The June 2004 Blog
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Your E-Mail Is Not Your Own (Wednesday, Jun 30)
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From an AP story that just came across the wire:

In an online eavesdropping case with potentially profound implications, a federal appeals court ruled it was acceptable for a company that offered e-mail service to surreptitiously track its subscribers' messages.

Boy, that's such a tough issue. On the surface, it's easy to say "of course my e-mail provider shouldn't be able to read my e-mail". Hence the recent complaints about targeted GMail ads (which seem to have died down quite a bit since it was first announced). And the EFF is certainly fired up about it.

But then think about e-mail services like spam blocking and virus scanning. If those are server-based programs, they've got to be "reading" the e-mails in order to do it. People will pay extra to have their ISP do some quality spam blocking for them, but they sure don't want their ISPs to be able to actually read their mail.

The tough thing is trying to write laws around all the possible situations. How do you write a law that says that a company shouldn't read the e-mails that pass through its systems while still giving them the ability to perform spam filtering and virus scanning and even database maintenance if there's a problem ("nope, we can't look at the sendmail files to try to troubleshoot that crash, because we're not allowed to open anything mail related"). Heck, how can you even technically route an e-mail without having the server "read" it to figure out what the headers say?

Do I think what the Interloc people did was okay? Well, probably not. It was at least unethical. But it's a difficult thing to nail down from the legal standpoint.

It should remind you, though, that your e-mail is not necessarily your own. When you send a message from your account to someone else's, it passes though any number of Internet servers as a plaintext message. If that bothers you, find yourself a good PGP program.

Playing Sounds in Notes (Sunday, Jun 27)
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The other day I was trying to send someone an e-mail with a sound attachment, and I wanted the person to be able to click a button to play the sound (here's the sound if you're curious). You can use NotesUIWorkspace.PlayTunes to do this, but that requires detaching the file and saving it to the hard drive and then running it from there. Seemed like a lot of trouble just to play a sound.

So I tinkered around a little, and decided to attach the file as an OLE object and call it like that. Worked like a champ. Now I know that the code is simple and it's probably obvious to most other people who might want to do this sort of thing, but I haven't published a tip all month and I was feeling guilty, so I put it on one of my tips pages as: Play a WAV File in a Rich Text Field.

Maybe that will help someone, somewhere.

Today's Fashions, Yesterday's Taste (Friday, Jun 25)
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I'll admit, I know almost nothing about fashion as it relates to clothing styles. This is generally obvious to the people who have met me. So I have this question:

Are pink polo shirts for men back in style?

I've seen three different guys in different places in the last week who were wearing pink polo shirts, which struck me as odd because I don't think I've seen a man in a pink polo shirt since about 1986. And for me to notice that kind of trend -- since I don't pay attention to fashion and I especially don't tend to notice other men's clothes (not that there's anything wrong with that...) -- is probably a good indicator that lots of other men are rushing to the mall and shopping for pink polo shirts. Next thing I know, I'll start seeing guys in white cotton pants with seafoam green t-shirts and no socks.

I just don't get the 80's look I guess. I mean, it's like so totally gag me with a spoon.

Differences Between Portal And Portal Express (Wednesday, Jun 23)
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Struggling to understand the difference between WebSphere Portal Enable/Extend and WebSphere Portal Express? Here's a chart someone gave me with a nice summary:

Here are a few other differences to consider:

There are probably other, possibly more significant differences, but those were the only ones I could think of right now. If you'd like to add anything to the list, please feel free to leave a comment.

Why Our Portal Implementation Is On The Backburner (Sunday, Jun 20)
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Well, after a couple of months of evaluating WebSphere Portal at work, I think it's officially on the backburner for now. The decision isn't entirely up to me, but that's where I'm leaning. Here's why.

