The cover story for the May 3 issue of BusinessWeek was “World’s Most Innovative Companies” The big point was that the idea of running around as a multi-millionaire CEO chanting the word innovation as if it would magically alter your organization has now been recognized as another in the long line of stupid management fads.

[…] At the behest of an “ideation” consultant, he donned a blue superhero costume — cape, tights, and all — to put a little extra oomph behind the company’s innovation-boosting campaign. “I guess the thinking was that if you free people from the norm, you’ll unleash a torrent of creativity,” says Scott Anthony, president of Innosight, a consulting firm co-founded by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. Anthony refused to name the company because it was a client. “Innovation Man led to a lot of laughs,” he quips, “but it didn’t lead to a lot of innovation.”

The same might be said for many gimmicks that companies have tried over the past few years in their attempts to boost growth. Suddenly trendy, innovation took on the flavor of an elixir, as companies raced to hire “chief innovation officers” and build innovation centers complete with purple-painted walls and conference rooms with funny names. Ford Motor Co. (F) boasted in a press release about its new Innovation Acceleration Center in Dearborn, Mich.: “It’s amazing what a room filled with radio-controlled cars, a 3-ft. Statue of Liberty made of Legos, and some comfy couches can do to stir the imagination.” […]

According to the article many CEOs, having failed at turning their billion-dollar behemoths into innovation engines, are experiencing “innovation fatigue.” I am shocked! Shocked, I say. Shocked to learn that innovation is not a commodity that can be ordered up like Papa John’s Pizza. Shocked to learn that innovation doesn’t exist on its own like, say, cotton.

It turns out that innovation is actually a result – something that happens after you change every aspect of your stodgy, corrupt, inefficient, overbearing, outsourced, badly managed global corporation where everyone spends 80 percent of their time in meetings, 20 percent of their time doing reports, 10 percent of their time fixing stuff someone else did wrong, and 5 percent of their time doing something valuable that a customer will actually pay for. (I know, that’s 115%. That’s called increasing productivity. Guess which 15% gets dropped when your average, everyday human realizes they can only give 100% today.)

And this turns out to be very, very hard.

But there are a few innovative companies. And they’re innovative because, well, because they just are. Because they actually do the hard things most companies can’t, or won’t, do. Because they focus on things far more tangible than “being innovative.”  Things like finding and hiring talented employees and then not stomping on them or burning them out. Things like actually listening to employees with good ideas. And things like not letting the accountants and lawyers decide about what does and does not get done.

Mostly, innovators just seem to understand that innovation is a fundamental result, that comes from getting the fundamentals of running a business right. What a shocker.

maclockpick_pulls_private_data_via_usb_portOnly $499 and available in bulk from Subrosasoft, The MacLockPick is a handy little device for computer-illiterate trusted civil servants to plug into sleeping MacBooks and collect data from all those computers left lying around at crime scenes – just like on TV. Via Digital Trends Magazine:

MacLockPick Pulls Private Data Via USB Port

Friday, April 27th 2007 @ 6:50 AM PDT
By Nick Mokey
Staff Writer, Digital Trends News

Uncle Sam has a new way to pry into your data, and it’s as simple as popping in a thumb drive.

Lock up your MacBooks, Apple fans: SubRosaSoft announced Friday that they are shipping a USB thumb drive, dubbed MacLockPick, that can extract passwords, Internet history, and system settings from an OS X user just by slipping it into a USB drive.

Of course, the drive is only available to law enforcement, but we have to wonder if the same technology that powers it will ever become available to less scrupulous individuals. […]

Anyone wonder just what security measures are in place to ensure that only law enforcement can purchase this. Better yet, what security is in place to ensure that law enforcement doesn’t lose, misplace, or steal the device? Not that it does anything that a power user couldn’t do given a little private time with the computer, but it does make it seamless, simple, silent, and quick – just the thing for the sort of abuse-prone neanderthals that seem to make up far too much of the law enforcement population.

