Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dead Peasants, and Dead Poets

Last Saturday evening I watched yet another episode of one my favorite British TV series: it was The Last Detective - Dead Peasants Society in which members of a secret lodge take insurance out against members who then subsequently die, and detective "Dangerous" Davies gets to the bottom of the mystery in his inimitable fashion.

This episode introduced to me the concept of "dead peasants' insurance" and only today did I find time to research it.

No, it's not something that many of us would regard as benevolent, like the similarly-named Dead Poets Society but something far more sinister!

If it's new to you too, scan some of the following articles to get a feel for it:

  • Does your boss want you dead? ... Hundreds of companies -- including Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney and Winn-Dixie -- have purchased this insurance on more than 6 million rank-and-file workers. These policies, nicknamed “dead janitors” or “dead peasants” insurance, soared in popularity after many states cleared the way for them in the 1980s. [USA] Congress recently tried to crack down on the practice, to the howls of the insurance industry -- which earlier this year managed to derail reforms.

  • And lots more via the following Google Search:
Well now, are you covered by dead peasant insurance without your knowledge? Check up now!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Let's be professional about this!

I just came across a few web posts that caused me to contemplate again what exactly is a "profession" and thence what is a "professional" -- questions that have been posed in one form or another for centuries!

To start with, there's "the oldest profession" of which I have no direct knowledge so can only presume/assume that it has practitioners with quite different levels of experience, skill, customer satisfaction, and income levels!

I just came across this very recent (November 22) article in the Architecture and Design section of Dr. Dobb's Portal: Split Brains and Half-baked Architects -- and interestingly it makes the point "Depth is not enough, you also need breadth of knowledge" (italics mine). Maybe it's breadth of knowledge (and a dash of "wisdom") that distinguishes a mere practitioner from a "true professional" no matter how extensive is the experience that the practitioner has.

An also at Dr. Dobb's there's When is enough modeling enough? which in reviewing Jane Jacobs' book Dark Age Ahead quotes here as describing describes "five pillars" that our society depends on: Community and family, higher education, the effective practice of science and science-based technology, effective taxation, and self-policing by the learned professions. So here's another term: the learned professions -- whichever they are, presumably those that have been practiced for centuries or millennia: the likes of medicine, law and engineering.

Where does that leave "information technology" as a profession, and who if any are its professionals?

What is an IT architect? What is is an analyst, an analyst/programmer, a programmer, ...?

For example, there's the popular topic: "Is a programmer different from a developer?" See for yourself by trying a Google search like this:

RELATED LINKS (added 19 December 2006):
There's an article over at TheServerSide that to an extent impinges on the above topic: "He's Just a Techie" - Image and Impact of the Software Developer (December 2003).

And for a different perspective on experience and professionalism there's How to be a genius ... in only ten years, no less!

Monday, November 27, 2006 Browser Share, late November 2006 - impact of IE7 launch

Well folks, Microsoft officially launched Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) several weeks ago, and I have been watching for any change in visitor traffic that might be associated with this event. Here's a snapshot taken less than an hour ago:

(Click to view a larger image, on a new page)
Only in the last few days have I detected a trend for IE7 to have increased enough to be able to say that Firefox might be losing out to IE7. Instead of ranging between 15-25% it seems to have dropped to around 10-15% and I guess that time will tell whether it's a temporary effect, while people experiment with IE7's new features.

But then, just two days later, Firefox resumed its 20-25% visitor share. I guess that I don't have enough visitors to my sites to smooth out the traffic pattern:
(Click to view a larger image, on a new page)

For comparison, here's the chart for Browser Share as at October 2006.

While I agree that IE7 has some important enhancements (after a long, long wait) such as better CSS standards adherence and major security features, I'm not at all a wildly enthusiastic IE7 fan and in particular dislike its limited configurability and its "dog's breakfast" of a user interface.

