Gray haired computing part 2

In part one of this series [Hey, I didn't know it was going to be a series either], amazed that computer manufacturers don’t understand a potentially huge untapped market, I outlined what kind of computing hardware and software would be good for seniors. But what about those who for whatever reason, be it advanced age, physical infirmity or location are unable to manage a computer but still want to be a part of family and friends digital life? How can this be accomplished? While reading the Denver Post this morning (Okay it was mostly the comics) I came across an article about SunnyGram. This sounded like a great idea so I decided to check them out. Turns out it is such a great idea that it needs to be shared. This article in USAWeekend.com describes SunnyGram’s service.

A mailbox containing real mail with real family pictures is about as rare these days as a day without e-mail. But for those who don’t use e-mail – like many of our non-wired grandparents – there’s now a service that sends family news and digital pictures from your e-mail account to someone’s snail mailbox for $9.95 a month.

Sunnygram collects all of the e-mails addressed to [the recipient] and mails out a weekly, cheery compilation of messages (large font is an option) with embedded pictures. [The recipient can] respond through a Sunnygram prepaid letter (which would be scanned and e-mailed) or a toll-free number (the audio file then would be e-mailed).

From the SunnyGram.com FAQ:

Q: What is a Sunnygram?
A: A Sunnygram is a beautiful newsletter for your loved one filled with email messages and photos from family and friends. A Sunnygram is mailed via U.S. Postal Service each week so your loved one doesn’t need to use a computer or any special equipment to stay connected.

Q: How much does a Sunnygram subscription cost?
A: Only $9.95 per month. There are absolutely no other fees. You can also purchase a 6 month subscription for $49.95 or a year subscription for $99.95.

Q: Is it easy to read a Sunnygram?
A: Yes! Sunnygrams are available in large print (18-pt) at no extra charge, and regular print is already quite large (14-pt). In addition, Sunnygrams are printed using color laser printers for a crisp picture.

Q: How many people can send email to my loved one?
A: There is no limit to the number of people who can send emails. Once you’ve created the email address for your loved one, share it with all family members and friends who want to stay in touch.

Q: I was planning to get my Mother a computer. Why should I consider Sunnygram?
A: Computers are great for some people, but they are expensive and sometimes difficult to use. Almost everyone has had trouble opening an attachment or has gotten frustrated sifting through spam. A Sunnygram subscription eliminates these issues and allows your loved one to receive email messages and photos hassle free. Another factor to consider is that the price of internet access alone can be three to five times more expensive than a Sunnygram subscription, not to mention the price of the computer equipment. Sunnygram is perfect for families on a budget.

Q: Is Sunnygram secure?
A: Sunnygram processes incoming messages using secure proprietary message-handling software. It is as secure as email and postal mail. Message content is not read by any employee or agent of Sunnygram at any time, maximizing privacy. Our system also eliminates spam, only allowing messages from approved email addresses.

Is this cool or what? In case you want endorsements other than me [crazy I know] here’s what AARP says in a Now Hear This article.

Mail Twist

Sunnygram.com is rewriting the hare and tortoise tale. It combines e-mail and snail mail to deliver correspondence and photos to people who shun computers. For $9.95 a month, the Glendale, Calif., company provides “computer-free” e-mail to technophobes, transforming digital messages and photos into a newsletter that is delivered to a mailbox.

So there you have it – a service that allows a senior, disabled or incarcerated person to go digital without having to invest in a computer. For about a quarter of what a cheap broadband connection will set you back each month. And did I mention that you can try SunnyGram for a month free?

For new subscribers, we are now offering one month free, no obligation. Try Sunnygram for a month and decide at the end whether you want to continue with the service.

How cool is that? You can check them out at SunnyGram.com.

Gray haired computing

Recently I did an article for a seniors newsletter about phishing. Specifically the perennial “limited time to add your cell phone to the national do not call list before bad stuff happens” scam. While this particular instance is more hoax than phishing since the number to call was, in fact, the real number for the do not call list the opportunity for a phishing variation is definitely there. This got me to thinking again about why computing in general and social networking in particular are so senior-unfriendly. I’ve written this about this issue in the past here and here but it’s always seemed a little bizarre to me that no major personal computer manufacturer has thought about tapping this enormous and growing market. There are some minor players starting to get into this market according to this article on the BBC.

A new computer aimed at people aged over 60 who are unfamiliar with PCs and the internet has been unveiled.

The simplified desktop – called SimplicITy – has just six buttons directing users to basic tasks such as e-mail and chat.

The computer comes pre-loaded with 17 video tutorials from television presenter Valerie Singleton.

The SimplicITy computer has no log-in screen when started up, and contains no drop-down menus. It opens straight to a front page called “square one” containing separate clickable buttons for e-mail, browsing the web, files (for storing word documents and photos etc), online chat and a user profile.

The e-mail system is a modified version of an Italian design called Eldy. All SimplicITy users with an eldy.org address will be able to chat to each other via the “chat” button.

The computer is built using Linux operating system, a free operating system that can be customised by users.
If people decide they no longer need the SimplicITy desktop, they can replace it with a standard Linux desktop.

Unfortunately these are also a one-off kind of deal and therefore carry a relatively hefty price tag.

Each made-to-order computer takes two weeks from request to delivery and can be ordered by post.

It’s not all that cheap – systems range from £299 [~$500] without screen or keyboard to £525 [~$880] for a complete system.

