Where’s *my* honey monkey?

Not to be confused with the well known “squadron of flying butt-monkeys” (who seem to be the ones enlisted to attempt to deliver anything important and requiring both timelyness and robust creation), Microsoft are deploying web-bots they’ve named ‘Honey monkeys’ to attempt to discover and interpret new attack vectors against their operating systems.

Microsoft are using “Honey Monkeys” to see if they can catch any previously undiscovered attack vectors (assumably against their operating systems).
Now that would be an interesting project to work on as I’ve seen a number of machines where I work get compromised simply by visiting sites which look innocent enough. I sure like to know how you’d programatically emulate the social engineering which seems to be all the rage “Warning – your computer may be running slow, click here to fix” … yeah – right!

Podcast on a Stick

Continuing in the vein of portable podcastiong, I’ve recently downloaded ‘MyPodder’, an open source pod catching client which installs on your USB memory key… Read on for my initial impressions

One of my favorite Podcasts at the moment is from Geek News Central, I find it has just the right amount of news, opinion and personality with the shows host Todd Cochrane sharing bits of his personal life (where relevant(ish)) with his audience… Anyway, he played a promo on his July 12th 2005 podcast which referenced an open source podcatcher which installs on your USB memory key.
Anyway, I’ve since headed over to the MyPodder site and downloaded their version 0.3 beta which has since installed quite happily on a spare 256MB USB key that I’ve recently freed up after getting a nice new Kingston 256MB key as part of a team day here at work. In summary:

  • The MyPodder site is fairly basic, but I’d rather they spend time on developing good robust applications than eye candy – so well done there.
  • The installation is basically “Unzip the download to the root of your USB Key” which is fine
  • The application lacks some of the niceties which I’d hope will appear in future versions such as importing XML files from other podcatching applications

So, all in all – it’s looking fine from the first cut, I’ll probably be back to this post to update my impressions after a while – one change I’ve already made is changing the launch batch file to make the last line read “call podcatcher.exe” which I hope will get rid of the current DOS window which appears looking like this:

G:\>ECHO OFF
————————————————–
STARTING PODCATCHER ON A STICK …. please wait
————————————————–
You can close this ugly window
after the podcatcher had started.
————————————————–

I’ve also changed line 1 to read “@Echo Off” just to make that first bit invisible too 😉
I’m also having a quick google as a background task to see if I can develop an Autorun file so All I need to is plug in the USB key and the application will automagically start.

Nice effort, worth a look for those of you who want to take podcasts from machine to machine (I just want to be able to save state so I don’t re-listen to content and be able to archive/purge stuff I’ve already consumed).

smartFeed – Podcasting for your Pocket PC

I’ve found out about a new piece of software called smartFeed which allows you to manage your podcasts directly on your PocketPC (or SmartPhone)… I’ve installed it and it’s pretty good!

I’ve been a keen listener to Podcasts for just over a year now and it’s getting easier all the time as it becomes more mainstream.

You may remember I wrote a piece a while back about the whole blogging / podcasting thing. Well, last night as I was painting the hallway (or dining room, I can’t exactly remember – there’s a lot of painting going on) I was listening to a Podcast from Geek News Central which referred to this entry over on DavesiPAQ.com. Now I’ve been happily using the Doppler software for windows to manage my podcast subscriptions and, through an entry on one of the Blogs that I subscribe to by Sean Alexander, I dutifully went through the HowTo and set things up to manage these Podcasts that doppler downloads, via Windows Media Player – which in turn allows me to sync them to my portable device… sounds complicated eh? Well – it kind of is, and I have some issues with Doppler as a package which doesn’t seem to want to allow itself to be killed automatically on a windows shutdown, but I may go into that in another entry at a later date.

So the good news, after quickly wiping paint off my fingers, I did a dash to the notebook (which was out of the way of paint splashes thanks very much), rewound the file a wee bit and grabbed the link. I installed it this morning (why don’t they give you 2 cradles for your PDA when you buy it, you *need* one at home and one at work!) and – though it didn’t work first off, giving me a "Could not find resource assembly" error message. Which in fact means that you need to download and install SP3 of .NET CF (of course) which you can get from here.
From there it was a simple task of setting the Podcasts to load to a particular directory of my storage card (root is default – yuck) and choosing which casts to subscribe to via the PDA.

