Even Stephen Asks: What's in a name?

Starting in September I will be working for ESET, which has it's North American headquarters in San Diego. But I'm sure I won't be the only Stephen Cobb in San Diego. So when my soon-to-be-employer asked how I wanted my name to appear on my business cards I took a moment to think about it. My equivocation brought to mind a recent blog post by my friend and fellow serial entrepreneur, Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe. Some people might know Lucinda as Lucinda Holt or Lucinda Duncalfe-Holt but in this blog post she explains why she recently decided to be Lucinda Bromwyn Duncalfe (which I think has a nice ring to it). I can relate to name changing, not because I'm a married woman and have wrestled with male surname adoption, but because I'm a guy who changed his name for a while, not legally, but in practice.

That's right, for nearly 20 years I liked to be called Steve, even though it clearly says Stephen on my birth certificate (FYI, I was not christened or baptized "Stephen" because I've never been subjected to those rituals, but that's another story).

In packing for the move to San Diego I came across my well-worn paperback copy of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience which I received when I won the King Henry VIII School Prize for English in 1970. Inside was a label that I put in all the books that I took with me to university, first Leeds in England, then McMaster in Canada. The label said: Property of Steve T. Cobb.

I blame Steve McQueen and then my school friend Steve Richardson, my college roommate Steve Donnelly, plus Steve Martin and several other Steves who seemed cooler than Stephens. It was only in the 1980s, when I first moved to California, that I decided to go back to the original Stephen. And that's how my name got recorded as an author at the Library of Congress when I started writing books about computing. Since then I have noticed a proliferation of Stephen Cobbs which frankly surprises me. I grew up in a city of more than 250,000 people and my family were the only Cobbs. Until I was 11 years old there were no other Stephens in the schools I attended.

Another surprise in recent years has been the number of people who see my name written down as Stephen and pronounce it Steffen. This often happens when I check into a hotel. I say "I have a reservation, last name Cobb" and the receptionist says something like "Yes, for one night, Steffen Cobb." I started correcting people by pointing out "My name is Stephen, like in the Bible" assuming people would know the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as described in the New Testament (Acts 6-7).

That strategy really didn't gain much traction and I decided that comparing myself to a saintly martyr seemed a bit presumptuous. So I developed what I thought would be a more amusing way for people to get it right, by referring to what I thought was a well-known Christmas carol: Good King Wenceslas. The opening verse of this carol, which was sung religiously, pun intended, every year in church and school when I was growing up in England, goes as follows:
Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.

I would then point out that if you pronounce Stephen as Steffen, then change "even" so that it rhymes with Steffen, then the outcome of this verse is quite different, and not very religious (the snow being deep and crisp and effin'). Sadly, this got just as many blank faces as the more direct reference to the martyr. I found myself explaining that the day after Christmas is the feast of Saint Stephen, also known as Boxing Day in England, and that King Wenceslas who was actually a Duke, would himself go on to be a saint, revered in both Bohemia, of which he was Duke, and England, which is where I, Stephen, learned to sing the words you see below. Altogether now, let's hear it G G G A G G D...

King Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia, and Saint

Staying in Downtown San Diego? The Bristol Hotel could be your best bet

I recently had the pleasure of traveling to San Diego for meetings at a downtown office. My host for this trip booked me into The Bristol Hotel.

Being unfamiliar with this particular establishment, and a trifle miffed that I would not be earning points with one of the 2 hotel brands I normally choose (Hyatt and Marriott), I decided to check out the hotel online.

Nice website, nice pictures, and this view from Google Street View was reassuring (it's so cool that one can now wander the neighborhood around a destination using Street View). The locale was within a couple of blocks of the shops and movie theaters at Horton Plaza. In the other direction is Little Italy and the office I was visiting. All very promising, but the room rates at the Bristol seemed a tad low for an upmarket downtown hotel, so I was still a little wary.

Well, shame on me for doubting my host's taste, The Bristol is an excellent hotel, starting with the friendly staff in the very relaxing lobby. This is equipped with a basic PC workstation and a laser printer, handy for printing out things like boarding passes and last minute reading materials for meetings. BTW, I am not a fan of vast stretches of showy marble and huge shiny chandeliers in hotel lobbies. So when I say relaxing I mean things like comfy seating. Give me the soft and casual touch so I can feel at home.

On the way to my room I started to get a very good feeling--the corridor was wonderfully wide. This boosted my hopes that the room itself would offer what I call "business hotel gold." I'm talking, in hushed tones, about silence, which most frequent business travelers consider truly golden. The main thing I need from a hotel when I'm traveling on business, the thing that beats all manner of other amenities, is a good night's sleep.

Entering the room itself was a revelation: There was a lot of room! A lot more than in a typical cookie-cutter business hotel. This was tastefully decorated space and plenty of it. All behind a solid, sound-deadening door, with a number of nice touches: robes, slippers, lighted magnifying mirror in the well-appointed bathroom, flat-screen TV, big bay windows, and a desk with a proper writing chair (i.e. one that adjusted high enough for me to type in without hunching over).

A great night's sleep was followed by a fine breakfast (one of the best breakfast burritos ever--I confess I could only eat half of it and the staff happily packed the other half to go, which made for an inexpensive supper that evening).

So, I can definitely recommend the Bristol Hotel. Only later did I realize that the Bristol is part of a group of independent hotels, the Greystone Hotels. They have properties in San Diego, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Bend, Oregon. I look forward to staying at the Bristol again, and trying some of the other Greystone Hotels.

Road Trip Tip Number 17: "Holding Onto the Night"

Tired of the morning sun waking you up too early when you're staying in a hotel? Annoyed that you went to the trouble, before retiring for the night, of pulling the thick curtains together so that you wouldn't be woken up by the sun, only to find that the drapes didn't overlap enough to block that tall strip of morning glory now slanting across your face?