From what I can tell reaction to this computer system has been lukewarm to negative and almost universally snarky. Of course those reactions have been from younger people like BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones who quips:

There are some people who will undoubtedly feel patronised by the very idea of a computer for older users  and others will ask why they shouldn’t be taught to use Windows like just about everybody else.

But he also points out a very valid issue when it comes to selecting computing equipment for elders in this entry on the BBC News dot.life blog.

Simplicity is swimming against the tide, and may find some resistance, not from older customers, but from sons and daughters who’d rather see their parents learn the same system as themselves.

Yep – nailed it in one. Being primary technical support for a truly frightening number of older folks I know this to be absolutely true. But exhaustive yet completely unscientific polling and anecdotal evidence have led me to believe that the following statements are common to all older computer users:

My computer sucks.

My [son|daughter|younger friend]‘s computer works great.

That’s why I got mine.

But my computer sucks.

Okay I’ll admit that I paraphrased a bit but I think it reliably captured the essence. So why does grandma want a computer? As opposed to why do the grandkids think grandma wants a computer. Here’s what I think based on that exhaustive yet unscientific research.

  1. Medicare, Social Security and insurers are increasingly moving online. If you want to interact with them you need a computer.
  2. Staying in contact with the family. All the grandkids are on FaceBook and use Twitter. Everybody puts photos on Flickr and sends invitations through email.
  3. Staying abreast of current news. Hey, the local newspaper is either going, gone or online and TV news is for losers.

While there are probably a few other reasons that drive grandma’s desire for a computer, please note that “making videos” or “digitizing music” are not among them. The biggie is the first reason which is why it was cleverly positioned at #1. Grandma has no choice. As much as you would like to believe that the others are more important, the bottom line is that it’s just not practical to be an analog senior any longer. So why exactly aren’t HP and Dell marketing the heck out of computers for seniors? Maybe they aren’t aware of the market [doubtful] or maybe they haven’t been talking to the right people and think they already have such a unit among their existing offerings [most likely].

So lets help them out, shall we? Feel free to chime in with comments here. What would be the attributes of the perfect computing device for seniors? Well how about we start with some physical basics:

  1. It’s got to have a full size keyboard and a decent size display. Small form factor keyboards and screens are a non-starters. Netbooks are out. Smart phones are out.
  2. It should be portable. In every respect, including WiFi. This thing will be traveling to every family get together from now on. And who wants to wire their house for ethernet?
  3. It has to have the right pointing device for the user. Some folks like trackballs, some like tablets, some even like joysticks. Not everyone likes, or can use, a mouse. And almost nobody can use a laptop touchpad without a great deal of angst. And who needs that aggravation?
  4. It doesn’t need a very powerful processor. An older low-power processor would be fine since [pay attention here younger helpers] nobody is going to do any video editing on this machine. Ever. But increased battery life would really be swell.
  5. It doesn’t need huge amounts of memory. Yeah, I know that most popular operating systems tend to expand to fill the available resources but that just proves that modern operating systems bite wind. And have [again pay attention here younger helpers] stupid amounts of cool features that nobody will ever use. Ever.
  6. It doesn’t need a killer 3-D video subsystem. As much as you might hope, grandma is not going to play Halo 3 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Ever. If she really wants to play games she should get a Wii. Not a PC.
  7. It needs a fast internet connection. Essentially everything that grandma wants use her new computer for is online. Slow internet = bad user experience.

So that’s a reasonable start on hardware, how about software? What does grandma really need to do the stuff she wants? Well, first we should forget all that ancillary stuff to protect the system from bad engineering (err… malware. I meant malware. My bad) and select an operating environment that is fast, safe and easy to use. Yep, that pretty much leaves Windows out. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s the critical software list.

  1. A web browser. Pretty much everything that grandma wants to do is online and accessible via a browser. Email, banking, insurance, FaceBook, and Twitter. There are web sites that mashup or aggregate multiple social networking sites. Even text editors and other applications. Pretty much everything out there in the cloud.
  2. A password safe. Anything that’s done in the cloud requires some kind of authentication, usually user name (or email) and a password. And lame authentication is useless. Just ask Sarah Palin. Everybody, not just grandma, but everybody should use a password safe. That way you only have to remember one password (the safe password) and let the password safe generate unique industrial strength passwords for everything else.
  3. A good bi-directional firewall. Don’t worry – grandma will never see this and any decent operating environment will ship with a good one installed and enabled by default.

Well this is interesting. It’s looking like Google Chrome OS might be just the ticket for seniors. When it comes out next year. Except that Google is targeting Netbooks as their initial platform and we’ve already determined that Netbooks are a non-starter for seniors. Actually a MacBook might be a good choice, except for the high price and wealth of useless (for grandma) software that that comes with a Mac. So maybe the SimplicITy folks have it right. Maybe a lightweight Linux distro is a good place to start. I mean that’s really what Chrome OS is under the covers, the covers being Google’s Chrome browser.

