There’s a new version of the ISO 9001 quality standard coming. The proposed draft, ISO 9001:2008, is an incremental evolution over the previous version, ISO 9001:2000. It should be out in October or November.

The ISO 9000 family addresses quality management. There are three specifications in the family, of which ISO 9001 is the biggie:

ISO 9000, Quality management systems — Fundamentals and vocabulary. Last updated in 2005, it defines terminology for talking about quality.

ISO 9001, Quality management systems — Requirements. This tells you what you have to do in order to have quality in your products and services.

ISO 9004, Quality management systems — Guidelines for performance improvements. This tells you how to continuously improve quality.

(In case you’re wondering, ISO 9002 and ISO 9003 were rolled into ISO 9001 with the ISO 9001:2000 update.)

Dilbert cartoons lampoon many aspects of ISO 9000, such as the insistence that everything be labeled, and every process be documented. In one set of strips, a character was putting a sign next to the coffee maker, saying “Coffee Maker,” in order to satisfy ISO 9000 requirements.

In large part, a company’s auditable compliance with ISO 9000 has to do with the thoroughness of its documentation: the standard is all about how you manage quality, not quality itself. To put it succinctly:

• It doesn’t matter if your products suck, as long as you follow well-documented processes to make them.

• It doesn’t matter if your processes are inefficient, as long as you carefully measure how closely you adhere to them.

What’s new in ISO 9001:2008? According to the ISO, not much.

ISO 9001:2008 will be the fourth edition of the standard which was first published in 1987. The third edition, published in 2000, represented a thorough revision, including new requirements and a sharpened customer focus, reflecting developments in quality management and experience gained since the publication of the initial version.

ISO’s rules for the development of standards require their periodic review to decide if they need revising, maintaining or withdrawing. Compared to the 2000 revision, ISO 9001:2008 represents fine-tuning, rather than a thorough overhaul. It introduces clarifications to the requirements existing in ISO 9001:2000, based on user experience over the last eight years, and changes that are intended to improve further compatibility with the ISO 14001:2004 standard for environmental management systems.

I can’t wait to see what Dilbert and Wally have to say about it!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

This week, the Daily Telegraph has been running a list of the 100 ugliest cars, according to a reader poll. Some of the cars may not be familiar to you, since they weren’t sold in the U.S. Those funny little European cars are really, well, funny.

Ninety-four of the cars on this list I agree are ugly, especially their #1 choice. I’ll leave it to you to read the article. But six others I don’t agree with at all, and so will protest here:

#94 Porche Boxster – I always thought they were cute.

#88 Aston Martin Bulldog (pictured) – with only one car actually made, it doesn’t really belong on the list. But I like the long, low lines.

#67 Lexus 430SC – What’s wrong with it?

#59 Ford Mustang “Fox Body” – thing of beauty, my friends, thing of beauty.

#28 Toyota Scion xB – The original “box on wheels” is one of my favorite cars. Too bad the 2008 redesign ruined it.

#14 Triumph TR7 – A great design, what’s not to like?

Okay. I’ve had my say. What do you think?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Major newspapers and news services keep “file” obituaries for famous living people — celebrities, political leaders, business leaders, and the like. That way, if something horrible happens, most of the person’s life story is already researched and written. (Cue your recording of Dirty Laundry, by Don Henley.)

Every so often, one of those file obits accidentally slips out. That’s what happened Wednesday afternoon, when Bloomberg News posted its file obit for Apple’s Steve Jobs. While the file obit was marked “Hold For Release – Do Not Use,” it’s still bad that it got out.

Bloomberg retracted the story shortly thereafter — but not after the snafu became its own news story. Read the coverage of this in the Silicon Valley Business Journal and the London Times, for example.

The whole file obit is available from Gawker. It’s fascinating reading. They’re also the source of our graphic.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

A story in the Daily Mail describes a 916-foot cruise ship, The Enchantment of the Seas — and how it was extended by 73 feet to add 151 more cabins, pool enhancements and another restaurant.

The story says,

Such measures may seem extreme, but the £30 million cost of the job is just a fraction of the £500 million – and years of labour – needed to launch a new ship.

The whole project only took six weeks. Astounding. Check out the pictures in the article. Wouldn’t it have have been neat to see in drydock?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

For the past week, every time I post on the blog, I’ve been told that Blogger has received my Aug. 19 request for a human review of the blog (see “Google Spam Blog update“).

Today, we’re back to square one. Blogger has again forgotten about the Aug. 19 request. Blogger has again told me that Z Trek appears to be a spam blog. I must again fill out a form to request a human review.

This will now be my fourth request for a review. For the fourth time, I’m assured:

Request Received

We have received your request for a review to verify that your blog is not a spam blog. Someone will look over your blog and respond to [my email address]

I haven’t received a response yet. What are the odds this time?

