Free Enterprise Security Advice Could Save Thousands in Customer Care Costs

When your company has to notify its customers about a change to online security procedures and decides to use email as part of that notification, make sure that the email message does NOT contain any deceptive URLs. Otherwise the email may confuse a lot of customers who end up contacting your company, putting a dent in the customer service budget and thus the bottom line.

Before you say something like "My company would never use a deceptive URL" be sure you know what deceptive URLs are and how they arise, because they can seem innocent enough. Indeed, I have seen them slip under the quality control radar at big companies like Bank of America and Countrywide that do at least have quality control. Typically a deceptive URL is created by or within html email. Here is an example:

Note that I edited the screen shot above to obscure the name of the company that sent this particular message (about new security measures) and my own email address is also edited to something bogus.

Basically this part of the email is inviting recipients to log in to the company web site. The URL of the site is spelled out rather than just being a click here type link. People often spell out links in order to make it clear to the user where the link leads. In text-only email a URL has to be spelled out in order to work (in most email clients). But the above message is html and so the link text is actually within an href=URL tag. This means that the apparent URL can be different from the actual URL in the link, a fact that phishing scams have been exploiting for years. For example, you might see a link to in a message that appears to be from PayPal, but in fact the link leads to:
both of which are bogus web sites that are in no way connected with the real PayPal.

How do you know where a link goes before you click it? One way is to view the source code of the message, something that is easy enough to do in most email clients (in Eudora, for example, you just right click anywhere within the message and select "View Source"). However, viewing email source, while easy, is laborious, and so a good email client will reveal the URL of a link when you put your mouse pointer over it, then warn you if the link you are about to click is deceptive (i.e. does not match the text of the link). Eudora has this capability and provides further detail like this:
And here you see the problem this poses for an otherwise legitimate company. Good old Countrytom wants you to go to a special page at, but presumably did not want to put that great big [but genuine] URL in the text of the email. So they obscured it but in so doing set off the deceptive URL alarm. As email clients and web browsers get more aggressive in the fight against phishing this sort of thing is likely going to show up more often, thereby confusing more customers. And everyone in enterprise-land knows that more confused customers = increased customer service burden.

So what is the solution. Here is the real money tip in this free security advice: use a simple URL. Could it be that simple? Yes. There is no reason, other than a lack of imagination, for Countrytom to use that great big long URL for a response to email. Sure, marketing would like to track where responses are coming from, and IT might balk at some extra work with redirects and site structure, but a simple phrase and a few lines of code could fix that, as in any of these URLs that could easily appear in the text of the email AND the URL so as not to be branded as "deceptive" by the email client:

None of these strikes me as a turn-off for recipients and I bet they generate less customer confusion than the pesky but otherwise very helpful deceptive URL flag.

The Art of Acting Means Being Different People

Yes, these two people are the same person, my cousin, the actor Nick Tennant. To my mind, that is what great acting is all about, the ability to assume an identity to the point where the audience sees the character and not the person playing the character. Nick has that ability.

Take just a simple example from popular culture: Magneto in the X-Men movies. The character is played by Ian McKellen, but when you are watching the movie you don't sit their thinking "that's Ian McKellen." You're thinking "that's Magneto." And you're not thinking "that's Gandalf" or "that's Richard III" or maybe "that creepy Nazi neighbor in Apt Pupil." The character assumed by the actor is what you see, and IMHO what you should see, not the actor "being someone else."

Another good example would be Hannibal Lecter, engraved on the movie-goers mind by Anthony Hopkins (BTW, young Nick--above--attended the same drama school as Mr. Hopkins). That performance, powerful as it was, does not prevent you believing that Anthony Hopkins is the gritty but harmless New Zealand eccentric Burt Monroe in the must-see sleeper: The World's Fastest Indian (safe Christmas present for anyone interested in motorcycles or engineering feats of any kind).

For the record, the photo on the left is one of Nick's standard "head shots." The picture on the right is Nick duirng his time as Grumio in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2003 production of the bard's "Taming of the Shrew" and Fletcher's "The Tamer Tamed." It was Nick's idea to play the groom's role in a realistic stage of grubbiness. Hence the look you see.