So how about it Dell or HP? How about building an inexpensive, full size, low power, portable PC with a choice of input devices [test drives available!], loaded with Google Chrome OS or maybe a minimal version of Ubuntu or OpenSUSE with Firefox or Chromium [Chrome for Linux]. Or maybe Apple could release a senior-friendly MacBook without all the spiffy iLife stuff and make it affordable. But whoever steps up be sure and forget the crapware from your partners and instead throw in some slick training demos on things like “how to get online” and decent [non-advertising] setup wizards for networking. Or maybe you could just partner with SimplicITy and use those video tutorials with Valerie Singleton. It would be wise to ask yourselves if in this economy you can afford to alienate a growing market by ignoring their needs.

Thanks for all the phishing

Thank you India
Thank you providence
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you clarity
Thank you thank you silence
from Thank U by Alanis Morissette

This week being Thanksgiving in the US and me being a wickedly sarcastic scamp here are some things that I would be thankful for. If they were even remotely true. I’m a collector and, dare I say connoisseur, of Nigerian 411 style phishing messages. So without further ado, here is a sampling of my favorites. The things I’m thankful for.

I’m thankful for long lost relatives that die and leave me obscene amounts of money.

Dear  Joseph Webster,

I am Ding Xiang Liang, barrister at law. A deceased client of mine, by name Mr. Andrew Webster, who here in after shall be referred to as my client, died as the result of a heart-related condition in November 2004. His heart condition was due to the death of all the members of his family in the Gulf Air Flight Crashes in Persian Gulf Near Bahrain Aired August 23, 2000 – 2:50 p.m. ET as reported on http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0008/23/bn.08.html.

I have contacted you to assist in distributing the money left behind by my client before it is confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this deposit valued at $19.5 million dollars is lodged. This bank has issued me a notice to contact the next of kin, or the account will be confiscated. My proposition to you is to seek your consent to present you as the next-of-kin and beneficiary of my late client, since you have the same last name, so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you. Then we can share the amount on a mutually agreed-upon percentage.

I am thankful for helpful bureaucrats that find millions owed to me that I don’t even remember.

Dear Beneficiary,

I am William Griffen, a senior staff with the World Bank fact finding & special duties office. I and the chief security officer (CSO) of this organization have arranged with an officer in computer section engineer Peter Uba to bring out part of your total pending payment sum amounting to US$10 million. Why we did this is because according to information gathered from the banks/security computer, you have been waiting for a long time to receive your money without success.

As I found out that you have almost met all the statutory requirements in respect of your pending payment, your problem is that of interest groups.. A lot of people are interested in your payment and those people are merely doing paper works with you and that explains why you receive fax and phone messages from different people everyday. Also we found out that some of the officials of the parastatals have been extorting a lot of money from you with the pretext of helping you receive your money. I can assure you that this may last for years yet nothing happens if you do not do away with those officers that you call your partners.

I am thankful for strangers who are so impressed with my integrity that they want to send me a fortune.

Dear   Joseph Webster ,

How are you and every member of the family? I hope they are fine? if so may almighty God continue to guide you and protect you in your entire endeavor.I am Mr Yester Koma a Liberian by nationality.

I got your contact through a Christian sister who told us that you are reliable and trust worthy person who can assist us in area of investment, though I did not disclosed to her then strength of what we have in our possession.

I am the eldest Son of Chief George Koma who was killed six years ago in the recent war at Liberia, by some political imgrates. Before he died he was the owner of Koma and sons Diamond Company in Liberia.

After the death of my father, I and my mother quickly rush into my fathers private warehouse and took away (Two trunk boxes One containing$20,million dollars , and the Second one containing 10kgs of Diamond) .

Friend, the two trunk boxes are now in a private security company near Lome Togo international airport awaiting shipment. Dear Sir, what we want you to do for us is to send us your Full name and address also your private phone number to enable me and my mother get all necessary documents needed to get the consignments delivered to your door step through diplomatic means.

I am thankful for dying strangers who seek me out to distribute their fabulous wealth to charities.

My last wish,

My Name is Mr. Abdul Raham,i am 57years old. Am a citizen of Saudi Arabia, but i am resident in Cayman Island. I was born an Orphan in 1952. I have no Father or Mother, and i have no Relatives.I struggled and Worked Hard and Almighty God blessed me Abundantly with Riches. I used to be a Dealer in Gold, Diamonds and Tantalite. I have no Wife but i happend to have a child of 5Yrs from my late Wife who happens to die of Cancer of the Breast. For 2 years now i am seriously sick. I have been diagnosed with Cancer which was discovered very late, due to my laxity in caring for my health. It has defiled all forms of Medicine, Right now I have only about a Year to Live, according to my Medical Doctor. I have not particularly lived my life so well since after the Death of my wife Four Years ago, as I never really cared for myself but the Business. Though I am very Rich, I was never Generous, I only focused on my Business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I Regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the Money in the world. I believe when God gives me a second chance and heal me I would live my life a different way from how I have lived it.

Please i have sowed a seed for my healing; I have willed and given most of my properties andassets to my immediate Orphans childrens and as well as a few close Friends.I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul and so, I have decided to give Arms to charity Organizations and give succor and comfort to the less privileged of the Tsunami Victims, as I want this to be one of the last good deeds I do on earth. So far, I have donated money to Some charity organizations. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I Cannot do this my self anymore. I once asked a close friend of mine to close one of my accounts in Saudi Bank and donate the money which I have there to charity organization and to the less Privileged in Bulgaria and Sudan-Africa he cashed the money but kept it only to himselves.