To summarise:

  1. Install the latest .NET service pack for your PocketPC / SmartPhone
  2. Download smartFeed for your platform from http://smartfeed.org/
  3. Install the software
  4. Setup your destination directory (under settings)
  5. Add your Podcasts
  6. Retrieve some files (I’d recommend using the cradle link – bandwidth is MUCH cheaper when it’s not mobile 🙂
  7. Start listening…

Update [28/06/2005]: While preaching the good word of Podcasts to a collegue here at work, I’ve just seen that Doppler 3.0 has been announced and includes some very cool features including more support for Windows Media player, a plugin to launch Doppler and auto-download feeds and even uses the BITS technology to background load podcasts… nice!
Not yet launched into Beta, but definatly something worth keeping an eye out for 😀 😀

Ooooooh – I’m important and interesting… Listen to ME!

The New Zealand press finally catch up, and run a story on blogging…

Oh yippee… Television New Zealand ran a piece yesterday on blogging [watch the clip – 300K stream] where the breakfast show host introduced blogging as:

“Blogging is someone who for some reason believes the rest of the world needs to know what they did today…”

Bloggers don’t go to journalism school, they probably didn’t work on the high school news paper and they definitely aren’t pretty enough to read from an auto-cue without mumbling so how could they possibly have an opinion that others may find interesting, right?
Paul Renolds (the shows pet “IT Commentator”) agreed with the hosts summation but then, over the course of the interview, proceeded to backtrack on that position and actually explained blogging in a relatively well balanced manner, explaining it in what I’d term “Mum-speak” (i.e. my Mum could probably understand it…)

Checks & balances
The self-righteous host went on to make a fantastic comment that:

“One of the problems with the internet is there are no checks and balances”

Hmm – just like the mainstream media except, oh hey we’ll pretend to give a well balanced view but our bias are as clear as day for those who care to take an objective approach.
What the host and indeed the “commentator” missed, is the fact that you can easily Google for supporting references to pretty much anything your read on the web, and with people writing such social relationship tools as mydensity.com, you can start to see a web of ‘trust’ (if you will) which leads credence to the original site publisher.
There is no such web of trust / ability to cross reference new items as easily for mainstream media stories, and this is why I believe that blogging is a far more interesting way to get news and views than what is spoon-fed to the public that the mainstream press treat like children who need to be entertained rather than informed.
You’ll also notice that in this and most of my other blogs I am giving links to other sites where readers can click off to to learn more or to see other ideas which may support my position (or not) – don’t see much of that in the mainstream now do we?

I liked the fact that the commentator went on to introduce PodCasting and VideoCasting which are also things that I’ve been keen on over the last 6 or so months.

Podcasting:
There is a great article on how to get PodCasts on your Windows Mobile device (or indeed your Windows Media Player) which Sean Alexander wrote about a while back, it’s well worth a read and, after following this guide, I’m now able to listen to my PodCasts in the car as I negotiate Auckland traffic, which is more interesting (to me) than the talk radio or manufactured pop bands of today who seem to do little more than covers of old classic from the 80’s.

The Podcasts I’ve linked to above are just a selection of what feeds I subscribe to, but they are heavily skewed to gadgets, IT news and opinion and, well – there’s an obligatory Adam Curry subscription in there to.
Since I’m able to give a lot more depth of information that the 5 minute slots that broadcasters give to the public before their poor viewers brain gets full and they lose their attention – I can tell you that Adam Curry is regarded as the godfather of podcasting and, while that may be a point of contention for some of the commentators in the online audio space, he’s certainly turned into the poster boy of podcasting and appears to be doing a whole lot to support the ‘industry’ of bringing audio blogs to the ears of listeners around the world.
Again, you can click on the links to learn more – there is also this interesting story on podcasting vs. satellite radio, which I’ll have to comment on after I get around to seeing how I can receive satellite radio affordably in NZ.

VideoCasting
I’m yet to get into this emerging trend due to lack of time, bandwidth and headspace in which I can actually watch a screen as opposed to listen to audio. I guess that will be one of the determining factors in how well Videocasting takes off is that, to watch video you need to pay attention to a screen whereas podcasts are audio only and can be listened to while you do things like walk the dog, drive to work, do your chores around the house (I still remember listening to a great conversation on identity management while painting some plywood sheets for our deck at home – weird, I don’t know why I’m sharing that – it must be a ‘muslie for breakfast’ moment like my buddy the breakfast host said…).
Anyway, Robin Good whose blog I also subscribe to wrote this piece which you may find of interest to explain the emerging trend.

