The recent unpleasantness

Back on October 11, 2015, this website was “hacked” by some random group of miscreants.

The hack placed new index.html and index.php pages in every folder, I learned upon further inspection of my hosted files via FTP. It made cleaning things up a bit tedious, but not difficult.

I think the problem was that I had several old WordPress installations hanging around on the server, which had vulnerabilities left unpatched by updates to newer versions. For example, I had an install from years ago where I just played around with new themes.

Before replacing/removing the added or changed index files, I first had to uninstall all the old WordPress sites, leaving only this one (which had always been kept updated).

I have learned some lessons, suffice it to say, about being diligent about security.

  1. WordPress updates – Always update to the latest version right away!
  2. Remove old WordPress installations that are no longer being used (and kept up to date)
  3. Backups – Make them regularly

It did have one benefit, however: It forced me to become reacquainted with my blog and all the files on the server. I’ve been neglecting this place over the past few years. I aim to change that going forward.

Dropbox makes USB drives obsolete

Well, maybe not obsolete, but definitely less integral for the mobile professional.

Dropbox ReferralsI started using Dropbox roughly six months ago and have been consistently impressed with the service, single tweet of discontent aside.

Dropbox syncs your files between computers on which you have their lightweight software installed. It creates a folder where you can store all the to-be-synced files, or you can specify at installation an alternative folder. Anything you “drop” into the “box” gets synced right away to the web interface and any other computers you have running the software and logged in. RIP, USB drive!

Dropbox is a great tool if you use multiple platforms regularly. It works across Windows, Mac and Linux. At home I have an Ubuntu laptop, at work I have a Windows laptop, and I have a persistent Kubuntu USB drive I occasionally use.

I’m still using their free 2GB service, but I frequently toy with the idea of upgrading to the next level: $10/month for 50GB. I would love for there to be some middle ground, say $5/month for 20GB. I could probably justify that expenditure to myself.

I highly recommend giving the service a try, for anyone who is using more than one device to store and work with their data. If you use Dropbox already, let me know why you like it in the comments.

Facebook as the intranet

When I first heard about the company using Facebook as their intranet, I wasn’t sure what to think.

Serena Software is really replacing its existing intranet with Facebook as a front end linked to a low-cost content management system behind the firewall. The firm is just over 800 employees but is still globally based (operations in 18 countries) with 35% of their employees working virtually.

I could see how something like this would be valuable for a company like this, where employees need to work together from different locations towards a common goal. But what about in an accounting firm? On audits you’re working closely with audit team members in one location, at least in my experience, so it may not be as useful.

But the value of a system like Facebook is its emphasis on people, and facilitating document sharing and collaboration. Which is where the typical corporate intranet fails to serve its customers adequately:

Like many companies their existing intranet was a poor platform for document finding, much less sharing. As an aside when I speak on web 2.0, I often ask anyone in the audience who can more easily find stuff on their company intranet than the web to raise their hand. This is a question I learned from Andrew McAfee. He reported that no one has raised their hand to this question and I have found the same results.

My hand wouldn’t be raised either.

How would a company implement something like this? WorkBook:

A secure enterprise overlay for Facebook. WorkBook allows employees to securely interact with their peers using the hugely-popular Facebook service. WorkBook combines all the capabilities of Facebook with all the controls of a corporate environment, including integration with existing enterprise security services and information sources.

The picture is really worth a thousand words in this case, as it shows you just how WorkBook appears to users.

Andrew McAfee, a professor at Harvard Business School, blogs about WorkBook and addresses the security concerns and technical operation:

Inside this [corporate] section were a number of standard Facebook features — friends, groups, Q&A, profiles, etc. — presented using the standard Facebook UI. But the data populating each of these were specific to [the company], came from the Worklight server installed at [the company], were encrypted as they traveled across the Internet, and did not pass through Facebook servers.

I really like the idea, and the implementation is perfect because it doesn’t try to do too much. Facebook already exists and works well for its users. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. For corporate intranets usually designed and maintained by the IT department, less involvement on their part from a UI perspective is a big improvement.

What do you think? Could this be just the thing to push Facebook onto the intranet for many companies?

The tumblelog

If you’re subscribed to my RSS feed, you don’t need to check the site itself to receive any updates I make in terms of posts (or comments, made by everyone, in the case of the comments RSS feed). In that case, you may not have noticed yet that I’ve added a new “section” of sorts to the site. The section is actually a link to my relatively new tumblelog, hosted by Tumblr.

A tumblelog, and tumblelogging, is a new concept that takes blogging down its most basic level. Posts are usually quite short, and as a result you get more of them. Posts sort of “tumble” out in their raw form. Tumblr features support for picture, video, link, conversation and quote posts, but some custom tumblelogs have expanded on those categories and include definition and audio posts, to name a few.

What’s the point of a tumblelog, especially if one already has a blog? Two reasons:

  1. It allows me to share links and stuff that interest me outside the scope of this blog.
  2. It’s easy to update frequently, whereas the blog requires some time and thought to prepare a good post.
  3. I see the tumblelog as being a complement to the blog. Different topics, but also a wider variety of media.

So have a look and be sure to let me know what you think.

Using RSS to keep up with your favourite sites

If you want to keep up with this blog but don’t want to have to remember to check back on a regular basis, one option available to you is the RSS feed.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with their favorite web sites in an automated manner that’s easier than checking them manually.

To take advantage of this technology, you’ll need a feed reader. The software is either web-based, which has the benefit of being able to be accessed anywhere in a browser, or client software, which arguably has more features. Google Reader and Bloglines are two of the most popular web-based options, and on the client side, RSS support is built into Microsoft Outlook 2007, Internet Explorer 7, and Mozilla Thunderbird, to name but a few.

The technology lends itself well to the typical email software layout, as blog posts or articles appear in feed reader software much like an email — the sender is the site itself, the subject is the headline, and the message is the body of the article.

I personally use Google Reader to read my favourite blogs. It features typical Google simplicity and an interface very similar to Gmail. I have a feeling, however, that RSS is really going to take off in the mainstream now that it is in Microsoft Office, in Outlook 2007. Up until this point, you needed one of several plugins to read RSS feeds in Outlook 2003. In 2007, the technology is baked right in.

As far as my feeds go, you can subscribe the RSS feed using a reader, or you can have the RSS feed delivered as email. There is also a feed just for the comments on this blog.