Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Unbelievably Stupid bit of Security:

This is an Internet Explorer 8 story. I have been keeping my security set to disable attempts to run ActiveX controls from websites. A rational person suggested that for some types of ActiveX control settings, I should change “disable” to “prompt”. That seemed reasonable; an app that wants to run the control will ask for permission, right?

Well, with hardly any apps running, we started to see a prompt something like this, renewed every three seconds: Would you like to permit ActiveX controls to run? After answering NO to about fifty of these message boxes, I realized what was wrong, and changed my IE8 stteings back to Disable.

Now please note that the message box identified only “Internet Explorer”. That program was not even running as an application, so evidently some program or service in the background was trying to run it. That program did not identify itself, nor did it tell me what control it proposed to run. How am I supposed to give informed permission?

Note to Microsoft: when you allow a program to ask the user for permission to do something, the program and the requested action need to be identified.

Further note to Microsoft: If you can’t keep the same program from annoying the user every few seconds, don’t let it annoy the user at all.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

It’s illegal to launder money:

I know that it’s illegal to launder money, but I can’t help it. Usually, what I find at the bottom of the washing machine are a few shiny coins, but this time, it was six one dollar bills. After I dried them out, they still looked pretty dirty, so I think if I can get them back into circulation, no one will suspect.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Washington Monument Cracked:

New(?) cracks have been found in the Washington Monument, after the Virgina earthquake.

Well, now we know. The earthquake was a terrorist act.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Very Close Quarters:

“Rich” was one of the best directors I ever worked for. He had a hard-driving type-A personality, and he expected a lot from us. But he was always open about what he was trying to do, including the why and the how of it.

Rich and “Dave”, one of the programmers in his group, drove to work together, a commute of about an hour each way. They covered about 25 miles of limited access parkway, and 15 miles of a nerve-wracking heavily trafficked two-lane road.

We wondered what it was like for Dave to be cooped up, hours each day, with his director. Dave did not report directly to Rich, but rather to one of the managers who worked for him. All that time together gave Dave direct access to Rich’s ear, or else it gave Rich wonderful opportunities to chew Dave out over anything.

Years later I ran into Dave and I asked him: what was it like, carpooling with Rich?

“I thought I was gonna die,” he said. He looked at my shocked face and explained.

“Rich had a radar detector. He set his cruise control fifteen miles over the speed limit. Whenever the detector went off, he slammed the brakes and dropped our speed to thirty. I expected to get rear-ended every time.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who do you trust?

When the Green Bay Packers visited the White House on Friday to celebrate the team's Super Bowl title, linebacker Desmond Bishop wasn't with his teammates.

That’s the lead sentence of reporter Chris Chase’s story on one of the stupidest, idioticest examples of security-screening to date. The entire Green Bay Packer team was there to identify Desmond Bishop. Why did he need his driver’s license to get into the White House?

In order to see how utterly silly it was that Bishop was denied entry due to lack of an ID, just imagine the converse: Suppose a person claiming to be Desmond Bishop showed up, and he had his driver’s license AND his passport, but the entire team said, “We know Desmond Bishop. This isn’t Desmond Bishop!” Would the security people let him in?

I’m embarrassed for my country.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The sign next to the local Supermarket said “Summer Concerts, Thurs Nites., 6:30 to 8:30pm.” I knew at once that something was wrong. In the food biz, when they want to make us think of an ingredient that’s not in the product, they use spellings like Kreme. So my instinct told me that these couldn’t be night concerts. There was plenty of room on the sign to spell the word “nights”. What was going on?
Eventually I worked it out. It’s summer here, and night doesn’t really fall until after 8:30. They aren’t night concerts, they are evening concerts. Trust the food industry to be consistent.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

More AT&T War Stories: (10)

Here’s another AT&T story, more personal than the previous blog entry, and also driven by the attention that security guards pay to me.