Hooray for The Hogfather: Sky's Rendtiion of Pratchett Discworld Novel Debuts

Two days ago, London's Curzon Mayfair hosted the premiere of "The Hogfather," Sky's hi-def film screen adaptation of the Terry Pratchett Discworld novel that will be show on Sky 1 this Christmas (Sky 1 being part of BSkyB, or British Sky Broadcasting, the Murdoch-owned, UK-based satellite broadcaster that operates the Sky Digital network). For more details of the film see IMDB and Sky's TV guide.

Although I live in America and won't see The Hogfather this Christmas, I do expect that one of the hi-def channels in the US will pick it up. But to be honest, I would not know about this movie if my cousin, Nicolas Tennant (a.ka. Nick Tennant and Nicholas Tennant) had not been cast in it (along with Sir David Jason playing Albert, the alluring Michelle Dockery playing Susan, and Ian Richardson as the voice of Death). This led me to venture into Discworld for the first time and read the book, a step I am very glad I took.

Of course, I had seen a steadily growing number of these novels on the bookstore shelves for years, but had always been put off by the fact that a. fantasy fiction is not my favorite genre, b. the covers looked really cartoon-ish and uninviting (the American editions have recently been released with more subdued covers--but the trick to getting the most from these books is to create your own image of what the inhabitants look like rather than accept someone else's). Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hogfather--the book, finding it to be a delightful mix of whimsy, humor, surprisingly contemporary political satire and comic allusion, and yes, deep thought (or at least deep-thought provoking notions).

And because the character that Nick plays is Corporal Nobby Nobs of The Night Watch, I worked my way through that sub-section of the series. I found these novels to be a fine anti-dote to depression, or at least a reliable escape from the distress of daily life.

BTW, the 'andsome bloke in the photo is Nick, so anyone who sees him as Corporal Nobby Nobs will know what a brilliant actor he is. (Corporal Nobby Nobs is introduced as "a small but irregularly formed figure" whose ears could look suggestive--in a later book we are told "the only reason you couldn't say that Nobby was close to the animal kingdom was that the animal kingdom would get up and walk away.") The following dialogue is just a taste of what Discworld can be like:

Sergeant Fred Colon: War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?
Corporal Nobby Nobs: Dunno, Sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?
Fred: Absol -- well, okay.
Nobby: Defending yourself against a totalitarian aggressor?
Fred: All right, I'll grant you that, but --
Nobby: Saving civilization from a horde of --
Fred: It doesn't do any good in the long run is what I'm saying Nobby, if you'd listen for five seconds together.
Nobby: Yeah, but in the long run, what does Sarge?

Celeb Trivia du Jour: Michelle Dockery appeared in the original stage production of "His Dark Materials" which is currently being filmed with the latest Bond, Daniel Craig, in the role of Lord Asriel, and starring Nicole Kidman.

Thousands of Voters Were Disenfranchised in Florida

This is where technology meets politics: electronic voting. It is clear to anyone with an open mind that something went wrong in the already infamous Sarasota County this last election when approximately 18,000 ballots cast on the county’s paperless touch screen voting machines registered no vote at all in the congressional race.

And this is where I turned to make a donation to help get to the bottom of things. I have previously made my position on electronic voting clear. Computers cannot be trusted to count votes.

Cost of Diesel Dampens Hopes

While the price of diesel fuel is not directly related to gyroscopically stabilized transportation, it does raise questions about efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of the transportation system and reduce dependence on foreign fuel.

My wife and I own a diesel-powered Jeep Liberty which we like a lot, but the high price of diesel in the U.S. is really making it hard to justify. We regularly see diesel sold for a premium of around 35 cents per gallon over regular unleaded gasoline. In rough terms this means a diesel vehicle has to get 26 miles per gallon versus 22 for a gasoline model, or 35 versus 30. In other words, the economic incentive to use deal just isn't there is diesel is priced significantly higher than regular gasoline.