I think that video casting will take a while to gain traction, it’s major roadblocks being stupidly expensive bandwidth and lack of affordable portable media players with large enough screens to allow for long term watching of this content. Answer these problems and the building blocks will be in place, all we’ll need is content – perhaps we can SEE bloggers eating this mythical breakfast that the hosts were talking about! In the interim, Google has recently introduced a hosting system for video which is discussed here.

The host wrapped up the segment by magnanimously declaring that:

“Alright, it’s something that we obviously need to keep half an eye on at least”

To that I say yes, yes indeed. Syndicated content in conjunction with aggrigation tools such as RSSReader and Doppler is the best way to get breaking news out there, the web is an ideal distribution medium, and tools already exists to allow one to search and subscribe to content streams of interest to the individual. Broadcasters would do well to understand if not embrace this trend as it can have a very nice supplemental fit into their existing legacy content systems.

Googles recent video hosting initive just supports the views expressed here in regards to the way that news and information could be distributed in the future. Follow the link, pick a mirror and, if you’re interested – have a look at the transcript.
It is a plausible outlook – Should broadcasters take this seriously? – yes, will they? – no. At least not yet and definitely not by people like the host of this show. Whether it’ll be too late by the time they accept that the traditional landscape of reporting on stuff has changed remains to be seen, but then people who consider themselves smarter, better, more worthy of listening to than others are generally a bit slower to accept their equalities…

Predictions for 2004

After spending the best part of a couple of weeks away from my beloved broadband, I find myself with an almost unquenchable thirst for news and reviews that I may have missed out on during my time down south with just a simple CDMA connection to rely on.

I’ve found that I don’t have much of a job to come back to as internal wrangling over moving from one department to another have left me a little “underutilised” until it gets resolved. This is a mixed blessing as, while I can spend my time on the strategic stuff I was working on prior to Christmas, there is no clear desire for that work to be performed due to the departure of the manager for our little group of people. The transfers must be going ahead though as both myself and my colleague are now reporting to one of my colleagues team members who has been given the role of acting manager. Anyway � enough on that…

The lack of imminent work allows me time to not only reflect on and plan for my impending wedding it also gives me some leeway to catch-up on what I’ve missed over the Christmas break.

January is traditionally the time where all the industry commentators compare their past predictions with what happened in the previous year, and make a whole set of new predictions for the year ahead.

In keeping with this tradition (and starting the same tradition myself) I’m making the following predictions for 2004.


WiFi

Ah yes, my December blog was supposed to have covered this in some detail, but, suffice it to say, the message got lost in the post (pun semi-intended). I believe that wireless devices will be come more mainstream this year as the 802.11 standards have been ratified and manufactures scramble over themselves to get devices to market including all those wonderful retro-fits which will enable us early adopters to get connectivity for our, now ageing, devices.
To achieve this penetration the industry will need:

  • Relevant content & services
  • An attractive price point (includes device AND bandwidth costs)
  • Ease of configuration
  • Connection security

Relevant content and services must be the enabler for effective uptake of wireless as, without something to use it for, the technology is pointless.

In a similar vein, the price point for both wireless enabled devices and, possibly more importantly, access but be within reach of the average consumer. If the devices are cheap but the access is prohibitively priced then devices will still be bought, it’s just they won’t be used to their full potential as the wireless side of the technology will not be utilised until such times as it’s affordable.
The ease of configuration is a tricky one, while early adopters are fairly tech-literate, the penetration into the market depends on pretty much a click and go philosophy. I’m not sure if it’s that we’ve been ‘dumbed down’ by the installation ease demanded by the newbie’s to computers and delivered by our friendly Mr Gates or if indeed technology honestly should be easier, but suffice it to say, if it can’t be plugged in and/or turn on and work then we’re in for an uphill battle. Users lose interest REAL quick and take a long time to be coaxed back into trying again. This issue is/will be compounded by the inability to access in “mesh” context, rather, requiring users to re-authenticate, possibly with different credentials, at every access
point they encounter.
Security should be top-of-mind for every user, but the simple fact is, it isn’t. Perhaps it’s the ‘dumbing down’ I referred to earlier or maybe people just don’t care about their data/identities. I suspect it’s a bit of both and, much like a hard drive crash to a backup policy, it’ll take something extraordinary to change peoples mindsets. We’re already seeing a bit of a turnaround when we look at email attachments and user behaviour, but it more of a vendor focus to change the way people use their gear, and in the interim I suspect
we’ll have to live with whatever can be shoehorned into default settings
without affecting that ever important ease of configuration.