My first consulting job at AT&T, in their tumultuous year of 1985, was in a group called the PIC, which quickly grew to unit of a hundred people, to enable AT&T to bid on complex government integrated computer contracts. On Day One, we were months behind schedule, and everyone worked frantically at everything.
I was managing a project, and I needed a specification that a manager in Chicago had just written. AT&T believed in Email, but hardly anyone used it, so I called the guy to see how fast I could get his document.

“I’ll be at a meeting in Jersey tomorrow,” he said. “Just join the meeting, and at the end we’ll find each other. I’ll give you a copy.”

He told me how to find the meeting. The building was familiar to me because many of my colleagues in the PIC ran frantic errands there to use its computers, which were better than we had at that time. So next morning, I went to, let’s call it, building Y.

Of course, the security guard did not let me in. He looked my badge over and told me that a PIC badge did not give access to Y. I insisted that it did, because many of my coworkers, wearing the same badges, had been working there. After a polite argument, he said, “I tell you what. I’ll take your badge and check it out. You go do what you came here to do. On your way out, stop here and I’ll give you your badge back." Consequently, I entered the building unbadged! I’m sure that every employee, consultant and visitor, except me, was badged.

The moment I entered the meeting, someone asked a question: “How much business are we doing in this suite of products? Are the numbers worth the effort we have to make in all these meetings?”

After a short silence, a senior manager replied. “That’s highly confidential information. Is everyone in this meeting cleared to hear it?”

The questioner assured us that everyone in the meeting was cleared to hear these sales figures. I was sure that this was not a good moment for me to object, so I listened, and I got an earful about a set of sick products.

After the meeting, I found my Chicago manager and got my document. Then I returned to the guard. He assured me that I was not allowed access to building Y, and in the future, he would be careful to keep all my coworkers out as well. My PIC friends all got upset with me!

Monday, August 08, 2011

More AT&T War Stories: (9)

Most of the really bizarre experiences I had in my software career occurred during the few years I consulted at AT&T. This is a story I was told, but what triggered it was something about me: security guards always give me a careful look. I stand out to them in ways that most people don’t.

On this occasion, I was visiting the enormous Bell Labs installation (Napierville) that was just transferring itself into AT&T proper. (About two years later, it transferred itself back to being Bell Labs.) In order to visit, I needed a visitor’s badge, and my hosts advised me to please walk casually past the security guard without a badge, to save them a lot of paperwork.

This “sneakwalk” was their custom for visitors. I tried, although, as I advised them in advance, it was hopeless. The guard stopped me, and I waited while the paperwork got done. And then they told me their story.

One of their programmers used to complain that the security was all for show. The guards really paid no attention to anything. “I could paste the face of a gorilla over my badge,” he said, “and they wouldn’t say a word.”

The guy joked about this a lot, and one day he announced that next morning, he was really going to do it. One of his ‘friends’ warned the security guard.

The next morning the guy walked past the guard, flashing his badge, with a picture of a gorilla face where his face should be. The guard waited until he was about thirty feet away, and then called him back. “Let’s see that badge.”

The guy handed over his badge and trembled while the guard studied it carefully, silently, looking from him to the badge and back. What rules had he broken? What awful punishment was about to fall upon him?

After about thirty seconds, the guard said, “Looks good.” He handed the badge back to the guy and let him go.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Is it hot enough for you?

Nobody has ever asked me if it was hot enough for me. But I've realized that on a hot and humid day like today, I'd know what to say. Now bear in mind that I greatly prefer hot weather to cold weather:

Q: Is it hot enough for you?
A: No, but it is cold enough for me.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Deluxe eDesk by LapGear for the ipad, etc:

The Deluxe eDesk is an inexpensive gadget that makes it easy for you to use your tablet while it is tilted. You set the eDesk on a table, set the tilt you prefer, and place your tablet on its rack. You can also use it as a carrying case for your tablet (the inside compartment is deep enough for an iPad 1), and it comes with a handy cloth to wipe the glass screen. Check it out here. I got mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $21 with a store coupon.