In thinking about this problem I visited the EPA site which has a cool feature that let's you compare vehicles. I commared a diesel Jeep with a gasoline Jeep, and at first it seemed the diesel was a better deal. But then I noticed the figures that the EPA used for fuel costs. They were not what I am seeing at the pump. Fortunately, and this was a smart move by the site designer, you can input your own numbers. That produced the following:

The diesel is $60 a year cheaper. Hardly enough incentive to overcome the downsides (such as searching for a gas station that carries diesel).

Maybe the new rules on diesel fuel will improve matters and the price will be equalized, but right now there seems to be a pause in diesel production as manufacturers switch over to the new designs (for an explanation, see here and also here).

That means you can't buy 2007 Jeep Liberty diesel right now. But Jeep Grand Cherokee diesels will turn up in showrooms later this year. Sadly, if diesel/gas pricing does not move closer to par, the economic incentive to buy them will not be there when they do.

Where Have All the Segways Gone?

On a couple of recent business trips I saw several groups of Segways, leading me to rethink my notion that this device was something of a flop (and thus not a good omen for other gyroscopically stabilized forms of transportation).

First LA, where the Segway is used on the Universal Studios complex. I stayed a few nights at the large Hilton there and saw staff using the Segway to speed up trips between different parts of the very large property. I also noted that you can rent Segways in Santa Monica.

Then I was in Chicago, again staying at a Hilton, from where I spotted what appeared to be a US Postal Service Segway training class headed down Michigan Avenue. Looked a bit like robotic ducklings following their mother. I tried to capture the scene on my Treo's camera but no luck.

A Blow Against Apathy: High school students raising money for Darfur

This story caught my eye and gave me hope, high schoolers raising money to help Darfur. There is a web site where schools can sign up. I think this is a very good sign.

Ubuntu Progress Continues Here

As promised...this is where the Ubuntu thread continues from the original "Cobbon blog."

Ubuntu is now installed on the 1999 Compaq Presario 305 and the 2000 iMac G3. The trick with older machines that have less than 200 megabytes of RAM is to a. use a lot of patience, b. use the prompted alternate install method, which uses the files located here:

What you want to download are the image files called "alternate" like: ubuntu-6.06.1-alternate-i386.iso

These don't boot a full graphical Ubuntu, but they will lead you through a text-based install that does remarkably well at hardware detection, including the graphics card, sound system, and network interface (a Buffalo WiFi card in the Compaq and the built-in Ethernet on the Mac). The patience is required for the lengthy wait between stages.

You will also need some patience once these installs complete as the default Ubuntu desktop is not the fastest. Next step with these older machines is to change the desktop.

Cobb on Arts & Entertainment? Yes!

Yep, this is what's next. A separate blog for thoughts on arts and entertainment.

And let me start with a shameless plug for the current and very hot novel by my favorite novelist/restaurateur: Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. Definitely worthy of its National Book Award nomination. If you think you are cool, try this book on for size. I'm sorry it didn't win, but I am sure there are many awards in Dana's future. I know she is working on another novel right now, even as she orchestrates the fine dining experience that is known as The Rose and Kettle, one of the many good reasons to check out the gem of upstate New York: Cherry Valley.

Also, an arts and entertainment posting would not be complete without a recommendation for your listening or viewing pleasure. My thanks to Mark (a poet with colour and World's Best House Painter) for turning us on to Lemon Jelly. All kinds of weird elements merge to make beautiful music. Not really lounge, not really house or trance. Not Tubular Bells but not unrelated. Maybe a pinch of Ogden Nut Flake? Have played the Lost Horizons album over and over, like we used to play LP sides back in the day, with the disc stacking arm off to the side to force a repeat. Here is a video to give you some idea (the band does not preview their tracks on Amazon).

Note: Cobb on A&E is firmly opposed to the pirating of copyrighted material and strongly encourages anyone who wants to play a piece of music or a work of video for their own pleasure to purchase a legitimate copy.

Where is the Action on Darfur?

Why isn't the world doing more to stop the genocide in Darfur? I keep searching for the answer to this question and can't find one. I can find plenty of information, like the Wikipedia page and the BBC News Q&A. But I still can't make sense of the lack of action.

