Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Malware Used for Corporate Espionage

Yesterday, I heard a report on NPR about Israeli corporate officials indicted for using Trojan horses to copy confidential information from their competitors' computers. I can't find a link to the original story, but I did find this story on Haaretz.com. One excerpt:
...companies suspected of espionage include the satellite television company Yes, which is suspected of spying on cable television company HOT; cell-phone companies Pelephone and Cellcom, suspected of spying on their mutual rival Partner; and Mayer, which imports Volvos and Hondas to Israel and is suspected of spying on Champion Motors, importer of Audis and Volkswagens. Spy programs were also located in the computers of major companies such as Strauss-Elite, Shekem Electric and the business daily Globes
Scary stuff.

Hacknot Is Not

I haven't been able to get to the excellent Hacknot site for over a week. Hopefully, Hacknot is experiencing temporary technical difficulties. Until it is fixed, I have removed the link previously available on the right.

I took this opportunity to do some other housecleaning too. See the new Software Development category at right for a list of resources on software development best practices. I hope to add other links over time.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Her Mother and I Do

That was the only line I had to remember yesterday at my daughter's wedding. My cue was the question, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

After that, her mother and I got to sit back and enjoy the wedding with everyone else. My daughter and her husband had planned the wedding themselves. Everything was beautifully done.

Her mother and I really appreciate all the family and friends who attended the wedding. It was great to visit with you, some of you for the first time in months or years. You made a special moment wonderfully special.

Firemen Join the Party

Something goes wrong at even the best planned weddings. Just as we arrived for the rehearsal on Friday, something set off the fire alarm and we had to evacuate the building. After the Fire Department handled the routine call, some Firemen stopped long enough to pose for a photograph. The false alarm was a minor annoyance and a great memory for everyone in the wedding party.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And This is Not My Fault


It's Not Newsweek's Fault

Newsweek publishes a false report about the desecration of the Koran and deadly riots erupt in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Andrew McCarthy (via Doug Ross) got it right when he said the riots are not Newsweek's fault.
Afghanistan has been an American reconstruction project for nearly four years. Pakistan has been a close American "war on terror" ally for just as long. This is what we're getting from the billions spent, the lives lost, and the grand project of exporting nonjudgmental, sharia-friendly democracy? A killing spree? Over this?
The American Left has been giving Muslim extremists a pass for years. Thank you, Mr. McCarthy, for showing that Conservatives are giving the extremists a pass when they blame Newsweek for the riots.

As a counterpoint to "the bigotry of low expectations", I like Fouad Ajami's cautious optimism on Iraq. Mr. Ajami is a Middle East scholar and frequent contributor to U.S. News. The world needs more strong Arab and Muslim voices who, like Mr. Ajami, resist the politics of victimhood.

Monday, May 23, 2005

June-July Issue of Striding Along

There's a new issue of the Gate City Striders newsletter on the web. See the newsletter page.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Pete's post on Monday reminded me I should really have a disclaimer on my blog. How about this?
The opinions expressed here are well reasoned and insightful. Needless to say, they are not those of the International House of Software.
I will run it by my lawyer (with credit to Michael Feldman). Meanwhile, I've added a boilerplate disclaimer on the right.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Fitness University 2005

Fitness University is a free fitness program for kids. It is hosted by my running club, the Gate City Striders, and includes clinics throughout June and July. It is a great progam. If you live in the Nashua area and have young children, please consider attending a clinic. See the Fitness University page for more info.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Reflections on Computervision

Yesterday, Brian and I were reminiscing about our days working at Computervision. Reminiscing may not be the right word. Although I have known Brian for a while, I never realized we both worked at Computervision in the early 1980s -- not until yesterday. We traded a dozen names and a few stories. Apparently, we were in the same relatively small circle, but never met back then. Funny.

Computervision was my first real software development job. I worked on CADDS4, a so-called "turnkey" Computer Aided Design (CAD) product. "Turnkey" meant you bought the hardware and software from Computervision. The CPU was based on the Data General Nova minicomputer. The monitor was an enormous monochrome Instaview display. The tablet in front of the monitor was an input device. You used a stylus to draw on the tablet and select commands from a static template.

We programmed exclusively in FORTRAN. This is mind-boggling to me now. I don't know how we got anything done. FORTRAN has a rigid, punch card-oriented syntax. A 'C' in column 1 indicates the line is a comment. Otherwise, columns 1-5 are reserved for line numbers. Column 6 is used only when the line is a continuation of the previous line. But you can do anything you want with the remaining 74 columns.

And people did. The language was created before many of the fundamentals of structured programming were developed. Think GOTO statements -- lots of them.

But I digress. What I really want to convey is an important lesson I learned at Computervision. Here it is:
Innovation inside a company can be a threat to the business. Innovation outside the company is a bigger threat.
This may sound trite, but when you are in the thick of things, it can be hard to see.

