Bott vs Cringely and My Lawyer Newsome Story

I have a confession to make.

I’ve never watched much public television. Yes, I like Austin City Limits. And yes, I love PBS’s children’s shows, which my kids used to watch a lot before they learned about Sponge Bob and Scooby-Doo. But other than the mysteries that used to come on on Thursday nights, which I quit watching when that guy who played such an excellent Sherlock Holmes died, I have watched very little public television.

So I’d never heard of Robert X. Cringely until a few months ago. Apparently he’s a tech writer for PBS. While I’m in confession mode, I didn’t even realize there was one PBS. I thought PBS was a name for the various public television stations around the country who produce those great kids shows and other stuff favored by hybrid drivers and vegetarians.

But I digress.

Ed Bott came out swinging yesterday over an article Cringely wrote that touched on computer security.

It seems that Cringely mischaracterized some comments made by Mike Danseglio, program manager for the Security Solutions group at Microsoft, at the InfoSec World conference. World conference. Why not Universe conference? I know, why not Conference that Encompasses all of Time and Space? World conference. World Series. My old neighbor World B. Free. Names are the tattoos of the needle averse crowd.

Without going into a bunch of detail, Cringely quoted Danseglio as saying that the best way for companies and governments to deal with malware and spyware infestations is to put in place automated processes to wipe clean hard drives and reinstall operating systems and applications periodically.

What?

Has this guy ever even been inside a big corporate office? Does he have any idea how hard that would be to implement? It would require first and foremost a way to backup everything on every computer on the network. And here’s a news flash. Many if not most big companies store emails and documents on central servers. What they do not do is back up the hard drives of every local computer regularly, if at all.

You can’t rely on the desktop users to know how not to open an email from a stranger that says “I Love You,” so you certainly can’t expect them to know to or how to back up their hard drives. You also can’t explain to them why all of their locally stored data disappears every couple of weeks or months.

In sum, that is an unworkable solution for many companies.

To make matters worse, but much more interesting, Ed busts on Cringely for mischaracterizing what Danseglio said. Ed says, and based on what I read at the eWeek article I’d have to agree, that Danseglio said only that a hard drive wipe and reinstall is a last resort against a deeply infected machine. He also said that prevention was the best approach. From the eWeek article:

“The easy way to deal with this is to think about prevention. Preventing an infection is far easier than cleaning up,” he said, urging enterprise administrators to block known bad content using firewalls and proxy filtering and to ensure security software regularly scans for infections.

Ed smacks Cringely around pretty good and concludes:

If it says Cringely, you know it’s wrong.

I also didn’t know that Robert X. Cringely wasn’t this cat’s real name until I read Ed’s post. Why, exactly, does a tech writer for PBS need to pull a Marion Morrison and create a stage name? I am highly suspicious of anyone who isn’t a John Wayne-equivalent who uses an alias. A handle, like The Internet Guy, The Sports Guy or whatnot is fine because nobody believes that’s a given name. But using another name is just too Dragnet for me.

Also, I get really hacked when someone introduces themselves to me using their middle initial. “Hello, I’m Harcourt P. Livingston,” usually results in me going half caveman and half Cher by thumping my chest and saying “Kent” a couple of times.

Some people have like five names. I once met a guy who had five names and was the IVth. We didn’t hang out much.

All of this reminds me of something that happened many years ago in my wife’s hometown. We had been to her parents’ church and were standing around talking outside after the service. Some guy walks up to me and puts out his hand (now remember, this was a social setting) and says “Hello, I am Dr. So-and-so.” I shook his hand and said “Pleased to meet you, I’m lawyer Newsome.”

As I knew he would be, he was offended. My point was made.

Names. You have to love ’em.