If you’ve been to the doctor recently, you’ve probably shared the waiting room with one or more pharmaceutical sales representatives. Almost without exception, they’re beautiful young women and men, immaculately groomed and expensively dressed.

I read in the NY Times that Big Pharm likes to recruit from college cheerleaders (see “Gimme an Rx! Cheerleaders Pep Up Drug Sales“). Certainly the girls and boys hanging out in waiting rooms look both perky and athletically trim enough to be cheerleaders.

Why would the drug companies focus on people like that as sales representatives? One would surmise it’s because that strategy pays off.

Thus, see this article in Folio, which asks, “Are you good-looking enough to sell magazine ads?” According to Josh Gordon’s story, 17 percent of a pharm site’s survey respondents say that looks matter more than anything else.

I wonder if it applies to the media business too. If so… it’s a good thing I’m not in ad sales!

In case you’re wondering where booth bunnies come from, here’s an e-mail I received from “Barbie” at The Élan Agency.

It came because we’re exhibiting at the Interop (not “Interopt”) conference at the end of April in Las Vegas. Have fun checking out their model search engine: They have men, women and children, all available for your trade-show extravaganza!

Greetings:

The Élan Agency is a top of the line model and talent agency in Las Vegas and – first – want to welcome you to our city, in advance. We would also like to offer the agency’s services to your company while here in Las Vegas. We have some of the most beautiful and professional narrators and models for your trade show needs. We have spokespersons, demonstrators; we even have entertainers and guest speakers for the entire company’s enlightenment, as well as a complete event planning department. We can schedule shows, meals, even your airline tickets.

Please let us know if there is any way we can assist you at Interopt Las Vegas 2008, and have some fun while you’re here.

Thank you,

Barbie

I echo the comments by Tina Gasperson, in her post, “Linux distro for women? Thanks, but no thanks.” It reminds me of the tool kits for women you see in all the department stores, with pink-handled screwdrivers “just for her.”

What, my wife can’t use our Craftsman screwdrivers or Black & Decker drills? We’re supposed to have two sets of tools, one for me and our son, one for my wife? Are we supposed to buy some Craftswoman tools, or get her gear from Pink & Decker? How condescending.

Software, including operating systems, should be written for people. Not for men, not for women, not for girls, not for boys. People.

I never knew that the Red Hat and SUSE were “for boys,” and that my wife is supposed to run a different server operating system than the males in the household.

How stupid is that?

I fought the hackers, and the hackers won. Here’s the story: One of our employees had a nice Dell Latitude D610 laptop, and it was totally messed up – running super-slow, lots of crashes, adware popups in the browser, and so-on.

Because this was a huge productivity problem for a key employee, we solved it by buying her a new laptop this past summer. But what about the old laptop? It ended up on a shelf in my office. It’s a good machine: 1.7GHz Pentium M processor, 1400×1050 14-inch screen, 60GB hard drive, lots of RAM, DVD player, two batteries. Physically, it’s in great shape. It’s a shame not to put that laptop back into service.

It so happened that I currently need a Windows laptop for a specific project. I pulled the Latitude off the shelf yesterday morning, scurried around to find its power supply brick (which was buried) and decided to clean it up. This shouldn’t take long, I thought.

Big mistake, at least in terms of it being easy. After many hours of scrubbing, uninstalling software (the previous user had installed every free browser toolbar known to humanity) and running Microsoft Update a few dozen times, the machine was working. Sort of. It was still incredibly slow, and the browser still was being hijacked by adware.

I ran an anti-virus check, and it discovered oodles of infestations. Dozens. Most of which the Sophos software could delete. However, there were four that it couldn’t destroy. Two of them were instances of the Virtum-Gen trojan. The other two were spyware, called ClickStream and Virtumondo. As the saying goes, I tried scrubbing, I tried soaking, nothing seemed to help.

