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2
Oct

Why don’t we just…

   Posted by: wkossen

Copper/Bronze Roman Britain coin
Photo by Smabs Sputzer
This slowly is becoming the theme of my thinking. Why don’t we just get this done, do it right, make it work, etc. This is what’s interesting to me more and more. Simple things still being hard. Often the reasons aren’t that rational and the thinking isn’t that straight. The last few presentations i’ve been giving had those questions as their main thread of thought.

And I guess these things really are the important matters. With rational thoughts, most IT projects aren’t that hard at all. Most IT problems are fixable with simple measures. But making decisions about those projects has little to do with the technology or the simplicity of it. Instead most of the decisionmaking is about very different subjects. Those include simple ones (like money) but also very complicatied ones. What does this mean for my position as a manager, what risks does this bring for the image of my organisation, what will happen if we fail, how can I keep firm control without knowing the first thing about IT, etc.

I’ve had times where these things frustrated me. Maybe I’m just mellowing a bit, or caring less. Maybe I just got used to it. The frustration has been replaced with wonder. Wonder about the intricate and diffuse and ambiguous and dark nature of the human psyche. Dealing with that is a whole different ballgame compared to dealing with stubborn standards or faulty hardware. And as far as I’m concerned, a bit more interesting as well.

Soon I’ll be speaking again at a conference in the Netherlands. And again, the why question will pop up. I’ll be reporting here about it later. In the mean time, How do you deal with these matters? What’s your experience with decisionmaking in the field of IT? Don’t hesitate to comment!

15
May

Opening Up Is Hard To Do (Part 1)

   Posted by: wkossen

Do not pick the flowers
Photo by quinn.anyaLast Thursday, may 12th 2011, I spoke at the Spring Conference of the Dutch Unix User Group. This conference was themed Open is Efficient. The culmination of 11 years of IT Consultancy boiled down to my presentation. For these 11 years, most of my clients were in Government or semi-government organisations, so that’s what the presentation was about. Why is it so hard for these not-for-profit public organisations to adopt Open.

The first think I did after my introduction was placing Open on the standard stack that IT Architects as myself draw up:

Business
Information / Application
Technology

When you do that, it looks like this:

Business: Open Processes (?) = Transparency!
Information / Application: Open Data, Public Domain, Creative Commons, Some Open Standards (Semantics) etc.
Technology: Open Source, Open Standards and Specifications

The new thing here is my position that

. This is an important observation as it serves to address the problems with Open Standards, Open Data and Open Source as being seen as technology things which aren’t ‘important’ to business people. That is in fact one of the reasons these Open things aren’t on every manager’s shortlist. Transparency actually touches their stuff. That is what you can talk to them about. Once they ‘get’ transparency, the other things follow naturally as they support transparency, democracy and freedom.

So why is it hard to open up? There are a number of reasons:

One. Private property and ownership. These concepts are ages old. Organisations, and people within them, have the idea that the information they are working on is theirs. In the case of public organisations, they’re wrong. The stuff they’re working on is owned by those paying for it, the tax-payers, us. So hiding stuff from us isn’t the way to go unless there are specific reasons (like endangering people’s lives). All information that isn’t a real and direct hazard when open, should be open.

Property and ownership are very old. They became important when we moved from the hunter-gatherer life into agriculture. In agriculture, the investment you make in terms of time and effort to get food is very big. This means that it’s very important to protect your crop, your field, your granary. Compared to the earlier life, where the investment may top a week (for a large hunting trip), farmers deal with months. Also, when people live together in villages, automatic sharing is lost. Where hunter-gatherers would travel (nomads) in small family groups, now several families flock together and each cares for their own fields, trading amongst themselves. Ownership is important in that situation.

When it comes to government information, this concept isn’t practical anymore. Yet it seems to be hard-coded into our brains. This is a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon and not a rational choice. Therefor, rational argumentation doesn’t help at all to fight it. That’s one of the reasons that it is so hard to get rid of this behaviour.

