Showing posts from 2009

Cutting the Cable

December 11, 2009 - If you have ever wanted to ditch your cable company, you might find this article from the New York Times interesting. For about a year now, I have been doing something similar although not to the extent that this guy has. My own results have been mixed (watching sports is still a problem) but it is possible to live without cable!

Office 2010 Beta Performs Well

November 18, 2009 (eWeek)- Microsoft Office has an unenviable task: getting organizations and individuals excited about undertaking a major upgrade of a platform whose previous versions have been handling users' productivity chores just fine for going on 10 years now. The beta of Office 2010 shows extended Web and mobile reach, as well as a number of useful enhancements across the suite's apps.

Read about it here.

A New Way to Look at the World

November 2, 2009 (CNN) - What's the first thing that goes through your mind when someone says the word "data"?

For many of us, the first image is line graphs, pie charts and spreadsheets with columns and rows full of numbers that leave you bleary-eyed and a bit dazed.

But what if someone were to say data can also mean what you post on Facebook and Twitter, the ratings you gave a restaurant, the photos you uploaded to Flickr or even, perhaps, what you feel.

A bit of a reach? Not anymore.

An emerging set of tools is making it easier than ever to track and compile all sorts of "data" and display it in a way that's relatively easy to understand.

You can now point your mobile phone at a street and instantly get ratings for restaurants. Or type in your address and find reports of crimes that may have occurred in your neighborhood. It's even possible to track emotions on a national and global scale.

"Specialists from scientists to accountants have been dealing …

Reliability Calculations in Excel

In Operations Management today we used Excel to calculate product reliability. Reliability is defined as "the ability of a product, service, part, or system to perform its intended function under a prescribed set of circumstances" (Stevenson, 2009). In order to calulate reliability over a given length of time we need to use the following formula:

P(no failure) = e-t/MTBF


e = 2.7183
t = Length of service before failure
MTBF = Mean Time Between Failures

One of the cases we did in class involved an auto detailing company that wanted to calculate the reliability of its vacuum cleaners. Excel provides an "EXP" funtion that we can easily apply here. After entering all data for the problem as shown on the spreadsheet below, we type the formula =EXP(-A5/$B$2) in cell B5 and copy down. Next we plot the distribution for t=0 to the maximum life expectancy of 20 years using a line graph. What we end up with looks like a classic case of "exponent…

Five Things to Know Before You Upgrade to Windows 7

October 23, 2009 (PC World) - Now that Windows 7 is here, the three out of four users who have rejected Windows Vista and clung to the tried and true Windows XP can breathe a sigh of relief and consider moving to the new flagship operating system.

Upgrading or switching operating systems often comes with some trials and tribulations and the Windows 7 upgrade is no exception. Microsoft has tried to provide the tools users need to make the transition as easy as possible, but you may hit some snags. Here are five things you should be aware of as you upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7:

1. You can't upgrade directly. Unfortunately, Microsoft has not provided Windows 7 with the capability to upgrade directly from Windows XP. The explanation is that so much has changed between Windows XP and Windows 7 within the operating system kernel itself, the Registry, the drivers, etc. that trying to get from Point A to Point B just won't work.

That isn't as horrible as it sounds. Frankly, …

Excel Solver for Business Decisions

Today in Operations Management we did a case study using the Excel Solver "Add-In." In this example the company sells three products (A, B, and C). An Income Statement calculates the profitability of each product and the goal is to "maximize" profit for the entire company given the constraints on Labor Costs, Materials, and Sales.

Students were required to enter all of the information from the case into the spreadsheet and then configure the Solver parameters in order to come up with a solution. The "Target Cell" is of course, profit. The "Changing Cells" are the "optimum" number of units of Product A, B, and C that will be produced as determined by the Solver. Constraints include how much of each resource is available as well as how many of each product can be sold at best.

Once everything was entered, all that needed to be done was to click the "Solve" button and let Excel find an answer. The model assumes the solution wi…

Patch Day

October 14, 2009 (AP) - Microsoft Corp. issued a record number of security patches for its software Tuesday as part of its regular monthly update.

The software maker plugged 34 holes and designated most of them "critical," Microsoft's most severe rating. Among them are fixes for Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000 and even Windows 7, which doesn't go on sale to consumers until Oct. 22 but has been in use by early testers and software developers. ( is a NBC Universal-Microsoft joint venture.)

The patches target a wide array of Microsoft software, including the Internet Explorer Web browser, Media Player, Outlook and the Silverlight technology underlying multimedia Web sites.

