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Security … privacy does not mean you have something to hide.

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It has been a while since I have considered discussing technical security as it tends to be a complicated topic that is not really important unless you are afraid of a force you don’t control.

Whether it is a government agency with dubious intentions, a personal secret you need to keep private or a virus that targets a universal weakness, the value of protecting data is much more important than most people consider on a day-to-day basis.

I want to present an example:

WhatApp.   Maybe some of you know it.  Many people use it daily or by the minute.  It seems personal because you hold it in your hands and message people to save money on SMS or because it is a fairly common, platform independent messaging platform for mobile devices.  Seems innocent enough… but did you know that anyone that is interested could impersonate and hijack your account?   For those that want to know the technical details or at least the specific details, look here.  “WhatsApp is broken, really broken.”  How important is this?

Well, just like many things with regard to technical innovation in society, when you begin to depend on it, it moves from a “luxury” to “utility”.  With over a Billion users worldwide.  It is not just a small security problem to have everyone’s person data.

iPhone’s/MacOS’s “iMessage” 

It seems that the messages sent via iMessage are quite a bit more secure than WhatsApp.  (iMessage Security: iMessage what security features are present) However, the practicality of the security and the access to a massive amount of data with a compromised AppleID is significant.  With the iMessage platform being available on your Mac(s) and your iPhone… and even to add to the detail that should someone startup a backup of your mac on a new device and have a login to your Mac with a your iMessage installed, they only need to start the application on your Mac to have access to a massive amount of your data not just future but previous.

Why do you care?  Why should you care?  The American Political System… that is just one very good reason to care. 

The Feinstein-Lee amendment to partially nullify the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA (which allows for Americans to be arrested and basically disappeared without due process) passed last week to much Demolishcrat sound bites about freedom, etc. Please note that Obama has threatened to veto this amendment, created by his own party, and even took the extreme measure of protecting those provisions last year by suing in federal court to make sure that they remained intact. *Seems some pesky do-gooders (Chris Hedges, Dennis Kucinich, and many other pinko liberal commies) had filed suit against the NDAA as being, wait for it… “unconstitutional and a law that codifies tyranny”.

But thank goodness that we have brave Demolishcrats like Feinstein and Lee to save us, eh? Only problem is, their amendment includes the following restriction:

“An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, UNLESS AN ACT OF CONGRESS EXPRESSLY AUTHORIZES SUCH DETENTION.”

So the Feinstein-Lee amendment effectively nullifies its own purpose in nullifying the indefinite detention clauses of the NDAA because the NDAA is AN ACT OF CONGRESS that EXPRESSLY AUTHORIZES SUCH DETENTION. 

Clever, eh?? Similar to the recent Whistleblower Protection Act that Obama signed, which helps not at all Mr Manning or several NSA whistleblowers who have let the public know about gross waste of taxpayer money AND that what you say, tweet, email, or text, is recorded and saved by the security agencies. (16 or 17 agencies, at last count) According to one NSA agent….”everything you communicate, literally everything, is saved.”

Good luck, and good night. (Sweet dreams to you too, CIA, AFISRA, INSCOM, DIA, MCIA, NGA, NRO, NSA, ONI, OICI, I&A, CGI, FBI, DEA/ONSI, INR, TFI, and of course, the TSA.)

A start-up after 12 years?

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What is a start-up?  What defines it?

I often explain to people that I work at a start-up.  Those who have asked, “How can a start-up last for 12 years?”, I have the answer in the form of a good quote for Eric Ries. “A start-up is a human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”  This definition is far more accurate than a measurement of size or duration.  I have linked his Lean Startup talk here because while many people have seen it, not all know of it and you may find it useful.   I really like the way he describes his learning through failure and what it really all means.  There is certainly many ideas of entrepreneurship but learning from others and learning by doing seem to be one very effective university of the “pivot”.

One more thing…
If you don’t already know of the book and concepts of working through your business via a business model canvas. I suggest you look into it. I find the visual tool to be much more effective than a classic business plan.
http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/canvas/

“failure is the great equalizer for quality”

rgs

agustin

 

 

A thesis on Amazon and the monopsony

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This thesis on Amazon’s ebook strategy and some background about the differences between monopoly and monopsony is quite a worthy read.

I consider it a very interesting speculation about the future of digital-rights management (DRM) in the wake of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple and the ebook publishers.

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/understanding-amazons-strategy.html

Additionally, you can see, from the level and volume of comments that the issue is hot one.

As the world of publishing is transformed, understanding the “chess game” will help people with having influence on the ultimate success.

