September 28, 2004

Look Out for the Average Airline Passenger -- We're Armed and Dangerous!

One of the advantages of having a blog is the ability to raise our collective consciousness through analysis and discussion. Today I'd like to try to influence some change. Read this news story about an unfortunate 52-year old special education teacher first, before the rest of this post. It'll make a lot more sense, trust me.

I rarely ever post my indignation at something, but this one just hit closer to home. Just a few weeks ago on my way to LawNet 2004, I had an incident where I packed my shaving kit in the wrong suitcase. I was in a hurry, and I completely forgot I left my tiny mustache-trimmer scissors in my kit, which was in my carry on pullman. Lucky for me, the security person was very astute (I'm sure they see this one all the time) and simply gave me the option to have her throw it away. No problem, I needed a new one anyway. I'm just incredibly glad it wasn't a weighted bookmark, or this lawyer would've needed a lawyer.

Is it getting to the point where we just shouldn't bring anything onboard an airplane any more, not even ourselves? "They probably felt that this item looked fairly dangerous." Well, I could certainly say that of a number of people I've seen on my flights, and much that we bring aboard.

So where do we draw the line? A CD's or DVD's sharp edge (especially if sharpened on purpose) could be used against someone's throat, just like the box knives used on 9/11. A CD player could be used as a well-aimed blunt frisbee to take out a pilot at 20 feet. A good-sized laptop over the head could render someone unconscious. The cord on a set of official airline-issued headphones could be used for strangulation. Yet all of these are allowed onboard, and the latter is even supplied by the airline.

Think that business professionals are always polite? Try sitting on the runway in Phoenix for over an hour or two without air conditioning, and then see if you have the same answer. I'm sure that 52-year old special ed teacher looked real dangerous with her bookmark. My apologies for the added sarcasm, as I'm intentionally wording this a bit on the extreme side to make a point. However, consider this: I've seen the headphone cord being mentioned as a security issue not too long after 9/11, and I believe it was even used in this manner in one of the James Bond films. So it's not a novel idea nor a stretch of the imagination.

Yes, someone could have relieved her of her weighted bookmark and used it as a weapon. Or she could have been a mole for a terrorist group. Or perhaps I'll win the lottery this week and retire. I don't have a problem with security confiscating a potentially dangerous item -- that's their job. I'm just glad to read the charges against her should be dropped soon.

Meanwhile, of course, we're all reading how many traditional weapons and explosives are easily smuggled aboard. Yes we need security. But can we get back to the business of catching the bad guys, and stop picking on the little guy just to justify security jobs and avoid "poor performance" reports? We need well-trained security personnel, not paranoia. Couldn't the security person just have confiscated the bookmark for later review? Or just thrown it away? I've seen courthouses do this when screening people and discovering pocket knives, manicure sets, etc. in people's pockets. The vast majority of us are good people who just forget it's there. I realize it can be difficult to draw the line, and if it was a handgun, then I would definitely want to see the person hauled off in cuffs.

Believe it or not, I'm usually a proponent of personal accountability. With that said, it probably never even occurred to the teacher that this bookmark had a potential to be used as a weapon. So if all these nefarious alternative uses of house goods never occur to people, then how can they possibly avoid this from happening to them even if they wanted to?

I'll be the first to say I don't have all the answers, but we need to begin asking questions. I, for one, believe we need some level of reform in airport security. Otherwise, the next story could be about one of us -- while the real weapons are slipping by right under their noses.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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September 27, 2004

Why Tablet PCs Aren't Catching On

Here's an interesting post over at Engadget, courtesy of Jupiter Research. According to the Jupiter factoid, from an online survey, the most popular interest in using a Tablet PC is to use it as a regular notebook (61%). Handwriting recognition to convert handwriting to text is second at 51%. Taking notes, a feature most would think would be right at the top, especially using Microsoft's OneNote application, is rated 4th at 38%. Using digital ink (not convertible to text) was ranked much lower at 24% (7th place and last on the chart).

Personally, I like the Tablet concept -- merging the best features of both PDA's and laptops. I take a lot of notes at meetings, and OneNote looks quite intriguing, which I've mentioned here previously. Because of the price premium and the preference to carry only one large device, I'd opt for a convertible to get the best of both worlds and the most flexibility (i.e., bang for the buck). Interestingly enough, per Jupiter, the survey showed that 32 percent of online consumers planning to purchase a laptop are not willing to pay anything for Tablet PC functionality. So is it that Tablet features aren't compelling, or do consumers just not get it?

