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Ontario Technoblog

Ontario Emperor technology blog.

This blog has been superseded by the mrontemp blog
Location: Ontario, California, United States

Sometime audio artist. Email comments on this blog to the gmail account mrontemp.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Love to see the Daubert hearing on this one

From Wired:

Researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, are exploring the possibility of a biometric security device that will use a person's thoughts to authenticate her or his identity.

Their idea of utilizing brain-wave signatures as "pass-thoughts" is based on the premise that brain waves are unique to each individual. Even when thinking of the same thing, the brain's measurable electrical impulses vary slightly from person to person. Some researchers believe the difference might just be enough to create a system that allows you to log in with your thoughts....

The research is an outgrowth of efforts to build a brain-computer interface, or BCI, by trying to extract the meaningful parts of brain-wave signals measured by an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and translate them into recognizable computer commands that allow disabled people to control and manipulate prosthetic devices. A chief challenge facing BCI technology is that brain-wave signatures are unique, so a system trained to recognize a particular user can be quite difficult for another to manipulate....

However, some researchers are skeptical that a computer will ever be able to passively recognize a particular mental image in a person's head.

Iead Rezek, of the Pattern Analysis Research Group at the University of Oxford, says the proposal has "flair," but is impractical: Too many things are going on in the brain at the cellular level that all look the same from a scalp distance. "Signals from an uncountable number of nerve cells are smeared and lumped together by the time we are recording the brain-wave patterns," says Rezek. "Authentication is akin to recognizing speakers from muffled voices because, for example, the speakers are some distance away."...

[T]here remain pragmatic obstacles to rolling out pass-thoughts as a replacement for other biometrics. It's easy enough to slide an index finger into a fingerprint reader, but right now the only way to tap into a person's brain signals is through a highly inconvenient EEG cap that's smeared with conductive gel and worn on the scalp.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Scott McNealy

Sun's spin:

24.April.2006 - Sun's board of directors named Jonathan Schwartz chief executive officer today, as a result of the company's on-going succession planning process. Scott McNealy will continue as Sun chairman and takes on the additional title of chairman of Sun Federal Inc., where he will focus on Sun's key U.S. government customers. Today's announcement marks the culmination of a carefully architected succession plan....

With today's announcement, Jonathan Schwartz becomes chief executive officer of a company with a clear path, a solid team and its greatest days ahead of it.

AP has a different spin:

Scott McNealy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems Inc., said Monday he will step down immediately as chief executive of the company he has led since 1984.

Jonathan Schwartz, the company's president, will retain that position and take over as chief executive, McNealy said on a conference call to announce third-quarter results that included a wider loss on higher revenue....

On Monday, Sun posted a wider fiscal third-quarter loss, as costs for acquisitions, stock-based compensation and restructuring chipped away at higher revenue.

The net loss for the three months ending March 26 was $217 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with $28 million, or 1 cent, in the same period last year. Revenue grew 5 percent to $3.18 billion from $2.63 billion as recent acquisitions boosted sales.

InfoWorld's Ephraim Schwartz leans toward the latter:

The news that Sun's Scott McNealy stepped aside today from the helm should come as no surprise. The only thing I would be surprised at are those who think he actually stepped aside and wasn't pushed by the board.

The financial news coming out of Sun has been bleak since 2002 with estimates that the total loses since the dot-com bubble burst is about $4.5 billion.

Some say Jonathan Schwartz will complete the move to the network computer.

The question is, does the concept of a super-thin client, no hard drives, intelligent cache, running anything but Windows have legs. Can Sun under Schwartz sell it. And I mean literally sell it.

Others, like Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, has different advice for Schwartz.

Greenbaum says Sun's major failing is it has never been able to capitalize on the software leadership that it generated over the years, with Java being the best example.

There is no Java revenue stream....

Ashish was thinking:

Scott McNealy is stepping down and Jonathan will be the new CEO of Sun Microsystems. As he is staying as the chairman of the board and the president of the company, it is yet to see how significant this move would be. But the stocks were up and quickly closing in to $6. Lets see where does Jonathan sail this ship to. The questions if this move is too late, or what if he had done it earlier to keep Ed Zander in will remain unanswered. But he will be missed though.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Just because you're on a secure website doesn't mean that you're secure

From American Express Emphasis mine.