To make a long story short, after fighting with the malware last night for several hours, I’d had enough. It’s one thing to have a “project” laptop on my desk, and keep running Microsoft Update and rebooting while I do other work on my own machine. That’s not hard. It’s another to focus intensively on removing spyware and viruses. That takes a lot of time, patience and concentration, none of which this project could justify.

So, this morning I blew away the Latitude’s hard drive and installed a clean copy of Windows XP Professional. I hadn’t wanted to do this, since there were applications on the Latitude that I wanted to keep. However, at some point you just have to admit defeat and cut your losses.

The installation process for Win XP Pro itself was interminable. It’s been a while since I last did this, and I’d forgotten how long it takes. The installation disc I had was pre-Service Pack level, and it’s taken many hours to install Windows, add the service packs, and apply all the updates and security patches. But now, at least I have a cleanly configured Windows laptop that’s not infected, and runs fast, fast, fast.

I’m glad I don’t fix PCs for a living.

“Beauty IS the Geek” is Marlo Brooke’s term, not mine. Ms. Brooke is the CEO of a company called Avatar Partners, which does supply chain consulting – RFID, that sort of thing.

Today, Avatar’s PR agency, RMS Public Relations, sent out a pitch – including the photograph on this posting. The subject line, “Story idea: Beauty IS the Geek,” astounded me. The agency’s account executive wrote,

Alan, I thought you might be interested in a story about Marlo Brooke, CEO of Avatar Partners, who breaks the mold in a male-dominated technology industry. In this case BEAUTY IS THE GEEK! (Picture attached)

This is the most obnoxious attempt to get tech coverage based on executive sex appeal since 1998. That’s when Katrina Garnett plastered ads for her company, CrossWorlds Software – with a juicy picture of herself in a slinky little black dress – all over technology and fashion magazines.

A decade ago, Ms. Garnett made a whole bunch of lonely programmers’ days. Is that really the type of trail-blazing attention that a woman tech-industry entrepreneur believes she must seek out? Today, is Avatar Partners so desperate for publicity that their public relations agency must tout the physical attributes of the company’s female CEO? Pathetic.

Ms. Brooke has a pretty face, but that young lady has some serious self-esteem issues. This is not the healthiest way to get customers and the press interested in her company.

On March 1, a blog reader responded to the news about the 2006 ACM A.M. Turing Award — which recognized Fran Allen as the first female recipient of this honor — asking a pointed question:

I guess the Lady Admiral who wrote Fortran wasn’t very important… So I won’t bother to even name her. After all, she only worked for the U.S. Government and not a large conglomerate like IBM…

I asked the Association for Computing Machinery if the Turing Award committee had a response to this question. Here’s what they told me this morning.

“Good morning Alan, and thanks for your patience. We appreciate your interest in ACM’s Turing Award, and the issue it raises about women and technology. So let me explain how the process works.

“ACM’s A.M. Turing Award recipient is selected by a committee of prominent computer scientists and engineers. The selection process is confidential, and no single person knows the history of all the deliberations over the years.

“ACM has recognized Grace Hopper with the Grace Murray Hopper Award which originated in 1971. It is presented to the outstanding young computer professional of the year. In addition, ACM is a co-sponsor of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing which is now an annual event. It is designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.

“As the demand for talented computing professionals grows, it is increasingly imperative that women and other underrepresented groups be encouraged to pursue this career path. The recognition provided by ACM’s Turing Award this year has already raised awareness of the achievements of women in the field. We hope this news will motivate girls and women to see the growing opportunities for exciting careers, and to get the recognition they have earned as critical contributors to technology and innovation.”

While I’m delighted that the ACM focuses on the issues of women and technology (which it does in a very prominent way), and that Adm. Hopper was given many other honors, it’s a shame that she was not given their highest honor.