I think part of the problem was the all the hype surrounding Tablets -- very reminiscent of that accompanying voice recognition over the past 5-10 years. Some have aptly described voice rec as a solution in search of a problem, and on more than one occasion, I've wondered the same about Tablet PCs. We rarely, if ever, see practical examples and applications for Tablet PCs to make us more productive, or to make our lives easier. Bottom line, that's what we look to technology to provide. Another part of the problem could be a perception thing, and manufacturers shouldn't underestimate consumers' intelligence, especially in the tech market. Miss the mark, and it ends up being yet another flash in the pan. I'm not saying Tablets are going away just yet, but if they haven't caught on by now, when will they?

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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September 19, 2004

New Treo 650 & Tungsten T5 References on palmOne's Site

Thanks to Engadget picking up on this at palmOne's site. Not only does the GPS device page specifically mention the forthcoming Treo 650 and Tungsten T5 models, but as Engadget put it: "And it’s for their Bluetooth GPS Navigator, too, which virtually guarantees that the new Treo 650 has got to have freaking Bluetooth in it."

Hopefully, this means palmOne is getting closer to release date with these new models.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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September 14, 2004

Four Best Practices From World-Class CIOs has a nice article summarizing the following four best practices that can lead to better IT performance at a lower cost. According to the Hackett Group, a research company that focuses on benchmarking, the following items differentiated the world-class IT groups from median IT organizations:

  • Better use of outsourcing
  • Simplification and standardization of IT systems
  • Higher levels of process discipline, and
  • Better alignment with business goals

These truly make a lot of sense to me. I've seen numerous IT departments get bogged down trying to support duplicative and overlapping systems, cleaning up inconsistent data due to lack of controls (process discipline), and just having every program under the sun installed and supported. Sometimes less is more, particularly when it's strategically orchestrated.

Interestingly, Ron Friedmann just posted a similar thought, "Technology is Not Enough". He references an article which "supports the view that IT expenditures have little impact on productivity unless they are accompanied by first-rate management practices."

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
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September 08, 2004

Clarifying Acrobat PDF Metadata Issues

It's easy to knee-jerk on metadata issues, especially with the amount of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) out there. While many professionals aim for the holy grail of complete metadata removal (or "cleaning"), I think a more informed approach is metadata management. Sometimes you want it, and sometimes you don't. Think of the usefulness and concurrent danger of "tracked changes" for a perfect example. Thus many attorneys have adopted the quick fix of converting their Word and other document types to PDF before transmitting or sharing them. The widespread assumption is that PDF is a safe haven for transmitting metadata-free documents -- something that isn't necessarily true.

PDF for Lawyers has a good post which clarifies some of the issues raised in an interesting August 2004 Law Technology News article, "Metadata: Are You Protected," by Donna Payne & Bruce Lewis. (Free subscription required.) Donna and Bruce stated that "PDF files contain substantial metadata," and the print version contains a comparison table listing nearly 20 items of metadata than can exist in PDF files.

Thus to get a balanced perspective, I highly recommend reading the LTN article first, and then head on over to the PDF for Lawyers post, which clarifies this a bit:

As I understand it, the 'tracked changes' in Word do not ordinarily pass into a PDF file when the word processing document is converted. It can happen, but it takes unusual conditions. After reading the article, I asked Ms. Payne in an E-mail to explain to me how the 'tracked changes' would be passed into a PDF file and she gave me two examples.

First, if the person who converted the Word document attached the Word file into the PDF in its native format (Acrobat allows you to attach files into a PDF document). Okay, but how many people know about this feature and would want to use it if they did? She gave a couple of better examples of where the tracked changes could pass over: (1) if you have the tracked changes visible when you convert to PDF (yes, that would create a PDF with the tracked changes blatantly showing; so make sure you look over the resulting PDF file to verify what you are sending before you send it); (2) if you have your printing configuration in Word set to print 'tracked changes' along with the document (now this is something that could sneak up on you, although you can avoid it again by reading the resulting PDF file after you create it; or you can make sure that your default printing choice is set to not include the tracked changes).

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
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September 07, 2004

After Threats, Caller ID Spoofing Entrepreneur Selling Business

Three days, that's all it took. The Net has been rife with criticism over this new startup endeavor, which I posted late last week. From the NY Times (free registration required):

"It may be known as caller ID spoofing, but it is evidently no laughing matter.