As an example of phishing, please note that some of our customers reported receiving the following pop-up screen while logged into our secure site. The pop-up screen is known to be a hoax and contains the following information:

Approximate date of the hoax: 3/29/2006 - present
Title of Pop-Up Box : Security Measures [see below]
Information Requested: Social Security Number, Mother's Maiden Name, Date of Birth

Please note that this fraudulent activity may be the result of a computer virus and is not a part of the American Express website. If you received this pop-up box, your computer may have this virus. The use of both anti-virus software and a firewall to protect your PC are strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Think UNIX? Think Microsoft?

If you subscribe to any IT magazine, you've probably seen the fold out ads, which trumpet how MegaCorp (the company varies) is running business critical operations affecting untold numbers of users.

Open the foldout, and you'll see that they're using Microsoft Windows Server, instead of Linux, to accomplish this.

Linux is of course the latest UNIX variant to become popular within the IT community, but let's look back at a UNIX variant that was popular over twenty years ago...sold by Microsoft.

Xenix was a version of the Unix operating system, licensed by Microsoft from AT&T in the 1980s. The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) later acquired exclusive rights to the software, and eventually began distributing it as SCO UNIX.

Ooh, the bad guys.

Xenix was Microsoft's version of Unix intended for use on microprocessors, but they called it Xenix because it could not license the "UNIX" name.

Microsoft purchased a license for Version 7 Unix from AT&T in 1979, and announced on August 25, 1980 that it would make it available for the 16-bit microcomputer market.

Xenix varied from its 7th Edition origins by incorporating elements from BSD, and soon possessed the most widely installed base of any Unix flavour due to the popularity of the inexpensive x86 processor....

Version 2.0 of Xenix was released in 1985 and was based on UNIX System V. An update numbered 2.1.1 added support for the Intel 80286 processor. Subsequent releases improved System V compatibility.

When Microsoft entered into an agreement with IBM to develop OS/2, it lost interest in promoting Xenix. In 1987 Microsoft transferred ownership of Xenix to SCO in an agreement that left Microsoft owning 25% of SCO....

Microsoft continued to use Xenix internally, submitting a patch to support functionality in UNIX to AT&T in 1987, which trickled down to the code base of both Xenix and SCO UNIX. Microsoft is said to have used Xenix on Sun workstations [1] and VAX minicomputers extensively within their company as late as 1992.

In the late 1980s, Xenix was, according to Samuel J. Leffler et al. in The Design and Implementation of the 4.3BSD UNIX Operating System (1989), "probably the most widespread version of the UNIX operating system, according to the number of machines on which it runs" (p. 7).

That was then. This is now:

Microsoft stunned LinuxWorld attendees...by pledging to support Linux virtual machines on its Virtual Server and revealing free virtual machine additions for Red Hat Linux and Novell SUSE Linux. It wasn't the only dogs-playing-with-cats kind of moment...: Apple offered up software to let Windows run on Intel-based Macs.

What's going on here? The answer is virtualization, the ability to much more easily carve up servers and PCs into compartments that can run multiple applications under different operating systems at the same time. Business interest in virtualization--particularly of servers--is picking up quickly, and vendors are racing to stake out this emerging market. The result could blur some of the hard-and-fast lines drawn between operating systems....

Microsoft's support for an operating system that rivals its lifeblood Windows is the most surprising development. In the past, it was possible to run Linux machines under Windows, but companies were on their own if problems arose. Support of Linux virtual machines running under Windows is a sign that Microsoft recognizes it's a heterogeneous world--companies, especially big ones, aren't all Windows. But it's also a defensive play to keep from losing the virtualization market to VMware or open source options as Microsoft tries to get its act together....

Microsoft's hand may have been forced. VMware, the EMC-owned market leader in virtualization software, started giving away VMware Server in February. VMware Server allows Windows or Linux to be hosted on an x86 server under Windows or any other operating system. The Xen 3.0 open source software takes advantage of virtualization hooks planted in the newest Intel and Advanced Micro Devices chips to enable the creation of a Windows or Linux virtual machine--or both--on the latest generation of x86 servers. Virtual Iron Software said last week it's abandoning its proprietary hypervisor and basing the 3.0 version of its policy-based management software for virtual machines on Xen....