Jeff Bezos laughing (photo courtesy of AllThingsD)
Jeff Bezos laughing (photo courtesy of AllThingsD)

 

MS Patch Tuesday & the urgent, critical patches

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Part of our work, the hidden job that many of our customers don’t like or even understand is keeping the systems they host with us running on the most current, secure version available.    This is part of the service offering we consider “managed services”.

Microsoft people frequently refer to this joyous day as “Patch Tuesday” (Second Tuesday of each month) but actually we end up doing the work testing, deployment, remediation and support from Tuesday – Thursday.

This week the news brings an urgent matter, Microsoft systems that have “Remote Desktop” enabled, which is nearly all of the Windows machines hosted on the internet directly have a bad, bad security hole.  Microsoft released a patch but I can’t help think that they are downplaying the matter significantly.   This, in my book, is considered a very dangerous point of attack.


Qualys has published the following recommendations for the RDP vulnerability:

1. Within the week apply the patch on your Windows machines that are running the RDP service and are internet-facing (you can scan for port 3389 on your perimeter if you do not have an updated map). Note that the patch requires a reboot to become active. If you cannot apply the patch or reboot your machines, take the following countermeasures:
– Configure the firewalls on the machines so that only trusted IPs can access port 3389;

– Activate the Network Layer Authentication (NLA) protocol, which does not have this vulnerability. NLA is available on Vista and above on the server side and client side, and Windows XP can be made NLA compatible by installing a software package from Microsoft.

2. Within the month patch the rest of your systems – both external and internal. While the main attack vector is directly through the internet, it is likely malware will be equipped with the exploit for the RDP vulnerability and that it will be used for internal malware propagation.

 

 

Print from anywhere (almost) with Google Cloud Print

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Google Cloud PrintLet’s face it: the paperless office hasn’t really materialized for most of us, but if you do need to print from your phone, it just got a little easier. Google Cloud Print lets you connect a printer so that you can print to it from any computer or smartphone. There are a few caveats, of course, and some initial setup.

How to do it:

You need:

– a PC with Windows XP, Vista or 7
– latest version of Google Chrome (in US English) running on the PC

Google Chrome Cloud Print

In Chrome, click on the “Tools” wrench icon at the top right and select options from the drop down menu; then select the tab called “Under the Hood” and enable Google Cloud Print using the button at the bottom. You’ll have to sign into your Google account, and then you should see a message saying that you’ve successfully enabled Cloud Print.

Now, if you open up your Gmail account in your phone, you should be able to print an email or attachment (.pdf or .doc), or a Google Docs file. Basically, you’re sending what’s already in the Google “cloud” to the printer that you’ve set up.

One important requirement: the Windows computer that you set the printer up on has to remain on.

Support for Mac and Linux systems is reported to be coming soon.

Is it worth it?

Remember the service is still in beta, which means there are bugs to be worked out – for example, it has problems with Gmail addresses that contain capital letters. It’s still fairly limited. But it’s worth a look, because it’s the start of something that’s going to expand and improve. After all, paper copies aren’t going anywhere for a while yet!

Have you tried Google Cloud Print? Did it work? Will you use it? Leave a comment to share your thoughts and experiences…

Steering your small business through the cloud

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Image: Clouds by Axel Rouvin

Part 1 of our new series aimed at helping small businesses get the most out of cloud computing

If you’ve heard a lot of noise about businesses moving into cloud computing over the past year, maybe you’ve wondered if “the cloud” is really for you. So far the discussion has been dominated by how medium-sized and larger enterprises should move IT resources into the cloud, with a focus on concerns about data security, vendor lock-in and service level agreements.

All valid points, but meanwhile, there hasn’t been so much talk about the advantages for small businesses. As most of our clients are SMEs, we have a particular interest in how they can benefit from cloud computing. In our experience, it doesn’t have to be a huge disruption to your working infrastructure. You can make small steps to take advantage of the new services available, while keeping your business stable and growing.


Working in the cloud: our experience

Over the past 18 months, we’ve moved more and more of our business applications “into the cloud”, using the latest online service offerings. The result? Well, we’re definitely working more efficiently and collaboratively than before. We can access and update real-time data from home or on the road. Our staff can submit their own expense claims for approval, and our clients are kept up to date with the information they need via our newsletters and mailing lists.

Having done it ourselves, we’re also in a better position to advise our customers what might be useful to them – and the pitfalls to look out for.

