As we all know, it seems like new programming languages are created every week. But which ones aren’t worth wasting your time on?I looked at actual listings on Dice to try to spot some trends. In late April, I searched both their entire set of job listings as well as specific job titles to see what skills companies were actually looking for. Here is a link to what I found.
We all know that relying on a simple user ID and password combination is fraught with peril. One alternative is to use one of the single sign-on solutions we reviewed last year, but there are less expensive options that could also be easier to install. That’s where two-factor authentication services come into play. I recently reviewed eight such tools, including Celestix’s HOTPin, Microsoft’s PhoneFactor, RSA’s Authentication Manager, SafeNet’s Authentication Service, SecureAuth’s IdP, Symantec’s Validation and ID Protection Ser- vice (VIP), TextPower’s TextKey and Vasco’s Identikey Authentication Server. SecureAuth (illustrated) came out on top.
You can read my review in Network World here.
A company started over the course of a weekend today is one of the winners of the St. Louis Arch Grants competition. Juristat, which applies big data analytics to legal caseloads, won a $50,000 grant as part of the competition. This comes on top of a $50,000 equity investment by Capital Innovators, a St. Louis-based venture capital firm. Juristat’s tagline is “helping lawyers predict the future.”
A little over a year ago, Drew Winship was one of the participants in the St. Louis Startup Weekend. The goal was to find others of like mind and form a company within 50 hours over a weekend. I watched as he brought his team together and began to formulate their plan, and it was fascinating. Winship’s idea was to download information from the state court websites to determine the best days and trial judges for lawyers to try their cases in front of. Because there are differences among them, and if you know going into a trial that you can get a better outcome some place else, why not use that to your advantage?
For example, why not figure out the probably of a judge granting a summary judgment (meaning a shortened trial)? Or which litigators at particular firms have better won/lost case stats? Or if your stats are better than competing law firms’? Or the composition of particular juries? If you get enough data, the analyses can be pretty compelling, particularly for large dollar law suits.
There was just one tiny problem: the Missouri state court website didn’t have any easy way for the general public to download its data. So Winship and his team put together a series of automated scraping techniques to gather the data over that first weekend. That created something of an issue, because this automated scraping effort looked to the court website as a denial of service attack in progress.
So began Juristat. You could see how lawyers and their regulatory bodies might not have much of a sense of humor, especially when it comes to having their data taken without their permission. Indeed, if you examine the sad tale of Aaron Swartz and his suicide earlier this year, he was essentially doing something similar with downloading batches of academic journal articles.
Winship is a member of the Missouri bar and somewhat reluctant to become a cowboy data wrangler: mainly because he could be put in jail for these activities. The courts decide what is and isn’t appropriate fair use of their data, even though it should be available to the public. This reminds me of the early days of the Internet when folks like Carl Malamud fought with the US Patent Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission to to free their data archives. Now we don’t think much of having this kind of access: indeed, you would be hard pressed to find folks that prefer the paper documents to what you can find online.
I spent some time with Winship last week and he brought me up to date on his fledgling company. While Missouri’s courts have since balked about giving him any data, he has been able to legally access the entire New York state court system and process it in his system. He is expecting contracts from a couple of major Manhattan law firms “any day now” and has continued to develop and refine his algorithms to make them unique and useful to his legal clients. Part of their challenge was to develop application interfaces that would work and that others could use to build on top of Juristat’s efforts. And part was just manipulating the data in such a way that it would be useful for your average lawyer with no computer knowledge. (Insert your favorite lawyer joke here.)
Yes, there are some pretty big players in their space, including Lexis and Westlaw. They don’t have all the data that Juristat has, and they don’t have any accessible analytics either. That is the golden opportunity available, and why the company has won the attention of Arch Grants.
But what I like about Juristat’s story is that you don’t often find its founders that simulate a DDOS attack to start up their company. And certainly not by a bunch of lawyers! I wish them well.
In my work as a mentor for startups and as an informal career coach for others, I often tell people about the moment in time when I made a major career change. Many of you might enjoy this story as well, and use it to think about how you have gotten to where you are today.
The Internet has made it easier to stay in touch with people from our past: just this week I met with someone that attended my undergraduate college (whom I never met when I was there) and got an email from a co-worker from my past. It put me in a mood.
This job change was a big moment for me: it turned me towards my path of tech journalism and changed the nature of what I do every day.
I can remember it precisely: it was the winter of 1986, and I was working as an IT analyst for a large insurance company in downtown Los Angeles.
It was a fun job. Back then, end user computing was on the rise. Budgets and staff were big. We had, I think, somewhere north of 20 people working in various capacities, and we were installing PCs by the truck load across our three building “campus” (although no one called it that back then). I was good at my job, and enjoyed working with end users and helping them to learn about the few apps (by today’s standards) that we supported on their PCs.
I was an avid reader of PC Week, which (along with Infoworld) was the leading trade pub for IT workers. All work would stop when the internal mail delivered our copies Monday afternoon, as we tried to scan its pages before our users (who also were subscribers) would start calling us with questions about the tech they were reading about in the latest issue.
PC Week was starting a special edition that was going to be called Connectivity. It would be a supplement that would go to a subset of its readership, what publishers call a “demographic.” And they were looking for writers and stories.
I found out who was going to be running the publication and sent him what I now know is a query letter. At the time, I was just an interested reader of the pub and didn’t think anyone would be even interested in hiring me, let alone want to know what I thought was important and interesting. I mean, I was just this little cog in a big machine. I had zero professional writing experience. I didn’t know who the CEOs were of the major tech vendors by name. I was in the process of installing my company’s first LAN, so was interested in PC communications.
I was dead wrong. They were more than interested.
That query letter led to flying me out to Comdex in Vegas, the biggest tech show back then, and meeting the newly minted Connectivity staff, and eventually a job offer to join their ranks as a staff writer. I began working for them almost immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That first year I wrote more than 300 individual stories for the publication. They were stories about how LANs were connecting to mainframes, and how PCs were changing the nature of American business. They were heady times: we had the ear of every major tech company around. I got to work with some of the most creative and interesting people of my career, some of whom I still am in touch with today. Many of the original PC Weekers went on to bigger and better things in the tech industry, and I am proud to count myself as part of them.
I went from installing my first LAN to telling thousands of people how to do it themselves. Back then, we could talk to anyone, including Bill Gates, just by calling them on the phone. Email was still a bright and shiny object, and the Internet was yet to be invented, by Al Gore or Vint Cerf or anyone else.
What motivated me to write that letter? I really don’t know. But it was a transformative moment for my career, to say the least. And I tell this story to you today in the hopes that you may share your own moment when your career went in a new and exciting direction, and you have the perspective to acknowledge and celebrate it. Please share your stories here if you feel so moved.
Tech firms are relying on non-traditional hiring methods, from programming contests to finding the right people via algorithm. I interview several hiring managers and shared some of their methods.
You can read my post on Slashdot here.
If you don’t want to go to Vegas for one of the mega-shows by IBM, Symantec, CA and whatnot, then perhaps you should consider one or more of the shows that I chronicle in my latest piece for ITworld. I tried to find conferences that you can actually learn something, and are small enough not to be overwhelming where you can spend some time meeting new people too.
You can read my article here.
I have been spending time this week at a small media company called Mercury Labs. Despite their name, they don’t normally test anything, but ironically that is what I have been doing there. I was testing a bunch of integrated network security devices for Network World. These devices cover what is called unified threat management, but you can think of them as network firewalls with additional features, such as the ability to scan incoming and outgoing traffic for viruses and spam, blocking phishing URLs, and being able to set up a secure virtual private network connection when you are on the road. I’ll call them advanced firewalls here for convenience.
I have a long history of testing these tools. Almost seven years ago, one of the Techtarget publications had me looking at them for larger enterprises, and I went out to the central IT department at Stanford University to put them through their paces. This time around, I wanted to find a small business site for the tests that I was going to be doing for Network World. That’s why I was over at Mercury this past week.
They have about 10 Macs connected to an Apple Airport, which is the center of their network, providing IP addresses, wireless connections and a shared hard drive to the entire office. The Airport is attached to a cable modem and the Charter broadband network.
Wait a minute. Don’t you need a firewall if you are going to connect your network to the badass Internet? Yes, and Mercury knew they were taking chances. A firewall is just the basic separation that keeps the bad guys from getting inside your network and causing havoc. That is why they were the perfect testing site. They were vested in my review and what I would find out about these products and their specific needs.
Interestingly, it isn’t just small businesses that don’t have firewalls. When I arrived at Stanford, the central network didn’t have any either. Partly that was because of some odd notion of academic freedom, but back then they realized they had to get better protection. Ironically, while I was doing my tests there we saw someone try to reach out from Germany one morning. Luckily, they had other defenses that prevented them from doing any damage, but it emphasized the reason why I was there testing these products. And coincidentally, when we brought up the advanced firewalls at Mercury, we could see all the network traffic where folks were continually scanning and looking for ways to enter their network too. It was a sobering illustration of why these products are essential.
When I first arrived on scene, I went into their phone closet where I tried to suppress a gasp. Yep, this was your typical small business: part storage room, part cable jungle, and mostly a mess. It was clear that trying to figure out the network topology was going to be a challenge, and my first act was to leave everything alone.
Inside the closet were two small gigabit switches from DLink that looked like they had been around since the days of DOS. This worried me, but since things were working, I wasn’t too concerned. Yet.
One of the vendors that were part of the test insisted on sending a product engineer to help with my testing, and I am sure glad that he was there. When we cut over to his device instead of the Airport, things initially went south. Turns out we found a bug in their firmware. Once that was fixed, all of the wireless Macs were quickly brought up on the network behind the new firewall. But the wired Macs had trouble connecting. It took a few reboots later before we got everyone back on board. It was ironic that the wireless portion of their network was easier to bring up than their wired portion. That was thanks to the wonky cabling in the closet.
So what are some takeaways from this experience?
If you are running gigabit Ethernet to your desktops, make sure your cable plant is up to snuff. Part of my problems had to do with the older cables used to connect things in their wiring closet. There is a difference between Cat5 and Cat5e, especially if you want to run the faster networks these days. Make sure you are using the right cables.
Disconnect any unused wired ports in your office. This is just basic security practice, but bears repeating. And if your wiring contractor hasn’t done so, you should label your ports in the walls and in your closet so you can track things down more easily.
Understand the limitations of your core network gear, including switches, routers, firewalls, and wireless access devices. Your network installer should explain these things in terms that you can understand.
Have a separate guest network with the appropriate security measures. The Mercury folks were using the Airport guest network features, which were bare bones. One of the reasons they wanted to go to the advanced firewall was to provide better protection from their frequent guests and contractors who were going to be connecting in their offices.
Oh, and what happened with my review for Network World? Well, you will have to wait and read about it in their pages. I can tell you that I learned some interesting things about all the products that I tested.