Monday, July 23, 2007

United announces new Business Class Seats

Today, United Airlines announced their new lay-flat business class seating that will start rolling out into the fleet later this year with a completion of the roll out in 2009.

The new business class seat is a substantial upgrade over the current seats including:

  • Lay-flat 6'4" bed
  • 15.4 inch LCD display
  • 110 volt outlet -- no more need for empower adapter!!!!
  • Apple iPod dock
  • USB power supply to power/recharge devices
  • etc., etc.

You can take a look at the following for more information:

All I can say is "bring it on!!!" I'm ready for it today.

UPDATE: 7/24 - The down side in all this is that there are substantially less business class seats in each of the aircraft: 747 - 53 (down from 72), 767 - 26 (down from 32), and 777 - 40 (down from 45/49). So while the seats are much better, there are less of them making upgrades much more competitive. TANNSTAAFL.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shanghai Maglev Train

When we arrived in Shanghai, being the techno-dweebs that we are, we just had to ride the MagLev train from Shanghai Pudong Airport to the Shanghai Metro's Longyan Road station.

The train ride is quite short (less than 8 minutes) but well worth the 50 yuan (about $6) just for the experience of riding at 431 KPH at ground level.

I took the video below (about 1 minute long) to show the speed that you see as you're riding along at that speed. This video is not retouched or sped up, that's the normal speed.


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Saturday, July 21, 2007

8 hours in SFO.... and then some...

On my way to Shanghai this week, I had a layover in SFO that was originally supposed to be around 4 hours. Normally I would fly through Chicago on my way to Shanghai, but my boss and a co-worker were traveling as well and they wanted me to meet up with them in San Francisco. 4 hours is a bit longer than the typical layover for me and part of it was my fault -- I had booked an early morning flight from Dulles because it was internationally configured and so the upgrade to business class was so much better.

When I got to SFO I received a text message from United that the flight to Shanghai was delayed 1/2 hour (to 2:20 rather than 1:50) -- no big deal.

However, that wasn't the end. Around 2:00, they told us that the delay was now changed to 6:40PM (another 4 hours) and they provided us with a meal voucher.

Later (around 5:30PM), they delayed the flight to the next day at 9:00 AM. This wasn't a cancellation, but a delay -- and given how full flights are nowadays, I'm glad they did the delay or it might have taken us days to get to Shanghai. They gave us dinner and breakfast meal vouchers as well as putting us up at the local Hyatt.

So, almost 24 hours after arriving in SFO, we took off for Shanghai and the rest of the flight was uneventful. Luckily, I was upgraded into business class the entire way.

Of course, the Chicago to Shanghai flight that I normally would have flown went off without a hitch and I would have arrived in Shanghai almost 24 hours earlier. For some reason, I find it necessary to remind my boss of that every few minutes :-).

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Maintaining Social Networks

A recent article on the Teknision blog complains about the pain it is to build and maintain social networks again and again on one site or another:

There is something very wrong with the web……

I wonder how many times I have had to find and add Gabor Vida, Steve Mackenzie, Ryan Stewart, Mike Chambers, Phillip Kerman, Mike Downey, Mike Potter, Stacey Mulcahy, Ryan Murphy, Mykel Ruvola( and on and on and on and on) in the last few months. I have spent a huge amount of my time across social networks re-finding the same people over and over and over again.

I too have felt that pain and I am feeling the pain yet again as several of my compatriots have joined dopplr to keep track of where we all are and find interesting crossings of paths as we gallivant around the world.

Interestingly, this is what the Liberty Alliance's People Service was designed to solve, including the connection to people in different identity circles (e.g. they didn't all have accounts within the same identity domain). You can follow along on a webcast on the subject: audio is here, presentation deck used is here.

Take a look, there's some interesting stuff there.

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Harry Potter Mania

Today, my daughters (Lauren and Jessica) were quite grumpy when heading off to their eventing horse camp (even more grumpy than they usually are in the morning). Their problem stems from a lack of sleep as they were up till quite late last night so that they could see the midnight showing of the new Harry Potter movie "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix".

The movie was great (perhaps even more so since I knew I was seeing it about 3 hours before Eve :-) -- she's on the west coast, though I wouldn't be surprised if she few to the UK just to be able to watch it last week during its world premier). Warner Brothers have done another good job transferring the magic of the book to the screen.