Local Loop Unbundling

I pretty much cover this in my December blog so I’ll save some bandwidth by directing you there. I do think that the LLU will end up going ahead in New Zealand, however I believe this will be more of a vote buying exercise than an honest attempt to get broadband access to the masses and open the market to innovation. If it was my call to make I’d be inclined to legislate that broadband coverage must be available to 90% of the residents of the country at an affordable rate within 3 years and available to the entire country by say, 2008, mainly because it’s a nice round number than any external influences.
I’d say with this kind of motivation along with some financial backing in the right areas to fund innovative approaches to the task, we’d get there in time. I think the bun fight that will take place if LLU goes ahead will not only remove the focus from where it should be (i.e. providing broadband access to all citizens) but it will also cost a huge amount which could be invested in other ways toward the same end goal. Let’s not forget that if it was any other company who was incumbent on the local loop they would be doing exactly that same thing to protect their position.


PDA / Smart Device Penetration / Phone Wars

Smart Device Penetration – sounds really painful right? I’m predicting that smart devices will become more prevalent, following the lead of those crappy pxt phones. People will want them because they’re there and yet, unlike pxt, there is some real benefit to the technology that the smart devices will make avalible.
You will be seeing a real toe-to-toe battle between the big names in this area in 2004 as each tries to buy the market into it’s version of what is essentially the same technology. While it might be nice to have a pretty blue phone that plays Oh Fortuna when the mother-in-law calls, whilst allowing you to roam all the way around the world (very few of us do), the killer app will not really be an app at all, it will be the enablement of content. And that is where the battle will be won, who can get the best content and services to the people at an affordable price.


Home Entertainment

Home Entertainment will be where the push comes from in regards to getting broadband to consumers and convincing them to undergo a full technology refresh.
It is the easiest way to catch the attention of the public, give them some ‘wow-factor’ and build the need/desire for the latest stuff. The backbone for this will be wireless networking, very few people are like me (which is good) and because of that (average people simply don’t run CAT5 through their walls) wireless is *the* way to get multiple devices into the home environment and talking to each other. The more devices that you can get into the home the more services can be sold, the more services that can be sold the more bandwidth will be consumed – do you see where this is going? The providers win any which way you cut it, if the technology is subsidised it will be based on service subscription, if the service subscription is subsidised it will be based on the bandwidth required to drive it, if the bandwidth is subsidised it will be based on the services subscribed to. At the end of the day both the hardware and the services suppliers have a very nice earner.

I have a 31 year relationship with television. If I can be exposed to new content and services via devices which plug easily into, and are controlled from, my television then it’s the perfect way to generating new revenue streams using an appliance that pretty much every home has and is comfortable with. Try getting the same engagement via a PC. Traditional telecommunications companies profits are continuing to shrink as the products they offer get marginalised by advances in technologies and the resulting cost savings that can be enjoyed, and supplied, by almost everyone. Content and content services may well be the lifeline that these companies can use to stay alive. Those that can’t get their heads around the shift will almost certainly go under.
At the end of the day we’ll be able to have one entry point for broadband, feeding multiple devices from hard wired PCs to portable notebooks, to wireless audio/visual components in the lounge, all sharing the same bandwidth, all able to access a pool of content either from the PC or from the service provider/internet as a whole and all using devices and interfaces that the consumer feels comfortable with.

I’ll see you next January and we’ll see how well I did[n’t] do

The Access of Christmas Future

I’m sitting here – like much of New Zealands population – in the sun, contemplating the Christmas carry on. It’s this time of year where we all escape the craziness of the cities and head off to holiday homes, batches or cribs (depending on what part of the country you live in).
For many of us, myself included, the thought of taking our holidays in the absence of the internet is just too much to bear and so we dutifully take our notebooks, PCs, PDAs or any other device we need to stay in touch with along with us – praying that we’ll be able to connect up to the beloved internet and stay in touch.

For people like myself who have DSL at home can’t take it with us so we’re driven to scout out an internet caf�, open a short term dial up account or take with us some alternative access such as a CDMA PCMCIA card or connection via cell phone.
Of course the additional hassle of setting up a dialup account and being tied to a wall socket is not contusive to the freedom that holidays are all about. Internet caf�s are typically noisy, expensive and increasingly filled with young people playing the latest multiplayer network games – which makes a leisurely latte while tapping out thank you emails or reading the latest industry articles somewhat less than relaxing. And of course there’s the whole security aspect to consider along when using someone else’s PC, along with the inevitable pining for that high speed connection.
Cellular access is also very expensive and, while it frees you from the shackles of the dreaded wall socket and those oh so slow 56K connections (if you’re lucky enough to get such speeds at your holiday destination) the cellular coverage is still kind of patchy and there’s always those dollar signs ticking away at the back of your mind while you hurriedly attempt to open as many pages as you need, spending as little time as you can on line to avoid that horrid bill shock at the end of your holiday.

The solution as I see it is going to be provided by wireless access. WiFi (802.11[a/b/g]) and it’s bigger faster brother WiMAX (802.16)
provide relatively simple connection to a network, the main issues being security. I’ll explain why in a little bit, but for some background – read on…

While I tap away here, I’ve got literally hundreds of emails coming through on various email lists I belong to and they’re all discussing (some more vehemently than others) the surprise announcement by the Telecommunications commissioner.

Just to bring you up to speed, New Zealands Telecommunications infrastructure was once owned by the NZ Government through the New Zealand Post Office.
In 1987 Telecom bought this Telecommunications business from the NZ Post Office and became a State Owned Enterprise (SOE). This was an interesting time in New Zealands political history as a number of SOEs were also created in infrastructure areas such as power generation and transport around the same time, following on from this many of the core services were also privatised (such as NZ Railways, now Tranzlink).
Anyway, just three years after the SOE was formed, Telecom was sold in its entirety subsidiaries of Bell Atlantic Corporation and Ameritech Corporation for NZ$4,250 million. It was during this same year (1990) that Clear Communications (now TelstraClear) started building it’s network to compete with Telecom.
It is the feeling of a number of people that, while the SOE could and should have been sold to ensure it was run as efficiently as possible, government ownership over the infrastructure should never have been relinquished. There is a similar argument pitched toward the rail services of the country – though, as more people use a phone and/or the internet than freight goods/travel via rail, the rail privatisation hardly makes for newspaper selling subject matter.
The view of those against the privatisation of the core infrastructure is that, with government retaining ownership over the local loop.

Right, now I’ve explained all of that we can get back to the cause of this recent flurry of activity on the NZNOG and NZADSL email groups.

Introducing the Telecommunications Commissioner investigation into the Local Loop.

You see what has happened is, the Telecommunications Commissioner has done what appears to be a complete about face from the draft report which was release in October of this year.
What the draft report appeared to have recommended, is that the Local Loop (the copper infrastructure across which much of the telecommunications traffic in the country flows) should be unbundled thus allowing other companies to access the infrastructure and put their own services over it. It’s no surprise then that what has just happened has come as a shock to many interested parties with the final report recommending against the unbundling of the local loop.

The OECD has released a report on local loop unbundling (LLU) written in September. The report (without delving too deep into it’s 60 pages) states that while “the majority of countries consider that LLU has the potential to enhance local competition and assist in the development of competition for broadband services�” it recognises the difficulties in undertaking a LLU including the co-ordination required between the incumbent and ‘new’ entrants to ensure that, once unbundled, the local loop doesn’t fall over due to a lack or clarity/responsibility over fault handling and ongoing maintenance. To me, the most interesting bit is the section stating that “LLU is not a panacea� Goals for a broadband society can be attained in many other ways…”
This is kinda obvious stuff I’d have thought, but politicians and company heads all like to create large, expensive committees to slowly reach the same conclusions that anyone with a brain and a bit of Googling skill could have come to in a very short space of time. The fact is, LLU “could’, “should” and “has the potential to” make life easier for those wanting to rollout broad band services, however – everywhere that I’ve looked at where LLU is theoretically taking place the story is the same, it’s taking ages, the newcomers are unwilling to share the costs of ongoing maintenance of the loop and years down the track only a small percentage of lines have been unbundled to competitors (0.01% according to the European Competitive Telecommunications Association).