I can find plenty of organizations--like this one--that are trying to raise awareness. But where is the action? How can the trillions of dollars that industrialized nations pour into military spending not contain a few million dollars to kill the Janjaweed. Seriously, what would it take? I think there would be plenty of volunteers ready to go and kill these murdering rapists if there was a way to get them armed and into the country. How about private planes and private arms? Isn't this a fight that good people should fight, like the war against Franco? Isn't it time for another International Brigade? Or has apathy already claimed this century as its own?

Cobb on Politics? Scary possibilities emerge

Yes, I'm going to blog politics. After decades of keeping my political opinions very separate from my entrepreneurial persona, I figure it is time to come out of the closet (or wherever it is that people are said to be when they hide their true feeling about something in order to get by in this world, stay employed, avoid upsetting the neighbors, etc.). If we cannot, as citizens, speak our minds on politics without fear of retribution, we are, as a nation, screwed.

And speaking of citizens, just for the record, I am one. In fact, I have been a citizen of these United States longer than the current governor of California. So, if the constitution is ever changed so Arnold can run for president, that will also make me eligible to run for the White House. Some of my friends consider that to be a good argument for leaving Article Two of the constitution alone.

Where to Begin? How about some financial perspective?

If there is one word that permeates talk about people and money it is millionaire. If there is one amount of money that is synonymous with "rich" and "wealthy" it is: a million dollars. Well, I have good news and bad news about millionaires and a million dollars. The bad news is that a million dollars is not what it used to be. The people that most Americans think of as rich live in houses that cost at least a million dollars. So for the average working person whose paycheck just about covers expenses and doesn't leave much room for saving--in fact probably has less that three months of mortgage payments in savings--the idea of a million dollars sounds great. If it were to do so then obviously it would be a big boost one's finances. Now you can afford a million dollar house. But can you afford to heat it--or if it's in Florida--can you afford to keep it cool? Maybe not. When you set aside fantasies and lottery tickets, the best way to look at a million dollars is in terms of the income it can earn. Suppose you use the $1 million to buy tax-free municipal bonds that pay 5.00% per year. These are very safe so you have little chance of losing your million. They would earn you $50,000 per year, about the same as your after-tax income if you have a job that pays $30 an hour (and have a few dependents to claim on your taxes). Not bad, but it hardly fits the 'lifestyles of the rich and famous' bill. Indeed, it is slightly below the US median income for a household of four. So the next time you say "I want to make million" try adding a Z at the end, as in "I want to make millionz." And don't fool yourself that even two or three million will sustain a lifetime full of jet-setting and bling.

Here Begins "Cobb on Tech"

So, I decided I need a separate place to keep all my tech-related thoughts (to be honest, I didn't realize I was going to have so many).

Some of them will be migrating here from "Cobb On" and "scobb's non-blog."

If there is something specific in the hi-tech space that you would like me to comment on, let me know.

Could Ubuntu Be Too Cute?

Okay, so I was able to boot my IBM from the Ubuntu 6.10 CD, thus getting an impressive preview of what Ubuntu offers should I decide to install it on the hard drive. But getting to that point was not as easy as I may have made it sound. And my experiences since then have raised a number of issues. In other words, all is not perfect in Ubuntu-land. As with many things in life, it is all about perception v. reality.

Ubuntu has strived to create a warm, fuzzy, "fun-and-easy-to-use" image. Now, even at this early stage of our relationship, I am prepared to accept that it is a warmer, fuzzier, funner, and easier Linux than those I have tried in the past. But...I did have to download two different versions of Ubuntu to find the one that worked nicely, which was 6.10 (the same hardware just stalled when trying to boot from 6.06). And I spent quite a bit of time failing to boot two older machines with either 6.06 or 6.1o (more on that later).

In the process I found you don't have to look far to see the geek beneath the gloss at ubuntu,com. For example, one of the suggestions for those having problems with the install is to use Knoppix. It goes something like: "Grab the latest debootstrap_*.tar.gz from [WWW] ...Save the archive into the /home/knoppix/tmp directory because /tmp is probably too small...Uncompress and extract the archive...then cd into the newly created directory and build the program."

