots of things, including a plaque for $149.99 or a crystal award for $199.99. Such a deal: You can buy both for $229.99, a $349.98 value!! This is probably a lucrative scam, since the cost of sending emails is approximately $0; even a very low response rate could yield a lot of profits.

The site’s FAQ says,

Do I have to pay for an award to be a winner?

No, you do not have to pay for an award to be a winner. Award winners are not chosen based on purchases, however it is your option, to have us send you one of the 2016 Awards that have been designed for display at your place of business.

Shouldn’t my award be free?

No, most business organizations charge their members annual dues and with that money sponsor an annual award program. The Best of Huntington Award Program does not charge membership dues and as an award recipient, there is no membership requirement. We simply ask each award recipient to pay for the cost of their awards.

There is also a link to a free press release. Aren’t you excited on our behalf?

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sd Times Receives 2016 Best of Huntington Award

Huntington Award Program Honors the Achievement

HUNTINGTON July 2, 2016 — Sd Times has been selected for the 2016 Best of Huntington Award in the Media & Entertainment category by the Huntington Award Program.

Each year, the Huntington Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community. These exceptional companies help make the Huntington area a great place to live, work and play.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2016 Huntington Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Huntington Award Program and data provided by third parties.

About Huntington Award Program

The Huntington Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Huntington area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.

The Huntington Award Program was established to recognize the best of local businesses in our community. Our organization works exclusively with local business owners, trade groups, professional associations and other business advertising and marketing groups. Our mission is to recognize the small business community’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

SOURCE: Huntington Award Program

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Coding in the Fast Lane: The Multi-Threaded Multi-Core World of AMD64

ThrivingandSurvivinginaMulti-CoreWorld-1I wrote five contributions for an ebook from AMD Developer Central — and forgot entirely about it! The book, called “Surviving and Thriving in a Multi-Core World: Taking Advantage of Threads and Cores on AMD64,” popped up in this morning’s Google Alerts report. I have no idea why!

Here are the pieces that I wrote for the book, published in 2006. Darn, they still read well! Other contributors include my friends Anderson Bailey, Alexa Weber Morales and Larry O’Brien.

  • Driving in the Fast Lane: Multi-Core Computing for Programmers, Part 1 (page 5)
  • Driving in the Fast Lane: Multi-Core Computing for Programmers, Part 2 (page 8)
  • Coarse-Grained Vs. Fine-Grained Threading for Native Applications, Part 1 (p. 37)
  • Coarse-Grained Vs. Fine-Grained Threading for Native Applications, Part 2 (p. 40)
  • Device Driver & BIOS Development for AMD Systems (p. 87)

I am still obsessed with questionable automotive analogies. The first article begins with:

The main road near my house, called Skyline Drive, drives me nuts. For several miles, it’s a quasi-limited access highway. But for some inexplicable reason, it keeps alternating between one and two lanes in each direction. In the two-lane part, traffic moves along swiftly, even during rush hour. In the one-lane part, the traffic merges back together, and everything crawls to a standstill. When the next two-lane part appears, things speed up again.

Two lanes are better than one — and not just because they can accommodate twice as many cars. What makes the two-lane section better is that people can overtake. In the one-lane portion (which has a double-yellow line, so there’s no passing), traffic is limited to the slowest truck’s speed, or to little-old-man-peering-over-the-steering-wheel-of-his-Dodge-Dart speed. Wake me when we get there. But in the two-lane section, the traffic can sort itself out. Trucks move to the right, cars pass on the left. Police and other priority traffic weave in and out, using both lanes depending on which has more capacity at any particular moment. Delivery services with a convoy of trucks will exploit both lanes to improve throughput. The entire system becomes more efficient, and net flow of cars through those two-lane sections is considerably higher.

Okay, you’ve figured out that this is all about dual-core and multi-core computing, where cars are analogous to application threads, and the lanes are analogous to processor cores.

I’ll have to admit that my analogy is somewhat simplistic, and purists will say that it’s flawed, because an operating system has more flexibility to schedule tasks in a single-core environment under a preemptive multiprocessing environment. But that flexibility comes at a cost. Yes, if I were really modeling a microprocessor using Skyline Drive, cars would be able to pass each other in the single-lane section, but only if the car in front were to pull over and stop.

Okay, enough about cars. Let’s talk about dual-core and multi-core systems, why businesses are interested in buying them, and what implications all that should have for software developers like us.

Download and enjoy the book – it’s not gated and entirely free.

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Ten-and-a-half years of my Steelcase Think office chair and I still love it

chairAfter more than a decade of near daily use, I still love my Steelcase Think chair.

Today is cleaning day at CAHQ (Camden Associates Headquarters). That means dusting/cleaning the furniture, as well as moving piles of papers from one part of the office to another. As part of the gyrations, we flipped my trusty Steelcase Think upside down, and saw that its date of manufacture was Feb. 15, 2005. Wow. The chair is in excellent condition. The only wear is that one of the rubber armrest pads cracked and was starting to peel apart. We superglued it back together; it’s super ugly but should last for another decade.

Looking at the Steelcase site, the Think chair has changed only a little bit since mine was purchased. My chair has a black mesh back (they call it “3D knit”), black cushion seat, black frame, and black wheel base. You can still buy that combination. However, there are now new options, like different types of wheels for carpet or hard floors, a tall bar-stool-height base and even an integrated coat hanger. There are also lots more colors and materials. Oh, and the price has gone up: My particular chair configuration would cost $829 now.

What I particularly like is that there are very few settings or switches. It’s so simple, and I don’t need to keep fiddling with it.

I blogged about my chair in 2007. I recommended it then, and I still recommend it today without hesitation. Here’s what I wrote back nine years ago:

I am consistently amazed at how comfortable my Steelcase Think office chair is.

For years, my back had been sore and stiff if I sat in front of my computer for more than an hour or so. In early 2005, I mentioned that to a friend, and he said, duh, buy a better chair. I guess it was time to replace the task chair picked up second-hand 15 years earlier.

