Networking in a metro; Let’s talk tech; Information security is no black art; Never too old for `toys’

Books2Byte – February 2004

Networking in a metro

D. Murali

What would you call a portion of the metro that touches the customer? Find the answer to that plus the relationship between IT and social organisation, and a whole lot more…


CHENNAI is getting all the negative publicity it cannot afford as being severely water-starved and politically surcharged, among others. But not far from the city is Bangalore that James Heitzman paints as the “Network City“.

It is the fifth-largest metropolis in the country with “a transnational reputation as a centre for science and technology,” states the book, from Oxford University Press( Subtitled `planning the information society in Bangalore’, the book traces the relationship between IT and social organisation, and analyses the evolution of “an inter-organisational model that accompanied the rapid expansion of computer and telecommunication technologies, alongside developments in the educational system, the research community, and the non-profit sector.”

It is not as if the city to envy “the hub of a dynamic software industry, India’s Silicon Valley” had financial and infrastructure crises, even as it shifted towards a globalised economy. Yet, “There was a radical transformation of the social landscape of the city,” writes the author, “as private sector companies, transnational corporations, and non-government organisations began to interact with the state at more model decision-making forums.”

The man who would make a difference to the city was born in 1860, in a village near Chik Ballapur. Yes, we’re talking about Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya who founded the Engineering College in Bangalore. “He became a nationwide expert in industrial organisation and the management of technology,” notes the author about a man whose motto was, `Industrialise or perish.’ He was a man with a never-say-die attitude who chaired a board that designed the Farakka bridge over the Ganges when he was 92. Gandhi was “totally opposed to Visvesvaraya in his ambition for Americanising India,” but Nehru held different views.

“Something happened in the last two decades of the 20th century that transformed this slow-paced industrial city into a global presence in the information society,” observes the author in a chapter titled `Becoming Silicon Valley’. The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, played no mean part in `the informatisation of the city’. The book gives due credit to the research bodies: “The availability of expert consultants from the variety of research establishments as a whole seems to have played a very important role in the clustering of high-technology firms.” Heitzman concludes with an appreciation of the `beauty of the informational model’ that makes it `difficult to hide incompetence or corruption,’ and compels “those interested in restricted aggrandisement to devise novel styles of occlusion and obfuscation.” Perhaps, you can’t spell Bangalore without `i’ or `t’.


Last mile, or first?

The networking industry is a divided world, in spite of all connections. Pools of expertise are varied: LAN switching, IP routing, and transport. “The `metro’ blends all these areas of expertise,” writes Sam Halabi in his intro to Metro Ethernet, from Cisco Systems ( The book is “the definitive guide to enterprise and carrier metro Ethernet applications.” One may argue that Ethernet was not designed for metro applications; or that it “lacks the scalability and reliability required for mass deployments.” Now, how to marry “Ethernet’s simplicity and cost effectiveness with the scale of Internet protocol (IP) and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks”? Here is where GMPLS, that is generalised MPLS, enters the scene, presenting “a major shift in the operation and configuration of transport networks”.

Okay, what do you call the portion of the metro that touches the customer? Last mile, some say, because it is the last span of the carrier’s network. However, “in a world where the paying customer is at the centre of the universe, the industry also calls this span the first mile to acknowledge that the customer comes first.”

In a chapter titled “L2 Switching Basics” you would know about Ethernet Layer 2 concepts such as `flooding’ which allows the fast delivery of packets to their destinations, and `broadcast’ that is used for enabling clients to discover resources that are advertised by servers. CIR is not `sir’ spelt amiss, but committed information rate; and PIR is peak information rate.

Traffic Engineering is not about vehicle control, but “an important MPLS function that gives the network operator more control over how traffic traverses the network.” An indispensable function emphasises the author, “because of the high cost of network assets and the commercial an competitive nature of the Internet.” That is something for accountants to bear in mind.