Security researchers at McAfee Inc., which makes antivirus software, noted that many of the holes addressed Tuesday are dangerous because they expose regular PC users to harmful programming code when they visit rigged Web sites or play media files that have been tampered with.


They Can Read Your Mind

September 25, 2009 (Wired) - Scientists are one step closer to knowing what you've seen by reading your mind. Having modeled how images are represented in the brain, the researchers translated recorded patterns of neural activity into pictures of what test subjects had seen.

Though practical applications are decades away, the research could someday lead to dream-readers and thought-controlled computers.

"It's what you would actually use if you were going to build a functional brain-reading device," said Jack Gallant, a University of California, Berkeley neuroscientist.

The research, led by Gallant and Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Thomas Naselaris, builds on earlier work in which they used neural patterns to identify pictures from within a limited set of options.

The current approach, described this week in Neuron, uses a more complete view of the brain's visual centers. Its results are closer to reconstruction than identification, which Gallant likened to "t…

Excel "X-Bar" Control Charts

September 14, 2009 - Continuing our discussion of Total Quality Management, today we created "X-Bar" charts in Excel. The case we studied involved a computer repair company that makes visits to homes and business. Repair calls have historically averaged 80 minutes per call. Management wishes to construct "3 Sigma" control charts to decide if service call times are "in control."

Six samples of five observations were taken, the sample means and ranges have been calculated and the data are as shown in the following Excel worksheet:

The formulas used in this worksheet are:

Sample Means: =AVERAGE(B4:B8), enter in cell B9 then copy across to the other five samples.

Range: =MAX(B4:B8)-MIN(B4:B8), enter in cell B10 then copy across as before.

Average of Sample Means: =SUM(B9:G9)/6 for X-Bar (cell B13) and =SUM(B10:G10)/6 for the Range (cell B14).

Using a table of factors for "3 Sigma" X-Bar charts, (Source: Grant and Leavenworth, Statistical Quality Contro…

Excel Pareto Digrams and Run Charts for Total Quality Management

September 9, 2009 - Today in my Operations Management class, we analyzed customer complaint data for a small grocery chain. Over a nine week period, "Tip Top Markets" had been collecting data on customer complaints. Examples included comments such as: "stale bread," "overcharged," "checkout lines too long," "meat spoiled", "out of 42 oz tide," "eggs cracked," and "store not clean."

Students first tallied the complaints for each week using five categories and entered the data into an Excel spreadsheet:

After calculating total complaints for each category as well as the cumulative percentage, they created a Pareto Diagram and Run Chart as shown:

According to the Pareto Diagram, "Tip Top" has real quality issues in the areas of "Out of Stock Items" and "Service and Maintenance." The Run Chart shows over time how, after implementing a quality improvement program, their stores have…

Good Advice for Using Social Networking Sites!

These 10 guidelines were taken from an article by Debra Littlejohn Shinder of TechRepublic.

1: Why are you using a social networking site?

The first thing to consider is the nature of the social networking site(s) you’re using. Some sites are geared toward professional and business relationships, while others are more purely social. Some posts that wouldn’t cause anyone to lift an eyebrow on Facebook or MySpace would be considered inappropriate on LinkedIn. This is true even if you have the same contacts on both sites. Think of it this way: You probably don’t behave exactly the same way in the office as when you’re out at a restaurant or bar with friends from the office.

There are applications that allow you to link your updates across sites. For example, when you post to Twitter, the post also automatically becomes a status update to your Facebook page. This can save time and effort when used properly. However, if used incorrectly, it can alienate your friends. Twitter followers gene…

Bare Metal Hypervisors

August 24, 2009 (Network World eEdition) - The phrase “bare-metal client hypervisor” is a mouthful, but one IT execs ought to get used to saying in the coming years. As the name suggests, this type of hypervisor sits directly on top of hardware--desktop computers, laptops, perhaps even smartphones one day--running independently from the operating system.

Download a copy of Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008.

“This is exciting technology,” says Chris Wolf, a senior analyst with Burton Group. “It provides enterprises with a tremendous amount of flexibility.” One desktop, multiple VMs One reason for his enthusiasm, Wolf says, is the ability to run multiple virtual machines (VM) on top of a bare-metal client hypervisor. A user machine takes on a whole new personality under this type of architecture. On a desktop computer outfitted with a client hypervisor, for example, you might find corporate-sanctioned and supported operating system and applications running on a locked-down VM. Personal applic…

What is Legal?

Many of my students and colleagues are confused over what they can and cannot do with software, DVD's, mp3's, etc. The legal issues involved are complex and what constitutes "fair use" is often not clear. At my university, we of course always abide by the license agreements which are usually better spelled out for organizations. However, it is harder, I believe, for the individual user to know "right from wrong." The following is excerpted from the August 25, 2009 issue of WinXP News #393...