My search was exhaustive: I was willing to spend serious money to get something good. After visiting several “real” office furniture stores – places like Office Depot, Staples and Office Max have a lousy selection, imho – I fell in love with the Think.

What I like is that it’s essentially a self-adjusting chair. The Think has extremely few adjustments, and the back is made of springy steel rods. Plus the mesh fabric means that my back doesn’t get all hot and sweaty on a warm day. (You can read about the ergonomics at the Steelcase site.)

Some even pricier chairs I tested, like the Steelcase Leap and the Herman Miller Aeron, were much more complicated, and much less comfortable. With an Aeron, I literally can’t find settings that work. With the Think, it only took a minute to find the right settings, and I haven’t changed them in the past 2 ½ years.

While I can’t claim that the Think is the best premium office chair, I believe that this is the best investment that I’ve ever made in my work environment. I paid about $700 for it in 2005 at an office furniture store in San Francisco.

There are a few different versions available. Mine is the original model with mesh back, cloth seat and adjustable arms. Today, Steelcase also offers leather or vinyl coverings, fixed arms or armless, and optional headrests and lumbar supports. That makes it complicated again! When I got mine, the only option was fabric color. I chose black.

So, if you sit at your desk/computer for hours at a time, and if you’re using a cheap task chair, consider an upgrade. Try the Think — maybe it’ll work for you, maybe it won’t. (My wife tried mine out, but didn’t care for it.) The important thing is that you get a good chair that fits you well, and is comfortable. If you’re sore and stiff, duh, buy a better chair.

Real food vs yucky food – don’t eat what you don’t understand

red-snapperEat real food. Avoid food laden with additives, or which are overly processed. My family has a few rules which we follow pretty closely when shopping:

  • Always look at the ingredients.
  • The fewer ingredients, the better. (Food expert Michael Pollan recommends no more than five ingredients.)
  • If one of the ingredients is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), we avoid.
  • If we don’t know what some of the ingredients are, we avoid.
  • A Kosher symbol is better than no Kosher symbol — but is no guarantee that the food is “real” or healthy or grown/sold in a sustainable way.

While we try to eat healthy, we don’t make a point of looking for so-called “organic” food. In our experience, organic produce is no healthier than regular fruits and veggies, is more expensive, and spoils much faster – we end up throwing a lot away.

In restaurants or when visiting friends, we prefer to eat food where we can visibly identify every ingredient. We don’t like surprises that would either violate religious prohibitions or trigger our few food allergies. For example, baked beans often contain pork, and sauces served with meat can contain cream or other dairy products – both of which are no-nos. So, we aren’t big on stews or casseroles, unless we make them ourselves.

This recent article, “5 Foods You Can Trust—And 5 To Avoid,” from the Diane Rehm show (we heard the original broadcast) is an eye-opener. We haven’t read Larry Olmsted’s book, “Real Food/Fake Food,” but plan to do so.

In the story, there are certainly some recommendations we won’t follow personally, such as to buy whole lobster — we don’t eat any shellfish. However, Olmsted’s point is well taken. Substitution of fish is rampant by suppliers, grocery stores and restaurants; if you order a whole fish, at least you can be reasonably sure that the lobster is really lobster. And that the red snapper is really red snapper, and not tilapia. (Read about this in “One In Three Fish Sold At Restaurants And Grocery Stores Is Mislabeled” from NPR.)

Red Snapper? Yes, as Olmsted’s story says,

Red snapper is a delicious and prized eating fish. It is also commercially rare. A major investigation found that more than 94 percent of the red snapper that appears on menus and at retail stores isn’t real. It’s the poster child for “fake food.” As one scientist well-versed in the subject put it, “just never order red snapper.”

Listen to the interview with Larry Olmsted. Follow Michael Pollan’s seven simple food rules. Look at this list of 20 ingredients to avoid. And eat and live healthier!

A scammer owned by the “Christian Church”? I don’t think so.

vatican-bankIsn’t it reassuring to know that this scammer’s loan agency is “owned by the Christian Church”? Yeah, right. Don’t be fooled by these sorts of emails. The scammer’s next step would be to request sensitive personal information (like bank account numbers), or ask you to wire over a “fee” for processing the not-to-appear loan. Or both.

Your best bet: Never respond, always hit delete. Even if “Mr. Johnson” is offering loans of up to $500 million.

Good day,

You are welcome barclaysonlineloan limited. This loan agency is owned by the Christian Church and is set to help the needy to poverty and suffering can be definitively eradicated from the world. We are registered and regulated by the Authority of borrowing money and all our financial transactions are overseen by the government.

Contact us via email: >redacted<

We offer both personal and business loans capital base between the amounts of $ 2,000.00 to $ 500,000,000.00 US dollars, European Euro or GB pounds for individuals, businesses and cooperate bodies irrespective of their marital status, sex, religion and the location, but you have a legal means to repay the loan in the stipulated time, and must be trustworthy with interest rates as low as 3%.

If this meets your expectations, then we can move on, I’d like you to tell the exact amount you are applying for such loan and the urgency of this transaction for additional procedures that you need to fill and submit the required information below:

DETAILS OF APPLICANT:

Name of applicant:
* Address of applicant:
* City:
* State:
* Country:
* Gender:
* Marital status:
* Age:
* Rate Monthly income:
* Occupation:
* Tel: / Mobile:
* Mobile:
* Amount Requested:
* Length of Loan:
* Purpose of loan:
* Do you speak English:
* Email:

Contact us via email: >redacted<

We await your response.
Yours sincerely,
mr. johnson
Secretary

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Photo and artwork guidelines for people, products, logos and screen shots

old-cameraIf you are asked to submit a photograph, screen shot or a logo to a publication or website, there’s the right way and the less-right way. Here are some suggestions that I wrote several years ago for BZ Media for use in lots of situations — in SD Times, for conferences, and so-on.

