Throwback Thursday: Wireless Networks, 8 Years On

“A wireless LAN can enable your employees to do their jobs more quickly and efficiently, allowing them to be more responsive to customers. Convenience is a major business reason for using a wireless network, says Craig J. Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group, an independent wireless advisory firm. “Getting access to information and acting on it in a timely fashion is one of the last competitive differentiators,” he says.

In 2006 I wrote “Seven Steps to Wireless” for Cisco’s iQ magazine. Hard to believe how much has changed since then; wireless LANs (WLANs), then a relative rarity, are ubiquitous now. Eight years ago, organizations actually needed advice such as “Evaluate network infrastructure. Can your switches and routers handle wireless access point traffic?” and needed to be coached on various flavors of wireless security. (Well, they probably still ought to think harder about security, but rightly or wrongly that onus increasingly falls on users.)

My eight-year-old piece is perhaps timely today given the revelations from the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi that the Russian security apparatus can spy on wireless communications, including WiFi and mobile phone networks. In such a case, the dilemma facing users is daunting but age-old: Armor up, increasing complexity and reducing convenience for the sake of personal privacy? Or suck it up and let them snoop, in exchange for speed. I’m interested to see what visitors to Sochi will choose, and if we’ll even know what they choose.

Throwback: Big Birds Bug ‘Burbs

My article about wild turkeys, which appeared in the short-lived MyHomeMyTown magazine in late 2003, is reproduced here. My friend Bill Crosby, editor of MHMT, let this fabulous headline stand:

Big Birds Bug ‘Burbs

At first glance—maybe out a car window along an East Bay road—they look like rocks or tree stumps. Definitely too big to be birds. A closer look reveals wild turkeys, scratching for a meal.

They’re a thrilling—and increasingly common—sight. The wild turkey population in North America has quadrupled to more than 6 million in the last 30 years, according to the National Wild Turkey Federation. And though turkeys aren’t native to the state, some of that growth has been in California; indeed, turkeys can be found in every California county except San Francisco.

Once the birds are established, their population growth is a matter of biology and arithmetic.

Continue reading Throwback: Big Birds Bug ‘Burbs

Throwback: What the Doctor Ordered

Dr. Chance lifted the cylindrical vessel to the light to take a closer look at the sightless sphere within. The lense obligingly rolled in the watery liquid to meet his gaze. With a slender probe he lifted the orb from the medium, releasing a pungent odor. He had smelled this countless times before; it recalled late nights in med school.

This specimen was intact and undamaged. He studied the graceful contours, and silently praised a higher power for creating an elegant structure for a vital purpose. “This one his perfect,” he said, praising the owner of the dispensary as he returned the globe to the liquid. “I guess that’s why I always come back here.”

Dr. Chance drained the liquid. His throat burned and his eyes watered. “Two olives in the next one,” he said with a wink as he set the glass back on the bar.

My honorable mention–winning entry in the Sierra College Gothic Horror Short Fiction Contest of 1996. Happy Halloween!


I heard on the radio the other day that Disney would no longer issue stock certificates, and I thought of Lance Lee.

I met Lance in the late 1990s at a yoga retreat at White Lotus in Santa Barbara. He told me about his company,, which sells single keepsake stock certificates. Lee had been a conventional stockbroker, but enough clients asked to buy single shares through him that he saw a business opportunity. (He still needed a broker’s license to sell single shares.)

I wrote up for California Computer News in July 2000. Among many fun facts, Lee told me that Disney was the most popular stock he sold. A quick look at the website today shows that ranking hasn’t changed. The stock was — is — a popular gift for kids — in part because the certificate is lovely, depicting Disney characters and a smiling portrait of Walt.

For Lance’s sake, I hope that more companies don’t follow Disney’s lead and stop issuing certificates.



Throwback: Counting on DLP

It’s not often I get to introduce a personal anecdote into tech-oriented writing, but I did get this chance in “Counting on Data Loss Prevention,” written for Symantec’s CIO Digest in October 2008. (The link is to a 4-page PDF; the article is no longer online.) In the piece, I compared Data Loss Prevention—DLP—to the censorship done on letters my father sent home from Europe during World War II. It’s an apt comparison, I think; can you name other technology solutions that have analog analogues?

Throwback: Not All In The Family

For a few years I had a great gig as a columnist for Cisco’s iQ Magazine, writing about the growth challenges facing small and medium businesses (SMBs) in a column called “Growing Pains.” I got to interview small businesspeople,  consultants who helped them, and academics who studied them, and try to give SMBs practical insight and advice for common challenges.

This piece from 2006, titled “Not All In The Family,” talks about the challenge of bringing  an outsider into a business that had, previously, been run by family members. (The linked file is a three-page PDF; the article is no longer online.) Making this transition for family businesses was, and remains, a common challenge, particularly when family ownership enters the third generation. The column holds up well, I think, and is full of interesting stats. Plus, I had forgotten until I re-read it to post here that I had interviewed Nick Parham for it.

A favorite snippet: “But family businesses are at a crossroads. Many of these companies were originally created after World War II—veterans were as adept at creating businesses as they were at building families.”

If you have worked for or with a family-owned business — or owned one yourself — please share your experience.

Throwback: Database Benchmarking

(This appeared in the March 2001 issue of Oracle magazine. I was particularly happy with the lede.)

Database benchmarks abound. What do they mean and how well do they address real-world performance questions?

The human desire to measure things is as old as civilization itself. In 3000 B.C. Egypt, measurement of the cubit was so accurate that the pyramids were built within .005 percent of geometric perfection. Five thousand years ago, the Mayans had developed a calendar that precisely accounted for leap years. Chinese astronomical “Oracle Bones” from 1302 B.C. were used by NASA to determine that the length of a day was 47/1000ths of a second shorter then than it is now. (Oracle Bones is NASA’s name, not ours.)

But measuring anything can be fraught with subjectivity and politics. Take the precise Egyptian cubit: It was based on the distance from Pharaoh Khufu’s elbow to his fingertip. Our obsession with measuring continues to this day, but now we measure distances between stars and the weight of subatomic particles. And, of course, in the database industry we measure performance. We want to know how fast a database is and how much it costs to run so we can determine which one is the best value.

Database benchmarking attempts to measure these and other factors. But as with any sort of measurement, the challenge is to devise a test that’s accurate and fair—and that gives truly useful numbers. Sometimes the process seems as complicated and difficult as building the pyramids.

Read the full article here.