This month we updated the design of our website and added some new features. A major addition to the website is a blog with content contributed by everyone in the company. I say major because it is no small task to get everyone in the company to contribute content on a regular basis. First, it was an experiment to see if we could get everyone to contribute, and now that everyone has at least one article in, we will see how long we can sustain it. To see how we did it, read on. . .
When we began the task of redesigning our website I had the vision of a blog with content from everyone in the company. I didn’t want to just use a news service that would provide us content, and I didn’t want to have just a couple of people write articles. I wanted to get a broader point of view of all the different ways we use technology. We have a very broad and diverse set of clients and I thought they would appreciate the many different topics we could come up with.
Have you seen those “To the Cloud!” commercials on TV and thought “To the what?” Well, you aren’t alone. A lot of people have been wondering what exactly Microsoft is selling in those commercials. “The Cloud” has been around since 2006, when Amazon first started selling excess computing and storage capacity, but only recently have companies started marketing it to consumers. The problem is that most people don’t know what “The Cloud” is.
Everyone understands the concept of renting a hotel room. You go to a building that some company owns and maintains and you use your credit card to purchase a certain sized room or rooms for a certain length of time. The room has electricity, television, water, maid service, etc. While you are in the room you expect a certain level of privacy to do whatever you came to do. When you are done you take what you brought with you and check out.
In my December newsletter article, I explained what a botnet is and how criminals use them to attack certain targets on the Internet. In that article, I equated those botnets to the battle droids used in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In this article, I have an even more outlandish story to tell. The main character of this story is Aaron Barr, CEO of Security firm HBGary . He reminds me of the main character Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. Sometimes you love him, sometimes you hate him, and sometimes you just feel sorry for him. While Tony Stark’s weakness was the shrapnel coursing through his veins, Aaron Barr’s weakness was his simple use of a single password between multiple online systems.
Aaron Barr thought he could track down the identity of hackers using social media. He thought if he did this, it would generate a lot of publicity for his company. In order to generate as much publicity as possible, he went after a hacker group called “Anonymous”. It is believed that this group orchestrated an attack on credit card companies in retaliation for blocking Wikileaks funding channels. The entire story can be read here, but suffice it to say, Aaron befriended some of the members of the group. He followed through with his plan by giving them reason to trust him, but then turned on them and threatened to expose what he believed to be their true identities.
Recently, I was talking to a client about performance issues they were having with their primary database server. Their business has taken off in recent months and they have added additional staff. That has resulted in an increase in both the amount of data in their system, and the number of users accessing it. They had come to me a while ago about ways to speed up some workstations that they use for CAD work. I had suggested trying solid state drives. They followed my recommendation and saw drastic improvements in the performance of those systems. Because of that positive experience, they wanted to try the same thing with this database server. But, putting solid state drives in servers with large storage requirements can be a much more complicated and expensive undertaking than putting one in a laptop or PC.
We initially investigated solutions from the major SAN and server manufacturers, but the costs were two to three times what the customer’s budget would allow. We then started brainstorming alternative solutions. I knew that Intel is one of the best manufacturers of solid state drives. I also knew that they have been winning awards with a new line of servers. So, I looked into the Intel solution and found the perfect combination of price and performance. It was exactly what the client was looking for. To make things even better, Intel had a case study of another organization that had implemented the exact server configuration we were considering.
In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace the Trade Federation used tall, thin, skeleton-like battle droids in many large-scale attacks. These battle droids blindly carried out commands sent to them from centralized control ships. The droids were unthinking and would follow any orders given to them.
It seems like something you would only see in a science-fiction movie, but just like battle droids, there are armies of zombie computers all around the world being centrally controlled to wage wars. These “botnets”, as they are called, are used for varying types of criminal activity like attacking other computers and sending spam. There are some botnet armies that number in the millions, but most are in the tens of thousands. When the Wikileaks website was recently attacked, it was by some of these botnets. And when Paypal stopped allowing donations to Wikileaks through their website, botnets attacked and took down credit card websites in retaliation.
On August 5th, 2010, a Chilean gold and copper mine collapsed, trapping 33 miners under nearly a half mile of some of the hardest rock on the planet. The fear was that they all died in the collapse, or will die soon due to lack of food and water. It took over 17 days of drilling six inch exploratory holes, using nine drilling rigs at a time, to locate the miners. All 33 of them were found to be alive and well.
The exploratory holes were large enough to be used to run communication lines and to send water and food to the miners. However, they were not large enough for rescue. Based on the hardness of the rock and the drilling technology on site, the original estimate to free the miners was 3 months if everything went perfectly and possibly into the New Year, if any problems were encountered.
Unless you have been living under a rock, or are trapped in a mine, you know that the miners were all rescued well ahead of that original estimate. In fact, they were rescued on October 12th, 2010, nearly six weeks sooner than the most optimistic estimate. The reason for the quick rescue was new technology. But not the technology I normally write about here. The new technology used was drilling technology.