In 1984 Computervision, long the dominant player in CAD, was in a pitched battle with the likes of Applicon and Intergraph. These companies had come up with a new spin on turnkey CAD. Instead of building their own hardware, they packaged their software on hardware from other vendors. As I recall, Applicon and Intergraph both wrote software for Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) hardware. Other CAD vendors developed software for Sun and Apollo hardware. Market pressure forced Computervision to embark on a major migration from its proprietary hardware to Sun microcomputers. But Computervision, Applicon and Intergraph were all still in the turnkey CAD business.

Computervision was struggling mightily with the SunOS migration when another threat developed -- this time from inside the company. Ken Ledeen and some other smart people started a "greenhouse" project to investigate the Personal Computer-based CAD market. I don't know why they started the project. Maybe they noticed PC-based WordStar was starting to erode Wang's turnkey word processing business. Maybe they wondered if the same thing could happen to turnkey CAD. In any case, they struck a deal with a small development company and quickly released Personal Designer. It wasn't nearly as capable as CADDS4, but over a couple of releases, it became increasingly powerful. And Personal Designer ran on any 286 PC with a math co-processor installed. Customers could even run it on the same machine they were already using for WordStar.

Personal Designer was sold through a completely new channel. It was shrink-wrapped, shipped in volume to companies like Egghead, and sold by mail order. It started to take off. Pretty soon the traditional Computervision sales department took notice. They complained Personal Designer was "cannibalizing" the CADDS4 business. Although Ken Ledeen tried to reason with the sales department, Personal Designer remained a pariah. I won't say it was killed, but it did slowly die of neglect. It never got the funding and support it deserved.

I won't bore you with all the details, but a little company called AutoDesk rode the PC revolution to take huge chunks of the CAD market from the turnkey vendors. The way I remember it, Personal Designer had the jump on AutoCAD, but AutoDesk was hungrier than Computervision. Computervision, Applicon, and Intergraph were eventually either decimated or acquired.

I have seen the same thing happen a few times in my career. A company stifles innovation because it threatens the main business. Don't get me wrong -- innovation can be painful. For example it hurts to transform a company from a low-volume, high-margin business to a high-volume, low-margin one. But it hurts more when your competitor eats your lunch.

Apparently, the Computervision brand and products are now wholly owned by Parametric Technology Company. For a slice of Computervision history visit this page. For more on the history of CAD, see this one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Time Traveler Convention

As Bob reported recently, there was (or is?) a time traveler convention on May 7 at MIT. Steve Garfield's video log has a complete report on the convention. The long version of his video has some funny bits including interviews with MIT students on the possibility of time travel.

(via Rocketboom)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Google Hegemony

Try this experiment. Type "define:hegemony" into Google and press Search. This will bring you to a list of ten or more definitions of the word. As Doug Ross writes in his blog today, this is one reason why Google is taking over the world.

The Google web site is no longer just a search engine. It is a dictionary, address book, phone book, news service (Google News), map service (Google Maps), library (Google Print), and much, much more. On top of that, Google the company is building a portfolio of services including Google Mail and Blogger. The company's reach seems limitless.

Read Doug's blog for more.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Moosepath League

When I read for pleasure, I read mostly the classics, history or historical fiction. Lots of historical fiction these days is quite depressing. Think Cold Mountain. It is a great story, wonderfully told, but the ending could have been happier.

In the past few years, I have read The Black Flower, The Year of Jubilo, Long Remember, The Mulberry Empire and Lost Nation to name just a few historical novels. Search Google for any of the above and the first hit will generally take you to Google Print where you can read a selection. (Google Print is very cool, by the way. ) I can recommend each book but I'll warn you that each is relentlessly bleak. Human history is certainly full of tragedy, but it is also full of comedy, courageous acts, social progress, and acts of kindness small and large. I wonder why apparently so few modern novelists see it that way.

All of that is a preamble to my recommendation of the Moosepath League -- a series of relentlessly positive books. Cordelia Underwood, Mollie Peer, and Daniel Plainway make up the series. The books are centered in Portland, Maine in the year 1896 and follow the exploits of the Moosepath League as they travel throughout Maine. Follow the link above for more information on the books. They make great summer reading.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint

This is probably old news to some readers, but I got a kick out of this parody of the Gettysburg Address. No technology is inherently evil, but PowerPoint comes close.

(via Hacknot)


I've added Hacknot to the list of blogs on the right. Bob Congdon recently cited Hacknot's post about SWT. This is just the latest in a series of excellent posts about software development and related topics. I particularily like The Architecture Group and The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Info-Mania and Your IQ

A study commissioned by Hewlett Packard and covered by The Washington Post and Red Herring says we are becoming Info-Maniacs. We constantly check our email and allow instant messages and cell-phones to interrupt real work, meetings and down-time. And such behavior is making us stupid.

According to Red Herring:
... environments with distracting technologies lower IQ by an average of more than 10 points when compared with quiet conditions.

By comparison, other research has shown that smoking marijuana causes just a 4-point drop. A 10-point reduction is similar to the impact of missing an entire night’s sleep.
I am skeptical about such claims and wonder whether bad reporting on pseudo-scientific research is more damaging to your IQ. However, I applaud Hewlett-Packard's Guide to Info-Mania. I especially like the section on improving meetings by reducing interruptions and casual attendance. Check it out.