The movie was true to the book, fun and quite enjoyable. It felt a bit long in a few places, but the books are getting quite long as well. Of course, I haven't read the books recently so now I'm all confused about what happens in book 4 vs 5 vs 6. I guess I'll have to go back and read them again before I start in on book 7. We had to order two copies of the last few books in the series (including 7) in our house to ensure a reasonable wait time for each of the readers -- we will all read it.

What amazed me about this movie is that we got there around 10:15 or so (almost 2 hours before the star -- much earlier than we had gotten to Star Wars Episode III's midnight showing and got great seats for that movie) only to find that the theatre was already 2/3 full. The entire middle was pretty much full and we were relegated to one of the sides. Pity the people who only showed up about an hour before start time as they had trouble finding 2 seats together anywhere in the theatre.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

VMWare Tips & Tricks

I've been using VMWare Workstation for several years now (after dumping VirtualPC when Microsoft bought them and promptly dropped support for Linux guest OS integration). As part of my recent upgrade to Windows Vista, I upgraded to VMWare Workstation 6.0 and had to re-enable all of my tricks to get everything working the way I like within the OS (and I had to find them all again as I hadn't written them down as I discovered them previously).

So, this time, I've decided to document them here so that others could benefit from them (and so I had them lying about for the next time I have to do the same). They are listed here in order of discovery (as opposed to any semblance of an order of importance). I will continue to come back to this and add new things from time to time as I run across them. If there's something of interest you thing should be added, let me know.

My configuration is that I have a Windows Vista host OS and two guest VMs, one running Windows XP Pro (as that is necessary for correct operation of many of our corporate tools), and one running Fedora Linux (where I do some open source development).

  • ctrl-alt-del shuts down guest OS

    I am using a windows host and I always lock the screen when I leave my desk/computer. Sometimes I happen to be in my linux VM at the time and this causes the linux system to log me out and/or shutdown, neither of which I appreciate, especially if I have lots of work in progress. I could figure out how to stop this within Linux, but I really just want VMWare to ignore the ctrl-alt-del and let me send one explicitly there if I need to.

    I achieved this by adding the line:

    mks.ctlAltDel.ignore = "TRUE"
    to the "C:\Users\All Users\VMware\VMware Workstation\config.ini" file. This tells the VMWare to ignore the ctrl-alt-del and so the client's don't see it. If I want to send a ctrl-alt-del to the client, I use the VMWare defined ctrl-alt-ins combo.

  • Shared Folders are slow in Windows XP Guest

    My Windows XP guest was extremely slow in accessing shared folders (to the point that I didn't want to use them). At first I just thought this was normal, but then after a quick google search, I found this :

    1) Create a text file called 'lmhosts' in the folder 
       C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc - if it doesn't already 
       exist. If it does, simply edit it.
    2) Add the following line:
    3) Save the file. 

    This is done in the Guest OS and it worked like a charm, though I didn't consistently have the slowness problem before implementing this and didn't study it long enough to figure out the specific mixture of circumstances to cause the problem. Implementing this fix got rid of the problem in all situations (so far).

  • Text input cursor icon disappears in Win XP guest

    In my windows XP guest, the standard I-Beam text input mouse cursor icon (the one that is used when the mouse is over a text input field such as a field entry, or an edit box) would not show up. I would be left without an indication of where my cursor was. At first, with just editing some forms, this was just an annoyance, but later, when I went to edit a document or an email message, it was downright painful.

    I first tried fixing this by changing the cursor icon. This worked in some cases, but left the most important (editing docs/emails) still broken. Some more searching (and this took a bit of work) and I found the right article in VMWare's forum which included:

    In the guest, try dropping the display hardware acceleration down a notch.
    Start->Settings->Control Panel->Display
    Settings->Advanced->Troubleshoot->Hardware acceleration

    Note that there's also a "Troubleshoot" button on the Settings Tab. This isn't the one, you want to use the Advanced button and then go to the Troubleshoot tab.

    For me, dropping it down one notch (to turn off some of the acceleration of the cursor operations) was all that was needed.

  • Printing from a Windows XP Guest

    Printing from my Windows XP host was a problem as I would sometimes be connected to the corporate VPN and sometimes not. While on the VPN, the printers on the system's local network were not available from the guest as the connection to the physical network was through a NATed VMNet and thus two levels away from the guest.