This is very useful technical information and I mean no disrespect to the authors, who are clearly driven by the best of intentions, but it is not warm and fuzzy. I can see your 'average user' giving up at this point. Granted, this advice appears in the "Advanced" section, but the non-advanced section is pretty short on answers to questions like "what to do if you start the install and the machine just sits there churning all night with a blank screen." Recourse to posting in the support forums is quite likely if you run into install issues. The good news there is that answers come pretty quick, as I hope to relate in my next post on Ubuntu.

Now, to briefly address just one of the questions Dave raised in his comment on my last Ubuntu post, my IBM NetVista P4HT booted to the Ubuntu graphical desktop in exactly 2 minutes. Considering that this is booting from a CD, not a hard drive, I think it is impressive. After all, one of the big attractions of Ubuntu is that, if it does boot from the free CD you burned from the download or requested from the web site, you can test drive the OS and the apps on your hardware before doing an install. And I mean really test drive, like surf the web over your internet connection and play your music CDs (if you have a second CD drive). Now that is impressive.

Windows Patches Definitely Ditch Data

I have now confirmed, at my expense, that Windows security updates DO destroy data. I wrote about this before and it happened again.

How? The update process restarts your system without your consent. You come back from a cup of coffee and there is the BIOS login. Your XP machine has rebooted. Word has NOT created backups of your latest edits. The notes you had typed in a Notepad document are NOT saved unless you hit "Save" before you went for coffee.

So, the lesson here is an old one: Save everything before you leave your machine unattended. Sound advice that I should have been heeding. But really? In this day and age shouldn't we be able to trust our OS not to screw with our work?

About the only good news is that the latest version of Firefox DOES remember all of the pages you were looking at before XP closed it down.

Bill Gates says U.S. education system needs work

Read all about it: Bill Gates says U.S. education system needs work! This from the number one public figure to whom those kids who don't want to finish college turn for justification. Would it have hurt him to finish college, just to set a good example?
"Primary and secondary schools are failing to get students ready for college."
No kidding. This from a guy who doesn't send his own kids to public school. What a great example it would be if he did. If there is one aspect of the education debate that really irks me it is people talking about how the "American education system" needs to be better supported, while their own resources are directed at supporting and perpetuating some private school. 

Either we make up our minds that there is one system of education, the tax-payer funded public education system, or we come out and admit that really it is every family for itself, and McDonald's take the hindmost. .

Ubuntu Arrivesl Boots Well and Looks Good

In glorious technicolor on my 19 inch hi-res Princeton monitor, booted from a CD-rom on an IBM NetVista. This was indeed an impressive introduction. Took just moments to boot with no complaints. The picture here is actually a photo of the screen, showing a word processor, spreadsheet, music player and video player, all of which are included in the Ubuntu package. (Click image for slightly larger version.)

Of course, it could never be that easy, right? So in my next post I will document some obstacles to avoid if you want your first experience of Ubuntu to be a smooth one.

Windows XP Nits, Microsoft Peeves, Flips and Flaps

Okay, we interrupt the exploration of Ubuntu (which is going very well) to list a few "issues" that I have with Windows XP:
  1. Drop to DOS: The very useful ability to "drop to DOS" is not a TweakUI thing, it is a Power Tool thing, as described and accessed here at This is something I like to install on my Windows machines as it gives you quick DOS-style access to the directory of your choice (e.g. when you want to rename a bunch of files at once, or use XCOPY). But I tend to forget when you get this tool and in my Google searches seem to find numerous places where this feature is erroneously ascribed to the TweakUI tool. Oh well, for future reference, the link above is where it's at.
  2. Control-Tab: Should switch documents in Microsoft Word. Refusing to change this is just churlish. In just about every other Windows app you can press Ctrl-Tab to switch between multiple documents/windows. But not in Word because it does a special tab function. Get over it Redmond and instead of messing about everyone but Word users, let them learn one new keystroke.
  3. Indicate Save: Would it kill Microsoft to gray out the Save command on the File menu when a Word or Excel document is already saved? Without it you don't know which version of the doc is saved--the one you think you just saved or a changed version.
  4. Impossible Dream: There is probably no chance of this happening but the Save command, IMHO, should never complete without a confirmation. So much work gets lost because people hit Save and overwrite what they want to keep with what is on the screen right now. Could well be more than viruses and brownouts combined. Back in the day, those crusty but trusty apps like Lotus 1-2-3 would ask first before saving. that;s the way it should be.

