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24 January, 2003

Correction Regarding Microsoft Media Choices

Last week, I talked about Amazon's purchase circles, and linked to the top-selling books by Microsoft employees. Well, Adam Barr set me straight. It turns out that the list I pointed to is the "uniquely popular" list --  books that are uniquely popular at Microsoft, compared to the rest of the county. And, it seems that the list is way out of date.

Here's a link to the list of top-selling books among Microsoft employees. Nothing too surprising here. Three Harry Potter books in the top-10.

Adam Barr, by the way, is the author of Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters, which is one of the books on the "uniquely popular" list. The complete text of his book is now available online.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

That Explains It

I haven't been able to access the RIAA web site for the past few days. An article at InfoWorld explains why: RIAA site attacked again. I think that makes 7-8 times in the past six months.

By the way, this is not the RIAA site. Notice the extra "a" in the URL.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Microsoft: Heed Your Own Advice

Microsoft's Investor Relations site has several Excel files that you can download. I downloaded the file called Financial History PivotTable (1.2MB).

When I opened it, I was surprised to discover that the workbook contains macros, yet it was not digitally signed. A digital signature, as you may know, identifies the author of the file, so you can determine whether to trust it or not. A file downloaded from Microsoft's site is probably safe, but I was still a bit leery. After all, Microsoft has been known to spread viruses.

They certainly understand the importance of being safe:

Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros provide a powerful tool for customizing Microsoft Office applications. You can write macros to automate common tasks, tie together several applications, or integrate Office applications with custom data sources. Because VBA is so powerful and flexible, it's necessary to apply good security practices to prevent malicious VBA macros from infecting your documents or damaging your data. Office XP makes it easy to require digital signatures on macros that you load into Word, Excel, or Access; you can also sign individual documents so that others can verify that they are authentic and that they haven't been tampered with since they were signed. These measures complement the other security features in Office XP, including the ability to encrypt documents and to require passwords before document or worksheet objects can be modified.

Is it asking too much for Microsoft to digitally sign macros that will be distributed to the public? I don't think so, especially in light of the current "trustworthy computing" rhetoric.

Fact is, most people don't use digital signatures for Excel macro projects. I receive lots of Excel files from strangers, and most contain macros. I don't think a single one has ever been digitally signed. If the file looks like it's worth examining, I'll open it with macros disabled. Then, it's a simple matter to examine the macros for any signs of a virus or any other potential problems.

But I was not able to do that with Microsoft's file because the VBA project was password-protected. Just for fun, I cracked the password and checked it out. No problems. But I was rather amused to discover that the workbook uses the old Excel 5 dialog sheets rather than UserForms.

As a side note... I was digging around Microsoft's site for information about digital signatures, and I found this document: Macro Security White Paper. It invites you to download a Word document, which is contained in a self-extracting EXE file. Guess what? This EXE file also lacks a digital signature!

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Fire Eating FAQ

Here's the link to the Fire Eating FAQ, which so many readers have requested. Keep in mind that it's a "provisional document." The information may not be completely correct.

But this statement seems to have a ring of truth:

NEVER breathe in with a fire torch in your mouth, with fuel in your mouth, or when you are blowing fire!

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Super Bowl Thoughts

"OK, now who's playing this year?"

"Tell me again why this is such a big deal?"

"I sure hope it doesn't screw up the traffic."

"I haven't watched any of the first 36, why should I start now?"

"Sunday would be an excellent day to go to the beach. We could probably even find a place to park."

"The tailgating aspect does sound kinda fun."

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Microsoft Removes Reference to Embezzlement

About a month ago, a Microsoft employee named Danniel Feussner was arrested for stealing $9 million worth of software for resale. The funny  part was that he flaunted his extravagant lifestyle with a web site (which is now dead).

I wrote a blog item that linked to a Microsoft Technet article that had some amusing references to embezzlement (the article was written long before the Feussner incident surfaced). Well, it seems that the article hit a bit too close to home. Microsoft has now modified the article.

Original  Text

Modified  Text

Well, we're here to let you in on a little secret. Why do some system administrators get fancy cars, yachts, and Rolex watches? It's because they know how to write WMI scripts, and you don't!

Well, actually, that's a lie. If you know any system administrators who are driving fancy cars, it's more likely that they're embezzling company funds than spending their time writing WMI scripts.

Well, we're here to let you in on a little secret. It's because they know how to write WMI scripts, and you don't!

Well, actually, that's a lie. The truth is, learning how to write WMI scripts is not going to make you rich and famous (we just wish someone had told us that before we took this job). On the other hand, WMI scripts can make your system administration life much easier; scripts can carry out many of those tedious and repetitive chores that seem to fill your day, and thus free up plenty of time for you to do other things.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Stop Motion Studies

Excellent stuff! Animated photos by David Crawford.

All imagery was shot in Paris, France between November 8 and November 11, 2002. The camera used was a Canon 'PowerShot A40' - a consumer grade still camera capable of taking roughly 64 low-resolution images per minute. The photos were then brought into Flash MX to be programmatically sequenced and formatted for the Web.

(via MetaFilter)

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Anamorphic Art

From Kelly Houle's Anamorphic Art site:

Anamorphosis is the process of distorting the perspective of an image so dramatically that its correct dimensions can be recaptured only when you change your point of view just as dramatically.

Read more about it, then view the images. You will be impressed.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Dear Miss Manners

The Miss Manners etiquette column appears in many newspapers. I must confess that I read practically every column. Unlike most newspaper columns, this one focuses on important issues. And, I'm a sucker for columnists who refer to themselves using third-person references.

As a result of this column, my social skills have improved immensely, and I rarely embarrass my partner in public.

Today's column featured a series of thought-provoking questions:

Dear Miss Manners: What is the proper response when a store employee asks how you're doing? Should you respond and then ask them how they are? Or just respond? Or just get on with the task at hand? Does it make a difference if the employee is a cashier vs. a floor person, or if there's a line?

I've spent many hours pondering such questions, with no clear answer. And Miss Manners' reply didn't really help. That's why I do all of my shopping online.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

The Darwin Awards

In the course of my web travels, I've read dozens of references to the Darwin Awards. But (until today) I never took the time to actually visit the web site.

The Darwin Awards honor those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it in really stupid ways. We commemorate those who gave their all, adding a dose of chlorine to the pool.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

JD Lasssica on RSS Feeds

JD Lassica just published a fine article about news aggregator software and RSS feeds. See News That Comes to You at the Online Journalism Review.

I've been reading JD's blog for quite a while. It's a great blog, but there's a small problem: The RSS feed for JD's blog is messed up -- so much so that I'm not even able to read it using NewzCrawler, my news aggregator software.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Buy Jail Products Online

No need to travel to a specialized jail supply store. You can fill all of your jail supply needs online.

PX:Direct supplies authentic inmate uniforms, prisoner restraints , and detention equipment , including jail cells, furnishing and hardware. Installation available. Customers include Federal, State, County and Military Correctional Facilities, Law Enforcement Agencies and the General Public.

Most prison uniforms these days are "O.J. Orange."  Call me sentimental, but I prefer the classic chain gang look. The two-piece outfit shown here is reasonably priced: Shirt = $18.95, trousers = $24.95. Sizes range from S to 6XL. To accessorize, go for the matching brimless hat (only $9.95).

The "Inmate" baseball cap is also a winner. And don't miss the isolation/suicide cell smock. At $139, it's a bit expensive, but it seems to be a quality item. Check out these specs:

Triple layer, quilted construction. Outer layers 100% nylon, inner layer polyester batting for bulk. Velcro fasteners. May be worn with opening in front or black. Stain resistant.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Coming to a Screen Near You: Internet Commercials

A company named Destiny Media Technologies wants to make Web surfing even more obnoxious.

While viewing a content page, a streaming video commercial is downloaded in the background to the user's computer. Once the user exits the page (by clicking on any link on the page, manually inputting a URL, or clicking on a 'favorite'), the video clip is launched immediately and displayed in the same browser window, while the requested next page is being downloaded. Once the requested page is downloaded, the commercial is automatically removed and the requested page is displayed.

The web experience is similar to watching television, where periods of content viewing are interrupted by short video commercial breaks.

 That's one more reason to keep JavaScript disabled in your browser.

Posted on 24 January, 2003


The Smiley face emoticon was invented by Scott Fahlman on 19 September, 1982.

Here's a link to a Smiley Guide that features actual photos of people imitating various emoticons. The guy pictured below is demonstrating the ever-popular "colon-p" emoticon:


Here's the official Smiley Dictionary.

And here are some Japanese Smileys.

Posted on 24 January, 2003

Top-100 Toys

The Toy Industry Association published a list of the top-100 toys of the century. They range from Lionel Trains (1900) to Jumbo Music Block (2001). It has lots of familiar toys, as well as quite a few that I've never heard of.

Posted on 24 January, 2003