I received this verbatim identical message about 15 times from a variety of recipients over the past few days. Gosh, this makes me really want to shop there. Not!

Subject: Dear friend…! 1

Dear friend,

How are you doing recently? I found a good website last week: www.mobliec.com.

They do internationa business and they sell different kinds of electronic products. Such as laptops, digital cameras, phones, notebooks and so on. Their products are new and original and have 3 years international warranty, so we can fix the product in our own country for free. Now , the Cristmas day is coming,they are promoting their products. So the prices are very competitive. I am sure it will be a good choice for us.

Greetings! p

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The perfect stocking stuffer, the Breguet 5347PT/11/9ZU.

It’s described in the most recent Tourneau catalog as “Classique Grand Complication, 950 platinum with twin rotating tourbillons, ring-shaped dial forming a flange in 18K silvered gold, back of the movement bears a hand-engraved drawing representing the solar system, hand-wound movement, $402,800.”

Sheesh. For four hundred grand you don’t even get a self-winding watch?

The Breguet website goes into more detail about all the moving parts:

Classique « Grande Complication » wristwatch in 950 platinum. Hand-wound movement. Ring-shaped dial forming a flange in 18-carat silvered gold. Chapter ring with Roman numerals. The hour hand is an extension of the bridge supporting the two tourbillon carriages. Engine-turned by hand, a center plate featuring two apertures for the tourbillons rotates in step with the passing hours. Breguet overcoils. Sapphire caseback. Water-resistant.The back of the movement bears a hand-engraved drawing representing the solar system, inspired by the 60-second rotation of the tourbillons on themselves and their rotation in tandem around a center axis over a 12-hour period.

Okay, I like watches, and own several nice ones… but I can’t imagine spending that much money a timepiece. Even if it does have twin rotating tourbillons.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Is Ted Bahr, co-founder of BZ Media, the Last Samurai of print advertising?

Folio Magazine’s Tony Silber thinks so, as you can read in his blog post, aptly titled “The Last Samurai.” There, Tony questions Ted’s unwillingness to write off print advertising as a profitable, sustainable business for publishing companies.

However, as Ted explains in his rebuttal post, “The Samurai Responds,” he’s not giving an inch. He’s getting the BZ Media sales team fired up about print and suggests that instead of blithely accepting talk of print’s demise, that other publishers should do the same.

As you should expect, Ted and I see eye-to-eye here. Ted’s blog describes our strategy for 2010 and beyond. Given that we’ve out-survived and out-thrived nearly every one of our many competitors, perhaps there’s still honor (and profit) in pursuing the noble publishing traditions.

Read Ted’s post, tell me what you think about our business bushido.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Using FasTrak seemed like such a good idea at the time. It wasn’t.

The central parking garage at San Francisco International Airport now accepts FasTrak, the RFID-based system that lets you pay bridge tolls without stopping. FasTrak is a wonderful thing when crossing the Bay Area’s bridges. It’s clearly not ready for broader deployment.

Last night, we were picking someone up at SFO. I pulled into the short-term central parking garage at SFO, and stopped at the entry gate. There were big signs urging use of FasTrak to pay. We have FasTrak, so it sounded like a good idea. I held the FasTrak RFID device up to the windshield. The device beeped. The gate opened. Into the parking lot we drove.

About an hour later, we were ready to leave. Alas, it was a Hotel California moment.

I drove up to the first-level parking lot exit, and selected the FasTrak lane. I held the FasTrak device up to the windshield. The device beeped. The gate stayed closed.

Waved the FasTrak around. It beeped again. The gate stayed closed. Rinse. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The gate stayed closed.

Meanwhile, there’s a long line of cars behind me… some honking. I noticed that there was a car next to me in another exit lane — and the driver was also waving around a FasTrak device. The driver and I looked at each. We sighed.

I pushed the “call” button at the exit gate. After five minutes of “ringing” sounds, a guy answered. “The sensor is having trouble reading your FasTrak,” he said. “Back up and pull forward again.” “But it beeped,” I said. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Back up and pull forward again.”

I backed up — slowly — as the line of cars behind me also backed up. Then pulled forward again. The FasTrak device beeped. The gate stayed closed.