While they were written for the days of print publications, these are still good guidelines for websites, blog and other digital publishing media.

General Suggestions

  • Photos need to be high resolution. Bitmaps that would look great on a Web page will look dreadful in print. The recommended minimum size for a bitmap file should be two inches across by three inches high, at a resolution of 300 dpi — that is, 600×900 pixels, at the least. A smaller photograph may be usable, but frankly, it will probably not be.
  • Photos need to be in a high-color format. The best formats are high-resolution JPEG files (.jpg) and TIFF (.tif) files. Or camera RAW if you can. Avoid GIF files (.gif) because they are only 256 colors. However, in case of doubt, send the file in and hope for the best.
  • Photos should be in color. A color photograph will look better than a black-and-white photograph — but if all you have is B&W, send it in. As far as electronic files go, a 256-color image doesn’t reproduce well in print, so please use 24-bit or higher color depth. If the website wants B&W, they can convert a color image easily.
  • Don’t edit or alter the photograph. Please don’t crop it, modify it using Photoshop or anything, unless otherwise requested to do so. Just send the original image, and let the art director or photo editor handle the cropping and other post-processing.
  • Do not paste the image into a Word or PowerPoint document. Send the image as a separate file.

Logos

  • Send logos as vector-based EPS files (such as an Adobe Illustrator file with fonts converted to outlines) if possible. If a vector-based EPS file is not available, send a 300 dpi TIFF, JPEG or Photoshop EPS files (i.e., one that’s at least two inches long). Web-resolution logos are hard to resize, and often aren’t usable.

Screen Shots

  • Screen shots should be the native bitmap file or a lossless format. A native bitmapped screen capture from Windows will be a huge .BMP file. This may be converted to a compressed TIFF file, or compressed to a .ZIP file for emailing. PNG is also a good lossless format and is quite acceptable.
  • Do not convert a screen capture to JPEG or GIF.  JPEGs in particular make terrible screen shots due to the compression algorithms; solid color areas may become splotchy, and text can become fuzzy. Screen captures on other platforms should also be lossless files, typically in TIFF or PNG.

Hints for better-looking portraits

  • Strive for a professional appearance. The biggest element is a clean, uncluttered background. You may also wish to have the subject wear business casual or formal clothing, such as a shirt with a collar instead of a T-shirt. If you don’t have a photo like that, send what you have.
  • Side or front natural light is the best and most flattering. Taking pictures outdoors with overcast skies is best; a picture outdoors on a sunny day is also good, but direct overhead sunlight (near noon) is too harsh. If possible, keep away from indoor lighting, especially ceiling or fluorescent lights. Avoid unpleasant backlighting by making sure the subject isn’t standing between the camera and a window or lamp.
  • If you must use electronic flash… Reduce red-eye by asking the subject to look at the photographer, not at the camera. (Off-camera flash is better than on-camera flash.) Eliminate harsh and unpleasant shadows by ensuring that the subject isn’t standing or sitting within three feet of a wall, bookcase or other background objects. Another problem is white-out: If the camera is too close to the subject, the picture will be too bright and have too much contrast.
  • Maintain at least six feet separation between the camera and the subject, and three feet (or more) from the background. If the subject is closer than six feet to the camera, his/her facial features will be distorted, and the results will be unattractive. For best results, hold the camera more than six feet from the subject. It’s better to be farther away and use the camera’s optical zoom, rather than to shoot a close-up from a few feet away.
  • Focus on his/her eyes. If the eyes are sharp, the photo is probably okay. If the eyes aren’t sharp (but let’s say the nose or ears are), the photo looks terrible. That’s because people look at the eyes first.
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Need propane? Refill your five-gallon tank, don’t do the exchange thing

blue-rhino

What do you do when your 20-pound (5 gallon) propane tank is empty? If you are Alan, you go to a near-by filling station and refill the bottle. In our case, there’s a Shell station close by, and that’s where we go.

The cost is minimal, and you get a lot of fuel that way. In our case, filling a propane tank today (June 29, 2016) got us 4.7 gallons (20 pounds) at $2.99 per gallon, for the princely sum of $14.05. The whole process took about ten minutes.

At that same Shell station was one of the exchange tank systems, in this case, Blue Rhino. I have no objection to that company, but know that what Blue Rhino (and others) offer is convenience — not a great price on fuel.

The price to exchange a Blue Rhino bottle at the Shell station: $24.99. (Prices can vary wildly, both for the Blue Rhino exchange and the cost of bulk propane.) That’s a lot more — nearly $11. And for less fuel!

If you dig into the Blue Rhino FAQ, you learn that they don’t give you 4.7 gallons. They don’t put 20 pounds of propane into a 20-pound tank:

How much propane does Blue Rhino put in its tanks?

Inflationary pressures, including the volatile costs of steel, diesel fuel, and propane, have had a significant impact on the cylinder exchange industry. In 2008, to help control these rising costs, Blue Rhino followed the example of other consumer products companies with a product content change. We reduced the amount of propane in our tanks from 17 pounds to 15 pounds.

To ensure our consumers are properly notified, Blue Rhino clearly marks the amount of propane contained in our tanks, right on the package.

A gallon of propane weighs about 4.2 pounds, so Blue Rhino’s 15 pounds is 3.6 gallons of fuel. That’s a lot less than 4.7 gallons. Doing the math, Blue Rhino’s price per gallon is $6.94. And you have to get your bottle filled more often, of course, since there is less fuel in it.

Okay, it costs more and gives you less. What benefits do you get with a bottle exchange? Convenience and it’s probably slightly quicker to exchange a tank rather than have an attendant come out and fill your existing bottle.

Also, Blue Rhino says that the tank is leak-tested, cleaned, freshly painted as needed, and checked on a schedule:

Propane isn’t just propane with Blue Rhino, America’s leading brand of propane tank exchange. Every tank is cleaned, leak-tested, inspected, precision-filled, delivered to your favorite store, and more. So you can grill with confidence. So take a Rhino home!

