Wind Power

NYTimes writes about the new generation of wind mills:

Unlike the old-fashioned rural windmills used to pump water, which whipped back and forth with every gust, today’s wind turbines rely on an electronic nervous system that allows them to predict the force and direction of the wind up to 24 hours in advance, and adjust the orientation of the rotor and even the pitch of each individual blade in order to wring the maximum energy out of a passing breeze.

Electricity is generated at the top of the windmills, in a boxlike structure called the nacelle, to which the rotors are attached. “The rotors can be as large as the wingspan of a 747,” said Jim Lyons, the advanced-technology leader for GE Wind Energy, the biggest domestic maker of turbines. At the bottom of the tower that supports the nacelle and rotor is a cylindrical space housing the computers that collect data from throughout the turbine. The collection of computers is known as a Scada system, for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.

The Scada system can supply 200 or more pieces of data related to the turbine’s operation, Mr. Lyons said. Information about higher-than-normal vibration levels or oil temperature can alert a wind farm’s staff to problems before they happen. Typically, the wind turbines are connected by fiber-optic cable to a control center. Many problems can be solved remotely, but staff members must climb up through the tower to the nacelle on occasion.

Wind and Solar offer two hopes for energy. The question is: are the cost-effective?

RSS for Content Distribution

Steve Outing suggests RSS as an alternative to email publishing, given the problems that email has been having with spams and viruses:

RSS allows potential readers of a Web site to view part of its content — typically headlines and short blurbs — without having to visit the content directly (unless they want to click through to it). Viewing is done with a piece of software separate from the Web browser, the RSS aggregator, which the consumer uses to subscribe to “feeds” produced by favorite Internet publishers. The feeds are constantly updated as the publishers add new content.

The big advantage of RSS to a Web publisher is that it can significantly increase a site’s visibility and reach. In the context of a news site, EEVL’s “RSS Primer for Publishers & Content Providers” explains that “because there are so many sources of news on the Internet, most of your viewers won’t come to your site every day. By providing an RSS feed, you are in front of them constantly, improving the chances that they’ll click through to an article that catches their eye.”

And by using RSS, a publisher enables others on the Internet to syndicate its headlines, so they show up on other Web sites as those publishers incorporate third-party headlines into their own sites — viewer traffic that gets funneled back to the Web site of the original publisher.

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Microsoft to Linux Switch

Kingsley pointed me to this story about Ernie Ball, the world’s leading maker of premium guitar strings, who made the switch from Microsoft to Linux after being pursued (and humiliated) by the anti-piracy alliance. They were finded USD 100,000 for non-compliance. Excerpts from an interview with their CEO, Sterling Ball:

I became an open-source guy because we’re a privately owned company, a family business that’s been around for 30 years, making products and being a good member of society. We’ve never been sued, never had any problems paying our bills. And one day I got a call that there were armed marshals at my door talking about software license compliance…I thought I was OK; I buy computers with licensed software. But my lawyer told me it could be pretty bad.

The BSA had a program back then called “Nail Your Boss,” where they encouraged disgruntled employees to report on their company…and that’s what happened to us. Anyways, they basically shut us down…We were out of compliance I figure by about 8 percent (out of 72 desktops).

I know I saved $80,000 right away by going to open source, and each time something like (Windows) XP comes along, I save even more money because I don’t have to buy new equipment to run the software. One of the great things is that we’re able to run a poor man’s thin client by using old computers we weren’t using before because it couldn’t handle Windows 2000. They work fine with the software we have now.

We’re using it for e-mail client/server, spreadsheets and word processing. It’s like working in Windows. One of the analysts said it costs $1,250 per person to change over to open source. It wasn’t anywhere near that for us. I’m reluctant to give actual numbers. I can give any number I want to support my position, and so can the other guy. But I’ll tell you, I’m not paying any per-seat license. I’m not buying any new computers. When we need something, we have white box systems we put together ourselves. It doesn’t need to be much of a system for most of what we do.