Pushed the call button again. The guy answered after a few minutes. “FasTrak is down,” he said. “Come up to the attendant at the second-floor exit.”

I backed up again (as cars scatter to let me out), and then drove up to the second floor. Went to the one exit lane that had a human attendant. It was the same guy I talked to — he was apparently the only human on duty. It took him several minutes to override the system to let me out.

Total time to leave the parking lot was more than 20 minutes from when we first pulled up to the first-level exit. What a complete and utter nuisance.

Here’s the FasTrak announcement of the SFO parking-lot service. Good luck with that. From now on, I’m sticking to cash or credit cards.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Intel’s 64-bit Itanium processor never got much respect from the mainstream enterprise server buyer. A set of more established 64-bit chips based on the RISC architecture, the rapid evolution of the 32-bit x86 architecture – and then the 64-bit x86 extensions pioneered by AMD – kept the VLIW-based Itanium in a money-losing niche for ten years. But now it’s profitable. Maybe.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since Intel and Hewlett-Packard partnered to evolve HP’s PA-RISC technology into Intel’s Itanium processor. The goal was always to reach a broad market that wanted an advanced parallel-processing chip.

However, volume buyers never saw the benefit of Itanium’s 64-bit VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) architecture. Instead, they mainly kept purchasing commodity 32-bit CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) chips like the Intel Xeon. If there was a need for something more scalable than the 32-bit CISC chips, server buyers went for RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) processors like Sun’s SPARC or IBM’s POWER chips.

Indeed, the only significant reseller of Itanium processors was HP, in some of its high-end systems.

In part, Itanium’s problems were technological. The first chips, which shipped in 2001, didn’t deliver the performance that HP and Intel had promised. A scarcity of development tools was also a problem – it was particularly hard to create optimizing compilers that would leverage Itanium VLIW design.

While those problems were transitory – the second-generation chips, dubbed Itanium 2, were quite impressive – Itanium never stood a chance, particularly in the face of strong competition from the 64-bit extensions to the classic x86 architecture. The so-called x64 chips from AMD and Intel were a lot less expensive than Itanium 2, and had the advantage that they would run both 64-bit and existing 32-bit x86 applications.

The numbers speak clearly. Accordingly to a May 2008 story in ComputerWorld,

In fact Itanium holds only a sliver of the overall server market. Vendors sold about 55,000 Itanium servers in 2007, compared to 417,000 RISC servers and 8.4 million x86 servers, according to Gartner Inc. Intel estimates that 184,000 Itanium-based systems had been sold altogether by the end of last year.

Imagine my surprise when I read a blog post from Ashlee Vance in the New York times, “A Decade Later, Intel’s Itanium Chip Makes a Profit.” (He also notes that Intel won’t confirm this.) Will wonders never cease?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Trying to figure out this email. Is it spam? Is it business correspondence? It came to an obsolescent personal email address. The name of the sender doesn’t appear to match the name on the email address. Needless to say, there’s nothing in my fax machine.

Here’s the message:

From: “Mr. bobe”
Date: November 18, 2009 11:35:21 PM PST
Subject: Immediate Check

Hi Sir,

Please check you fax machine there is my RESIGNATION LETTER PLEASE ACCEPT IT.


Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

Adorable blog today posting today, by Christoph Niemann in the New York Times: Bio-Diversity.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

My brain is trying to wrap itself around two of today’s news items.

The first is by SD Times reporter David Worthington, reporting from the Microsoft Professional Development Conference. His story, “Azure shines over Microsoft PDC,” covered the announcement on Windows Azure, now set to ship on Jan. 1, 2010. Windows Azure represents Microsoft’s extension of Windows into the Cloud, which means that more and more companies will be outsourcing their enterprise applications and data beyond their own data centers.

The second story was in Computer Reseller News. In “Microsoft Warns on Windows 7 Zero Day,” Kevin McLaughlin wrote about advisories on both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Microsoft says that there’s a vulnerability in the Server Message Block protocol stack, and a detailed exploit code has already been published.

I don’t know about you, but given the continuous stream of Patch Tuesday fixes that we’re seeing on product after product, I’m not sure that Windows is ready for the Cloud. Windows Vista, remember, was marketed as the most secure version of Windows ever. After years of complaints by customers, Windows 7 debuted to be the most secure version of Windows ever. And yet, Microsoft can’t seem to stamp out the security issues.

