Just how dumb do you think I am?

No that is not a rhetorical question.

I received some email purporting to be from Bank of America. It is my bank, so it is possible. The email said that some customers had received a fraudulent email claiming to be from Bank of America asking them to update their Online Banking details.

The email then proceeded to introduce their new secure SSL server and asked you to – you guessed it – click a link to update your Online Banking details. Now would you have noticed that this was phishing attempt?

A recent study at Harvard and Berkeley entitled Why phishing attacks work (PDF) found that 23% of people would not have noticed:

"We found that 23 per cent of the participants did not look at browser-based cues such as the address bar, status bar and the security indicators, leading to incorrect choices 40 per cent of the time," the researchers reports. "We also found that some visual deception attacks can fool even the most sophisticated users."

I tend to look at these things pretty carefully, and beside the fact that the link didn’t go to Bank of America, this paragraph was a dead giveaway:

We have asked few additional information which is going to be the part of secure login process. These additional information will be asked during your future login security so, please provide all these info completely and correctly otherwise due to security reasons we may have to close your account temporarily.

There is good reason to worry. If these people ever take a grammar course we could all be in trouble.

I feel pretty safe though because I generally don’t trust email. The other day I received an email from American Express about some suspicious activity on my card. When I called the number in the email I asked how I could be sure it was American Express. The young lady suggested I call the number on the back of my card. I did and was directed to the fraud department, who had already resolved the problem and were just letting me know, and would overnight me a new card. As an aside, how is it that American Express can always answer on the first ring and I never have to wait? It’s always a pleasure calling them.

So where email is concerned I find that it is always better to be a little skeptical.

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Less isn’t always more.

Some time ago I worked with Walter Cronkite. The first time I met him we were talking about finding information with search engines, and I suggested that they were more efficient than looking for something in the newspaper. He told me that he read the newspaper because he learned things he didn’t know he wanted to know.

Steve Rubel says that the BlackBerry and the iPod now far outnumber newspapers on his daily train ride:

New York is a big newspaper town. We have four majors, two freebies plus of course two nationals. During my seven years of commuting to work on the Long Island Railroad, the country’s largest commuter rail, I have watched the newspaper to gadget ratio slide heavily in favor of the gizmos. The machines have won. People spend far more time fiddling with their iPods and Blackberries than they do reading print. It even cuts across all generations.

While newspapers have their problems, they have one great benefit, that serendipitous discovery of new information. I fear that to compensate for tiny screens we will have to narrow our information focus. We’ll have more, newer, and better information available to us, but on fewer and fewer topics.

I love my iPod, and I couldn’t live without the tremendous access to information afforded by the internet. But if you see me on a plane or a train, I can guarantee you that I’ll have at least one newspaper beside me. I read at least two every day, and I read them from front to back. I learn at least one new and random thing every day. And I can’t tell you how many times those random thoughts have become incredibly useful.

Every day I learn something I didn’t know I wanted to know.

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Act faster.

Two companies called me for interviews for open positions this past week. I’m not looking right now so I called them both up and thanked them but said I wasn’t interested.

I live in a medium size town with a few tech companies, and those companies (including these two) frequently complain that they just can’t find people to hire. Both of these companies had a number of open postings on their website, postings that had been there for quite some time. I had sent resumes to both of these companies for open positions. For one of the companies, I had emailed AND faxed the resume to both the HR Manager AND the CEO.

And they contacted me, so it’s all good, right? Funny thing though, I had actually sent the resumes for those open positions about three months earlier. I guess the chances of hiring good people go up dramatically if you actually call them back in a reasonable timeframe. As it is, these companies were too late to hire me.

Throughout my career I’ve ended up working with folks that saw something they liked and acted very quickly to hire me. I’ve never worked with a company that took more than two weeks to interview me and make me an offer.

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Virtual reality.

Om Malik is trying Hive7, a virtual online community:

I think, Hive7 is in the same place. It will be sometime before the world catches on to its true potential. Skibinsky says that his big breakthrough was in 2004, when he realized that “instead of building a closed online game it’s possible to do the reverse.” In other words, he had an epiphany that web is the ultimate API. He put together a virtual universe which has rooms where folks can meet, meet, chat, exchange resources and items. What got me excited about Hive7 was that it allows anyone to customize the whole experience. You can take the code, and tweak it.

Looking at what Hive7 has built, I have just realized that the web has now gone 3D. Virtual worlds have a new meaning, and collaboration just got easier. I would let you figure it out for yourself, but I think this is the first step in realizing Ajax’s full potential. (I have some screen shots in the extended entry. Check out the one where Max and I are doing collaborative browsing. A browser inside a browser – now that’s cool!)

While the AJAX version may be new, the concept isn’t. Almost 10 years ago, back when VRML was in vogue, there were 3D chat programs. You got yourself an avatar, and you could wander around the place chatting with people around you. And frankly, even on those archaic machines, it was a little faster than Hive7 is. Mind you, you couldn’t really tweak it at all. But you got the same general sense.

While I think this stuff is cool, and will get even more impressive in the future, I can’t help but agree a little bit with Halley Suitt in her comment on Second Life:

So the question is, do the people who are all excited about Second Life actually have a first life, or any life at all?

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Setting limits.

While it is nice that Apple of providing new features for the iPod, I’m amazed that they found it necessary to add a volume limit setting.

From what I can see this addresses two markets; parents who want to control everything their kids do, and people who lack the common sense to turn down the volume.

This is of course a response to a class action lawsuit brought by somebody who clearly doesn’t get the concept of personal responsibility. If the music on your iPod is too loud, just how much intelligence does it take to turn the volume down? No, it’s far better to blame the company that makes the device.

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Meanwhile back on XP.

After 20 years of using PCs I switched to a Macintosh a few months ago. A couple of weeks ago I bought a new Sony Vaio laptop for some work I’m doing. Now I have no intention to switch back to me, but if I ever needed a refresher on why I switched to Mac I got it tonight.

The laptop came with a copy of Norton Anti-Virus, which I hadn’t activated. I thought that the anti-virus software was causing a problem with something I was working, but I couldn’t seem to turn it off because I hadn’t activated it. I started to activate it and didn’t like the terms of the license agreement, so I decided to just remove it. That was my mistake.

Apparently I couldn’t install it without upgrading my Microsoft Windows Installer. That’s right, my two week laptop was so out of date that I couldn’t REMOVE a piece of software. Yet somehow Norton got on the machine in the first place.

So I was forced to go to Microsoft and figure out what installer to get. And it wasn’t as if there was some simple search for it. After four different attempts I found a version 3.1 that seemed to work on XP SP2. So I decided to download it.

Not so fast folks. First I had to download some software to determine if I had Genuine Windows XP. That’s right, Microsoft needed to ensure that they had gotten their money from my two weeks ago laptop purchase, so that I could install software that they hadn’t, so that I could remove software that I didn’t want.

So I had to download a program to check my PC. After the program decided I was for real, I was then allowed to download the installer software. I installed that software, and then as quickly as I possibly could, I installed every last bit of Norton Anti-Virus.

So what have we learned? To be allowed to remove software that I didn’t want in the first place, I had to prove that I paid money to Microsoft, so that I could download the installer for Microsoft products. The installer that wouldn’t actually install anything I hadn’t paid for in the first place.

Now I remember why I switched to Macintosh.

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No such thing as bad PR.

For the first time in days Microsoft is not at the top of memeorandum. First they announced that Vista would be delayed. Then there was a report that 60% of Vista had to be rewritten. Then Robert Scoble noted that this was hogwash, and became a flashpoint for all kinds of positive and negative sentiment.

It’s been a few days and now Robert is begging people to insult him. Rick Segal thinks Robert should be fired. And the Head Lemur thinks that Robert needs an intervention.

I hope everyone has gotten this out of their system and we can all go back to business as usual. I’ve seen a lot of energy wasted on a piece of software. And a week of free PR for Microsoft.

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Making my life easier.

American Express sent me an email today about possible fraudulent activity on my card. Someone had tried to use my card. Reading the email I just assumed that I was in for a hassle trying to take care of the charges and getting a new card.

I called American Express, and they informed me that they were just warning me of the problem. They had declined the charge, and after confirming my identity, they said they would flag the account and overnight me a new card.

Easiest credit card experience. Ever.

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Truth or consequences.

There’s one heck of an argument happening in the blog world today. An Australian publication, SmartHouse Magazine, published an article stating that 60% of Windows Vista code needed to be rewritten before it could be shipped. Now that is just ludicrous, and most people figured that out. But SmartHouse stuck to their story, and produced a source. Even still, the story is more likely misunderstanding than fact.

But rather than just post a correction and leave it at that, Robert Scoble, normally a of open conversation, suggested that the editor and journalist involved with the story be fired. And he went a lot further today:

But, we should now start deriding people who link to non-credible sources. I will. Anyone who links to that jerk down in Australia anymore is simply not doing bloggers any favors. Same for anyone who links to the Register. I don’t believe a word they write. At least not while Andrew Orlowski works there.

Robert is entitled to his opinion, but so is everyone else, even if they don’t share his.

This story doesn’t seem all that likely, and as I said may simply be the result of a misunderstanding. But I think that persistent denials and vitriolic blog posts have only served to raise its profile. Most people are capable of applying rational common sense when they read stories like this. Others will believe whatever they want to, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

I suppose the last word belongs to Shelley at Burningbird, who demonstrates that she will link to whoever she darn well pleases thank you very much.And that’s fine with me, because I really want a balanced blogosphere. I want to know both the correct story and the inaccurate story so that I can tell the difference.

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Lazier maybe, but not dumber.

In the Op-Ed section of today’s New York Times, Edward Tenner asks:

Are search engines making today’s students dumber?

The premise of his piece is that Google (and other search engines presumably) make it so easy to find information that people disregard the quality of the information, but assuming they have an answer they dig no deeper. And if this is acceptable by their school for whatever they are working on, then is it the fault of the search engine?

I believe that this would make them lazy, but I can’t see how it makes them dumber. Even if the information is completely incorrect, that just makes them misinformed.

Mr. Tenner suggests that this may be partially the fault of the content owners:

More owners of free high-quality content should learn the tradecraft of tweaking their sites to improve search engine rankings.

And he attributes some blame to Google:

And Google can do more to educate users about the power — and frequent advisability — of its advanced search options.

Suddenly we are depending on free content to educate us. Wouldn’t we prefer to be educated by high quality content? Google wants to make that available to us, but book publishers aren’t interested in helping.So Google can only deliver what it has access to. And even with incredible algorithms, if can still only make a best guess of what is most relevant.

And blaming the tool because people don’t use it correctly is just silly. If they are motivated to do so people will make more use of the tool. It isn’t Google’s fault if they don’t. I use the advanced features of Google every day because I want to find more in depth information.

Yesterday I was at the library, using their online card catalog to help him find books for a project. We could have stopped looking after we found the first book. But he wanted more in-depth information so we searched further, and into related areas. If I stopped at the first match I found in the card catalog, does that make me dumber?

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