Hence, I do not trust him anymore, as he seem not to be contended with what I have left for him already. The last of my money, which no one knows of, is the huge cash of Twenty Two million(22 Million US DOLLARS) deposited in the Vault of a financial institution in Europe for Safekeeping. I want you to collect this deposit on my behalf and disburse thus 30percent of the total amount among the Mudslide Earthquake Victims in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Wilma and for the less Privileged, 30percent for you for your time and efforts and 40percent for my only child for his upbringing as you will be responsible for his education,health and other activities.

So i need your urgent reply so that I will not have to go on sourcing for a credible person to handle this project, please if this is what you Know that you can handle kindly respond back to me with the information below.

I am thankful for lawyers who want to protect my fortune from my evil partner – neither of which I knew about.

ATTENTION: BENEFICIARY,

This is to bring to your notice about the due process of your outstanding contractual payment which was suspended by the Federal ministry of Finance thereby stopping the telex unit to pause the transfer of your contract fund to your nominated Bank Account. As a result of this development, verification conducted by the newly appointed Finance Minister inconjunction with the Newly Appointed Member of Presidential Board of Trustee on Debt Verification Panel to contact you and let you Know that your contract casefile has been endorsed for payment awaiting your confirmations.

In view of several efforts already made by us to contact you proved abortive. Based on the new Address submitted to this office on your behalf:

(1) My Office desks have just received a new contact address from Mr. Bill Carlton, to deliver your Payment into a new address as stated bellow: 100 Wellington Street West ,Suite 1200 ,Toronto , Ontario , Canada ,M5K 1J3 The Sum of 8.5 Million US Dollars (Eight Million Five Hundred Thousand USDollars) should be paid to Mr. Bill Carlton, as your beneficiary/Partner..

(2) Please,confirm to our Bank/Office if you have instructed Mr. Bill Carlton,to appoint an attorney/agent on your behalf thereby asking that he receive cashcall Remittance on your behalf as your Partner.

(3) It have come to our notice that you are being contacted by unauthorized individuals with respect to your contract/Inheritance payment but unfortunately this office is not aware of your unofficial dealings and warned that it is at your own risk.

(4) Please, also confirm if you have authorized Mr. Bill Carlton, To change your Residential Address to the following address stated below:100 Wellington Street West ,Suite 1200 ,Toronto , Ontario , Canada ,M5K 1J3We have decided to contact you for re-verification because we suspected that Mr. Bill Carlton, is trying to divert your money through the sworn affidavit to a new different address as your Partner Because of the fraudulent activities going around the globe, The World Bank and IMF advices the Central Bank not to contact you again regarding your Contractual Payment, which is why this Department (Foreign Fund Unit/Audit Department of the Dept Verification Panel Of Federal Ministry of Finance is now in charge of the Fund to be released to you through one of the Nominated Bank by World Bank and IMF.

Therefore, if you had not authorized Mr. Bill Carlton, to claim this Contractual Payment on your behalf as your Partner, Kindly get back to us with the down listed information requested for re-confirmation/verification and for fast and swift release of the Fund to you without any Further Delay.

I am thankful for politicians who urgently need my help with shady foreign real estate investments.

Hello, Webster

I am interested to acquire properties abroad, hence my contact with you. I wish to inform you therefore that I have the intention to invest a total sum US$65 million abroad on real estate. Kindly let me know your terms/conditions for my considerations.

Best regards,
Senator Kathleen.

I am thankful for soldiers who want me to help them smuggle funds out of Iraq.

Fellow Brother,

I hope my email meets you well. I am in need of your assistance. I am in the Engineering military unit here in Ba’qubah in Iraq, we have some amount of funds that we want to move out of the country. My partners and I need a good partner someone we can trust. Basically since we are working for the government we cannot keep these funds, but we want to transfer and move the funds to you, so that you can keep it for us in your safe account or an offshore account. But we are moving it through Diplomatic means, to send it to your house directly or a bank of your choice using Diplomatic Courier Service. The most important thing is that can we trust you? Once the funds get to you, you take your 30% out and keep our own 70%. Your own part of this deal is to find a safe place where the funds can be sent to. Our own part is sending it to you. If you are interested i will furnish you with more details.

Regards,

Sgt. Phillip Newman.

I am thankful for bankers who want me to be the lost heir to a fortune or maybe perform a wedding.

Dearly Beloved,

Let me start by introducing myself to you, I am Dr Stephen Annan, DirectorForeign Remittance Department, CITI BANK GHANA, Accra Head Office. I saw yourcontact during my private search in the internet and I want to believe that youwill be very honest, committed and capable of handling this transaction.

First, let me explain the source of this fund and what you are expected todo. A foreigner, late MR RONALD M. EBELING worked with the Ghanaian GOLD/MINERALRESOURCES COMMISSION and had a functional account with CITI BANK until his deathsome years ago. The deceased Ronald Ebeling banked with us and had a closingbalance as at 22nd November 2000 worth $8,000,000.00 (Eight Million U.S Dollars)

CITI BANK has been expecting any of his close relatives to make claim onthe fund since there was no record of any beneficiary stated in the depositoryagreement. Efforts have been made by the Bank Agents to get in touch with RonaldEbeling’s family or relative but to no avail.

Based on the perceived possibility of not being able to locate RonaldEbeling’s relatives, the management under the influence of our chairman and theboard of directors are making arrangements for the fund to be declared unclaimedand channeled to an unknown account. It is based on this fact, I have contactedyou to approach the Bank as the next-of-kin to Late Ronald Ebeling so that thefund will be released and paid into your account as the beneficiary/next-of-kinto the deceased.

But mostly I’m thankful that Google Translate isn’t any better than it is. Otherwise this stuff wouldn’t be nearly as amusing. So Happy Thanksgiving. So long and thanks for all the phish.

Back to normal in Colorado

But am I here? It’s kind of hard to tell
I do a good impression of myself
But what’s normal now anyhow?
from “Normal” by Porcupine Tree

Since the great weirdness last month things are getting pretty much back to normal in Colorado. The Balloon Boy’s parents have fessed up, but not before the Larimer County Sheriff posted an item to his blog attacking [the father], calling him “clever and manipulative” and comparing him to the Joker character from “Batman.” But sadly, if you were looking forward to the Balloon family reality show, that idea is a non-starter according to at least one New York-based production company.

“It’s just too poisonous,” said Irad Eyal, vice president of development at True Entertainment. “I don’t think anyone is going to want to meet with a man who shamed his family and children that way. In reality TV, there’s a definite line you don’t cross, and that’s tormenting children.”

I’m just going to leave that quote alone – as nothing I could possibly add would make it any more hilariously absurd than it already is. But I digress. Balloon Boy saga done.

The insurance companies that thought they could get away with denying coverage to healthy children are backpedaling and spinning their respective ways back to sanity. The Denver post reports that the insurer changed it’s course on the chubby baby.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans announced Monday that it found a flaw in its underwriting system and now will provide coverage to healthy infants, regardless of their weight.

“As a small company we were able to act quickly and decisively,” said Rocky Mountain spokeswoman Kayla Arnesen. “We are really pleased we are going to be covering Alex and other healthy babies.”

A “flaw in it’s underwriting system“? Dude, I can’t make up stuff this good. But again I digress. And the Denver Post also reports that the insurance company changed it’s mind on the skinny tot as well.

The Golden Rule Insurance Co. said Wednesday that it has changed its mind on a 2-year-old from northern Colorado rejected for coverage because she’s so skinny.

The insurer announced the change after [the parents] brought their story to television stations.

Golden Rule said in a statement that it changed its mind on Aislin’s case after a routine appeals process.

“I won’t tell you we’ve never made a mistake, because we have. But our reviews process is open to all,” said company spokeswoman Ellen Laden.

And the mistake was that they thought they could get away with it? At least the reviews process is open to all.

Westword is close to hiring that medical-marijuana dispensary reviewer. Although apparently I’m not the only one who found it humorous. According to Westword, their hunt for a pot critic made international news and the talk-show circuit.

“A newspaper in Denver is planning to hire a critic to write reviews of all the medical marijuana clinics in the state,” Conan O’Brien joked on his show last week. “My one suggestion for the editors: Give the guy a deadline.”

Thanks, Conan: We have. Westword stopped accepting applications for our medical-marijuana dispensary reviewer in mid-October. Now if comics and reporters alike would just stay off the story for a while (Westword‘s job opening has been the punchline on both NPR‘s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and a BBC quiz show, and we just logged mentions in newspapers in Russia, Israel and China), we might be able to actually finish the hiring process. For the record, we’ve gone through the more than 250 formal applications we received, contacted a dozen semi-finalists, and hope to have our new critic in place within the week.

That’s right, then it’s back to the same old, same old. But, seriously wouldn’t this  be the best job ever.

The Denver Broncos are behaving more like expected now with a 6-3 record having lost the last 3 games straight making it altogether possible (yea even probable) that they might only win 6 games total this season. Hey, you can only push the Almighty so far.

And finally the Windows 7 juggernaut continues unabated. Well, except that according to J. Nicholas Hoover at InformationWeek the U.S. Government isn’t jumping on the bandwagon until the Federal Desktop Core Configuration (FDCC), is finalized for Windows 7.

It may be another six months before agencies can move ahead with Windows 7 deployment because a government-mandated security standard hasn’t been finalized.

The Federal Desktop Core Configuration spells out 300 settings for Windows PCs and laptops, with a goal of making them less vulnerable to hackers and data breaches. FDCC settings exist for Windows XP and Windows Vista, but not yet for Windows 7.

“It will take until spring 2010, at least,” said Ken Page, Microsoft’s FDCC program manager, in a presentation today at Microsoft’s Washington, D.C., office. “This process does not happen fast.”

Oh and there was that little brouhaha over Microsoft snagging some open source code for use in a semi-proprietary licensed tool as reported by Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet. But they’ve fessed up and made it right now. Or at least made it GPL 2.

From a November 13 blog posting by Microsoft Open Source Community Manager Peter Galli:

“After looking at the code (within the USB tool) in question, we are now able to confirm this (inclusion of improperly licensed GPL v2 code) was indeed the case, although it was not intentional on our part. While we had contracted with a third party to create the tool, we share responsibility as we did not catch it as part of our code review process. We have furthermore conducted a review of other code provided through the  Microsoft Store and this was the only incident of this sort we could find.”

Galli said Microsoft plans to make the source code and binaries for the Microsoft tool available the week of November 16 under the terms of the General Public License v2 “and are also taking measures to apply what we have learned from this experience for future code reviews we perform.”

So like I said, things are getting back to normal. At least as normal as things ever get.