I’m not making calls to Red Hat; I don’t need to. I think that’s propaganda…What about the cost of dealing with a virus? We don’t have ’em. How about when we do have a problem, you don’t have to send some guy to a corner of the building to find out what’s going on–he never leaves his desk, because everything’s server-based. There’s no doubt that what I’m doing is cheaper to operate. The analyst guys can say whatever they want.

The other thing is that if you look at productivity. If you put a bunch of stuff on people’s desktops they don’t need to do their job, chances are they’re going to use it. I don’t have that problem. If all you need is word processing, that’s all you’re going to have on your desktop, a word processor. It’s not going to have Paint or PowerPoint. I tell you what, our hits to eBay went down greatly when not everybody had a Web browser. For somebody whose job is filling out forms all day, invoicing and exporting, why do they need a Web browser? The idea that if you have 2,000 terminals they all have to have a Web browser, that’s crazy. It just creates distractions.

Wish I could get such stories from India!


Inc writes on an activity we do all the time, providing insights into various books on the topic along the way:

Like most every other source of negotiation advice, Getting to Yes begins by saying that however much you think negotiation is part of your life, you’re underestimating. “Everyone negotiates something every day,” according to the introduction. “All of us negotiate many times a day,” G. Richard Shell ups the ante in the opening to Bargaining for Advantage.

Bargaining for Advantage , the book by Wharton professor G. Richard Shell, often backs its arguments with tidbits drawn from psychological research. For example, the “consistency principle” refers to people’s need to appear reasonable. You can take advantage of this by “skillful use of standards” to make other people feel they need to use your standards to feel reasonable. And the more authoritative your standards seem, the better. You Can Negotiate Anything , probably the most entertaining of the books, skips any allusion to scholarship about the human tendency to defer to authority, instead citing an old Candid Camera episode in which a surprising number of highway drivers confronted with the sign “Delaware Closed” actually turned around. And, of course, you want to give special attention to sussing out what your opponent really wants.

EcoTimes Quote

I was quoted in a story in The Economic Times on low-cost computing by Prabhakar Deshpande:

Rajesh Jain, managing director, Netcore Solutions, believes that there can be delightfully simple yet effective solution. Jain suggests that a thin client-thick server solution with all required software being run and installed only on a server can bring computing costs down by almost 70%. The thin client could be an old abandoned PC, or a specially configured PC from Via technologies. Thus the thin client would cost between Rs 7000 to Rs 10,000. A thick server hosting Linux OS and costing Rs 30,000 could be shared between 10 users thus amounting to an apportioned cost of Rs 3000 per person. Open source software freely available on the net could be configured on server for offering word processing, spreadsheet, browser, email and other facilities with a cost to each user of Rs 1000 – 2000. Thus every person in an enterprise could be offered a desktop for between Rs 11,000 to Rs 15,000.

Dell’s Influence says that Dell is the most influential PC company in the world:

No other company has done more to change the landscape of the hardware industry.

The real reason for Dell’s success is that the company follows a fundamental axiom: Don’t do anything stupid. It sounds like an easy motto to adopt, but few of us, in business or in private life, actually heed it.

Another simple rule Dell lives by: Nothing excites people like free stuff. So the company often includes extra memory or free handhelds with consumer PCs.

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Electronic Paper Billboards

NYTimes writes:

The surface of this billboard is not a liquid crystal diode screen – the energy-hungry display common to laptops and increasingly to cellphones, digital cameras, digital organizers and flat-screen computer monitors and television sets. Neither does this billboard share the light-emitting-diode technology that makes million-dollar-plus video screens light up the night in Times Square, Las Vegas and sports arenas around the world.

What makes the electronic billboard possible is an innovation by a New York-based display technology company whose name, Magink, is a combination of the words magic and ink. Its approach to imaging departs from the way most text, graphics and images are electronically presented, including the way expensive plasma screens work, as well as cathode-ray tubes, the old workhorses still found in most television sets and desktop computer monitors.

By creating a paste made of tiny helix-shaped particles that can be minutely manipulated with electric charges to reflect light in highly specific ways, Magink can produce surfaces that look like paper but behave like electronic screens, rendering high-resolution, full-color images without ink – or, as Magink executives like to refer to the process, with digital ink.

Ran Poliakine, chief executive of Magink, said the idea was to create visually compelling ads that could be replaced frequently – perhaps hourly, based on consumer response – and could be controlled remotely, all with far less energy and at a far lower cost than a video billboard.

Electronic paper and digital ink can have far-reaching implications for displays – think of it as a 10X Tsunami.

Screen Scraping for RSS

Phil Windley points to a post by Bill Humphries: “He’s using curl to get the page, tidy to clean up the HTML, and an XSL program to convert the result into RSS. Because the example he’s using is making good use of CSS, he can use XPATH to easily grab the right nodes in the HTML doc. Very different from the PERL screen scapers we were writing 4 years ago.” It would be good to do this for all the Indian newspapers – none that I know has its own RSS feed.

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Beyond Price Competition

Inc suggests that businesses should not try and compete on price alone, and provides a few alternatives:

Carve out a niche. If you “own” a market, you have more room to set prices. If there are 100 mechanics in your city, you’ll face constant price competition. But if you’re the only mechanic specializing in Volvos, you’ll face much less price pressure.

Work smarter, not cheaper. Let’s face it, a lot of your competition is just plain dumb. So, improve profits through innovative practices. Southwest Airlines, for instance, saved money by using plastic, re-usable boarding passes instead of paper passes, and they were the first to use electronic ticketing. Southwest maximizes profits from their planes by getting them back in the air an average of 20 minutes after landing, instead of the 2-3 hours of other airlines. By being smarter, Southwest became the most consistently profitable airline in the industry.

Focus on value, not price. Value is a term used to mean the combination of price and quality. When you shop for a winter coat, you may be willing to pay higher prices to get quality that will last many years. Likewise, a client may be willing to pay a higher price for your printing services if you can deliver the job faster with fewer errors than your competition. Excellence and service are competitive advantages that let you justify higher prices.

Target the right customers. Not all customers are willing to pay more even for better quality. So make certain you aim your marketing efforts at customers who will respond to the differences you offer and can pay a slightly higher price for that value.

Build loyalty to you, not your price. Even if you use special pricing (discounts, introductory offers, sales) to initially attract customers, immediately go to work developing a relationship that keeps customers coming back when the price goes up.

Some good advice there – we are too caught up on the “affordability” theme. Maybe we need to think a little beyond that.

Small Businesses and IT

Information Week writes about how “some small businesses are using an increasingly rich and surprisingly low-cost set of business-technology tools to survive and compete–tools that in the past were often available only to far-larger businesses.”

These small businesses seldom have big IT staffs, but they often have people at the top who are either technically adept or willing to employ new technology that advances the business. They’re geared to react to change and use the Internet, collaborative software, business intelligence, and cheap broadband communications. Most of all, they understand the Web and how it changes the rules of the game.


Technology Review writes about the importance of geolocation in the coming tech products: “hardware and software that track your location will be providing directions, offering shopping discounts, and aiding rescue workersservices that promise a windfall for ailing telecom carrier.”

Lock on to location-based computing, the hottest thing in wireless, which offers new services to customers and new revenue streams to carriers, and could save lives in the process. The idea is to make cell phones, personal digital assistants, and even fashion accessories capable of tracking their owners every movementwhether theyre outdoors, working on the 60th floor, or shopping in a basement arcade. Already, Japanese telecommunications company KDDI offers over 100 different location-based services using technology developed by wireless-equipment maker Qualcomm, from bracelets to let parents track their kids in the park, to cell phones that point the way to cheap noodle shops in Tokyos skyscraping Shinjyuku district. In Korea, two million citizens use their cell phones to locate nearby friends and, for example, find the most convenient coffee shops for impromptu meetings. In Europe, cell-phone networks can locate users and give them personalized directions to Big Ben, or the Eiffel Tower.

TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Solution Ideas (Part 3)

Legislation has been seen as one possible route to battle spam. However, that is not the solution, according to John Patrick: The legislation is well intentioned, spam is truly a huge problem, but it just won’t workThe answer is to enforce existing laws, utilize spam-fighting technology, and begin the process to re-design the way email works. Continues John:

Companies such as Cloudmark and Brightmail have technology that can enable the corporate mail servers to block spam or at least flag it as “probable spam” to allow employees to use a filter or rule to delete it automatically if they choose toCBS MarketWatch reported that PC Magazine has studied what you can do about spam. In a test of four “spam slammers,” CloudMark’s SpamNet ($4.99/month subscription) was top rated, followed by Matador 2.0 ($29.95/program), SpamCatcher ($19.95/program), and IHateSpam ($19.95/program), when ranked according to the percent of spam dumped into a quarantine folder. Each of the programs maintains a database of spammers and incorporates users’ feedback on what’s identified as spam to filter e-mails. “Keep in mind, though, that these products are far from perfect. They occasionally block messages they shouldn’t, and if you don’t regularly visit your quarantine, you’ll certainly miss a small percentage of important mail,” the magazine concluded. That has not been the case for me as I mentioned in the prior paragraph. The bottom line is that these spam fighting programs really work and I recommend everyone adopt one.

Long term, the way in which email works needs to be re-engineered. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has formed a research group called the Anti-Spam Research Group (ASRG) to come up with creative and profound changes in the way email works at the core. The ASRG focuses on “the problem of unwanted email messages, loosely referred to as spam” and their premise is that an individual or organization should be able to “express consent or lack of consent for certain communication and have the architecture support those desires”. The ASRG plans to investigate the feasibility of a new architecture for email that “allows different systems to be plugged in to provide different pieces of the solution”.

I am sure the solution will include some form of authentication (as I have argued before). Once the real identity of an email sender is rendered explicit you have a lot more options for how to treat that email. (There are numerous other benefits from digital ID’s beyond reducing spam). I am optimistic about the long term fix but, needless to say, what is being undertaken here is enormously complex and it will take time. To get the protocol changes adopted as a global standard and then be globally implemented will take years.

Adds Ross Mayfield : Commercial spam will not be solved by regulation or filters, trusted email networks that use challenge-response to confirm ties could be an interim solution at best. The only solution is changing economic incentives. Occupational spam cannot be solved by opt-in or opt-out techniques Decentralizing authorship, readership, administration and moderation pushes costs to the edge. This is made possible from a base of standards. Web nativity, an optional structure and social filtering process keeps spam out of trusted personal networks.

Next Week: The Death and Rebirth of Email (continued)

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Career Calculus

Eric Sink has an excellent article on the importance of learning in shaping our careers.

In basic calculus we learned that the first derivative of a function is the “rate of change” of the value of that function with respect to another variable. In the case of your career, the other variable is time. The basic equation for a developer career looks like this:

C = G + LT

C is Cluefulness. It is defined as an overall measure of your capabilities, expertise, wisdom and knowledge in the field of software development. It is the measure of how valuable you are to an employer. It is the measure of how successful your career is. When you graph your career, C is on the vertical axis.

G is Gifting. It is defined as the amount of natural cluefulness you were given “at the factory”. For each individual, G is a constant, but it definitely varies from person to person.

L is Learning. It is defined as the rate at which you gain (or lose) cluefulness over time.

T is Time. It is on the horizontal axis of your career graph.

As you can see above, your career success is determined by three variables, only one of which you can control:

  • You obviously can’t control T. Time marches forward mercilessly at the same rate for everyone.

  • You also can’t control G. The truth is that some people are just naturally smarter than you are, and that’s the way it is. But G is not the sole determiner of your success. I have known some truly gifted programmers with lame careers, and I have also known some less-gifted folks who have become extremely successful.

  • You can make choices which affect the value of L. In fact, you do make choices which affect the value of L, every day, whether you know it or not.

  • To which I would add, that a weblog can play a key role in furthering learning. When you read, think and blog it – adding your comments and creating a personal knowledge base. My formula: Learning = Reading + Thinking + Blogging.

    Emergent Power Grids

    Reuben points to Steven Strogatz writing in the NYTimes on what the US needs to do fix its electrical grid, taking a leaf from biological systems:

    What is needed is a more subtle, coordinated mode of response. When our own immune systems are performing at their best, they orchestrate their defenses through countless chemical conversations among T-cells and antibodies, enabling these defenders to calibrate their response to pathogens. In the same way, the thousands of power plants and substations in the grid need to be able to communicate with one another when any part of the system is breached, so they can collectively decide which circuit breakers should be tripped and which can safely remain intact.

    The technology necessary to achieve this has existed for about a decade. It relies on computers, sensors and protective devices tied together by optical fiber so that all parts of the grid would be able to talk to one another at the speed of light fast enough to get ahead of an onrushing blackout and confine it.

    The sensors would continuously monitor the voltage, frequency and other important characteristics of the electricity coursing through the transmission lines. When a line appeared at risk of being overloaded, a computer would decide whether to switch on a protective device. At present, such decisions are made purely parochially. Power plants defend themselves first, and don’t worry about the consequences for neighboring plants on the grid. Nor do they consider any potentially helpful or harmful actions that those neighbors might be taking at the same time.

    In the new approach, each plant would have nearly instantaneous information about all the other plants and power lines in its extended neighborhood. Everyone would know what everyone else was doing and thinking. As threats arose (either from random failures or malicious attacks), the sensors would fire a flurry of warning signals down the optical fibers, and the networked computers would decide which protective devices to activate to contain the threat most effectively. The grid would then be responding as an integrated entity, not as a ragtag collection of selfish units. It would look a lot like an organism defending itself.

    Nature and Science

    NYTimes has a fascinating story with two elements to it: how ideas can lead to innovation, and how nature is far ahead of our science.

    While in San Francisco for a scientific conference last year, Dr. Joanna Aizenberg, a research scientist at Bell Labs and senior author of the Nature paper, wandered through shops looking at shells and other collectibles from the sea.

    In one shop she spotted a Venus’ flower basket sponge, a creature with an intricate hollow latticework skeleton that lives thousands of feet deep in the western Pacific Ocean. What caught her eye was a ring of glassy filaments at the sponge’s base that once tied it to the ocean floor. She bought the sponge.

    Back at the laboratory, Dr. Aizenberg and colleagues from Bell Labs, Tel Aviv University and OFS, a Lucent spinoff, discovered that the filaments, about the length and thickness of hair, also carry light. While other researchers discovered a few years ago light-carrying fibers in a sponge off Antarctica, the fibers of the Venus’ flower basket sponge are exceptional because their structure is “strikingly similar” to those of commercial optical fibers that ferry pulses of light in telecommunication systems, Dr. Aizenberg said.

    “Nature came up with exactly the same design millions of years ago,” she said. “I would be surprised if it’s accidental.”

    The fibers gather the light from luminescent organisms in the depths and give the sponge a slight glow. “It will act as a fiber optical lamp,” Dr. Aizenberg said.

    IT Matters

    HBS Working Knowledge continues the debate on the Nicholas Carr’s HBR article “IT Doesn’t Matter”. [I had written a series on this recently.] HBS professors F. Warren McFarlan and Richard L. Nolan write:

    The most important thing that the CEO and senior management should understand about IT is its associated economics. Driven by Moore’s Law, those evolving economics have enabled every industry’s transaction costs to decrease continually, resulting in new economics for the firm and creating the feasibility of products and services not possible in the past. The economics of financial transactions have continually dropped from dollars to cents. New entrants have joined many industries and have focused on taking strategic advantage of IT’s associated economics. Company boundaries have become permeable, organic, and global in scope through IT networks and the Internet.

    As the pace of doing business increases, the CEO and senior management team must be aware of how IT can change rules and assumptions about competition. The economics of conducting business will likewise continue to improveproviding opportunities for businesses to expand the customer value proposition by providing more intangible information-based services. For example, the automobile value proposition continues to expand with technology that continuously senses road conditions and applies the appropriate wheel traction and suspension system pressures.

    New technologies will continue to give companies the chance to differentiate themselves by service, product feature, and cost structure for some time to come. The first mover takes a risk and gains a temporary advantage (longer if there are follow-on possibilities). The fast follower is up against less risk but also has to recover lost ground. Charles Schwab versus Merrill Lynch and Walgreens versus CVS are examples of this playing out over the past decade. Our advice to the CEO is to look at IT use through several different lenses. One lens should be focused on improving cost savings and efficiencies. Another should be focused on the incremental improvement of organizational structure, products, and services. Still another should be focused on the creation of strategic advantage through extending competitive scope, partnerships (customers and other parties), the changing of the rules of competition, and the provision of new IT-based services to extend the customer value proposition.

    South Korean Small Businesses

    Shrikant has mentioned about what is happening on South Korea in the context of small businesses on more than one occasion. So, it was good to read this story in Business Week – there are lessons in what we need to do in India for us.

    After years of digitizing everything from stock trading to gaming to education, [South Korean] officials realized that one group — the country’s nearly 3 million small businesses — remained thoroughly low tech.

    Those companies employ two-thirds of the workforce and generate 30% of gross domestic product. So Seoul is spending $75 million over three years to give small businesses online access to the same kind of planning, management, and accounting tools that big companies use. Officials hope the program will not only make small companies more efficient but will also let them more easily hook into bigger companies’ supply chains, which are largely powered by the Internet. “On a national scale, the synergies will be enormous,” says Thomas Yoon, senior vice-president of the state-run National Computerization Agency.

    To carry out this ambitious program without breaking the bank, Yoon’s agency has recruited the nation’s telecom companies. They are making room on their computer servers for small-business owners. Software and technology consulting companies then load the telcos’ computers with programs catering to the needs of small companies. The government subsidy pays for development of the programs and for training the small-business owners in using the software. The small businesses have to buy their own PCs and broadband connections to reach the programs on the telecom companies’ servers. “Unless small suppliers become part of the networked systems, you can’t expect industrywide electronic transactions or efficient supply chains,” says Paek Ki Hun, director in charge of Internet policies at the Ministry of Information & Communication. The goal: making 30% of all business transactions electronic by 2005, up from 12% now.

    [Small businesses] can buy access to the computer network and basic business-management programs for an average of $15 to $25 per month. More robust software for bigger companies costs $75. The computerization agency has put together customized packages of software for 22 business lines, including real estate brokers, eyeglass shops, beauty parlors, sports clubs, and restaurants. Programs for an additional 36 business types are being developed.

    Around 150,000 of South Korean business are connected, and the aim is to reach 500,000 by end of 2004.

    In the context of SMEs, the three big technology impacts they are seeing (all pretty much at the same time) are mobiles/wireless, broadband and affordable business applications. A potent combination, indeed.

    RSS Readers Review

    ExtremeTech reviews RSS Readers, with FeedDemon coming out tops. “RSS readers are software applications that make keeping up with your favorite news fast and easy. Instead visiting a site’s home page to see if there’s any cool new content, you can simply instruct your RSS reader to go check those sites regularly for any update. The reader will automatically pull down headlines and story summaries right to your desktop without you having to run a browser or surf the ‘net.” I wish they had looked at our Info Aggregator also.

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    TECH TALK: The Death and Rebirth of Email: Solution Ideas (Part 2)

    For countering viruses, we have desktop and server-side anti-virus software. While this has mitigated the virus bane for many, there are a couple of limitations: the software needs to be updated regularly (many computer in countries like India and China use pirated software on the desktop, which may not have the latest updates to keep out the newest viruses), and there is a time lag between the virus being detected and the cure being made available. The time delay means that even a single infected computer can cause significant damage to a corporate network.

    Spam is different. It is incessant. There is a continuous battle of wits as spam marketing companies try to outwit the spam filters that users are setting up on the desktop and server-side. InfoWorld uses SpamAssassin: [It] is easy to install and customize, with a basic interface for adding domains and e-mail addresses to blacklists and white lists. To do its work, SpamAssassin uses word and phrase matching, real-time blocking lists, and on-the-fly spam-reporting features. Each e-mail is assigned a score depending on the detected level of spam probability. By default, SpamAssassin flags a message as spam if the score is above five. We actually use a score of six for the [SPAM] flag to be added to a message subject line and a score over 10 for it to be automatically moved to a [separate] folder.

    For Outlook users, Jon Udell recommends SpamBayes:

    The commercial e-mail that I want to receive (or reject) will differ from the ones you want (and don’t want) according to our interests and tastes. A filter that works on behalf of a large group, such as SpamAssassin, which checks and often rewrites my mail, or CloudMark’s SpamNet (formerly Vipul’s Razor), which collaboratively builds a database of spam signatures, will typically agree with SpamBayes on what I call the Supreme Court definition of spam: You know it when you see it. What sets SpamBayes apart is its ability to learn, by observing your behavior, which messages you do want to see, and the ones you don’t.

    SpamBayes appears as a toolbar item called Anti-Spam. To use the add-in effectively, you’ll need to point it to a pile of ham. These messages may simply be the contents of your inbox if you keep it squeaky clean. But they can also live in other folders. That’s great news, because I use Outlook’s filters aggressively to route messages from known correspondents to folders.

    You’ll also need to point SpamBayes to a big pile of spam. In my case, that folder was called NotToMe, where an Outlook filter has long been accumulating messages that are neither To: nor CC: my primary e-mail addresses. This simple rule is so effective at filtering spam that it was my sole defense until InfoWorld installed SpamAssassin a few months ago. But lately, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the volume of spam has exploded. Even with SpamAssassin, the hassle of plucking the few wanted messages from my NotToMe folder, plus the growing amount of spam sent to my primary e-mail addresses (and not caught by SpamAssassin), spurred me to take the next step.

    Tomorrow: Solution Ideas (continued)

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    Phil Wainewright writes about the side-effects of the virus-worm that infected so many computers in the past week:

    It turns out the SoBig virus is actually a front for a malevolent new twist in grid computing anonymous utility spamming. The virus, which spread through the world’s email inboxes like wildfire last week, is “designed to load special software that can anonymize spam onto people’s PCs,”according to security experts interviewed in this CNET story.

    Once in place, this secret software payload can then be triggered to send out emails that give no hint of their true origin, since they can only be traced back to the machine playing innocent host to the trojan software. Security experts theorize that SoBig’s author is offering this on-demand anonymity service to unscrupulous bulk emailers, thus becoming the first hacker to have successfully monetized an email virus initiative.

    If the experts are right, SoBig probably also qualifies as the first profitable, mass-market, commercial application of the principles of grid computing. It cleverly exploits the loosely coupled characteristics of a highly distributed, massively redundant grid architecture. Especially impressive is the utility provisioning mechanism that supplies new reserves of raw power to the SoBig grid, instantly able to draw on the never-ending supply of imprudent users whose curiosity about the contents of a suspicious attachment will always override their caution.

    Innovation and creative thinking seems to be alive, albeit for the wrong purpose!