The following is a list of file items that can be extracted using SubRosaSoft’s MacLockPick:

Apple Keychain Passwords

  • System – The user password of the logged in user. Often this is shared for root access and FileVault encryption.
  • General – Includes (but is not limited to) passwords for encrypted disk images, wifi base stations, iTunes music store, iChat login, Apple Remote Desktop.
  • Internet – Includes (but is not limited to) login and password details for web sites, email accounts, some peer to peer networks, online services and stores, auction sites, and .mac accounts.
  • AppleShare – A list of login and password details for appleshare servers this mac has connected to.

Files and Folder details

  • Folder Dates – A list of all the key user folders along with their creation date, date of last modification, date of first access, and date of the most recent access.
  • Disk Images – Paths to the most recent disk images that have been mounted on this mac.
  • Preview – Full paths to recent files that have been viewed in the preview program.
  • QuickTime – File names for recently viewed movies fro the QuickTime player applications
  • Recent Applications, Documents, and Servers – Program names for the most recently used items on this Macintosh computer.

Instant Messaging

  • Default Login – for iChat instant messenger system.
  • Complete buddy list – including buddies who have since been deleted.


  • Account Details – login names and server addresses used.
  • Address Book – Address details for entries in the address book including contacts that have been deleted. This address book is used by most communication programs on the Mac and is used to synchronize with the iPod and other portable devices.
  • Opened Attachments – Paths to files that have been received as an attachment then saved or opened including the date and time of opening.

Web History and Preferences

  • Search Strings – The most recent items that the user has searched for using the google toolbar in safari.
  • Cached Bookmarks – Sites that have been bookmarked in Safari including items that have been deleted.
  • Current Bookmarks – Sites that are currently bookmarked in Safari.
  • Cookies – A full list of cookies include the server address the cookie value and the date and time of assignment.
  • History – Complete details of browsing history including the number of times visited and the date and time of the most recent visit.

Hardware Preferences

  • iPod – Serial numbers of any iPod that have been connected to this Mac along with the date and time it was first used.
  • Bluetooth Devices – hardware address of any bluetooth devices that have been paired with this mac along with the most recent time these devices have been paired.
  • Wifi Connections – Listings for wifi base stations that have been used on this computer including the base address and the date and time of the first connection.
  • Network Interfaces – MAC address for each integrated network interface on the suspect’s machine.

No doubt there will be, if there isn’t already, an open source version of this  or a free set of instructions to DIY for anyone with the time and inclination to do so.

In his Business column in today’s Wall Street Journal [subscription required] Alan Murray reports:

American taxpayers should keep a close eye on the health-care hot potato being tossed aside by DaimlerChrysler AG. Some day, it could end up in their laps.

Daimler’s plan to give control of its Chrysler subsidiary to Cerberus Capital Management is motivated in no small part by its desire to offload the $18 billion in health benefits Chrysler eventually will owe to United Auto Worker retirees.

That’s a big reason why the German company was willing to agree to spend $650 million to make the deal happen.

Yes, it’s you and me that will get to pay for Daimler’s incompetence and ineptitude. Oh, Murray also says Barack Obama is promising to pickup a portion of healthcare costs for all automakers. Another great Democratic strategy – don’t actually fix the problem, just get the government to pay for it. I’m shocked! Shocked, I say.

In the last couple of weeks I had someone come on this site and post, via anonymous comments, a series of diatribes that were a serious attack on another individual and company. The information was detailed but utterly unsubstantiated. The tone was extremely angry. The allegations ranged from deception to outright fraud. I also did a little IP address tracing and determined that the person had gone to some lengths to hide their address.

Within a matter of hours I contacted people who knew something about the companies and person involved, cogitated on what to do, and decided to remove all posts from that individual. I did so without compunction and didn’t think anything else about it. I don’t normally remove comments, in fact that was only the second time in the four five years I’ve had this site. But I guess this kind of thing is going to become more common and we’re being forced to deal with it.

Recently a blog author I follow has been forced to withdraw from blogging and even cancel personal appearances due to death threats received via comments on her blog. The story has received major news coverage, making CNN, the New York Times, and BBC News among others.