    I worked around this by sharing the printer from my host OS and then using the host-host VMNet to access that "network" printer -- which was a local connection and thus allowed under our VPN configuration. This works whether or not the VPN is up and running.

  • Conflict between Communicator and VMNet setup

    In my Windows XP guest, I was unable to connect to our company's Microsoft Office Communicator SIP server. Playing around with this for a while, I was able to determine that the problem was related to my host-only VMNet. Disabling the VMNet allowed Communicator to connect, enable it and Communicator would again fail to connect.

    The problem was that the DHCP server was setting a DNS server in the guest host and the failure of that DNS host was causing the problems (probably timing) for Communicator. So, I disabled DHCP on that connection and hard-coded an IP address for the host and guest OSs manually and did *not* specify DNS servers for that connection (didn't need them) and voila, it all worked fine.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Derived trust

Eric Norman, commenting on my chastization of Chase asks me:

Do you have any idea about what your mother would have an easy time of? That is, your mother would be able to say, "Yes, this is my bank", or "Wait a minute; something is wrong here" and get the right answer every time.

Would the green address bar be enough for your mother?

I started to answer in a comment myself, then thought that this topic was important enough to require its own discussion topic.

The answer to the "green address bar" being enough, of course, is: No. Color, pretty locks, etc. would not be enough for my mother nor, I suspect, many other mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, etc.

What my mother needs is a means of deriving the trust of a site from other people that she knows and trusts and to have any site that isn't on that list to either be totally blocked or to set off all kinds of bells and whistles so that it's impossible for her to not realize she's walked out of the nice safe world into the dark inner city of the internet.

My mother would trust sites that I, or probably most of my siblings, had said were OK (which is essentially how she does things today, but with a phone call and without protection within the platform that she really is looking at the actual site one of us said was OK).

This would require some client enhancements in browsers and possibly in mailers, some reputation based host that she could point her client towards to say "include Conor's list in my set of sites," a means to get real-time approval, support for multiple such lists (so she could include my sister's list, or my brother's list) etc. etc. I think she would set it to block any non-OKed sites. Others would probably want to be able to add their own sites as well.

As I think about this, much of it feels like the kind of infrastructure AOL has in place for their parental controls (where the parent can control what their youngster has access to), though this would be the reverse direction and rather than a control, it would be advisory (because my mother could change the settings on her browser and do whatever she wants on her computer).

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Vast Machine

On my last trip, I picked up a book at one of the airport bookstores. The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. It's a good story about the struggle between good and evil and I recommend reading it.

The reason I bring it up here is because it paints a pretty strong fictional picture of what could be done by the wrong hands in our ever-more-connected world. They called it "The Vast Machine" and fictionalized how the bad guys were able to tie together information from every kind of source to create a super surveillance system capable of finding anybody who even touches the grid. Using ATM video feeds to track a victim, using toll boot cameras to track cars, planting false criminal records to get law enforcement to do their work, etc., etc..

On of the memorable sequences discussing the US's choice to put RFIDs into passports (supported and driven by the bad guys, of course):

"Is the information encrypted?" Michael asked

"Of course not. That would make it difficult to share the technology with other governments".

"But what if terrorists use the skimmers?"

"It would certainly make their job easier. Let's say a tourist was walking through the marketplace in Cairo. A skimmer could read his passport -- find out if he was an American and if he had visited Israel. By the time the American reached the end of the street, an assassin could be stpping out of a nearby doorway."

Michael sat for a moment and studied Nash's bland smile. "None of this makes sense. The government says it wants to protect us, but it's doing something that makes us more vulnerable."

General Nash looked as if his favorite nephew had just made an innocent mistake. "Yes, it's unfortunate. But you have to weigh the loss of a few lives against the power given to us by this new technology. This is the future, Michael. No one can stop it. In a few years, it won't just be passports. Everyone will carry a Protective Link device that tracks them all the time."

Scary. Very scary. Fictional yes, but not outside the realm of possibilities given current or near future technologies.

This certainly reinforces the need to study the long term privacy impacts of all this magical work we're doing in the Identity space and especially with the move to contactless transactions.

Anyway, good summer reading for everyone and especially for those in the identity space.

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They Just Don't Get It....

Received this email the other day from Chase (the banking folks who are frequent targets of phishing attacks).