Wednesday, Feb 04, 2004


Let’s talk tech

D. Murali

What do computers and politics have in common? Everybody talks about both but there’s seldom any understanding of either term. Well, here’s a book that does more than just talk. Plus a look at what net coding will be like in the future.


WITH marauding hordes, Genghis Khan terrorised whole populations. His motto: “It’s not enough that I succeed, everyone else must fail.” But he is long dead. Yet his philosophy lives on in the software world, writes Karen Southwick in Everyone Else Must Fail, from Crown Business ( . She provides “the unvarnished truth about Oracle and Larry Ellison”. The blurb speaks of how, inside Oracle, “Ellison has time and again systematically purged key operating, sales, and marketing people who got too powerful for his comfort.” What is his style? “Freewheeling version of capitalism, the kind practised by the nineteenth century robber barons who ran their companies as private fiefdoms.” The book raises a question: “Whether Oracle’s products and the reliance placed in them by so many are too important to be subject to the whims of one man.” Is there a warning “about an ingenious man’s tendency to be his own company’s worst enemy”?

The introduction notes how he has “come a long way from the college dropout who started at the bottom rung financially and socially.” He is “by turns brilliant and intolerant, inspiring and chilling, energetic and disinterested.” Ellison is “one of the most intriguing, dominant, and misguided leaders of a major twenty-first-century corporation.” Don’t forget that more than half of the Fortune 100 cited Oracle as the preferred database vendor, or that Ellison owns nearly one-fourth of Oracle’s stock. He is “the ultimate narcissist,” as one business psychologist said. “Ellison may be the last of his kind, but he is unforgettable.” He complains “about the way the press tears down heroes, comparing the media to lions at the ancient Roman Colosseum.” Yet he takes gleeful joy “in creating controversies.” The author analyses: “Because of his childhood, Ellison feels vulnerable whenever he feels himself growing dependent on someone else. He can’t stand the thought of abandonment, so he abandons other people before they can do it to him.”

Ellison has gone over to the dark side of the Silicon Valley infatuation with power and wealth, notes the concluding chapter, titled On the Edge. His world is solipsistic. But don’t count him out too soon. “He has been a wildly entertaining performer,” finishes the author, but sighs: “How much more he could have been.”

Let’s talk IT out


What’s common between politics and computers? Everybody talks about both and yet unfortunately few understand. So, Mohammed Azam has taken `a dialogue oriented approach’ to IT. His book Computer Literacy Kit, from Eswar Press ( , is aimed at “providing a wholesome learning experience for the entire family.” Being conversational in style, there are many questions throughout the book, and these find answers from the author’s many characters. For instance, “Who were the first buyers of personal computers?” Hobbyists, who knew electronics and software, bought the first lot of PCs. “Apple Computers realised that users did not like the idea of messing around with a lot of wires specially with electricity running in them and unveiled a model that was fully built. The users had to merely take it home and connect it to their TV and start work.”

Questions often come in torrents: Such as, what is a platter, what is a cylinder, why is the hard disk sealed, how does the read/ write assembly work, how is data recorded on magnetic tape, how is the storage of a tape measured, and so forth. Also, there are short poems. “The computer will tell you with a beep or chime/ That you pressed the wrong key this time.” Or, “The Operating System plays the host/Taking over after the POST.” Yet another, “Command and syntax you need not cram/But to run Windows you need plenty of RAM.” Try this one on virus: “A virus is actually an intelligent string of bytes/ But it is malignant and it sometimes bites/ Some rename and some even corrupt a file/ Some are a nuisance, harmless and not vile.”

The book provides an elaborate glossary with entries such as “a.out: The default name of the executable file produced by the Unix assembler, link editor, and C compiler” and “Daisy chain: The linking of items one after another. In word processing, daisy chain printing means to print documents one after another.” To keep the conversation alive, there are illustrations throughout the book. Good read for starters.