The question must be asked then, what the f**k is the point in spending all the time and money on commissioners reports, ongoing regulators, paying out some kind of compensation (I assume this would happen (perhaps naively), to my mind the NZ Government sold something and now wants it back. While is can legislate and take/do whatever it wants, it’s hardly moral – but then this *is* government.

The only place LLU works is in areas where an exchange has a large number of business users. Well bend me over and use me as a toast rack! Fancy that, high concentrations of users of a wide range of telecommunications services are more attractive to new players than Joe Average and POTS. This is precisely why New Zealand already *has* alternative networks -where it makes sense- where it makes sense is where the business users are, and where they are concentrated.
Wellington has CitiLink offering broadband, voice services and has spun off a WiFi offering in the shape of Caf�NET.
It also has an alternative network being strung up by TelstraClear.
Christchurch has a similar alternative network being put in and lets not forget the smaller players such as Dunedins wireless Scarfies.Net or Nelsons ThePacific.NET

– all of these people (there are more, Google if you’re interested) are setting up their networks *where it makes sense*. Face it, if you live in the sticks you’re stuffed. You won’t be using a terrestrial based system for anything much in a few years anyway so initiating a headache like LLU won’t have any benefits to you because by the time the regulatory bollocks has been sorted out, technology will have moved on and the whole thing will have become an expensive bunch of arse. You can tell by the continuing degradation in my tone that I’m getting a bit passionate here, but I think that apart from some short term political point scoring, LLU is not going to do anything to help the average NZer, it’s going to cost us (as the poor saps whose taxes will fund the whole thing) an absolute fortune, and at the end of the day it’s going to be superseded by alternative technologies� which brings me back to where I was just over 1000 words ago…

The access of Christmas future will be delightfully wireless� Of course by this stage we’ll all be wanting access to MB or GB a second speeds. Oh well, at the end of the day holidays are for holidaying, and until someone creates me an affordable laptop which can deal with sand, seawater and a frighteningly close proximity to boisterous kids, the kind of access I’ll need will be just enough to keep me in the loop until I return, refreshed, revived and ready to swap my summer beach for the florescent bleach.

Everybody else is blogging so why can’t I?

Now this blogging is by no means a new thing but it’s recently made the news and a recent NetGuide ran quite a comprehensive guide on bloggs and blogging in NetGuide – Issue 79.
Now not being a wordsmith or journo by any stretch of the imagination, I’ll leave it to you to follow the above link and find out about bloggs.

When I first started toying with doing this, my approach to the blogging thing is to ask the question – Why? [“Why” has got to be one of my favourite questions as, with the right tone and inflection it can mean so many things – and as far as I’m concerned it’s possibly THE most valid question anyone can ever ask – you get such interesting answers too!]
The reason, I guess, differs for everyone, but the underlying premise is the same – everyone has something to say, and in the tradition of ‘Field of Dreams’ people seem have a “if we write it they will come” mentality. I’m kind of curious to see if this is true myself, so – I’ll be attempting to restrain myself from directing people to these pages (unless they hit the http://inskeep.net homepage – at which stage I figure they’re fair game).

Many of the people I discussed this with didn’t consider themselves ‘bloggers’ as such, and just consider themselves as online diary writers, for their own pleasure and that of their friends and family rather than a spectator sport for the world to enjoy. Like any fad, I
guess ‘blogging’ will pass and while the name may change, there will be those who take the time to write what they wish and publish it to the world, even if no one else is watching.

So why am I doing it? Well – as I state on the index page to this section of the site, I’m planning to use this as an exercise to research some of the stuff that interests me and put my ideas down on the page, hopefully allowing me to crystallise my thinking on some of the issues I’ve been kicking around over the years.
This isn’t going to be a (Robert X.) Cringely Column, nor is it going to be a self professed “leading source of Net-Industry news and commentary” such as the pages by the Aaardvark, it’s just going to be an exercise in jumping feet first into an idea and seeing how deep things get. As a toastmaster I already enjoy expressing my opinions verbally, so the challenge of extending this to a written form will be an interesting one indeed.