Recently, my wife Mary has become more involved in the Mason School District where we live. She is the volunteer coordinator for the PTO and heads up the absentee ballot committee for the proposed levy. With the work she has been involved with, I have become aware of how hi-tech the volunteer community has become. This isn’t my Mom’s La Leche League phone-tree.
After Mary’s first PTO meeting, she came home and told me of her new position and her need for a new smart phone. Before that meeting, she saw no need to check her e-mail constantly for work or for personal reasons. But for the PTO, it required ‘round the clock access. So, I took her shopping for a phone and she picked out a nice slim Android model. Now, she can check her e-mail as well as update Facebook anytime she gets the urge.
In the July Newsletter, I wrote about the ongoing feud between Microsoft and Apple, and the upcoming release of the new Windows 7 Mobile devices. Since that time, I have run across some seemingly unrelated articles about the two companies. These news articles have caused me to form a conspiracy theory about the competitive practices of Microsoft. I have no proof that my theory is correct, but anyone who I have told the theory to has agreed that it is very feasible. So I will present my case here and let the debate begin!
There have been many reports of service issues on the AT&T network caused by too many Apple iPhones consuming too much of the AT&T network capacity. In one case, AT&T actually halted sales of iPhones in the New York City area until they could add more bandwidth. Specific functions of the phone, like tethering, have been disabled by upgrades to reduce the amount of bandwidth each phone uses. AT&T is spending millions of dollars to continue to expand their network, but they can’t seem to build it as fast as bandwidth consumption increases.
You would think these days that companies would be struggling to keep their technology up with that of their competitors or at least other businesses in their area. But there is a phenomenon called the “consumerism of IT” that is causing businesses to struggle to keep up with the technology of their employees.
Growing up, I remember that whenever I needed to work on a computer, print or copy something, or even enjoy some air conditioning – it necessitated a trip to my father’s office. His office had all of the newfangled techno-gadgets of the time like a facsimile machine. Even in recent times, I’m sure you remember when e-mail and the Internet was something you could only get when in the office. And for a while, the office had that fast T1 connection for accessing the Internet, while you were stuck in the slow lane at home on your dial-up connection.
At the very end of the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is quoted as saying after his attack on Pearl Harbor, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
I couldn’t help but think of this quote while sitting in keynote speeches last week at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, DC. Over the past couple of years, Apple has launched some successful attacks against Microsoft with their “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” ad campaigns and their very popular iPhone and iPad products. During that same time, it seemed as though Microsoft was asleep at the wheel with their dismal Vista release and unremarkable mobile products.
I have been writing articles for our newsletter for about a year now. In January, Rick Phipps joined in on the fun and has been contributing a monthly article of his own. Ever since that time, he and I have had a friendly rivalry over who gets more fan mail. Truthfully, the e-mails we receive aren’t really fan mail – we just call any e-mail we get about the newsletter fan mail so we can brag to each other. Yes, it seems infantile, but we have fun with it.
Luckily, Ricky and I aren’t competing with our staff for fan mail, because we would be quickly outclassed. Our staff receives lots of fan mail on a daily basis from our clients via support ticket surveys. Everyone in management gets a daily summary report from our survey system so they can see all of the feedback – both good and bad. Any extraordinary feedback is shared with the entire company on a weekly basis. Everyone on our support staff takes the surveys very seriously, and they really appreciate the positive feedback they receive from our clients.
Recently, we have begun posting all of that fan mail on our website. On the right side of our main page at http://www.intrustgroup.com, you will see a scrolling list of recent fan mail we have received. Check it out and you might see some of your own feedback scroll by. If you want your website to do cool things like that, contact our JoomGO! web design specialist Mike Mayleben at http://www.joomgo.com or (513) 824-6822. On second thought, I would rather you just e-mail me if you are interested. That way I can count it as fan mail ;-)
Recently on a Friday night I settled in on the sofa next to my wife to watch a movie. I had rented a movie on Blu-ray. As we waited for the disc to spin up we ate some popcorn and chatted. After a few minutes of seeing nothing but a black screen we became suspicious that something was amiss. We turned off all of the equipment, and turned it back on, but it continued to show us nothing but a blank screen. We removed the disc and wiped it off and tried again – but had the same luck. After trying a different disc and being rewarded with more than just black silence we realized that the rented disc was incompatible with our player.
Because I tend to buy new gadgets as soon as they hit the market, my Blu-ray player is a couple of years old. In the course of my troubleshooting I remembered that the manual had mentioned a need to upgrade the firmware on the player from time to time. So I got on my computer, visited the manufacturer’s website and read through some technical articles until I found how and where to get the updated firmware. I downloaded the firmware, put it on a USB memory stick, and followed the directions on how to use the menu system on the player to upgrade the firmware.