Space: The Final Frontier

Today is July 20th and it signifies a very important day in the history of mankind. It is the day we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the moon landing and, in many ways, the culmination of the advent of the technology age. 40 years ago today, we began a journey into space that has not receded (though we have not recently returned to the surface of the moon).

Much is being made of this anniversary today. WeChooseTheMoon.org, a fascinating real time re-enactment of the mission, including the days leading up to the pivotal moment, is a project of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

It was Kennedy, in an address to a joint session of Congress in 1961, that called on Americans, with a specific mandate to NASA, to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade. An excerpt of this speech:

Finally, if we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshalled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

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I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

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Since then, the United States and the world have gone through vast technological breakthroughs, often in greater haste than the 8 years it took to put a man on the moon. For instance, consumer electronics continue to progress at a staggering speed, particularly with the advent of the iPhone.

The internet burgeoned from a 5 hours monthly dial-up plan with AOL to saturation of broadband in many areas of the world.

Companies like Google continue to harness computing power to create vast databases of information.

Currently, NASA has the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (LRO) circling the moon in advance of a new moon mission by the end of 2020. The LRO is trying to map the entire moon surface (including the notoriously unknown “dark side of the moon”) to determine resources and terrain for the construction of a manned lunar outpost.

Many companies, news sources and blogs (including this one), are commemorating the moon landing with special logos, graphics or other site modifications. It’s just our way of saying “Wow”.

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10 Things You Need To Know About WordPress 2.8

WordPress 2.8 is the latest installment of the WordPress platform, scheduled to be released on Wednesday, June 10. Millions of sites are powered by WordPress including the BBC, CNN, the NFL, the New York Times blogs, and that’s just a few of the big names.

Ok, so there’s a new version.  So what?  There are a number of massive improvements which will make WordPress even easier to use than before, however most of the new features are under the hood. Mark Jaquith, a core WordPress developer, is calling it the “Snow Leopard of WordPress” – in other words, on the surface, it doesn’t have much new but there are radical updates under the hood to make it run faster and give developers more options.

Faster Load Times

The first, of smaller features, but very important features to me, is the ability to compress both external CSS files and embedded CSS, and the same with Javascript, both embedding and external files. Why is this important? It decreases both load time for the user and saves bandwidth because of compression. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. But, this is just one of the major enhancements I’m excited about.

Now Easier to use Widgets

Yay for a new widget panel!  No more “add this widget” and gets added and having to browse the different sidebars.  Now you can drag and drop, and auto-save, on any of the registered sidebars for your theme.  See below for the example of what it looks like.  It’s a lot more useful and much easier to use now.

WordPress 2.8: New Widgets Page

Plugins, Plugins, Plugins, Plugins

The second major update that is clear to see is the plugins page layout.

I run a test site that updates code every few hours from SVN so I can see what is going on with all the new code being developed and committed, so something I noticed quickly was that the Plugins page layout changed dramatically. You’ll notice that the way the plugins are grouped together now is different than it was before. With the upgraded Plugins layout, it was quite difficult to see the important plugins, so the lead developer working on it, Ryan Boren, was kind enough to add a “Per Page” option for Plugins. Now, you can easily find all your plugins on a single page by changing the Per Page option to a higher number than the plugins you have. For example, I have 55 plugins installed, so I set mine to 60 and I can easily see all my plugins.

Plugin Search

Another great addition to the WordPress codebase in 2.8 is enhanced plugin search.  For a long time, and still, plugin search is not that great.  2.8 will help fix a lot of those issues and give users a greater opportunity to find what they are looking for.

WordPress 2.8: Search for Plugins

New Admin Schemas

Diving into some of the admin features, the blue color scheme received some love and has some updated features. The grey color scheme’s icons were also updated. Overall, the admin style has stayed the same though, since Automattic conducted the user experience testing back in October 2008 to draw up a new administration theme. Have they done a good job? I honestly think that yes, they’ve done a great job with it and it’s fully functional now. I was hesitant at first when they made the big change, but I really like it now.

Along with upgrading the admin schema, you can now select how many columns you want to display.  It’s really easy to move the various dashboard widgets around to customize the dashboard to exactly how you want it.   You can easily select which widgets you want to show too.  Whether you care about plugins, recent news, or you just care about posting quickly, you can edit it to your liking.

New WordPress Dashboard

Search for Themes

Not only was the plugins browsing area upgraded, but you can also now view and search for themes!

WordPress 2.8: Search for Themes

Can’t Upload with Flash? Let’s Fix That!

For all those users that were having issues with Flash, Firefox, and uploading images, those problems should go away.  WordPress 2.8 comes with PHP SWFUpload 2.2.0.1.

Editors Note: I wish the Flash uploader would be applied to more than just images. For instance, the WordPress importer could use some love – particularly for large export files.

Automattic Highlights

A few of the highlights that Automattic is pointing out is the new ability to drag and drop, and save, in one action, widgets for your theme. IIS 7.0 URL rewriting is now supported as well, giving a little love to the Windows users. These are just a few of the highlights.

Editors Note: If you use the Thesis theme there are some incompatibilities. Anthony Ferguson has the fix in advance of an official update from DIYThemes.

Upgrading Using the SSH Method

If you’re into really quick plugin upgrades, you might already be using a script running on a cron job that upgrades your plugins every few hours.  But, there’s a slightly less geeky way of doing it.  The SSH2 method of upgrading is now more functional.  It had some problems in 2.7.x, so I helped work with the developer of that area and we made it more functional and operational.  I wrote a tutorial about how to upgrade WordPress and plugins using SSH that works seemlessly.  For my personal blog, I just click upgrade and the next screen I see is that it upgraded successfully.  I never have to enter my username or password.  It’s all stored on the server.

Other Updates

Digging into the nitty gritty, the backend received some updates as well. Dropping some database columns, for those of us that are uber geeky, which will help keep the database running smoother and cleaner. For the full list of geeky updates, check out the Development, Themes, and Plugins updates.

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"A New World Awaits"- Obama on Cybersecurity

This is a guest post that I solicited today after President Barack Obama’s major cybersecurity announcement. I felt it was important to get the views and opinions of someone in the field. Enjoy! ~editor

Today President Obama announced the creation of a White House cybersecurity coordinator position and discussed the 60-day Cyberspace Police Review conducted by Melissa Hathaway. He repeated his mantra regarding transparency and accountability, and touched on the many aspects of cybersecurity that impact America- economy, infrastructure, military, open and efficient government operations. He certainly displayed his tech-saavy and awareness of information security terms. Yet, what changes is he really talking about? What practical actions can we expect to see?

He calls our cyber infrastructure “œthe backbone that underpins a prosperous economy and a strong military”. Right away he acknowledges that the lag in consumer confidence in online transactions and electronic networks is a strong factor in our slumping economy. Recognizing the economy and the military importance in a single sentence like this emphasizes that the idea that online transitions and communications should be able to be trusted equally by consumer and intelligence community alike. The fact that this new position, which oversees the new cyber security policies, is part of the National Economic Council and the National Security staff is the practical embodiment of this idea. Recognizing that securing online transactions and communications are critical not only to security, but the economy, ensures that he will be able to use greater budgetary discretion when bolstering funding for cyber initiatives. While he focused on the importance of consumer confidence, I was surprised that the exact figure regarding the billions of dollars lost due to fraud every year was not emphasized here. His bottom line is that we are losing money due to fraud, but we are losing even more money because of the fear of fraud.

The president then declared that, “œFrom now on, the networks and computers we depend on every day will be treated as they should be — as a strategic national asset.” This is an acknowledgement that the infection of these privately owned devices can seriously compromise the security of an entire nation- and not necessarily our own. When the cyber attack on Georgia occurred in September of 2008, the speculation was that the success depended largely on the infection of US PCs. These acted as a botnet to attack Georgia. Russian hackers certainly knew that Georgia was not prepared to cut off traffic from the United States. The President seems to acknowledge that they can no longer ignore the threat that comes from the computers of average citizens. Part of this is addressed by his motion to create an education campaign to address business, educators, and the average American. I believe he wants to educate people to the risks they present to the nation when they ignore an infected computer or leave their internet connections open and unprotected. On a business level, I believe these comments spring from the Aurora experiment, which demonstrated the vulnerability of our power grid. He is placing a responsibility and forcing the industries to acknowledge that their reliance on cyber systems is both an asset and a risk. He is careful to emphasize that the solution is not to eliminate or control the asset, but to mitigate the risks.

The president promised the new position would “œ”¦work with”¦state and local governments and the private sector to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents.” His focus here is on being transparent, issuing warning and updates and most of all- creating a format that is not “œad hoc”. This is something that security breach specialists have been calling for- a uniform procedure and response. There is too much variation in the thresholds, requirements, and regulations regarding the reporting, disclosure and handling cyber incidents today. I expect that companies can expect to see an outline of thresholds and reporting guidelines for reporting incidents. I also expect that notification will be required far earlier into the discovery of a compromise, so companies will not be able to “œgather all the facts” before informing the public and appropriate agencies of the incident. I would expect that more details will be provided, and agencies will be encouraged to coordinate in efforts to address vulnerabilities rather than keeping them secret until a solution can be found. Promoting the sharing of information about vulnerabilities should be seen as a benefit to the entire sector and not as a liability for the individual company. How  or if Obama plans to protect companies and agencies from the losses that may occur during the interval between sharing a vulnerability discovery and its “˜unified response’ will make or break this initiative. This is consistent with the recommendations in the Cyberspace Police Review.

Speaking on that note, the President stated, “œWe will strengthen the public-private partnerships that are critical to this endeavor”¦ let me be clear, my administration will not dictate security standards for private companies”. This will be the most difficult of his agenda items to live up to, and the one that he will be most criticized for. Many private companies fear information sharing, vulnerability sharing and full disclosure of data breach details. It will be a long and difficult road to convince the private sector that it is in their best interests to cooperate. The Cyberspace Police Review calls for a neutral third-party agency to take information and share it appropriately, but I doubt that will be enough to change the habits of the industry unless it is mandated. It will be difficult to maintain his other goals without some industry pressure or regulation. The market simply does not correct itself when it comes to matters of information security and commerce. I personally believe this speech was intended to hint that it is in the private sector’s best interests to cooperate with this collaboration if they want to remain as unregulated as they currently enjoy. I believe that the current amendments to privacy and security legislation are an attempt to ease changes into the industry by simply “œtweaking” aspects of current accepted regulations and rules.

Finally, his emphasis remained that they “œwill not”¦ will not include monitoring of private sector networks or internet traffic”¦ I remain firmly committed to net neutrality, so we can keep the internet as it should be- open and free”¦ A new world awaits, a world of increased security and greater potential prosperity”. This is an important distinction to make, and another subtle hint that the open and free market of the internet is critical to our economy and safety. He demonstrates his understanding that greater security does not mean the compromise of privacy or civil liberties, and therefore regulating the internet is not the answer. Recognizing net neutrality as a part of his cyber security efforts was a great way to try and smooth any ruffled feathers by the greater internet community. Since many of these initiatives address technology not widely used or available, it is more important for President Obama to emphasize what would not change as a result of this new position.

Ending his speech President Obama focused on the leadership we experienced in the 20th century and promised leadership in the 21st century. This has been another mantra of his- that we are able to lead, that we are leaders, even in this economy. Given the changes he is trying to make across government and industry, the belief that we are leaders in privacy and security is more important than the reality. I believe he stayed away from drawing comparisons internationally for this reason. Americans still have a bit of the cowboy spirit, and the best way to harness it is to convince the public that we are blazing a new trail of cyber security and policies. The spirit of innovation is obviously an important cultivation in this endeavor, and he makes no bones about his willingness to invest in education, training and programs necessary to nurture it. Practically, we should expect to see more government grants and funding in math, science and technology. Scholarships, research projects and grants are on the horizon as incidents to strength the public-private partnership. The question is- with what strings attached?

Rachel James is a licensed private investigator and cybercrime specialist at ID Experts. Her views do not necessarily reflect the views of ID Experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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