Net coding


In the near future, we will be dealing with distributed applications, fragments of which run on different systems, in heterogeneous networks, under different operating systems; and the computer itself would lose its traditional look, and take any shape, from cubic units built into the walls to small devices such as wristwatches. This is the scenario that Sergei Dunaev paints in Advanced Internet Programming Technologies and Applications, from Eswar PressThe book is a guide for developing Net applications and e-com solutions. “Readers learn how to create and use objects such as applets, scriplets, servlets, XML-constructions, JSP, ASP pages and so on,” states the back cover. “JavaBeans/ CORBA and ActiveX/DCOM are described in detail.”

What software developers encounter every day are “two basic technologies,” notes the author in the first chapter. One of these is ActiveX/ DCOM, used on Intel platforms using Windows OS, while the parallel technology is called JavaBeans/ CORBA, which does not depend on either the platform or the OS. DCOM, which is no diploma in commerce, but distributed component object model, also called COM `with a longer wire’ because it allows `registration of remote objects’. ActiveX serves a unique purpose — that of providing operations for program components inside composite program containers that include Web browsers and other document viewers. JavaBeans components are “obliged to advertise their characteristics”, and the “clearing of these characteristics by other components is called introspection.”

Now what is CORBA? “When we say CORBA, we actually mean CORBA/ IIOP,” that is Common Object Request Broker Architecture/ Internet Inter-ORB. This is a technology “meant for distributed information objects that can closely interact with each other within a managing program, which essentially consists of these objects itself.” There is lot more in this `advanced’ book for the eager beaver.

Wednesday, Feb 11, 2004


Information security is no black art

D. Murali

It’s a myth that big issues in security can be solved with technology. That’s as good as thinking one’s protected with a pile of ammunition under the pillow. This book breaks that myth, saying that at the very bottom, security is a people issue.


THERE is no patch for ignorance. This is the motto of theInformation Security Series from Dreamtech Press ( of which a recent offering is Eric Maiwald’s Fundamentals of Network Security.

There is a myth that big issues in security can be solved with technology, as much as one might be fooled into thinking that one is protected with a pile of ammunition under the pillow. “At the very bottom, security is a people issue,” points out the author.

Thus, chapter one begins with a negative message: “Information security does not guarantee the safety of your organisation, your information, or your computer systems. Information security cannot provide protection for your information.”

If that puts you off, Maiwald adds that information security is no black art. “There is no sorcery to implementing proper information security, and the concepts that are included in information security are not rocket science.” Info security is a mindset of examining threats and vulnerabilities, is what Maiwald says.

Among civil issues that the administrator has to consider is `downstream liability.’ This arises when an organisation that does not perform appropriate security measures unwittingly becomes the conduit for an attacker who after penetrating the organisation’s systems goes on to attack another organisation.

Now that there is peace at the border, we can try to understand what `demilitarised zone’ means. For network professionals, it means the portion of the network that is not truly trusted. Abbreviated as DMZ, it provides a place in the network to segment off systems that are accessed by people on the Internet from those that are only accessed by employees. “DMZs can also be used when dealing with business partners and other outside entities.”

Every chapter has a multiple-choice quiz. Here’s a sampler: Which is the most common motivation for hackers to break into computers? Tick one of the following: The challenge, greed, malicious intent or being dared. The most powerful weapon used by an attacker that involves having a kind voice and the ability to lie is: a murf attack, a virus attack, social engineering or brute-force? Of the following, which is classified as malicious code: vendor updates for commercial packages, scripts used to update signature files, worms sent over the Internet, or logon scripts to map drives? When a user leaves the organisation, as the network administrator, you should have procedures in place to: disable the user’s account, change the name on the account, immediately delete the account to increase security, or leave the account on the system for historical reasons? What can you do to identify rogue apps: perform wired assessments, perform physical inspections of all areas, use tools like NetStumbler, or use tools like WEPCrack?

Essential read for those on the frontlines of network.

Weave a Web dream


You have a vision for your Web site and you need a tool that can transform it into reality. Michael Meadhra provides an answer in How to do Everything with Dreamweaver MX 2004: A Beginner’s Guide, published by Dreamtech Press.

What is Dreamweaver? It is a Macromedia product that belongs to the species of Web page editing programs; it enables a Web author to work with text, images and other Web page elementsAmong the panels that show on the product’s screen is the `Assets panel.’ It is a “convenient central access point for the various page elements,” explains the author. “The problem with the Assets panel is that it lists every single asset in the entire site.” That is something akin to a cluttered fixed asset register, one may think. On the Web, however, it is graphics that clutter, but the origins of hypertext markup language (HTML) and the World Wide Web (WWW) lay in what scientists and academics used for sharing technical documents. “When you look past the flashy introduction pages on many Web sites, you see that, even today, the vast majority of Web documents are composed primarily of text.”

It is elementary knowledge that the time required to download and display images can dramatically increase the time it takes for a browser to display your page. “Make sure that every image on your page contributes significantly to your message and justifies the time visitors must wait to see the image,” says the author.

“Add alt text for images,” is another tip. “Alternate text is one of the key factors in making your site accessible to visitors whose Web browsing experience doesn’t include images.”

Also, remember that editing an image in Dreamweaver is permanent. “The original image is replaced with the modified one.” Sooner or later, you may end up requiring access to databases. “Most of the objects and behaviours that Dreamweaver provides for server-side use are designed to work with database connections and recordsets.” Meadhra assures that the kinds of dynamic Web pages you can build with Dreamweaver are limited only by your imagination.

So, go on weave a dream on the Web.

Closed vs open


IF you are not one of those miserable techies who are too easily satisfied with coding and keying, here is a book to vet your appetite: Innovation Policy and the Economy, volume 3 from the National Bureau of Economic Research ( , edited by Adam B. Jaffe and his team.

The book appreciates the importance of innovation to the economy; and discusses policies appropriate for research, innovation and the commercialisation of new technology. A question that the editors address is the effect of venture capital on innovation. “The effect is far from uniform,” notes the book. “During boom periods, the prevalence of overfunding of particular sectors can lead to a sharp decline in the effectiveness of venture funds in stimulating new discoveries. And prolonged downturns may eventually lead to good companies going unfunded.”

The chapter titled `The Global Innovation Divide’ by Jeffrey Sachs observes how the difference between the haves and have-nots with respect to the rate of innovative activity is even greater than the differences in wealth or income. “The world can be divided roughly into three parts: About one-sixth of the world’s population lives in areas where innovation occurs endogenously. In a middle group of countries, there is relatively little endogenous innovation, but innovation does diffuse and is adopted from other places. But perhaps one-quarter of the world’s population lives in a bottom group that is relatively untouched by technology.”

A topical issue discussed in a chapter on intellectual property is the competition between open and closed systems. “There is a tendency for systems to close even though an open system is socially more desirable,” notes the book. “Rather than trying to use the antitrust laws to attack the maintenance of closed systems, an alternative approach would be to use IP laws and regulations to promote open systems and the standard setting organisations that they require.” Is there a case for heading towards being open to closed systems too?

Wednesday, Feb 18, 2004


Never too old for `toys’

D. Murali

Want to make the transformation from ordinary PC user to Internet Service Provider? Here’s how you can do it.


YOU are an ordinary PC user. Want to become an Internet service provider? If yes, Christopher Negus and Chuck Wolber have the answer in Linux Toys: Cool Projects for Home, Office and Entertainment. All the basic software you need to be an ISP is right in Red Hat Linux, they inform. “You can set up Linux to allow dial-in modems and routing to the Internet, as well as offer Web publishing, e-mail, and file transfer.” The book is an attempt to “bring together software and hardware to make some whole working projects,” states the preface. “Because we’re building them in Linux, the sky is the limit on where you can go with them.” Chapter 1 elaborates: “While the spirit of the book is one of fun and community, the technology we describe is quite serious and becoming more powerful each day. Some of the same software we describe here is running the server computers for companies around the world.”