Microsoft also wants its name on that list, as it expands its Systems Center tools. Companies "want the same tools to manage their virtual environments as are managing their physical ones" in the data center, says Jim Ni, group product manager for Windows Server marketing. To do so, Microsoft must produce its own hypervisor, virtualization software that functions like a microkernel operating system on top of a microprocessor, interpreting a Windows or Linux instruction from a virtual machine into the compiled language the chip can understand....

Microsoft plans to produce a hypervisor inside the upcoming Windows Longhorn server, scheduled for 2007, Ni says.

That lag, and Microsoft's history, may work against it in luring customers that want to run Linux virtual machines. "Microsoft is going to be very late to the game and will need to overcome a presumption that it will favor Windows," says Gordon Haff, virtualization analyst at Illuminata.

Types of security threats

Hewlett Packard on the brain (I'll be attending the HP Americas Partner Conference in Las Vegas this June).

The HP website includes a page that discusses various types of security threats, and the measures to take to correct them. Excerpts are below.

Examples of defenses against loss of use include prevention of access, fire prevention and firefighting measures, safeguards against shock and impact in earthquake regions, and storage off site, in antimagnetic containers, of information on magnetic media. Insurance is another form of defense. Although it cannot prevent physical loss, it can mitigate financial loss....

Although wear and tear on equipment certainly is a cause of performance loss, it is a business problem, rather than one of security. System administrators should be aware of it and request the replacement of worn equipment as needed.

In the same sense, loss of performance or data due to incorrect usage also is not a security problem. On the other hand, it is one with which system administrators must be involved. For example, incorrect usage can deny use of the system to other users by tying up too much of the CPU. Solutions include:

Limitations on access by limiting user capabilities, or giving users access only to the resources they need to execute their tasks.

User training....

One type of sabotage involves access to the computer or system by unauthorized persons. For the most part, preventative measures are the same as those described under Prevention of Access....

A type of sabotage much harder to prevent is sabotage from internal sources. Examples include disgruntled employees, and accidental sabotage resulting from the inadvertent introduction of destructive software (Trojan horses, viruses) into the system.

Sabotage by users with otherwise legitimate access to the system can be minimized by enforcing limitations on capabilities and access. System logging facilities can be used to establish strict accountability for all users. Such accountability cannot prevent sabotage, but can aid in identifying the culprit....

Due to the power of the privileged mode capability (PM), System Managers should allocate it only to accounts, groups and users with an imperative need....

Prevention of accidental sabotage from destructive software can be minimized or prevented by education, strict rules against using unauthorized software, and well publicized penalties for doing so. Establishment of accountability can, again, aid in identifying the offender in such incidents....

Total prevention of accidental information disclosure is rarely possible. Employee education and appeals to employees' sense of company or national loyalty can help mitigate the problem, but not prevent it. Another technique is to disseminate vital information strictly on a need-to-know basis.

Deliberate theft of information in physical form, such as on disk, tape, and paper, can be minimized using the same techniques as those for preventing theft of equipment: prevention of access.

Techniques for preventing access include locking desks, cabinets, and files. Store media in locked cabinets rather than open racks, and enforce strict control over the distribution of sensitive documents.

When the information on media is no longer needed, the media is often reused by simply writing over the existing data. Depending on the medium, the data may be readable until it is overwritten, even if the medium have been reformatted. This is an easily overlooked breach of security.

Before returning disk, disk packs, and tapes to reuse, all labels should be removed in order to prevent a thief from easily picking out the tapes that may contain important information. Each disk or tape should be carefuly erased with a degausser type bulk tape eraser.

Techniques for protecting information in the system itself include locking computers, enforcing the use of passwords, prohibiting embedded passwords, and clearing computer screens and screen buffers.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

All Those Years Ago...And Then Some (the story of two garages)

Moving on from Jef Raskin.

On the occasion of Apple Computer's 30th anniversary, I was curious if anyone had tried to interview Steve Wozniak. Turns out that the San Jose Mercury News did. If you don't know the difference between Steve and Steve, Woz wasn't the one who thought he would change the world.

We did believe that computers would fit into every home because of the price and some of the things they did. We thought people would use the computer in the home for normal home things: You have a kitchen so you keep recipes on it. You have a checkbook and you can have the computer do the subtraction for you. We didn't realize what having a computer in virtually every home would be like -- how you can make a decision and a million lives are affected....