Another major U.S. propane-exchange company is AmeriGas. Their website is more obtuse and doesn’t say how much propane goes into an exchange tank. (Or at least I can’t find it.) However according to Home Depot, which sells AmeriGas, their Propane Tank Exchange specs are:

With safety being our number one priority, the chemical properties of propane restrict us to only fill our tanks to 80% capacity.

I’ve got to give Blue Rhino kudos for honesty. At least they are up front for admitting that under-filling is a cost-saving measure. On the other hand, AmeriGas gives you 80% capacity, compared to Blue Rhino’s 75%.

Bottom line: Don’t exchange! Get your propane bottles filled at a local filling station. However, if a tank starts looking rusty, or if you’re not sure if it’s still good, bring it in for a Blue Rhino/AmeriGas exchange. Then, refill that tank for a while until it looks ratty. Remember, not only are you paying less for fuel, but you are also dealing with an empty tank less often!

Update 6/30: Found an AmeriGas service at a Circle-K convenience store, and the bottle exchange fee was $21.99. Price can vary tremendously!

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Special Mac option key symbols – your handy reference

I am often looking for these symbols and can’t find them. So here they are for English language Mac keyboards, in a handy blog format. They all use the Option key.

Note: The Option key is not the Command key, which is marked with ⌘ (looped square) symbol. Rather, the Option key is between Control and Command on many (most?) Mac keyboard. These key combinations won’t work a numerical keypad; you have to be using the main part of the keyboard.

The case of the letter/key pressed with the Option key matters. For example, Option+v is the root √ and Option+V (in other words, Option+Shift+v) is the diamond ◊. Another example: Option+7 is the paragraph ¶ and Option+& (that is, Option+Shift+7) is the double dagger ‡. You may simply copy/paste the symbols, if that’s more convenient.

These key combinations should work in most modern Mac applications, and be visible in most typefaces. No guarantees. Your mileage may vary.

SYMBOLS

¡ Option+1 (inverted exclamation)
¿ Option+? (inverted question)
« Option+\ (open double angle quote)
» Option+| (close double angle quote)
© Option+g (copyright)
® Option+r (registered copyright)
™ Option+2 (trademark)
¶ Option+7 (paragraph)
§ Option+6 (section)
• Option+8 (dot)
· Option+( (small dot)
◊ Option+V (diamond)
– Option+- (en-dash)
— Option+_ (em-dash)
† Option+t (dagger)
‡ Option+& (double dagger)
¢ Option+4 (cent)
£ Option+3 (pound)
¥ Option+y (yen)
€ Option+@ (euro)

ACCENTS AND SPECIAL LETTERS

ó Ó Option+e then letter (acute)
ô Ô Option+i then letter (circumflex)
ò Ò Option+` then letter (grave)
õ Õ Option+n then letter (tilde)
ö Ö Option+u then letter (umlaut)
å Å Option+a or Option+A (a-ring)
ø Ø Option+o or Option+O (o-slash)
æ Æ Option+’ or Option+” (ae ligature)
œ Œ Option+q or Option+Q (oe ligature)
fi Option+% (fi ligature)
fl Option+^ (fl ligature)
ç Ç Option+c or Option+C (circumflex)
ß Option+s (double-s)

MATH AND ENGINEERING

÷ Option+/ (division)
± Option++ (plus/minus)
° Option+* (degrees)
¬ Option+l (logical not)
≠ Option+= (not equal)
≥ Option+> (greater or equal)
≤ Option+< (less or equal)
√ Option+v (root)
∞ Option+5 (infinity)
≈ Option+x (tilde)
∆ Option+j (delta)
Σ Option+w (sigma)
Ω Option+z (ohm)
π Option+p (pi)
µ Option+m (micro)
∂ Option+d (derivative)
∫ Option+b (integral)

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Bird meet bug, bug meet bird

IMG_8929

This is one of my all-time favorite photos, taken during a week-long vacation in Redmond, Oregon, summer 2012. We’ve been visiting the Eagle Crest resort every few years since the early 1990s — it’s a magical place.

Canon EOS 5D Mk II, EF 200mm f/2.8 L prime lens, shot at 1/1250 f/4.

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Enterprise risks when an employee can’t find a BYOD phone

find-my-phoneThere are several types of dangers presented by a lost Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) smartphone or tablet. Many IT professionals and security specialists think only about some of them. They are all problematic. Does your company have policies about lost personal devices?

  • If you have those policies, what are they?
  • Does the employee know about those policies?
  • Does the employee know how to notify the correct people in case his or her device is lost?

Let’s say you have policies. Let’s say the employee calls the security office and says, “My personal phone is gone. I use it to access company resources, and I don’t think it was securely locked.” What happens?

Does the company have all the information necessary to take all the proper actions, including the telephone number, carrier, manufacturer and model, serial number, and other characteristics? Who gets notified? How long do you wait before taking an irreversible action? Can the security desk respond in an effective way? Can the security respond instantly, including nights, weekend and holidays?

If you don’t have those policies — with people and knowledge to make them effective — you’ve got a serious problem.

Read my latest story in NetworkWorld, “Dude, where’s my phone? BYOD means enterprise security exposure.” It discusses the four biggest obvious threats from a lost BYOD device, and what you can do to address those threats.

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KFC’s Watt-a-Box jolts the fast food industry in India

kfc-watt-a-box“Would you like amps with that?” Perhaps that’s the new side-dish question when ordering fast food. Yes, I’ll have three pieces of extra crispy chicken, potato wedges, cole slaw, unsweet iced tea and a cell-phone charging box.

New of out India is  KFC (which many of us grew up calling Kentucky Fried Chicken) has introduced the Watt-a-Box, which says on its side “Charge your phone while experiencing finger lickin’ good food.” (That last part may be debatable.)

According to the Times of India,

NEW DELHI: KFC garnered a lot of accolades for its recently launched 5-in-1 Meal Box. And the fast-food chain has now introduced an all new ‘gadgety’ variant of the same box.