There are two different ways you can look at a portal-type technology. You can look at it as an application development environment, in which case you need to spend your time learning JSP and J2EE so you can build your own portlets and interfaces and custom connectors and, well, applications. Or you can look at it as an aggregation technology, in which case you need to spend your time trying to understand how to expose your existing environment through any of the hundreds of pre-built portlets that are available. Certainly there's a middle ground in there too, and certainly everyone falls along a different point on the axis between developer and aggregator, but for the purpose of argument I'm going to divide everyone into those two camps.

We happen to be in the aggregation camp. We have a large investment in Lotus Notes -- both as a mail system and an application server -- and we're not interested in replacing any of that right now. Indeed, the promise of WebSphere Portal/Workplace in the future is that Notes will fold neatly into those technologies. The problem is, it's not quite there yet.

Don't get me wrong, there are some really nice integration points between Portal and Notes. For example:

However, despite all this, we still can't replace our Notes client with Portal. It's still there, it still has to be there, and there are still a large number of things you can only do in the client. I don't dislike the Notes client at all (in fact, I'm rather fond of it), but if we keep the Notes client and then add Portal on top of it, then we're not really aggregating so much as adding just one more place that our users have to go for information.

I suppose if we really wanted to go whole hog and start living inside of Bowstreet Portlet Factory and write our own custom portlets, we could create a much smoother interface to our Notes applications, but what's the point in that? That's just one more thing to maintain, one more thing that anyone who inherits these applications in the future won't understand, and one more thing that could break if we make the smallest change to our applications on the Notes side. Those of us in the "aggregation" camp want to do as little development as possible.

The answer for me, right now, is to wait a little longer. Once the Workplace Rich Client gets its Notes interface, that will bring me a lot closer to a good solution. WebSphere Portal has some very nice and very useful interfaces to other technologies, and once the Notes piece falls into place, it'll be a phenomenal tool. And to be honest, there's not any other tool on the market or on the horizon that even comes close -- the other Notes-friendly tools (like Vignette) still require too much customization on a database-by-database basis, and Sharepoint is more of a web-interface to Outlook than a portal.

So in the meantime, I'd like to try to build a cheap WebSphere Portal Express environment as a sandbox, so I can at least have my hands on the technology. That'll make me more ready to strike when the time is right. And who knows, maybe one of the business units will come up with a requirement that Portal would be a perfect fit for. If we've already got a Portal Express server configured and sitting around idling, then we could potentially turn around a proof-of-concept pretty quickly.

In fact, I think it would be wise of IBM to try to get a Portal Express server up and running in every single Notes shop that has a Passport license (non-Passport would be nice too, but you have to start somewhere). That way, when you happen to be in a moment of truth type of situation, the server is already there, already configured, and ready to go. The original entitlement that gave Notes customers 20 free Portal Express licenses expired at the end of last December, and that would be a great thing to bring back. Especially now that ND 6.5 users get the free Sametime entitlement, and Sametime fits so nicely with Portal.

Punny News (Saturday, Jun 19)
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Here's the headline and the first sentence of a news story from last Thursday:

Sun weans workers from healthy perk
In yet another sign that Silicon Valley is no longer the land of milk and honey, Sun Microsystems has cut much of its lactation services to breast-feeding mothers.

Okay, I count at least two puns in those two lines alone (possibly three, depending on how you want to use the word "perk"). What I can't figure out is if this is supposed to be a serious news story or not. I mean, I guess it is, but if you're making fun of the story that you're reporting on so blatantly, it's hard to read it as a real story.

Then again, with that kind of subject matter, maybe they just couldn't help themselves.

Random Wireless Tweaks (Wednesday, Jun 16)
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I've been doing a little tweaking on my wireless network at home, owing to the fact that we now have a computer in the bedroom (gasp!), which happens to be as far from my wireless router as I could possibly get without going outside. I think there are 5 walls, 2 TVs, a refrigerator, and a microwave all in a direct line between the router and the new computer.

Surprisingly, I was actually able to get a connection on the new computer, but it was kind of choppy when we were trying to surf the Internet. After a couple days of tweaking though, I finally got everything pretty stable -- not perfect, but much more bearable. For anyone who's bored and interested, here are some pointers.