I earlier commented that Microsoft IE7 will be sub-standard and will probably have more to say on this in future. I've been using IE7 betas since early 2007, and installed the gold version as soon as it was released. While I was happy enough with IE6, I simply cannot tolerate the native IE7 user interface so clumsy and inflexible do I find it, and instead use the excellent Avant Browser shell as a far superior way to drive the underlying IE7 rendering engine. (I must stress that this is for me, the way that I work. The "great unwashed" mass of many millions of IE7 users will probably be quite happy with it. And I also use Firefox every day, for specific tasks that it handles better than IE7. And Opera occasionally too, just to keep in touch with its features. Plus, there are quite a few other IE shells out there, and I've probably tried most of them, with Maxthon and Enigma Browser for me coming in second behind Avant. I'm happy to swath between browsers to suit the task in hand, but I suppose that most Windows users will just use what version of IE is installed on their system.)

Also, I issued a warning to Web site content managers that Tabbed Browsing can be a Performance Crippler (When you have multiple tabs open on pages that have those annoying endlessly-looping dynamic advertisements that each use a little CPU processing power, but when you add up this effect across even as few as four or five concurrently open tabs it can really gobble up lots of CPU and noticeably slow down your system.) Now that IE7 is spreading out across the vast Windows user community, I think there will be lots of concern about this effect and negative vibes for content managers plus advertisers alike. My strong recommendation for both content managers and advertisers alike is to use only advertisements that loop once (with a button to initiate replay) and to banish forever those endlessly-looping horrors!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Heads I win, tails you lose?

There's a rather scary article over at SecurityFocus that contains lots of interesting commentary and questions about software licencing in general, and the EULA (End User License Agreement) for Microsoft's Windows Vista in particular.

Summon up your courage, and read it carefully:
Vista's EULA Product Activation Worries

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Using Junction Points or SoftGrid for Installing multiple Lotus Notes releases on a single system?

A while ago I posted a Tips for installing multiple Notes client releases on a single system

Then Alain Romedenne added a comment suggesting the use of substituted symbolic directories. This led me off on an interesting tangent. Yet another diversion, Oh will I ever get any real work done?

I had never considered using "symbolic folders/directories" before this. It turns out that UNIX and therefore Linux (I presume) has had this capability for ages, and that Microsoft Windows has had it since the time of Windows 2000 with NTFS and NT Server 4.0 (not FAT or FAT32). I'll leave UNIX/Linux out of this discussion, as the great bulk of Notes/Domino installations are windows based.

This is NOT going to be a tutorial! Instead, here are some background resources that will help you get the picture. Lots of food for thought:

  • How to create and manipulate NTFS junction points
    (Microsoft support: Article ID 205524 -- may require registration)
    "You can surpass the 26 drive letter limitation by using NTFS junction points. By using junction points, you can graft a target folder onto another NTFS folder or "mount" a volume onto an NTFS junction point. Junction points are transparent to programs. "
  • Symbolic link (Wikipedia) - "Symbolic links operate transparently, which means that their implementation remains invisible to applications. When a program opens, reads, or writes a symbolic link, the operating system will automatically redirect the relevant action to the target of the symlink. Functions do, however, exist to detect symbolic links, so that applications may find and manipulate them."
  • NTFS symbolic link (Wikipedia) - "an NTFS symbolic link (symlink) is a file-system object that points to another file system object. The object being pointed to is called the target. Symbolic links should be transparent to users; the links appear as normal files or directories, and can be acted upon by the user or application in exactly the same manner."
  • Over at shell-shocked there's Windows Symbolic and Hard Links - Windows has had symbolic links since Windows 2000, or more specifically, NTFS 5.0. This used to be called "junction point" functionality, and was renamed "reparse point" functionality by the time Windows XP came out. ... To some of you, the age of this functionality, or even its existence, may come as a surprise. This is itself not a surprise. More than four years after this functionality became available, it seems Microsoft still has barely documented it, and hasn't exposed it in Windows except in the most cursory way. It is still a far bigger chore than necessary finding information about this functionality in Microsoft's knowledge base. Anyone who want to learn about it can only resort to scrounging across the web. Links on Windows exist, but they are useable only due to the efforts of a handful of third party tools developers. That's the Windows story on symlinks. ... This article is an attempt to present a comprehensive and authoritative user's view of Windows links, particularly symlinks.
  • Scott Hanselman ... How do you organize your code? and Windows Vista, Junctions and moving My Documents to another drive
  • Junfeng Huang's Windows Programming Notes ... Symbolic link in Windows Vista which explains the the MKLINK command (new in Vista), with examples.
Prior to Vista, Windows did not provide a simple way to create/edit/delete these "junction points", but there are two FREE tools that provide an interface to do so:
  • Junction v1.04 - a command-line tool from from Sysinternals (recently acquired by Microsoft) ... "Windows 2000 and higher supports directory symbolic links, where a directory serves as a symbolic link to another directory on the computer. For example, if the directory D:\SYMLINK specified C:\WINNT\SYSTEM as its target, then an application accessing D:\SYMLINK\DRIVERS would in reality be accessing C:\WINNT\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS. Directory symbolic links are known as NTFS junctions in Windows. Unfortunately, Windows comes with no tools for creating junctions - you have to purchase the Win2K Resource Kit, which comes with the linked program for creating junctions. I therefore decided to write my own junction-creating tool: Junction. Junction not only allows you to create NTFS junctions, it allows you to see if files or directories are actually reparse points. Reparse points are the mechanism on which NTFS junctions are based, and they are used by Windows' Remote Storage Service (RSS), as well as volume mount points."
  • Junction Link Magic (or just "Link Magic") - a nice Windows GUI interface by Mikael Nordell, available from Rekerwonder Software