Higher education could be a lot higher than it is

How do I know higher education could be a lot higher than it is? Because there was a time when it was.

Ubuntu Here We Come: The OS du jour is served

I may be the last person on the planet to have heard the word "ubuntu," but in the next few weeks I am going to try to make up for it. Just in case there is anyone else out there who doesn't know what ubuntu is--apart from being an African word meaning "humanity to others"--it is an incarnation of the Linux operating system, an alternative to Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OSX.

For me, Ubuntu, capitalized from hereon to indicate a product rather than a word, is also a feeling of deja vu. Over the years I have installed various versions of Linux starting back in about 1995, including Slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Novell, Knoppix, and Sun. But none of these became my OS of choice for daily computing. So time would pass, during which I was not really paying attention to Linux, and then *boom* some new incarnation, of which I had never heard, would be all the rage, leaving me feeling just a little bit "out of the loop."

And so it was with Ubuntu. Suddenly I am seeing it on magazine covers, in blog postings, magazine articles, news stories, etc. And once again I am tempted to test the waters and see if this thing is worth all the hype. Clearly it would seem to be worth the money as it doesn't cost anything. That's right. You don't even have to pay for the bandwidth to download it. The folks at will actually mail you a CD. That's right, an entire operating system and suite of applications sent to your door, free of charge. Could that be why it is "The most popular desktop of Linux today" according to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' excellent article in

Next up, I will play "Mr. Average User" to test the claim that Ubuntu is a "Linux for the rest of us."

More About Racial Inequality in Healthcare

I found this Newsweek article interesting for the comments people made. You can see that there are some pretty heartless souls out there, as well as some more mindful and prepared to take the time to try and educate their fellow citizens. One comment points to this very useful set of resources based on the Institute of Medicine's report: Unequal Treatment, Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare. This was published in 2002 and the basic finding was that
a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.
I think there will be several reports in 2007 that ask "How far have we come in five years?"

Keep Google Earth Rocking

I am a fairly recent 'discoverer' of Google Earth but it has quickly become my favorite non-work application. Call me easily amused but I love 'playing' the trip between my house in Florida, my Mum's place in England and my brother's place in Spain.

Now I have started to explore the Google Earth community and the enhancements people are making to the raw data. This is fascinating in a way that goes before mere fun. I have a strong sense that it is not merely educational, but exploratory. We humans are 'learning on the job' when it comes to geo-spatial self-awareness and what it means for the future of our planet. Try it! You'll like it. And the more people try it, the better the data will become.

The Age of the Domesticated Terabyte is Here

Two computer hardware ads hit my in-basket today offering consumer-oriented storage capacity of such an amazing price-to-volume ratio that it may represent a new stage of digital evolution: the domestication of the terabyte. One ad featured a desktop PC with a terabyte of hard drive capacity (via a pair of 500 gigabyte SATA drives) for under $2,000. The other ad featured a one terabyte external USB drive for under $500.

To put this in perspective, I can remember driving out of San Francisco one day in 1986 just to get the unbeatable cash price of $300 on a 30 megabyte hard drive, from the back office of an obscure industrial unit in Sunnyvale. And I thought myself lucky!

No, I won't lapse into a geek's version of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, but just ponder for a moment the difference between the cost per megabyte then and now. In 1986 it was $10.00 a megabyte. Today, based on the $200 price tag of a half-a-terabyte SATA drive (from Tiger Direct for example) the cost of one megabyte is $0.0004. Heck, if you play the rebate game at right now you can get 1 gigabyte of of postage-stamp size solid state storage for $0.004 per megabyte. Only need half a gigabyte? That's free, all but for the shipping and handling.

