Sunday, January 25, 2004


Read how "typosquatters" hijacked several thousand expired domain names in order to build traffic for a tawdry commercial Web site.

A Case Study of "Tina's Free Live Webcam"

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Northwest Airlines shared confidential data with government

Well it turns out that Jetblue isn't the only airline that shared confidential passenger information with the government; Northwest did so as well. You have to wonder why Northwest told the press that they weren't sharing such data precisely as Jetblue was apologizing profusely for doing so; why make a statement at all? The Northwest news is all over the NY Times, CNN, and media around the world.

You also have to wonder why NASA was entrusted with the data; wouldn't this be a job for the NSA or the FBI -- or even DARPA? Hmmm, kind of makes you wonder what else NASA is up to besides sending robots to Mars, contemplating sending humans to Mars, and allowing the Hubble Space Telescope to die.

It's also interesting to note that the Jetblue incident involved a small contractor in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center is in Huntsville (my dad worked there as an engineer for many years). Any connection between that contractor and NASA Ames?

NASA and Northwest haven't been very forthcoming about exactly what data they shared. For instance, did Northwest send stored customer credit card numbers to NASA? How many people at Ames saw such personal information?

Northwest Airlines and I go way back. I'm a long-time Northwest customer -- a frequent flyer since 1985. In 1996 I contributed to Internet World magazine's "Best and Worst" issue, and I listed as the "Best Airline Web Site." For years thereafter, Northwest boasted "Voted best airline Web site by Internet World!" Later, after a few missed flights and some bad customer service, I registered -- though I've never bothered to do much with it.

As a customer, this morning I wrote the NWA customer support line asking a few questions:

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Do you see the arrow in the FedEx logo?

Recently "60 Minutes" did a piece on a Harvard professor who teaches a class on observation. This prof argues that we value highly the ability to process words and math, but not the old fashioned ability to look about us in everyday life and observe obscure, but potentially important, things. He takes his students on walks through Cambridge and has them observe the vintage of the manhole covers.

One example he gives is the arrow in the FedEx logo. Take a look at the logo on this FedEx truck... Do you see an arrow?

So: do you see an arrow? If not, look very closely between the "e" and the "x". Hint: it points to the right.

Another hint: the arrow is white.

Ahh, now you see it. Would you admit that you never did before?

I sure didn't. And it turns out if you Google for "FedEx logo arrow" you'll find lots of other folks never saw it, either. I was glad to see that a well-known photographer, Jay Maisel, missed the arrow as well: Seen the arrow in the FedEx logo? Not many have. FedEx claims the logo design incorporates the arrow deliberately. Even if you don't consciously see it, subconsciously it's supposed to convey motion.

We all have so many things to pay attention to. Sometimes it's hard to notice little details and important background cues, when it's all so obvious later.

Like the FedEx driver this particular day. When you looked at the photo of the truck, did you observe that it's stuck in the mud? The front wheels are thoroughly embedded in muck. The driver chose to back into the driveway of her next delivery address. Makes sense; unload from the back of the truck close to the house, right?

Unfortunately, the truck had two wheels times two on the rear axle; the front axle only had two wheels. This meant that when she backed up, the rear axle didn't sink -- but the front sure did. You see, it was an unusually warm afternoon on Christmas Eve 2002, and the unpaved strip between road and paved driveway wasn't frozen. Easy to observe -- after the truck is stuck. The arrow is pointing the right way, but until the tow truck comes, that truck -- still full of Christmas deliveries -- isn't moving.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"Please fax us your Web site"

The morning spam included a very strange one:

Subject: To Secetarial Staff - Please Print Your Website Pages For Us
Sender: ""<>

Dear Secetarial Staff

We have been trying to print your promotional literature from the
pages on your website.
But unfortunately for us, we have lost our connection to the internet
for the next 48 hours because of a computer network crash in our offices.

Now no one in our office has access to the internet or your web pages.
Even worse still - although we can send e-mail, we are unable to recieve e-mail.

Please help us by simply printing any 20 pages or more, from your
website, and then fax them to us on 0871 7811 411.
Thankyou very much.

Yours Sincerely
Leslie Goodman, Managing Director
Goodman Mathews & Associates.
Direct Lines: 07963 550 253 or 07906 861 547
Switch Board: +44(0)7817 865 117 or +44(0)7903 058 821
Facsimile: 0871 7811 411

A little Googling reveals that 0871 numbers are national non-geographic (but not toll-free) phone numbers in the UK. It's not clear to me if the called party can somehow gain revenue through this scam (e.g. by forwarding the call to another number that works like a 900 number in the U.S.). Maybe they just want people to waste money making a long fax call.

In any event it's pretty funny receiving an electronic mail message that says they lost their Internet connection, and it's pretty dumb for them to waste time mailing UK phone numbers to a US mailbox -- even unwary Americans who try to call are likely to fail, not knowing international direct dial procedures.

And for the record, the relevant header:

Received: from ([]

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Has stopped moving?

Every Web site owner confronts a basic choice: Do we publish a relatively static brochure, or do we offer news about the things we care about?

If you decide that your site offers news about the things you care about, then you have a very real obligation: Keep the home page current. If someone visits you once a week, they'd better see something new every time they visit.

They say nothing is deader than a dead Web site. If your site publishes stale headlines, visitors will assume it is dead. Recently when I posted to Dave Farber's mailing list about a project to connect 100 million homes at 100 megabits/second, the professor heading the project sent me a polite note that my personal Web site is horribly outdated. He's right - many of the links to articles I've written are broken -- because Internet World and New Media have deleted their archives from the 1990s. And if I don't list recent speaking gigs and articles, I'm not doing a very good job of promoting my ideas.

Today I found what appears to be a very dead site: that of the political advocacy group This group famously launched their Web presence to urge the country to "move on" from its obsession with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Curious what they are up to now, I headed to their corner of Webspace.

At least on this day, is indeed a very stale site. Their lead article pleas for people to attend house parties to watch a documentary they've made; they even offer a local party locator implemented as a fancy Flash animation. The only problem: the locator map refers to past parties held on December 7.

There's more:

-- They tout their contest for a "Bush in 30 Seconds" ad -- but the deadline for submissions is long since past.

-- They promote a policy speech that Al Gore gave at their premises last November. Yes they may want to highlight the text, but a photo of Gore "above the fold" after Gore has endorsed Howard Dean may be misleading.

--- They call for Attorney General Ashcroft to appoint someone else to investigate the leak that outed a CIA operative -- which Ashcroft recently did.

-- The button labeled "Media Coverage" brings up an item from November; their most recent press release is from October.

-- They deride Fox News for a cheap shot they took against MoveOn "last week" -- but the complaint is dated December 19.

You get the impression that MoveOn's main products are television commercials and full page ads in the NY Times, and their Web site is an afterthought. If you think I'm being a tad harsh, compare their site to, the official Democratic Party site, or, the site operated by David Lytel (founder of and a small group of partners. Every news element on those sites is fresh.

Obviously things tend to slow down over the holidays, but if MoveOn wants to retain momentum, their Web site needs to get moving again soon.

I suppose after saying all this it's time get back to editing my personal site...