Friday, December 28, 2007

Spicing Up Your Holidays

The Boston Globe reported earlier this week that one finds higher concentrations of vanilla, cinnamon and other baking spices in coastal waters around the holidays.

Could we ask for a more vivid illustration of just how directly human activity affects the environment?

"We see these indications of human activity everywhere we go in the coastal ocean," said Rick Keil, a geochemist at the University of Washington. "Anywhere people are living near the coasts, you'll see some sort of remnants from their kitchens getting out into the water. It's very apparent that our fingerprint is everywhere."

Keil's research started in Puget Sound during Fall 2006 to convince his students of the relevance of his oceanography class.

This year, he continued monitoring for spices and other substances and found a marked increase in theobromine (a compound in chocolates) just after Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Say it Ain’t Ho, Ho, Ho

Hi, I’m Kevin Kosh. To quote the immortal Troy McClure, “you may remember me from such security blog entries as “How Does Safe Happen and When you say (data leakage) it makes me feel (choose one: scared, angry…confused.)

Well today I have the unfortunate task of reporting how even the greatest can become a victim of data breaches – and today it’s Santa.

As covered in the WSJ Business Technology blog and Network World’s Buzzblog, the story first broke on the AP.

They reported that Santa “…has announced that he has canceled this year’s delivery of Christmas presents after a computer crash resulted in the loss of all wish lists from children around the world. The bearded, obese philanthropist also lost all records pertaining to child behavior over the past year, making it impossible to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice. Santa had used a tape-based backup system for his critical data; however, after the crash, the tapes fell off a truck and apparently tumbled into the Arctic Ocean…”

Before we all spiral into depression, this is of course a joke, and thanks to Ben Worthen and Paul McNamara for participating in the fun. It all started with a mock news piece generated by CHEN PR client and data protection experts Arsenal Digital Solutions, who of course could’ve prevented such an occurrence if Santa had employed a business continuity strategy that included online backup.

And if he’s reading this, he should consider signing up, since Arsenal already holds a dominant position in the holiday icon sector. Due to contractual restrictions I can’t publish the customer names, but I can say they include “A Large Egg bearing Rabbit,” “a diminutive, winged and sparsely dressed archer,” and “A bird most commonly found in leftovers…”

Safe Holidays to all, and to all a good laugh.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Desperate Times and Two Hungry Men

As you know if you live in New England, or probably saw on the news even if you live outside of the region, last Thursday a brief but formidable snowstorm created epic traffic snarls in and around Boston. Commutes of 6+ hours were common.

After leaving the office at 2:00 pm, only for it to become apparent I wasn't going to be arriving home any time soon, I ended up making my way back to CHEN PR's Waltham offices, where I waited with my colleague Brad until 10:00 pm to let the traffic ease before heading home.

It's amazing how you make decisions in certain circumstances that you wouldn't conceive of in others. I felt obliged to send the following post to my co-workers regarding one such decision.



While many of you sat out last week’s epic storm on various highways and byways, 5:00 pm last Thursday found Brad and me nestled within the confines of our offices here at 1601 Trapelo Rd.

Now those of you who know Brad and me know that one thing we have in common is a near religious devotion to the “five square meals a day, plus snacks” guide to daily eating.

So when our stomachs began to rumble at 6 pm (pizza delivery, alas, not being a realistic option as a glance out the window revealed cars skating along 128 at various angles of misdirection), we were forced to raid our office kitchen. Our looting included, but was not limited to, the following, to the owners of which Brad and I would like to extend our apologies (but not, in all honesty, our regret):

  • One (1) Lean Cuisine frozen entrée (again, if you know Brad and me, our consumption of Lean Cuisine anything will underscore the perilous situation in which we found ourselves)
  • An unspecified quantity of Harpoon IPA
  • 1 ½ (we do have our limits even in dire straits, and these are disgusting) hard iced teas
  • The remaining champagne from Thursday’s raucous office celebration (I will tell you that it was consumed directly from the bottle, but I won’t tell you by which of us)
  • The remaining cold pizza that accompanied the champagne
  • ½ jar strawberry preserves
  • ½ jar peanut butter
  • Many pieces of bread from various residual loaves
  • Several rice krispie treats
  • Most of the popcorn in the tin
  • 1/3 cheese stick (until Brad noticed a disconcerting brownish color on the other 2/3)

So again, we offer our hearty apologies to the owners of the above. But we ask you to consider the choice that was forced upon Brad and me: eat your food or eat each other.

Bob Zurek's Hot Holiday Gifts

Dear last-minute shoppers (you know who you are):

Bob Zurek (currently VP and CTO at EnterpriseDB but still blogging at IBM developerWorks) posted his annual hot holiday gift list a few weeks ago, and I keep meaning to flag it. The list always has good gift geek goodies.

Here are some items that caught my eye; blame me for these descriptions, not Bob:

HYmini - A "hybrid green mini power station," pictured above. It's a universal charger that uses either wind power or solar power to get your PDA, mobile phone, iPod, etc. all charged up.

AT&T USBConnect 881 - (Can those AT&T folks name products or what? This description is from Bob, because it's better than the AT&T copy.) A USB device that gives you 3G HSPA support. What's HSPA? High Speed Packet Access or simply lightning fast over the air upload and download speeds.

Custom Tailgating Trailor (for our Patriots fans at the office) - In the truly outrageous vehicle department, you can buy a trailor that's tricked out just for tailgating. The standard model includes a 26" LCD TV (watch the pre-game show!), complete draft beer system, CD/DVD player, 1000 watt generator, 10 gallon fresh water system, 5 gallon holding tank and lots more. No price on the site for this bad boy.

Temperature Controlled Faucet Light - For only $19.95, you can gift a gadget that changes the color of the water - red for hot water, blue for cold.

Where does he find this stuff! See Bob's blog for more interesting suggestions.

Happy holidays to geeks and non-geeks alike.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How Does Safe Happen?

“Holy Sh…Safe Happens” Many of you may recognize that as the last words in a memorable Volkswagen commercial campaign where viewers are treated to lighthearted banter, interrupted by a violent side impact crash. Beyond that campaign from last year, it’s actually a plot device that seems to be used more and more frequently on TV in shows this year from Law and Order: SVU to Chuck. And it works. Whether suspenseful or lighthearted, it rips you out of your comfort zone and refocuses your attention…

Why do I bring this observation up? Because 100M records stolen from the TJX companies, or personal information on half the UK population being lost should be one mother of a side impact crash…and unfortunately, unlike Chuck, not everybody walks away to the happy ending. Even more disturbingly, not all of those watching refocus.

Since 2005 (widely considered to be a watershed year for data theft) we have lost more than 250M records globally (85% of which are in the US) – and that’s just what has been disclosed. From the US government to the corner store down the street, we have an insatiable appetite for data. And the fact that we are hemorrhaging it wholesale makes interesting headlines, but doesn’t seem to result in much headway in data security.

We’ve actually had a ringside seat to both the evolution of cyber crime and the innovation that promises to make a difference for the last decade. Through our clients, we have watched the cat and mouse game play out with better and better mousetraps – from eSecurity consulting/managed services with Guardent (acquired by Verisign), to behavioral network analysis with Arbor Networks, to database-focused security with Application Security, Inc., to the retooling and rebirth of security foundations with next-gen firewall provider Palo Alto Networks. It’s both incredibly exciting to be associated with market pioneers and scary at the same time to know the reasons why they exist and why companies need to know about them.

There’s also another side impact crash about to hit the market, although not a breach. Its authors have described to me that they hope it will be an Inconvenient Truth for identity theft and privacy – and based on the advance prologue I’ve read, I’d agree it has that potential. Written by two of the pre-eminent journalists covering data security today – Byron Acohido and Jon Swartz of USA Today – Zero Day Threat: How Banks and Credit Bureaus Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity, promises to be a must read for anyone in the business of data security – which at this point, is anyone who comes in contact with customer data.

The book can be preordered via Amazon. Might make a good present to help with New Year’s Resolutions, since Mr. Acohido himself reported this week that the amount of records lost in 2007 tripled over 2006.

Happy Holidays all.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What Do a Live Duck, a Jar of Honey, and a Baseball Have in Common?

They were all links in the MIT Museum's Friday After Thanksgiving (FAT) Chain Reaction.

The FAT Chain Reaction is the idea of artist/inventor Arthur Ganson. Arthur realized there is not much to do on the Friday after Thankgiving, besides shop. He wanted to create a family-friendly event that would actively engage participants.

“Every year there are ingenious new creations so it is particularly interesting to see what people come up with,” said Ganson in an interview in 2006. “I also like the spontaneous drama and performance art nature of the event. Where else can you find 1,500 people rooting for a piece of wet paper towel? It is quirky, simple, and grand all at the same time.”

I first saw the FAT Chain Reaction in 2006, when my boyfriend created a link in the chain. I was hooked as soon as I entered the room. I decided then that I would help create a link in the 2007 chain.

The rules of the reaction are simple:

“Your link in the chain reaction should be no wider that 2', no taller than 4', and no longer than 6', should use no chemicals (baking soda and vinegar OK), no plug-in electricity (batteries and low-power DC OK), or use more than a cup of water.

Your link must begin and end by a string pull. Be sure that it takes no more force than the hanging weight of a golf ball moving 1" to start your link and ends by pulling a string at least 1" with enough force to lift a golf ball.

Your link must be repeatable.

Test your chain reaction before bringing it to the event.

Make your event last at least 30 seconds and end in less than three minutes. Give your audience time to enjoy your event, be it funny, playful, clever, whimsical, or elegant.”

This year, I showed my influence by suggesting that our link in the chain be Red Sox themed. All five people on our team loved the theme and came up with many over the top ideas.

Below is a picture of us setting up the creation.

The device started with a fan knocking a cup over, which triggered a bat to swing and hit a baseball. The baseball then hit the paper glove which triggered a picture of Coco Crisp to slide forward and catch a baseball. As the baseball fell, it pulled the water bottles that hit chimes under the sign, “bullpen band.” Then, Wally the Green Monster rode on a fire truck to pull the trigger on a bunch of baseballs going down a ramp. The final baseball triggered whiffle balls filled with pennies to go down a ramp where paper people popped up to do the wave as the balls passed by. This then made 2 liter bottles filled with water drop to pop up Red Sox pennants and turn the merry go round at the top of our machine. Bobble head players shook under pictures from the rolling rally. The merry go round pulled a trigger to make a picture of Jacoby Ellsbury chasing a taco zoom down a slanted metal pole. Finally, a dancing Papelbon figure pulled the string for the next device.

Once we were set up, the rest of the team asked me to explain our reactions to curious onlookers. Children telling me our device, “was the coolest” made my day.

Of course, while everything worked the numerous times we tried the device at home, during the reaction, some triggers needed to be manually pulled. As Arthur joked before the reaction, “Some devices get stage fright.”

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Not Snow, Nor Rain Can Keep These Red Cross Messengers from Our Party

With apologies to Herodotus for that headline...

"Snow? Sub-freezing temperatures? Pats game? No problem. I'll still join CHEN PR and Network World for their third annual Red Cross Metrowest fundraiser."

We were touched by the hundred-plus devoted pals who ignored the challenges and elected to wend their way to our event last Monday evening. Thanks to Linda Driscoll at the American Red Cross Metrowest, and John Gallant, president and editorial director of Network World, for working with us each year to make this a fun and heartwarming evening.

This year's silent auction was particularly successful, raising nearly $5000 alone. It included many old favorites (like Vintage wine, Red Sox tix) as well as some new items (a stained glass window, original artwork, a tour of a local police and fire station, Beckett and Ortiz signed baseballs and tech celebrity lunches with Dan Lyons, Erick Schonfeld and Chris Shipley).

A special shout-out to our Office Manager Myrsini Morris, who organized the silent auction and made the tables look liked they'd been done by a Bloomie's window designer (only better).

Here's a real live user testimonial from the event (and it's not from an employee!):

Thanks for doing such good work, and helping the rest of us feel virtuous while we're having fun at the same time!

Why do we do it?

The American Red Cross MetroWest supports 1 million people in 36 cities and towns with an array of invaluable programs. Last year alone, the group distributed 23,489 bags of groceries to families in need and responded to 58 disasters, fires, floods and gas leaks, aiding 363 children and adults with lodging, food, clothing and medicine. More than 1,500 children in need received holiday gifts and toys.