Doing the copyright limbo

Just when you think that the self-appointed copyright Gestapo can’t sink any lower they kick the old limbo stick down another notch. Now before you jump to the conclusion that I’m one of those “content wants to be free” activists, rest assured that I am not. All of my career has been spent as a code monkey writing software for somebody else (as a “work made for hire” in copyright lingo). And trust me, I’m all about getting paid. Which doesn’t happen if my employer goes broke because their products were pirated. I’m also a musician who composes and records original material. Now my attitude towards copyright protection is quite a bit different with my music because, as Cory Doctorow says in the forward material to his latest book Makers [you can download the e-book  here for free] my problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity. But what about that piracy notion? I just said that I won’t get paid if my employer goes broke because their products were pirated. Well guess what? That has never happened. Not to me. Not to anyone. In short, I’m not opposed to copyright or copyright enforcement.

What I am opposed to, and baffled by, is a business model that comes down to “we aren’t selling as much of our stuff as we want, so we will go after people who are pirating it.” The most recent episode in this ridiculous jihad against customers is reported by Cory Doctorow in boingboing.

The MPAA has successfully shut down an entire town’s municipal WiFi because a single user was found to be downloading a copyrighted movie. Rather than being embarrassed by this gross example of collective punishment (a practice outlawed in the Geneva conventions) against Coshocton, OH, the MPAA’s spokeslizard took the opportunity to cry poor (even though the studios are bringing in record box-office and aftermarket receipts).

That’s right, the entire public WiFi net of Coshocton, OH. The same net that is used by Coshocton County Sheriff’s deputies to complete a traffic or incident report without leaving their vehicle. The same net that out-of-town business people can park and use their laptops to make connections. The very same net that during festival times, vendors use to check the status of credit cards being used to make purchases. And the same net that has a single address used by many people, so it’s difficult to tell who made the illegal download (although the county plans to investigate the matter).

Great job MPAA! Way to look out for your own financial interests in blatant disregard for the interests of everyone else. So what exactly have the MPAA clowns (I love Cory’s reference to the MPAA’s spokeslizard) accomplished here. Several things come to mind:

  1. Users of Coshocton public WiFi will likely never download another pirated movie again… without going through TOR.
  2. Users of Coshocton public WiFi will likely never purchase any movie ever again.

As I said before, I’m not a fan of pirating movies. Quite frankly there is so much stuff legitimately available for free or incredibly cheap that I can’t begin to consume everything I might be interested in. But in addition, I can’t for the life of me see how alienating your customers because somebody downloaded a movie and allegedly deprived you of $10 or less (assuming of course that the perp would have actually paid for it anyway) makes any sense at all. What I can say is that cheesy stunts like this almost make me want to fire up bit torrent and snag some episodes of Desperate Housewives. Just on principle. That and I’ve never seen Desperate Housewives. But I can get it from Netflix way easier. And I don’t have to use TOR. But believe me, I’m not going to purchase any movie or TV show. Not now. Not ever.

Caregivers in Colorado: the saga continues

Recently I posted this entry entitled Once I was a caregiver and didn’t even know it wherein I found the current confusion about the legal definition of a marijuana “caregiver” in the state of Colorado quite amusing. Well, like most things involving dope (er… controlled substances trying to be prescription medications) and lawyers it just keeps getting better. Several days ago the Denver District court weighed in on the issue. This story on TheDenverChannel.com sums it up.

A Denver district court judge has overturned a state health board ruling that narrowed the definition of who can supply medical marijuana.Chief Judge Larry Naves ruled Tuesday that the Colorado Board of Health broke the law by rushing an emergency meeting to redefine the term caregiver.”I find there was no emergency,” Naves said. “There was no consideration of how the plaintiffs and others who are in need of medical marijuana would obtain it.”

Naves said, “The board’s action Nov. 3 violated the law and is, therefore, invalid and void.”

Okay… For those who have just joined us, let’s recap:

  1. Last summer, the Board of Health defined a list of duties that could be considered “significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient,” for someone to qualify as a caregiver entitled to provide marijuana. But the language made it possible to qualify even if the only thing they did was provide marijuana to a patient.
  2. A Colorado Court of Appeals found in the case of a woman charged with cultivation of marijuana in her Longmont home, who argued that the marijuana she grew was distributed to authorized medical-marijuana patients through dispensaries, that caregivers needed to know the patients. This forced the board to take quick action: They removed the entire definition, intending to take up the issue on Dec. 16, 2009 at a public meeting.
  3. Much squealing ensued because changing the rule, it was argued, could force dispensaries and growers to offer other care as well which would be impossible for many growers who supply the dispensaries, thereby exposing marijuana growing operations to criminal prosecution.

So now Judge Naves says [I paraphrase here] “not so fast, bucko! These guys got their weed fair, square, cheap and legal like. You can’t just cut off their stash with no notice”. But wait, wasn’t it another court that caused the BoH to jerk the Jamaican [growing] rule? Well this certainly clears that up.

Meanwhile back in the Peoples Republic of Boulder (also reported to be in the State of Colorado) we have the Boulder City Council approving temporary medical pot rules according to this article in the Boulder Daily Camera.

The council voted to pass an emergency ordinance aimed at keeping medical marijuana dispensaries away from schools, clustering together or operating in neighborhoods.

