Considering Our Future Cyber War

It’s not if a cyber war will happen, but when. Precisely what form such a war will take depends on the perpetrators and their goals. I’ve spend quite of time discussing the relative insecurity of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems out there. However, I’m only assuming that SCADA is going to be targeted at some point because it’s such low hanging fruit and no one seems to have any interest at all in securing. Plus, the attack would be of the sort that we’d have a hard time defending against (and possibly identifying at first as the hospitals fill with victims of some mysterious problem).

I recently read an article by John Dvorak entitled, “What if Facebook Is Hacked Next?” John makes some excellent points, but probably doesn’t go far enough. Why would an attacker stop with just Facebook? Why not attack all of the sources of social media out there, including places like LinkedIn and Twitter? The confusion created by the loss of all social media would be amazing. It could easily act as a smokescreen for some other activity even more devastating than the loss of data. While everyone is scrambling to fix their social media issues, someone could work in the background to do something truly horrible.

Actually, the attacker might not even have to do anything other than disrupt all online activities. Think about the number of jobs lost, the hit to online commerce, and the other problems that such an attack would cause. Perhaps these people are simply waiting until more brick and mortar stores close that people no longer have local resources to help in such an emergency. For example, think about the problems that the loss of online stores would have to IT professionals who maintain huge networks of computer systems. The potential for truly terrifying results is amazing.

A cyber war is coming. Just when it will arrive is the topic of much speculation, but my feeling is that it’ll come sometime soon. What sorts of security measures do you have in place? Have you done anything else to prepare? Let me know about your thoughts on cyber war at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Central Clearing House for Book Contacts

A reader wrote to me the other day with an idea for creating a central place where any reader could contact any author with book-related questions. It would be a social media type idea along the lines of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but with a book focus. The way this idea works is that a reader could leave a question on the central site and then the author would receive a notification through e-mail about the question. The question and its answer would remain public. That way, other readers with the same question would see the answer and not have to ask the author about it again.

This blog fulfills the idea that the reader has to a certain extent. When I receive e-mails from readers, I determine whether the question has enough interest to affect a large number of readers. When the question is better answered publicly, I put an answer up here, rather than answer it privately. Of course, there are times when a reader question needs and deserves a private answer. Using the blog approach does make it easier for me to handle some questions discretely, but nothing would keep me from including an e-mail address for that purpose in the book. The problem with this blog is that reader need to know to look here for answers. Even though I publish the URL for this blog in all of my books, readers still managed to miss it somehow and I get queries in e-mail about the availability of such a central knowledge store.

Wrox provides a centralized location for readers to exchange information of the sort that the reader mentioned, but it’s not as well known as the social media sites and I didn’t think to include the URL for it in my book (the publisher does include it as part of the Introduction). My experiences with Professional IronPython, Professional Windows 7 Development Guide, and C# Design and Development tell me that the concept is good, but reader participating is often poor. I actually get a lot more input on my blog.

I like the idea this reader has because it provides a social media type approach to a pressing need authors have to service reader requests for information. The problems are figuring out how to present the idea publicly, implement the idea in software, and then to make the site popular enough that it actually does what it’s supposed to do.

Of course, I’m always looking for input from you on making things work in a way that’s easy for you. What do you think about this concept? Is it possible to create such a site and have it become a success? Would you even frequent such a site? Let me know your thoughts on the matter at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Problem with Short Attention Spans and Getting Only What You Want

I read more articles every day that talk about how content is distributed today. It isn’t just one sort of content; it’s every sort of content, from writing to music to videos. Books are presented electronically without any ads or other content to disrupt your reading, magazines are becoming a thing of the past as readers blithely read just the article they want to see, music is presented as individual song downloads, and video is streamed without any of the extras that come with a DVD.

The idea is to package content items individually, in the smallest container possible. People consuming the content need not bother with anything that doesn’t immediately attract their attention. The smaller size ensures they can consume the content in seconds (even in my books, I’ve made the size of the sections smaller because I noted that readers weren’t making it through the material and missing important information). As a result, consumers are getting used to seeing just the content they want and not having to work at all to get it. Spoon feeding consumers content is probably something that marketers love because they can keep the consumer well fed and not asking too many questions. The content is focuses precisely the way the marketing folks want it. At some point, the quality of the content can decrease without anyone actually noticing. The somnolent mutterings of a few is all that will otherwise detract from the utter quiet of a new age of customized consumerism.

Inferior content is a problem, but it’s not the problem that you should consider immediately. Lack of diversity will cause more problems than content quality ever will. When music was distributed in albums, you counted on getting two or possibly three hit songs. Some of the remaining songs were pretty bad. However, you often encountered two or so additional songs that didn’t get played on the radio for whatever reason are were quite good. Because you were forced (after a fashion) to listen to all the songs on the album, it became common to discover the gems that no one really thought to hype. A few of those songs ended up being hits in their own right simply because people were forced to listen to them as part of listening to the album as a whole. With customized content, you never hear the good songs because no one is hyping them.

The lack of diversity affects your growth as a person. When you listen to something unanticipated or read an article that you didn’t think you’d like, you experience the world in a new way. An idea or concept that didn’t occur to you before is now part of your being. However, with today’s marketing model, you’re being cheated out of that opportunity. The marketers have determined what you’ll read, hear, and see. They control the picture. Think about it for a minute and you’ll see that I’m right.

Magazines are headed in the same direction. It won’t be long and paper magazines will be gone. Electronic magazines will almost certainly follow the current trend at some point. You’ll read only the article that you were interested in seeing in the first place. The supposed boring article that will broaden your horizons will never see the light of day because you won’t be exposed to it. Sometimes it’s necessary for some agent to force you to see content that you might not otherwise review. In the past, it was the added content that came as part of magazines, books, CDs, DVDs, and other distribution techniques that provided this force. There is no such force today. You don’t really see any additional content when viewing a streamed movie.

We view content with fewer interruptions and in purer form, deadening our minds to new ideas. At some point, the lack of growth will cause additional problems. People who get used to thinking only within the box that they draw themselves are less likely to create innovative ideas. As a society, our ability to create something entirely new, entirely different, will be diminished due to a lack of diversity in the input we provide to our brains.

The solution to the problem is uncomfortable and requires a level of determination that our society lacks in large part today. Because alternative content is no longer provided as part of the package, it’s imperative that you look for content that you might not otherwise enjoy. This means making a conscious decision to read, hear, and view content that you may not like at the outset, but will find grows on you with exposure. Let’s hope that there are enough people who don’t mind being uncomfortable to make this a reality. What are your thoughts on the methods used to package content today? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Communication of All Kinds for Fun and Profit

A number of readers have taken pokes at me for my recent Writing Letters post. Interestingly enough, since the time I wrote that post, I’ve picked up another pen pal. The post, in case you haven’t read it yet, makes the point that most forms of communication have a purpose, or are at least a bit fun to employ. As long as I have correspondents, I’ll continue to write them letters. It’s something I look forward to doing now each Thursday night. There is something quite nice about receiving letters in the mail and I don’t relish ever giving it up.

It was while I was reading some reader e-mails that I came across another form of communication in the ComputerWorld article entitled, “Telegram not dead STOP Alive, evolving in Japan STOP.” Interestingly enough, in the country where the telegram was first sent, Western Union stopped sending telegrams in 2013. The final telegram was sent on July 14th. Perhaps someone should mention to Western Union that the Japanese have a thriving telegram business and suggest we follow their model. It’s hard to see someone else take over a technology that we created through innovation and hard work.

The point is that there is something to be said for older forms of communication, even those that aren’t particularly practical today. Although I can make a strong case for writing letters, the arguments for continuing to use telegrams, except for the pure pleasure of sending one, are a bit weaker. Even so, it’s interesting that the Japanese have continued to make them work. The difference seems to be one of desire and, of course, innovation.

My one, and only, telegram turned out to be of the singing variety. Fortunately, the fellow who delivered it had a pleasant voice. You can still find places that will deliver a singing telegram for you, complete with the tchotchke of your choice (mine came with balloons and a letter from my wife, telling me she loved me). As a high speed form of communication, the telegram’s days are done. We have all sorts of other ways to accomplish the task now. However, getting a telegram could still be viewed as quite special.

There are many other interesting forms of communication. I’ve never had anyone hire a skywriter for me, but you can still find them online as well. I imagine more than one fellow has relied on skywriting to propose; although, it never occurred to me to try it. Nothing quite attracts your attention though like a message written in a clear blue sky—assuming that the weather is accommodating.

As an author of technical books, I spend a great deal of time looking at communication in all its forms: verbal, aural, visual, and other forms. I once spent a month researching the tactile vocoder—a device that allows its wearer to hear through the skin using vibration. Imagine that you’re deaf and the tactile vocoder makes it possible for you to hear again, even if you don’t have actual ears. So, it’s not too unusual for me to look at communication both old and new to see how it’s being used today and whether it might not be employed in some other manner. So, yes, I still write letters and I’m still rooting for the telegram, but I’ve also looked into odd devices that help people communicate in amazing ways. Communication, in all its amazing forms, is something you do from the day you’re born until the day you die. Let me know about your view of communication at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Update on Subscribing to Blog

Blog and other types of online subscriptions depend on something like RSS or Atom to tell an application, usually a browser or e-mail reader, where to find the information. My Blog supports RSS. The RSS feeds are simply a kind of document that describes content. OK, yes, they’re a little more complicated than that, but really, when you click a link for an RSS feed, you’re requesting a special kind of a document. What happens next depends on your browser and how its configured.

It’s the what happens next part that is confusing some people. My browser has a plug-in installed for Outlook. Whenever I click on an RSS link in my browser, the plug-in redirects the request to Outlook. A copy of Outlook opens (even if Outlook is already active) and the blog subscription information appears in Outlook. I actually see a little dialog box like the one shown here:

A dialog box showing how an RSS subscription looks in Outlook.
A Subscription Dialog in Outlook

All you do to create the subscription is click Yes. Of course, you might be using another e-mail application. Whether you can even subscribe to RSS feeds depends on the capabilities of your e-mail reader. However, even if your e-mail reader can handle RSS feeds, your browser needs to know about it before the e-mail reader will be activated in response to an RSS feed click. In some cases, the two applications simply aren’t talking to each other. Unfortunately, because there are so many conditions and so many software packages, there really isn’t any way I can tell you how to create a connection when there isn’t one. You need to talk with someone who can actually look at your machine.

You can still use your browser to review the feeds. Only one of my browsers (I have three installed) has a plug-in for Outlook installed. So, when I click on the Entries RSS link (see Subscribing to My New WordPress Blog (Reposted) for details) in Internet Explorer, I don’t see a copy of Outlook open. Instead, I see the following page describing the feed.

The Internet Explorer window containing the RSS feed for this site.
An RSS feed page in Internet Explorer.

The page contains a listing of all the current posts. Notice the yellow box. At the bottom of this box you see a Subscribe to this feed link. Click this link and you get a subscription to the feed in your browser, not in your e-mail reader. This means that you need to open your browser, rather than your e-mail reader, to see the latest posts, which is admittedly inconvenient. Even so, you can get a quick listing of the posts for all of your favorites sites using this approach.

I wish that there was an easy fix for this problem, but the fact is that if you’re seeing the browser, rather than your e-mail reader, when you try to subscribe to the blog, the problem is one of connectivity. All that I can provide is the document containing the description of the posts and where to find them. Please let me know if you have any additional questions about subscribing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Subscribing to My New WordPress Blog (Reposted)

A number of people have reported that they’re no longer getting their feeds from the blog. So, I’ve reposted these instruction from June 27th to help out. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I want to be sure everyone who wants access, has access.

During the moving process from my previous blog software to WordPress, I lost all of the comments that people had offered in the past, along with all of the blog subscriptions. What this means is that anyone who subscribed earlier is no longer receiving the posts automatically to their inbox. Unfortunately, I can’t perform the task of recreating those subscriptions—you have to be the one to do it. With this in mind, follow these simple steps.

  1. Locate the Meta heading on the blog page.
  2. Click Entries RSS. You should see the RSS feature of your e-mail reader open. As an alternative, you could see a feed summary in your browser. In either case, you should see something new that tells you about the subscription process.
  3. Subscribe to the blog using your feed software. When working with an e-mail reader, this usually means answering Yes to a dialog box that opens asking whether you want to subscribe to the feed. When working with a browser, it usually means clicking a Subscribe to this Feed button. In both cases, the application creates a new entry for this site that will automatically update as I add content, so you receive the feeds automatically.

I don’t have access to every kind of application software out there, but I may be able to answer some specific questions about subscribing to the blog. Please let me know about any questions you have at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. It’s really important to me that you have a great experience with my blog, so never be shy about asking questions :).

 

Writing Letters

It seems outdated, old fashioned, archaic, and all the other superlatives you can attach to it—writing letters, by hand, and then mailing them sees like something that no one does anymore. Contrary to common belief, letter writing isn’t completely dead in this electronic world of instant communication using text messages. I’ve been writing regularly to five people. Yes, I actually get out writing materials, write the letter by hand, and then put it in the mail. Of course, the question is why I’d do something so insane in this modern world. People I tell about my letter writing ask what I might possibly hope to achieve by doing so. In fact, some might even doubt my sanity.

There is something to be said for taking time to properly compose a letter. The physical effort required to write one, tends to make the value of each word more. A well-written letter is a joy to send and receive. Taking the time to pick and choose each word, to consider what really is necessary to say, makes a written letter different from e-mail or a text message. As the value of each word drops, so does the quality of the content. It’s something that has struck a chord in me as I’ve read the written missives and compared them to some of the e-mails I receive. Not every written letter is a good one and not every e-mail is poorly written, but generally, the written letters contain carefully selected, well-written material.

However, quality of content aside, there is something special about receiving a letter in the mail. There is the anticipation of sending one and the anticipation of receiving a response. Each trip to the mailbox is no longer a boring collection of bills and junk, but a contemplation of something that is truly wanted. It adds excitement to my day. As I’m getting older, I find that instant gratification lacks excitement, anticipation, and pizzazz. In order to be worthwhile, anticipation needs time to grow and mature. Hand written letters bring something back that has been lost, a kind of hope that is missing from modern society.

Even more important, a written letter stimulates the senses in ways that an e-mail can’t. I opened a box of letters the other day from my wife. She wrote them while I was in the service and I could still smell her perfume on some of them. You can’t perfume an e-mail. Her fine writing reminded me of her unique way of approaching life—the letters were both dainty and artistic. They had a flow that reflected her way of viewing life. E-mail lacks any of that sort of feel. The paper itself varied from letter-to-letter. Some of it was quite fancy; other pieces contained interesting pictures. However, each letter was unique in its own way, making the experience of reading it unique as well. All these ways of transmitting information are lost in the instant gratification of e-mail and many younger people will never experience the joy of opening a mailbox and finding a letter, a unique transmission of thought from one person to another.

One of the main arguments I hear against writing letters is the cost of doing so. After all, postage is incredibly high. I started thinking about that the other day and it doesn’t wash. Consider the cost of your Internet connection. Even an inexpensive plan would pay for quite a number of letters each month. Given the plan I have (a low cost 1 Mb/s DSL connection), I could write 40 letters every month and still not exceed what I’m paying for Internet. Actually, the mail service is still a bargain when you think about it.

This morning I also listened to a radio program that talked about the importance of the hand written letter in understanding the past. Some historians spend considerable time reading letters and drawing information out of them that probably isn’t available in an e-mail. Of course, most people erase their e-mails soon after they’re received, so there won’t be much in the way of historical data for historians in the future to use. E-mail tends to be temporary—letters can last for hundreds of years (and many do).

Of course, social media, texting, e-mails, and the Internet all have a purpose to fulfill. There are times when quick communication with a large number of people really is necessary. However, there is still a place for the more personal communication provided by hand written letters. Take time to write a letter to someone you care about today. Let me know your thoughts about hand written letters at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Broken Blog Links

A number of readers have made me aware of a new (and not so exciting) problem with the blog move. It turns out that a lot of the links for other locations on my blog are broken. In fact, it appears most (or possibly all) of them are.

During the move, the software inadvertently added another blog to the beginning of the domain for the link and it also added a .aspx extension to the end of the link. So, instead of creating a link for http://blog.johnmuellerbooks.com/2014/05/16/death-of-windows-xp-part-3/, you get a link for http://blog.blog.johnmuellerbooks.com/2014/05/16/death-of-windows-xp-part-3.aspx instead. The temporary solution is to remove the extra blog. from the beginning of the link and the .aspx (including the periods) at the end of the link by editing the Address field of your browser.

Yes, I understand that it’s a pain and you shouldn’t have to do it. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience. New posts most definitely won’t have the problem, but I’ll have to work my way back through older posts to fix them. Just why the software designed to automate the process of moving the blog made this error is beyond me. It’s an example of helpful software that turned out to be not quite so helpful as it should have been.

I’ll work on fixing the links as time permits. This move was inconvenient for everyone and it appears that it isn’t quite over yet. I’m asking you to be patient for the time being. If you see a link that still doesn’t work after applying the fix mentioned in this blog post, please let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I really do want all of the links to work so you can access information as needed 😎 .

 

Commenting on Posts

I really enjoy hearing from my readers and that includes readers of this blog. The reason I like writing so much is that I enjoy helping others and interacting with people to find out what needs they might have. You have a number of ways in which to interact with this blog:

  • Use the Like feature to tell me you like a particular post and would like to see more on the same topic.
  • Create a public comment that tells me how you feel about a particular post or whether you have questions about it.
  • Send me a personal e-mail that I’ll answer as soon as is possible.

Of course, I also want my blog to be a place where people feel comfortable. That’s why I moderate your comments and why comments are only allowed for a month after a post. Spammers also frequent my blog and are always looking for interesting ways to get their content posted as a seemingly innocent remark (many are anything but). Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a comment will be accepted or not, so I’ve decided to post the rules so you know:

  • The comment must actually apply to one of my books, to the site in general, or to the post in specific.
  • You must use your name, not a business name or some other moniker.
  • A comment must be rated G, which means no swearing or untoward language.
  • There are no URLs or links allowed in a comment—I’ll remove any that I find.
  • A comment may not advertise anything.

I’ll continue moderating the blog posts to ensure everyone can feel comfortable here and use this blog the purpose it has always been intended to serve—a place to exchange thoughts and ideas, and as a means for supporting my books. As always, I do want to hear from you, but I also need to keep the spam under control. Thank you for your continued interest :).

 

Subscribing to My New WordPress Blog

During the moving process from my previous blog software to WordPress, I lost all of the comments that people had offered in the past, along with all of the blog subscriptions. What this means is that anyone who subscribed earlier is no longer receiving the posts automatically to their inbox. Unfortunately, I can’t perform the task of recreating those subscriptions—you have to be the one to do it. With this in mind, follow these simple steps.

  1. Locate the Meta heading on the blog page.
  2. Click Entries RSS. You should see the RSS feature of your e-mail reader open. As an alternative, you could see a feed summary in your browser. In either case, you should see something new that tells you about the subscription process.
  3. Subscribe to the blog using your feed software. When working with an e-mail reader, this usually means answering Yes to a dialog box that opens asking whether you want to subscribe to the feed. When working with a browser, it usually means clicking a Subscribe to this Feed button. In both cases, the application creates a new entry for this site that will automatically update as I add content, so you receive the feeds automatically.

I don’t have access to every kind of application software out there, but I may be able to answer some specific questions about subscribing to the blog. Please let me know about any questions you have at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. It’s really important to me that you have a great experience with my blog, so never be shy about asking questions :).