Friday, February 27, 2015

"Silicon Valley" needs to form a consortium to deal with the content monitoring issues; ICRA-FOSI (from the UK) is the model; was my gig with "CABCO" in the 80s prescient?


Recently, on a couple of other blogs, I’ve mentioned the abandoned project (in Britain) that would enable content providers on the Web (and probably smart phone apps) to label their content for age categories and with respect to specific suitability areas (sexuality, violence), matched to browser (or app interface) changes that would make the experience seamless for most users.  Current content interstitials tend to suggest that the “hidden” content will be porn, which is often not the case. The concept would be predicated on parents having multiple phones or laptops in a household and setting them up differently. 
  
Such a project would require a number of big players to form a consortium (which, I know, is a bad word in itself given my experience with CABCO and Medicare and Blue Cross in the early 1980s in Dallas).  Involved would be browser and app suppliers as well as the actual developers of the coding standards.  Companies like Google (with Chrome and platforms like YouTube and Blogger), Wordpress, Microsoft (IE), Firefox, Motorola, Apple (for Safari and various iPhone apps), Facebook, and Twitter would be involved.  CABCO may be prescient in some challenging ways:  the sponsoring Blue plans could not get along and the project was shelved in 1982 (right after I had left).  

Leadership of such a project would need to be familiar in detail with the history of litigation over censorship (CDA, COPA), downstream immunity issues (Section 230 and DMCA), and the mechanics of how content is assembled and delivered (like video embeds).  
  
This would be an opportunity also to look at innovative ways to intercept some kinds of illegal and destructive content (like child pornography, and recruiting for criminal or foreign enemy enterprises) automatically. It could be an opportunity to look at constructive, move-forward ideas on piracy. 
      
Of course, like CABCO, this would be a project where systems analysts would need to think through what would be done and how everything would work “in the real world” before coding started.  So it would cost a lot to fund, staff and head up.  It could be housed in Silicon Valley, maybe in a place like Austin or Dallas, maybe North Carolina (Research Triangle), and would require travel to London and Europe, as well as a lot of interface with media companies (mostly in New York and California, and Canada). 
  
It would employ a lot of people for a few years. 

I am "retired" at 71 and working on my own content stuff (music and movies), but I do have a lot of the background that it would take to contribute to such a project, especially the requirements.  If someone wants to do this, contact me.
       
Picture:  Dallas, where CABCO was in the 1980s (it was near Stemmons Freeway, near both downtown and Oak Lawn).  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My HP Envy crashes may be related to "IAStoricon.exe"


I got a bizarre warning of a memory error from “IAStoricon.exe” today.  This is the Intel Rapid Storage Technology, from a reputable company of the same name.
  
But some references say that some Trojans or malware disguise as this exe, as in this source
  
  
However, “Answers that work” say that this program is involved in hard disk monitoring. In my case, it may be responsible for phantom “hard disk errors” that I sometimes get, as explained before, link here



Update:  Feb. 25

The "hybrid shutdown" of Windows 8 may also be a problem and cause false crashes, according to Askvg, link here.  There seem to be problems with how 8 and 8.1 talk to the firmware of various manufacturers, especially HP and Toshiba.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

DC Metro tunnel smoke disaster: software, IT, and employee or contractor work quality at issue?


The recent fiasco over the Washington DC Metro accident January 12, 2015, concerning the wrong direction in which the tunnel fans directed the smoke from a third-rail insulation fire, has led, after an NTSB report, to questions about Metro Transit software and the fact that the system used by train controllers dates back to 2002.  There were plans to replace it, despite numerous upgrades, and apparent awareness that it was difficult to use and could lead to operator errors.
    
The Washington Post story February 16 is by Mary Pat Flaherty, Paul Duggan, and Mary Aratani, link here
    
It sounded as if the system did not present the information in a way that operators could rapidly use it.  This sounded like the old systems-analysis problem where user requirements aren’t clearly stated in time when a system is developed.  I have a relative who runs a company in Ohio that sells process-control software;  I wondered if he knows anything about all this.  
       
I had that experience in the early 1980s with a Blue Cross consortium, but turf protection among the clients was a problem that got in the way.  That wouldn’t be a problem for a transit system, hopefully.
   
There’s also a question of the kind of staff and contractors hired.  I would like to think that had I been working at Metro on that system, I would have known of the dangers and been meticulous enough to make sure this would not happen.  Does this come down to the care of just one employee on his job?
        
We call this “attention to detail”.  I’m reminded of an event in 1991 when working at USLICO (the foreshadow of ReliaStar) in Arlington, when another employee in production control found a major flaw in the elevation procedure that no one had noticed for over a year since getting a new source management system.  That’s what having good employees means. 

Monday, February 09, 2015

Anthem hack shows cultural problems in the "Blue" world as well as security problems in the health care industry, associated with IT work culture


I wasn’t aware that Anthem, as affiliated with the Blue Cross Blue Shield system, is actually a “for profit” and publicly traded company after all, as explained in Wikipedia here
   
I had worked for a consortium of six or seven Blue plans, called CABCO, in Dallas from early 1979 until 1981.  I left just before it folded.  The intention of the project has been a Combined Medicare A+B system, to compete with EDS.  At one time, the implementation date had been intended to be 1/1/80.  Had the plans gotten along better and been more progressive in thinking, there might have indeed been a system and a new Medicare processing company in Dallas, even if it had subsequently gone through all the usual pressures of corporate mergers and buyouts.  Maybe I would have spent my entire career there and would still be living in Texas. 
  
I recall that we had a small data center with a small mainframe (pre-4341), but in retrospect, the actual deployment of technology (compared to earlier employment in NYC at Bradford and NBC and, in fact, Univac – now Unisys) seemed primitive, leading to a particular incident in June 1981 that I think I’ve presented here before.  Perhaps that’s a clue to “Blue culture” and what is going on now.
   
Reed Abelson and Matthew Goldstein have a New York Times article, “Anthem hacking points to security vulnerability of the health care industry”, link here
  
Anthem apparently did not protect its internal information with encryption.  But when I was working, most of the legacy information was on mainframes, which were viewed as impenetrable.  Midtiers were usually on Unix platforms (more like Mac); only end users had Windows at work stations.  However, companies were often careless with elevation procedures, which started to be secured properly through the late 1980s into the early 1990s. 
     
I did get a lot of calls about jobs with MMIS and about HIPAA in the period following my layoff.  HIPAA supposedly specified rigid standards in transporting medical data (as with XML protocols) among computers, to protect patient privacy, which is not exactly the same thing as real security.  There simply was not the attention to these issues when I was working that is needed now.  

I would actually have a job interview at the Texas Plan in the low-rise upside-down campus on Highway 175 in Richardson in November 1987.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Complications for a LG BluRay player in a Windows 8.1 environment


Latest little misadventure came when I connected an LG BluRay DVD Player to my HP Envy in Windows 8.1.
  
I had expected the driver to load automatically.  Instead, it connected as Drive E, and brought up PowerDVD.  When I tried to play the DVD, it forced me to update the software again, for $49.95. Is a license on a DVD drive for only one machine? 
  
Then it turned out that the option I chose played only standard DVD’s.  I had to pay again for the “expanded” BluRay driver.  I will call the vendor and try to get a refund on the first one. 
  
Furthermore, the next time you play another VuRay DVD it goes back to standard unless you Restart Windows 8.1.   All of that tells me that it is possible that some of this has to do with Windows 8.1s tendency to lose track of some kinds of drivers and pointers, requiring frequent restarts (and sometimes on HP giving false-positive hard drive errors).  So it’s possible that this is a Windows 8 and not an LG problem.  Then who is responsible for the extra charges?  
   
In the older Toshiba Satellite (which broke under warranty in August) the LG went onto the startup menu (in 8.0) and was always queried at startup.