You can read the first post in this thread here, and learn about Google’s Spam blog policies here. This all started in early August, when Google accidentally labeled many blogs as spam blogs.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

My Glaswegian wife was delighted to find across a Scots version of the Wikipedia. Or, as they say,

Guid tae see ye at the Scots Wikipædia, the first encyclopædia in the Scots leid!

Started in June 2005, it’s up to 2,464 articles.

There are also versions of the Wikipedia in other languages spoken in the British Isles:

Gaeilge na hÉireann (Erse Gaelic)
Gàidhlig na h-Alba (Scots Gaelic)
Gaelg Vanninagh (Manx)
Cymraeg (Welsh)
Karnuack (Cornish)
Nouormand (Norman)

Talk about your Long Tail….

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

We experienced abnormally high CPU and memory utilization on our Web servers over the weekend, and were wondering why.

Now, we think we know: there’s a new SQL Injection attack making the rounds of the Internet. The problems we experienced were exactly as Greg Hughes describes in his Aug. 12 blog entry, “SQL Injection attacks in the wild.”

In our case, the attack did no damage, beyond sucking up CPU cycles (and utilizing memory). The effect was similar to that of a denial-of-service (DOS) attack.

If your Web apps aren’t protected against SQL Injection attacks, SHAME ON YOU, you naughty person. Your top development priority for this week should be validating all input before passing anything to the database tier.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The quote marks in the headline make it particularly ironic.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

MIT Press’s massive new tome is excellently researched, thorough and a must-have for your deskside bookcase. Just make sure the shelf is sturdy enough for its 1,322 pages: This is not a book to carry in your hand luggage for your next airplane trip.

Design Concepts in Programming Languages,” by Franklyn Turbak and David Gifford, with Mark Sheldon, is designed to teach you how to design programming languages, and implement their functions. Unlike other books that I’ve seen, it emphasizes simplicity in language implementation, using a functional decomposition approach.

The book begins by covering foundational issues of language design: syntax, operational semantics, denotational semantics and fixed points. The discussion of recursive definitions is well written, and there’s a cheerful playfulness about the book that’s a breath of fresh air in such a serious work.

The second section of the book dives into dynamic semantics, covering such areas as call-by-name vs. call-by-value, state vs. stateless, and data structures.

The third section, static semantics, goes into data types, polymorphism, type reconstruction, abstract types and modules, and discusses how they affect program behavior.

The book concludes by digging into pragmatics, covering such minor details as compilation, garbage collection and metalanguages.

Summary: Recommended. List price is $75, but it’s under $60 from Amazon.

Separately: Here are some other books that I’ve reviewed recently and also our holiday book list from SD Times.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I received this sad e-mail from a software development manager who lives and works outside the United States. He was writing about an upcoming technology conference:

Hi Alan,

We had planned to send two developers to the conference, but the recent changes in US Customs initiatives has caused a change in our company policy for Business travel to the United States.

We simply cannot risk the possibility of losing sensitive client data, confidential information or electronic equipment. We respect the National Security issues of the United States, but apparently the United States no longer respects the rights of business travelers.

What he’s referring to is an initiative where U.S. Customs officials can search the contents of travels’ laptops — and confiscate them, if they believe there are secrets there.

This issue was first discussed in media reports in February, such as “Clarity Sought on Electronic Searches,” in the Washington Post. In February, security expert Bruce Schneier also discussed anecdotal reports about U.S. Customs officials seizing laptops.

The July 11 edition of USA Today carried an op/ed piece by Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, insisting that these types of searches are legal and essential. He writes,

How often do we search laptops? Of the approximately 400 million travelers who entered the country last year, only a tiny percentage were referred to secondary baggage inspection for a more thorough examination. Of those, only a fraction had electronic devices that may have been checked.

We are, of course, mindful of travelers’ privacy. No devices are kept permanently unless there is probable cause. Likewise, any U.S. citizen’s information that is copied to facilitate a search is retained only if relevant to a lawful purpose such as a criminal or national security investigation, and otherwise is erased. Special privacy procedures govern the handling of commercial and attorney-client information.

An Aug. 11 statement by Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs, says,

… And finally, to allay any concerns the business community or others may have that their personal or trade information might be put at risk by traveling with their laptops, I urge you to look at our track record. Every day, thousands of commercial entry documents, shipping manifests, container content lists, and detailed pieces of company information are transmitted to CBP so we can effectively process entries and screen cargo shipments bound for the United States. This information is closely guarded and governed by strict privacy procedures. Information from passenger laptops or other electronic devices is treated no differently.

Those official assurances may be small consolation to travelers whose computers contain confidential business data or sensitive trade secrets.

My advice to all travelers, but especially those traveling internationally: Leave your regular laptop at home. Instead, carry a “bare” laptop, with operating system and applications only. No data, no access codes or passwords. Instead, use Web-hosted applications and remote storage to get to your data once you’re at your destination.

Not only is that best for keeping your private data private against prying eyes, but it’ll also be best in case your laptop is otherwise lost or stolen.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I’m playing with my new rare-earth element sample set, and loving it. The rare-earth set came in a nice wood base with cover. I bought it from Metallium Inc., for $125, and it arrived a few days ago.

The rare-earth elements — the 17 elements encompassing scandium (21), yttrium (39), and lanthanum (57) through lutetium (71) — are fascinating, both historically and chemically. I have several interesting element and mineral samples on my desk, including a large ingot of metallic silicon that I got in Nevada. But the rare-earth element set is my favorite.

The set contains sealed samples of all the rare-earth elements (except for promethium, of course). The samples weigh between .5 and 1 grams, and the glass ampules are vacuum filled. The photo is of my set, without the clear cover. (Click the picture to enlarge.)

I’m very impressed with the Metallium folks. They shipped out the set in just a few days, and it was well-designed and well-packed. The metal samples look great. I can enthusiastically recommend buying from them.

On the Metallium Web site, they show a set of time-lapse photos showing what happens if you expose the rare-earth elements to air. They start out looking nice. After four days, europium is visibly starting to corrode, and it’s gone in a month. After a couple of weeks, lanthanum is looking sad. They kept the experiment running for four years. Check it out…

I’m definitely going to purchase more from Metallium. What should it be: the 46 “coins” stamped from pure elemental metals? Some half-inch rods? A chunk of osmium? How about the 76-element set?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

You have a Mac, and someone e-mails you a document created with Microsoft Office 2007 for Windows, or Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. If the file is in Microsoft’s new Open XML file format (with a .docx or .xlsx extension), here are three ways you can read it.

• Use Office 2008. If you have Microsoft Office 2008 for the Mac, there’s no problem opening the file, as Office 2008 natively supports the .docx format. Just double-click it, or do or whatever you usually do, to open the file.

• Use Office 2004. If you have Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac, it doesn’t natively support .docx. However, you can install the “Open XML File Format Converter for Mac.” Once you’ve done that, Microsoft Office 2004 will be able to read and write .docx files without any further ado. This assumes, of course, that you have admin privileges and can install software on your Mac. You should also be running the latest patched version of Office 2004; as of this moment, it’s 11.5.2. If you’re running an earlier version, you can download the patch here.

• Use TextEdit. You can read, edit, print and write .docx-formatted document using TextEdit, the mini word processor included with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. No additional software is required. The easiest way to do this is to save the .docx file to your desktop. Right-click on it. (That’s Control-Click if you don’t have a right mouse button.) Select Open With -> TextEdit from the context menu. There you are.

Once the document is opened in TextEdit, you can File -> Save As the document as “Word 97 Format (doc)” for use with older versions of Microsoft Word, or File -> Save As as “Rich Text Format (RTF)” for use with other word processors.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

In a rule approved on Aug. 19, the U.S. government promises to reduce the number of automated recording telemarketing calls you receive. Those changes can’t come too soon.

Every day this week, my phone has rung with the same recording message: “Don’t be alarmed, but this is your final opportunity to get lower interest rates….” And there’s no way to stop ’em.

The new ruling from the Federal Trade Commission expressly bars telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages, unless a consumer previously has agreed to accept such calls from the seller.

According to the FTC, the new rule — known as “16 CFR Part 310, Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR)” — “will not affect calls that deliver purely ‘informational’ prerecorded messages — notifying recipients, for example, that their flight has been canceled, that they have a service appointment, or similar messages. Such purely ‘informational’ calls are not covered by the TSR because they do not attempt to sell the called party any goods or services.”

You can read a clear summary of the new rules in a press release from the FTC. You can also download the entire 111-page ruling as a PDF.

When does all this happen? According to the FTC ruling,

The prerecorded call amendment has an effective date of December 1, 2008, for provisions requiring that all prerecorded telemarketing calls provide an automated interactive opt-out mechanism, and an effective date of September 1, 2009, for provisions requiring a written agreement from consumers to receive such calls.

The ruling also includes provisions for reducing the number of “abandoned calls.” That’s when a telemarketing company’s predictive dialing system calls you, you answer, but just hear a click and a dial tone. The call was disconnected because the telemarketer didn’t have a human representative ready to talk to you. According to the summary,

Inevitably, a call will sometimes connect when no sales representative is available. The TSR sets a limit on how often this can occur. It requires that at least 97 percent of a telemarketer’s calls that are answered in person — not by an answering machine — be connected to a salesperson within two seconds after a consumer answers. This is designed to minimize the number of “dead air” and “hang-up” calls that result when no salesperson is available to take the call.

I wish that percentage was 100%. If you don’t have anyone available, don’t dial. That would increase the telemarketer’s costs, or reduce their call volume, however, so the direct-marketing industry successfully lobbied the percentage down to 97%.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Why would you buy communications services from a value-subtracted reseller?

I’m helping a local non-profit revamp its telecommunications infrastructure. We’re seeking a solution that combines telephony and broadband enough to support a staff of about 20 individuals. Bandwidth and phone requirements are consistent with the needs of a small office, but occasionally traffic can burst up. Naturally, cost is a factor. We’ve talked to several direct service providers, and also some resellers of telecommunications services.