The ordinance means that through March 31, 2010, any dispensaries that want to open in Boulder may only do so if they are at least 500 feet away from schools or licensed daycare centers, are not within 500 feet of three or more other dispensaries, and are not located in residential areas.

What’s this!? Has Boulder taken a hard right turn? Say it ain’t so! Okay – it ain’t so. Let’s put this in a bit of context. Again from the Camera article:

The rules do not apply to the 42 businesses that have already pulled sales-tax licenses with the city, or the 21 or so dispensaries that applied for permits prior to Nov. 6.

So by my count that is 42 existing dope dealerships (er… Medical Marijuana dispensaries) and 21 wanabees for a total of 63 new places to go to feed the jones (er… get your medication). Compare that to the number of Starbucks in Boulder. You know that coffee place on pretty much every corner. Well that number – including Licensed Stores (not operated by Starbucks) is 14. Of course the total number of coffee shops is much higher: 33. So there is already half again as many reefer shops as java shops in Boulder. And soon there will be twice as many. Whew! My faith in the Peoples Republic is restored.

But what does all of this mean? What is the greater significance? You tell me. This is just giving me a headache. Say… I’m in Boulder. I’ll bet that a few tokes of medication would fix me right up.

Common sense advice for parents of networked kids

Just lately I’ve discovered Common Sense Media and am quite impressed with their tools and advice for parents that are soundly based on, well, common sense. Anyone who has read earlier posts on this blog like this one or this one knows that I’m really big on the idea that security begins with don’t be an idiot. So I was quite pleased when Common Sense had this featured article by Liz Perle in the Common Sense Newsletter entitled Rules of the Road for Parents in a Digital Age. She had me at the first line: “Even if you’re clueless, you’re still your kid’s teacher“.


Common Sense Rules of the Road for Parents

  1. Model good behavior. If we’re on our Blackberries or iPhones at dinner, why will our kids listen to us when we tell them to turn theirs off?
  2. Pay attention. We have to know where our kids are going online – and what they’re doing there.
  3. Impart our values. Cheating, lying, being cruel – they’re all non-starters. Right and wrong extends to online and mobile life.
  4. Establish limits. Phone time, video download time, destinations. There’s really a right time and place for everything.
  5. Encourage balance. Get kids involved in offline activities – especially where there’s no cell service.
  6. Make kids accountable. If they have a privilege, make sure they earn it.
  7. Explain what’s at stake. Let kids know that what they do today can be abused by someone tomorrow.
  8. Find ways to say “yes.” That means we have to do some homework and know the sites they visit, the songs they download, etc. – and find ways to use technology that lets us say “yes” more often than we say “no.”
  9. It’s not rocket science. Learn to text, send a mobile photo, set up a Facebook page, upload a video. Or have your kids show you how. It’s impossible to guide what you don’t understand. Not only that, but think of all the anxiety you can avoid by knowing how things work.
  10. Lighten up, embrace their world, and enjoy the possibilities together. None of us want digital divides in our relationships with our kids. It’s up to us to join the fun and help them seize the potential.

Some great stuff here. I think the main point (well at least the point I’d like to make) is that for a parent being clueless is normal, but staying clueless is not an option. And I’d also like to draw particular attention to #5  (Encourage balance). This is where kids – and parents – discover the actual purpose and utility of the online world. Yeah, that’s right – it’s way too easy to get caught up in the fiction of  “socializing” online with people we’ve never met when in fact most of those people are not at all who they pretend to be. And some aren’t even people. The point? Social media is a powerful tool to collaborate and stay connected to real people you actually know, but to just be a poser interacting with other posers never accomplishing anything tangible in the real world is not only pointless, but boring. How do I know this? My son Nicholas is an avid gamer and web designer. So he has spent a good deal of time online since he was fairly young. Several years ago we (Nicholas and I) started volunteering for the FIRST Robotics challenge. In the real world. He now helps mentor and judge the web sites for the teams as well as doing crowd control and other jobs at the actual event. This requires collaboration and communication with other volunteers, the teams and challenge coordinators. Nicholas – and I – now have practical experience collaborating via social media with others folks who are involved in doing something that is very real, very tangible and wicked cool. Needless to say neither of us are interested in wasting time gossiping with posers when we can connect with interesting folks doing amazing stuff. Real stuff.

So if you are a parent, think about these 10 rules. It really all comes down to this: If your kids see you not being an idiot and doing cool stuff that’s what they will pay attention to. And everybody will get a clue in the process.

Update on ID Theft, Privacy, Fear and Loathing in Colorado

I first mentioned “Operation Numbers Game” last August in this post and followed up about a month later with this post.

Here’s a quick recap of the controversial investigation.

“Operation Numbers Game” began after a Texas man told Greeley [Colorado] authorities someone there was using his identity. The suspect in that case alerted law enforcement to the firm that prepared his taxes. Investigators obtained a search warrant [and] seized the returns last year from a tax preparation firm that catered to Latinos in Greeley, where Hispanics make up about a third of the population.

A District Court judge halted the investigation in April. He ruled Weld County authorities violated people’s privacy rights and had no probable cause to inspect the tax returns, which were used to file charges of criminal impersonation and identity theft against more than 70 people.

Weld County appealed the decision.

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who advocates stricter immigration laws, has maintained the investigation was about identity theft, not illegal immigration.

