Contents: Prizewinning browser, Basic s/w quality, Euro UK, Shuttle, Slammer.
This issue online at http://www.sysmod.com/praxis/prax0302.htm
Systems Modelling Ltd.: Managing reality in Information Systems - strategies for success
Prizewinning browser from a 16-year old
Almost cost-free email for Africa
Getting back to basics
UK Treasury select committee euro inquiry
The Shuttle tragedies
Slam the door on Slammer
And finally .. some good news on fighting SMS Spam!
On the lighter side
If Microsoft had been the first to invent books
17 Web links in this newsletter
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Please email me with your comments as requested in the Euro survey below.
Thanks for your interest,
Adnan Osmani, a sixth year student at St Finian's College, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, won the 2003 Esat BT Young Scientist Ireland prize with an Internet browser. Boys love feature-studded gadgets, so his browser XWEBS includes 120 search engine links, five media players, a DVD player, and a talking cartoon assistant Phoebe. However, the media focus was on his efforts to provide a faster browsing experience (it is speculated he uses lookahead or multi-session techniques), which they interpreted as "faster downloads" and claimed users would not need to upgrade from modem to broadband access. As Karlin Lillington later reported in the Irish Times, it was somewhat unedifying to see adult IT specialists carping about the sixteen-year-old winner of a schools' competition. His application to his work and the quality of the resulting product won praise from judges experienced in both school and university assessments. "We talked to the student and got a much better feeling for what he'd done and the level of his knowledge. The student certainly displayed enough knowledge to prove he'd written it himself, which was my first concern. It certainly is a very impressive piece of technology, a very feature-rich browser. It's an important piece of technology, particularly for someone of his age."
http://radio.weblogs.com/0103966/ Karlin Lillington's comment
Such embarrassing inaccuracy has a precedent - a previous winner, Sarah Flannery, who won the 1999 award with her mathematics of cryptography, had to learn the downside of fame. She deserved her prize because of the quality of her study, work, and application. That fact that the Cayler-Purser algorithm was later cracked, and she reported that fact, was an illustration of the importance of peer review and the scientific method. As reported in http://www.maa.org/reviews/incode.html : "By no means did she simply make props and code the algorithms: she learned the underlying mathematics. ... Sarah's achievements were greeted with a great deal of media attention. [...] As detailed in [her book 'In code'], the attention and such gushingly imprecise reporting caused Sarah, David and her mentors at Baltimore Technologies some embarrassments and difficulties." For more detail, see http://cryptome.org/flannery-cp.htm
I mentioned the TRINET project in Nov. 2002 PraxIS. I am one of the directors of the Informatics Development Institute (IDI) that is working on this, and this time I want to explain it by contrast with more conventional programmes.
The TRINET project is different from most other "information society" satellite access type of projects. Those projects are typically concerned with giving internet web and email access to communities, for example in towns or villages. They want high bandwidth, 100% availability, and are prepared to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a month for access.
We in the IDI want access at as near zero running cost as possible. The typical monthly salary of our partners is less than what these WiFi or satellite broadband want per user per month.
We currently have access to a LEOsat free. This is because the use of the satellite is not-for-profit, research, and for a humanitarian purpose. As a corollary, the available bandwidth is very low. The microsatellite typically orbits in 100 minutes but only about twice a day is its elevation high enough for a good quality link for a 10-20 minute pass. Another implication is that the users have to acquire an amateur radio licence, which can be troublesome or politically difficult in some countries.
Our only cost is equipment and - very importantly - investment in training. Such capital costs are typically met by donors. Our first design has (not unexpectedly for a prototype) a high maintenance need for technical expertise in radio, satellite, software and PCs, and our TRINET-2 project is intended to build an integrated non-user-serviceable groundstation.
