Shut off Internet access – voluntarily

For those  who have trouble staying on task for hours at a time. Which probably means most computer users. Several applications now exist to block off Internet access, selectively block programs, etc. I do this by not turning on my wireless – but then I can’t stream music. So I’ll try something more elaborate.

Economist article: Software that disables bits of your computer to make you more productive sounds daft, but may help keep distractions at bay

Freeware: SelfControl 1.2.2 Block distracting websites for predetermined periods of time   SelfControl is an OS X application which blocks access to incoming and/or outgoing mail servers and websites for a predetermined period of time. For example, you could block access to your email, facebook, and twitter for 90 minutes, but still have access to the rest of the web.

via Download SelfControl for Mac – Block distracting websites for predetermined periods of time. MacUpdate Mac Software Downloads.

Your Brain on Computers – NYTimes.com

Article yesterday on the brain-altering effects of constant computer use. It’s a complex topic and I think a lot more research is needed, but there is certainly something going on. The reporter, Matt Richtel, won a Pulitzer last year for his series on distracted driving while using cellphones. (I’m quoted in the article, but not by name.)

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive.

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A new idea on mass-customized clothing

Seph Skerrit was a student  when I taught an entrepreneurship class at MIT a few years ago. (Thanks to Michael Cusumano and Ed Roberts for arranging the very interesting year as visiting prof.)  He seems to have found a new idea in mass customization – congratulations!  I don’t recall my reaction when he proposed the concept, but I might have guessed that “all the good ideas have been tried already” — a classic error. The students in that class were amazingly entrepreneurial – I now think that “serial entrepreneur” is a personality type.

Custom clothes are not my thing, but this would make a nice Father’s Day present. Seph’s team seems to have done a nice job on PR, too, with lots of press coverage in  Style sections.

Today, Mr Skerritt is the founder of Proper Cloth, a New York-based e-commerce dress shirt company that allows shoppers to mix and match fabrics, using computer-generated tailoring for the right fit. Its early success largely derives from being one of a growing number of start-ups that use blogging and social networking websites in place of conventional, more costly marketing. Revenues since launch last year have grown at a rate of 40 per cent a month, and it is on track to be profitable by July, with earnings of about $30,000 a month.

Mr Skerritt emptied his personal savings, scraped together about $50,000 of leftover student loan money, and racked up his credit card debt before raising about $100,000 in seed money from friends and family. He says that the use of social media, as well as being a less expensive form of marketing, provides an easy way for customers to interact with the company and each other. “We want to hear what our customers have to say,” he says. “It’s useful to us and lets our customers feel connected to and engaged with Proper Cloth.”

via FT.com / Entrepreneurship – Custom-made for success.

Disposing of old hard drives – do it right!

Here’s an expanded comment I posted to Computerworld recently. Re-using an old hard drive yourself, by putting it in an external drive enclosure and using it for backup is fine. (I have one in a safe deposit box, in case my house burns down). But don’t donate it, sell it, or even recycle it unless you destroy the data on it properly first.  RB

Recycle an Old Laptop Hard Drive

A reader, I’ll call him \”S,\” wanted to know if there’s a hard drive enclosure that can \”accept the thicker hard drive out of an old [laptop].\”

RB comment: Just be sure to destroy the drive if you are finished with it. Unfortunately, donating it /selling it are not wise. You can also do a “secure erase,” which encrypts the old data and allows the drive to be safely reused. Reformatting the drive, and running the various utilities that supposedly overwrite old data, are NOT substitutes, because they don’t get at the underlying data thoroughly. And tests of drives purchased on eBay still show about half of them have proprietary data, including financial records etc.

Here is one such academic study: Remembrance of Data Passed: A Study of Disk Sanitization Practices. There are many others.   Here’s a good popular article.

Here is an explanation of safe erasure. http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/DataSanitizationTutorial.pdf

For physical destruction, the easiest method is a hammer applied to the spindle. Once the bearing has “wobble” in it, the drive can’t read the tracks any more, and it would take an NSA-level lab to recover data, even partially. You can also smash the circuit card. It can be replaced, but the thief has to work much harder to find a compatible card.