It should be enough to give the industry pause.

Alas, Apple – often worshipped as the anti-Microsoft – has its troubles too. Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard,” which came out in August, was downplayed as a mere tuneup of the previous Leopard operating system release. Yet Snow Leopard has also been plagued by bugs and security glitches.

On Nov 9, Apple released its second major update to Snow Leopard, which addressed major flaws and security issues. It also published Security Update 2009-06 for Leopard, the company’s sixth big security patch of the year.

Can’t anyone get this right?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

“Dirt. Noise. Crowds. Delays. Scary smells. Even scarier fluids swirling on the floor. There are lots of reasons to loathe the New York City subway, but one very good reason to love it — Helvetica, the typeface that’s used on its signage.”

So begins “Mistakes in Typography Grate the Purists,” an excellent essay in the Nov. 15, 2009, New York Times. Alice Rawsthorn has captured the wonderful world of typeface fanaticism.

Seeing the clean, crisp shapes of those letters and numbers at station entrances, on the platforms and inside the trains is always a treat, at least it is until I spot the “Do not lean …” sign on the train doors. Ugh! There’s something not quite right about the “e” and the “a” in the word “lean.” Somehow they seem too small and too cramped. Once I’ve noticed them, the memory of the clean, crisp letters fades, and all I remember are the “off” ones.

Read and enjoy. Just try not to notice the lousy on-screen kerning.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The irony is ironic: Amazon.co.uk won’t accept payment from a U.S.-based Amazon credit card. But the online retailing service will accept other U.S.-based credit cards.

Our family possesses an Amazon.com Visa card, used mainly to buy things on Amazon.com. We like the cash-back rewards on Amazon purchases. The Amazon card is offered through Chase.

This morning, I went to purchase something for my wife’s parents, who live in the United Kingdom. To shop locally, I used the site Amazon.co.uk and picked out the item. At the checkout, Amazon.co.uk already knew about my Amazon Chase credit card because it’s in my user profile. Yay!

After the purchase, I received an email from Amazon.co.uk: “We’re writing to let you know that we are having difficulty processing your Visa for the above transaction.” No further details about the problem — just that the company is having difficulty.

Following the message’s instructions, I opened up the order and carefully re-entered the Amazon credit card number, my name, and the card’s billing address. While the card appeared to be accepted, a few moments later Amazon.co.uk wrote me again: “We’re writing to let you know that we are having difficulty processing your Visa for the above transaction.”

Frustrated, I went back into Amazon.co.uk and entered a different, non-Amazon Visa card issued through a different U.S. bank. I received confirmation a few minutes later that the payment cleared.

I know that my Amazon credit card is good, as I purchased something from Amazon.com yesterday, with no difficulties.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

The box-office draw of the lawsuit between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices has been small but consistent. The companies have been embroiled in legal claims and counterclaims for many years. Now, the suits are apparently over, with Intel agreeing to pay US$1.25 billion to shut up its competitor. Talk about a letdown!

AMD has done a consistently good job of playing the role of the underdog.
It has accused Intel of abusing its dominant position by paying computer manufacturers to be exclusively “Intel Inside.” AMD also made claims of intellectual property violations.

To settle those claims, Intel is writing AMD a check.
In return, AMD is dropping its lawsuits, and the companies are entering into a five-year cross-licensing agreement.

We’ve seen this happen before. AMD sued Intel in the early 1990s on essentially the same grounds. Intel settled the lawsuit shortly thereafter.

What makes this latest settlement unfortunate, in my opinion, is that AMD claimed that Intel was harming consumers by suppressing competition in the microprocessor market. “On behalf of ourselves, our customers and partners, and consumers worldwide, we have been forced to take action,” wrote AMD chairman Hector Ruiz in 2005, when it launched its latest antitrust complaint.

It looked like AMD had a solid case. There was a lot of evidence provided showing how Intel allegedly intimidated computer manufacturers who strayed from an Intel-only product strategy, and that Intel’s actions indeed suppressed competition.