But it is the sub-$500 terabyte external hard drive that really tells you the gigabytes have come home to roost by the thousand. Just a year ago one blogger was making fun of LaCie's introduction of the Big Disk 1TB under the heading "LaCie 1 Terabyte USB Porn Drive." I'm not taking issue with Steve for that posting, and I love the site, but what a difference a year makes.

I'm tempted to get one of these thing and no, I won't be using it for porn. After all, there are family values to think of, and it's not unusual to find families today that have one computer each: Mum, Dad, and the 2.5 kids. A terabyte external drive would let each one back up 222 gigabytes. That's about the amount of storage built into an entry-level desktop and just over twice what you get in a new notebook. What are people using it for? Music, photos, and video. Lots of it.

Mobile Blogging from a Treo 650

Checking in from my Treo 650.

Yep, mobile blogging comes to Blogger. At first I thought this would be a big yawn. After all, one has been able to email blog postings to some blog systems for years. But I like Blogger more than other systems and this new feature lets me text a posting to Blogger (with image if I want) in very short order, right from my trusty Treo. When I get a chance I will test the formatting possibilities of this channel, which are obviously limited (I added the title after the fact, via the web). Despite these limitations I think I will be using this channel quite a bit.


Mobile Email from a Cingular Wireless Customer

New Versions of Windows Will Always Be Late

...and seldom worth waiting for. What you want to wait for is the second update to the new version, the 3.11 to the 3.0, the SP2 to the XP, and so on.

I am quite familiar with the problems of inductive reasoning so I won't say it is impossible that a future version of Windows will ship on time. But I would never bet money on the folks at Microsoft giving me what they promised when they first promised it. Indeed, I would humbly suggest that IT managers who take Microsoft timetables at their face value are gambling with their company's profitability.

Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Remember that Windows 1.0 was announced in late 1983, promised for April 1984, only to be delivered in November, 1985. As someone who tried to use Windows 1.0, I can say in all honesty, it was not worth the wait. Arguably, we did not get a really worthwhile version until Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in November of 1993, a decade after the initial brouhaha. The rest, as they say, is history.

Racial inequality in healthcare

Even when enrolled in identical Medicare health plans, black patients have worse health outcomes than white patients, according to a study by researchers from Harvard and Brown universities, who studied data from 431,573 patient visits covered by 151 Medicare managed care plans from 2002 to 2004. The findings appear in the Oct. 25 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (as reported by WebMD).

My Friend the Treo 650

I have said it before and have said it elsewhere, but I will say it again, the Treo 650 is the best hi-tech purchase I have ever made, and the best computer I have ever owned (it does input-output-storage-processing ergo it is a computer).

My Treo 650

What prompts me to say this right now? I dropped it. Again. Getting out of my pickup it fell onto a concrete parking lot. And just like last time it sustained a few scratches but kept on ticking. As an object of visual beauty it is now up there with the dented Leica of a famed photographer, the well-worn axe of a working guitarist. I now use my Treo 650 as twelve tools in one:

1. Alarm clock (playing one of the many great polyphonic tunes this thing can produce).

2. Flashlight (the screen is bright enough to find your way around a hotel room in the dark).

3. Camera (for all sorts of shots, notably evidence and possible shopping decisions--like a shot of a PC on sale at Circuit City, including model number and price--no typing required).

4. My diary/mustdo reminder, handily coordinated with my notebook computer...recently found to be very handy for birthday reminders as I am trying to be better about getting people cards, etc.

5. Casual reading (mainly news from the BBC while standing in line or sitting in a waiting room).

6. Emailing (I like the thumb keyboard and often catch up on email while flying, sending the messages out as soon as we land).

7. Texting (not a medium I love, but Treo handles it just fine when needed, including MMS).

8. Dictation (Palm Dictate works great--can dictate memos while driving and the sound is very acceptable).

9. MP3 playing (I have a collection of SD cards containing different mixes I can switch in and out--great for plane trips--and the same cards will work nicely in my truck once I get a radio with a USB socket).