Kathy Sierra, author of Creating Passionate Users wrote a nice, user-centered blog about keeping users engaged and had a wonderful sense of graphics and graphic usage. It was good stuff. But somewhere someone got ticked off and began a campaign of vile and serious threats against her.  I find this almost incomprehensible. I didn’t have much to say that hadn’t already been said, and I didn’t feel like adding to the long list of people linking to the murky, disturbing post that describes it all from Kathy’s perspective. But there, I’ve linked to it, as I can’t really talk about this without doing so.

In response to the Sierra fiasco Tim O’Reilly (of O’Reilly Publishing) came out with a Blogger’s Code of Conduct that has created it’s own little tempest in a teapot, as bloggers debate what is censorship, what isn’t, what are we liable for, what is protected speech, etc. I was reminded of all this today when I came across a post by Michelle Lintz at the writetechnology blog:

The Blogosphere Grows Up a Little

Everyone has growing pains as they progress from toddler through to adulthood. The blogosphere is a living, dynamic thing and it’s no different. It was inevitable, of course. That’s not to say it’s not painful for some, and emotional for many.

I debated on even mentioning it, but when it was picked up by the New York Times and the BBC (here and here), I had to investigate further.

To understand it, you have to acknowledge that as in any industry or field, there are certain high-profile folks. In the blogosphere, we have our own “stars” or “celebrities.” People like Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, Kathy Sierra, just to name a few. These folks are incredibly high profile, speak at many events, are public figures that express their views on widely read and well respected blogs. The rest of us are just regular bloggers and the rest of us make up the majority of the blogosphere. In fact, for many of us, these blog stars exist on the periphery of our blogging existence, if at all. So, why are their problems important?

As the blogosphere, or at least the high-profile part, reeled from all this, Tim O’Reilly (yep, the guy who puts animals on his tech books) decided to step in. I concur with many bloggers out there that his actions as “hall monitor” are slightly misguided, no matter how well intentioned. O’Reilly has issued a draft Blogger Code of Conduct and suggests blogs have badges – those who subscribe to the Code of Conduct and those who have an “Anything Goes” badge. Basically, Anything Goes means that any sort of comment can be posted on the blog.

It raises valid questions. Are bloggers responsible for the comments posted to their blogs? Can we censor the comments, and is it censorship? What information do we actually own, when it comes to our blogs, and how accurate are we expected to be? Should we allow anonymous commenting? Are we responsible for the people who choose to remain anonymous? […]

I had some discussions with a lawyer friend when the untoward comments appeared on my blog. He advised that I might expect a cease and desist letter, which he admitted would be a monumentally stupid thing to do on the part of the company’s attorney (he knew what I would do with it.) But we agreed that corporate attorneys don’t get paid for being smart, they get paid for being lawyers. We also agreed that such a letter would have little legal standing other than possibly causing me a little inconvenience. Ultimately, fear of lawyers had nothing to do with my decision.

What did affect my decision was the fact that some yahoo had come on my site, using my weblog and its (admittedly minor) traffic to propagate their personal vendetta. I don’t need O’Reilly’s Code of Conduct to help me understand that people don’t get to do that here.

I am not the government. I am a private individual and therefore cannot, by definition, engage in censorship. I have no obligation to protect anyone’s speech. I have a vested interest in allowing people to post comments challenging my views, questioning my conclusions, forcing me to justify and defend my positions. But I don’t have to let just anyone write just anything they want. Not now, not ever.

I really don’t understand this whole censorship argument. Freedom of Speech and censorship are principles that apply to coercive forces, like governments. If the government didn’t have the power to imprison and execute there would be no need for laws mandating protected speech. I don’t have the power to do either of those things and therefore am not subject to such constraints. I’m just a guy who doesn’t have to play with people who don’t follow the rules of common decency and good sense.

So comment here all you want. I allow anonymous comments as long as no one abuses it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me as long as you do so in a way that makes some sort of sense, and I won’t delete comments unless there is something truly objectionable and unwarranted. But please, refrain from personal attacks, name-calling, making unsubstantiated allegations of illegal behavior, or engaging in other libelous diatribes. I just don’t have the time or patience for it.

stethoscope2In August of last year a 43-year-old woman undergoing chemotherapy treatment for nasal cancer died after receiving a massive overdose of the chemotherapy drug flourouacil. According to an Incident Report (pdf) issued by the Institute of Safe Medicine Practices Canada the dose was miscalculated by two different nurses and incorrectly programmed into an electronically-controlled pump. The woman was then sent home, where the pump poured four (4) days worth of drug into her in four (4) hours.

When the woman returned to the cancer clinic to report the problem a nursing supervisor contacted the doctor on call and was told nothing could be done – there was no antidote – and the woman should be advised to call the next morning. The woman was warned of vomiting and nausea and instructed to stay hydrated.

For the next couple of days no one at the clinic paid much mind to this incident and no one advised the patient of the potential severity of consequences. On the third day someone contacted the patient and advised her to come in the next day. By the fourth day the patient was sick and returned to the clinic but there were no beds available. She was admitted the next day.

For the next two weeks this woman’s body systematically destroyed itself in a rather grotesque and painful sequence of events that led to her death in ICU approximately two weeks after her admission.

This event happened in Canada, but it could happen anywhere. It could happen in every hospital or clinic I’ve ever been in. The problem is that we rely to much on our doctors, and our nurses, to get things right and they just don’t always do so. We simply must know what they are pumping into our bodies. We must know what it is, what it does, and what the potential consequences are.

More importantly we need someone with us, and intelligent advocate, any time we undergo such a procedure because as patients we simply aren’t in any shape to think straight and ask the important questions. Someone should have noticed after an hour that the woman’s medicine was now 1/4 gone and stopped it. Someone should have known, and told the patient, that she was being poisoned (intentionally) and that an overdose would almost certainly be fatal.

My experience is that when you go into a hospital or clinic you are given a form to sign that says you could die. You get that for everything from having an ingrown toenail removed to open heart surgery. But the realistic outcomes are simply not the same for both cases. And the verbal instructions and warnings given by staff are designed to be comprehended by fifth graders and not raise anyone’s anxiety level. The result is everyone signs the form without reading it (I’m not sure it contains anything useful anyway) and, as the report shows, we rarely get the full scoop via verbal instructions or even written discharge orders.

We have made enormous improvements in healthcare over the last 50 years, but we are just nowhere near where we need to be. Until we are, we all need to educate ourselves as much as possible on what the doctors are doing to us, what the (realistic) potential consequences are, and what we should be watching for.

The US auto industry is in turmoil – rising gas prices, changing buyer tastes, stiffer environmental laws, and massive labor costs, among other things – have cost US automakers tens of billions in losses in recent years. And now the pompous jackasses at Daimler-Benz have killed Chrysler. It’s bad enough that my beloved IBM ThinkPads have been sold to Lenovo – I can’t even imagine buying a Chinese-made Jeep! Chrysler was in trouble when Daimler bought them in 1998, but the Germans were supposed to make it better, not spend $40 billion to make it worse.

Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” may well be at play here. In fact, then entire auto industry may be heading for fundamental change not only in product design, but in who it sells to and how [see Shaping the Future by Charles Stross.] What Hannaford describes is very much a “Barbarians at the Gate” scenario. Pay particular attention to his analysis of what Cerberus Capital (the distasteful but quite necessary carrion eaters of the capitalist world) will do with the decaying corpse. Oh, and you can be sure that somewhere the government (that means you and me) will get pegged to pickup the tab for some significant portion of this fiasco.

The Chrysler deal

What to say about the Chrysler deal that already hasn’t been said. A few thoughts:

The deal was even worse for Daimler than the putative $7.4 billion that was announced. That sum was just for show, a pitri enough remnant of the $36 billion Daimler paid for Chrysler. What Daimler will receive for the Chrysler division when all is said and done is nothing – in fact it will pay over half a billion dollars for Cerberus Capital Management to take the US automaker off its hands. As we’ve said before, this makes the merger the 1998 Daimler-Chrysler “merger” in year the worst deal ever. As one commentator said on NPR, “It like when you have a broken down car in your front yard, and pay someone to haul it away.”

The deal is likely to end up in the chop shop. The valuable bits will be sold off eventually, and the brand names (especially Jeep) may be attractive to, say, a Chinese company. Cerberus will be ruthless in cutting pensions and healthcare costs. It may operate a much reduced business, with SUVs and pickups as the main assets, at least for a while. It will dump dealers mercilessly, lay off workers, and move more operations overseas. And, like the airlines, it will plead extreme duress to outflank the unions.

Meanwhile, Cerberus will suck the company dry, so that the investors get their money back with a hefty profit quickly. It set up a labyrinth of holding companies to preserve the good assets from an eventual bankruptcy, much as was done at Kmart.

It will be curious to see if the company has any development in the pipeline, now that Daimler will have all the R&D assets. It’s hard to believe that, for example, a hybrid or electric car, or even a cool sports car or luxury vehicle could originate form a stripped-down Chrysler.

buying a company that looks like it is in freefall. What value will a five-year warranty have, for example, if the company could close its doors at any time. And how motivated will workers be to make dependable cars when their health benefits and pay are threatened?

It’s hard to imagine a renaissance, especially in new product areas. And it seems clear that with $5 gasoline looming, auto companies are going to have to adapt quickly in the next decade, something Chrysler is certainly not ready to do.

As for Cerberus, it’s interesting to speculate on their motivation. They have been make increasing bets in the auto industry. Lat year they bought 51% of GMAC, General Motors’ financing subsidiary. They recently bought Tower Automotive for $1 billion. They also one auto parts suppliers CTA Acoustics and GDX Automotive, and were in hot pursuit of Delphi, the parts maker spun off from GM. Do they think they can derive some synergy form these vaguely related firms and weld them into a new auto empire? Call me a skeptic on that one. These guys are investors, not “car guys.”

For Daimler, it’s a retreat from an attempt at world dominance. Like Ford and GM, Daimler’s dreams of profitable investment in other companies have become a liability. No synergy, but plenty of culture clash and inner turmoil, has made both brands-Mercedes and Chrysler- weaker. Meanwhile, the single-minded, organic -growth approach of Toyota and Honda seems to be the winning one.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on a new site design for a client – We actually have the structure and information architecture pretty well mapped out and are focusing on look and feel, but this type of tool could still come in handy. Even though I am not a designer I’ve taken to creating my own mockups over the years because I find starting from ground zero with a designer to be incredibly frustrating and expensive – it just takes forever for a designer, even a good one, to figure out what you want if you can’t draw at least a basic picture of it yourself. So now I create a fairly complete mockup and then have a designer polish it. That works out much better for me.

But even though I’m getting better at it, I still go through lots of iterations – especially in basic information architecture. Something like Denim could come in handy. I like the mindmap-style sketch interface – seems to me the two are quite similar. I’ll be trying it out later this week. Hat tip to Jim McGee:

Web Design Tool: Denim Site Sketching

When you are making websites, inevitably some form of sketching will be done to rough out it’s design and interactivity.

Whether you’re the web designer or someone trying to communicate your ideas to a web designer, this little piece of software, called Denim, will come in handy.

What Denim does is allow you to create a mock website, with linking pages, just from your rough sketches. Obviously, this will work particularly well with a tablet interface.


Supports Windows, Mac and Unix.

Denim by the University Of Washington

A few weeks ago I reported that I had purchased a new firewall, a Netgear FVS124G. I was enthusiastic about it at first but, like most technology, the teething problems showed up rather quickly. Between then and now I’ve been dealing with technology at a level that I no longer enjoy. But it does appear that, with the help of people at the Vonage Forum, the Netgear Support Forum, and Netgear tech support I have managed to get most things working correctly.

The FVS124G has several features that attracted me:

Combined with my little Netgear GS608 Gigabit switched hub it makes a perfectly adequate small office backbone. The trouble was the firmware didn’t actually work in many areas. The idea behind dual WAN ports is that you can have two broadband connections. The firewall offers three modes of connecting:

  • Manual selection
  • Auto-rollover
  • Load Balancing

Manual mode means one WAN port is active. If it goes down (a daily occurrence with DSL in my area) you manually switch to the secondary (cable modem in my case.) Auto-rollover means that the firewall monitors the state of the primary WAN and if it senses failure it automatically switches over to the secondary. Load balancing is where both WAN ports are active and the firewall distributes traffic between them.