In what way does Intel’s payment of $1.25 billion to AMD provide relief to consumers?
It doesn’t. What the settlement shows is that AMD’s motivation was greed, pure and simple.

This is the end of the line for AMD vs. Intel — for today. But next time AMD finds itself short on cash, we’ll undoubtedly see them back in the courtroom for a box-office sequel.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

A few weeks ago, in “Can you trust the integrity of your data,” I wrote about the potential for shenanigans with a new computer-controlled watt-hour meter that a local electric utility installed at my home. The worry: My bill might go up.

That, my friends, may only be the tip of the iceberg.

We’ve all heard about backdoors installed into software – secret root passwords, or overrides installed into payroll software. Many of those backdoors are urban legends, but I’ve encountered such things in real life. You probably have too.

What if backdoors are being installed into your nation’s defense systems at the hardware level – secretly – by your enemies? While that sounds like the topic of a good science-fiction movie, it’s not a far-fetched scenario at all.

On Oct. 26, John Markoff of the New York Times wrote a cyberwar story called “Old Trick Threatens the Newest Weapons.” He wrote that only about 2% of the chips used in American military equipment are manufactured in secure facilities, and that the other 98% might hide kill switches or backdoor access points.

“As advanced systems like aircraft, missiles and radars have become dependent on their computing capabilities, the specter of subversion causing weapons to fail in times of crisis, or secretly corrupting crucial data, has come to haunt military planners. The problem has grown more severe as most American semiconductor manufacturing plants have moved offshore.”

Could attempts to subvert those chips be detected? Not a chance. Markoff wrote chillingly,

“Cyberwarfare analysts argue that while most computer security efforts have until now been focused on software, tampering with hardware circuitry may ultimately be an equally dangerous threat. That is because modern computer chips routinely comprise hundreds of millions, or even billions, of transistors. The increasing complexity means that subtle modifications in manufacturing or in the design of chips will be virtually impossible to detect.”

The thought that an enemy of your country could shut down – or take over – one of your nation’s weapon systems is terrible to contemplate. The threat, however, isn’t merely to defense systems or military equipment. What would be the economic implications of secret kill switches built into business-grade network servers or network routers? How about remote subversion of consumer-grade mobile phones, laptop computers or automobile chips?

And to think I was worried about my electricity bills.

“Welcome to Toronto!” said the cheerful flight attendant. “Voice rate is $.79/min; data is $15.36/MB. Unlimited domestic plans do NOT apply,” said the happy text message from AT&T Wireless.

Not wanting to purchase a data plan for over a hundred dollars, and being unwilling to pay $15 per megabyte without a plan, I decided to try spending a week using my smartphone as a dumb phone. No e-mail. No live maps. No Facebook, no Twitter. No calendar sync, no streaming radio, no World Series scores, no restaurant locator—except when I could find a free WiFi hot spot.

That’s not to say that my iPhone 3GS became truly stupid when offline. It still could act as a phone (albeit at $.79 per minute), and I could text (cost unknown). Plus, of course, there was no limitation on running local-only applications, like listening to stored music or using the calendar app with pre-synced (and increasingly out-of-date) data.

There was a human toll to this experience. Withdrawal from the constant pinging (or buzzing) signaling the arrival of new mail was painful. So, too, was the inability to use Google Maps to find my location at any time. Looking for free WiFi hot spots became a real drag.

For many of us in the technology trade, it’s far, far too easy to believe that everyone is like us: always connected, always on, all the time. We read stories and tell anecdotes about the mobile Internet. A week without a smartphone taught me that it’s less ubiquitous than we think.

Many people, including employees of our company, our business partners and our customers, are not connected 24×7. Not everyone has a smartphone. Not everyone who has a smartphone has access to an “all-you-can-eat” broadband plan. Data transmission isn’t free, and it’s not everywhere.

What can you do?

First, if you’re an iPhone, BlackBerry, Android or Treo user, wipe that smug look off your face. Sure, you’re in broadband heaven today, but wait until you’re someplace without a clear signal, or someplace that’s not covered by your standard data plan.

Second, when you build applications or set up mobile application access to your data, don’t waste bits. Provide options for low-bandwidth connections and for expensive bandwidth. When you’re paying $15 per megabyte, every bit counts.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick