I didn’t want iTunes – now I’ve got iPod, too?

So, in my last post “Can the EU get me QuickTime N?“, I noted that my installation of QuickTime (because I had a .MOV file I want to see) led to Apple Software Update offering me “iTunes + QuickTime 7.5″, despite my removing iTunes every time I find it creeping its way onto my computer.

Now I find that along with that iTunes update, came something that most definitely was not advertised:

Image-0052

My first thought is that if they are going to dump an iPod Service on me, the least they can do is give me a free iPod to use it with.

My second thought is … that really crosses the line.

At least with my inadvertent installation of iTunes, some careful reading, and not guessing, would have prevented me from installing it.

But at no point did I ever agree to installing an iPod Service. I don’t have an iPod, so I don’t need an iPod Service.

Oh, excuse me, two services – there’s also an “Apple Mobile Device” service. And that service requires TCP to be present before it starts. The iPod service requires RPC to be present before it’ll start. So, both of them engage in some form of network communication.

Maybe we should take a look at Microsoft’s Windows Defender, and its standards for what constitutes spyware.

  • Deceptive behaviors. Runs processes or programs on the user’s computer without notifying the user and getting the user’s consent. Prevents users from controlling the actions taken by the program while it runs on the computer. Prevents users from uninstalling or removing the program.
  • Privacy. Collects, uses, or communicates the user’s personal information and behaviors (such as Web browsing habits) without explicit consent.
  • Security. Attempts to circumvent or disable the security features on the user’s computer, or otherwise compromises the computer’s security.
  • Performance. Undermines performance, reliability, and quality of the user’s computing experience with slow computer speed, reduced productivity, or corruption of the operating system.
  • Industry and consumer opinion. Considers the input from software industry and individual users as a key factor to help identify new behaviors and programs that might present risks to the user’s computing experience.

If you want, read the page linked to, it’s got more detail on what criteria Microsoft looks for in identifying spyware – I think you’ll find that an objective reading matches the iPod Service’s behaviour up with several of the more detailed criteria.

For this blog, though, lets take the overview headings one by one:

  • Deceptive behaviours. Yes. Absolutely, it’s running a process right now that it didn’t tell me was going to be added. I had no reason to expect that there’s going to be an iPod Service installed.
  • Privacy. No idea – I’m not leaving it there long enough to collect, use, or communicate anything back to Apple.
  • Security. Yes – adding a service running as LocalSystem adds to an attack surface that I try to keep low. Besides, “LocalSystem”? Why? Windows Mobile uses Local Service, far less powerful an account.
  • Performance. One more service that’s running permanently, that I’ll never use – yes, that’s going to affect performance, and reliability.
  • Industry and consumer opinion. Well, this consumer says yes, it’s a bad thing. Maybe not because Apple is trying to write spyware on purpose, but because they ought to know better than to write spyware by accident.

Of course, Microsoft is hardly likely to use this as a reason for Windows Defender to stamp out the iPod Service – they’re too afraid of being sued for the federal crime of ‘messing with Apple’.

And I certainly haven’t found any reason to believe that Apple’s iPod Service is calling home or acting like spyware – so just let’s use a term from Sandi‘s vocabulary, “foistware”. [But that may be just because I haven't really tried looking.]

Can the EU get me QuickTime N?

no_itunes So, a long time ago, in a continent not so far away, the European Union required Microsoft to ship a version of Windows without Media Player, called Windows XP N.

Now, here’s a follow-up to my previous articles:

Once again, I find Apple’s Software Updater offering me “iTunes + QuickTime 7.5″, in response to a security flaw in QuickTime.

“Strange,” I think, “I can only see QuickTime 7.3 for download at the Apple download site – not 7.5. Clearly, this is an urgent update that they haven’t had a chance to put up on the web site. I’d better install it quickly.”

Uh, no.

As you’ll tell from my previous columns, I don’t want iTunes.

Let me say that again, clearly:

I don’t want iTunes.

Ever.

[Unless I change my mind, and if that ever happens, then I will hunt iTunes down for myself.]

So, Steve Jobs, or any Apple fans, how can I install QuickTime so that it’s devoid of iTunes, remains devoid of iTunes, doesn’t keep bugging me to install iTunes, never offers me an advert for iTunes, and doesn’t cause Apple Software Update to go searching for and offering iTunes?

FX: Crickets chirping.

I want QuickTime N – a version of QuickTime that I will have to assert strong personal preferences before it will re-associate itself in any way whatsoever with a program that I don’t want to put on my machine. [That's iTunes, by the way.]

[Actually, I don't want QuickTime at all - I want to play .MOV files very very rarely. There's a big difference.]

And while we’re there, let’s have a registry setting from each of the companies involved that says “I don’t ever want to be asked to install the Google Toolbar, the Yahoo Toolbar, the Ask.Com Toolbar, unless I go out deliberately, and manually download and install the affected application on its own in the absence of any other software.”

Please, all you installation programmers out there, stop bugging me.

Really, please stop it!

If I wanted your free software, I’d go get your free software. Feel free to tell me about it, but don’t offer it up as a default installation with something else.

And for those of you programmers who are looking to include some random piece of junk – sorry, some excellent tool that you adore beyond all else (and whose owners have paid you to carry it) – don’t make me think while I’m installing your program, if for no other reason than that every time you give me another reason to stop installing, you increase the chance that I’ll stop and go elsewhere.

Why is DR and process documentation so bad?

Given stories of people who have failed DR tests because they fail to document the processes that are required to recover systems, it’s clear that the missing link is documentation and process. Why are systems so poorly documented? I see two reasons pop up all the time:

  1. I was too busy building the system to spend the time to document how I built it.
  2. I am the only one who knows how this system works; if I document it, and spread that knowledge, my value to the company is decreased, and my job is threatened.

Obviously, the second answer is a thoroughly selfish response, but we’re all human, and prone to covering our own backsides. The answer is simply this – if you’re the guy who knows stuff, and you spread that knowledge through documentation and training, you become even more valuable to the company. You will still be the de-facto expert on that topic, as is always true of the first entrant to the field; you will also be known as someone who picks up new knowledge – this will allow you to be assigned to new and exciting things within the company.

The first business lesson I learned came when I asked my boss why he had just fired the only guy who knew all about a particular system. His answer surprised me – “because he’s the only guy who knows all about that system”. The explanation was simple – the guy had been asked several times to share that knowledge and had refused to do so.

Predicting that at some point the employee would leave – or get run over – the manager decided to make it his choice as to when to replace the employee and recover the system from scratch, and when that system hit a predicted low usage period, that’s when he chose to relieve the employee of his duties.

I was too busy to document it.

So now back to the first answer – that you’re too busy implementing to document how you implemented it.

That’s the one I personally have the hardest problem with. Particularly when I’m “trying something out” – trial and error programming or administration – I find that the flow of doing the task gets interrupted, sometimes fatally, by the requirement to document what I tried.

But that’s what version control is for. You should never do so many undocumented changes that you can’t extract the difference between your original settings and the new ones. Or more specifically, so many undocumented changes that you can’t explain the changes you made.

For those moments when you want to trial something without automated version comparison, use a virtual machine for your test case, so that when you have finished, you can document the process when you apply it again to the development system, and so that someone else can follow that process to apply it to the production system.

Management support

Now you just have to ensure that you get support from your management chain to spend the time making changes (to add features or to fix problems) and then spend time documenting the fix.

Often, this is as simple as including time for documentation in your estimates.

Don’t be tempted to treat the documentation estimate as “float”, so that you eat into the documentation time if the change takes longer than anticipated. That you exceed your original planned time is reason to revise your estimate or reduce your scope. A change that takes longer than anticipated to make will likely also take longer than anticipated to document.

How many people do you represent?

In my earlier discussion on why 100% utilisation is not maximum efficiency, I alluded to the fact that a rejected customer, or a customer with a bad experience, will tell other potential customers that you never get to see.

This reminded me that there are a myriad of connections that we have to other people around us, and that this should always be recognised when considering how best to serve a customer.

As a business example, my FTP server, WFTPD, has been sold to over 10,000 customers, some of whom have purchased hundreds of licences. Most of those large sales were preceded by a sale of a single licence that I believe led directly to the larger sale. So to me, every single sale represents a potential of hundreds of licences.

Of course, to Microsoft, I represent in some small way those 10,000 customers, all of whom use not only my software, but the operating system and network components on which my software runs.

In the sphere of community, this is why MVPs are considered so valuable by Microsoft. Whereas most customers represent themselves, or possibly a department or a company, MVPs represent those members of the community that they assist – and that generally means dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals or companies.

I like to think they listen to us – they certainly spend enough time asking us questions, and getting our opinions.

Autism Screening at 18 months and 2 years

I’m excited by the news that the American Academy of Pediatricians is recommending that all children be screened at their regular 18 month and 24 month checkups for autism.

As regular readers will know, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, at age five, having been in a special education programme (but without a specific diagnosis) since the age of three. Thanks to the various efforts of therapists with specialities in speech, occupational and physical therapy, social development and other skills, for the most part, you wouldn’t think he’s any different from any other child.

The last kid in his neighbourhood to ride a bicycle without training wheels at age 7, he now rides a unicycle. There are many other examples where he has proven not only to be capable of those things that he needed help to learn, but also that he can excel.

All this because of interventions applied as early as we could get them, sometimes requiring us to fund expensive therapy ourselves, because our health insurance company states without a hint of irony that the brain does not develop past the age of seven. My thought is that this policy was drafted by someone who dropped out of school at that age, and it’s certainly out of line with current neurological science, particularly the theory of brain plasticity.

“Early intervention” is a strong rallying cry among supporters of autistic children – but it is equally important to recognise that there is no age beyond which an autistic person cannot be helped – and no age beyond which autism is “grown out of”

I should note that I’m not an official source of information, and I’m only going off what I have noticed when interacting with autistic spectrum (AS) and neurotypical (NT) children. Here are some of the signs I think you should watch for in your own children:

  • Pointing – does your child point to show you stuff? [Pointing to something that he wants you to get is common, even among AS kids, but pointing to show you something cool, that's something NT kids do.]
  • Speech – is your child late to speech-related milestones? Babbling, single words, simple sentences – these all come in a logical progression for NT kids, but for AS kids, they may come late, steps may be skipped, or there may be a regression. An AS child may have a couple of words early on, then stop speaking altogether, later speaking full sentences without first building simple sentences.
  • Social play – does your child play with other kids, or just play near them? In the park, an AS child will play on the same swings and roundabouts as everyone else, but will interact less with the children on those toys.
  • Wheels – AS children are typically interested in wheels and spinning things of all types. [A story goes that Albert Einstein saw his sister when she was first born, and said "It's all very well, but where are its wheels?"]
  • Physics Experiments – Kids with AS generally have an interest in finding out how things work, whereas NT kids are likely to be more interested in learning how people interact.
  • Obsessive behaviour – one classically autistic behaviour in children is to line up toys – straight lines, often ordered by some characteristic – colour, size, number of wheels, etc.
  • Lack of imaginative play – this doesn’t mean that AS kids don’t invent or imagine with their play, but by and large, a toy car will always be a toy car, and not a duck or a boat or an airplane. Pick up a toy car and pretend it’s an airplane, and an autistic child may very well express irritation at your stupidity in thinking it’s not a car. Similarly, even a child with little or no expression of language will get irritated if you point to a page in a book and say “this is a cow”. It’s not a cow, after all, it’s a _picture_ of a cow.
  • Lack of balance, clumsiness – particularly when an autistic child is distracted, there may be an inability to tell where the body and its various parts are. This is known as “proprioception”. In combination with typically low muscle tone, this can leave the distinct impression that the AS child is more clumsy than his peers.
  • One or more parent has at one time or another been described as “engineer”, “mathematician” or “scientist”. Seriously, in many support groups I’ve predominantly met parents who match this description.
  • Inflexibility – when you say “we’re going in five minutes”, if your child throws a tantrum because five minutes have gone by, and you’re not quite ready, or if you can’t go to the park today because it’s raining, or the cable is out and they can’t watch their favourite television show.
  • Transition trouble – do problem behaviours mount when you move from one task to another? Does your child get inconsolably distraught when a movie or playtime is over?
  • Shutdown on overload – does your child appear completely non-responsive at times? At one time, we wanted to test Colin’s hearing, because he wouldn’t respond to his own name shouted from across the room. Other times, it was clear that his hearing was super-sensitive, as he would respond to his name whispered from across the house.

Make sure to compare your child with other children his own age, and watch for the milestones that you’ll find listed everywhere in the parenting books. I’ve met autistic children with only a handful of the above signs, and some NT children who had several – but as a rough and ready guideline, I hope you’ll find this set useful.

Above all, listen to your gut. Your pediatrician is an expert on kids on average and in general – you are an expert in your child, and you know far more on that subject than any pediatrician. If your child’s behaviour shows a significant departure from those of other kids his age, push for an explanation. If you still have concerns and your pediatrician appears simply to be calming your fears, insist that your child be tested; visit another pediatrician if you must, get a second opinion, and keep trying to explain and accept, but work with, your child’s differences.

100% utilisation is not (generally) a sign of efficiency.

[You can take this as a literal rant about bus service, or as a parable on effective assignment of computing or business resources, as you wish.]

Once again this morning, the bus to work was full to capacity. Standing room only, everyone stuffed uncomfortably close together.

That means we’re getting maximum usage out of the buses, yes?

Well, maybe.

How about I put it another way…

Every so often, I get to the “Park and Ride” and cannot park my car, because the lot is full. So I drive away, and spend at least as long in my car as I would have on the bus – but with many, many times more pollution, and an inability to read my email or work on my blog.

Clearly I’m not the only one driving away, so clearly, 100% utilisation of the Park & Ride means that drivers are hitting the roads in their cars for a long, slow, stop-and-go drive to their work parking lot, which also fills up more than it should.

The same is true of the bus service itself. There are times when I think to myself “do I want to stand crammed on a bus unable to move my arms enough to take off my coat though I’m sweating like crazy? Or do I want to sit in the air-conditioned comfort of my car, where I can listen to the radio and drink my tea without being jostled by the next guy along?”

So, despite myself, I will occasionally drive, even though I would rather ride the bus.

The same is going to be true of any service – if it is packed to the gills providing service, then it’s not only going to be killing its own usefulness when there’s a “blip” or spike in demand, it’s also going to be killing its usefulness on a regular basis with people who try it out, and realise it’s just not quite as comfortable a service as they would like.

You also can’t measure how much service you aren’t providing – did only one person miss your bus because it was full, or did twenty? Maybe there’s a hundred more riders – three bus loads – that you could serve every day if the buses came more frequently, and people knew there was a good chance that they could sit down in some comfort, or if the parking lot at the park and ride was larger.

You can measure the number of people who were standing outside the door and had to be turned away, but you cannot measure the number of people that they spoke to and dissuaded from riding your bus.

Thanksgiving – five years

The Lance Armstrong Foundation

Regular readers of my blog will know that Thanksgiving is a special time for me.

Five years ago, I was giving thanks that a relatively routine surgery discovered and removed a cancerous growth – a tumor.

Last week, I visited the doctor to find out the results of my latest check-up.

Normal.

I’ve never been so pleased to be normal in my life, because this now means that I am at a significantly greater risk of catching a new cancer than I am of getting a recurrence or continuation of the cancer I had in 2002.

For all intents and purposes, then, I am as done with cancer as the next guy.

My one piece of advice: go see your doctor. Any time anything feels different from normal, go ask your doctor. And if you’re a guy aged between 25 and 35, check yourself – or get someone else to check you – on a regular basis to make sure nothing’s growing that shouldn’t be.

And if you can do one thing for me, please elect officials who see affordable health-care as a basic human right, rather than the nose of the communist camel. Medical bills, plus the rising cost of individual health insurance were the chief reasons why I had to give up my dream of working for myself at home, and raising my child.

Even if you feel that you can’t do that, send a donation to a cancer organisation that you trust – American Cancer Society, LiveStrong, Susan G Komen, whatever, it doesn’t matter to me, because my treatment is complete.

Thank you.