28 September, 2009

Create Hyperlinks in Excel Cells

Here's a simple trick. Some times I have data results in Excel, if combined with other URL data, it would take me to a specific record. For example, if I extracted Contact Record IDs from Salesforce.com and combined it with the URL prefix, I could view the record that corresponds to the ID.

There are a few different approaches, but it all ends up using the same function: Hyperlink. Hyperlink takes two parameters: link_location and friendly_name (optional). Here are some examples:
  • =HYPERLINK("https://na2.salesforce.com/" & B2)
  • =HYPERLINK(CONCATENATE("https://na2.salesforce.com/", B2, C2))
  • =HYPERLINK("https://na2.salesforce.com/" & B2,"Joe Smith")
The link location, in addition to being a URL could be a drive path (c:\foo\), a UNC path (\\Server1\folder1\), or even a "mailto:" (=HYPERLINK("mailto:" & H2)).

23 September, 2009

CADNA reports on House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on New TLDs

In a CADNA newsletter released today, they shared with us the results of the House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on New TLDs. In addition, CADNA has called for a full-scale audit of ICANN. For history on this issue, see my two prior blog posts here and here.)
Congressional members who were in attendance expressed skepticism about the benefits that the potential TLD rollout...
ICANN held their position that by adding the new, "potentially unlimited" TLDs, will promote innovation and competition. Further they stated that "protection mechanisms are being actively considered." If protection mechanisms are being considered, doesn't that indicate that even ICANN knows there's a problem with this? And if protection mechanisms are needed, wouldn't they wait and finish the work to have appropriate protection BEFORE rolling this out?
Members of Congress pressed witnesses with questions about ICANN’s operations—many raised doubts regarding the benefits of rolling out an unlimited number of TLDs and others expressed concerns that ICANN is not adequately addressing a multitude of complex issues and concerns as it moves forward with the rollout process.
With a week left before ICANN is supposed to roll this change out, with the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) expiring, it doesn't seem like the governement is moving fast enough. And if ICANN needs to wait for the agreement to expire to make these changes, it also points to the fact that the benefits promised really aren't there -- otherwise it seems that it could have been made while the agreement exists.

The Internet Governance Project also has an opinion. They recommend letting the JPA expire and "and immediately initiate an international agreement that formalizes and completes the transition of ICANN to a stable form of multi-stakeholder global governance rooted in a nonprofit corporation." This may well be the right approach, but only if ICANN does not make any policy changes, including rolling out the new TLDs program, until the new agreeement is in place.

This entire topic doesn't seem to get the attention I think it deserves. How is it that a resource such as the Internet, where every governement, business, organization, and consumer uses and looks for ways to utilize the Internet, and yet this (and other issue in regard to the Internet, such as Net Neutrality) get very little main stream attention? I would recommend you share this story with people in your company and organizations who are responsible for marketing and domain name management. Have them become familiar with organizations such as CADNA, the Internet Governance Project, and the EFF, to see how they can look out for the best interest of your organization and your customers (us the consumers).

21 September, 2009

Tech Support Cheat Sheet

Courtesy of xkcd.com

Lawmakers asking for information from ICANN

In July 2009 I wrote about ICANN's plans to expand the Internet's top-level domains (TLDs), and how I and others believes this will have a significant negative impact on companies, big and small. [TLDs are the .COMs, .ORGs, etc at the end of URLs.]
"...companies are already losing over $1 billion annually due to cybersquatters misrepresenting and redirecting traffic on the Internet through taking advantage of URLs not purchased by companies. The proposal being made by ICANN can skyrocket those losses and increase expenses..."
As reported by nextgov.com, 'Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith and Courts and Competition Subcommittee ranking member Howard Coble, R-N.C., said they are worried that a vast expansion of domains will carry "serious negative consequences"...' in a letter to ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom. Smith and Coble have reiterated the concerns over ICANNs plans for the additional TLDs and have asked for a reponse by September 22, 2009.

While ICANN is trying to become independant, Washington is trying to make the joint project agreeement a permanent relationship. Naturally this is a very contiversial topic, but to date, ICANN has made many mistakes that in the future could be amplified if they were an independant organization.

Back to the topic of expanding the TLDs, there is also an opposing point of view that believes this move is positive. In short, it will give ICANN an influx of money to operate and "new domains will be safer space for trademarks."

My position is still one of not allowing the expansion of additional TLDs. There is a track record of cybersquatters taking advantage of consumers by sucking up TLDs, such as getting .CO and .CM TLDs to capture traffic more typos of .com. ("Out of the 183 [.CM] domains, an astounding 97 percent are owned by a third party—only 6 domain names are owned by the target company.") There also is no real argument for needing more TLDs, when many that are available today are not being used. In fact, as we learned in the .CM situation, the ones that are being purchased are being done for defensive reasons and by third-parties.

To recap the implications -- businesses, big and small, there will be an increased expense by having to buy more TLDs for defensive reasons. And the implication to consumers is the confusion of landing on an alternate TLD (such as .CM), and the cybersquatters that are fooling them into thinking they are at the right place. So my hopes is this latest inquest by lawmakers will lead to stopping ICANN from going forward with their plans for more TLDs.

To read about this and other related subjects, there are several sites you can visit.

16 September, 2009

How Safe Is Your Data?

Yesterday I worked on a project where I needed to export many of our company contacts. I also expect to be out on medical leave soon, and suspect that there may be a need for someone else to access my computer while I'm away. This made me think about how secure is my sensitive data -- whether my own or the companies.

After reviewing my files, it turns out I've been a bit sloppy -- there were definitely some files on my hard drive that if my laptop was stolen, customer data could be harvested. Mind you it would take some effort, but all the same, the data was accessible. So, I moved those files to my TrueCrypt volume or I deleted them.

As you may recall from a March 2008 blog post, TrueCrypt is a free open-source software that you can run on your computer to provide encryption for your files. The nice thing about TrueCrypt is that the encrypted volume looks and feels just like another hard drive -- anyone can use it.

The other security practice I was already using was keeping my passwords secure. All of us have too many usernames and passwords to remember. (Remember, if you use the same password for every site, then if one password is cracked, they all are.) I use RoboForm (see prior blog post), which allows me to store and easily access my usernames and passwords, all the while being secure by a single master password -- very similar to how TrueCrypt provides a master password for your encrypted files.

So now I've re-instuted secure file management and continue to secure my passwords, but there must be more...
  • In theory, my email and contacts should be secure if no one has my login. Perhaps some research to better understand the risks and protections might be in order.
  • The same applies to the access I have to email and contacts on my phone. I've just added a password to my phone, so at least it's a little more difficult to get into it if lost or stolen.
  • My wireless network has a strong secure password, but if my laptop is compromised, what are my risks? Perhaps some additional research in this area would be good, too.
  • Of course I keep my OS patched -- auto-notification and dilligence in applying them.
  • I have current, up-to-date virus protection.
  • I only ever use Internet Explorer on websites that I know and am required for work.
  • I keep common plug-ins such as Flash up-to-date.
Looks like I have two areas that require a bit more research, but all-in-all, I'm secure and using good security practices. How secure is your data?

15 September, 2009

New "Cookies" and your Privacy

On Monday this week (Sep 14, 2009), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released the first article of a three part series on how we're being tracked on the web today. After a review of cookie technology as originally designed, the EFF article discusses new forms of cookies. The article is rich with links to more detailed sources.

What I would consider the most concerning of technologies is the use of Adobe Flash cookies. Unlike the traditional browser cookie, there is no easy way to delete cookies that are stored by websites using Flash as their storage mechanism (more on this below). I'll also add that all the new "Privacy Browsing" features in the current release of browsers apparently do not always clear all your tracks. If you found this feature helpful in your web browsing, its worth digging deeper into the limitations, and not take the vendors claim of privacy without investigating yourself.

I'm not anti-cookie. In fact I think it's extremely important to providing a good experience when I visit websites, not to mention in using on sites that I develop. What I don't like is third-parties using cookies to track me across multiple sites, and sites that wont allow me to manage cookies as I see appropriate.

There are a few defensive things we can do to help protect ourselves.
If you're a Firefox user:
  1. Go to the Options screen, Privacy tab.
  2. From this screen you definitely want to turn off third-party cookies. [These are cookies coming from www.ad_ad_ad.com when you're on www.content_content_content.com.]
  3. You can also choose any site that you do not want cookies save from at all. [Not a feature I use, but perhaps there are sites that you do not want saving any information, so your next visit you appear as a new visitor.]
  4. You can also tell Firefox to clear cookies whenever you close your browser or to ask everytime you close it.
  5. If you click the "Show Cookies..." button, you can view and clear individual cookies.
If you're a Chrome user:
  1. Go to the Options screen, Under the Hood tab.
  2. Change the Cookie settings to Restrict how third-party cookies can be used.
  3. If you click the "Show cookies" button, you can view and clear individual cookies.
As I mentioned prior, Adobe Flash seems to be the biggest problem here, as Adobe doesn't make it easy to view the Flash cookies or make changes. To get to the Flash Control Panel, you have to go to a website -- http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager07.html. [The domain is Macromedia.com, because Adobe has not moved this since purchasing Macromedia several years back.]

There are six tabs (see all six screenshots at the end of this article). What we're most concerned about is Web Storage Settings (last tab on the right) and Global Storage Settings (2nd tab from the left). Here's my recommendations.

Web Storage Settings:
  1. Go to the Flash Control Panel and click on the last tab.
  2. The list will show you all the sites that currently have stored some sort of data about you and/or your prior visit(s).
  3. Click "Delete all sites" to clear all the Flash Cookies.
  4. I haven't tested the implications, but if you move the storage (slider) to None, it implies that nothing will be captured moving forward.
Global Storage Settings:
  1. Go to the Flash Control Panel and click on the 2nd tab (from the left).
  2. Uncheck Allow Third Party Flash Content to store data on your computer.
  3. Here we see the storage slider again, and if you already moved it to None, it will be at None here, too. What's not clear to me is if there are certain Flash sites that actually need first-party Flash cookies to work. If you've made this change to None, and you have Flash sites that are important to you that fail, you might try adding some storage space back.
I've really just scratched the surface on the current and upcoming issues. I encourage you at a minimum to turn off third-party cookies. If broser privacy is important to you, you probably want to read the EFF article as a launching point for more information.

13 September, 2009

What Firefox Add-ins are you still using?

I really like the extensibility that Firefox Add-ins provides for browsing -- it is the only reason I have not switched to using Google Chrome as my primary browser. (Google Chrome is compelling due to it being faster.) With that in mind, I though it would be a good time to review the Add-ins I currently have active in Firefox. These are the Add-ins on my home pc, using Firefox 3.5.
  1. AI Roboform Toolbar for Firefox: An absolute requirement for any browser I use on a regular basis. Roboform stores all my usernames and passwords, making it extremely easy to login to all my favorite websites. Roboform has a single master password that must be entered only the first time used during a computing session.
  2. Clear Cache Button: Very convenient way to clear the browser cache when I'm working on new code.
  3. ColorZilla: Perhaps my newest productivity saver. Using ColorZilla, I can sample any color on a webpage and immediately determine its value in hex and rgb.
  4. CoLT: Makes it easy to copy link text and locations.
  5. Cooliris: I've added and removed this several times. Cooliris provides a nice interface for browsing images on your favorite websites such as Picasa and Flickr.
  6. Ctrl-Tab: Firefox tab navigation. If only Excel had this.
  7. Delicious Bookmarks: An easy way to bookmark and retrieve Delicious bookmarks. One of the few toolbars I always have enabled.
  8. Download Statusbar: Provides a tiny download indicator and manager for downloads.
  9. Forecastfox: See current and upcoming weather. Forecastfox is also integrated with sever weather alerts, for easy notification.
  10. FoxClocks: Easy to see the local time for locations all over the world. This is a very flexible add-on that can be placed almost anywhere.
  11. Gmail Manager: Shows me at a glance if I have new email. When I click, it opens a new tab and logs me into my Gmail account. It can also manage multiple accounts.
  12. Hyperwords: Double-click on any word (no need to select it first), and you get a drop-down menu with many choices from getting a definition, to searching, to translating, and more.
  13. IE Tab: Switch page rendering to IE in a single-click. Fortunately at home this is not needed much, but a must use at work.
  14. Java Quick Starter: Reduces the time required for Java Apps to load. Again not a real need at home, but a definite must for work.
  15. NoScript: By default NoScript disables scripts on all web pages. When you visit a page, you can enable scripts based on the domain. There's a lot of extra clicking when you first load, as each of your frequently visited pages needs to be authorized. It's a great tool to block advertising and tracking; in particular from those advertisers that sell on multiple sites, and therefore can gather your aggregated browsing habits. It is also very helpful to test your webpages to see how they work (or don't) if a user doesn't have scripting enabled.
  16. ScribeFire: My newest add-in -- I'm using it for the first time to write this post. ScribeFire provides an editing window within your browser to post to the most popular blogging environments. So far, I'd have to rate it higher than Blogger's own interface.
  17. TimeTracker: Tracks the time I spend online. TimeTracker does a great job recognizing when your browser is open but you're not actually using it.
  18. TinyMenu: A favorite add-on of mine, it provides the ability to compact toolbars and menus. It essentually gave me room to add one more toolbar without taking up any more verticle space.
  19. TwitterFox: Track and post on Twitter
  20. Web Developer: An old favorite, Web Developer is a toolbar with many helpful web development tools.
In addition to these 20 Add-ons, I have a few others that I've left installed, but are disabled:
  1. Firecookie: Helps manage cookies. Requires the Firebug add-in to work.
  2. FireShot: Provides the ability to take screenshots, and edit and save the screenshots. Since I use SnagIt, I never found myself using it, but if you don't have SnagIt, it looked to be a very useful tool.
  3. iMacros for Firefox: Automate various web browsing tasks. A good little tool to test web pages.
  4. RefControl: Control what's sent as the HTTP Referrer on a per site basis. More fun that valuable.
I didn't research all the links for this post. Most should be easy to find if you search for them in Google.

As you can see, I noted a few that I find to be highly valuable. There's roomer that Google is going to add add-in/plug-in support to Chrome, but it's going to take some time to build comparable functionality on top of it. In the mean time, Firefox will continue to be my browser of choice.