In next posts I will cover more reasons, so stay tuned.

26
Jan

Right or Wrong

   Posted by: wkossen

Portrait of Laura Battiferri With Her iPad, after Agnolo Bronzino
Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

The problem with predictions is, they can only be evaluated after the fact. And then it’s easy… But let’s see what I thought would happen in 2010 and if it did…

The first thing I talked about in my predictions post was HTML5. I wasn’t so sure it would find broad adoption. I think I was both wrong and right. It certainly found adoption but it also found the age old struggle of conflicting standard implementations. This holds HTML5 back a bit. Apple helped by not supporting flash on their mobile platforms. I certainly didn’t see that coming. They did give people a strong incentive to jailbreak their device though… Youtube supporting HTML5 video certainly helped, too. Still there’s much to gain. I wonder if it will happen this year, but I think it will be a slow process…

The next one was spot on, but it was an easy prediction anyway. Mobile is the big thing in 2010. I even wrote an article about it in a magazine in the Netherlands (Dutch). One thing I didn’t predict was the immense popularity of tablet computers. That one took me by surprise. I don’t quite see the advantage of making something portable bigger. I wonder how much of the success happened because of hype rather than because of real usefulness. As you can tell, I’m not a tablet owner… Ah, and the Nexus died and so did the Microsoft phones.

The opening up of platforms is an ambiguous one. I strongly hope that it will happen but it doesn’t really follow through. You can now export your Facebook stuff but to call that dataportability really takes it too far. It’s a start nonetheless. We need much more though

The teaming up against Google didn’t happen. Google fights with plenty of competitors but doesn’t seems to be phased by them. Hey, and public pressure made wave stick around (but for how long).

The privacy thing. Well… This is an issue. Privacy is still very much in decline. And strangely Wikileaks (which I didn’t expect to be so big) didn’t help either. Because some narrow-minded people in power feel their private parts being stepped on by forced transparency, the call for even tighter security measures (that don’t actually bring any security to you!) has risen and strangely enough, a government that promised openness and transparency now seems to be in favour of measures that would more likely be expected in China, North Korea and Iran. And it’s not just the USA that’s heading the wrong way. This is really very worrying. We won’t see the last of it this year and it won’t change any time soon…

DRM is still here… sigh

but IPv6 has arrived. Not big yet, but the start has been made. In some countries there will be many people this year that won’t have IPv4 connectivity. This means that these people can’t visit your site and buy your products if you don’t support IPv6. I think that some people are slowly realizing that this is happening. Why don’t you become a IPv6 guru like me on ipv6.he.net.

I wasn’t sure if anything spectacular would happen in the Social Media world and I was right. It didn’t. There are slight shifts in popularity between platforms, but nothing spectacularly new happened.

Then about security. I expected to see big things happening in the Mobile world. And some things did, but not to the extend I expected. Are we just lucky?. In the security world there was one thing though that I didn’t expect and that happened: Stuxnet. This is actually really frightening. A very targeted well working hard to combat worm. There’s lots to read about this elsewhere. I suspect that this is the Security Winner of 2010.

Chrome OS takes a bit longer to arrive. I have begun to doubt if it will be successful after all. The reason is the coming of tablet PCs. They’ve taken the Niche that ChromeOS needs. Even though Google is calling this one of the top 3 projects the company is working on (and hiring people for), I am cautious in predicting much success. If people can have Android, why would they need Chrome?

Finally the Cloud and Saas computing. These indeed have become mainstream. Luckily people begin to see some of the drawbacks so we can now discuss the security issues without being silenced by noisy hype-sounds. I might well write a post about this one day…

So I didn’t do too bad, but I didn’t win all either. What do you think about my predictions of last year? And what happened to your predictions? Stay tuned for my Predictions 2011 post that will be following shortly (if time is available…)

5
Oct

Don’t Lock Me Out

   Posted by: wkossen

OpenID Closed

ADVANCED WARNING: This post is going to be a bit rant-like… But you may will still like it. There’s some good information, too, that might keep you out of trouble…

You may already know I’m quite fond of OpenID. In fact, any security system that makes life easier for me is very welcome. For some time however, there’s something going on that makes the OpenID system a bit less attractive. Providers that quit. ‘Quit?’ I hear you ask? Yes, Quit!

And that wouldn’t necessarily be so bad if they told their users with advanced notice they were going to do just that. That’s just not what’s happening. I’ll just list a few of the OpenID providers that aren’t anymore:

  • Technorati Read about that one here
  • Identity.net
  • Yiid.com (which is also Identity.net) I got the mail from them this week telling me they just turned of OpenID. So much for advanced warning…
  • Cliqset.com I don’t even know what happened. It just stopped working.
  • Logmij.in (Dutch OpenID provider) The site doesn’t even exist anymore.
  • If you check each one on the list on this site, you’ll find quite a few more that seam to be terminated…

Just imagine that you’re using an OpenID from one of those providers. They gave you an OpenID which you actually used to log-in to other sites, for instance to update your weblog at LiveJournal. Now the provider quits. How are you going to access the sites you’re a valid member of? I’ll tell you, you’re not going to access it, and you’re going to have long talks with the helpful support team of those sites (if those even exist) to get your account back.

Since I’ve been fond of OpenID for a long time, I’ve been keeping multiple OpenIDs. That’s a reasonable back-up strategy, but unfortunately not all sites allow you to assign multiple OpenID’s to your account. This really puts you in a tight spot if your provider thinks it’s a good idea to quit. There are some good examples though. Plaxo for instance allows you to add many OpenID’s. What I don’t understand is why they put the management screen hidden as a sub-screen behind a link on the e-mail-addresses-management page, but this post isn’t about Usability…. :(

Even better as a back-up strategy is the ‘Roll-Your-Own’ method. phpMyID allows you to do just that. Host your own private OpenID provider. It will only quit if you decide it will… I’ve been running mine for a long time and that’s the OpenID I add to a site first. If it’s possible to add more, I’ll do so because my site can be down as well and that would lock me out immediately…

Another (very useful) method is to have your own domain or website delegate to your current provider. If you switch providers, you just delegate to the next one from the same domain or website. That way the OpenID doesn’t change even though the back-end provider does… Delegation is easy to set up if you have access to the HTML source-code of your website. In the <head></head> section, you add the following code:

<link rel="openid.server"
      href="https://www.myopenid.com/server">
<link rel="openid.delegate"
      href="http://wkossen.myopenid.com">

Naturally, the entry in href=”” changes depending on who serves your OpenID. Your OpenID provider will tell you what settings to implement or with a bit of thinking, you’ll figure it out… Just note that again, if the delegating website is down, or the OpenID behind that is down, you’re still locked out…

There’s a natural trade-off here. You get to use ONE log-in for MANY sites, but if that breaks, your locked out EVERYWHERE. The alternative is remembering all those passwords and user-names on all those sites the way you used to do. I’ll opt for the first strategy and try to alleviate it as much as possible by adding multiples…

Let me end with stating the obvious here:

  1. If you’re providing essential services people rely on like OpenID, don’t just quit,
  2. If you have to quit, tell the customer well in advance,
  3. Give those people options to move their data (it’s theirs in the first place) –> Dataportability,
  4. Assist them in setting up their OpenID elsewhere and tell them how to move their accounts,
  5. Even better, why not maintain their OpenID URL and let the user delegate it towards another OpenID?

It’s like the company that sells you petrol just quit and you come to the station in the middle of nowhere with your empty tank. What are you going to do, Push????

Your comments as always are very welcome below. Thanks for reading!

2
Oct

AuthentiHow?

   Posted by: wkossen

I’m always interested in adding security to information systems. One step in that process is adding authentication. Authentication is aimed at establishing without doubt the identity of the one trying to use (or abuse) the system. And that doesn’t stop with the old user-name-password combo. There are many alternative or additional means to do it, but that’s a topic for another post. There are also ways in helping people authenticate themselves more successfully. Without trying to be complete here, I’ll give you an overview of a few of the possibilities of helping you authenticate, even though it’s single factor authentication.

Passwords are problematic since our human memory isn’t quite foolproof. (how about that for an understatement…) This tends us to choose easy to remember, and therefor almost always easy to guess passwords. Difficult passwords are harder to remember locking the user out, rather then letting them in. Two services have created interesting ways to help you pick the right password without making it too easy for someone else to pick your password: MyVidoop and InkBlotPassword. Both will provide you with an open-id to use on several websites that support that technology.

MyVidoop is still alive.  It’s recently been acquired by http://www.confidenttechnologies.com, and hopefully it won’t shut it down  since this service really does a few thinks very well. Logging in means typing in your user-name and then selecting the pictures of your selected categories from a grid and entering the characters associated with those categories. An example of such a grid is here: 

MyVidoop

So if your categories are dogs, computers and buildings, you’d enter NJA (in any order you like). Remembering categories is much easier then remembering a password. Even though this password is very short, since it’s different every time, it’s very hard to guess. I think it’s very cool. The technology is called Confident Imageshield(tm). One added bonus of MyVidoop is the way it let’s you know what’s happening with your account via e-mail notifications. If someones trying to abuse it, you’ll know about it!

InkBlotPassword has a different strategy. The idea here is that people remember best by association. Association of words with pictures in this case. They show you a number of inkblot-type pictures during sign-up and ask you to enter the first and last character of the word you associate with that picture. You could choose another mechanism (like the first and third character), just as long as you remember what it is. You can practice this mechanism before fixing it as your password. When logging in after typing your user-name you are shown your inkblot-patterns in random order. You enter the characters (first and last or any other way you chose) for each inkblot. It’s indeed not that hard to remember or to ‘re-associate’ the blots with words. Best of all, you can select how many inkblots you want to use therefor you can set the strength of the password you are using. Pretty nifty. Also here, the password is different each time since the order of the blots changes,

InkBlotPassword

Do you know of other means adding security while helping you authenticate (even though it’s single factor)? Let me know in the comment-section.

20
Sep

When Scrum Fails

   Posted by: wkossen

Sotto sforzo
Photo by GilmothScrum is a method used in software development that is aimed at creating software that fits the business needs better in managable projects with predictable outcomes. It can really help development projects along. There is however a big risk involved in the way selections are made what to implement, and what not.

Wikipedia tells us:

During each “sprint”, typically a two to four week period (with the length being decided by the team), the team creates a potentially shippable product increment (for example, working and tested software). The set of features that go into a sprint come from the product “backlog,” which is a prioritized set of high level requirements of work to be done. Which backlog items go into the sprint is determined during the sprint planning meeting. During this meeting, the Product Owner informs the team of the items in the product backlog that he or she wants completed. The team then determines how much of this they can commit to complete during the next sprint.[4] During a sprint, no one is allowed to change the sprint backlog, which means that the requirements are frozen for that sprint. Development is timeboxed such that the sprint must end on time; if requirements are not completed for any reason they are left out and returned to the product backlog. After a sprint is completed, the team demonstrates how to use the software.

The problem here is not the fact that the Product Owner decides functionality, but that the Product Owner may not have the right information to decide on the priority of non-functional requirements that originate in the technical teams within the organisation. Security, scalability, but also conformance to architectural principles, standards and directions are sometimes sacrificed against functional traits of an application. This is risky business that can stimulate unhealthy code and poorly performing software.

The method itself does not have means in place to insert priority boosters for non-business functions which is the main cause of the problem. The Product Owner therefor shouldn’t be a single person from the business side of the organisation, but a team of stakeholders. That way a balanced feature selection proces can take place and most of the risks are averted.

What’s your take on this?

7
Jun

The Portability Policy

   Posted by: wkossen

There’s a lot of talk lately about ownership of content, but there isn’t a lot of substance. In this post I want to tell you what providers of Social Media Services should do to make things very, very clear for YOU regarding YOUR content.