There are lots of "tips" out there that tell you how to get around copy protection technologies on digital music and software. Just recently another popular Windows newsletter printed "an easy way to stretch the Windows 7 thirty day free trial period to 120 days." I was forwarded a question from a reader about this article, asking "Is this legal?" Few weeks go by that I don't get inquiries from readers, friends and family members who are…

Download Michael Vick and Brett Favre

August 21, 2009 (AP) - It's been a busy week in professional football, with a couple of big, controversial stars — Brett Favre and Michael Vick — joining NFL rosters. No worries, though, for John Madden, because both men are already set to take the field in "Madden NFL 10."

Fans who bought "Madden" when it came out Aug. 14 can download both players thanks to roster updates posted by publisher EA Sports.

Madden, who retired this year from broadcasting NFL games for NBC, is still keeping busy working with EA Sports. "I talk to a lot of people who play the video game," he says. "Sometimes we think it's just kids, but kids who started playing at 16 are now 40." And NFL rookies, "guys 22, 23, they're all video-game players," he says. "Fans aren't given enough credit," Madden says. "They know a lot more than fans 25 years ago."

Chevy Volt

August 11, 2009 (AP) – General Motors Corp. said Tuesday its Chevrolet Volt rechargeable electric car should get 230 miles per gallon (98 kilometers per liter) of gasoline in city driving, more than four times the current champion, the Toyota Prius.

The Volt is powered by an electric motor and a battery pack with a 40-mile (65-kilometer) range. After that, a small internal combustion engine kicks in to generate electricity for a total range of 300 miles (480 kilometers). The battery pack can be recharged from a standard home outlet.

GM is marketing the 230-mile (370-kilometer) figure following early tests using draft guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for calculating the mileage of extended range electric vehicles.

The EPA guidelines, developed with guidance from automakers, figure that cars like the Volt will travel more on straight electricity in the city than on the highway. If a person drives the Volt less than 40 miles (65 kilometers), in theory they could go w…

Spam Worse Than Ever

August 3, 2009 (Networkworld) - Spam, often linked to phishing attacks or fraud, now constitutes 92% of all e-mail, according to McAfee’s “Threat Reports Second Quarter 2009” released Wednesday, while another firm in the spam-stopping business, MX Logic, sees that figure as even higher: a whopping 94.6% of all e-mail sent. The McAfee report states, “June produced the highest amount of spam we have ever seen, beating the previous high month, October 2008, by more than 20%.” Both security firms see “pharmaceutical spam,” at almost 90% of all spam, as the single largest type of spam in terms of content, with one in particular, known as Canadian Pharmacy, the undisputed dominant force.

Criminals sending spam rely on hijacked “zombie” machines that have been taken over by malware, and the number of zombies around the world is said to be rising by an estimated 150,000 every day. “In the U.S. alone, there are 2.1 million new zombies, up 33% from the last period,” the McAfee report states. McA…

Twitter Attack

August 6, 2009 (AP) - A hacker attack Thursday shut down the fast-growing messaging service Twitter, and Facebook also said it was looking into possible site problems.

Twitter said in its status blog Thursday that it was "defending against a denial-of-service attack," in which hackers command scores of computers to a single site at the same time, preventing legitimate traffic from getting through.

For Twitter users, the outage meant no tweeting about lunch plans, the weather or the fact that Twitter is down.The Twitter outage began at about 9 a.m. ET, said Ken Godskind, chief strategy officer at Web performance monitoring company AlertSite.

The site still had lingering access problems midday (local time), though both Twitter and Facebook seemed to be functioning at least intermittently, giving cubicle-bound social media addicts a collective sigh of relief.

Allison Koski, a public-relations manager in Manhattan, said she felt "completely lost" without Twitter.


Defcon 17

August 4, 2009 (CNet) - At a hacker conference no one is safe. When I first went to Defcon in 1995, the halls were mobbed with teenagers and attendees seemed more concerned with freeing Kevin Mitnick and seeing strippers than hacking each others' computers.

Jump forward to Defcon 17 this year, which was held over the weekend in Las Vegas, things certainly have changed. The attendees are older and wiser and employed, most of the feds aren't in stealth mode, and even the most savvy of hackers is justifiably paranoid.

"Welcome to the hacker world," said Defcon founder Jeff Moss.

The evolving demographic of Defcon attendees shows that the hacker community, like all of us, is aging. But it's also a reflection of how the threat landscape has changed. Web site defacements have given way to much more serious risks like financial fraud and unaddressed critical infrastructure weaknesses.

