Thursday, June 29, 2006

Telkom worse than a nuclear attack?

I have often heard it said that the internet was supposed to be a network that could withstand a nuclear attack. Well, if it is, then the good people at Telkom haven't got the message yet. Every time something goes wrong with the ADSL backbone or our international connectivity, they say something like "a router is faulty" or "a cable was dug up or stolen".
So my question is: How can a stolen cable or a faulty router bring down an entire national network? Is the ADSL backbone really designed like a LAN, with no redundancy or fall-over plan?
This week it was a router at the New Doornfontein exchange. Well, surely, the only connection to Richards Bay is not via New Doornfontein? Surely there is also a link from Durban, Nelspruit, and perhaps even Pietermaritzburg? So if I am sitting in Johannesburg and I can't connect to Richards Bay via New Doornfontein, but I can connect to Durban, then surely the network can send my data via Durban?
That's what in theory is supposed to occur. On the fly. But then I'm sure the guys at SAIX haven't designed it that way, or the routers they use can't do that. I wonder if the SNO will get it right? If they do, they're going to make a lot of money.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Drop Dead, Marketing!

Financial Institutions never cease to amaze me. On the one hand they conduct really optimistic ad campaigns in the media, with totally unrealistic slogans like "We'd like to be Your Bank" or "How Can We Help You?". But to be fair, my bank does actually provide useful services and better security than most.
It's just their marketing department that bothers me. They send me "promotional" (i.e. invasive) SMS messages to my cell phone that I didn't ask for. I gave them permission to tell me about transactions going through my credit card and current account, but since when does that give them license to tell me about a new kind of product or a competition?
Why is this a problem, you ask? Well, because I use the SMS service on my phone to send and receive important messages. And marketing shlock is singularly unimportant and frankly its a bloody nuisance.
What's worse than annoying SMS messages are people who think they can phone me at meal times and sell me stuff. Again, my bank is the biggest culprit, mainly because I'm careful about who I give my cell number to. They wanted to sell me a FNB funeral plan. I told them to drop dead.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Less is More

"A fundamental notion in business is to outdo and go one better than the competition. Jason Fried (37 Signals) delves into the competitive advantage of doing less, suggesting that people start thinking about 'under-doing' each other to beat the competition in this era of simple applications. He presents arguments against conventional business building practices and proposes scaling down on money, staff, and product features to make time more valued and productive.
Time management comes to the forefront as Fried outlines a time frame that revolves around the functional customer experience. His presentation accentuates the reality that, while in any business there are a million simple problems to solve, simplicity remains the key."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Microsoft Fixes 12 Security Flaws, Leaves Windows 98 Users in the Lurch

This month's regularly scheduled security patch release was the worst Microsoft has seen in over a year, with the software giant shipping fixes for 12 security flaws, eight of them rated as critical, the most serious rating. Nine of the fixes are for various Windows versions, while two are for Microsoft Office and one is for Microsoft Exchange Server.
As always, Windows users are advised to run Automatic Updates to download the updates, or visit Windows Update or Microsoft Update at the Microsoft Web site. Because hackers are exploiting at least one of the flaws patched this week, Microsoft recommends that its customers update their machines as quickly as possible.
In related news, Microsoft revealed this week via its Security Response Center blog that it won't be fixing one of the critical security flaws for Windows Me, Windows 98, and Win98SE. "After extensive investigation, we've found that it's not feasible to make the extensive changes necessary to Windows Explorer on these older versions of Windows to eliminate the vulnerability," the blog reads. "This is because during the development of Windows 2000, we made significant enhancements to the underlying architecture of Windows Explorer. The Windows Explorer architecture on these older versions of Windows is much less robust than the more recent Windows architectures."
"Due to these fundamental differences, these changes would require reengineering a significant amount of a critical core component of the operating system. After such a reengineering effort, there would be no assurance that applications designed to run on these platforms would continue to operate on the updated system."
Microsoft recommends that users still running these older OSs follow its workaround instructions to avoid being hacked, but it also notes that it'll cease supporting these systems next month.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Boycott BP and Shell

This is about petrol prices and an invitation to join the resistance. By the end of this month petrol prices are set to soar even higher.
If we want the petrol price to come down, we all need to take some intelligent, united action.
Last year there was a "don't buy petrol day"-but the oil companies just laughed at that because they knew that we would "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy petrol.
It was more of an inconvenience to us than a problem to them.
But, whoever thought of the ideas, has come up with a plan that can really work.
By now you probably thinking petrol priced at about R4.50 is cheap. It is currently at +- R4.60 for regular and unleaded.
Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations (the bullies like US and Britain) have conditioned us to think that the cost of a liter is cheap at R 5.00 , we need to take aggressive action to teach them that buyers control the marketplace......... not the sellers.
With the price of petrol going up each day, we consumers need to take action.
The only way we are going to see the price of petrol come down is if we hit someone in the pocket by not purchasing their petrol.
And we can do that without hurting ourselves. How?
Since we rely on our cars, we just cannot stop buying petrol.
But we can have an impact on petrol prices if we all act together to force a price war.
Here's the idea:
For the rest of the year, don't purchase any petrol from the two biggest overseas oil companies (which are now one), SHELL and BP... (Local is Lekka - So buy Sasol / Engen / Excel)
If the overseas companies are not selling any petrol, they will be inclined to reduce their prices.
If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit.
But to have an impact we need to reach literally millions of petrol buyers.
It is really simple to do!
Now, don't wimp out at this point...keep reading, and all will be revealed as to how simple it is to reach millions of people. Email it to all your friends. Acting together we can make a difference.
If you're fed up paying too much for petrol, please pass this message on.
COMMENCING NOW DON'T BUY BP /SHELL, go and support SA Brand SASOL, our currency and economy will strengthen by 65% in 18 months the capital will stay in SA. Africa must stop feeding the world giants it must feed itself.

Monday, June 05, 2006

DataMover tackles an INNER JOIN across the Internet

Data synchronization has always been a challenge; DataMover helps address this in Microsoft Access97. But one of the problems I have been facing is: how do you do an INNER JOIN or even a LEFT JOIN when one table is on your local machine, and the other table is thousands of km away, connected only by an internet connection?
The table is visible, using a VPN, but it contains half a million records, and you only want to update, say, 10 of the 20000 records you have locally. Until now I was just using an INNER JOIN, hoping the ODBC connection would be efficient enough to manage. It didn't. It was a bad idea to begin with, and so I spent most of Thursday night and Friday trying to make it work better.
The first task was to extract just the minimum data from the remote server using a stored procedure. The problem with this approach is that you can't simply create the stored procedure on demand, and then drop it when done, because another DataMover user could be busy with it. Once I had that problem out of the way, the next problem was to determine what the minimum data would look like. As it turns out, it's just the Primary Key and the DateTimeStamp field.
The next problem was getting just a single record from the remote server's table of half a million records. Again, a stored procedure works just fine, provided you send the primary key values as parameters to the query. The next thing that went haywire was working out when to restrict the queries even further with user-supplied filters, and when to ignore them.
I first tackled the SYNS keyword in DataMover, which synchronizes the local (master) table with the remote (slave) table. Eventually it worked, and nice and fast as predicted. The reverse direction proved to be bit more tricky. But it works, and the 14 remote clinics who are using it have already noticed the difference. For now.

Black Frog Taking Over For Blue Security

Spammers beware--hostile amphibians are once again rising against you.

First there was Blue Frog, a community antispam effort that stopped operating last week after Blue Security, the company that started the project, came under a withering denial-of-service attack.

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