Welcome to my world, at least until I started making a habit of carrying a few binder clips in my travel bag. They work great for holding the drapes in a fully-overlapped, light-blocking configuration.

But recently I switched to an even simpler solution. Finding myself on the road without my trusty binder clips, I rotated one of the hotel's trouser/pant coat-hangers by ninety degrees: Problem solved. The clips on these hangers are usually padded in some way so that they don't damage your clothes, or the drapes. And I always make sure I take the hanger off the drapes and return it to the closet when I get up, that is: when I am ready to get up.

WARNING: This is a safe "use" of a hotel coat hanger. Do NOT hang any kind of anything from a hotel room sprinkler head. The consequences can be VERY costly. I saw this first hand recently when checking into one of the hotels I had been using for my visits to the new Monetate offices in Conshohocken, just north of Philadelphia, the Spring Hill Suites in Plymouth Meeting. This is a dependable hotel for the business traveler but sadly it is sometimes frequented by young--and occasionally foolish--persons; like the kids who hung up their swimming trunks to dry on a sprinkler head in a third floor room above the lobby, causing it to discharge a bunch of water that pretty much ruined the lobby. I arrived late on a Sunday evening to see carpets and wall coverings and ceilings, torn up, peeled back and generally in a mess.

In other travel news: At the end of August I'm embarking on a major road trip: 2,900 miles across our great land, from top right to lower left, towing a small U-Haul trailer. The Jeep is being prepped and I am packing in my spare time. I hope to share some more tips from the road.

My destination is San Diego, to take up a new position: Security Evangelist for ESET, the anti-virus, anti-cybercrime company.

One of the many things that appealed to me about this opportunity was the fact that ESET is truly a global company. Not only are ESET's information security products sold in more than 180 countries, the company itself is based in Bratislava, Slovakia, with offices in Buenos Aires, Prague, Krakow and Singapore, as well as the distribution center for the Americas in San Diego. Call me a traveling fool but I'm hoping to visit them all. Until then, this old trainspotter will always have the San Diego trolley to ride.

The Apartment With Everything, Now Available Everywhere (Irony Included)

So here's something way more ironic than anything in the Alanis Morissette song of the same name. My wife found a gorgeous apartment to rent in San Diego, for only $1,000 a month (I will explain why she was looking in a moment). The place looked great in the photos and it sounded great in the description on Craigslist:
"2 Bedroom, 2 Bath, fully furnished, modern kitchen and bath, cable TV, Internet wi-fi, electricity, water, local phone included. Nestled in a quiet, almost suburban-like setting, you're just a few minutes away from world-class dining, shopping and the verve of theaters, clubs and nightlife. Great location, great features. All at a location that's exactly right, exactly where you want to be."

All that for $1,000 in San Diego, California? Sounds fantastic, but hardly ironic. So let me add the most interesting thing about this place, something not immediately apparent: it is also for rent in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, and many other cities in America. But even that's not ironic, that's just another sick cyber-scam.

Apartment ScamLet me add some more data points. My wife and I have spent many years working in the field of information security--where uncovering online scams and other cyber-crime was part of the job--and we are planning to move to San Diego next month, for my new job as Security Evangelist for ESET, a software company dedicated to fighting cyber-crime. We don't need a furnished apartment, but this place looked inviting (and it could lead one to think rent in downtown San Diego is very affordable).

So here's the irony: The apartment that I wanted to rent in order to facilitate my move to a new job fighting cyber-crime turned out to be a cyber-scam!

I was going to provide links to the scam pages (they were mainly on Craigslist) so you could check them out--they were quite professional with fewer typos than your average scam --but after my wife sent Craigslist a description of the scam they pulled it from all the cities mentioned above.

Of course, there may have been other complaints but my wife actually got the scammer to send her an email, which provided further details of the scam that she passed along to Craigslist. Apparently the scammer claims to be out of the country and seeks to get the prospective renter to send her a deposit, presumably before they find out that the whole thing is a fraud.

Notes: I say "her" only because the name most often associated with these fake apartment listings is Amanda Dawson (although I'm pretty sure that is not the scammer's real name). Also note that I think Alanis Morissette is a very good actor and singer, I just don't like the song  "Ironic" because most of it isn't. I don't know why I have a problem with errors in works of art, but I do. For example, the great big hole in Lord of the Flies--you can't use a short-sighted person's glasses to make fire--spoils that book for me (maybe it's because I've been myopic since I was 11 and tried using my glasses to burn paper on several occasions until my father sat me down and told me the facts of light).

My 2001 Jeep Turns 111111

Just a quick post to pay my respects to the vehicle that has faithfully carried me down the road for the past 5 years, the 6 cylinder 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 that I bought at CarMax. I missed the odometer turn over 100K, but somehow 111,111 miles looks even cooler.





White space rural broadband moves one step closer

"The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the organisation that helped ignite the Wi-Fi revolution nearly a decade ago, has published a new wireless standard that promises to bring broadband access to under-served rural areas.

Called IEEE 802.22, the new specification has been designed to take advantage of those portions of the radio frequency spectrum that are increasingly available as digital television switchover schemes make progress around the world.

With support for both VHF (very-high frequency) and UHF (ultra-high frequency) TV bands, sites as far as 100 kilometres away from a single transmitter could enjoy broadband speeds typical of more densely populated areas.

According to the IEEE, each transmitter will be capable of delivering up to 22 Mbit/s per channel “without interfering with reception of existing TV broadcast stations, using the so-called white spaces between the occupied TV channels”."

White space rural broadband moves one step closer