I'm still amazed that financial institutions continue to send emails to their customers with active hyperlinks and directions to use those links. This encourages the exact behavior that makes their customers susceptible to a phishing attempt. After checking the links closely (I do like to study phishing attacks) as well as the rest of the content of the message, the only thing that provided any evidence to me that this was actually from Chase was the 4 digit portion of the account number (something buried deep down in the message).

What's especially interesting in this case is that I have already used their online payment system to make the payment for the current statement, so they are sending me an email to tell me to use a link to do something that I've already done.

We need to move away from these kinds of emails until there is some way for the average user to authenticate that they came from the real party with which they have a relationship with and not some phishing impostor. Yes, I can tell verify this because I'm the suspicious type but my mother would have a hard time with it.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Equipment recycling

In all my collecting of gadgets and toys, I've built up a collection of unused electronics. Thank god for eBay as I'm usually able to get rid of working electronics without too much trouble (in fact I think Ebay has created an entire new model for gadget upgrading and trickle down flow as us gadgeteers sell our gadgets as soon as the next gadget comes out).

Of course, I also have stuff that just isn't worth selling on eBay -- usually because it is broken or the shipping cost is just too high when compared to the value of the item. This is especially the case for old computer monitors.

Well, today, I looked around the house and found 5 monitors ranging in size from 13 inch to 21 inch (the 21 inch Viewsonic was dead, the others work, but were old and unused), a 27 inch Sony television, and a dead APC rack mount UPS (when I called APC about it like a year ago, they said that "it gave its life to protect all the equipment behind it"... I thought that was a lame way of saying "we don't want to pay to fix it, you're on your own").

A quick search for electronic recycling found E Tech Recycling which, interestingly has two offices in the U.S. -- One in Hillsboro, OR (where my work office is) and one in Chantilly, VA (close to where I live). We loaded the stuff into my wife's car (it was raining and I didn't think it would be wise to put electronics into the back of my pickup truck) and drove off to the local E Tech.

They helped unload the car, and charged me $65 -- which, I think, was a very good deal for everyone.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cygwin on Microsoft Vista

I've run into a few problems using Cygwin on Microsoft Vista on my new laptop:

  • The installation hung during the post-install step "/etc/postinstall/". Researching this problem on the google found an article on the cygwin mailing list which worked around the problem by setting the Windows XP compatibility mode on the installation executable. I wasn't comfortable with this solution as it might cause things to not work well later on Vista.

    So I poked around a bit, turned on the "Command Line" output for the "Processes" tab in the Windows Task Manager and found that the script was hanging on "/usr/bin/texhash", which rebuilds a directory listing used by Tex. I was able to run the command successfully on the cygwin command line, but it was still hung in the installation process. So I used Task Manager to kill the texhash process and the installation continued to a later step "" where it was trying to run "mktexlsr" - which is the same program. I again used Task Manager to kill that process and the installation now went on to a succesfull completion.

    Following the install, I went back and ran the texhash program manually, which did require me to change the mode of the files "/var/cache/fonts/ls-R" and "/usr/share/texmf/ls-R" files which had been left read-only when I killed the process.

    Everything seems to be working fine now.

  • Scripts moved over from my Windows XP installation of cygwin now fail to run because they are DOS formated (\r\n line termination vs UNIX's \n). I don't recall setting anything special when I installed cygwin on my old system, but on the new install, it clearly asked if I wanted to use the binary (UNIX) mode vs DOS mode and recommended Binary (which I picked). Not a big deal... Just ran "tr -d '\015' < file >" for any such scripts to get rid of the \r's
  • My rsync backup scripts failed with strange errors and paths. I poked around a bit and this seems to be caused by the extensive use of NTFS's Junction points within the c:\users\user_name profile directory (including a particularly problematic one where "c:\users\user_name\AppData\Local\Application Data" points back to "c:\users\user_name\AppData\Local" creating an infinite loop, even for Windows Explorer (you can infinitely open "Application Data" again and again going as deep as you want since at every stage you get the contents of "Local" again which has the "Application Data" junction again within it).

    Junction points look like a shortcut in Windows Explorer and behave like a Unix symbolic link to some extent. I couldn't find anything within the cygwin mailing lists, nor in the rsync man page to deal with this problem, so I just manually excluded the problematic entries from the backup set and things worked fine.

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