Firefox 1.0.3

April 17th, 2005

It would seem that the Firefox developers have with 1.0.3 fixed the annoying problem whereby if you didn't uninstall the old version before applying the new one that you end up with multiple entries in the Add/Remove applet - that will remove a lot of confusion and make the upgrade process easier for all.

Homage to the LED

April 16th, 2005

"LED lamps were unthinkable until the technology cleared a major hurdle just a dozen years ago. Since then, LEDs have evolved quickly and are being adapted for many uses, including pool illumination and reading lights, as evidenced at the Lightfair trade show here this week."
USA Today

And that hurdle was producing white light, although to be honest, LEDs were doing pretty well before that. Take a look around your home or office and I guarantee you that you'll find loads - in your PC, on your keyboard, optical mice and so on. Video recorders, DVD players, stereos (not forgetting the remote controls that have IR emitting diodes) all contain LEDs.

Anyone with an LED flashlight will know how energy efficient they are. I have an early 4-LED flashlight made by Longlight which I got in late 1999 and has only had one change of batteries in that time. And I use it a lot - being of all plastic construction it it ideal for working inside a PC as it's not going to short anything out and it pretty lightweight so minimizes the risk of impact damage to components. If you don't already own an LED flashlight then I'd recommend you get one and while you're at it get a couple of sets of rechargeable NiMH (Nickle Metal Hydride) batteries and a good charger - just in reduced battery costs alone you'll save the cost of the flashlight and batteries in a year or two.

Long live the LED!

“How do I become a writer?”

April 15th, 2005

This is a question that I get occasionally asked ... and to be honest it's not one that I readily have an answer for. It's like the question "how do you write a book?" My somewhat tongue-in-cheek answer is always "one key press at a time".

I've been writing for a number of years now but not long enough to have any sensible insight into the process - I get ideas, I mull over them for a while and they either gel into a sensible and workable proposal or sink without a trace (who knows, maybe in a few years I'll get to do what Stephen King did a few years back and write my own "On Writing" :-) ). In fact, the main bits of advice I would offer to a prospective author are:

1 - Get into the habit of developing writing ideas from that early seed into a full-scale proposal (for more information on what publishers expect from authors take a look at the author section on the Wiley site).
2 - Write as much as you can (online, blogs, diaries, anything, writing is writing!) - this will help you develop a style and help you deal with the hard aspects of writing (such as dealing with the "blank page" syndrome and knowing what your limits are in terms of how much you can realistically write in a day or week).

For better advice you need to turn to the professionals ... and there's one blog on the web that really offers a lot of advice to tech writers and would-be tech writers. The blog is called The Average Joe and is written by Joseph Wikert, Vice President and Publisher in the Professional/Trade division of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Can't get much better than that!

This blog has some great sections for authors, including Authoring Tips and Publishing Trends. If you want to write for the tech market (or you are already a tech writer) take a trip over there and sit down with a cup of coffee and have a read.

Safe Journo-Blogging

April 15th, 2005

"Apple won the right to make bloggers reveal sources in March
Eight US newspapers and the Associated Press agency have thrown their support behind three bloggers sued by Apple.
In March, Apple won the right to see the bloggers' e-mail records to find out who leaked information on upcoming products to them, which they published."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4435809.stm

Blogging has attracted the attention of big business (just take a look at the number of blogs that are merely a corporate shill nowadays to get an idea of just how much power they think the blog now has). And where there is big business, the lawyers aren't far behind!
Personally, I don't see this as a blog issue but as a matter of a journalist protecting their source - no matter whether that journalist is working for a big paper or huge media outlet or for a small blog. If the freedom of the press is to be allowed then we need to redefine the term "press" and allow it to cover all legitimate forms of reporting.
However, I feel that there is a bigger issue here - and that is of people inexperienced in journalism becoming "blog-journalists". Just as there are pitfalls to having a work blog, there are equal pitfalls to blog journalism. I'm not going to get caught up here on trying to define where "journalism" stop and "somebody just writing things down" start.
If you want to do a bit of blog journalism then take care and follow these simple steps to keep your sources secret.

  • - Think carefully about whether you want to be a blog journalist! What are your motivations? What drives you? Do you have the time for it and the possible future hassles associated?
  • - Have a reasonable understanding of the laws in the country in which you operate (base this knowledge on more than just hunches and the movies!).
  • - When encouraging people to report news to you, especially news that might land them into trouble (whistle-blowing, giving details of upcoming products, etc) encourage them to use discreet and anonymous methods of communications. Free email isn't as anonymous as most people think and can be traced to the source. There are plenty of anonymous remailers on the web and for the really paranoid you can point them to services such as Hushmail.com. Discourage them from using real names and encourage codenames. If phonecalls become necessary, payphones (especially those out of area of the caller or located in busy areas) are far better than home phones and cell phones.
  • - Use PGP encryption and make your public key available on your site. Encourage your sources to use PGP (freely available for download and use).
  • - Think carefully before publishing something controversial! Do you really want or need the hassle? How reliable are your sources?
  • - Store data carefully. Encrypt sensitive data and securely destroy plaintext (that is, unencrypted) copies. Securely delete even encrypted data when you are done with it.
  • - If you use an encryption tool then consider using different encryption keys for different leads, stories, contacts or projects. That way, compromise of one encryption key (by one means or another) won't compromise other.

Home workers ‘pose security risk’

April 15th, 2005

"Working from home could pose a security threat to British businesses, costing an estimated £8.5bn a year, an IT security company has warned."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4446827.stm

And this is news? Home security has always lagged behind corporate security and if a company allows home working from an unregulated system then it's opening itself up to a whole host of security issues. Home users are poor at keeping up to date with patches and antivirus updates and the control over who has access to the system is much more open than for a PC in an office.

There are a number of solutions (running a virtual PC using a tool such as VMware Workstation or ACE is one possible solution which is in essence a PC within a PC) but it all take time and cost money to implement. However, I believe that the benefits of home working outweigh the costs and that by tightening up on home working security they will also identify and eliminate other vulnerabilities.

The reverse is also true - The more the home PC users is made aware of security issues the better equipped they are to deal with them. By spreading the word on secure computing we will all ultimately benefit from less viruses, spam and hacker attacks.