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Archive for July 26th, 2010

Running your government with Google Apps

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Google says its ready to offer its online office suite to the U.S. government.

At a press briefing…at its headquarters, Google announced a new version of its Apps suite designed specifically for government customers. This tier will be sold alongside the existing version of Google Apps and priced the same as the company’s premiere license–$50 per user, per year.

Google Apps for Government features all the same applications that can be found in other versions but comes with a higher level of security, which Google says meets the requirements set forth by the Federal Information Security Management Act. This includes segregated data centers, which Google says goes beyond FISMA regulations, and will keep government e-mail and calendar event data within U.S. borders.

Google says it got its FISMA certification late last week, after having to change a number of back-end security features and protocols…

According to Google, the federal government spends $76 billion on information technology, while some $56 billion is spent by state and local governments. Glotzbach pointed to examples from the existing Google Apps installations at the Berkeley Lab and the U.S. Navy–both of which he says will save those groups money over the systems they were using before. In the case of the Berkeley Lab, Google says it’s a projected savings of $1.5 million to $2 million over the next five years.

Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, who dropped in near the end of the news briefing, said the government organizations the company had talked with were “dying” to make the move to a cloud-based office infrastructure. “All of them have the same problem. They’re trapped in architecture that’s 15 to 20 years old. They would much prefer to have somebody manage the services than them manage the data centers,” he said…

You can bet the two biggest questions delaying acceptance will be a full-court press of lobbying from the traditional vendors of software and hardware systems to government – and bureaucrats falling over themselves to figure out how to maintain their own power and prestige.

And then there will still be those who fear technology beyond pencils.

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Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Time for a Pentagon yard sale?

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Some say that the United States is incurring too much debt, more than $1 trillion in the past fiscal year. Others say that the worst recession since World War II is no time to cut spending or raise taxes. They’re both right.

Happily, there is a third way to slow the growth of debt without curtailing federal economic stimulus: sell assets…

There’s the Tennessee Valley Authority, for example: Created during the Depression to help develop the impoverished Southeast, TVA today owns and operates 29 hydroelectric dams and six nuclear reactors, along with coal plants, wind farms and other power sources. In fiscal year 2009, the authority reported operating revenues of $11.3 billion and operating expenses of $9.3 billion…

And there are assets easier to quantify

– More than a quarter trillion in gold.

– A quarter trillion in TARP assets.

– $35 billion of oil in the strategic petroleum reserve…

No longer stricken by malaria, no longer impoverished, the people in the TVA region can afford to pay the full cost of their power just as much as Con Edison ratepayers…

No one likes Wall Street these days. But it’s time to get some investment bankers on the phone and ask them how to get the best possible price for what the United States has to sell.

Frum is a conservative ideologue. He’s in favor of privatization at any cost. But, he does have a point about TVA.

And the Pentagon could have a helluva yard sale. We have a bad habit of passing along military hardware that’s four minutes over the sell-by date to our buddies. We not only do it for free. We throw in free training and supplies for a decade or so.

Sometimes long enough to see it fired back at us.

Let’s sell off some of that crap to the guys who are supposed to be on our side.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 6:00 pm

United Arab Emirates say BlackBerrys pose a security risk

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“Who’s in charge of translations from the Gulf, today?”

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said that it could move to restrict or monitor BlackBerry mobile phones, as they pose a “national security risk“.

The region’s telecoms regulator said “BlackBerry operates beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation” as it stores its data offshore. It said it was concerned that misuse may have “serious social, judicial and national security repercussions”…

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has taken issue with the encrypted networks used by Research in Motion (RIM) – the makers of the Blackberry handset…

“Currently, BlackBerry operates beyond the jurisdiction of national legislation, since it is the only device operating in the UAE that immediately exports its data offshore and is managed by a foreign, commercial organisation,” said a statement from the regulator.

“As a result of how BlackBerry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain BlackBerry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions.

“Like many other countries, we have been working for a long time to resolve these critical issues, with the objective of finding a solution that operates within the boundaries of UAE law.”

In other words – it ain’t especially easy for the government to keep an eye on folks using Blackberrys in the UAE.

There are interesting facets to any discussion of censorship. Is a government trying to maintain secrecy for political dealings, business dealings? After all, some governments own and deploy the most significant assets in their economy.

In some cases, governments are in the middle of changing from a state economy to something utilizing portions of market economics.

Some governments are run by fear-driven politicians who simply don’t trust democracy or the enfranchised electorate to support their wishes – and try to keep the truth from affecting their agitprop.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Letters frozen in time arrive after 60 years

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When an airliner crashed near the summit of Mont Blanc 60 years ago, rescuers fought desperately through storms to reach the site.

It took them three days, but their search proved in vain. There were no survivors from the 40 passengers and eight crew of the Malabar Princess, an Air India Lockheed Constellation bound for a stopover in Geneva on its way to London.

However, the story lived on. In the popular French film Amelie, Audrey Tautou’s character creates a fictional letter — from a lover who had died in the crash — for a lonely female concierge after hearing about mountaineers finding similar letters. Now a British student on a field trip to the Alps to examine global warming has added to the legend after stumbling upon a mailbag from the Malabar Princess.

Remarkably, some of the letters it contained have survived sufficiently for Freya Cowan, a third-year geography student, to embark upon a project to reunite about 75 letters and birthday cards with the senders or intended recipients…

A few letters from the Malabar Princess have been recovered previously but nothing on this scale. It would seem that none of the mail found by Miss Cowan was written by passengers on the plane, who were seamen bound for a new ship in Sunderland. The bag was destined for the US and the Dundee team has already succeeded in finding the owners of some correspondence.

Emergence of old mail considered long gone always makes for an interesting story.

Just hanging onto old mail can lead to new directions. My favorite autograph – of Ray Bradbury – is on a penny postcard he sent me in 1951. he had to add another 1-penny stamp because the rate had just been increased to 2 pennies.

And a discussion about it led me to an autograph letter and photograph from one of my favorite recent authors, Michel Faber.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Mexican prisoners let out for killings, borrowed guard’s guns

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A group of drug cartel inmates who were allowed by guards to leave prison to commit murders are believed responsible for the massacre of 17 people earlier this month, the Mexican government said…

They were allowed to leave the prison and use the weapons of the guards in these executions using official vehicles,” said Ricardo Najera, the spokesman for the federal prosecutors’ office.

“These criminals carried out their executions as part of the settling of accounts between rival gangs and disgracefully these cowardly criminals then murdered innocent civilians on their way back to their cells.”

Drug gang hitmen in five sports utility vehicles stormed a birthday party in the northern city of Torreon on July 18 and gunned down 17 revelers with automatic weapons. Another 18 people were wounded in the attack.

Two prison guards have so far been detained in the investigation into the case, Najera said.

Golly gee. Two members of the corrupt prison administration detained for questioning.

Don’t they have any influential friends or relatives at all?

Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

Afghan war documents go online at WikiLeaks

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Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

A whistle-blower website has published what it says are more than 90,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year.

The first-hand accounts are the military’s own raw data on the war, including numbers killed, casualties, threat reports and the like, according to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.org, which published the material Sunday.

Here’s the link. When I prepared this post, last night, their servers were pretty much swamped.

“It is the total history of the Afghan war from 2004 to 2010, with some important exceptions — U.S. Special Forces, CIA activity and most of the activity of other non-U.S. groups,” Assange said…

The significance lies in “all of these people being killed in the small events that we haven’t heard about that numerically eclipse the big casualty events. It’s the boy killed by a shell that missed a target,” he told CNN.

What we haven’t seen previously is all those individual deaths,” he said. “We’ve seen just the number and like Stalin said, ‘One man’s death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic.’ So, we’ve seen the statistic.”

The website held back about 15,000 documents from Afghanistan to protect individuals who informed on the Taliban, he said.

The news-as-entertainment crowd, liberal or conservative – it matters not, will probably panic over this. As will their mirror-image peers in Congress.

The culture of government which has adopted the practice of classifying information as “secret” because it is embarrassing, damning or otherwise a potentially negative force upon the body politic – demands severe penalties for revelations. Our representatives in Washington DC have had this cowardly habit for decades.

The easier it becomes to collect data, the easier it is to lose control of it.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 6:00 am

No Windows smartphones for HP

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HP might aspire to be “Microsoft’s biggest customer,” according to HP executive vice president Todd Bradley, but the company has officially distanced itself from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system. The move should come as little surprise, given HP’s finalization of its Palm acquisition late last month.

Palm, after all, is the brains behind the webOS mobile operating system, which HP now intends to use as the basis for all of its future smartphones…

The decision comes in the wake of a suspicious amount of shuffling regarding the HP Slate—first intended to launch this year as a Windows 7-based tablet, then pulled in favor of Palm’s webOS, and now apparently resurrected as a Windows-based enterprise-class device.

That’s not to say that webOS is going anywhere, however. According to Ars Technica’s Ryan Paul, HP appears to be adopting a two-platform strategy for its Slate tablets: enterprise customers get the Windows versions, and the general consumer market gets webOS.

Regardless, Microsoft is out on HP’s smartphones. It’s not a huge chunk taken out of the Microsoft’s business, given that fellow manufacturers ASUS, Dell, and Samsung—amongst others—have all signed on as Windows Phone 7 partners. Nevertheless, HP’s move is made even more interesting when one factors in the talk of the market before HP’s acquisition of Palm.

“We are simply very excited to be entering a new era in our Smartphone business together with Microsoft, especially as the market continues to grow and evolve. HP is working even closer with Microsoft to develop signature phones on the Windows Phone 7 Series that offer an entirely new consumer experience,” said Steve Manser, a senior vice president at HP, in a series of partner statements put out by Microsoft.

Once HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion, however, executives were singing a different tale.

Ayuh. Lifetime commitments sometimes don’t outlast quarterly reports in the marketplace.

The only real surprise about the article – is that they managed to get all the way through without mentioning Apple.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 26, 2010 at 2:00 am

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