Update your firmware and your drivers. If you have a Linksys router like me, check their site to see if they've got any firmware updates. You may be surprised. They just released some new firmware for some of their older units that contain security patches and a couple of long overdue bug fixes.

If you're daring like Volker, you can even play around with non-standard firmware images for your router, although that's definitely caveat emptor territory. If you're only looking for logging support, you might be able to use the stock firmware along with some of the information on the All About Jake site (kind of old, but may still be relevant).

Play with the antenna positions. Okay, part of this is obvious -- try to position your router as high as possible with few obstructions -- but what surprised me was that playing with the angles of the antennas themselves could make a huge difference. I'm not sure about the physics involved with antenna positions, but the Linksys devices have two separate antennas that swivel about 135 degrees, and making little incremental (10 degrees or so) changes to the antenna angles can really affect your reception.

I happened to be alone while I was doing this, so it was about 30 or 40 minutes of rotating the antennas, running across the house, checking the reception for a few minutes, running back across the house, rotating the antennas again, etc., etc. I'm sure that any of my neighbors who happened to see me through the windows thought I was crazy, but they probably think that anyway...

Disable Windows QoS. I have to admit, I'm not sure that this definitely helped, but it seemed to. If you have Windows 2000 or Windows XP, you can go into the Network Connections settings, open the properties of your wireless adapter, and uncheck the QoS Packet Scheduler component. Again, I can't say for sure that this helped, but it really seemed to get rid of some of the "choppiness" on the Internet connection. It certainly didn't hurt.

If you're using WPA on Windows XP, modify your registry. If you have one of the new 802.11g routers with WPA enabled, and you have a Windows XP computer, please read this forum post on and see if that registry entry makes a difference. Apparently a lot of people using WPA on XP have connectivity issues, and modifying that setting seems to help.

Consider adjusting your TCP Receive Window. Please read the article Windows optimizations for broadband connections (RWIN) for further information. You should really only need to play around with this if your wireless connectivity levels jump around often and significantly (which can cause latency issues), but if you obsessively adjust the settings on your computer anyway then you might want to do it just for fun. If you're using Windows NT/2K/XP, a tool like Dr. TCP will make the testing process much easier.

(UPDATE: don't forget to read the comments for more tips. Artur Pecko mentioned that a directional antenna dramatically increased his reception, and Stan Rogers said that disabling WZC after connecting helps keep him from getting dropped.)

Shopping For Father's Day (Sunday, Jun 13)
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Father's Day is next weekend, which means that the ads in the Sunday paper are full of tools, grills, and other manly Father's Day gift ideas. In today's Sears flyer, they have three lawn edgers/trimmers to choose from. Here are the tickler lines for each one:

Assuming that the Father's Day ads are designed to catch the eye of someone's wife (since they're the ones who will be buying such presents)...I just had to laugh. I guess I should keep this ad, so if I get a new edger next weekend I'll know what it really means.

"Here honey, they said this one had better reach."

The Notes Client Object Is Coming... (Friday, Jun 11)
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According to the article IBM Workplace: A technical summary:

Domino developers likewise will be pleased that Lotus Workplace support for Notes/Domino is coming along so well that when Notes/Domino 7 is released next year, Notes applications will run natively in the Workplace Client Technology--something that had previously been targeted for Notes/Domino 8.

Cool. I read an article a couple weeks ago (can't remember where) that said that Ambuj Goyal was "pushing" to have this done for the Notes 7 release, but this seems even less speculative than that. Funny that while Microsoft is pushing their product features and release dates farther and farther out, IBM seems to be pulling theirs closer and closer...

Consumer Products 2010 (Wednesday, Jun 9)
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The IBM Business Consulting Services group produces a number of newsletters, case studies, and reports. These are usually industry specific kinds of topics, but sometimes they're fairly general in nature too.

I just read a PDF that they put out not too long ago entitled Consumer Products 2010: Executing to lead in a world of extremes. The report is geared toward the consumer products market (obviously), but some of the ideas are easily applied to anyone who's selling something -- consultants, e-commerce sites, etc. In some respects, they even apply to internal project managers and IT departments.