Three days after the start-up company Star38 began offering a service that fools caller ID systems, the founder, Jason Jepson, has decided to sell the business. Mr. Jepson said he had received harassing e-mail and phone messages and even a death threat taped to his front door - all he said from people opposed to his publicizing a commercial version of technology that until now has been mainly used by software programmers and the computer hackers' underground."

Here's the real irony: According to the article, Mr. Jepson's own privacy was severely compromised:
"While network security consultants and some other technology professionals are known to have a cottage industry involving the use of caller ID spoofing, Mr. Jepson said the nature of the threats he had received made him conclude they had come from so-called phishers - people who use caller ID spoofing and online techniques to trick people into handing over confidential information.

The people who threatened him, he said, had already tapped his phone calls and had obtained details about how much money he last deposited into his checking account. 'Some people,' he said, 'are pretty fired up about this.' "

Yet another example of asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, "Can we?" perhaps he should have asked, "Should we?" While I think many of us would probably not condone the more extreme actions taken against him, it sounds like he got a little taste of what it feels like to be harassed by unknown callers. For some strange reason, I just don't think he's going to get much sympathy.

The problem, however, remains. The genie is still out of the bottle, and his business is now up for sale. I feel it's one thing if a caller chooses to block their caller ID. The recipient still has the choice whether or not to pick up the call, knowing that it may be unwanted (after all, what did we do before Caller ID?). However, intentionally forging a caller's identity plunges Caller ID into a level of uncertainty and deceptiveness that crosses the line in my book.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Privacy & Security
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Gmail Gets Up Close and Personal

Dow Jones columnist Jeremy Wagstaff's Loose Wire (a great technology blog which I find myself reading more often) details a few sensitive or personal subjects Gmail appears to be culling from individual Gmail accounts -- one of the initial and continuing concerns surrounding the new controversial e-mail service.

He cites an example whereby a friend wrote another friend about her ex-boyfriend, and then saw numerous ads in her account relating to getting her ex back, a breakup survival guide, meeting a lover, and more.

Jeremy raises some interesting points:

"As my friend says, 'This is too damn scary. Going back to Yahoo.' I agree. I think Google has to draw a line here somewhere: Firstly, contextual ads should not be so clever that they know what you're cooking that night (or if they are, they shouldn't be so dang literal about offering to spice it up) and secondly, and most importantly, there has got to be a broader definition of what is considered intrusive. Figuring out from what you write that (a) you've broken up, (b) you have kids and (c) there might be a problem related to (a) and (b) is way too creepy to be helpful. Google should immediately drop any contextual ads that deal with such issues unless users specifically approve of them.

Then, of course, there's the issue about where this information is stored. Already a deeply detailed profile of my friend has been built up in the week she had Gmail; what would happen over a year? And how is that information stored, shared and combined? We need to know more."

Playing devil's advocate for a minute, such information could be helpful to a person in that situation. However, who feels comfortable knowing that one's personal life is being indexed and cataloged so precisely? I agree -- we need to know more, and in the meantime, err on the side of caution if personal privacy is of any concern.

Obviously, we each have a choice whether or not to use Gmail, and in providing feedback. If we don't like something online, we can always vote with our mice.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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September 02, 2004

Controversial New Caller ID Spoofing Service

Here we go again. When Caller ID was first introduced, it raised numerous privacy issues. Now, just as we're finally comfortable with it, along comes new technology to disturb the status quo. According to the New York Times (free registration required), a new company called Star38 (or *38) is offering a new service which enables debt collectors, law enforcement officials, and private investigators to spoof, or fake, their Caller ID information when they call you.

The service is cheap and easy to use, and the callers can set the Caller ID telephone number and name to whatever they want. The NY Times article discusses the legal concerns involved, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Engadget, one of my favorite tech blogs, recently had an interview with Star38's CEO and included photos of the service in action. Star38's sparse information is found here.

The following from the Times article is an eye opener:

"The developers of Star38, who say they required only 65 lines of computer code and $3,000 to create their service, insist that they will take steps to ensure that it is not used maliciously. They plan to spend up to 10 days checking the business licenses of all applicants and will ask subscribers to agree not to use Star38 to commit fraud, and to accept legal liability if they violate state or federal laws."
It will be interesting to see how effective asking subscribers not to commit fraud will be. It doesn't give me any warm fuzzies. It certainly wasn't good enough for the RIAA in the 321 Studios lawsuit, wherein the controversial DVD X Copy software asked its users whether the DVD being copied was borrowed or rented. Granted, that was primarily a DMCA suit, but you get my point.