It's a cornucopia of phishing e-mails, cross-site scripting attacks that poke holes i…

Leading Edge Research

August 1, 2009 - Twenty-five of the most important IT related university research projects from Bob Brown's "Alpha Doggs" column in Networkworld. Most of it has practical application and we may see the results in five to ten years. Very interesting. Read about it here.

Was it a Hoax? No Way!

July 20, 2009 (MTV) - An astronaut in a giant white suit stands next to an American flag on the moon’s surface: one of America’s -- and MTV's -- most iconic images. Photos and footage of Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon 40 years ago changed the way people all around the world looked at space. It also sparked a heated debate over whether the moon landing was staged or not, one that continues to leak through in pop culture even today.

It didn’t take long after the 1969 landing for doubters to start stepping out. In fact, a public opinion poll conducted by the Gallup organization once showed that more than 6% of Americans believed the landing to be an elaborate government hoax.

Part of that disbelief was of course fueled by a general feeling that something as amazing as a man walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. There were also rumors that the whole thing was filmed on a Hollywood set. These factors led to a memorable scene in the James Bond film “Diamonds Are …

100% Open Source?

June 17, 2009 (ZDNet) - Whether it’s down to the sagging economy or the slow but inevitable death of XP, I’m hearing from many people who are looking to jump off the Microsoft software bandwagon and pitch up with the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) movement. But could you realistically move your home or business PCs over to open source software and make a 100% switch?

This question intrigues me, and I think that ultimately there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to it. I think that some people could, others can’t, and others could, but simply won’t.

At one end of the spectrum you have the home user who spends 90% of their PC time on the Internet. These folks could switch to FOSS in a heartbeat. Even if they do more, like write lists, maybe compile a few reports, and maybe even mess about with photos and a bit of video, switching to FOSS would be a doddle.

At the other end of the spectrum you have large corporations running highly-complex systems. For these entities, changing anything is…

"Relativity" in LEGO

I've always been fascinated with "Relativity" by M. C. Escher ever since I first saw it many years ago. Turns out someone has done a "Lego" version of it!

You can get the details of it here.

A Green Way to Get Rid of Old Electronics

June 29, 2009 (New York Times) This month, Edward Reilly, 35, finally let go of the television he had owned since his college days. Although the Mitsubishi set was technologically outdated, it had sat for years in Mr. Reilly’s home in Portland, Me., because he did not know what else to do with it, given the environmental hazards involved in discarding it. “It’s pretty well known that if it gets into the landfill, it gets into the groundwater,” he said. “Its chemicals pollute.”

But the day after the nationwide conversion to digital television signals took effect on June 12, Mr. Reilly decided to take advantage of a new wave of laws in Maine and elsewhere that require television and computer manufacturers to recycle their products free of charge. He dropped off his television at an electronic waste collection site near his home and, he said, immediately gained “peace of mind.”

Over the course of that day, 700 other Portland residents did the same.

Since 2004, 18 states and New York City ha…

Michael Jackson's Death Affects Internet Traffic

June 26, 2009 (CNN) The biggest showbiz story of the year saw the troubled star take a good slice of the Internet with him, as the ripples caused by the news of his death swept around the globe.

"Between approximately 2:40 p.m. PDT and 3:15 p.m. PDT today, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson," a Google spokesman told CNET, which also reported that Google News users complained that the service was inaccessible for a time. At its peak, Google Trends rated the Jackson story as "volcanic."

As sites fell, users raced to other sites: TechCrunch reported that TMZ, which broke the story, had several outages; users then switched to Perez Hilton's blog, which also struggled to deal with the requests it received.

CNN reported a fivefold rise in traffic and visitors in just over an hour, receiving 20 million page views in the hour the story broke.

Twitter crashed as users saw multiple "fail whales&q…

The Internet and the Crash of 2008

By Andrew Smith

The Stock Market Crash of 2008 was devastating to millions of Americans but came at a time of general prosperity. Although there were concerns about the housing market and gasoline prices had hit record levels that summer, there were many signs that the economy was fundamentally strong. The behavior of investors seemed to be irrational—almost as if some force other than economic was driving the decline. Experts have debated all of the possible causes from declining “consumer confidence” to “short selling” to the fact that it was an election year. Undoubtedly there were many factors involved. Is it possible that the Internet itself contributed to the market’s decline?

Over the past several years the marketplace has changed radically, and this is largely due to the revolution created by Internet trading. Prior to 1995, individual investors gained access to the financial markets almost exclusively through full service brokers, discount brokers, or mutual funds. Sin…