January 2013

Don’t Let Your Desk Be a Security Liability

by Joey deVilla on January 21, 2013

Typical office desk with a laptop, smartphone, keys and laptop bag on it - "What's wrong with this picture? (From a security point of view)"

One of the issues that we cover at CTS when helping companies devise their mobile strategy is security and risk. Mobile devices, while incredibly useful and handy to the point that we wonder how we lived without them, present many opportunities to lose important and sensitive data and leave yourself open to angry customers and legal action.

You might think that desktop security is outside our area of interest, but it’s not. After all, whether using mobile devices or not, many of our customers work from a desk, and desks present all sorts of opportunities for someone to leak data. We’ve also found that a lot of the security precautions that one can take at a desk are either applicable to mobile devices or have some applicable analogue. With that in mind, we’d like to point you to CSO Online’s latest version of their “Clean Desk Test”, which explains why a messy desk is a security hazard and why keeping your desk neat helps keep your information secure. You might want to look at CSO’s previous version of the clean desk test for more ideas.

This article also appears in Mobilize!: The CTS Mobile Tech Blog.

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Photo of corner of Front Street and University Avenue in Toronto: "Awesome coworking space at an amazing location with cool people"

We’re this close to getting the coworking space up and running.

A Potential Name

One of the things we have yet to determine is a name. I put out a request to my friends on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and while they came up with some interesting suggestions, my favourite name remains “Union Workstation”.

union workstation

I think it has a rather nice ring to it. It also very clearly alludes to how close it is to Toronto’s Union Station, which is a major subway, commuter train and VIA Rail station, which makes the place easy to get to, even for people who live deep in the ‘burbs.

A Lucky Break with Furniture

On Thursday, my friend Heather Williams posted the following in Facebook:

furniture 3

Lovely people of Toronto — do you have an office in need of a furniture upgrade? Looking for some cubicles or desk items/filing cabinets?

My office is moving and we can’t fit the current stuff in the new place so it all needs to move out before end of January. Free to a good home – just come and get it (office is near Pearson).

We have 7 of the cherry wood desk sets (with matching shelving) and 6 cubicles with divider walls. We also have various filing cabinets, chairs and shelving units. All in great shape.

Our movers can assist with the removal of these items when they are moving our stuff if you want to coordinate that and pay for just that portion of the job and delivery to your location (or bring your own van and cart it away).

Give me a shout if any interest!!

furniture 2

Chris Glynne alerted me to Heather’s posting, and I contacted her immediately. Her work was only too happy to get rid of the stuff, and we were only too happy to take it off her hands…for free-as-in-we-pay-nothing!

furniture 1

Furnishing a coworking space is always a big challenge, and I’m glad that we lucked out with this catch. Thanks, Heather and Axiom!

Floor Plans

Once again, here are the floor plans for the space:

If you’d like to claim a desk or a whole office, drop me a line (jdevilla@ctstech.net) or give me a ring (647-985-5639). Let’s talk!

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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T-shirt design: "Sounds like bullshit to me"

And so the spin doctoring begins: Carmen Ortiz, the US Attorney in the case against Aaron Swartz has released an official statement its tragic outcome. Here is a transcript of the full statement:

STATEMENT OF UNITED STATES ATTORNEY CARMEN M. ORTIZ REGARDING THE DEATH OF AARON SWARTZ

As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life.

I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably. The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct – while a violation of the law – did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases. That is why in the discussions with his counsel about a resolution of the case this office sought an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct – a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting. While at the same time, his defense counsel would have been free to recommend a sentence of probation. Ultimately, any sentence imposed would have been up to the judge. At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to seek – maximum penalties under the law.

As federal prosecutors, our mission includes protecting the use of computers and the Internet by enforcing the law as fairly and responsibly as possible. We strive to do our best to fulfill this mission every day.

Her line “a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting” is markedly different from this announcement on the US Attorney’s Office announcement dated July 19, 2011, where it states:

AARON SWARTZ, 24, was charged in an indictment with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. If convicted on these charges, SWARTZ faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.

The fact that they added an extra 9 counts of felony charges to the original four in September 2012 suggests they weren’t going for a sentence of “six months in a low security setting”. This was a “juicy” case for the prosecuting attorney, who almost has a track record for driving programmers to suicide (I agree with Sir Ian Fleming: Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action, and thus far, “Suicide Steve’s” body count is steady at two).

What should also be taken into account is that Ortiz is a likely gubernatorial candidate, and is worried that Aaron’s suicide may thwart her political ambitions. Boo hoo.