Initially, the service will only be offered to the above types of customers following some type of background check, but not the general public. On this point, per the Times article:

"The company also plans to cooperate with police forces, if asked, to provide records of what numbers customers dialed to and from, and what numbers they chose to show the recipients of their calls.

"Law enforcement will have complete access to search our database," said Jason Jepson, the chief executive of Star38, of Newport Beach, Calif. "We don't want the insinuation that they can sign up, use it temporarily and then run off."

Mr. Jepson, 30 - who says he got the idea for his service after speaking to his aunt, a bounty hunter, about the best ways to get in touch with people - said Star38 had no immediate plans to sell its service to ordinary consumers because of the potential for misuse. "There are too many things that can go wrong," Mr. Jepson said.

But industry experts say that the caller ID spoofing, as it is known, is simple enough to develop that it is only a matter of time before other service providers make it available to anyone."

In the immortal words of George Carlin: That's what scares me.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Privacy & Security
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September 01, 2004

New Treo Ace/Treo 650 Sneak Peeks

Looks like the new Treo is coming 'round the corner, since it's showing up on a number of geeks and gadget sites, and I've included all the links I've seen so far:

Both Gizmodo and Engadget have posted numerous photos and advance details of the upcoming Treo from PalmOne. If the information is accurate, the new Palm is not the 610 as was rumored previously, but will be monikered the Treo 650.

Per Engadget, it's supposed to have "built-in Bluetooth, a faster 312MHz processor, 32MB of RAM, a higher-resolution 320x320 LCD screen, dedicated answer and disconnect buttons, and a one megapixel digital camera...A few other details we’re noticing: a removable battery, a mirror next to the camera lens for taking self-portraits, a definite Bluetooth icon on one of the screens, a bigger speaker, and a more recessed SD memory card slot. Possibly also push-to-talk." From Gizmodo, "Looks like no Treo 600 peripherals will work with the 650, either."

Slashdot naturally has a thread on this as well, linking back to the MobileMag posting of the 650.

While the recent Tungsten T5 sneak peek photo turned up as a fake, the Treo intel so far looks promising. I came close to getting the 600 earlier this year, but there were several shortcomings that the rumored nextgen Treo would address, so I held off for a few months, during which time I moved, so I'm now also looking into a new cell provider. My problem is that even with a 1.x megapixel camera, it's a liability, particularly in more restrictive corporate and legal environments. Sprint eventually offered a camera-less version of the 600 just for us corporate types. So now I'm wondering if/when they'll offer the same for the 650, because this is pretty much the one for which I've been waiting.

The removable battery feature, if accurate, has long been on my wish list as I fully expect the Treo's charge wouldn't last a full business day with my heavy use (phone, messaging, web access, extended eBook reading and games during flights, etc.).

One thing I haven't seen listed so far is whether the 650 will be capable of Wi-Fi, either via built-in or an optional SDIO card. The problem with the Treo 600 is that its internal power system was not robust enough to support the higher power requirements of the Wi-Fi SDIO cards being developed. Granted, a Treo user has the cell-based data network, and stripped down e-mail and web sites load fairly quickly. However, it's still nowhere near the broadband speeds offered via Wi-Fi, and as a mobile user, I always prefer to have additional Internet access options. One of the challenges has always been the battery life hit due to the Wi-Fi card draw, which has spawned development of less power-hungry Wi-Fi chipsets. So we'll see if palmOne will offer this feature in some capacity -- it's apparently slated to release its Wi-Fi SDIO card for the Zire 72 and Tungsten T3 handhelds on September 3rd. It appears SanDisk finally came out of vaporware status not all that long ago with its long-anticipated Wi-Fi card for the Zire 71.

Note the quote from the Palm Boulevard link: "At the time of the announcement, SandDisk said the SD card required a software patch to be compatible with the Tungsten T3 and Zire 72, but it couldn't offer the patch itself—the patch had to come from palmOne. The handheld company, however, didn't seem to be any hurry to create one. Now we know why." I doubt the Treo 650 will have built-in Wi-Fi, so the big question here is whether palmOne's new Wi-Fi card will work in the Treo 650. If the power system remained the same as the 600, the answer should be no.

Regardless, the new 650 looks to be one hot multipurpose device, and definitely the one to beat from what I've seen so far.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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