my recent reads..

Playing with CAPTCHAs

Security Now! #101 with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte covered the deceptively simple challenge of differentiating human from non-human automated clients (great podcast as always .. check it out). Commonly this is done with distorted text like the sample on the right.

The Official CAPTCHA Site has a wealth of information about this field, including discussion of the relay attack that has the potential to defeat any "are you a human?" test (because it enrolls unwitting human accomplices to do the work).

The coolest piece of work though is the reCAPTCHA project. This is a project of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and it provides a public service for plugging-in a CAPTCHA to your site. But unlike other systems that are just wasting 10 seconds of your time, this system is actually digitizing public domain archives at the same time (getting you to fix the translation of words that have defied the best OCR software)!

Perl is one language that you can easily use reCAPTCHA with, using Andy Armstrong's Captcha::reCAPTCHA module.

After installing the module, it just takes a few minutes to register your site and setup a test page. I built a quick reCAPTCHA cgi in perl .. you can try it out here (sorry, currently may find it offline but get the script source here: I think I spent 10 minutes setting this up, and then an hour playing with it;) All in the name of digitizing historical works...

But I'm afraid the humour archive has the best captcha ever ..

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After reading The Tipping Point, I realised blink was also by Malcolm Gladwell so I picked it up at the first opportunity.

If anything, I found blink even more engaging and interesting than The Tipping Point. It explores and tries to explain what happens in those first microseconds of automatic insight. Even more challenging is the question of whether you can harness and train this "power of thinking without thinking" ...

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The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of those books that you suddenly realise is everywhere - bookshops, airports, being read by people on the bus or train.

It's an easy and engaging read - Gladwell's a compelling story teller - and does a convincing job of exploring and explaining just how social epidemics work. He uses a simple model of three concepts to organise the book:
  • The Law of the Few : Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen

  • The Stickiness Factor

  • The Power of Context
I found myself immediately reflecting on how this all applies to what I am trying to achieve at work. I'm sure every reader will do a similar thing - whether your mission is to nurture an idea, a product or a message.

In one of his case studies, Gladwell even makes a very convincing argument for why public health policy has got it completely wrong in regard to controlling smoking!

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Fellow travellers on the road to Fusion..

At one point, the cynical would have said that Fusion is just a con to placate all the PeopleSoft, Siebel and JD Edwards customers. Others just complained about the con-fusion.

Of course, Fusion Applications are still a way off in the future, and I'm not sure if even Oracle Development really know in full cinematic detail what shipping the products will really entail. Its all still fairly big-picture stuff .. although in classic Oracle style, the user/user experience seems to have got lost along the way. But there's enough pressure and creativity that I think we will see the current Fusion formula grow an additional term at some point. i.e.

Fusion = Grid Computing + SOA + Enterprise Information Architecture
will become
Fusion = Grid Computing + SOA + Enterprise Information Architecture + Web 2.0
In other words, potentially the best darn definition of "Enterprise 2.0" in the market so far!

In the meantime however, some things are coming into clear focus. One is the critical importance of SOA and Security Fusion Middleware components (a.k.a. Oracle Application Server). This struck home for me when listening to the recent AppCast interview with Cliff Godwin who is now heading Oracle's Fusion Upgrade Program Office. What is the world coming to.. Oracle Applications folks selling technology?!!

The true test of fusion will be the extent to which it is embraced by customers and the user community. It was great to see Floyd Teter kick-off a new series on his blog where he will be covering his company's Detailed Roadmap to Fusion Applications. Hats off to Floyd for the courage to do this in the open, and to provide the necessary detail that will actually make this useful for others considering the same path.
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