I cannot write further about this topic without losing my usual Zen, and I need to get a lot of work done today. I’ll simply close with this video from Democracy Now that I found via Lessig:

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Old Punch comic from 1906, depicting a man and a woman sitting on chairs in a park and facing away from each other. Each has a box on his/her lap that is spitting out a stream of telegraph paper tape, which they read intently: "DEVELOPMENT OF WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY IN HYDE PARK: These two figures are not communicating with one another. The lady is receiving an amatory message, and the gentleman some racing results."

Well before MAD magazine, there was the British satire comic publication Punch, a magazine that Flickr user Kip W (who found the comic above) says “pretty much did everything first, unless archaeologists should find another humor magazine that did everything before PUNCH, which seems pretty unlikely.”   Their prediction about what people would do with wireless communications, pictured above, was eerily prescient.

The comic above is from page 164 of A Century of PUNCH Cartoons, which was published in 1955. I may just have to purchase the print to hang up at the new office; if you’d like to buy one too, the Punch archive would only be to happy to sell you one at rates from £19 to £52 (about $31US – $83US).

Found via BuzzFeed by way of Cameo WoodThis article also appears in Mobilize!: The CTS Mobile Tech Blog.

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Remember the hypothetical coworking space in dopwntown Toronto I talked about last week? It looks as though it’s becoming more and more real.

For those who need a quick recap, here it is:

Jesse and I took at look at some primo office space in downtown Toronto today for our mobile software startup, CTSLocated a hop, skip and a jump away from Union Station, brimming with nearly 3,000 square feet of space, several offices within, featuring exposed wooden beams, brick walls and high ceilings as well as a big boardroom and even a shower, it’s a beautiful spot. It’s just a bit large and a bit pricey for a company of five. We talked about this with the people offering the space, and in doing so, we found that they’d be open to us sharing the space with other people. “As long as we’re getting rent for it,” they said.

On our way outside, I was struck by an out-there idea. “Jesse,” I said, “What if we took the space, used only the parts we needed, and rented out space to other people? Maybe as acoworking space?”

He looked at me in wide-eyed amazement, replying “I was thinking just the same thing!”

If you’re looking for some office space in downtown Toronto, right at Front Street and University Avenue, and wouldn’t mind sharing it with a a mobile startup, you should contact me — jdevilla@ctstech.net or 647-985-5639 — as soon as possible and we should get talking.

Here’s a Google Maps view of the area:


View Larger Map

…here are the floor plans (click to see a larger version):

Floor plan of shared office space

Yup, the office has a small shower room attached to the kitchen! Good for those of you who do bike commutes (myself included).

…and here are some photos:

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Bloomberg reports that Dell, who have lost a third of their value last year, are investigating the option of becoming a privately-owned company. According to the report, they’re in hush-hush discussion with two private equity firms about buying out their own stock.

For more, here’s Bloomberg’s video report:

dellfailI’m not sure (and neither is the anchor in the video) what taking Dell private would do. Would it let them take corrective actions that would otherwise not be possible as a publicly-traded company — perhaps actions that might make shareholders balk?

Dell’s woes must be amusing to Apple fans, especially those who kept the faith during those dark pre-return-of-Steve times in the mid-late ’90s when the company appeared to be circling the drain. MG Siegler seems to have beaten me to the schadenfreude-laden punch, but it’s almost my duty as a Mac user to repeat Michael Dell’s infamous 1997 quote about Apple:

“What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

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Saying Hello and Goodbye to Aaron Swartz

by Joey deVilla on January 12, 2013

Saying Goodbye

aaron swartz

Aaron Swartz.

I wasn’t quite awake until the headline announcing the event splashed across my screen in large type, jolted me into full consciousness: Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday, January 11th. My first thought: He was so young!

RSS icon, Creative Commons logo, Reddit alien

Aaron was a mere 26 years old, and he’d been doing all sorts of things on the Internet for at least a decade already. When most of us were still playing with toys, he was already playing with code and becoming an adept Python programmer, whose code showed an appreciation for clear, reasoned thinking. At the age of 14, he co-authored the specification for RSS 1.0, which specified how posts on blogs and other new sources get syndicated; even today, this blog uses an RSS feed. According to John Gruber, he was the Markdown markup format’s only beta tester. He provided the technical know-how for Creative Commons and helped bring it into being, after which he worked on the Y Combinator-funded project Infogami and ended up at Reddit in its earliest days, helping to build the site that would eventually become one of the most visited on the web. As a reader of this article, chances are that somehow, some way, you’ve benefited from Aaron’s work.

Demand Progress logo“The post-Reddit era in Aaron’s life was really his coming of age,” writes Cory Doctorow in his beautiful elegy for Aaron. After Reddit, he directed his considerable energies beyond mere code and data formats to weightier matters. He fought to free information that taxpayers had bought and paid for — public domain case law and publicly-funded academic research — that had been locked away behind paywalls. He founded DemandProgress, whose raison d’etre was to stand up for the general public in public policy fights, such as killing onerous regulations like SOPA and PIPA. As is often the case when one fights the Good Fight, the powerful had a serious bone to grind with him, and he was facing up to 35 years in prison and a million-dollar fine (by comparison, Bernie Madoff’s brother and co-conspirator is facing 10); a disproportionately large punishment for the crime of breaking into a server closet to copy academic journals paid for by — and subsequently locked away from — the public (MIT, where the servers were located, and JSTOR, the publisher, wanted to back down from pressing charges, but there’s strong evidence that the Feds wanted to turn Aaron into an object lesson). I believe, as does Cory, that the fear of imprisonment for a period longer than his lifespan to date, for doing the right thing, helped drive him to despair and to take his own life.

The time for anger and resulting constructive action will come, but for me, it’s not that time yet. For now, it’s time for those of us who knew him to remember the young man we knew and admire. This is my tribute to Aaron.

Saying Hello

Back in 2002, Cory Doctorow had managed to snag me a free ticket for O’Reilly’s first “Emerging Technologies” conference, which took place in May 2002 in Santa Clara. Thanks to accidental close match to a 9/11 “watch this person” profile, I was detained and questioned in U.S. Customs and missed my flight, knocking my arrival from the scheduled 4 p.m. Pacific (time enough to meet with friends for drinks and dinner) to 11 p.m.. You must remember that this was pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, and pre-Foursquare; locating friends and fellow conference-goers required either knowing their phone numbers or popping open your laptop and checking your email — if wifi, then a rare and precious commodity — was available.

Aaron Swartz, Wes Felter and Others Hack in the Lobby, ETCon, May 2002

Hacking in the hotel lobby, May 2002. That really young kid on the left? That’s Aaron. Wes Felter is the long-haired guy beside him.

I’d resigned myself to the fact that socializing might have to wait until the next day, but as I walked into the conference hotel’s lobby, I saw a familiar face on one of the couches: Wes Felter, developer and author of the blog Hack the Planet. I knew him mostly from IRC conversations on the #infoanarchy channel, where people who worked on peer-to-peer software hung out. After the initial handshakes and quick “great to meet you at last” exchanges, I turned to introduce myself to the person beside him.

“I’m Joey. Joey deVilla,” I said, extending my hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Aaron Swartz,” he replied, completing the handshake.

“Wow! AaronSW! RSS Spec!” I exclaimed with nerd-fanboy delight, to which he gave a concerned look. “I love what you’re doing. And hey, you’re in good company with Wes — he’s the most imaginative fetishist I know.”

Again, Aaron hit me with a concerned look, and this time I noticed how impossibly young he looked. Wait, isn’t he still a teenager or something? I thought, reaching back into my mental social files.”I’m just kidding,” I said, and the look of concern turned into an uncertain smile. It was progress.

“Let me tell you about what I had to go through to get here,” I said, and regaled them with the story summarized in my post The Star-Spangled Banner and Anal Sovereignty. Aaron asked questions about my experience with customs: Did they really think I was a terrorist? Was I put in a special holding cell? Why did they check my accordion but not my laptop?

Nerd Hacker Session in the Lobby, ETCon, May 2002

The gang in the lobby. Once again, that’s Aaron on the left side of the couch.

Along with Aaron and Wes, I joined the gang of conference attendees who got more value from hanging in the hallways and in the lobby with drinks in hand, laptops open, sucking in the wifi and the collective brainpower of the people in the room. Yes, we caught some sessions, but there was something special about our pow-wows, where we just hung out, talking not just about tech, but current events, what our plans were, and life in general.

Aaron Swartz, Wes Felter and Others Hack in the Lobby, ETCon, May 2002

Most of the attendees at the conference were of legal drinking age in the U.S. (twenty-one) or older, and a number of get-togethers were held in places where Aaron, who was barely old enough to drive, wouldn’t be admitted. I’d already done my conference carousing a couple of months earlier at CodeCon (including crashing a bachelorette party) and decided Hey, let’s be a big brother to Aaron. I spent much of the conference with Aaron. We attended pretty much the same sessions, and when we weren’t in a session, we were hanging out in the hotel lobby, where he’d gently tease me about my previous work programming in Visual Basic (one of the least-respected programming languages).

I wasn’t the only big brother: Wes was another constant companion:

Wes Felter and Aaron Swartz, ETCon, May 2002

Wes and Aaron, as we wait for our lift to Robert Scoble’s and Dave Winer’s dinner.

…as was Bryce “Zooko O’Whielacronx” Wilcox:

Zooko O'Wheilacronx, ETCon, May 2002

Zooko as we wait for our ride.

…and Lisa Rein played big sister:

Lisa Rein in my Flaming Cowboy Hat, ETCon, May 2002

Lisa Rein tries on my cowboy hat as Jillzilla looks on.

One night, we went to a special dinner in Palo Alto put together by two internet personalities who still loom large today: Robert Scoble and Dave Winer. I’d met Dave the year before at a meeting at Microsoft, but this was my first time meeting Scoble.

“Robert Scoble!” I said, shaking his hand. “I’ve been following you since your days at Visual Basic Programmer’s Journal.”

“Visual Basic again?” quipped Aaron, rolling his eyes. “Are you sure you’re a programmer?”

I just shrugged. When a kid’s that much smarter than you, you have to take it.

Joey deVilla and Accordion at the Palo Alto Apple Store.

Aaron snapped this photo of me at the Palo Alto Apple Store.

After dinner, Scoble and Winer suggested a trip to the Apple Store to check out the then-new iMac, the one that looked like a tablet attached to a globe. Being a table of nerds, no one objected, and soon we were all gawking at the latest new object of techno-desire from Cupertino.

“Aaron, could you do me a favour and take a picture of me with one of the new Macs?” He obliged, and the resulting photo is the one above.

People gathered in a kitchen at a party.

Even at nerd house parties, the kitchen’s the happening place. In the photo: Meg “Megnut” Hourihan, Bram “BitTorrent” Cohen, Quinn Norton, Cory Doctorow and Jason Kottke.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones had just been released around the time of the conference, and a number of us decided to go catch the movie. This worked well for Aaron, as it wasn’t an age-restricted event at a bar. We started with a little gathering at Quinn Norton’s and Danny O’Brien’s house…

Aaron Swartz and Lucas Gonze.

Aaron chats with Lucas Gonze. Kevin Burton looks on and Matt Jones peeks suspiciously through a doorway.

…and much socializing took place. Aaron made quite a splash at the party, not only for being the youngest person there, but also for what he talked about.

I was exposed to Aaron’s impish side that night. While lining up at an outdoor movie ticket kiosk, he saw Quinn sneaking up on me in her Prius, whose engine was in electric mode and silent. He kept mum long enough for her to get right behind me and blast me with the horn, after which he had a great laugh as I spazzed out in surprise.

"Attack of the Clones" opening crawl.

Attack of the Clones opening crawl.

We somehow managed to get tickets despite the crowds and our late arrival. There were very few seats left when we stepped into the theatre, but the front row was still free.

“Front row, then?” I asked Aaron, and he said “Sure.” We took a couple of seats on the left side.

There was still a fair bit of time to kill before the coming attractions came on, never mind the film.

“Dare you to play something,” Aaron said, pointing at my accordion.

“You are so on, young man,” I said. I stood up and played the Star Wars main theme and the Imperial March, getting the audience all riled up.

When the film started, I wanted to get a picture for my blog review. As I pulled out my camera, I said “Keep an eye out for ushers” as I snapped a picture of the opening crawl.

We both got a great laugh out of an all-caps line in the crawl, “CLONE ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC,” and for the next few months, it became a catchphrase for us in IRC chats: “PEER-TO-PEER ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC”, “BOY BAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC”, “UNDERPANTS ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC”, and so on.

Goodbye Again

We entered that conference in 2002 as strangers, and left as friends. We ran into each other at other nerd gatherings, and we stayed in touch online, both on IRC, as well as in email and various forums. Over time, distance and Dunbar’s Number got between us, but there was still the occasional communication. I checked his blog every now and again — be sure to read it, it’s full of great, thought-provoking stuff — and the last time I heard personally from him was a comment on my tech blog, Global Nerdy:

Wow, I’ve accused a bunch of people of using Scheme for evil, but I never thought it would have an effect. It’s really good to hear about people taking the moral implications of their work seriously.

That was Aaron: always fighting the good fight, running the good run. Requiescat in pace, young friend. You will be greatly missed.

My Photos from ETCon 2002

In Aaron’s memory, I thought I’d share my photos from ETCon 2002, a number of which feature him. I’ve posted them in the version of the article that appears in my other blog, The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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