10. GPS--just got a Bluetooth GPS puck and am learning to use it. Screen display does a great job of rendering maps.

11. Blogging--just getting this set up but should allow me to blog while travelling, etc..

12. As a phone--yes, it is also a phone and has great talk time and standby time. Truly excellent battery life in fact. The ease of adding contacts means it is now my central repository for people, companies, etc.

The Picco Z Micro Helicopter

Just got one of these from a good buddy for my birthday. Seems like Radio Shack is the place to buy them (don't pay more than $40). What you get for your money is a miracle of miniaturization, a tiny helicopter that actually flies, in my case around the living room. There is a plenty of cool video of these things on YouTube. It will fly for about 5 minutes before recharging, which is done with a cable from the controller box (which contains 8 x AA batteries). The box lets you know when the charge is complete (about 20 minutes). Although 5 minutes might not sound like long, it is plenty of fun as controlling the flight takes quite a bit of practice (besides how far can you go in a living room). This thing is surprising resistant to damage even when you crash terribly. Here you can see its size in relation to a regular check book.

My Picco Z

The Lost Month: Migraines take a toll

"Businesses lose approximately $13 billion per year due to migraines, according to a study published in the April 1999 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. In addition, the National Headache Foundation estimates 157 million workdays are lost annually because of the pain and associated symptoms of migraines."
If you suspect, as many Americans do, that drug companies are not interested in curing illness, merely treating it--with perpetual cycles of expensive newly-patented drugs, then migraine would be the place to start looking for evidence. My wife has suffered from migraines for 40 years. They have now reached a level of frequency that renders impossible the type of paid employment she used to take for granted. In other words, migraines have rendered her unable to hold down a job in her field. She is disabled, by migraines.

And nothing that the medical community has done in the last 40 years has helped. Indeed, it is now more difficult and more expensive to get relief from the pain of migraine than it was 40 years ago. Believe me, my wife has not been sitting around waiting for a cure. Whenever she has been well enough she has vigorously pursued every lead, however improbable, in the quest for a cure. On more than one occasion attending physicians have ridiculed her for even mentioning research aimed at a cure.

So where did the last month go? It was spent holding down the fort, coping with a bad cycle of migraines and their fallout for the patient, her work, her family, and her friends. In this we were not alone. All across this country millions of people suffer with this disease, calling in sick, losing work time and personal time, depleting bank accounts with hospital visits and pharmacy bills, and wondering, in the occasional moments of clarity between bouts of pain: why hasn't someone figure out how to fix this?

Hacking Democracy: Some Things Were Not Meant to be Computerized

As a crucial election draws near in America, the debate over computer voting systems is again getting attention, notably from tonight's airing of Hacking Democracy on HBO. However, from some of the reviews of this program (like this one in the Boston Globe) it is clear that even well-educated and otherwise intelligent people don't "get" the problem.

The most vital ingredient in a fair election is trust. The current generation of electronic voting machines are already untrusted (and you can trust security expert Bruce Schneier to provide authoritative analysis of why this is).

Critics of current systems have advanced numerous approaches to making future electronic systems trustworthy. While this is laudable, I contend that the goal is not achievable. No hardware programmed by people will ever deliver the same level as trust as a system of voting based on hand marked paper ballots. To imply, as the Globe's critic seems to do, that electronic systems are no more problematic than their predecessors, is to miss the point. There is a known history of addressing and resolving past problems to the point where the electorate accepted the outcome as fair.

Certainly the replacement of hanging chads with software bugs is not a step forward, but reverting to pencil and paper is not necessarily a step backward. And objections to analog voting methods based on the need to get quick results simply don't cut it as far as I'm concerned. For myself, and quite possibly a majority of voters, a reliable result at 5PM the next day beats a dubious results about 2AM.

So, for the record, and after very careful consideration, my position is that the use of programmable electronic devices to cast votes is not now, nor ever will be, as trustworthy or as verifiable as it needs to be for elections thus conducted to be considered fair.