One thing is clear: the resellers are not adding value. They are not VARs. They’re VSRs — value subtracted resellers. They offer they same services, but with more layers of red tape. They can’t answer a question about services, because they’re not offering them, they’re just reselling them). They can’t offer service level guarantees, for the same reason; they’re contracts are filled with weasel words. They’re adding nothing. But they sure push you hard to sign a contract.

Feh. We’re not bothering with any of the VSRs. We’ll be contracting directly with a carrier for the new service.

It’s like the mall kiosks for companies reselling cellular services from AT&T, Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, and so-on. Their prices aren’t discounted, and they have a smaller selection of handsets. The staff is often poorly trained. Usually there’s a full-service AT&T, Verizon, Cingular or T-Mobile store in the same mall, or close to it. Why the heck would someone choose to get their phone and service from one of those rinky-dink kiosk resellers?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Watch BZ Media president Ted Bahr explain why our company is bullish about print publishing — even though we recently scaled back the launch of Systems Management News.

Earlier this week, Ted was interviewed on “From Print to Digital,” a Web-based television show from Scribe Media. This week’s episode focused on publishers bucking the Web-über-alles trend. We’re proud to be heading in the opposite direction from many of our competitors.

The description of the 34-minute show says,

What’s changed about launching a print magazine in a Web world? In the latest installment of ‘From Print to Digital,’ we pose the question to Mark Taussig, publisher of ecohome (35,000 circulation), which in February was introduced as Green Products and Technology, and Ted Bahr, publisher of Systems Management News (40,000 circulation), which rolled out in March.

Launching a print magazine even in good times is a gamble, but going to market with an ink-on-paper product amid an economic slowdown could be a real bear. For Bahr and Taussig, it hasn’t been easy; Bahr had to dial back the frequency of Systems Management News to monthly from biweekly and both publications debuted fairly late in the ‘08 budget season. However, they say they’re in it for the long haul and insist they have the data to justify the investments.

Still, the onus is on print products to now more than ever have rock-solid content (that differentiates itself from online content), high-quality photography and high-quality paper. As Taussig put it: “You have to maximize the experience that print can deliver.”

And while the younger crowd may be wedded to the Web, middle managers still appreciate (and rely) on print media, Taussig and Bahr say. The bottom line: as long as there is an audience that wants to receive a print product and advertisers want to support it, print products will continue to roll off the presses.

Watch and enjoy! I certainly did.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

BZ Media was just named to the 2008 Inc. 5,000 — the list of the fastest growing private companies in America.

In the 2008 listing, BZ Media is ranked as the 3,597th fastest growing company. That’s a drop from where we were on the 2007 listing, which was in the 2,529th position.

The reasons: Investment in the launch of Systems Management News. Also, it’s harder to grow from a bigger base.

Even so, it’s great to be on the list for a second year! Wa-hoo!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Blogger still thinks this is a spam blog — and the company forgot that it promised on Aug. 12 to have a human review the site. A warning page, appearing after my previous post, told me that I must request a review in order to have the site unclassified.

So, for a third time, I’ve requested a human review. Blogger now tells me that I first requested the review on Aug. 19.

I think Google needs a new algorithm.

See my previous posting, “Google insists that Z Trek is a ‘spam blog.’

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Sun Microsystems has figured out how to make money by giving away free hardware. It charges a small fortune for hardware and software support. In this case, I just received a quote for $1,358.95 for a one-year service agreement for my three-year-old Sun Ultra 20 workstation.

Let me provide some background.

At JavaOne 2005, Sun offered a promotional deal for developers who wanted a “free” a Sun workstation running Solaris with oodles of developer tools. All you had to do was buy a three-year support contract for $29.95/month. That came to just over $1,000, and since the list price of the machine alone was $895, it seemed a good deal. Intrigued, I signed up immediately, and in September 2005 received the following:

A63LWB1AE512DR-PRO $0.00
Sun Ultra 20 Workstation, 1 AMD Opteron 144 CPU, 512-MB Memory, A TI Entry 2D Graphics, 80-GB 7200 RPM SATA Disk, DVD-ROM, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, 6 USB 2.0 & 2 IEEE1394a Ports, 1 PCI Express x16, 2 PCI Express x1 & 4 PCI Slots, Dev Tools & Solaris 10 Pre-loaded

SUB-A63-3S $1078.20
3 Year Subscription Promotion for Sun Ultra 20 Workstation with Solaris 10, Sun Java Studio 10 and Sun Java Studio Creator

It was a sweet little machine. I wrote a review of it (which Sun liked so much that it quoted it on their Ultra 20 Web page). In mid-2007, though, the silver-colored desktop migrated into the garage, where it sat unused until 12 days ago, when my son resurrected it as an Ubuntu Linux desktop (see “From a pile of components to Ubuntu Linux in 25 minutes“).

By an odd coincidence, it happens to be almost three years since I received the machine, and Sun’s database shows the service contract is due for renewal. I wouldn’t have renewed it in any case, but I was appalled at the quoted price tag of $1,358.95 for a single year of support, split fairly evenly between the hardware, the Solaris operating system, and the Sun Studio 10 development suite. Here’s what the quote said:

1x SLVR-SYS-SVC Silver System Service Plan $490.20
Covered product:
A63LWB1AE 512DR-PRO Ultra 20 Workstation – Sun Ultra 20 Entry Config

2x STND-SW-SVC Standard Software Service Plan $868.55
Covered products:
SSSI9-100-T99M Sun Studio 10
SSSI9-T99M-3ST U Slmkt SP/x86/LX

Can you believe it?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

This dialog in this two-minute Lego Star Wars parody video is a little hard to understand, but it’s wickedly funny. It’s probably funnier than the new movie, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”

Yes, it’s from 2006. Yes, I’m a little slow to find these things sometimes!

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Today’s spam scam has the not-too-unusual subject line, “5 BIG Reasons to Join My Internet Business…”

But the best part is the first paragraph:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard about the massively successful launch of My Internet Business.

Nope, sorry, I haven’t heard about your multi-level marketing scheme, Kylon & Naomi Trower, and nor do I want to. Nor does any honest person, or anyone who doesn’t want to be taken for a ride.

What’s fascinating about the “My Internet Business” scheme is that the people behind it have set up several fake Web sites claiming to “review” the scam, so that if folks search the Web trying to validate it, they’ll come across what appear to be regular people claiming that it’s the real deal. Clever.

You can tell them because they often use the same language over and over again, like “My Internet Business: Scam or Legit?” They tell you, of course, that it is totally legit, and here’s how you can sign up….

The deal is that you have to buy your way into becoming a franchise. You make money by signing up more people as franchisees. You recruit them by sending out spam. It’s a multi-level pyramid scheme.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Multithreaded development in low-level language can be tricky, in large part due to race conditions, deadlocks, and the like. For example, say you have two threads. Perhaps the first thread is waiting on input from the second thread — while the second thread is waiting on input from the first thread. Oops.

There are a whole bunch of problems inherent in multithreaded development. They’re compounded when the application is on multiple cores or multiple processors.

How do you overcome those challenges? There are many coding techniques, such as thread pool and message passing, but they are hard to implement without having the programmer bogging down in multithreading details, and losing sight of the application logic. Different concurrency platforms can simplify that task, such as OpenMP, or parallel languages, like Carnegie Mellon’s NESL, or libraries, like Intel’s Threading Building Blocks, or language extensions, like MIT’s Cilk.

Cilk Arts, the company that’s created a commercial version of Cilk called Cilk++, has just finished a well-written eBook, “How to Survive the Multicore Revolution,” that introduces the challenges of multithreaded development on multicore systems. Only a small part of the eBook, written by Charles Leiserson and Ilya Mirman, is a commercial for Cilk++. (You can download the document without leaving your contact info, which is greatly appreciated.)

While you’re at it, read about my Threading Maturity Model (ThMM), proposed in January 2007. What the heck, eh?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It was embarrassing! I was sitting in a address at a conference in San Francisco, taking notes. My trusty 12” PowerBook G4 told me that it had about 45 minutes of battery life remaining, more than enough for my purposes. (I often use that computer for day trips, because it’s smaller and lighter than my 15” MacBook Pro.)

A minute later, the notebook shut down. Out of gas.

PowerBooks and MacBooks, like most notebooks, estimate how much battery life is left using both data and heuristics. For data, it measures the voltage on the battery, and also measures the current draw of the laptop. That’s the easy part. Knowing how long that battery will keep providing the necessary voltage, given that current draw, that’s the hard part. It’s particularly tricky because no two batteries are exactly the same, and a battery’s ability to provide power diminishes over time.

Each battery has a small internal processor that tracks its performance, and communicates with the computer to share that data. If you have two batteries, the computer knows which one is installed. The battery’s microprocessor can tell how often that battery has been recharged, and guess at how well that battery will perform over time. However, that’s just an estimate.

You can also calibrate each battery’s processor from time to time, so that it can provide more accurate time-remaining estimates. That’s what I hadn’t done for ages. Apple recommends that you do this every few months; I think it’s good enough to do this about once per year for each notebook battery.

Apple provides a document on this, but here’s a summary of the process:

For older Mac notebooks, such as the iBook and PowerBook, it’s easy:
1. Plug the power adapter in and fully charge your computer’s battery until the battery indicator lights turn off and the adapter plug light goes from amber to green, which indicates that the battery is fully charged.

2. Disconnect the power adapter and use your iBook or PowerBook. When your battery gets low, you will see the low battery warning dialog on the screen. Continue to use your computer until it goes to sleep. At that point the battery has been sufficiently drained for calibration.

3. Connect the power adapter and leave it connected until the battery is fully charged again.

For Intel-based MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air notebooks, the calibration process is more complex:

1. Plug in the power adapter and fully charge your PowerBook’s battery until the light ring or LED on the power adapter plug changes to green and the onscreen meter in the menu bar indicates that the battery is fully charged.

2. Allow the battery to rest in the fully charged state for at least two hours. You may use your computer during this time as long as the adapter is plugged in.

3. Disconnect the power adapter with the computer still on and start running the computer off battery power. You may use your computer during this time. When your battery gets low, you will see the low battery warning dialog on the screen.

4. Continue to keep your computer on until it goes to sleep. Save all your work and close all applications when the battery gets very low, before the computer goes to sleep.

5. Turn off the computer or allow it to sleep for five hours or more.

6. Connect the power adapter and leave it connected until the battery is fully charged again.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I haven’t lost a cell phone yet.

In the 1990s, I left a brand-new Sony Discman, on its maiden cross-country flight, in a seat-back pocket. It was never to be seen again.

Also, in that decade, I dropped my Day-Timer datebook at O’Hare Airport, but the airport’s lost-and-found department mailed it back to me.

I’ve also lost one spare laptop battery (seatback pocket), several AC adapters (hotel rooms, mostly), books (hotel rooms, mostly), and at least two pair of prescription sunglasses (rental cars)

The loss of a piece of equipment can be costly (iPod, digital camera, noise-canceling headphones, GPS), devastating to business (USB key, PDA, laptop, ID card) and threatening to personal identity (wallet, laptop, PDA, cell phone).

In her blog post yesterday, my good friend Amy Wohl makes a good point: Electronic tools need tethers.

Have you lost any of those items? Did you ever get ’em back?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

It’s a pleasure to write praise for a government agency, instead of a complaint. In this case, the California Dept. of Motor Vehicles deserves the compliment.

Saturday, August 9: My driver’s license renewal form comes in the mail. “Congratulations, you are eligible to renew by mail/Internet,” the letter reads.

Sunday, August 10: I log in to the DMV site, and provide a few bits of personal information, plus a code number printed on the renewal letter. The whole process takes less than ten minutes, including paying for the renewal by credit card ($28).

Friday, August 15: The driver’s license arrives in the mail.

That’s eGov done right.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Within the past few days, Google has suffered short-term e-mail outages on its Gmail service.

The company acknowledges one outage, but there were several periods this week when Gmail wasn’t accessible via its Web interface or through POP3. (I alluded to this in yesterday’s posting, “Google insists that Z Trek is a ‘spam blog.’ “)

How do I know this? I support a non-profit that uses Google Apps, and it relies upon Gmail. Throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday, I received calls from the non-profit’s staff telling me that they couldn’t get into e-mail through the Web interface or through Outlook. As far as I can tell, no mail was lost.

Google acknowledged one Gmail outage in a message, “We feel your pain, and we’re sorry,” posted to the GmailBlog on Monday evening. Unlike other online services, like Apple’s MobileMe or Amazon’s Web Services, Google doesn’t have a service health dashboard. Or, if they do, I haven’t found it.

We feel your pain, and we’re sorry
Monday, August 11, 2008 6:05 PM
Posted by Todd Jackson, Gmail Product Manager

Many of you had trouble accessing Gmail for a couple of hours this afternoon, and we’re really sorry. The issue was caused by a temporary outage in our contacts system that was preventing Gmail from loading properly. Everything should be back to normal by the time you read this.

We heard loud and clear today how much people care about their Gmail accounts. We followed all the emails to our support team and user group, we fielded phone calls from Google Apps customers and friends, and we saw the many Twitter posts. (We also heard from plenty of Googlers, who use Gmail for company email.) We never take for granted the commitment we’ve made to running an email service that you can count on.

We’ve identified the source of this issue and fixed it. In addition, as with all issues that affect Gmail and our other services, we’re conducting a full review of what went wrong and moving quickly to update our internal systems and procedures accordingly. We don’t usually post about problems like this on our blog, but we wanted to make an exception in this case since so many people were impacted. In general, though, if you spot a problem with your Gmail account, please visit the Gmail Help Center and user group, where the Gmail Guides are your fastest source of updates.

Again, we’re sorry.

Google still calls Gmail a “beta” service — even though it’s a central part of their offerings. It’s also part of their paid Google Apps Premium Edition service, which costs $50 per user per year for commercial entities. It’s free for non-profits.

I am disappointed that Mr. Jackson wrote, “we don’t usually post about problems like this on our blog.” If Google wants customers to rely upon its services, it should be open and transparent about problems — publishing uptime reports, telling customers causes the inevitable problems, and what it’s doing about them. That builds trust.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

I’ve written about several domain-name scams before, such as the Century Net Group Stocks Limited one, the Karl Fischer one, and the Asia Domain Name Registration Limited one.

Going by the number of hits to my blog every day from people searching the Internet for ‘Karl Fischer,’ that one is still going strong.

Here’s the latest one. Don’t be fooled, don’t respond.

Subject: Intellectual propety rights(TO CEO)

Dear CEO,

We are the domain name registration organization in Asia, which mainly deal with international company’s in Asia. We have something important need to confirm with your company.

On the August 11 2008, we received an application formally. One company named “Tianwei Holdings Limited Company” wanted to register following

Internet Trademark: {your trademark here}
Domain names:{your domain names here}

through our body.

During our auditing procedure we find out that the alleged “Tianwei Holdings Limited Company” has no trade mark, Intellectual property, nor patent even similar to that word. we found that the keywords and domain names applied for registration are as same as your company’s name and trademark. one point need you to confirm: whether this alleged “Tianwei Holdings Limited Company” is your business partner or distributor in ASIA. if so, we will complete their registration. These days we are dealing with it.

If you are not in charge of this please transfer this email to appropriate dept. in order to deal with this issue better, please let someone who is responsible for trademark or domain name contact me as soon as possible.

Best Regards,

Check Domain Name dept.
SK Holdings Company ltd

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Twice now, Blogger (owned by Google) has imposed limitations on my blog, claiming that it “has characteristics of a spam blog.”


The first time came on at the end of July. An email from Blogger warned that my blog was locked, and would be deleted soon.


Your blog at: has been identified as a potential spam blog. To correct this, please request a review by filling out the form at {link}

Your blog will be deleted within 20 days if it isn’t reviewed, and you’ll be unable to publish posts during this time. After we receive your request, we’ll review your blog and unlock it within two business days. If this blog doesn’t belong to you, you don’t have to do anything, and any other blogs you may have won’t be affected.

We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this error. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers like you instead of to spammers. For more information, please see Blogger Help:

Thank you for your understanding and for your help with our spam-fighting efforts.


The Blogger Team

I immediately clicked the link to request that human review. I also downloaded and backed up all of my blog posts, from September 2006 onwards, just in case.

For three days I heard nothing, and the blog remained locked. Suddenly, it was unlocked. I never heard a thing about it from Blogger — no email, no nothing.

Here’s what Blogger says about spam blogs

As with many powerful tools, blogging services can be both used and abused. The ease of creating and updating webpages with Blogger has made it particularly prone to a form of behavior known as link spamming. Blogs engaged in this behavior are called spam blogs, and can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site.

Spam blogs cause various problems, beyond simply wasting a few seconds of your time when you happen to come across one. They can clog up search engines, making it difficult to find real content on the subjects that interest you. They may scrape content from other sites on the web, using other people’s writing to make it look as though they have useful information of their own. And if an automated system is creating spam posts at an extremely high rate, it can impact the speed and quality of the service for other, legitimate users.

Well, maybe my site is irrelevant or nonsensical, but I don’t think it’s all that repetitive repetitive repetitive…

I felt a lot better when on August 1, the company blogged that a mistake had been made in a post entitled “Spam Fridays“:

Spam Fridays

While we wish that every post on this blog could be about cool features or other Blogger news, sometimes we have to step in and admit a mistake.

We’ve noticed that a number of users have had their blogs mistakenly marked as spam, and wanted to sound off real quick to let you know that, despite it being Friday afternoon, we are working hard to sort this out. So to those folks who have received an email saying that your blog has been classified as spam and can’t post right now, we offer our sincere apologies for the trouble.

We hope to have this resolved shortly, and appreciate your patience as we work through the kinks.

They followed up with another posting on August 2, called “You Are Not Spam“:

You Are Not Spam

You knew that already, and now we do too. We have now restored all accounts that were mistakenly marked as spam yesterday. (See: Spam Fridays)

We want to offer our sincerest apologies to affected bloggers and their readers. We’ve tracked down the problem to a bug in our data processing code that locked blogs even when our algorithms concluded they were not spam. We are adding additional monitoring and process checks to ensure that bugs of this magnitude are caught before they can affect your data.

At Blogger, we strongly believe that you own and should control your posts and other data. We understand that you trust us to store and serve your blog, and incidents like this one are a betrayal of that trust. In the spirit of ensuring that you always have access to your data, we have been working on importing and exporting tools to make it easier to back up your posts. If you’d like a sneak peek at the Import / Export tool, you can try it out on Blogger in Draft.

Our restoration today was of all blogs that were mistakenly marked as spam due to Friday’s bug. Because spam fighting inherently runs the risk of false positives, your blog may have been mis-classified as spam for other reasons. If you are still unable to post to your blog today you can request a review by clicking Request Unlock Review on your Dashboard.

Great… but then, yesterday, my blog was flagged again! Now, whenever I go to post (including this one), I have to do captcha-based validation. Blogger says,

Blogger’s spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What’s a spam blog?) Since you’re an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

We received your unlock request on August 12, 2008. On behalf of the robots, we apologize for locking your non-spam blog. Please be patient while we take a look at your blog and verify that it is not spam.

How often am I going to have to go through this? At least I can post, but this is very annoying. When you couple this with the recent service outages on Gmail, you have to wonder if Google is overreaching.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Good enough is good enough. But how good is good enough?

That’s the question being asked by Bola Rotibi, one of the industry’s savviest analysts. You may know Bola from her time at Ovum, one of the U.K.’s leading analyst firms. These days, Bola is at MWD Advisors, a British firm formed in 2005.

In her most recent blog post, “The dilemma of ‘good enough’ in software quality,” Bola writes,

One of my conclusions was that the case for “good enough” is no longer good enough in delivering software. But some might argue that this viewpoint is promoting the notion of static analysis as a means of perfecting something – “gilding the lily” – rather than an essential tool for knowing whether something is “good enough”.

She adds,

The attitude of ‘good enough’ has been hijacked as an excuse for “sloppy” attitudes and processes and a “let’s suck it and see” mentality. Surely such an attitude cannot continue to exist in delivering software that is increasingly underpinning business critical applications?

She’s completely right, but one of the challenges she doesn’t address is that it’s difficult to communicate, through requirements documents or software models, exactly how good software should be. “Zero defects” doesn’t mean anything. So, how do you unambiguiously quantify how much quality you’re willing to pay for (and wait for)?

Imagine that you’re writing embedded software. The quality that you need for an anti-lock brake system for your car is different than the quality you’ll need in that car’s satellite entertainment system. The quality of software you’ll need in a digital camera’s auto-focus algorithm, say, a digital camera’s photo-retouching algorithms.

In enterprise software, the quality of that you need in some AJAX code for a bank’s secure online transaction system is different than the quality required for the bank’s “welcome” video message from the chairman on the home page.

How do you express this?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Apple currently offers two keyboards for its desktop and notebook Macs.

• If you opt for the wired standard keyboard, you get a full-sized keyboard with full alphanumeric keys, function keys, 22-key numeric keypad and 16-key cursor keypad. The benefit of the aluminum full-sized keyboard is that it’s less expensive ($49.95), doesn’t require batteries, and has two USB 2.0 ports. It’s also 17 inches wide, and is tethered to your Mac by a standard USB cable.

• If you choose the wireless Bluetooth keyboard, you may be surprised to realize that the keyboard is tiny — it looks like a laptop keyboard. It only contains the alphanumeric keys with function keys. No separate numeric keypad, and only four cursor keys. It’s also more expensive ($79.95), requires batteries (3 AA cells) and doesn’t have any USB ports. The benefit is that you have a wireless keyboard that you can easily take with you, or hold in your lap, or even use from across the room. It’s only 11 inches wide, so you can stuff it into your briefcase or luggage.

This change occurred last year, when Apple introduced its aluminum iMacs and matching keyboards. Previously, when Apple sold its white plastic iMacs, you had white keyboards in a clear plastic housing. In that era, the wired keyboard and the wireless Bluetooth keyboard were identical, both offering a full complement of keys. (You can use these new keyboards with older Macs; you can also use older keyboards with new Macs.)

If you buy a new iMac or Mac Pro, you can specify whether you want the wired or wireless keyboard. If you have a MacBook, MacBook Pro or Mac Mini, you can buy a wired or wireless keyboard as an accessory.

What about typing? Both aluminum keyboards have small flat keys, like those in the MacBook. They take a while to get used to… but once you do, you’ll find them very quick and responsive. Note that some keys, like the caps lock, have to be held down for a moment for them to work; if you just tap them, they don’t function.

One of the places where it would be great to use the small wireless keyboard would be in a server room, when working with an Xserve. However, the Xserve doesn’t contain a Bluetooth transceiver, so you’ll have to use the standard wired keyboard to operate your server.

Can you use the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard with an iPhone or iPhone 3G? The answer is… no. It’s a software issue. Apple could enable that functionality by providing the appropriate Bluetooth device drivers on the iPhone through a firmware upgrade.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick


Gosh, that makes me really believe that this message is sincere. It is, however, very funny. It begins with:

I beleive i can call you friend. I am Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei. I am the youngest of the Sultan’s three brothers. But its like a joke being called a prince. The Bruneian royal family have turned me into an out cast. I am presently on exile in London.

My favorite line is,

While in Brunei,my favorite car to drive was a Ferrari 550, a sleek sports coupe that i used to take for a spin late at night when the roads were quiet. Now, I like the Mini. I drive a black small mini around London. I am been watched by private detectives employed by my Brother the Sultan. He wants to ruin me, but he cannot.

It’s your typical con game. Here’s the bait:

I still have billions of dollars safe and secure in safe countries, but i cannot touch these funds hence they are discovered by my King Brother watching my every move like a Hawk. I need you to assist me in these financial steps of securing my entitlements. You will benefit immensely from these finanacial exercise.

Yeah, right. Though I wouldn’t mind having a Ferrari 550 Maranello. Or maybe the Ferrari 550 Barchetta. Convertibles are better for late-night spins around town.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick