Sunday, February 28, 2010

Now *That's* Data Security

As an IT professional, I subscribe to a weekly publication called eWeek. Among its other features, eWeek provides product reviews. The Feb 15, 2010 edition had a review of a pair of USB flash drives built by a company called "IronKey." These USB drives are almost physically indestructible, and the data they hold can be made as secure as the user wants to make it.

The guts of the drive are encased in "military-grade epoxy" - just like the engine computer under the hood in your car, or in a Humvee or Stryker - and then "wrapped in a single-piece aluminum casing." The reviewer who tested them put them through all kinds of agony, and only one of the seven evaluation units died.

Each drive is serialized, with the serial number embedded in the electronics and etched in barcode on the side of the aluminum case. Data security is provided through a Web-based interface that can get to the drive wherever it is in the world, as long as it's attached to a computer connected to the Internet.

One of the coolest features of this device is its "self-destruct" feature. If it gets lost or stolen, the owner can issue a self-destruct command through the Web-based interface. The drive consists of one or more flash memory chips and a CryptoChip (capitalization is by IronKey, not me). (The CryptoChip is what manages the data security.) When the drive is connected to the Internet, it receives the self-destruct command, wipes its flash memory chip clean, and destroys its own CryptoChip. It doesn't blow up, Mission-Impossible style, but the device is essentially bricked.

Yeah, so I don't own one of these myself, but now I want to. To find out more about the IronKey USB flash drive, read the eWeek review at http://tinyurl.com/yjqe73j , or read more about it at https://www.ironkey.com/s200 or https://www.ironkey.com/d200. This is one cool toy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This is the Kind of Grandpa I Want to Be

My youngest son saw this on "My Life Is Average":

Today, I was outside of Home Depot, when i almost got knocked over by an old man riding by on one of those orange cart things. His grandson ran up to me, appoligized for his grandfathers bad behavior, then proceeded to run after his grandfather saying, "Alright Grandpa, if you get us kicked out of one more store, I'm telling Grandma."

That's the kind of grandpa I want to be. The only thing that would make it better is if it were me and Grandpa Bob, racing each other through the aisles at Home Depot on those orange cart things.

(Yeah, I copied and pasted that directly from MLIA, with misspellings intact and everything. At least I included a link back to the original. Sosumi.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

End of the Seven Years of Famine: I Got a Job!

After getting laid off seven years ago (exactly seven years ago!), I have worked as an engineering consultant, I have taught school, I have been involved in several abortive startups, and I have taken several temporary jobs. As the economy slowly recovers, I have been chasing a full-time job with a large semiconductor manufacturer. The chase has come to an end, but not in the way I expected. This is the full story.

WARNING! THIS WILL BE VERY BORING TO SOME OF YOU. But it may be useful to some others.

Okay, you have been warned.

In late 2008, I worked for 3 months at a small company in Fort Collins, called RLE Technologies. It was a great place to work: great people, a great management team, and a solid product line and business plan. I was working a temporary contract as a technical writer, but we had several discussions about my ambition to move into to a permanent engineering position.

Then the economy fell apart, and their sales projections for 2009 didn't justify adding another engineer. So I gave them good work until my contract ended, and we parted on good terms. I stayed in touch with the management team.

A year later, around Thanksgiving 2009, I got another temporary contract, this time with Micron Technology in Longmont -- formerly Displaytech, a small, successful company that had recently been acquired by Micron. I was working as a firmware engineer. I came home every evening full of excitement -- I told my family that I didn't know whether it was because "I'm working!" or because the work I was doing was that much fun.

As a large corporation, Micron is a great company to work for. Consciously or not, they are an "excellent company" in the model of Peters and Waterman's 1982 study. They treat their employees well. They seek to excel in every market they enter. They have entered several new markets -- CMOS image sensors, microdisplays, LED illumination and personal computers, among others -- without straying far from the things they do best: memory chips.

As a division, the Longmont office is a great place to work. Displaytech became very successful at making high-resolution, full-color computer displays smaller than a postage stamp. Their next success will be in picoprojectors: high-resolution, battery-powered, full-color projectors that fit inside an iPod or cellphone and project video anywhere. (At a recent conference, Micron used a flour tortilla as a projection screen.)

This division is composed of a group of people who are intelligent, excited about what they are doing, hard-working, easy to get along with, and, umm, well, really smart. Everybody shows up in the morning quietly enthusiastic and ready to go, and they work hard until it's time to go home -- sometimes later. It's not competition, just excitement.

I loved being a part of that. I completed my project ahead of time, and my co-workers were delighted with my work. I had made it clear that I'd like to stay there longer. Management added several extensions to my contract and found me other projects to work on. We were all trying to find a way to keep me there permanently.

They connected me with a manager in Boise who might have a couple of firmware openings. We met briefly one Friday when he was in Longmont, and then traded a few short emails before ... well, let's jump ahead to Thursday, February 18.

At 9 a.m., I had a phone meeting with the manager in Boise. He asked me to email him my resume, and two hours later, I was in a job interview with one of his people who just happened to be in Longmont. The interview went well, things were looking hopeful, and my friends at Micron shared my excitement.

That afternoon, I drove to Fort Collins. The recruiter who had gotten me into Micron also represented RLE Technologies, and RLE had asked him to arrange a meeting with me. The recruiter gave me the impression that it was a job interview. Wow, two interviews in two days.

The "interview" turned out to be a meeting with the management team, but not really an interview. RLE had survived 2009, and as 2010 began, they had found that several of their departments had more work than one person could do, but not enough work for two people. They had decided that they needed someone who was versatile and flexible, an engineer who could wear many hats. They contacted my recruiter, who gave them my name, and ... well, they were offering me a position at RLE Technologies. After an hour of talking with them, I accepted their offer.

Honestly, I could be happy at either place. Both are small, successful entities with good people and bright futures, where I can make a difference. That I ended up at RLE rather than Micron was just a matter of timing. I am content.

My contract with Micron ends on Wednesday, February 24, and I start with RLE Technologies on Monday, March 1.

Lessons I've learned while being unemployed:
  • First: Pick a few good recruiters, and stay in regular touch with them. Phone them weekly, just to say hi. This will keep you on the top of their list. I got this advice from Bob Zoller, a friend and former member of NoCoNet. I tip my hat to Rose Marie Studer ("Studer the Recruiter"), Jackie Avitia and Ray Brown (Volt), Angie Joynt and Chris Palm (Aerotek), and all the rest of them.
  • Actively involve yourself in multiple networks and professional societies. Be the "rainmaker" who passes job leads back and forth between your networks. Networking isn't a sterile exercise, and it isn't formulaic or algorithmic: it's being a friend and helping your friends to get jobs. Good things happen to you when you do this.
  • Follow up!
  • Never, EVER burn your bridges.
  • Keep in touch with old bosses and co-workers.
  • Sitting at home in front of a computer will not get you a job. Get on the telephone. And get out of the house.
  • You HAVE TO tap into the hidden job market.
  • Don't give up. This won't last forever. Find your anchor and hold on to it tightly, whether it be family, friends, or faith. You WILL make it through.
Links that some people may find useful:
"For the Record" - my previous posting about the job hunt
NoCoNet - Northern Colorado's premier network for job-seeking professionals
Micron Technology and Micron's Microdisplay Division
RLE Technologies
One of my startups
Rose Marie Studer - one of the best recruiters in the business
Volt Technical - an excellent recruiting firm for temporary and permanent positions
Aerotek - another excellent recruiting firm for temporary and permanent positions
SOS Staffing - another recruiting firm. They have a rather tough client in the Weld County, so I can't say whether or not they're "excellent." But my sister works for them in another state, so for that reason alone I'd say they're pretty darned good.
Larimer County Workforce Center - a government agency that actually does something useful! (Maybe I should write about them another time.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day on the road

I'm spending Valentine's Day surrounded by love: the love of a sister, a son, and two nieces. It's an awesome kind of love that washes over me from four different directions, not all at once, but like ocean waves that break on the shore and then recede.

But the one person that I really love, the most important person in my life, my reason for living, is 450 miles away. My son and I are on a college-tour road trip, and we're spending the three-day weekend that includes both President's Day and Valentine's Day in a city that far from home. Oh, we're having fun, I won't deny it. But ... well, Valentine's Day this year is a bust, and it's my fault.

We spent last week surrounded by love, too. My oldest son and daughter-in-law brought their six-week-old daughter out to meet us, and we had fun with them all week long. My sweet wife and I got to give them several nights of peaceful slumber that they haven't gotten since our granddaughter was born. When she cried at night, one of us would take her and pace the floor, rock her and comfort her, so that her parents could sleep. I loved it. I enjoyed the private time I got to spend with her, grandfather bonding with granddaughter and nobody else getting in the way.

But between early-morning seminary, her teaching job, my engineering job, and everything else that was going on, neither of us made any preparations for Valentine's Day apart. My youngest son and I left on Friday morning on our road trip. My oldest son took his two sweet girls back home on Saturday, leaving grandma alone at home.

Well, she's enjoying the time alone. She's getting caught up on her backlog of things to be done, and she's sleeping in and taking care of a head cold that she got from one of her students. But there's not a Valentine's Day card hidden under her pillow, or a love note inserted in the want ads, or something chocolate-y wrapped in red or pink foil, tucked into her underwear drawer. The only gift I've given her to mark this holiday is the gift of solitude.

I have no doubt that she's enjoying her gift more than she would enjoy a goofy card or (maybe) chocolate. She's a very practical person. And I recently arrived at the realization that a man's romantic gestures are often intended more to ease the man's guilt or boost his ego, than to woo the woman in the man's life. And I'm the one having fun on a road trip, so I should be happy. But I still miss her. I wish I could sit beside her and hold her hand while we watch the Olympics together or something.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nokia offers smartphone GPS software for free

Nokia smartphone users must be doing a happy dance right about now. A month ago, Nokia started offering free GPS navigation software to worldwide users of their smartphones - seriously, free. One of their advertising slogans is "For free. Forever."

Most smartphones have built-in GPS capability, but it's turned off until the user buys an app that activates it. Very clever users can activate the GPS capability themselves, but you still need an app to make the GPS useful -- a driver and/or an interface, in computerese.

(Users of Google's Android phones have had free GPS right from the start. They finished their happy dance a long time ago.)

Apparently the free GPS software is a very popular idea. It's been downloaded millions of times in a month. Yesterday, a Nokia executive said, "We're averaging a download a second, 24 hours a day."

Now, if Samsung, LG and Motorola will jump on the bandwagon, the rest of us can do the happy dance, too.

(BE CAREFUL! The fine print on one of the Ovi Maps webpages says that while the software is free, downloading the accompanying maps could get massively expensive if your phone plan doesn't include unlimited data - or if you can't download them to your phone through your computer.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Headline: "China warns Obama not to visit Dalai Lama"

This headline ("China warns Obama not to visit Dalai Lama") appeared in BBC's online edition today (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8492608.stm"). I got to it by clicking on a link that said "China warns Obama over Dalai Lama."

Both the headline and the teaser have real hip-hop possibilities. They already have rhythm; all they need is a good beatbox and some more lyrics. Seriously: Obama, Lama, Chuck-a-rama, panorama, drama, trauma, mama, chama, grama, ... the possibilities are endless. Unka unka word.

The catchy headline drew me into the article. In a nutshell, it goes like this: Sources in Washington DC are making noises about a planned meeting between the aforementioned "ama" statesmen sometime this month. No date has been set yet. And the Chinese are not happy.

An official of the Chinese Communist party, Zhu Weigun, whose official title is "executive deputy minister of the Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department," is quoted as saying: "If the US leader chooses to meet with the Dalai Lama at this time, it will certainly threaten trust and co-operation between China and the United States."

Moreover, threatens Zhu, if a meeting does take place, China will "take corresponding action to make relevant countries see their mistakes".

To make sure US government officials and politicians know what's at stake, he adds: "We oppose any attempt by foreign forces to interfere in China's internal affairs using the Dalai Lama as an excuse ... If they don't recognise that Tibet is part of China, it will seriously undermine the political foundation of Sino-US relations."

(I swiped those quotations from the BBC. I hope I'm covered by fair-use provisions.)

Now, for a dose of reality.

Tibet has alternated between being an autonomous nation and a part of China (usually forcibly acquired) for centuries. Tibet last gained independence in 1913, and China last took over Tibet in 1951-ish. In 1959 the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders fled the country and set up a Government In Exile.

The Dalai Lama and his G-I-E maintain that Tibet still is, and should be, an autonomous nation, and they continue to work toward that end, through peaceful means. They have no desire to plunge their nation into a bloody war that would probably end with the destruction of their beautiful country and the annihilation of their people.

Over the past 50 years, the Dalai Lama has won worldwide respect and admiration, and become a powerful advocate for world peace and a symbol of the unjustly oppressed.

That is the Tibetans' version of reality. The Chinese version goes like this:

China possesses Tibet, and the Chinese government imposes its will on Tibet (both the nation and the people) by force of arms. If you want to do anything in (or with) Tibet, you have to deal with someone in China first, and if you want to talk to someone in charge of anything in Tibet, that someone will be Chinese, not Tibetan.

There's yet another reality about China and Tibet.

It is that, to China's current government, Tibet is just another region to be subjugated and exploited. Tibet's Government In Exile is an uncomfortable reminder to the Chinese that not everybody agrees with China on their treatment of Tibet. The Chinese government wishes that the G-I-E would just go away, or at least be ignored by the rest of the world. Well, the G-I-E, in the form of the 14th Dalai Lama, is not going away or being ignored.

So there is the reality of the Chinese possession of Tibet, and there is the reality of the Tibetan Government In Exile. The collision of these two realities is as inconvenient, or as uncomfortable, as the collision of the two realities of Chinese government in Beijing and Taiwan.

Now, we have a minor functionary of the Chinese government, with an oversized official title, attempting to impose the Chinese version of reality on the American government, complete with thinly-veiled threats.

We haven't heard the American version of reality yet, but I hope it's something along the lines of "The President of the United States can meet with whomever he damn well pleases, and you can go peddle your 'trust and co-operation' somewhere else if it's so important to you." Zhu's protests sound like the petulant schoolyard cries of "If you talk to him, then you can't be my friend anymore."

There is still one more reality.

This reality is printed on the pages of 20th Century history, for anybody who is willing to read it and heed it. It is a reality that the British, European and Japanese empires were slow to learn, that the American "we're not an" empire occasionally forgets, that the former Soviet empire is just now beginning to learn (too late), and that the modern Chinese empire refuses to consider.

This reality is that freedom, liberty and national (or ethnic) pride cannot be denied. So-called conquerors can annex, occupy, oppress, supress, repress, enslave, subordinate, subjugate, assimilate, exterminate, and dictate. They can try to break a people's will and to erase a people's identity. In the end, though, either they will fail miserably, or they will succeed - in wiping the people completely off the face of the earth. There is no honor in either outcome.

One day China's current government will be replaced by something else, and it will be remembered only in history books. Let us hope that it is not remembered for having "accomplished" the eradication of Tibet as a nation and a people.