Microsoft’s “secure” ecommerce solution

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mshowto.gifThis morning’s MSDN Flash email almost made me spit coffee through my nose. Ordinarily you have to take this stuff with a grain of salt, because it’s written to sell more Microsoft products, but this one takes the cake. Here’s the snippet:

“How to Process E-mail Orders Using Outlook and Access:
Learn how the authors accepted orders placed for their company’s software through an online ordering system – and how they process those orders automatically by using some Microsoft Access code that links to Microsoft Outlook. Learn More

Okay, lemme get this straight: you take the world’s most insecure, virus-susceptible email client, combine it with the crummiest database platform I’ve ever worked with, and you build an e-commerce solution out of it? It would be one thing to integrate it into a help desk solution, maybe, but to rely on it to process your revenue? You can just picture the conversation one morning as they show up for work: “Hey, Bob! We got a million orders last night! We’re rich! Rich, I tell you! IPO city! Oh, wait – never mind, it looks like we were hit by an email virus.”

Even funnier, imagine if you deployed this solution, and your competitors knew you used it. They could easily send thousands of spoofed emails with fake orders, tying up your resources and making you lose your shirt with incorrect shipments and productions.

9/11, two years later


About two years ago, on the morning of September 11 2001, I was working from home as a computer programmer. A friend of mine in our Dallas office emailed me asking what was going on, that they couldn’t get to any news web sites. I turned on my favorite news channel, MSNBC, and watched the horror unfold.

I had a video card in my computer that received TV and could capture pictures, so I spent the morning emailing screen shots to the people in a few different offices that didn’t have access to television. I kept feeding news to my friends as things got worse and worse, from the towers burning, then other crashes in PA and the Pentagon, and the towers falling.

It never occurred to me to turn the VCR on and start recording, and even months later, I don’t remember wishing I had a copy of the coverage. Around a year ago, I started looking for a taped copy of the MSNBC coverage. Being a frequent Ebay buyer, I was disappointed to find that they kept stopping auctions with taped TV feeds due to copyright violations. I would have been more than happy to pay MSNBC or NBC for the tapes, but inquiries led me to a brick wall.

At the moment, I’m sitting in the bedroom watching 9/11 tv coverage that I bought on DVD from Terry Hoknes, a tape trader in Canada. I’m linking to him because I’m sure I’m not the only one looking for things like this. Terry shipped promptly and the DVD is absolutely great: one DVD with TV coverage from MSNBC, CBS, and NBC. Two grateful and somber thumbs up.

Bernard Pivot Questionnaire


I’m never going to make it to the show Inside the Actors Studio, but the questionnaire they ask each guest amuses me. I’d love to sit in the chair across from James Lipton, but since the odds aren’t looking good:

What’s your favorite word?
Solution. (I like words with multiple meanings, and I’ve always wanted to name my first sailboat Solution for its different meanings.)

What’s your least favorite word?
Broke. (Another multi-dimensional word.)

What turns you on?

What turns you off?
Work. When I’m working, I just want to think about work, nothing else. Sounds like a canned interview question, but seriously, I get grumpy if my work gets interrupted by personal stuff.

What sound or noise do you love?
Waves crashing on the shore.

What sound or noise do you hate?
My neighbor playing a stereo.

What is your favorite curse word?
C*cks*cker. Erika and I use it all the time – sometimes in public by accident – because it’s so offensive that it’s hilarious.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Race car driver. Not an oval course, though, but a road course like Formula 1. People don’t realize how much work it is, how intense, and how much concentration is required.

What profession would you not like to attempt?
Salesman. Those poor guys. Commission sucks.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
The beignets are over there, and I’m going to pretend you were in the back pew from the ages 16 through 29, kiddo.

When to kill a web site


I run a free class reunion site. It’s a lot like Classmates, except it’s free and there’s no ads. I originally wrote it for my 10th reunion for high school, and being the wild and crazy programmer that I am, I designed it to be hugely scalable from the beginning. Anybody can sign up any school, any number of reunions per school, etc. I never thought I’d compete with Classmates, but I figured a few schools might adopt it and sign up. I just put it up online, let Google find it, and figured I’d reevaluate it after a year.