Our users are small groups of field workers such as healthcare professionals or agricultural advisors. They may be unable to communicate with their own head offices except by driving for a couple of days. Their need is for occasional but important messages to their peers, or to other people working in the same area (e.g. tropical medicine) worldwide, and for access to databases, for example using email as an interface to search engines.
Our intended users are happy with email access only, not continuous access and therefore do not need a working phone line or an expensive satellite phone. We are happy with access a couple of times a day (when the satellite pass is high enough) and to be able to send or receive 10 or so small text emails totalling maybe 20-30K during each pass.
As you can see, we are very focused on lowest-possible access-cost solutions. We know they are immediately achievable, as we can do now in TRINET-1, but we now want them to be maintenance-free.
Our work in the first TRINET project focused on all of the essential components of a communications network based on low earth orbit satellite (LEOsat) technology. These components comprise: -
1) A low earth orbit satellite - we will look for another smallsat to use, or we may partner with an organisation launching one.
2) A group of Ground Stations at remote locations - no local phone lines needed. They should be cheap and robust and run on solar power and/or batteries with weeks-long life charges.
3) A group of Internet gateway servers in industrialized countries - these need to be geographically dispersed around the globe to maximise access.
4) Packet radio technology - there may be more recent developments than the PacSat protocol usable here.
5) Innovative web software development - including easy-to-use email access to global expert knowledge databases.
If you know of an organisation which can contribute to this objective, please let me know.
Further information: www.i-d-i.net which is an easy-to-type link to:
I have worked with small software companies to improve their software development process. This has involved training them in the Personal Software Process - PSP. (See the reports of the SPIRE project at http://www.cse.dcu.ie/spire/handbook.html ) However, sometimes the problems small companies face are more basic - more like accountancy. In some cases, they need good project time tracking and billing procedures, to know where they are losing or making money. The real eye-opener starting the PSP is the time analysis which gives a clear-sighted realisation of what the time is spent on - work or rework. That fundamental distinction is one of the most important that can be made - after deciding that one is working on the right thing to begin with!
The same thing happens with time management courses. People are amazed to discover how much time is spent on distractions, interruptions, interesting but non-productive diversions, and non-jobs. They don't keep up detailed 15-minute diary logs, and repeat the exercise every year or two to re-focus. Sometimes people focus too much on things that are more technologically intriguing or irritating than they are important, and miss the longer view.
For more on the PSP, see my web page www.sysmod.com/psp.htm
Submissions have already been made by business directors such as Mr. Mike Rake, Chairman, KPMG International, and Sir Martin Jacomb, Chairman, Delta plc & Share plc. The committee quizzed them intensively on scenarios with and without the UK joining the euro, with a broad range of topics including exchange rates, labour markets, taxation, and competitiveness:
The tragic news has just come in about the Columbia shuttle disaster. It's too soon to talk about causes. To reflect on an earlier disaster, the Challenger, it may be worth recalling that the weakness of the O-rings was known about and reported on beforehand. But in an excess of diagrammitis, the data was presented in a way that was hard to immediately grasp. Edward Tufte, "Visual Explanations", Graphics Press 1997, showed a much simpler and clearer way to present the data, that made the relationship between temperature and failure evident. There is a link between that point and those above - the effort to simplify paradoxically takes more work and time but produces a better engineered result.
http://history.nasa.gov/sts51l.html (May be unavailable due to overload)
Many networks experienced congestion and failure in the last week of January because of the Slammer worm. Most system administrators (sysadmins) have patched their systems by now. As TheRegister.co.uk reported, even some Microsoft sysadmins had not applied the six-month-old patch. In that they were no different from many others who delay patches because of the fear of collateral damage from bugs that can be introduced by patching.
However, Woody's Office Watch http://woodyswatch.com/ warns that even ordinary MS Office users will have to check their systems. The details are given in "WOW #8.03 - Latest worm isn't just for servers" Woody Leonhard says "...if you installed a custom-built Access program recently, there's a fair chance that it included a copy of MSDE (the 'Microsoft Data Engine') 2000" which is also vulnerable.
