Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

By Date: September 2005

Drehhuette Fuessen

Over the weekend we celebrated a second degree uncle's 60th birthday on the Drehhütte in Füssen. Füssen is the city where Schloss Neu Schwanstein (a.k.a. Mad King's Castle, the template of Disney castle) is located. Being back to the fresh cool air of the alps was a very welcome difference to warm and humid Singapore. You could misstake me for a monk on holiday.

Posted by on 28 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: After hours

Sending tasks to Outlook and Notes

I'm in Munich now visiting my favourite Environment & Management software company. We are planning for the next set of features of UMsys. One feature we are discussing is the ability of the UMsys application server to send tasks/to-dos directly into the users' task lists. The UMsys server can send SMTP/MIME messages, that should be consumed by the eMail clients. UMsys' customers run Exchange/Outlook, Lotus Notes and some other mail systems. So we ran a little comparison what needs to be done for Notes and Outlook.
For Notes it is quite straight forward: you send a mime message that contains an VCALENDAR record. It can look like this:
Content-Type: text/calendar; method="REQUEST"; charset="UTF-8"

PRODID:-//Lotus Development Corporation//NONSGML Notes 6.0//EN
RSVP=FALSE: mailto:stephan@wissel.net
: mailto:peter.pan@disney.com
SUMMARY:Test gMail
ORGANIZER;CN="Stephan H. Wissel/TaoConsulting": mailto:stephan@wissel.net

Or one could stuff all the needed Notes fields into the MIME header, which would look like this:
X-Notes-Item: CN=Stephan H. Wissel/O=TaoConsulting;

When looking towards Outlook the story is quite a different beast. I did some testing with Matthias from HEC (If you need excellent Microsoft development in Germany talk to them, it's a pleasure working with people who really know their stuff well). It turns out, that Outlook doesn't understand VCalendar tasks but encodes the whole message into the body using some propriety format.
Content-Class: urn:content-classes:calendarmessage
Content-Type: multipart/mixed;

Notes doesn't understand calendarmessage thus rendering the HTML version. There I got stuck (and couldn't pull Matthias out of his meeting). Seems like it's a little harder to connect to Exchange/Outlook using open standards.

Update: We desected the MIME comming from Outlook. It seems to be formiable complicated to create a task...

Read more

Posted by on 25 September 2005 | Comments (2) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

Welcome back Redscreen of death

I'm a happy camper in R7 land until today. I tried to drag an calendar entry (my appointment with SQ325) from one day to another. The "meeting" starts in German time and ends Singapore time and is more than 12 hours (I hope they have power sockets in coach by now). And tada, my first redscreen in R7. Didn't had any in the beta (but hadn't an SQ325 appointment then). Interesting fact: the client crashed AFTER succesfully changing the meeting. Everything looked fine afer completion of the consistency check.

Posted by on 21 September 2005 | Comments (1) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

Siddhartha travelled near and far to find the solution. Finally he sat down under a Bodhi tree to meditate.

Under the bodhi tree
My favorite Barista Sharon and I are working on a book for little children. As a youngling I had plenty of Christian piture books with Jesus, Moses, Stephanus, St. Martin and other biblical figures. When looking at Buddhist books, you will find mostly literature that starts at the age of 10 to 12 rather than picture books or early readers. So we decided to change that. The text has been finished for a while and finally Sharon's creativity is filling the words with pictures. I'm exited.

My first Buddha Book

(Illustrations by Sharon Foong, Text by Stephan Wissel)

In the kingdom Shakya long ago there lived the beautiful prince Siddhartha.
Siddhartha married the lovely princess Yasodhara. They lived in a palace of beauty and pleasure.
When Siddhartha saw an old man, he saw the suffering and became sad.
When Siddhartha saw a sick man, he saw the suffering and became very sad.
When Siddhartha saw a dead man, he saw the suffering and became very very sad.
Siddhartha saw a monk with no hair, a yellow robe and an empty bowl. There he knew what to do.
Siddhartha vowed to save all living beings from their suffering.He left the palace to become a monk.
Siddhartha traveled near and far to  find the solution. Finally he sat down under a Bodi tree to meditate.
The evil spirit Mara appeared but could not harm or distract Siddhartha.
Siddhartha became The Buddha. He saw everything as it is and that everything is connected.
When people saw him they asked: "Are you a deity?" The Buddha replied: "No. I'm the fully awaken one".
The Buddha loves every living being. He taught many people for many years.
We call his teachings the Dharma. Through the Dharma The Buddha teaches us how to be always happy.
Many people liked The Buddha and the Dharma very much. They followed him and became his Sangha.
The Buddha send out the Sangha to tell everybody about the Dharma and how to be happy.
When you want to be happy The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are there for you!

Posted by on 20 September 2005 | Comments (2) | categories: Buddhakids

1.5B SGD outsourcing contract

IDA our Infocom regulator is working on a 1.5B SGD (about 891M USD / 733M EUR) outsourcing deal. They will define a Standard ICT operating environment (SOE), that will be the mandatory desktop environment for all government agencies/ministries/stat boards except the Ministry of Defence, which travelled down the Linux desktop road and are a lost cause/beacon of hope (depending on your view).
From the press release: S$1.5 billion worth of IT tenders to be called will be for a Standard ICT Operating Environment (SOE) project which the Government is going to embark on. The SOE comprises a standard desktop environment and a standard network environment. Examples of components to be standardised are desktop operating system and desktop management tool. "A Standard ICT Operating Environment will greatly enhance the operating efficiency in government. It will reduce the time needed to deploy new ICT services in government, improve our ability to respond to ICT security threats, and most importantly, make it easier to operate and maintain our desktops and networks," said Mr Chan Yeng Kit, CEO of IDA at Industry Briefing 2005.
(It also will allow attackers to sweep all public sector sites once they found a loophole). The interesting twist: the ministries run their own backbones, only the desktops are standardized. This underlines the perception, that desktops (in terms of operation and software) are a commodity now. The contract will sport a "pay per use" model with the government unloading IT assets to the successful contractor and renting them back.
The tender hasn't been published yet, but you can safely bet, that the knifes are out and the fight is on: what will be the office application (my bet: MS Office), the mail environment (My bet: Lotus Notes), the OS (My bet: XP, Vista and a flavour of Linux). The battle is on for: will there be a .net framework, a JVM (which one?). The Eclipse RCP? Java webstart? What browser? I'm wondering how the outsourcing contract will be structured to allow for flexibility and optimization. Catering to individual needs is typically opposite to the economic interest of the outsourcing company, thus a huge risk of missed productivity increases exist. Or is the era of the desktop tools over (at least here), new applications will run in a browser and Microsoft truly lost the API war?  

Posted by on 20 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Singapore

Creepy coincidence

> I've not had paypal phishing emails for a while (thanks to Chris' counterspam). Today I went to paypal for some stuff. Half an hour later a pal-phisher mail comes through. Coincidence or tip of an ugly iceberg?

Posted by on 20 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Software

When Firefox and Notes become one

I've upgraded to R7 with Beta2. While 7.0 is a so called "server release" I realized the client improvements make the update worthwhile. I'm fond of the background indexing of views and the "Save window state on exit" function. The saved window state allows me to stop wherever I am when it is time to shut down (ask Anthony and Ernest about it ). I've abandoned IE for web browsing long ago and configured Firefox to launch when URLs a clicked in Notes. I would appreciate if IBM would simply use the Mozilla rendering, so the experience would be more seamless, but for the time being that's fair enough.
Both Notes and Firefox sport a similar tabbed interface, which are similar enough, so the differences get annoying. In Firefox the close button for the current window is at the end of the row, in Notes at the end of each tab. Notes saves the window state, Firefox doesn't. So me not happy (Singlish is so wonderful short ).
Enter Firefox extensions. With a little research (click on "get more extensions", click on tabbed browsing go to the last page), I found two little gems to make Firefox behave properly:
  • SessionSaver: does what it advertises
  • Tab X: puts the close button where it belongs

Now my Notes client and my browser behave similar in their tabs and I'm "happy already".