The limited edition box comes with a built-in power bank. Dubbed as ‘Watt a Box,’ it lets you charge your smartphone as you go about enjoying your meal.

KFC has said that a few lucky customers at select KFC stores in Mumbai and Delhi will get a chance to have their 5-in-1 Meal served in ‘Watt a Box’. Along with this, users can also participate in an online contest on KFC India’s Facebook page and win more of these limited edition boxes.

We are lacking a number of details. Is the box’s charger removable and reusable, or is it a one-time-use thing? If so, what a waste of electronics and battery tech. What about disposal / recycling the battery? And — eww — will everything get finger-lickin’ greasy?

The Watt-a-Box. Watt an idea.

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I’m rich from the Apple Kindle eBooks Antitrust Settlement

settlementThis just in — literally, at 8:58am on June 21 — an $8.50 credit from Amazon, paid for by Apple. I am trying to restrain my excitement, but in reality, it’s nice to get a few bucks back.

This payout has been pending for a few months. Well, a few years. This is Apple’s second payout from the antitrust settlement; the first was in 2014. Read “Apple’s $400M E-Book Payout: How Much You’ll Get and When” Jeff John Roberts in Forbes, which explains

The payments will mark the end of a long, strange antitrust story in which Apple and publishers tried to challenge the industry powerhouse, Amazon, with a new pricing system. Ironically, Amazon is still the dominant player in e-books today while Apple barely matters. Now Apple will pay $400 million to consumers—most of which will be spent at Amazon. Go figure.

I agree with that assessment: Apple lost both the battle (the antitrust pricing lawsuit) and the war (to be the big payer in digital books). Sure, $400 million is pocket change to Apple, which is reported to be hoarding more than $200 billion in cash. But still, it’s gotta hurt.

Here’s what Amazon said in its email:

Your Credit from the Apple eBooks Antitrust Settlement Is Ready to Use

Dear Alan Zeichick,

You now have a credit of $8.50 in your Amazon account. Apple, Inc. (Apple) funded this credit to settle antitrust lawsuits brought by State Attorneys General and Class Plaintiffs about the price of electronic books (eBooks). As a result of this Settlement, qualifying eBook purchases from any retailer are eligible for a credit. You previously received an email informing you that you were eligible for this credit. The Court in charge of these cases has now approved the Apple Settlement. If you did not receive that email or for more information about your credit, please visit www.amazon.com/applebooksettlement.

You don’t have to do anything to claim your credit, we have already added it to your Amazon account. We will automatically apply your available credit to your purchase of qualifying items through Amazon, an Amazon device or an Amazon app. The credit applied to your purchase will appear as a gift card in your order summary and in your account history. In order to spend your credit, please visit the Kindle bookstore or Amazon. If your account does not reflect this credit, please contact Amazon customer service.

Your credit is valid for one year and will expire after June 24, 2017, by order of the Court. If you have not used it, we will remind you of your credit before it expires.

Thank you for being a Kindle customer.

The Amazon Kindle Team

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Howdy, podners: Sheriff Alan rocks the Cowboy Look

cowboy-alanIt’s not the usual fisherman-in-a-yellow-slicker¹ look of a born-and-bred Yankee: Here I am in my Western duds. It’s a surprisingly comfortable style, once the boots were broken in.

What’s the occasion? Why am I wearing a black Stetson, gray pinstripe suit, ivory shirt, turquoise bolo tie, cowboy boots, and a corsage? Delivering the blessings at a wedding near Phoenix. An outdoor wedding. On a day when the mercury hit 120 degrees.

Did I mention that it was an outdoor wedding? And that it was 120 degrees?

From L.L. Bean boots to cowboy boots. Guess I’m getting used to living here in the Sonoran desert. Ayuh.

¹ “Slicker,” pronounced “slikk-AHH,” is the New England term for a long rain coat.

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Happy World WiFi Day!

world-wifi-dayWiFi is the present and future of local area networking. Forget about families getting rid of the home phone. The real cable-cutters are dropping the Cat-5 Ethernet in favor of IEEE 802.11 Wireless Local Area Networks, generally known as WiFi. Let’s celebrate World WiFi Day!

There are no Cat-5 cables connected in my house and home office. Not one. And no Ethernet jacks either. (By contrast, when we moved into our house in the Bay Area in the early 1990s, I wired nearly every room with Ethernet jacks.) There’s a box of Ethernet cables, but I haven’t touched them in years. Instead, it’s all WiFi. (Technically, WiFi refers to industry products that are compatible with the IEEE 802.11 specification, but for our casual purposes here, it’s all the same thing.)

My 21” iMac (circa 2011) has an Ethernet port. I’ve never used it. My MacBook Air (also circa 2011) doesn’t have an Ethernet port at all; I used to carry a USB-to-Ethernet dongle, but it disappeared a long time ago. It’s not missed. My tablets (iOS, Android and Kindle) are WiFi-only for connectivity. Life is good.

The first-ever World WiFi Day is today — June 20, 2016 . It was declared by the Wireless Broadband Alliance to

be a global platform to recognize and celebrate the significant role Wi-Fi is playing in getting cities and communities around the world connected. It will champion exciting and innovative solutions to help bridge the digital divide, with Connected City initiatives and new service launches at its core.

Sadly, the World WiFi Day initiative is not about the wire-free convenience of Alan’s home office and personal life. Rather, it’s about bringing Internet connectivity to third-world, rural, poor, or connectivity-disadvantaged areas. According to the organization, here are eight completed projects:

  • KT – KT Giga Island – connecting islands to the mainland through advanced networks
  • MallorcaWiFi – City of Palma – Wi-Fi on the beach
  • VENIAM – Connected Port @ Leixões Porto, Portugal
  • ISOCEL – Isospot – Building a Wi-Fi hotspot network in Benin
  • VENIAM – Smart City @ Porto, Portugal
  • Benu Neworks – Carrier Wi-Fi Business Case
  • MCI – Free Wi-Fi for Arbaeen
  • Fon – After the wave: Japan and Fon’s disaster support procedure

It’s a worthy cause. Happy World WiFi Day, everyone!

