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.

Colorado Weirdness

Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
From “Strange Days” by the Doors

I spend most of my time in the Peoples Republic of Boulder, so I’m pretty blase about strange stuff. I mean this is a place where a candidate for city council can file a campaign finance report with $14.37 to “Only Natural Pet Store” for dinner for his campaign manager, a cat named Sita. And nobody thinks twice about it. Needless to say, my Bizarro-meter is calibrated way higher than most. Nevertheless, events of this last week have pretty much pegged it.

First there was the whole Balloon Boy saga. As if a runaway helium filled mylar flying saucer thought to have a six-year-old stowaway aboard wasn’t bizarre enough, it turns out to be an elaborate hoax for purposes of snagging a reality TV show. Move over John and Kate plus Octomom. This totally raises (or lowers) the weird-stuff-fools-do-to-get-on-TV bar. Here is a timeline of this odd affair.
Oct 20:
FAA investigating Colo. balloon flight
Griego: A better image of parenthood
Hollywood acquaintances say balloon boy’s dad always wanted fame
Oct 19:
Balloon boy saga “absolutely … a hoax,” Larimer sheriff says
Sheriff admits misleading the media to win trust of balloon boy’s family
Oct 18:
Fort Collins parents face felony charges in “balloon boy” case
Balloon escapade a hoax police say
“Balloon boy” responders dealt with roller coaster of emotions
Experts say TV cameras alter family dynamics, like in “balloon boy” case
Sheriff expects charges to be filed against Colorado family in “balloon boy” case
Oct 17:
Charges pending in “balloon boy” saga
Balloon family has pushed for television spotlight
Sheriff has questions, says he believes family
Oct 16:
‘Balloon boy’ found safe at home
Oct 15:
Feared lost in balloon, boy found at home

Yep. It just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Culminating in what will no doubt be the most popular Halloween costume of 2009 and this YouTube spoof Real Men of Genius: Heene. Just think, all this took place in the normal part of Colorado.

And then there was this pair of stories about insurance company craziness. In the first, an infant was denied coverage due to pre-existing condition: “obesity”. In the second a two-year-old was denied coverage due to another pre-existing condition: “underweight”. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. I gotta tell ya, this doesn’t do a lot for the credibility of insurance companies in my mind. Although I have no problem believing that insurance prices will go up if the health care legislation currently being debated in congress is passed. Or not. Whatever happens I’m pretty sure that they’ll find a way to take more of our money and deliver less coverage.

And in the “Best Job Ever” category Westword, a Denver alternative newspaper posted an ad for a reviewer of the state’s marijuana dispensaries and their products. Hey, they don’t call it the Mile High city for nothing!

All this during the week that the Denver Broncos went 6-0 in a seasons where most of us thought they would be lucky to win 6 at all. If this isn’t concrete evidence of the existence of a God who watches over His Broncos I don’t know what is.

Oh, I almost forgot. Microsoft released their long-awaited new OS – Windows 7 which was Amazon UK’s biggest pre-ordered product of all time. Unseating the previous title holder Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now if businesses will just follow the consumer herd, Microsoft will be golden. And I will totally need to re-calibrate my Bizarro-meter even higher.

Upgrading for better security?

We’ve heard an awful lot about how Windows 7 is way more secure than Windows XP and it’s earlier brethren. Actually we heard that about Windows Vista too. Only very few people bothered to upgrade. The operative word here being “bothered”. But that’s another post. The fact is that Windows 7 is much better in any number of ways than Windows XP (and Vista – but again another post). If you were thinking that an upgrade might be in order to improve the security posture on your Windows boxes, that’s not a bad idea. The deal is, though, that upgrading alone isn’t the answer. Kevin Beaver, a fellow CISSP has written this piece for TechTarget about how you need to secure Windows XP before upgrading to Windows 7.

It’s not too early to be thinking about how you’re going to manage your existing Windows XP base and begin focusing on Windows 7 without creating unnecessary security gaps.

It often happens that legacy operating systems do not get the attention they deserve during upgrades and migrations. Inevitably, security suffers. When these holes are found in legacy Windows systems, the response is almost always that the box will soon be taken offline. Unfortunately, soon doesn’t cut it when it comes to someone maliciously exploiting the unplugged holes in these undermanaged systems. Even if you and your business are moving forward, your Windows XP systems are still going to be targets for attack — especially once Microsoft stops supporting it in 2014.

Windows XP may be going away in spirit, but its physical remains will linger on for some time. Don’t let Windows XP security management, or a lack thereof, rule your time now or in the future. Get a handle on these possible issues early and it will make a difference for your business.

In addition to the problem of laggards (sorry there is no “No PC Left Behind” program) even the boxes that do get upgraded won’t be any more secure than they are right now if you have unnecessary – or necessary but insecure – ports open. Or if the users of these Windows XP boxes have long lived, weak passwords because you aren’t enforcing your password policy – or you don’t even have a policy. The point is that Windows 7 is more secure than Windows XP only if you take steps to make it so. You can still do plenty of stupid things, or not do plenty of smart things, that can defeat all that swell new stuff in Windows 7, just like you can defeat the old stuff in Windows XP. So if your goal is to improve the security posture of your Windows endpoints, then start doing exactly that with the stuff you have right now. Before you upgrade. Who knows, maybe you won’t even need to upgrade.

Energizer Bunny OS

The coveted Security for All “Energizer Bunny” award goes to Microsoft Windows XP for it’s ability to just keep going and going… Yep, the rumors of XP’s impending demise, ostensibly to be replaced by the exciting new Windows Mojave er… Vista are still somewhat premature. Undoubtedly to Microsoft’s chagrin. Check out this announcement as reported in InfoWorld.

Microsoft will provide hardware partners with media to let their customers downgrade from Windows Vista to Windows XP for six months longer than it originally planned, the company confirmed Friday.

The move comes even as Microsoft has just launched a $300 million marketing and advertising campaign to encourage people to buy Windows Vista. The company is also prepping Windows 7, the next client version of the OS, for release in the next 12 to 18 months.

Microsoft will give OS disks to OEMs and system builders so customers that purchase Windows Vista Ultimate and Business editions can downgrade to XP Professional if they so choose until July 31, 2009, Microsoft said through its public relations firm.

Previously, Microsoft planned to provide the XP recovery disks to partners until Jan. 31, 2009, although there is no deadline for downgrade rights, the company said. If a customer wants to downgrade from Vista to XP after the new deadline, they can contact Microsoft for a disk, the company said.

Competition with oneself issues aside, hats off to Windows XP for winning this prestigious award.