The domain-expiration email just came in, and it’ll cost me around $15 to renew it for another year. The domain gets around 200 page views per month and a few people have registered, but nobody’s using it for their primary class reunion planning site. I feel like it’s time to put up or shut up: either I put 40-60 hours into this thing to make it more robust, or I let the domain expire.

In comparison, this site ( usually gets more hits in a day than the reunion site gets in a month. I’d rather put the 40 hours into this site and add a good turtle forum or something like that. The vast majority of my viewers come to view the turtle section, which strikes me as ironic since I no longer have turtles! (We’ll probably get a box turtle when we move into the new house, though.)

So it’s time for the reunion site to say goodbye. I hate abandoning work – I’ve built a few sites over the years and then abandoned them when I didn’t have the time to make them great. The lesson, I guess, is to do few things and do them very well. People don’t come to the internet for applications: they come for information. The reunion was an application that took me maybe a month to build, whereas the turtle info pages took maybe two hours.

Would I produce sites & pages differently if the visitor numbers didn’t matter? Yes, definitely. When I sit down at the computer to build pages in my spare time, it’s either driven by giving something back to the public, or expressing something. (This blog is all about expressing what’s going on – I doubt anybody reads this closely. And if you’ve gotten this far, go surf somewhere more fun.)

New pair of shoes

SQL Server

shoes.jpgWoohoo! I got new shoes. Repeated watchings of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy convinced me that I needed to start putting some class into my wardrobe. First on the agenda: a couple pairs of new shoes. Yesterday, Erika and I went down to DSW, a big shoe store on Westheimer, and examined their mens’ department. Out of it all, I only found a couple pairs that were decent, and they didn’t have any left in my size.

We decided to head back to the Galleria and give Kenneth Cole a shot. I don’t know much about men’s shoes, other than how to tell the qualities of different shoe leathers, but I’d always liked Kenneth Cole watches, so it seemed like a good idea. Sure enough, they had a handful of pairs that I’d have been quite content to go home with. We narrowed it down to a formal black pair and a more casual brown suede pair, and I picked the suede pair. It’s the most I’ve ever spent on shoes ($115), but they’re gorgeous, and I love them. I had no idea it was possible to love shoes, but I love these shoes, and already it makes me want to buy nicer clothes.

The magical new shoes even offset the fact that I lost the Windows installation on my desktop again. That’s the second time in a week. This instance appears to have resulted from me trying to use a Dell Perc 2/DC raid card in my Optiplex desktop running Windows XP, which is way, way, way unsupported. I swear, I’ve learned my lesson: from here on out, I’m never building another desktop machine by hand again. The money you save isn’t worth the time you lose. Buy a decent desktop from a manufacturer, use supported hardware, and things work peachy keen.

I can see why people love Macs: after all, they seem more reliable because the hardware and software are all controlled by the same people. The majority of system problems I have under Windows is driver-related: cheap software that undermines good hardware and a good operating system.

Deadlines & programming


It’s gonna be a long day. A long weekend, in fact. I’ve got a Monday deadline on a project, and I’ve got a few kinks to iron out and a lot of testing to do. I don’t work on work-related stuff on weekends very often, but this particular project is a lot of fun because customers are beating the door down to get in. As a designer & programmer, when that happens, it’s priceless. There’s no better feedback than people throwing money at your salespeople and asking when they can go live.

So many people have gotten so excited that my development calendar is getting rewritten. My next project after Monday was supposed to be a rewrite of the core part of our customer site, but at this point, it looks like I’ll probably be spending the next couple of months adding more features and interfaces to this new product instead. I have mixed feelings about that: I was going to switch over to Java development next month, and while I’m excited about learning new technology, I wasn’t quite as thrilled about the amount of downtime involved before I produced a valuable product again.

Anyway, enough boring stuff. Time to harness the magic of the caffeine molecules and get my coding on.

Cheesecake Surprise


Cheesecake.jpgLooks good, doesn’t it? That’s a chocolate swirl cheesecake, first one I ever made. Made it last night. Even had to buy a springform pan just to make it. Erika and I are still somewhat on the Atkins Diet, so I made a sugar-free cheesecake with one of their recipes. This particular recipe looked extremely easy, so I printed it by clicking the Print This icon on their site and started cooking. The print-friendly page seemed to have a few bugs in it, like error messages, but I figured they wouldn’t affect anything.

Boy, did it ever.

Halfway through making it, I realized some of the ingredients were missing on the printed ingredient list. I didn’t think to check the web site to see if the printout came out wrong (which it had). The most serious problem was that it didn’t specify the quantity of sugar substitute, so we had to guess. What a disaster. As pretty as this picture might look, the cheesecake tastes awful. Horrid. I had a few bites and promptly shelved it in the fridge. I’m going to throw it out this morning, and Erika says she’ll find a better recipe and make it.

Putting money down


lot.jpgSomeday (hopefully soon), our house will be here. This photo (taken May 25) shows the corner of Perry’s new Park Square development where our house is going to go.

We didn’t quite make it in for Phase 1 – there were only 2 houses with the floorplan we wanted, and both of them got sold very quickly. However, Drue Ploog, our contact at Perry, did a great job of staying in touch with us. When Perry decided to switch four of the houses to the plan we wanted, she called us, and I hauled butt down to their sales office yesterday with my checkbook. All of the houses on the outside edges of the subdivision have already been sold except these 4 changed ones, and I’m thrilled to be back in the back, and in Phase 1. Can’t say enough good things about the way Drue’s treated us so far.

So now I’ve got a sales contract. They haven’t laid the concrete foundations yet, and Drue’s guesstimating that the home will be complete in December, maybe around December 1. I’m going back next Thursday to do the “Phase 1” walkthrough, where we go through the blueprints and specify the early changes we want. Things like electric outlets, speaker wiring, appliances, etc.

I’m supposed to start shopping for a mortgage now, but I’ve got a head start: I already applied with a few companies, and got back great answers so far. The whole thing doesn’t seem as timely as I’d like: everybody says to wait until 30-40 days before closing before doing the actual application, or else you pay extra fees to lock in early. I just wanna know that I’m going to be totally approved, and not get screwed out at the last minute. I’ve got a totally queasy feeling in my stomach. I won’t be relaxed until after I get all the mortgage paperwork signed.

Finally switching to Mozilla


webcam.jpgOh, man, have I been waiting for this day. One of our developers needed me to check something in Mozilla, and I just happened to pull up our company intranet in Mozilla. I don’t know when this happened, but all of a sudden, Mozilla handles Microsoft NT challenge/response authentication. I’m totally psyched – this was the one thing keeping me from using Mozilla as my primary browser. I hated having to switch browsers every time I needed to access our intranet. (And yeah, I’m the webmaster and yeah I could change the authentication method, but that’s what the company wanted, so I just let it go.)

I love this webcam shot. I’m working outside on Dad’s patio this morning. Wireless networking rocks. It’s a beautiful day, perfect summer temperature in Michigan, maybe 72, plus bright sunshine. So bright I can barely see enough on my Thinkpad’s LCD display in order to get my work done. It’s getting a little too bright, so I’m heading off to lunch and then I’ll work the rest of the day inside.

Microsoft and IE versions


There’s been a lot of talk lately around Microsoft’s subtle hints that Internet Explorer will no longer be available in “standalone” versions after IE6 SP1. In a nutshell, MS is saying that there won’t be a standalone Internet Explorer 7.

So why are they doing it? More revenue. Browser upgrades don’t cost consumers anything, but operating system upgrades cost money. If Joe Sixpack sees a web site error that says, “You need Internet Explorer 8 to view this site” then he just upgrades his browser for free from Windows Update. However, if the error says, “You need Windows 2005 to view this site” then Microsoft stands a chance of increasing their revenues.

It’s a smart move for the company’s overall value, since they can’t possibly start charging for standalone browser installs, so they know they need to integrate the browser tightly into the OS, and allow for planned OS obsolescence to keep the revenue streams up.

Plus, the formerly frantic release schedule of browsers has slowed to a trickle, so it makes sense to schedule them in tandem with operating systems. Internet Explorer 7 will come around with Longhorn (the new release of Windows for consumers), and the average user will confuse Longhorn’s new browser with the operating system itself. Users will be more likely to shell out for Longhorn if it comes with significant browser improvements.

To paraphrase the old Sun slogan, the browser is the computer.

Still learning MovableType


I’m still up in Michigan on vacation, and I set aside this afternoon to learn more about MovableType’s templates. I get the feeling I’m missing a whole lot of valuable info here, and I want to integrate the blog more tightly with the rest of my web site.

Today is Dad’s birthday, and I got him a Tivo. If you haven’t gotten a Tivo yet (and according to sales figures, you’re in the vast majority of Americans), you owe it to yourself to go check them out. Tivo makes TV fun again.

I decided to get him a Tivo when I watched him watching TV. Dad & Caryl sit down for dinner around 6 and start channel surfing. You have to do a lot of surfing to find something interesting on TV, and even then, you end up compromising. Tivo makes quality television available anytime, at your convenience, on your schedule. It’s outstanding.

I’m getting frustrated with my LG VX-10 cell phone from Verizon. Out here in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to get a signal, and even then, it’s a weak analog signal. The VX-10 will only hold on to a weak analog signal for about sixty seconds, at which point it proclaims that it has a dead battery and powers itself off. However, if you just wait a few seconds and power the phone back on, it correctly shows that it’s got a full battery charge. Totally odd. I’m going to take it in for service while I’m up here, and I’m half hoping that they say it’s a defect in the phone, because I’m not terribly fond of this phone. It’s okay, but it’s just not great. I’ve got my eye on the new color Sidekick from T-Mobile, but I doubt I can get out of my Verizon contract early.

Moving right along


Well, got MovableType up and running, and I’m learning the basics of templates. This morning, I’m adding a couple of blog entries to test how the templates look with multiple entries, and by lunchtime, I’m hoping to have my existing blog entries ported over. Let’s see how it goes.

Testing 1-2-3


I quit. I give. Mercy.

I installed MovableType this afternoon. I’m tired of reinventing the wheel: I figured I could either spend a few hours implementing TrackBack and Comments, or else I could spend a few hours installing MovableType and get a really powerful blog system.

My web server runs Windows 2000, and MT is really designed for Linux/Unix systems. The installation process was a nightmare, a total pain in the rear. I was hissing and cursing at my machine, trying to keep the noise level down because Erika was napping in the next room. I finally figured out all of the obscure command line garbage and got it working, but I still have a lot of work left to do. I need to set up my templates, import my old blog entries and photos, and shore up the security.

Here’s the first entry on MT, anyway. I’m getting ready to click Save…my fingers are crossed….copying this into UltraEdit just to be safe…

Got my Linux on


Growing up, Dad took me to the Indianapolis 500 several times. He worked in the tire business for quite a while, and we got some neat seats and had great experiences. The whole spectacle still impresses me, and I try to watch it every year. I don’t watch any other car races live, but I love this one. I’m watching it as we speak.

There’s a lot of cautions this year, so I decided to play around with the Red Hat 9 installation on my Thinkpad. Patrick Glennon suggested I install Apt and Synaptic to make system updates and installations easier. I’d tried it the day I got RH9 installed, but I wasn’t able to get it done in half an hour or so, so I gave up. Today, I gave it another shot, and it was a piece of cake. As a Windows user, I’d think when I double-click on an RPM, it would install. No dice – I had to do the install in a terminal, and then it fired right up. Nifty.

Still haven’t been able to get my Lucent Orinoco working, but there’s a lot of laps left in the 500…

Finally, magazines are “getting” Bluetooth


David Berlind’s latest column for Ziff-Davis explains what a pain in the rear Bluetooth configuration is, and why it’s too late for the standards group to fix it. The implementations out there now are all wildly different, the user interfaces are wacko, and the whole thing isn’t easy.

For those of you who haven’t used Bluetooth yet, it’s a wireless standard designed to make it easy for you to have a wireless keyboard, wireless mouse, wireless headphones, and to make devices talk to each other wirelessly. For example, your laptop can connect to the internet through your cell phone, but without having to connect any cables, and you can keep your cell phone in your pocket the whole time. It’s specifically designed to make life easier for users.

It’s a great idea, but falls down miserably on execution. Why? Because you can’t hand out a hardware standard to computer companies all around the globe, and then expect them all to design software independently that will work together. Interoperating equipment doesn’t just require hardware standards, but also software standards. My prediction: Bluetooth will die a slow, meandering death in 2-3 years.

Well, that was short-lived


Linux worked for a few minutes on the laptop, and I left to go get some coffee and eggs. When I came back it was locked up with a grid of boxes on the screen. Luvly. Guess the screen saver’s got a bug, or maybe something in the power management systems. Of course, I didn’t actually *configure* anything – it just came like this out of the box from RH, so it’s not like I can blame myself for picking a fancy screen saver. The only thing I’d loaded was Mozilla.

Ah, that explains it.

Watson, come here. I need you.


Unbelievable – it’s a breakthrough. Red Hat 9 installed on my Thinkpad and detected (almost) everything automatically. Most importantly, on the very first boot, the video worked correctly. What a difference. So now I’m sitting on a Linux desktop, viewing my site in Mozilla, and adding blog entries. Only in America. Okay, well, maybe not.

Coming right along


I changed database structures when I redid my blog this week, and I have to redo all of my blog-management pages. Well, I say ALL like there’s fifty of them, but there were only a few pages. The new version will require quite a few more, because it has more tables and whatnot, and things are just getting started. I can add blog entries over the web again (as opposed to doing it in SQL Enterprise Manager, which is a pain) and it’s actually a cleaner interface than the last one was.

It’s a night for changes again tonight – I upgraded the drive in my home server, Miss Piggy, to a 60gb one so that it’s got more space for MP3’s. I keep all of my 400+ CD collection online in MP3 format to make it easy to play any CD from my computer.

And, brace yourself – I’m trying to install Linux on my laptop yet again. This time, it’s Red Hat 9 going under scrutiny. I found a few step-by-step checklist web pages that walk users through getting RH7 to work on a Thinkpad T21, so I’m hoping RH9 will be roughly the same process. I can’t believe XFree86 doesn’t support this laptop out of the box – IBM sold cajillions of the Thinkpad T20-T23 series, all with the same video adapter, and it’s not exactly esoteric gear. Already I’ve seen problems with the RH9 install, though – it totally disregarded my Lucent Orinoco Gold wireless card. Come on, man, that’s another world-standard piece of equipment. Aaargh.

So, why am I subjecting myself to this? Because at work we decided to go with Java as our programming standard, replacing Delphi back end Windows programs and the ASP front end for the web site. We tried to decide between Java and .NET/C# – I was on the .NET side, but we’ve already got a few Java developers in another office, so Java won out. Neither way is a loser, I think, but I’m not thrilled about it from a personal perspective. I’m really gung-ho on RAD tools, and in Java, I’m not seeing anywhere near the level of RAD tools that I’m used to in Windows. We’re talking about a guy whose second programming language was Winbatch, so you know I like the high-level stuff.

RSS feed implemented


I’ve set up an RSS feed for my blog, but you don’t want to click on it if you’re using Internet Explorer. For some reason (bad coding on my part, I’m sure) IE chokes hard on my RSS feed. After a few attempted views, it starts behaving abnormally and won’t even do DNS lookups, leading to interesting errors like server-not-found when trying to view localhost.

Anyway, the whole RSS thing is extremely strict on syntax, so now I really have to watch my P’s and Q’s – especially the P’s. For example, my p tags to start paragraphs have to always be exactly the same case. One uppercase P and one lowercase p means that SharpReader won’t validate the RSS feed. Ouch.

The whole RSS thing is mildly interesting to me. Matt Jefferson pushed me into motion by asking for the RSS version of this blog, and now I’m bound and determined to implement proper trackbacking and images quickly. Thanks, Matt!

Laptop cam resurrected


Back at the end of April, the plastic bracket for my Ultraport Camera on my IBM Thinkpad T21 broke, and so the laptop-cam on this site wasn’t working. I was going to just toss it in the can (the camera, not the Thinkpad, duh) rather than dragging around the USB adapter. This morning, though, I sat bolt upright in bed and said, “I could superglue it on.”

So now, my Thinkpad has a very permanent webcam attached to the top of it. If you haven’t seen the Thinkpad Ultraports, trust me when I say it definitely looks like the camera came with the laptop – it doesn’t look like a tacky add-on, even when superglued.

I’m actually glad I superglued it on because now I’m not tempted to buy the digital array microphone or any of the other cool Ultraport accessories.