    When you launch this program it starts scanning all of your drives, presumably to build a list of all the existing folders and their junction points in oder for you to be able to edit/delete existing junction points. In my case this would have taken many minutes since I have many tens gigabytes of folders, so I clicked the Cancel button to abort the scan because I only wanted to experiment with creating a junction point to get the feel of things.

    TIP: if you click the More info... button you are served up with several screens of useful help text, such as (with slight reformatting to appear better in this post):

    What can you do with junction points? - By using junction points, you can graft a target folder onto another NTFS folder or "mount" a volume onto an NTFS junction point. You could think of using junction points in the following cases: (1) When moving programs from one place to another. E.g. moving your "Program Files" directory to another drive, and linking the original "Program Files" directory to this new location. (2) When your hard disk is becoming too small. Just add another disk, move the contents of one or more large folders to it, and link them with a junction point. (3) When you want to surpass the 26 drive letter limitation.

    But you also get some salutary warning information ... Where can junction points be used? - Junction points can not be used just anywhere. These are the conditions:
    (1) The source (host) folder: (a) Must be located on a volume formatted with NTFS 5.0 or higher. NTFS 5.0 is supported on computers with Windows 2000, Windows XP and higher. Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 can read from and write to NTFS 5.0 volumes, but the new features in NTFS 5.0 are disabled under Windows NT 4.0. (b) Must be an empty folder, if not the creation of a junction point would make its contents unreachable.
    (2) The destination (target) folder: (a) Can be a folder on a FAT or NTFS volume. (b) Should not be located on a network volume or on a removable disk. (c) Junction points work best when they are mounted on the same volume. (d) If a junction point is mounted such that the target folder and host folder are on different physical disk resources, the resources must be in the same cluster group. The physical disk resource that contains the host folder should be dependent on the physical disk resource that contains the target folder. If the drive that contains the target folder does not come online, the drive that contains the host folder does not start.
    (3) Junction point precautions - Junction points have to be used with care. If you are not sure of what you are doing, DO NOT CREATE JUNCTION POINTS! Microsoft is so scared of it that it doesn't offer ready access to junction point creation in Windows 2000 and XP. We recommend you follow these rules closely when using junction points:
    (a) Use NTFS security to protect junction points from inadvertent deletion. (b) Use NTFS security to protect files and directories targeted by junction points from inadvertent deletion or other file system operations. (c) Never delete a junction point using Explorer, a del /s command, or other file system utilities that walk recursively into directory trees. These utilities will affect the target directory and all subdirectories. Instead, use Junction Link Magic to delete junction points. (d) Use caution when applying security ACLs or changing file compression in a directory tree that includes NTFS junction points. (e) Do not create namespace cycles with NTFS junction points. (f) Place all your junction points at a secure location in a namespace where you can test them out in safety, and other users will not mistakenly delete them or walk through them.

In light of all these warnings, I've come to the conclusion that using junction points is definitely NOT the way to go for multiple versions of Lotus Notes/Domino on a single system! However, junction points definitely would be useful in certain circumstances, such as when you've run out of Windows drive letters.

- - - - -

Quite coincidentally, a few days ago I also discovered the existence of SoftGrid which was originally developed by Softricity. They were and acquired several months ago by Microsoft, and at the moment there is a hiatus in sales/support for SoftGrid: I tried getting info about pricing from the Local Microsoft Australia office, and was pointed to the international web site but filling out an information request form on that site has led to no answer after a week or so!

You'll find some general info at How SoftGrid Works and Video Demonstrations and System Architecture and The Soft Grid: The Future of Software

I found the SoftGrid Flash Tour illuminating enough for me to decide that SoftGrid would be extreme overkill for a lone (and lonesome?) Notes/Domino developer. However I could see that SoftGrid would be an excellent solution for Windows application sharing in a corporate environment.

How safe is your PIN?

Early this year I asked my bank to cancel my main credit card and issue me with a brand new card having a completely different card number. This was because an unauthorized transaction had occurred, which seemed to be somehow related to an overseas software purchase, and I no longer had confidence in the security of my old card.

I've been purchasing software like this for years, and this was the first time anything like this had happened. It really got me thinking about credit card security for online transactions. I absolutely NEVER use my card on anything but secured web pages (having the "locked padlock"), and continually scan for malware (keylogging trojans, etc).

My best guess was that in this case somewhere overseas a scoundrel somehow got access to transaction details and was able to generate a bogus transaction. My bank refunded the transaction amount, but didn't (or perhaps as a matter of policy wouldn't) tell me what their investigation into the matter turned up.

This all bubbled to the surface when I just came across the following report -
The unbearable lightness of PIN cracking by Omer Bergman and Odelia Moshe Dostoevsky. Take a look at it yourself:
Abstract. We describe new attacks on the financial PIN processing API. The attacks apply to switches as well as to verification facilities. The attacks are extremely severe allowing an attacker to expose customer PINs by executing only one or two API calls per exposed PIN. One of the attacks uses only the translate function which is a required function in every switch. The other attacks abuse functions that are used to allow customers to select their PINs online. Some of the attacks can be applied on a switch even though the attacked functions require issuer’s keys which do not exist on a switch. This is particularly disturbing as it was widely believed that functions requiring issuer’s keys cannot do any harm if the respective keys are unavailable.
Your own local bank's systems and processes might be totally secure, but think of all the stages in a transaction and all the chances for a rogue to somehow tap into the transaction ... and shudder!

Security expert Bruce Schneier discusses this report too in Attacking Bank-Card PINs and this post includes some interesting comments by others.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Life Begins at Requirements (not at 40)

"Few people have the same notion of what requirements are and where they fit into the big picture" writes Richard M. Marshall, in Life Begins at Requirements (an article for FTP Online in October 2003).

He goes on to say:
"Most people agree that an application's life begins with its requirements. Requirements tell the developer what the end user wants the app to do. But that's about all folks will agree on. Beyond the high-level objective of defining an application's purpose, few people have the same notion of what requirements are and where they fit into the big picture."

And further on: "As with many things in IT, and despite what some gurus might say, there is no "right" form of requirements. The correct form for requirements will vary from project to project. You can use two simple criteria, however, that will tell you if a set of requirements is right for a given project."

And even later: "So what comes first: the requirements, or a notion of an implemented system? Neither, actually. A business need comes first — a source of irritation, an opportunity, a way to do things more efficiently. Doesn't really matter, but it is important to realize that any app worth building must meet a need."
So, go and read his short article to get the entire message!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Get knotted!

Hey, you might find any topic discussed on this blog!

These days, I tend to dress very formally and don't have all that much use for the my collection of business suits.

But every now and then, I do have to get dolled up in shirt and tie.

Here's an illustrated tutorial that some day I might need for myself -- and perhaps you too -- showing how to "tie the knot" ...

The Classic Tie Knots

How to be a genius -- after ten years

I won't comment!

Just go and read this article:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Firefox outfoxed by Microsoft?

Would you believe it, there's an incredible -- and I really mean incredible -- new browser now available; see the following web site:
Microsoft Firefox 2007 Professional Edition
Its amazing feature set is listed here: Avances Microsoft has made in the interpolation of IE and Firefox.

Is this Microsoft's attempt to get its browser share back up again? See

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Peeling off the layers

Over at Life Training - Online there's a series of three articles you should benefit from reading:

1. Preparing Yourself to Read People ... describing how to mentally prepare yourself to become an effective people reader.

2. Beyond Words - what people are really saying ... the techniques and mindset needed to develop the art of reading people.

3. How to Tell if Someone is Lying to You ... the techniques professional interrogators and body-language experts use to catch someone in a lie.
The third article point out the following great link from the BBC which provides a test to determine if you can determine a genuine smile from a fake one through recognizing these micro expressions: Spot the fake smile ... I encourage you to go take this test yourself (I only managed 13 out of 20).

And while you're at the Life Training site you'll probably be drawn into reading some of their other articles, too!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Half-witted Design Arithmetic

Matt Inman, CTO & Web Developer at, discusses How to Ruin a Web Design - The Design Curve talking about the sorts of people who get involved in the design process:

As a professional web designer I've noticed a consistent trend in the majority of the projects I've worked on: The more time that is spent dissecting, analyzing, and critiquing a design by the wrong kinds of people the worse that design gets. The same trend applies to the number of people involved in the design process.
He then discusses what I would term "half-wit arithmetic" and puts up two design curves that he thinks demonstrate the effect of the above [the wrong kinds and the number of people] on the resulting quality of design. It's well worth taking a look at Matt's article!

It reminds me of the old classic ...

Click the image to see an enlargment (in a new page).
It's pertinent to mention that I've assembled a page crammed full of links to a wide range of design resources. See either or

In a somewhat similar vein, Reg Braithwaite in his raganwald 2.0 blog discusses What I've learned from failure and gives his views on such things as why failure matters, the four most important causes of failure, and more. Much food for thought here, that should help you avoid being involved in failed projects -- or at least recognizing before too long that you're enmeshed in one!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sysinternals rocks, at Microsoft

The fantastic Sysinternals tools are alive and well at Microsoft!

You'll find them at their new Windows Sysinternals home page.

I've just downloaded and carried out a brief check of the powerful new Process Monitor which -- via its extended logging function -- I'm hoping just might be able to help me get to the bottom of my Lotus Domino 7.0.2 server crash problem. This is a Blue Screen Of Death crash that occurs soon after the server is started, as mentioned in several earlier posts. Its cause so far has been inscrutable and elusive: using the Microsoft Online Crash Analysis (OCA) got me nowhere at all, the Microsoft report effectively saying that it was in the "too hard basket" to provide any insights as to the cause.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Windows Vista might force a flight to Linux? We'll see.

Launch dates and prices have been announced by Microsoft for their next generation of breadwinners, Windows Vista and Office 2007.

I've detected a drawing of breath -- or even a feeling of shock from some -- at the fairly steep prices being asked for these new versions, and not everybody is happy about the cost and inconvenience involved in the purchase of new systems (or upgrading of hardware) and time to learn all the new stuff. For example, see Vista in slow lane for Aussie CIOs and it's likely to be the same worldwide.

A fairly typical reaction would seem to be that of Aussie IT journalist Stan Beer: Vista goes gold and Wintel rides again ... He hopes that "As for all of our old XP boxes, one would hope that there is a good recycling program in a neighbourhood not too far from you."

Could this be the great opportunity for Linux to start making inroads, for those resisting the Microsoft advance?

Not everybody thinks so, and here's a pertinent view recently posted by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes:

The world just isn’t ready for Linux

What They Forgot - Part 1

Click the above to see a larger image.

What's wrong in the above two examples?

What feature or capability did they (their designers/developers) omit? (Both happen to be from Microsoft Windows XP, but I'm pretty sure behaved the same in earlier versions of Windows bak as far as Windows 95.)

Reply by adding a comment to this post, and I'll provide the "correct answer" in a subsequent post.

1 candidate fixes a Zero Divide problem

Read through the following to work out what I mean ...
House of IT Horrors

And while I'm at it, here's another perspective of IT things past, but not to be forgotten (a series of illustrations):
Peter Coffee's Dirty Dozen IT Embarrassments

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Banzai, Bonza, Bonsai? ... But not Bonzai!

Shock and horror reigned amongst the local natives here yesterday afternoon, when two upstart Japanese horses were first past the winning post in the fabulous Melbourne Cup (Melbourne's and Australia's premier horse race, run on the first Tuesday in November each year). This "race that stops a nation" is the peak event of Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne, and rightly deserves its place as one of the main thoroughbred racing events worldwide.

I was highly amused to see the souvenir cover page of this morning's edition of the local Herald Sun newspaper. It has a huge photograph of the two horses (winner Delta Blues and runner-up Pop Rock) with a top banner proclaiming "Japanese raiders go 1-2 in The Cup" and emblazoned across the centre of the page in bold type the headline BONZAI!

See the report Blues brothers steal our Cup in the Herald Sun (articles like this typically have a short lifespan, so don't be surprised if the link fails).

Truly a case of "They stole our Cup" mentality, but that's not what tickled my fancy.

Now, I just might be totally wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure there's no such word as BONZAI.

Being quite interested in spoken languages, I decided to carry out a little bit of research, with the following outcome...

  • Bonsai - the Japanese art of growing tiny trees and other plants.

  • Bonza - an Australian slang word -- not used much these days -- meaning excellent, attractive, pleasing, etc. Apparently also a variety of apple (and don't miss the definition of "Bondi cigar" nearby)!

  • Banzai - of ancient Chinese derivation, and literally meaning "ten thousand years" signifying "have a long life" (typically when lauding one's emperor, used at the start of a battle charge).

  • Bonzai - No such word (Google asks "Did you mean Bonsai?")
Therefore I reckon that (rather than Bonzai!) they didn't do a bonza job at the Herald Sun, and should have used the headline TORA! TORA! TORA! to signify a surprise attack -- on our horse racing fraternity, in this case.

Why, Robot?

Here's a nice little article (by David Mollert, Mechanical Engineer, FANUC Robotics) in Dr Dobb's Portal. It's quite short and to the point.

If like me you're interested in the applications of technology in general, you should find it interesting. Maybe we're not quite up to the stage represented in the movie (and book) I, Robot but nevertheless robotics certainly has come a long way.
Robotics: Making the Right Choices for Automation - A robotics tutorial ... Robotics technology marks a major stept forward in factory automation. See how robots' flexibility and programming bring benefits to industrial control nvironments.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Quantum Quandary?

Being ignorant gives one enormous scope for making incredibly ridulous statements. Thus, one field where I've done only a slight amount of reading is that of quantum physics, but that's not going to hold me back from saying a few thigs.

This was brought on by an article I've just come across in The Register (motto: "Biting the hand that feeds IT") ... Quantum attacks worry computer scientists it says:
In the weird world of quantum computing, the state of computer systems networked together is so fragile that a read access to a single quantum bit, or qubit, on one machine would require a network-wide reset.

It's no wonder, then, that two researchers who are working on ways of defending against the future possibility of malicious attack assume that any unauthorised access to a quantum computer constitutes a catastrophic failure.

Wow! And here was I thinking that quantum computing and quantum networking were going to solve all of our IT problems, by providing immeasurably fast computing speeds and data transfer feeds, so that we would never have anythong to worry about any more.

Not so, it would seem. It's just going to be more of the same sorts of issues, but at considerably higher speeds!