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States of confusion: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah

four-corners

It’s bad enough not knowing which state you are in. Much worse not to know which state!

(Road trip, July 2014)

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The most important plug-in for Customer Experience Management software: Humans

customer_experienceNo smart software would make the angry customer less angry. No customer relationship management platform could understand the problem. No sophisticated HubSpot or Salesforce or Marketo algorithm could be able to comprehend that a piece of artwork, brought to a nationwide framing store location in October, wouldn’t be finished before Christmas – as promised. While an online order tracking system would keep the customer informed, it wouldn’t keep the customer satisfied.

Customer Experience Management (CEM). That’s the hot new buzzword for directly engaging the customer. Contrast that with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which is more about the back-end tracking of customers, leads and orders.

Think about how Amazon.com or FedEx or Netflix keep you constantly informed about what’s happening with your products and services. They have realized that the key to customer success is equally product/service excellence and communications excellence. When I was a kid, you mailed a check and an order form to Sears Roebuck, and a few weeks later a box showed up in the mail. That was great customer service in the 1960s and 1970s. No more. We demand communications. Proactive communications. Effective, empathetic communications.

One of the best ways to make an unhappy customer happy is to empower a human to do whatever it takes to get things right. If possible, that should be the first person the customer talks to, so the problem gets solved as quickly as possible, and without adding “dropped calls” or “too many transfers” to the litany of complaints. A CEM platform should be designed with this is mind.

I’ve written a story about the non-software factors required for effective CEM platforms for Pipeline Magazine. Read the story: “CEM — Now with Humans!

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Too slow, didn’t wait: The five modern causes of slow website loads

BGYE66 Snail out of shell. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

BGYE66 Snail out of shell. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

Let’s explore the causes of slow website loads. There are obviously some delays that are beyond our control — like the user being on a very slow mobile connection. However, for the most part, our website’s load time is entirely up to us.

For the most part, our website’s load time is entirely up to us as developers and administrators. We need to do everything possible to accelerate the experience, and in fact I would argue that load time may be the single most important aspect of your site. That’s especially true of your home page, but also of other pages, especially if there are deep links to them from search engines, other Internet sites, or your own marketing emails and tweets.

We used to say that the biggest cause of slow websites was large images, especially too-large images that are downloaded to the browser and dynamically resized. Those are still issues, and you should optimize your site to have a few small graphics, instead of large images. Images are no longer the main culprit, however.

Read my recent article in the GoDaddy Garage, “Are slow website load times costing you money and pageviews?” to see the five main causes of slow website loads, and get some advice about what to do about them.

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Wearable IoT technology is getting under my skin, thanks to bodyhacking

HannesSjöblad

CeBIT Preview, Hannover, Germany — It looks like a slick Jedi move, but it’s actually the Internet of Things. When Hannes Sjöblad wants to pay for coffee, he waves his hand in front of the pay station. When he wants to open a door, he waves his hand in front of the digital lock. When he wants to start his car, he waves his hand in front of the ignition.

No, he’s not Obi-Wan Kenobi saving two rebel droids. Sjöblad is a famous Swedish bodyhacker who has implanted electronics, including a passive Near-Field Communications (NFC) transmitter, into his own hand. So, instead of using his smartphone or smartwatch to activate a payment terminal, a wave of the hand gets the job done.

Speaking to a group of international journalists at CeBIT Preview 2016 here in Hannover, Sjöblad explains that he sees bodyhacking as the next step of wearable computing. Yes, you could use a phone, watch, bracelet, or even a ring to host small electronics, he says, but the real future is embedded.

Read more about Sjöblad’s bodyhacking in my story in NetworkWorld, “Subdermal wearables could unlock real possibilities for enterprise IoT.”

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Before I die, I want to know the Face of God

This essay was originally published on the Reform Judaism blog on September 2, 2015.

I was inspired to write this poem after reading Rabbi Eliezer’s teaching in Pirkei Avot that advises us that because it is not possible to repent one day before we die – because we don’t know when that will be – we should repent daily, and live always in a state of repentance.

The poem – together with the accompanying photograph, which I took in Phoenix, AZ, during a partial solar eclipse on October 23, 2014 – will be on display as part of Temple Chai’s Selichot art exhibit, which is modeled after Before I Die…, an interactive communal project that began in New Orleans in 2011 and has been replicated in 70 countries.


Every day, I see the Face of the Sun.
Before I die, I want to know the Face of God.

The Face of God is like the Face of the Sun.
The Face of God is not like the Face of the Sun.

The Sun is 93 million miles away, its light and warmth are everywhere.
God is both far away and nearby at the same time.

The Sun nurtures us, yet does not know we exist.
God nurtures us and God created us.

Astronomers and physicists struggle to understand the Sun.
Rabbis and philosophers struggle to understand God.

To touch the Sun would be to die instantly.
We touch God and God touches us every day.

To stare directly at the Sun without protective lenses is to risk blindness.
Exodus 33:20: God says “You will not be able to see My Face, for man shall not see Me and live.”

The Sun has existed for billions of years and will exist for billions more.
God has always existed and always will exist.

The Sun is so bright it washes away the stars.
God’s light, the Shechinah, illuminates the deepest darkness.

The Sun warms the Earth even at night when we do not see.
God warms our souls even when we do not believe.

The Sun’s light consists of photons, which are simultaneously particles and waves.
God’s light of creation, the ohr ein sof, is limitless spiritual energy.

The Sun appears unchanging yet sunspots and flares show that it does change.
God appears unchanging yet Torah teaches that God does change.

The Sun exists through the tension between gravity and nuclear fusion.
God exists because God exists.

I always know that the Sun exists.
Some days, I am not sure that God exists.

The Sun’s energy comes from hydrogen fusing into helium.
The Sun’s energy comes from God.