I didn't think, I'm going to change the world. No, I'm just going to build the best machines I can build that I would want to use in my own life. Steve [Jobs] was much more further-thinking....

It's ironic that Steve Wozniak wasn't good enough to design computers for Hewlett-Packard.

As soon as Steve Jobs suggested, ``Why don't we sell a PC board of this computer,'' I said, `I think I signed something, an employment contract, that said what I designed belongs to Hewlett-Packard.' And I loved that company. That was my company for life. So I approached Hewlett-Packard first. Boy, did I make a pitch. I wanted them to do it. I had the Apple I, and I had a description of what the Apple II could do. I spoke of color. I described an $800 machine that ran BASIC (an early computer language), came out of the box fully built and talked to your home TV. And Hewlett-Packard found some reasons it couldn't be a Hewlett-Packard product....

[B]y the time I was working on the Apple II, and we were selling the Apple I -- and I was working at Hewlett-Packard still -- they started up a project on my floor without telling me. . . . I asked to be on the project. I really wanted to work on computers. And they turned me down for the job. To this day I don't know why. I said, ``I don't have to run anything,'' even though I'd done all these things and they knew it. I said, ``I'll do a printer interface. I'll do the lowliest engineering job there is.'' I wanted to work on a computer at my company and they turned me down. When you think about it, every time they turned me down, it was fortunate for the world and it was fortunate for myself.

And being Steve Wozniak has its benefits:

I was in Boston once. I needed two AC adapters. I ran into this new Apple store. I went up to the counter, ``I'd like two 65-watt AC adapters.'' I didn't say anything about who I was. And they bring them out. I say, ``How much?'' They say, ``We are expensing it.'' I said, ``Yeah, but how do I pay for it?'' They said, ``No, no, no -- we are allowed to give gifts to special people.''

Back to Hewlett-Packard, which eventually released the Hewlett-Packard 85. Here's how they got there (remember, however, that history is written by the winners):

1972: Hewlett-Packard pioneers the era of personal computing with the first scientific hand-held calculator, the HP-35, which makes the engineer's slide rule obsolete.

1973: Stephen Wozniak joins HP.

1976: Steve Wozniak proposes that HP create a personal computer. He is rejected.

1976: October - Steve Wozniak remains at HP, but is soon convinced that he should leave and join Apple Computer.

1976: HP begins Project Capricorn, to build a computer-like calculator.

1980: January - HP completes work on the Capricorn project, producing the HP-85. With a 32-character wide CRT display, small built-in printer, cassette tape recorder, and keyboard, it sold for US$3250.

And before you criticize HP as an old dinosaur that couldn't recognize talent, don't forget that HP, like Apple, started in a garage:

The morning of December 6 dawned crisp and clear, defying earlier predictions of imminent rain. Sunlight sparkled on frosty lawns and the sky above the tiny 12x18 foot garage on Addison Avenue seemed especially blue.

CEO Mark Hurd hosted the founders’ families, HP employees — several of whom had worked for decades with Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard — Silicon Valley notables and historians. Even Apple Computer co-founder and HP alum Steve Wozniak came to pay homage to the humble garage in its restored glory.

In brief remarks of appreciation for those involved in bringing the preservation and rehabilitation efforts for the iconic garage and adjoining buildings to its completion, Mark appeared to respond in the way most folks do who stand before the spot where the founders began their work 66 years ago.

“It’s kind of a humbling thing,” he said....

Following the ribbon cutting and reception, the property transformed to the temporary site of tours that included the recreated three-room flat where Dave and Lucile shared the first years of their married life; Bill’s bachelor quarters — really little more than an un-insulated hut — and the preserved garage with a recreated workbench.

Anna Mancini, HP’s Corporate Archivist, made sure that the reconstructed tableaus in all three buildings contained the touchstones that conjure familiar refrains of Silicon Valley legends so often repeated nowadays — the oscillator on the mantel; an upright typewriter; Lucile’s stove with an oscillator panel suspended in the oven; Bill’s cot out back with a shirt hanging on a nail; and, of course, a drill press like the one Dave brought from Schenectady in the rumble seat of his car.