Here are my (totally unscientific. non-quantifiable) predictions...
  • Miquosoft releases their Quista operating system, and many users become acquainted with a new phenomenon: the QSOD (Quantum Screen Of Death), but luckily your system reboots so fast that you only make out a brief blue flash out of the corner of your eye. This is marketed as "superior recovery technology" that is not available to users of the Qinux operating system.
  • Spammers send you not dozens, not just hundreds, not even thousands, but millions of unsolicited messages each and every day. Luckily, your superfast computer can bounce them back at hyperspeed.

SDMS V4.0 and CAPTURE V2.0 released

CAPTURE Version 2.0 example, with merged mail memo highlighted. (Click to see enlarged image.)
Yesterday -- 06 November 2006, Melbourne, Australia time -- enhanced versions of two of our free Lotus Notes applications were released. They have been in beta testing release mode for a month or so.

CAPTURE Version 2.0 is a free CRM database. The name stands for "Customer And Project Tracking plus Usage Reporting Extensions" with the usage reporting being via a built-in copy of our unique NotesTracker database usage reporting tool.

As well as numerous smaller changes, this new version of CAPTURE includes a "mail merge" function so that you can now easily merge any of your mail memo documents (from your Notes mail Inbox view) anywhere into the hierarchy of CAPTURE documents. This is a significant new way to incorporate information about your customers and prospects into a CAPTURE database.

As well as this, CAPTURE Version 2.0 also has a full set of NotesTracker views built in, so that you can now choose the "internal logging" capability of NotesTracker to store all your tracking documents into the CAPTURE database itself rather than in an external NotesTracker Repository database.

Example of the SDMS Version 4.0 document publishing cycle view. (Click for a larger image.)SDMS -- the Simple Document Management System -- now also has the same handy "mail merge" function, together with a major new "publishing life cycle" capability so that instead of just (as previously) being able to create/edit/submit documents, they must now be approved and finally be released for publishing.

According to the SDMS design philosophy, the publishing steps are designed to be simple to carry out.

Of course, as before SDMS has our powerful NotesTracker usage tracking capability built in.

Note: If you happened to download SDMS Version 4.0 yesterday, please be aware that there's already an updated version 4.01 available! It released this less than an hour ago this morning (07 November 2006, Melbourne time). An enhancement was made to the way that editing of the SDMS Database Profile Document is managed.

You'll find links to both the SDMS and the CAPTURE download pages on our web site's home page: that is, either or its mirror

Monday, November 06, 2006

SOA's Business Value (three articles)

Neil Ward-Dutton (Research Director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton) has penned three useful articles about Service Oriented Architecture:
  • SOA’s Business Value (Part I of III) - Understanding the “S” and the “A” of SOA ...
    In order to kick things off, I want to start from first principles. But I won’t bore you with talk of SOAP, WSDL, UDDI or any one of a hundred other acronyms. Instead I want to concentrate on a broader perspective of what the “S” and the “A” in SOA mean. In my mind, both “service” and “architecture” have meaning far beyond the context within which most discussion of SOA is taking place. ... SOA makes most sense as a way of thinking about IT which explicitly recognises that all IT organisations are service providers, with customers which have a variety of needs. And SOA should help IT organisations act in a systematic way which improves the overall quality of the service that they provide to those customers.

  • SOA’s Business Value (Part II of III) - SOA is about much more than integration using Web services technologies – it has the potential to enable IT and the business to start to talk and collaborate using a common language. In our research, we’ve found that there are four steps involved in getting to this common language: using SOA to increase software flexibility; increase software reuse; increase the comprehensibility of IT to the business; and lastly, increase the visibility of the value of IT.

  • SOA's Business Value (Part III of III) - SOA, done right, can show the way for IT organisations to clearly demonstrate the value they provide to their "customers" - the businesses they work within.

STWebContact -- a nice alternative to Sametime Links

Andrei Kouvchinnikov
-- a Lotus Sametime and Java enthusiast and now a Web buddy of mine, or "mate" as we prefer to say here Down Under -- a few days ago gave me the opportunity to test his new baby "Wimbo" or STWebContact to use its official product name. Andrei writes:
STWebContact is a web application for Sametime text messaging and presence awareness. It can be used from web browsers which support AJAX, such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera.

STWebContact has functionality similar to Sametime Links (STLinks). In difference to STLinks, this web client does not require Java or additional ActiveX components installed on the user's computer.

So if you've got Sametime installed and would like people to access its functions via the Web you owe it to yourself to consider STWebContact.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A slash with some "dash"

Another tip for improving Web performance. It might only have a marginal or imperceptible effect, but as they say Every little counts.

I've been doing this for years and couldn't for the life of me remember why until I recently came across the explanation in this Internet Explorer blog article.

When entering hyperlinks -- in a browser's address bar, or when editing hyperlinks in a web page -- you should always put a trailing backslash if possible (where it is allowable).

The example given in the article is:

For instance, navigating to takes one more roundtrip than When the browser navigates to the /ie url, the server merely sends down a 301 to the /ie/ url. Both links work, but the second version is faster.
So when you omit the trailing slash the server has a bit more work to do, there's a bit more network traffic, and you have to wait a bit longer (perhaps only a tiny bit, but it all counts). All in all, this means some amount of increased overhead.

Didja know that?

Increasing your Internet Explorer concurrent connections - and optimizing Page Load time

Here's a time-saving tip that will work to some peoples' advantage ...

Once upon a time, Internet connections used to be ever so slow, via slow dial-up or leased telephone lines: in the 1970s and 1980s 8 Kbps (kilobits per second) to 14.4 Kbps, later 28.8 Kbps or 34 Kbps. And in the late 1980s to mid-to-late 1970s -- with modem compression -- even up to a "blazingly fast" 64 Kbps (this was a nominal rate, but in practice it usually averaged around 40 to 50 Kbps).

In those days, when Internet Explorer came out [with Windows 95] it seems that Microsoft decided to strictly follow the standard for HTTP V1.1 (as laid out in RFC2616) and restricted an IE session to a maximum of two connections with any one server.

The effect of this wasn't too noticeable with those old, slow line speeds. Web browsing and file transfers were generally held back by the line speed rather than the connection limit.

But these days, with far faster broadband speeds, the effects of this connection limit are much more noticeable: once you have two downloads running, the next (third) one is suspended until one of the two active downloads finishes.

There's a tip at Microsoft for increasing the connection limit (to, say, 10 concurrent connections), but only use it if you're comfortable with editing the Windows registry. Refer to Microsoft support article 183110 ... WinInet limits connections per server

The article warns:

By changing these settings, you cause WinInet to go against the HTTP protocol specification recommendation. You should only do this if absolutely necessary and then you should avoid doing standard Web browsing while these settings are in effect.

However since I made the change several months ago I haven't noticed any detrimental effects -- but your mileage might vary! I can now run quite a few more than two downloads at once, which interleave nicely with each other thus reducing the overall elapsed file transfer time.

You will find other articles discussing this topic by doing a Web search such as:

UPDATE, 14 November 2006:
I just came across the following article by Aaron Hopkins: Optimizing Page Load Time which mentions the above (about the number of connections) but covers a much broader field, aimed at web developers. It starts off:

"It is widely accepted that fast-loading pages improve the user experience. In recent years, many sites have started using AJAX techniques to reduce latency. Rather than round-trip through the server retrieving a completely new page with every click, often the browser can either alter the layout of the page instantly or fetch a small amount of HTML, XML, or javascript from the server and alter the existing page. In either case, this significantly decreases the amount of time between a user click and the browser finishing rendering the new content.

While working on optimizing page load times for a high-profile AJAX application, I had a chance to investigate how much I could reduce latency due to external objects. Specifically, I looked into how the HTTP client implementation in common browsers and characteristics of common Internet connections affect page load time for pages with many small objects."
Aaron then gives quite a few tips, and finishes off with:
While the tips above are intended to improve your page load times, a side benefit of many of them is a reduction in server bandwidth and CPU needed for the average page view. Reducing your costs while improving your user experience seems it should be worth spending some time on.