Life is impossible without the Sun.
Life is unimaginable without God.

With the right camera and filters, I can photograph the Sun.
With the right teachers, I can study God and be enlightened.

Every day, I can see the Face of the Sun.
Before I die, I want to know the Face of God.

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How to handle difficult feedback without losing your cool

difficult-conversationsYour app’s user interface is terrible. Your business plan is flawed. Your budget is a pipe dream. Your code isn’t efficient. Clients are unhappy with your interpersonal skills. Your meetings are too long. You don’t seem to get along with your developers. You are hard to work with. You are being kicked off the task force because you aren’t adding any value. The tone of your e-mail was too informal. Your department is being given to someone else. No, we won’t need you for this project. No, we don’t need you at all.

We all get feedback. Usually it’s a combination of good and bad. There’s praise and helpful criticism. Sometimes the feedback is about our company, sometimes about our project, sometimes about our team, and sometimes, well, about us. Sometimes we take the feedback in good stride. Other times, we get hurt and angry—and don’t listen. Speaking for myself, I tend to get defensive when given feedback that’s less than glowingly effusive.

Own your feedback. A short paper published by Harvard Business Review, called“Difficult Conversations 2.0: Thanks for the Feedback,” can help.

“In the realm of feedback, the receiver—not the giver—is the key player in the exchange. Here’s how to become a world-class receiver,” write Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, founders of Triad Consulting Group. The pair teach negotiation at Harvard Law School, and have written a couple of great books, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Even When it is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly-Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood) and Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

I heartily recommend both of Stone & Heen’s books. For now, let me share some of the wisdom in the five-page paper, which is focused somewhat on feedback from managers, but which is broadly applicable to all types of feedback. Stone & Heen write:

By becoming a skillful receiver of feedback, you can achieve three important benefits:

• Take charge of your life-long learning: When we get better at receiving feedback, we take charge of our own learning and can accelerate our growth.

• Improve our relationships: The way we handle feedback has an impact on our relationships.

• Reduce stress and anxiety: For the more sensitive among us, there’s one more important benefit: getting better at receiving feedback reduces stress and anxiety.

The authors say that it’s only natural to evaluate feedback, determine what is accurate and inaccurate, and then focus on what we see as inaccurate:

You can find something wrong with just about any feedback you get. Maybe it doesn’t address the constraints you’re under, it’s outdated, biased, coming from only a few people, or only part of the story. The problem is, when we focus on what’s wrong with the feedback, we lose sight of what might be right about it; and there is also almost always something right about it.

They continue:

Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean that you always have to take the feedback or agree with the assessment. But it does mean engaging in order to first truly understand the feedback, and then deciding what to do about it.

We receive feedback every day. The feedback might be about us from our managers. It might be about products from customer comments left on an open forum, or sent via Twitter. Feedback can be elating—everyone loves a five-star review. It can also be painful and debilitating. As developers, techies, managers and humans, let’s get better at receiving it.

 

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Succession planning is an integral piece of your leadership portfolio

This essay was first published on the Reform Judaism blog on July 6, 2015.

In the Torah portion Pinchas, God instructs Moses,

“Ascend these heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was.”

Although Moses had a marvelous opportunity to see where he had led his people, the act of taking the Israelites across the border – and fighting for the milk and honey – was left to the next generation of leaders.

Indeed, part of being a good leader is knowing to ask (and helping to answer) the question, “What will success look like?” In other words, what do milk and honey look like, both literally and metaphorically? Moses faced this question on Mount Abarim; synagogue leaders face it during every board meeting and on all the days in between.

In Moses’ case, success was looking down over the Promised Land after leading the Israelites on the 40-year journey to get them to the border. It wasn’t his job to lead them further. Likewise, being a synagogue leader doesn’t necessarily mean it’s our responsibility to implement the congregation’s vision. We can start the process, but ultimately it’s not our job to own the plan forever. It is natural to expect that others will follow us in leadership roles.

Pirkei Avot teaches, “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it” – and for temple leaders, there’s no better teaching. Just as Moses did not complete the work of bringing his people into the Promised Land, it’s not always our job to complete the tasks of this board or that committee. Trustees will vote on budgets in 2025 and 2035 and 2045. They will write new strategic plans and make important decisions for years and years into the future.

As congregational leaders, we have to remember that we’re working for the long-term – and although we can see the future, we will not necessarily lead others there. As Moses asks God to “appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Eternal’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd,” so, too, must we ask, “Who will lead the temple once we’ve moved on from our committees or reached our term-limit on the board?”

Parashat Pinchas reminds us that just as Moses and God drafted Joshua to succeed Moses, part of our leadership responsibility is to envision and ensure a future in which others – with the potential and know-how to be good leaders – follow in our footsteps. Even as we boldly approach today’s projects and challenges, preparing for a leadership transition is an equally essential part of our job.

How did your predecessors prepare for the transition to a new generation of congregational leaders? How are you preparing for the next generation of leadership in your congregation?

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Finding authentic Reform Judaism

This essay was first published on the Reform Judaism blog, and was adapted from an article I wrote in December 2013 for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

Some Jewish families light Shabbat candles every Friday night. That is authentic Reform Judaism. Some families rarely or never light Shabbat candles. That, too, is authentic Reform Judaism.

Reform Judaism is both a living religion and a vibrant culture. As Reform Jews, we are charged with using the Torah as a guide to living meaningful lives and making the world a better place. We carry out rituals and maintain traditions that add meaning to our lives. It’s up to us to make informed, educated decisions about which rituals and traditions we will follow, both in our homes and in our synagogues.

As a result, some in our congregations keep strictly kosher houses, never eating non-kosher food outside the home. That’s authentic Reform Judaism. Others cook and enjoy bacon cheeseburgers and other non-kosher fare. That’s authentic Reform Judaism too.

Some say that “ethnic food” means corned beef and matzo ball soup; others prefer a little shrimp or stir-fried pork on their Passover rice. Both are authentic Reform Judaism.

What about holidays? Congregants build sukkot every year, host Passover sederim, light candles each night of Hanukkah, and fast on Yom Kippur. Well, some do. Other congregants never do any of these things, ever.

Some families observe one day of Rosh Hashanah and seven days of Passover; others follow two days of Rosh Hashanah and eight days of Passover.the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.Each of these practices represents authentic Reform Judaism.

Do you come to Friday evening or Saturday morning services to observe a yahrzeit? Do you put on tefillin? Do you attend Torah study? If so, you are an authentic Reform Jew. If you don’t know what tefillin are, you are still an authentic Reform Jew. Do you believe women should wear tallitot and read from the Torah? Some Reform Jews ascribe to this belief, others do not.

Do you trace your Jewish lineage in an unbroken line from great-grandmother to grandmother to mother to you? You are an authentic Reform Jew. Does your Jewish heritage come from your father only? Are you a Jew-by-choice? Each of you is an authentic Reform Jew.

Such diversity is our strength, and demonstrates just why Reform Judaism is the largest, fastest-growing Jewish denomination in North America.

In early December 2013, 5,000 Reform Jews attended the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)’s Biennial Convention, gathering together to study, to pray, to teach, to learn, to share ideas, to get in touch with our spirituality, to celebrate, to hear from leaders of our Movement and our world, to sing, to dance, to worship, to inspire and to be inspired. The amazing Biennial — as it always does — celebrated the diversity of authentic Reform Judaism — both here in North America and throughout the world.

Over time, we have seen rituals come and go, traditions reinvented and reinterpreted. Constant change — the foundation of Reform Judaism — is here to stay. With it, we are free to re-evaluate of what works, what is meaningful, and what speaks to our collective minds, souls and spirits.

As a URJ board member, I’m privileged to attend worship services at Reform synagogues all over North America — from Berkeley to Boston, from Dallas to Denver, from Seattle to St. Petersburg, from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, from Portland to Phoenix, from Burlingame to Brooklyn.

We can see the diversity of Reform Judaism in our Movement’s nearly 900 congregations, where, it seems, every possible practice can be found. Every shul is unique, yet we are all the same.

Some synagogues use Mishkan T’filah, some use Gates of Prayer, others use homemade siddurim. Every rabbi, every cantor, the music and the readings, the customs and the rituals — they’re all unique, they’re all the same. Most of all, each and every one is authentic Reform Judaism.

The onegs, the motzi, where the candles are lit, what’s in the kiddush cup on the bima, the ways that members, leaders, young people and guests are engaged — it’s all the same, it’s all unique, and each demonstrates authentic Reform Judaism.

I am proud — and I hope you are, too — to be part of the most vibrant Jewish movement in North America. I am proud to be part of a movement that is authentic, organic, energetic, growing, engaging, advancing, evolving, and moving. Indeed, authentic Reform Judaism never stands still; it is, in fact, why we are a movement.

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Attack of the six-rotor quadracopter photo drones

quadracopter-droneDrones are everywhere. Literally. My friend Steve, a wedding photographer, always includes drone shots. Drones are used by the military, of course, as well as spy agencies. They are used by public service agencies, like fire departments. By real estate photographers who want something better than Google Earth. By farmers checking on their fences. By security companies to augment foot patrols. And by Hollywood filmmakers, who recently won permission from the United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to operate drones on a movie sets.

Drones can also be used for mischief, as reported by Nick Wingfield in the New York Times. His story, “Now, Anyone Can Buy a Drone. Heaven Help Us” described how pranksters fly drones onto sports fields to disrupt games and infuriate fans, as well as animal-welfare activists using drones to harass hunters and scare away their prey.

Drones are everywhere. My son and I were shopping at Fry’s Electronics, a popular Silicon Valley gadget superstore. Seemingly every aisle featured drones ranging in price from under US$100 to thousands of dollars.

A popular nickname for consumer-quality drones is a “quadcopter,” because many of the models feature four separate rotors. We got a laugh from one line of inexpensive drones, which was promoting quadcopters with three, four and six rotors, such as this “Microgear 2.4 GHz. Radio Controlled RC QX-839 4 Chan 6 Axis Gyro Quadcopter Drones EC10424.” I guess they never thought about labeling it a hexcopter—or would it be a sextcopter?

As drones scale up from toys to business tools, they need to be smart and connected. Higher-end drones have cameras and embedded microprocessors. Platforms like Android (think Arduino or Raspberry Pi) get the job done without much weight and without consuming too much battery power. And in fact there are products and kits available that use those platforms for drone control.

Connectivity. Today, some drones are autonomous and disconnected, but that’s not practical for many applications. Drones flying indoors could use WiFi, but in the great outdoors, real-time connectivity needs a longer reach. Small military and spy drones use dedicated radios, and in some cases, satellite links. Business drones might go that path, but could also rely upon cellular data. Strap a smartphone to a drone, and you have sensors, connectivity, microprocessor, memory and local storage, all in one handy package. And indeed, that’s being done today too. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Samsung Galaxy S4!

Programming drones is going to be an exciting challenge, leveraging the skills needed for building conventional mobile apps to building real mobile apps. When a typical iPhone or Android app crashes, no big deal. When a drone app crashes, the best-case scenario is a broken fan blade. Worst case? Imagine the lawsuits if the drone hits somebody, causes an automobile accident, or even damages an aircraft.

Drones are evolving quickly. While they may seem like trivial toys, hobbyist gadgets or military hardware, they are likely to impact many aspects of our society and, perhaps, your business. Intrigued? Let me share two resources:

InterDrone News: A just-launched newsletter from BZ Media, publisher of SD Times. It provides a unique and timely perspective for builders, buyers and fliers of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles. Sign up for free.

InterDrone Conference & Expo: Mark your calendar for the International Drone Conference and Exposition, Oct. 13-15, 2015, in Las Vegas. If you use drones or see them in your future, that’s where you’ll want to be.