It’s called Dataportability, and this is what it means.

Data portability is the ability for people to reuse their data across interoperable applications. The DataPortability Project works to advance this vision by identifying, contextualizing and promoting efforts in the space.

The fun thing about definitions is the fact there usually are many. The one I gave you is the one supported by the Dataportability Project in which I participate.

The key concept here is ‘who owns the data, and what can YOU do with it’. Companies should be perfectly clear in their communication about this so You know what to expect. That’s why we believe that they should have a portabilitypolicy, just as they have a privacy policy. (the privacy policy states what They can and will do with Your data). As an idea, it’s actually quite logical, don’t you think?

And this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be given any control over your data whatsoever, it just means that you should know what control you have. Then you can make educated choices which companies to be a client of. This, as many other things, is just a matter of selection.

To aid companies in creating these policies there is now a website with example policies for inspiration. There will be services to aid companies further in there efforts to create these policies in the future. This hopefully removes some of the barriers of getting this not only accepted as a good idea, but also implemented as a standard procedure. I guess you head overthere and give us some feedback, either on the dataportability google groups or (my personal preference :) ) here in the comments.

If you’re interested in following this fantastic project, be sure to read the Dataportability Blog.

20
May

Freedom is Control…

   Posted by: wkossen

Control!
Photo by .faramarzFreedom means control. control for me, control for the individual, not a large corporation, government institution or any other large body of people with any kind of hierarchical structure. Open means the same thing

Free software is all about freedom and all about control. the individual decides what he does with it, how he uses it, how he changes it and how he shares it. He even decides not to use it if he doesn’t want to for whatever reason. That’s freedom and that’s control. (where i write he, you could easily read she)

Open means the same thing. Open software, open standards, open data. it’s all about putting control where it should be, at the individual level, with the people themselves

I am very much in favour of freedom and open. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m very much against other ways because sometimes these ways suit some peoples needs, including my own. I would suggest that given the option, you should favour the open and free path over the non-open and non-free.

I recently became a fellow at the Free Software Foundation Europe to support Free and Open. Maybe you should to. My username over there is wkossen.

28
Apr

Things that make you go…

   Posted by: wkossen

INEX - Ireland Internet Exchange
Photo by mattdorkThe day has come. It’s the official end of the floppy disk. Well, it isn’t just yet, but we’re really in it’s afterlife right now.  If you’re still interested in one of the more interesting floppy based projects, stack up now! 1.44 MB isn’t really relevant anymore in these days of Terabytes, yet, the floppy was a great and very successful invention. I still have hundreds laying around containing relevant data and applications. It’s just too much work to move all that stuff to Cd’s or DVDs. I just wonder if this had anything to do with it…

This however isn’t the reason I am writing this post. There’s something else. I had a very good read today that I would not want to keep to myself. It’s the 2009 year report of Euro-IX, the organisation that bring together the Internet Exchanges of Europe. You can read it here. This really is a very interesting set of data. It tells you all sorts of figures about the Internet in Europe. Yes, really, figures. Mathematicians and Statisticians, please take notice, I’m talking significant data here. If you’re into graphs and tables, grab that PDF before it goes away.

One other thing Euro-IX did was release an educational film about the workings of the Internet. It’s not like Warriors of the Net, which already was brilliant, it’s the bigger picture. I’ll embed it here, it’s that good! So if you always wanted to know what an Internet Exchange actually is and didn’t want to head over to Wikipedia, click play below!.

16
Apr

Pictures say more than a 1000 words

   Posted by: wkossen

Infographics by The Guardian
Photo by tripuEspecially if they contain words… Infographics has been an emerging trend for some time now. And there are very nice examples on the web. It’s a way of putting together a bit of content in a very discriptive manner. And making it look good, very good. I mentioned one earlier

I found this page that contains 50 nice and unique examples. I hope these provide inspiration to you.

If you know of other great infographics, don’t hesitate to comment and mention the links!