In summary, Woody says:
"My recommendation for normal Office users: download Symantec's detector/fixer at http://securityresponse.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.sqlexp.worm.removal.tool.html and run it. If the removal tool tells you that you don't appear to be vulnerable to the worm, it's highly likely that you don't have MSDE installed.
If you do have MSDE, download the SQL Server 2000 SP3 patch (start at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/virus/alerts/slammer.asp ) and run it."
Lawzone ( www.lawzone.co.uk ) reports that this involves a letter or an email or even sometimes a visit from a company posing as a 'collector' of Data Protection registration fees. The Information Commissioner's website has posted a warning and has cited the details of all known perpetrators: www.dataprotection.gov.uk/dnbmlist.html
The Open list ( http://www.webnet.ie/open/open.html ) is a mail list in Ireland with a web and technical focus with a reputation for frank speaking. Bernard Michael Tyers of Dublin City University has just reported on a success in dealing with an SMS spam message he received from "Irish Psychics Live". He tried to ring the 1800 "unsubscribe" number given and got (no surprise) "NUMBER INVALID". A member on the Open list advised him to contact RegTel, the premium rate regulator ( http://126.96.36.199/index.html ). Sparing you the details of the hunt for those responsible that followed, eventually after trying three times to get a satisfactory answer from Realm Ltd, who run Irish Psychics Live, he contacted RegTel and this is the result:
"The Regulator, Mr. Pat Breen rang back just now thanking me for the complaint and that he had before (and now again) warned [them] about this spam. As far as Mr. Breen was concerned it was blatant spam. He even commented on the incorrect unsub details. [the MD] had, in fact, used a random number generator for 2000 numbers. Mr. Breen said that [the MD] will have a letter on his desk tomorrow telling him to stop this practice or his services will be removed in 7 days."
That's the way to do it.
Simply send your comments to FEEDBACK (at) SYSMOD (dot) COM
Thank you! Patrick O'Beirne, Editor
If a myopic suffers from myopia, does a biopic suffer from biopia?
If a cowhandler handles cows, does a coworker ork cows?
A reader of the Langa.com newsletter, Brett Sinclair, offers this item:
If Microsoft had been the first to invent books:
1. Before you can open the cover of your new book, you must obtain a book activation code by phoning Microsoft.
2. Sorry, only one person may ever read your book.
3. It's full of spelling mistakes and typos.
4. When you're reading your book, the type can mysteriously disappear.
5. Libraries, which are for sharing books, are illegal.
6. You must acknowledge you have read and understood the Book License Agreement Hype (BLAH) before you can read your book.
7. Microsoft has the right to enter your premises to conduct book inspections to make sure your book is being read in accordance with the BLAH.
8. The Book Users' Group General Alliance (BUGGA) calculates that the annual loss of revenues to Microsoft arising from BLAH violations in 2001 was $10.97 billion.
9. There are two versions of your book - the "Standard" and the "Pro" versions. In the standard version, those pages containing the most useful information have been stuck together.
10. Confidential information is inexplicably in bigger type that can be easily read by anyone glancing over your shoulder.
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ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
"Praxis" means model or example, from the Greek verb "to do". The name is chosen to reflect our focus on practical solutions to IS problems, avoiding hype. If you like acronyms, think of it as "Patrick's reports and analysis across Information Systems".
To read previous issues of this newsletter please visit our web site at http://www.sysmod.com/praxis.htm
This newsletter is prepared in good faith and the information has been taken from observation and other sources believed to be reliable. Systems Modelling Ltd. (SML) does not represent expressly or by implication the accuracy, truthfulness or reliability of any information provided. It is a condition of use that users accept that SML has no liability for any errors, inaccuracies or omissions. The information is not intended to constitute legal or professional advice. You should consult a professional at Systems Modelling Ltd. directly for advice that is specifically tailored to your particular circumstances.
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