Posted by on 16 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

Meeting Scott McNealy

Scott McNealy graced Singapore with his presence on invitation of IDA. He was all the rave about building communities. In a hit to Microsoft he stated: "If you give the 75% of the not connected people a Wintel box that consumes 250 watts a pop you will have global warming at it's best".
His key message for Java's tenth anniversary was: Compatibility, Community, Volume and Value.
Through all his presentation he was poking fun on Microsoft creating laughter in the audience.
SUN started GELC as a global education initiative to bridge the digital divide, interesting concept. Microsoft was not the only one to be poked fun on by Scott, IBM and OpenSource got their share too. He blamed IBM to make IT so complicated, so professional service can generate revenue and OpenSource to be freewheeling lucky go easy unreliable stuff. He advocated to step back and review if it does make sense to have customized IT infrastructure. His point is, that standardized components would be more efficient. He reminded, that cost is not only acquisition cost and operational cost, but also exit cost. Only open standards will keep exit costs low. Then he drifted away and dreamt of Solaris surviving and overtaking all other Unix versions a well as Linux. Scott stated SUN has one million subscribers for their enterprise system. Sounds a bit thin compared to half a billion eMail seats worldwide. And he was dreaming on envisioning: slim clients (a.k.a. smart terminals) would replace PCs since the data centre would provide the horsepower needed.
Here he has a point: power consumption becomes a huge problem and energy efficiency will be key. Scott used the opportunity to bash Dell claiming the new SUN Opteron servers are 60% more efficient, 75% smaller and half the price of a comparable Dell system.
Scott called all this opportunities "iPod moments".
I am curious how all that will work out for SUN.

P.S: This Blog entry is created life during his speech.

Posted by on 14 September 2005 | Comments (1) | categories: Singapore

R7 Replication Performance

My Domino server is hosted eight time zones away from my usual whereabouts. Replication (with compression and encrption enabled) typically yields about 20-30kbps. Until last week, then we migrated the Suse Linux box to Domino 7.0. With a R6 client I still get about the same speed, but with a R7 client it jumped up to 160kbps (which is close to the limit of my current pipe). The observation is totally unscientific and your mileage might vary. Feels like the transition from Warp to Slipstream.

Posted by on 13 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

When 50 MB are not 50 MB

I'm a big fan of the Inside Security Rescue CD. The CD squeezes a Linux (Debian based) with a working GUI, diagnostics and repair tools (anti virus, partition and hard disk check) on 50 MB of space. It even contains support to write CDs or DVDs. Why is 50 MB to magic? 50 MB is the storage capacity of a name card size CD-ROM. I always carry one (or a few) with me. The NTFS support is read only but seems to be more tolerant than Microsoft's own NTFS implementation. A number of times where 2000 or XP refused to recognize a NTFS partition anymore the Rescue CD could still read most of it.
The CDs are very popular. Whenever I show what you can do with it to clients or colleagues, I own one less (glad to be of service).
So I ran out of my mini CD and went to restock. This time I got Melody NameCard CD-R. The CD writer refused to write the image. I use Roxio, that doesn't tell how much short of storage you are (only that). Only the windows CD writer (which can't write ISO images) told me: 48 MB to write 47 MB free. So I had a second look:  On the package: 50 MB/5min, actual space inside: 47 MB. Am I out of luck or short changed by the manufacturer? Or is 6% less space (on all 10 of the package) within tolerance?
Update:  I got a nice reply from the manufacturer. They apologized for my inconvenience and explained: The guaranteed storage is 5 minutes of music. One minute is about 9.5 MB, so 5x9.5 = 47.5 MB. Production tolerance can lead to CDs with more capacity. The 50MB are the same marketing blah as your 200GB harddisk. However there is a 6 minute CD available, also labelled 50 MB which has enough storage.