The 2006 recipient of the ACM Turing Award is Frances E. Allen, a retired researcher from IBM. To quote from the ACM’s announcement,

Allen, an IBM Fellow Emerita at the T.J. Watson Research Center, made fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of program optimization, which translates the users’ problem-solving language statements into more efficient sequences of computer instructions. Her contributions also greatly extended earlier work in automatic program parallelization, which enables programs to use multiple processors simultaneously in order to obtain faster results. These techniques have made it possible to achieve high performance from computers while programming them in languages suitable to applications. They have contributed to advances in the use of high performance computers for solving problems such as weather forecasting, DNA matching, and national security functions.

You can learn a lot more about Ms. Allen (pictured) at the IBM Archives. It’s noteworthy that Ms. Allen is the first woman to be honored with the ACM Turing Award, and has indeed been heaped with many professional “firsts,” including being the first woman named an IBM Fellow.

Ms. Allen even has an IBM award named after her, the “Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award,” of which she was the first recipient. She also received the first Anita Borg Award for Technical Leadership in 2004. Technologically, her groundbreaking work was in compiler optimization and in cryptography.

Ms. Allen retired from IBM in 2002.

The ACM Turing Award has been presented since 1966, and according to the ACM, it’s “given to an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community. The contributions should be of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field.” I

t’s a shame that it’s taken 40 years to recognize the first woman for the most prestigious award in computing, but historically there have been few women at the highest levels of our profession. Not only was Fran Allen the right person to win the ACM Turing Award, but perhaps this honor will inspire more young women to enter the fields of computer science and software engineering. Their talents, like Allen’s, are both needed and appreciated.

cobra wheelWelcome to my blog. It has to start somewhere, and this is where it starts. And the trek had to start sometime; it should have started a long time ago, but it didn’t, so here we are.

This blog will be a spot to discuss topics of professional and personal interest to me, mainly focused on the realm of information technology, focusing on software development, security, enterprise computing, and the like.

Let me start with a story software hacking that begins, oddly enough, with an automotive service experience.

Earlier this week, I took my beloved 1993 Mustang GT to the Ford dealer for a routine maintenance, which includes a tire rotation. At about 11:00 am, I got a call from the service advisor: “Mr. Zeichick, I can’t find the key for your wheel locks. Where is it?”

I drove back to the shop, we searched high and we searched low. We couldn’t find the special key, so we skipped that part of the service.

But now I’ve got my mighty steed parked in the driveway, with a missing wheel lock key. What if I get a flat? I need to get those locks off pronto!

Wheel locks are a nuisance. However, I have expensive Ford Cobra rims, the dealer advised that their TTL (time to live) without locks would be less than a week. Ever since, I assumed that the wheel locks would do a decent job protecting the vehicle. How can I get them off without damaging the wheels? Gosh, this is going to be hard.

Time to ask an expert. I went to my local Sears hardware store with a spare lug nut, and asked my favorite salesman if he knew how to jury-rig sockets, wrenches, pry bars and other implements to get the wheel locks off. “Relax,” he laughed, and referred me to the “SK 2-Piece 1/2-Inch Drive Wheel Removal Kit” designed expressly for removing damaged lug nuts and wheel locks.

Five minutes after getting home, the lock nuts were removed, without damaging the wheels or bolts. And three of those five minutes were spent finding the half-inch socket set.

My confidence in Sears went up – while my confidence in wheels locks went down. If I could buy this tool “over the counter” at my local hardware store, then presumably anyone who wanted to lift wheels would already have one. Bottom line: those wheel locks wouldn’t have even slowed a thief down. Ignorance was bliss. My ignorance could have cost me, big-time, especially if those had been really expensive rims, or if the car was routinely parked on the street, instead of in my garage.

When it comes to people who want to break into your system, there are two types: technical experts, who will use their superior knowledge and experience to find and exploit your Web site or application vulnerabilities – and “script kiddies,” who will simply apply pre-existing hack techniques and use tools created by other people. Just like any petty thief could buy the wheel-lock removal kit at Sears, so any script kiddie can download hacking tools for free.

Now I’m hunting for a better grade of wheel lock… and you should be making sure that your own app-security measures won’t fall to the first script kiddie who decides to target your applications and data with an over-the-counter tool.