Today the Colorado Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the legality of “Operation Numbers Game”. As reported in this story on TheDenverChannel.com, the web site for Denver ABC affiliate 7News, Weld County is sticking with their original “identity theft” spin.

The Colorado Supreme Court is hearing arguments Thursday about the legality of an identity theft investigation that targeted hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants who filed U.S. tax returns without valid Social Security numbers.

Authorities say that as many as 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants were using other people’s identities to work and to file taxes. Some of those charged face deportation. Others pleaded guilty before the court stopped the investigation.

Weld County is appealing the lower court’s ruling that there was no probable cause for the search warrant. The District Court judge called the warrant “nothing more than an exploratory search based upon suspicion that some unknown person or persons” committed a crime.

The county is appealing another judge’s ruling that barred prosecutors from filing more cases using evidence seized from the tax preparer.

Filing taxes is mandatory for anyone who earns income in the U.S. regardless of legal status. Many of the people targeted in Operation Numbers Game were filing taxes with government-issued taxpayer identification numbers.

So other than being an update on yet another creative interpretation of one law to enforce something completely different case, why should anyone care? What’s the big deal? Well here’s the big deal, again from the 7News article:

Prosecutors in other states have expressed interest in Weld County’s use of tax documents to go after illegal immigrants. Immigrant advocacy groups have said Weld County is the only jurisdiction to use tax records – which are confidential under federal law – to prosecute illegal immigrants.

Yikes! That’s right, fellow citizens, apparently D.A. Buck has some philosophically kindred spirits out there in other states. Hopefully the Colorado Supreme Court will stop this runaway train in it’s tracks before it can run roughshod (to the extent that trains, runaway or otherwise, have shoes) over more civil liberties.

Here are some previous stories related to this case.

[updated to fixed broken links]

    Once I was a caregiver and didn’t even know it.

    Apparently there are some folks out there in the great state of Colorado confusing the roles of caregiver and dope dealer. Or would like to. Or would like us to. Attempts to the clarify the issue by the Colorado State Board of Health and Environment has succeeded only in making the distinction even more hazy. According to this article by Tom McGhee in the Denver Post there is a whole lotta confusion going on.


    Last summer, the Board of Health defined a list of duties that could be considered “significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient,” for someone to qualify as a caregiver entitled to provide marijuana. But the language made it possible to qualify even if the only thing they did was provide marijuana to a patient.

    The board removed the entire definition, intending to take up the issue on Dec. 16 at a public meeting.

    Colorado Department of Public Health Executive Director Jim Martin said a Colorado Court of Appeals opinion released last week forced the board to take quick action.

    “I don’t believe this leaves the board any leeway,” he said of the ruling made Thursday in the case of Stacy Clendenin.

    In 2006, Clendenin was charged with cultivation of marijuana in her Longmont home, which is a felony.

    Clendenin argued that the marijuana she grew was distributed to authorized medical-marijuana patients through dispensaries. The court found that Clendenin needed to know the patients.

    By changing the rule, the state Board of Health has given itself time to consider whether to repeal the language permanently.

    But it could force dispensaries and growers to offer other care as well, said attorney Warren Edson, who represents dispensaries and growers.

    While many dispensaries offer other services to those buying their marijuana, it would be impossible for growers who supply the dispensaries to offer anything but the drug, said Edson.

    The rule change exposes [marijuana] growing operations to criminal prosecution, he said.

    “They told us in July, you don’t have to do anything but (provide) pot,” Edson said. “We have a whole industry that has grown up that is screwed.”

    It isn’t the intention of the board to throw a kink in business plans of those selling medical marijuana, said health department spokesman Mark Salley. “I think it is the Court of Appeals decision that might have changed the game. All this board did was make sure it was not in contradiction with the court.”

    Yep a whole new industry that popped up like weed [snicker] going up in smoke [guffaw]. Sorry, but this subject just begs the tokin’ puns. And far be it from me to take the high road.

    Still you have to wonder about those unfortunate caregivers of the past, when the government was all about Reefer Madness and disinclined to tolerate them. Even to the point of incarcerating them. Will they finally be recognized as societal assets rather than parasites? Guess we’ll just have to wait for the smoke to clear. Or not.

    Party on, dudes!

    The pirate you know…

    Steve Ragan over at The Tech Herald reports a most curious situation in this post wherein the attempted closure of The Pirate Bay [don't worry the link is to Wikipedia, not TPB] is having some unintended side effects.

    The number of new file-sharing sites hosting pirated copyrighted content skyrocketed over the last three months, according to McAfee’s Q3 Threats Report. The attempted closure of the infamous Pirate Bay site spawned clones and scams as criminals used the hype to spread Malware.

    “The attempted shut down of The Pirate Bay led to an explosion of similar sites, many of which are malicious,” said Dave Marcus, director of security research and communications for McAfee Labs. “The sharing of illegal content online has not been quelled by the prosecution of The Pirate Bay founders, whose site was back online within 24 hours.”

    Way to go, copyright crusaders. Not only did the attempts to shut down The Pirate Bay fail miserably, but now there are even more sites providing even more dubious services. That would be way more pirated content and way more nasty malware. And these newcomers don’t even have the amusing legal messages and responses pages [again not to worry, the link is to Hip Forums] of the original. Right about now I’m thinking that maybe you would have been better off to just stick with the pirate you know.

    The entire McAfee Q3 Threats report may be found here.