Posted by on 12 September 2005 | Comments (1) | categories: Technology

Tender business

We are currently working to prepare some replies to government tenders. Looking at the way the tenders are structured I'm amazed how much -to put it mildly- room for improvement is left.
All tenders overlap in hardware requirements, infrastructure, middleware and identity management. Since it is very unlikely, that one party will win all of them, they will end up with incompatible, divergent solutions. The implementation time frame also will make sure, that competing teams, once the tender is awarded, will be on the ground at the same time making each others life as miserable as they can.
It is quite amazing how the 'law of unintended consequences' has hijacked the tender process. While intended to get the best deal for the government, it actually locks out specialist and performers and leaves only very big contenders who, by nature of their size, have high overhead costs. The best team to define, assemble and run a portal will most likely have no interest in hardware sales. So they are out. 10% of the project value needs to be deposited upfront, so the smaller teams are out. The hardware guys won't understand implementation to make it sound.
At the end they get so so service and a lot of bureaucracy instead of performance.
Luckily I don't pay this taxes since it's overseas.

Posted by on 12 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: After hours

Internet filtering in Singapore

The University of Toronto, Harvard Lawschool and the University of Cambridge jointly run the OpenNet Initiative.
From their objective: " The ONI mission is to investigate and challenge state filtration and surveillance practices. Our approach applies methodological rigor to the study of filtration and surveillance blending empirical case studies with sophisticated means for technical verification. Our aim is to generate a credible picture of these practices at a national, regional and corporate level, and to excavate their impact on state sovereignty, security, human rights, international law, and global governance."
Their latest research paper sheds a light on Internet filtering in Singapore. In a nutshell: filtering does barely happen on a technical level but mostly in the heads of people. There are some compelling reasons for this "scissors in the head", but read for yourself.

Posted by on 12 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Singapore

Ferris did it again...

Notes 7 is out for a few days only and Ferris has evaluated the impact on upgrading. They claim you can gain up to 15% efficiency mostly due to better resource utilization. Read for yourself. The original report (about reducing TCO from $22 to $6 with upgrading from Domino5 to Domino6) has moved. It looks like when they moved their website from ASP to PHP all links broke. Jakob would be furious about that.

Posted by on 09 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

The coffee experiment

There are a lot of conflicting views on the health impact of coffee out there, so reading them only confused me. I'm a heavy coffee drinker, which makes me either very healthy or a member of a high risk group. To find out I decided to go cold turkey and not having coffee or caffeine containing beverages for at least a month. It is my third day now and I feel that longing for the bitter taste. Other than that there seem to be no other effects - beside the puzzled faces of my favorite Barista when I ordered tea instead of my usual latte.

Posted by on 07 September 2005 | Comments (5) | categories: After hours

Don't put Notes Data on a mounted local drive

I added a new harddisk to my PC recently. Since all my data lived in c:\data I moved that to the new drive and used XP mounting capabilities (do I hear: they borrowed that from Unix?) to mount that drive back to c:\data.
It took me a while to assess the impact. Notes became partly unstable especially when opening mime email while replicating. I first blamed it to the fact, that I have more than one client and beta ones too. Then I realized, that in the mounted directory explorer sometimes behaved irratic, not letting me move, rename or delete files.
So I switched from mounting the drive to the 'normal' way (for Windows) and assigned a drive letter. Luckily it is just one entry in notes.ini to teach Notes its data location. Since then I had no more crashes so far.

Posted by on 05 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes

JBoss Jumpstart

On Friday I went for an JBoss jumpstart workshop. From time to time it's nice not to be the trainer. JBoss was a white spot on my map, since whenever I had to deal with EJB it was on IBM's Websphere.
Installation is straight forward, unzip the file type run and off you go. JBoss uses Tomcat as it's servlet engine, so upgrading from your JSP/servlet only environment should be easy too. For Notes/Domino shops Brightline offers an integration with the Domino server, that allows unlimited use including RDBMS and message queue.
Our trainer did his homework for this pilot class well and the exercises offered good learning opportunities.
We used JBossIDE for the examples. It is build on Eclipse and uses XDoclets for generating a lot of the server and EJB stuff. Currently the JBoss plug-ins don't play nicely with a off the shelf eclipse, so I rather stick to myeclipseide.
The preview of EJB3 was quite impressive. It is much less complicated than before.
The big question remains when looking at OpenSource EJB:
  • JBoss: got the best recognition in the market, professional support and a (commercial) Domino integration.
  • Jeronimo: Apache's take on EJB. Since their Tomcat is very popular it is easy to argue. However they are the "New kid on the block"
  • JoNAS: While not very known in the US it will be popular in Asia, at least in China since Objectweb.org has teamed up with Chinese researchers
Which one to use?

