Monday, August 16, 2004

Windows XP SP2 Critical Update defers to fixing "unacceptable" font

It's the first anniversary of the devastating Blaster worm, which wrought havoc around the world, especially at universities. In its wisdom, Microsoft has timed the release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 for the anniversary, which means that this year millions of students will return to school, plug into the campus network, and discover that Windows Update wants to install SP 2. It's a "critical update" delivered at the worst possible time for college campuses. (Microsoft also won't let universities build patch CDs with SP2 for students in residence halls, citing its copyright policy.)

Word on the street is that Microsoft is dribbling out the SP2 release. Only a few folks will be offered this "critical update" at first. It's not clear what the random sampling process is. Curious if my new Thinkpad running XP Pro would catch SP2, I ran Windows Update.

To my utter astonishment, I do need a "critical update" -- for a font!

Critical Update for Windows (KB833407) Download size: 309 KB, less than 1 minute

This item updates the Bookshelf Symbol 7 font included in some Microsoft products. The font has been found to contain unacceptable symbols. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.

A little bit of Googling reveals that one of the characters in Bookshelf 7 resembles a swastika. I don't know if it is a swastika or not, as other cultures have produced symbols that resemble that offensive sign used by the Nazis centuries later.

It seems the Anti-Defamation League raised this issue with Microsoft in 2003, and Microsoft agreed to replace the font table with a new one sans pseudo-swastika. While that's probably the best move for Microsoft to make, there is no excuse for putting out as CRITICAL a new font table just because a symbol in it is objectionable. A critical update should be something critical to the operation of my computer. I have never even gone near the Bookshelf 7 fonts myself, and I've never encountered a Web page that exploited the offending character. Meanwhile, the really critical update, SP2, isn't available, and will start to appear, randomly, starting today. So you can't get XP SP2 as an end user if you want it, other than if randomly chosen, and you will get the Bookshelf Critical Update whether you want it or not.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Create your own postage stamps featuring your own photos has come up with a very clever new idea. They'll make postage stamps for you featuring whatever image you want. Imagine:

-- The photo on the stamp you put on your wedding invitation isn't wedding cake models -- it's you, the happy couple.

-- Your holiday letter depicts your perfect family, whose perfect year is described in infinite detail in the annual letter within.

-- You send out various mailings whose envelopes feature stamps showing off your lovely dog, cat, baby, vacation photos, the cottage up north your friends covet, etc.

The Photo stamp is really just the electronically coded postage stamp that provides under license from the USPS, with an ancillary photo, um, glued alongside it. The cost is steep: 85 cents per stamp for a sheet of twenty 37 cent stamps, not including $2.99 shipping. I bet it'll be a huge hit nonetheless. Wedding photographers will sell you postage stamps for your thank-you notes that feature you and your smiling spouse. Not a bad way for a dot com to reinvent itself.

If the folks at were really clever, they'd create a marketplace and let you choose popular photos and graphics from an image bank. Sure, you could upload your own photos, but you could also choose from the photos offered by professional photographers and freelancers. could let people and organizations sell images for stamps and collect royalties: a marketplace for personalized stamps. Institutions -- recording artists, politicians, cities, universities, car companies, resorts -- anyone could sell image-branded stamps.

The original business model for was simple: print your own postage stamps on your own laser printer -- Pitney-Bowes for the masses, postage stamps you print as you need them -- a very clever concept for the late 90s. But was a clever idea that never caught on. I'm betting that personalized postage stamps will take off in a big way. You'll order the stamps over the Web, you'll pay twice what they're worth, and you won't print them in your basement; you'll receive them ... in the mail. Ahh, irony,

Oh, to be perfectly accurate, I shouldn't say you can have ANY image on your stamp; there's a long list of terms and conditions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Flood takes Auburn University off the Web

Today I was scanning the Net trying to find out how universities name their Wi-Fi hotspots (or their wireless networks in general). I was surprised to discover that a flood had taken Auburn University off the Internet: