Entries in Information technology (25)

Flash! iPods turn people into human lightning rods

Posted on Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 03:06PM by Registered CommenterScott McPherson in , | CommentsPost a Comment

An incredible AP story in today's Yahoo News, submitted by alert reader Mark Schlaudraff, serves as a cautionary tale to never wear or use portable electronic devices when it is raining or if you hear thunder.


Thursday July 12, 5:36 AM

Lightning Strikes Reported by IPod Users

burning%20ipod.bmpListen to an iPod during a storm and you may get more than electrifying tunes. A Canadian jogger suffered wishbone-shaped chest and neck burns, ruptured eardrums and a broken jaw when lightning traveled through his music player's wires.

Last summer, a Colorado teen ended up with similar injuries when lightning struck nearby as he was listening to his iPod while mowing the lawn.

Emergency physicians report treating other patients with burns from freak accidents while using personal electronic devices such as beepers, Walkman players and laptop computers outdoors during storms.

Michael Utley, a former stockbroker from West Yarmouth, Mass., who survived being struck by lightning while golfing, has tracked 13 cases since 2004 of people hit while talking on cell phones. They are described on his Web site,

Contrary to some urban legends and media reports, electronic devices don't attract lightning the way a tall tree or a lightning rod does.

"It's going to hit where it's going to hit, but once it contacts metal, the metal conducts the electricity," said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper of the American College of Emergency Physicians and an ER doctor at University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago.

When lightning jumps from a nearby object to a person, it often flashes over the skin. But metal in electronic devices _ or metal jewelry or coins in a pocket _ can cause contact burns and exacerbate the damage.

A spokeswoman for Apple Inc., the maker of iPods, declined to comment. Packaging for iPods and some other music players do include warnings against using them in the rain.

Lightning strikes can occur even if a storm is many miles away, so lightning safety experts have been pushing the slogan "When thunder roars, go indoors," said Cooper.

Jason Bunch, 18, says it wasn't even raining last July, but there was a storm off in the distance. Lightning struck a nearby tree, shot off and hit him.

Bunch, who was listening to Metallica while mowing the grass at his home in Castle Rock, Colo., still has mild hearing damage in both ears, despite two reconstructive surgeries to repair ruptured eardrums. He had burns from the earphone wires on the sides of his face, a nasty burn on his hip where the iPod had been in a pocket and "a bad line up the side of my body," even though the iPod cord was outside his shirt.

"It was a real miracle" he survived, said his mother, Kelly Risheill.

The Canadian jogger suffered worse injuries, according to a report in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

The man, a 39-year-old dentist from the Vancouver area, was listening to an iPod while jogging in a thunderstorm when, according to witnesses, lightning hit a tree a couple of feet away and jumped to his body. The strike threw the man about eight feet and caused second-degree burns on his chest and left leg.

The electric current left red burn lines running from where the iPod had been strapped to his chest up the sides of his neck. It ruptured both ear drums, dislocated tiny ear bones that transmit sound waves, and broke the man's jaw in four places, said Dr. Eric Heffernan, an imaging specialist at Vancouver General Hospital.

The injury happened two summers ago and despite treatment, the man still has less than 50 percent of normal hearing on each side, must wear hearing aids and can't hear high-pitched sounds.

"He's a part-time musician, so that's kind of messed up his hobby as well," Heffernan said.

Like the Colorado teen, the Canadian patient, who declined to be interviewed or identified, has no memory of the lightning strike.

In another case a few years ago, electric current from a lightning strike ran through a man's pager, burning both him and his girlfriend who was leaning against him, said Dr. Vince Mosesso, an emergency doctor at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Eardrum ruptures are considered the most common ear injury in lightning-strike victims, occurring in 5 percent to 50 percent of patients, according to various estimates _ whether or not an electronic device is involved. A broken jaw is rare, doctors say.

NOTE:  The photo is not of an iPod after a lightning strike.  It is an iPod after a welding torch got it.  Pulled it off YouTube. - Scott

Plans suck. Planning rocks!

Or, Ike for the YouTube generation.

Patrick Thibodeau works quickly!  The Computerworld senior editor was just on the phone with me last night, asking me about Gartner analyst Ken McGee's exasperation at IT's lack of pandemic planning.  I feel his pain.  Here's the link to the Computerworld article:


gen-ike.jpgWhat was left out of his excellent article was my YouTube version of Ike's planning adage.  Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "The plan is useless; it's the planning that's important."  Or, as the YouTubers would say, "Plans suck.  Planning rocks!"

For a guy who had to plan the whole enchilada called World War II in Europe, or more accurately oversee all the planning, we should heed his advice.  Here was a guy, the project manager for the biggest undertaking in world history, and he certainly had his share of ups and downs (anyone who has read Rick Atkinson's superb history of the American Army in North Africa, An Army at Dawn, can see how Ike grew both as a planner and as a leader of men and women).  Ike's point is that plans will fail, but a mature planning process will help you prevail.  An excellent link is this one: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3257/is_11_59/ai_n15863428 .

A major State agency recently decided to hire an expensive consultant to write its disaster recovery and COOP (Continuity of Operations) plans.  What a mistake!  Where will this rich and influential consultant be when the winds blow, or the people fall ill, or the building catches fire?  Somewhere in Cancun, probably.  Hiring consultants to write your DR/COOP plans is like hiring mercenaries to fight your end of a civil war.  Where's the skin in the game?  What lessons are learned by your staff?  None and none.

Your people are your greatest asset. Leverage them to write your plan.  Think business processes.  Think how you can innovate your organization's way around those potential showstoppers.  Remain flexible.  But for God's sake, don't outsource your planning process!  Else you will fail.  Certainly use consultants to facilitate the planning process; the meetings; and perhaps use them to scribe the entire process.  But if you use consultants to come in, interview everyone and then write a plan all wrapped up in a pretty little silk bow, you are doomed.  For when that plan begins to unravel (as all plans do to some extent, in wartime and in times of great stress and confusion), then you are absolutely toast.  And so is your organization.

You have heard of the "Fog of War,"  the cloud of uncertainty and doubt that takes place in every battle, when even the most meticulously laid plans begin to wither in the face of uncertainty and stress.  That is precisely what Ike is speaking of.  A mature, robust planning process with veteran decision-makers thinking on their feet -- now THAT is what the process is all about!

I recall a scene in Clint Eastwood's classic film Heartbreak Ridge, when Everett McGill's character orders Eastwood's Gunny Highway to set up an ambush at a specific location.  Sergeant Choozoo, an observer, remarks sardonically, "It's always good to know where and when you'll be hit."

The consultants aren't THAT smart!  Nobody is. 

Jericho returns to CBS July 6th

Posted on Monday, July 2, 2007 at 03:12PM by Registered CommenterScott McPherson in , | CommentsPost a Comment

jericho250.jpgGood news for fans of the CBS serial drama "Jericho," and to fans of good television everywhere:  The series returns to CBS this week. 

If you are not familiar with Jericho, or the phenomenon that brought it back from the dead, allow me to briefly get you up to speed.  Jericho, Kansas is a fictional town that is caught in the crossfire of a terrorist act, as the terrorists detonate an uncertain number of nuclear bombs across America.  When the Denver nuke explodes, it plunges Jericho into a post-apocalyptic world of uncertainty, rumors, and forced self-reliance.  Where is the government?  What is happening in the adjacent towns?  Who bombed America?

Those thoughts give way to a more pressing and even more deadly situation: One of the adjacent towns, New Bern, has none of the natural resources Jericho has.  Jericho is blessed with an abundance of farmland, fresh water and a huge salt mine.  New Bern is apparently only "blessed" with a paranoid lunatic charismatic sheriff, located somewhere on the false messiah barometer between Jim Jones and Hitler, who has taken the town over.  New Bern's only deliverable appears to be the ability to manufacture crude mortars and ammunition.  And they plan to invade, and conquer, Jericho.

Interspersed within this story are many intriguing subplots, some romantic, some involve deceit, infidelity, intrigue and possible treason, and some involving politics.  in other words, something for the entire family!  One continuing subplot involves the once-mayor, Johnston Greene, played in Emmy-caliber fashion by Gerald McRaney.  Greene has been defeated for re-election, partly because he is so focused on keeping the town together, he did not bother to campaign.  The populist themes of his victorious opponent give way to grim realization that Greene has what it takes to lead and the new incumbent does not.  He gives Greene authority to organize and train the Jericho townspeople to defend their territory against interlopers (rogue mercenary types with clear hints at shadowy, Halliburtonesque connections) and, ultimately, against New Bern's invasion force.

Which is where the first season ended:  With chaos, the fog of war, and the hint of some sort of New American intervention to stop the conflict before it gets any more complicated.

And that is where CBS stepped in, said "Nope, show's over, folks, nothing to see here, move along."  Only the people did NOT move along.  People got on the Internet and got busy.  Almost overnight, once CBS revealed it had cancelled the program, viewers rebelled.  Several "Save Jericho" sites sprung up.  Those sites began linking, and collaborating, with each other.  Finally, in a simple masterstroke, someone linked the seminal, pivotal line in the New Bern invasion story thread to the effort.  New Bern's sheriff sends a walkie-talkie to Jericho's leaders.  They demand surrender.  The response:  A history lesson in the Battle of the Bulge, when the American Army's 101st Airborne Division was surrounded by the German army at Bastogne in December 1944.  The German commander called for the Americans to surrender.  General Anthony MacAuliffe responded in one word:  "Nuts."  So says Jericho to New Bern: "Nuts."  And so said Jericho's fans to CBS. 

Thus began the most creative save-the-program effort in American television history.  The Websites linked to a nut company that ships and delivers nuts.  Within a matter of days, the president of CBS Entertainment was buried under 40,000 pounds of nuts, all sent by enraged Jericho viewers.  In her reply to the fans of the series, Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, said the following:

June 6, 2007

To the Fans of Jericho:


Over the past few weeks you have put forth an impressive and probably unprecedented display of passion in support of a prime time television series. You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard.

As a result, CBS has ordered seven episodes of "Jericho" for mid-season next year. In success, there is the potential for more. But, for there to be more "Jericho," we will need more viewers.

A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow. It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available.

We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks.

At this time, I cannot tell you the specific date or time period that "Jericho" will return to our schedule. However, in the interim, we are working on several initiatives to help introduce the show to new audiences. This includes re-broadcasting "Jericho" on CBS this summer, streaming episodes and clips from these episodes across the CBS Audience Network (online), releasing the first season DVD on September 25 and continuing the story of Jericho in the digital world until the new episodes return. We will let you know specifics when we have them so you can pass them on.

On behalf of everyone at CBS, thank you for expressing your support of "Jericho" in such an extraordinary manner. Your protest was creative, sustained and very thoughtful and respectful in tone. You made a difference.


Nina Tassler
President, CBS Entertainment

P.S.    Please stop sending us nuts :-)


Jericho is a serious television program for anyone who enjoys good apocalyptic fiction, science fiction, or survivalist fiction.  Anyone in a post-9/11 world who speculates on what life would be like if "The Terrorists Win" should view this program.  Anyone who ever read "Alas, Babylon" will flock to this show like crazy.  And the emergency management types and homeland security types should consider this as a ripping good yarn!

This Friday night, the pilot airs, followed by the "catch up show" before the series was forced to take a break while new episodes were filmed. Then the second half episodes of Season One will air in successive weeks.  Good news for a fine entertainment that was damaged by bad scheduling (it ran against pre-Idol shows on Fox) and premature discarding by a network that should have known better, but was willing to listen and to reconsider. 

Police Squad... er, DHS -- strikes again!

You know, you gotta love the Department of Homeland Security.

drebin2.jpgAnyone who has ever had intergovernmental dealings with Washington knows that the Federal government has a tendency to, well, to talk down to everyone.  I have had many, many dealings with "the Feds" over the years, from cybersecurity to the Census to you name it, and their collective attitude is astounding.  I don't know if it is endemic Washington culture, or some belief that the Federal fecal matter does not stink, but it is amazing that an entity that tells state and local governments how to run their business apparently cannot run its own business.

Two recent stories -- completely separate subjects -- collectively speak to this dysfunctionality in the agency charged with the responsibility of protecting We, the People.  First was the revelation that Mister Self-Important XDR-TB guy with the Hottie Wife actually was let back into the United States, despite every attempt to keep him out.  The DHS border guard who deliberately ignored the flashing computer screens (For God's Sake, Don't let This Guy In!) and waved him across, saying later "Duh, he didn't look sick!", shows that for all its hubris, DHS apparently can't guarantee we are intercepting important messages and acting on them quickly.

Then comes this juicy little ditty, listed below.  Whenever I attend IT conferences, the panelists always seem to include an array of Federal IT "geniuses," strolling onto the stage with supreme self-assurance, and I am reminded of the line from Bowie's classic line from China Girl, "I stumble into town, like some sacred cow."  Building a cult of personality and protecting turf are far more important, apparently, than protecting the public and the public interest.  The Feds are always quick to administer advice, but are the last to take it. 

PS, the only guy running for president who even addresses these issues is Fred Thompson.

Lawmakers assail DHS cybersecurity

06/21/07 -- 03:36 PM
By Jason Miller, Government Computer News 

The Homeland Security Department’s IT security posture came under fire from lawmakers after the Government Accountability Office found “systemic and pervasive” problems.

At a hearing yesterday, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology members grilled DHS chief information officer Scott Charbo about the state of the agency’s cybersecurity, including the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-Visit) program.

“[I]nformation provided by DHS suggests that the CIO is failing to engage in defensive best practices that would limit penetrations into DHS networks,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), subcommittee chairman. “The department’s failure to implement the Einstein program, contracts with Sprint and MCI where the carrier has misconfigured the firewall, and other problems are quite disturbing.”

Charbo said the agency’s cybersecurity posture is getting better, but could not answer a lot of questions around the problematic configurations of DHS’ systems.

When Langevin questioned whether Sprint, MCI or even DHS’ National Cyber Security Division has audited the ISP providers, Charbo said while he is ultimately responsible for the security, the issue of auditing contractors is not a decision any CIO could make. Charbo said it needs to be addressed from a higher authority.

Charbo also couldn’t answer how long the vulnerabilities in the ISP have been open and when the last audit of the data network occurred.

Langevin once again called Charbo’s lack of response disturbing.

“It was a shock and a disappointment to learn that the Department of Homeland Security … has suffered so many significant security incidents on its networks,” the congressman said. “DHS reported to the committee that it experienced 844 cybersecurity incidents in fiscal 2005 and 2006.”

Langevin pointed out these included workstations infected with Trojans and viruses, a workstation infected with a Trojan scanning for port 137, which demonstrates that “individuals attempting to scan DHS systems through the Internet,” and PCs containing suspicious beaconing activity and a botnet that lets a hacker control the compromised computer.

GAO’s chief technologist Keith Rhodes said Charbo’s claim about auditing the ISP is incorrect.

“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid audited their telecommunications contractor,” he told lawmakers. “We have reviewed the [ISP] at CMS, identified vulnerabilities and made recommendations.”

Charbo countered by saying just because there was an incident doesn’t mean there is success in breaking into DHS systems.

“We monitor routers on the edge,” he said. “If we find suspicious activities, we track it on our network and take care of it immediately. We do forensic analysis if we identify malware too.”

Rhodes said a lot of these problems could be fixed by improving DHS network configuration of specific hardware devices or software.

“There are zero cost fixes,” he said. “DHS has made some fixes, but there are others they could do.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the full committee, asked Charbo whether the lack of cybersecurity for U.S. Visit made it vulnerable to hacking. Charbo said there was no evidence of any breaches.

But Rhodes said DHS does not have the controls in place to protect the system had there been an intrusion.

“If someone was smart enough to get in, they could get out and no one would know about it?” asked Rep. Bob Ethridge (D-N.C.)

Charbo said DHS has made some fixes to immediate problems, but they still are working with GAO. He said one example GAO recommended would be to encrypt their LAN, but he believes that wouldn’t be necessary.

“We encrypt the data going out of the network, but not while it is in the network,” Charbo said. “We will mitigate the risks and if there are easy controls we will sit down with GAO and discuss them.”

But Alan Paller, director of research for the Sans Institute, said Charbo’s rationale for not encrypting data on the LAN is faulty.

Paller, who attended the hearing, said one successful spear phishing attack would wreak havoc on the LAN.

“Spear phishing eliminates the perimeter defenses,” he said. “It could create a rogue tunnel out of the system through Port 80.”

GAO will issue a report on DHS cybersecurity problems in July, said Greg Wilshusen, the watchdog agency’s director of information security issues.

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Today's Dilbert


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