Posted by on 04 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: OpenSource

Phishing gets more sophisticated

Just got a phishing email that claimed a paypal problem. The Phishers duplicated Paypals lingo and look very closely. They also tried to leverage on our tendency to scan pages rather than to read them. The URL is mostly identical to Paypal's. The only difference is a dash instead of a dot and slash. They just made the processing part of paypal (behind the .com ) part of their domain. To masquerade that they encoded it:

h t t p : / / www.paypal-com-cgi-bin-xxx-pp7848%34%31%2E%63%6F%6D (not the real one to protect innocent people).
Which translates to:
h t t p : / / www.paypal-com-cgi-bin-xxx-pp784841.com

The mail was routed:
"from sebsoksa.com.previewmysite.com (localhost []) by web5.megawebservers.com (8.12.10/8.12.9) with ESMTP id j835Fiu3017824 for <stephan@wissel.net>; Sat, 3 Sep 2005 01:15:50 -0400"
which is fake of course (at least the from part).

What is very confusing: The IP address of the webserver is running on IIS6 in Redmond!!! See for yourself! Somehow the managed to highjack the server for a reroute!

The true form that pops up is running on a 1 & 1 registered server by Mr. Solis:
Domain ID:D10723261-LRMS
Domain Name:ID-PP75216122155155554454.INFO
Created On:18-Aug-2005 17:35:47 UTC
Expiration Date:18-Aug-2006 17:35:47 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:R113-LRMS
Registrant ID:C11011092-LRMS
Registrant Name:Felipe Solis
Registrant Street1:415 N. Paseo Flamenco Apt
Registrant City:Rio Rico
Registrant State/Province:AZ
Registrant Postal Code:85648
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.5205484584
Registrant Email:etareke at hotmail.com
Admin ID:C11011092-LRMS
Admin Name:Felipe Solis
Admin Street1:415 N. Paseo Flamenco Apt
Admin City:Rio Rico
Admin State/Province:AZ
Admin Postal Code:85648
Admin Country:US
Admin Phone:+1.5205484584
Admin Email:etareke at hotmail.com

Nice try Mr. Solis!

Update: Hotmail doesn't care, that their servers are used in a scam. I duly forwarded the message to abuse@hotmail.com, explaining the problem. First I got a promising (auto) reply: " This is an auto-generated response designed to let you know that our system received your support inquiry and a Support Representative will review your question and respond to you soon." About a second later (what a joke, that a support representative would have looked into it) Hotmail told me, that since it is not a hotmail email (rather than their server), they won't look into it: " Unfortunately, we cannot take action on the mail you sent us because it does not reference a Hotmail account. Please send us another message that contains the full Hotmail e-mail address and the full e-mail message to:

Update 2: I just got an email from 1 & 1 who hosted the destination phishing site: " Dear Sir or Madam, thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. The account in question has been suspended."
Seems some ISP do care! Well done 1&1.

Posted by on 04 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Gone Phisching

Measure it!

On my fathers bookshelf there used to be a book titled "Vermessenen Jahrhundert" The title is a play on words and can be translated "Daring century" as well as "(Mis)-measuring century".
I remember it since we had a discussion about justifying expenses and investments in time, money or people. You want to keep your job? Make its impact measurable. Of course there is the catch Heisenberg described so nicely: "It's not Nature itself we observe, but the mental model formed by our expectation".
It is fun to invent new measurements from time to time. 

Posted by on 03 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: After hours

Always online?

Always online? Just discussed with a potential client a mobile data capturing application. The initial idea was just to have a small screen web application. Soon we found out that near the data entry points network coverage is rather patchy. So an offline solution is needed.
I'm considering using either XML/Rest or JMS. The XML approach is tried and tested (think kXML, kSoap) and would resemble a 'classical' sync/replication process. The JMS approach would be more a constant flow of change signals where the JMS would take care of connectivity (or the lack thereof). Joram has kJMS, so that seems like a fit. The big question: how to pipe back changes from the server if there are but no local updates?

Posted by on 03 September 2005 | Comments (0) | categories: Technology