When you talk about cloud-based services, there is such a huge variety on offer:

  • software as a service – subscription-based applications such as Salesforce.com for CRM or Xero for accounting;
  • utility computing – file storage, backup and synchronisation (e.g. Dropbox);
  • infrastructure as a service – taking your IT infrastructure and maintenance needs offsite and outsourcing them to a provider.

For now, we’ll look at the first point – software as a service – as a preliminary step into the cloud, and take an example of one online application that has changed the way we do business: Xero.


Is the pleasure all ours?

An example of Xero's user interfaceOnline accounting program Xero’s slogan is “pleasure doing business”, and while not many people would put “pleasure” and “accounting” in the same sentence, this application has really lived up to expectations.

But wait a minute: financial data in the cloud – isn’t that a security risk? Shouldn’t I keep my data where I can keep an eye on it – on our own server in our own office?

Here’s where some of the benefits of online applications come in – if you choose wisely.

For one thing, well established online services like Xero can provide a level of security, redundancy, backup and support that would be hugely expensive and complex for a small business to provide for itself. Of course, you need to do some research before you choose to invest in a new service provider, but in this case, Xero is meeting stringent requirements from its banking partners, and offering frequent backups and 24-hour support (and we’ve used it – they’re great!).

Secondly, because you pay a monthly fee, there’s no substantial upfront investment, no upgrades to pay for, and no need to arrange onsite technical support visits. This makes software as a service very attractive for small businesses who need to keep on top of cash flow.

The downside? If you lose network access you won’t be able to get to your data. It’s a key issue for the cloud. If your internet service provider has a problem, you’ve got a problem. One cost-effective solution to this is to have a basic network connection with another provider as a backup. Export your data regularly. And remember to weigh up a few hours of internet downtime against a server crash and recovery.

This highlights a major point about cloud computing. It’s not all or nothing, and it’s not ideal for everyone’s needs all the time. You need to consider the pros and cons, and decide what’s going to work for you. That’s what we’re here for – to help you get the most benefit with minimal risk. After all, the cloud might be soft and fluffy but it’s can be tricky to see what’s ahead! It’s good to have help steering your way through it.

A few things to remember when considering software as a service for your company:

  • Start small: moving into the cloud doesn’t mean disrupting your business, and it should always be led by what is right for you.
  • Try before you buy: many online applications offer a free trial. It’s worth signing up for this to check that the service suits your needs and does what it promises. Just don’t forget to cancel the subscription if you decide not to continue.
  • Check the small print: does the monthly fee dramatically increase after 6 months? Are you locked into a minimum contract term? Will you have to pay much more for add-on services?

In our next post: how cloud services have revolutionised the way we communicate with our clients.


Google vs. Apple — Android vs. Apple’s iOS

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I am an avid reader of TechCrunch and Mashable and spend quite some energy retweeting and posting to Facebook when I am inspired to broadcast or share.

While reading this article on TechCrunch I was actually compelled to comment in more detail and below is the comment.

To save you a hearty read, the key point in this article is that Android is likely to be an “explosive” force in 2011.  The author makes a good case but partially agrees and argues with Scoble popular opinions that this is bad for iOS/iPhone.  In turn, Scoble feels that bad for iOS/iPhone means bad for everyone because excellence is delivered effectively via the efforts of quality control from the single source Apple.

These comments quickly turned to the topic of passion that everyone in our sector thinks quite a bit about.  This article activated the readers to chime in with their ideas and expert opinions so I am no different.  As I tend not to blog too often, I decided to bridge this with our corporate blog.  This post-pc era perspective touches many of the same elements in our business transformation consulting services.

Ahh this conversation is fun to postulate about… with so many opinions and perspectives.

Apple vs. Google in the platform war: my take is Apple wins, this is why.

The AppStore/iTunes/iAd/OS and overall ecosystem of Apple is pretty strong and scaling pretty well.  They are performing amazing feats of business scalability.  As long as they keep their operational performance high, they may have an advantage of quality that other platform makers won’t be able to ensure.  Don’t under estimate the dark power of that force.

Additionally, please keep in mind that Apple is gaining serious “market shifting” advantages developing the consumer option of simplicity in a deeply complicated market with competing daily “explosions” and distracting noises, logic and tremendous budgets.
In the “post-pc era” the technical/marketing elements that previously won the leadership positions are not the keys to this new kingdom. The rules of success in the cloud based, “app for that” centric, always on, live/on-demand data access, with consumer driven collaborative intelligence, monitization and consumption.

Have a look at this WolframAlpha “analysis”:
Money matters in this platform fight.  Apple/Google are an epic force with their operational cost/profit story.

Google/Android has a lot going for it and the logic of creating an open platform is very much the key to the win so I agree that the Android platform has rich promise as a market maker and contender. (I won’t rehash the authors concrete points on why Android is strong.)

As long as Apple remains essentially closed they are creating enemies but they are also setting the pace and trend.  I also believe that Apple is at the lead of forging new ground for consumer behavior, as the leader in this essential element, it sets another tough hurdle for any other competitor.

Leaders like Apple set the pace, distance, and altitude of the mountain marathon race.  That can be the wining advantage.

With all this fighting, I hope the winners keep their eye on their larger responsibilities as global citizens.  The fight is fun to watch and play while dominance story plays out but the stakes are high and match point is defining our freedom and our future.

The winners will be leading the information rights and access definition of this new era and we have seen that companies that measure their success by profit/shareholder value alone don’t tend to think about the bigger picture.

The Hub in Zurich – Technology and meeting people with practical, big ideas.

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I am passionate about many things in life.  Thinking about the future and trying to imagine the application of technology in it is one of them.  (Information Technology, much to the surprise of people who know my daily work, is NOT the only one.)  The interest to me lies in what you can DO with our current and future magical, modern technology tools.   Good technology is only really “magical” if you can do something amazing with it.

The Hub is a “new technology” for social capital and social entrepreneurship.  Like all good technology, it simply does something mysterious in a faster, better and cheaper way.

Before we get distracted by the competing priorities of “faster, better or cheaper”, let me say that Habitusnet is a creative solutions provider. Which means that although we are IT-focused, we don’t look at “Technology” as related exclusively to computers.  The creative solutions that we implement are not always software application platforms and computer systems.  The technology of meeting spaces is a big part of our world’s future.

True technology is anything and everything that is progress, in contrast to the way or how it was before.  Technology is everywhere and anytime you find a better way to do it.  And of course, change is good, though often a rocky road.

Source: Smart Draw Blog

Consulting is, in many ways, a mutual path on which knowledge exchange and trust can build great application of ideas. A client’s perception of technology affects the calibre of what can be achieved, but when trust is established, the efficiency of the solution providing and technology discovery can be epic.  Needless to say, it is still the case that the art of good consulting seems to be centered in trust, effective communication, resource management and quality of execution.

After 20 years in the business of introducing change to daily work via computer systems, we have learned that the basic reaction to change is very similar every time.   We often have clients that want computers, systems or solutions that are “silver bullets” for current process inefficiencies, but rarely do clients grasp the key concept: By the very nature of technology and change, once it is working, they will want more, they will expect more, and wonder why the change they requested can’t do more.  Sometimes this cycle of expectations can be frustrating but I can understand the perspective.  Once the technology or solution is applied and operational, it is no longer technology but simply machinery.  It should work and it should work faster.

When it is still “technology” and not just “machinery”, we are often amazed by what we can do with it.  Specifically amazing are post-PC era devices, Internet, wireless and mobile data networks.  So there is a tendency to want that magic to be applied to daily work for efficiency in an endless loop of constant improvement.  (I admit to being amazed a few times a month with clever implementations of ideas towards the faster, better, cheaper targets.)

You might be asking by now: “Where are you going with this? What about the Hub? What does it do better?”

For one, let’s look at the technology of meeting and communicating.  This has been a pretty pervasive, hot topic in computers for nearly 30 years.  However, these days, social media relating to broadcast media is inverting more than just newspapers, radio and television.  The old communication models are being challenged with blogs, cheap/disposable websites, social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Buzz.

Simply put, their efficiency of communication is unprecedented.  This is so without even considering the metrics and analytics that can be achieved with previously unmeasurable and subtle relationship insights.  But really these are just a new way to do the old things, in some manner of perspective; they are just more efficient dinner parties, bars, guilds, and coffee shops.  Those events should not of course be replaced, but the restrictions of access and location can be removed. This is simply another step in a classic technology with social capital at its heart.

But it is not just technology and efficiency alone that are the catalysts for these changes, it is the behavior of consumers of information as they become interactive content creators.

The Hub Zurich recently had a “kick-off” meeting with future members, stakeholders and interested parties. Even in this initial meeting, the dialog was structured to be participative. The meeting exposed ideas and plans on how the site should be built, what the long-term vision might be, and how to fund and activate the sustainable elements of the local movement.

The Four Amigos

However, there is something very important about the physical location (not just geo-tagging your Facebook or GoWalla check-ins).  Location, attention and physical presence serve the need for the development of trust. Establishing new relationships of trust is not as achievable with Social Media platforms.   Location facilitates off-line events and helps people discover unknowns via passive, rather than active, awareness, with ambient rules.  Not to mention it bridges diversity and randomness with common interests.

The Hub is a place for many things (for more information check the website).   In my view, The Hub could be viewed as a social capital exchange, similar to a stock exchange, except that the currency is innovation, trust and skill.

Further to my view (and this person’s too) is that the future of a company’s worth valuation (in some standard metrics) will include the social capital and social awareness of the body of behavior that makes up the group’s affect on its surroundings.  To dream a little further, maybe even a real stock exchange of social capital, though it is not likely to be built in the same way.   Just as the new technology in communication (i.e. Social Media) is a key transformation in communication, the conversion of this advancement from “technology” to “utility” may have a significant effect on the next steps of social entrepreneurship.

The Hub is a key, new technology for network development, introduction, trust exchange and the ever growing value of social capital exchange.

Just as social networks use transitive trust  to develop efficient relationship development (Person A introduces Person B to Person C, so Person C trusts Person B if trust with C between A is already established: the concepts within Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Xing apply the same dynamic with computers and Social Media at the center),  The Hub uses the classic transitive trust, as well as location and mission.  We all know that the face-to-face meetings are key to developing trust, and this is even more powerful when bonded by the “club” of a group with the sustainable movements like The Hub.

And how is this a new technology?  Simply look at current corporations and universities and their key assets with proximity and like-minded participants.  The social networks in a company are quite strong and they have every “excuse to work together for a common goal”, although they do not always do so.  Even if your office is designed in the fashion of google office space, it is rarely built for collaboration or our modern global workplace.

Now the pathway to efficiently developing trust is, at least for the social entrepreneur members, enabled via meeting spaces aligned to social networks like “The Hub“.  The key idea of The Hub is not social media, but social capital and proximity to like-minded individuals.  In some ways the principles of Habitus are there too.

iPad. Yep. Pretty Cool stuff… will be a hit in Europe (My take)

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I am already getting some requests.  Europe is a key market for iPad.

Welcome, again, to the Post-PC Era.  I would imagine that there will be 1-2 of these in peoples daily lives.

This is Gen1 and the demand will be very high.

I like it overall.
I expect it to be a pretty big hit. (it is a tough sell but Apple may be able to breach the market and introduce a new segment.)

Apple is not invincible to mistakes, iTV and Air are not big hits while quite still nice products.

This iPad will work if price, availability and the accessories market plays catch-up.  I think it will.

In some ways, it is meant to compete with the Air and mini laptop class.  I am impressed overall.

It is highly network dependent but still decent for offline working with the web and screen.  The key missing piece is still Adobe Flash support.  In fact, I read a rumour that the support for Flash is less than the iPhone.  That seems really silly.

According to the Jobs slides, a WiFi only model should be available in 60 days internationally.

Deal subsidised models will be later. The International telecom deals start in June.  Which means if you are really lucky, you will need to grab them in one of the larger markets (UK, DE, NL). The key point is that the ipad is unlocked… which means you could replace the micro-sim in each region to keep roaming data costs down.

I see a bright future for the iPad.

Reminds me of a the MP3 stories when ipod first came out.  Apple was late to the market and cost driven companies, like creative labs, were in the lead.

Everyone talked about Apple as an old horse in a race… like… this won’t work.  Boy were they wrong.

.am

Google and China – A larger story is unfolding…

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While many people consider the position of Google from many perspectives: the ethical stance, the US/Chinese relationship, and the commercial value lost, it should be noted that most Google consumers / people are reacting emotionally to something they really want from Google.  Integrity.

The non-tech analysts are excited to see Google standing up and reversing the stance on filtering the Internet and not following the rules of the ruling party in China.  It would be characterized as a move closer towards their “don’t be evil” mantra.

I don’t think the decision is based on ethics but it might play a part of how the news was announced.  What is clear is there is a growing distrust of Google and the inclination to be just another company chasing the money and the consumers are wishing for more integrity from Google as a company.

I think this is Google starting to act like a big company.  I think this Guardian article by Jonathan Fenby really provides rich perspective on what is really going on.  Google is getting involved with geopolitical matters and playing in a new, rougher game than before.

China’s ruling party is not going to appreciate losing face.  This is very important and will play a part in Google’s future in China.  The user base for Google in China is 300 million and they only have 30% market share  (300 million by chance the same number as the entire US population)

Logo_cn Hillary Obama

For a more comprehensive analysis and story, read this blog post. The P.S. sections are also very valuable.

Update: The Economist says on its online front page that the decision has a commercial tail.