Rather than write an essay rehashing the ideas in the report, I'll just give you some quotes and let you read the rest yourself (it's only 40 pages long). Here's one that was particularly interesting to me:

By 2010, we can expect to see the downfall of companies that provide “reasonable value” at “reasonable prices”. Success will come to either lowest-cost, mass value products or premium-margin products with which consumers have strong emotional attachment. The challenge for marketers is to accurately assess which specific consumers are likely to trade up or down in their particular area.

I like that paragraph because it reflects the theory I've tried to use for my own personal buying habits for years now, which is to either buy something cheap, or pay the price for really good quality, because if you go halfway you'll just be spending too much money on something that wasn't quite what you wanted in the first place. It's what the report authors call the "well curve".

Here's a good bit about advertising and marketing:

Consumers are overwhelmed – and increasingly annoyed. Enabled by technology and regulation, time-strapped consumers are blocking out communications that are not demonstrably relevant to their particular needs and interests. New technological tools for phones, Web browsers and televisions are already impacting the volume of marketing messages that make it through; for example, among TiVo users (currently 1.3 million strong and growing fast), as many as 77 percent of people watching recorded prime-time TV programs are skipping past the advertisements...

With many traditional mass marketing avenues blocked or becoming less effective, marketing tactics will need to focus increasingly on influencing behavior at the point of purchase. As 2010 approaches, more purchasing decisions will be made during “moments of truth” while the customer is in the store, at the bar or in the restaurant. Already, 40 to 50 percent of grocery shoppers “almost always” or “frequently” deviate from their shopping lists and make unplanned purchases.

I wonder if that means that software sales forces will become even more aggressive in trying to convince customers to make immediate and "unplanned purchases"? I hope not. With any luck, it means they'll pay more frequent attention to their customers (hoping to be there at the "moment of truth"), and give us more tchotchkes and apparel with lots of logos (just so we're always thinking of them).

Finally, here's a good thought about the strength of business alliances:

In 2010, threats will come, not just from other companies, but also from large, integrated networks of competitors.

In other words, if you're not actively partnering with other related businesses yet, now's the time to start. The strength of the many, and all that.

People Who Annoy IT People (Tuesday, Jun 8)
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For any of the non-IT folks in the audience, here's a list for you. These are the types of people who typically annoy me, and who probably annoy most if not all other members of the Information Technology world. Don't be one of these people:

Not sure why I felt like I had to get that off my chest, but I feel much better now. Thanks.

Have You Been Flossing? (Thursday, Jun 3)
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I had my six month dentist appointment today. As with every other dentist appointment I've ever had, the first question they asked before they pulled out the scrapers and pneumatic tooth-hammers and dental weapons of mass destruction was: "Have you been flossing regularly?" And, as with every other dentist appointment I've ever had, I lied: "Yes."

I don't know why I always do that, but I just can't help it. It's not like I never floss. I do it on a semi-regular basis (at least in the front), and more often if I happen to eat popcorn or corn-on-the-cob. The stupid thing is, they can tell right away if I've been flossing or not, and I know that, and I lie anyway. It's just part of the dance.

And then at the end, after they're done slicing up my gums with a pointy metal hook, they always tell me: "Well, we're seeing a little bleeding at the gumline, so you'll need to make sure that you keep up with the flossing." To which I always want to respond: "You'd be bleeding too if I jabbed your gums fifty times with a sharp little hook," but of course I don't, because I know that's really just their way of saying that they know I was lying and they really mean it when they say I should floss.

And I know they're right, just like they always are. Stupid know-it-all dentists.

How To Read 1600 Blogs A Day (Tuesday, Jun 1)
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I meant to write about this a couple weeks ago, but I just plain forgot. Erik Thauvin recently talked about how he manages to keep up with 1600 blogs a day.

I've always wondered how he does it, although I think he's still leaving something out. Like he has a staff of interns who pre-filter everything for him or something. I just can't imagine dealing with that kind of volume...