I wanted to use Load Balancing mode, taking advantage of the bandwidth available via both my DSL line and my cable modem line. I naively thought I could get better performance and reliability with less hassle. This is sorta true, sorta not. Everything has a price.

It turns out that lots of net connections require continuity – that is, they can’t send packets over two different broadband connections because the source IP address changes. HTTPS is one such protocol. VoIP is another. There are others, I’m sure. When these connections get broken up over two source IP addresses they cease to work. Since I’m a Vonage VoIP user once I switched to Load Balancing mode my phone stopped working. Not good.

I fiddled with that for quite a while, trying different firewall rules, QoS settings, etc. Nothing worked. The FVS124G has a protocol binding function which, in theory, would let me force all traffic from a given device or protocol to a specific WAN port. But it didn’t work. Even after setting up the correct rules a packet trace showed that VoIP packets were going over both WAN ports.

After reading some tech notes and forum entries I upgraded to the latest Netgear firmware release (v 1.1.38.) That was a disaster. The new firmware slowed my DSL connection to a crawl – about the same as an old 56k dial-up connection. It was terrible. So even if the other problems had be resolved, the new problems were worse. So I went back to my original firmware (v 1.1.30) and eventually got back to my starting point. But I couldn’t use Load Balancing.

The only way I could get the Vonage device to make a clean connection was to switch to Manual or Auto-rollover. Even with that I had to go through some hoops, as v 1.1.30 wasn’t SIP compliant and all the SIP functions had to be manually disabled by telneting into the box and issuing some arcane commands via a command line. In the end I settled on using Auto-rollover mode so that if my cable modem (now primary) went down (which it did with some regularity) the firewall would switch to DSL which, hopefully, would choose some different time to be down each day.

The trouble with this arrangement was that once the firewall “rolled over” to DSL it did not recover when the primary WAN came back online, instead going into Load Balancing mode and using both WAN ports. Which killed my phone service. Again. And required that I reboot the firewall.

Not much better than having to manually switch it.

As a result of all this testing, experimenting, and tech support contact the folks at Netgear asked if I would try an intermediate version of firmware, v 1.1.33, and try again.

I’m pleased to report that v 1.1.33 seems to be much better behaved. The protocol binding issue appears to be resolved, as well as having full SIP compliance. In fairly short order I have been able to verify that packets from the Vonage device are, indeed, staying on the WAN port for which they are designated. But there is still no free lunch.

You see, distributing traffic across two broadband connections adds overhead. Somewhere some processor must decide what packets go where, and that takes time. The net result is that total throughput in Load Balancing mode is actually somewhat lower than when using a single, dedicated WAN port. I had not thought about this.

To minimize the problem I can setup protocol binding rules to shape traffic and, essentially, perform manual load balancing. This seems to work pretty well. It lets me address my basic problem which is that my local LAN traffic was breaking up my VoIP connection, but it does little to add reliability. Now any given service or connection is subject to the service level of the broadband connection to which it is dedicated.

If my DSL line goes down (two or three times a day for 5-10 minutes each) my phone doesn’t work. If my cable modem goes down (this is getting rarer now) my e-mail and web browser don’t work. So I’m pretty much back where I started, except I do have clearer VoIP connections.

At least there is symmetry.

I downloaded a fresh copy of Acronis TrueImage Home 9.0 today and installed it on my ThinkPad. I’ll be imaging the ThinkPad hard drive to an external drive tonight. Over the next week I’ll be embarking on building a couple of computers. I used to enjoy doing that, but not anymore. I’m only doing it because I want to rebuild my two primary workstations – the one that went up in flames 3 years ago, and its replacement which cratered due to a dead drive controller on the mother board last summer.

Both have really nice cases, top-quality power supplies, and nice peripherals that still do what I need, so I didn’t want to just toss that stuff. Besides, my luck with branded PCs is no better. They go up in flames for me, too. I’m just death on computers, for reasons that completely escape me.

These two will be clones – identical motherboards, CPU chips, DIMMs, and system hard drives. That way when the first one dies I can just swap right over to the next and keep on working. In the meantime, the backup unit will serve as a file server and A/V workstation.

I really hope these are the last two computers I ever have to build. Maybe I’ll switch to Macintosh when the time comes to buy another one.