What are the `toys’? Apart from the mini ISP, you have music jukebox, home video archive, TV recorder/player, arcade game player, home network server, home broadcast centre, temperature monitor, telephone answering centre, Web-hosting service, DogHouse Linux with BSD games, toy car controller and digital picture frame, each with “complete material list and detailed illustrated instructions.”

What’s this doggie thing? Chapter 13 explains: “Because the latest Red Hat Linux won’t install on pre-Pentium-class computers,” the authors have created a little distribution of Linux that they call DogHouse Linux. “You can copy it to a floppy and run it on most computers that have a floppy disk drive. Yes, it should work on your old 486 machine.” What would it do? “You will get enough to feel what it was like to use old Unix systems, try a few classic Linux commands that will work on almost any Linux system, and play a few classic pre-Linux character-based games.” You are never too grownup for these `toys’.

Varray, Lob and Acid


AT the heart of RDBMS is SQL, the structured query language. It is the language used for all operations in the relational database management systems. “It is a standardised language like C, that is, the syntax of SQL changes very little from one RDBMS to another,” states P.S. Deshpande in “SQL/ PLSQL for Oracle 9i”. SQL for Oracle is similar, therefore, to SQL for Ingres or Sybase. “An important feature of SQL is that it is a non-procedural language.” That means you don’t have to describe how to do; just describe what you want.

Unit II of the book discusses PL/SQL – the language used in all Oracle products. “PL/SQL language is used in stored programs, procedures, packages, forms and reports. It’s different from other languages, as it does not have conventional input and output statements. The input is mainly from the table and output is put in the table.”

What are the basic elements of PL/SQL? The author lists: “Lexical units, datatypes, user-defined subtypes, datatype conversion, declaration, naming conversion, scope and visibility, assignments, and expressions and comparisons.”

You are familiar with array, but what is `varray’? It is “like an array in programming languages like C, Pascal but it has only single dimension.” Okay, is LOB the top portion of lobster? No, it stands for `large objects’ – a datatype to overcome the limitations of LONG datatype. “LOB has facilitated storage of unstructured data like text document, graphic images, video clips and sound.” Maximum size of LOB is 4 GB and it supports random access.

ACID is not what hooligans throw on people, but the essential properties of transaction: atomicity, consistency, isolation and durability. “Atomicity means the effect of the transaction is either full or null. Consistency means the transaction should generate consistent data defined by application logic. Isolation indicates level of interference in one transaction by the other transaction. Durability means that the effect of transaction is durable irrespective of nature of storage.” Now, answer a simple question: “Select a querying book.”

Wear your Red Hat


INSTALL, tune and configure Fedora and Red Hat Linux Enterprise 3. Navigate GNOME and KDE desktops to run the latest applications. Learn to use the Linux shell, file system, and text editors. Try out the latest security techniques for detecting and dealing with attacks and setting up encryption keys. Discover how to install extra software packages to play games, enhance security, and administer Linux. Install Linux on a laptop and manage power events with acpid. And more.

All these are what Christopher Negus discusses in “Red Hat Linux ver. (10) Bible: Fedora and Enterprise Edition,” a book that comes with 3 bonus CD-ROMs with full installation of the software including all binary packages.

Who are you? Asking this question in the preface, the author continues: “You don’t need to be a programmer to use this book. You may simply want to know how to administer a Linux system in a workgroup or on a network. You may be migrating from Microsoft OS to Red Hat Linux because of its networking and multiuser features.”

As with accounting, where you can’t learn unless you do, so with computer system. “Get your hands on it.” So, the book adopts “a task-oriented approach.” Well, you’ve been holding your question thus far: What is Linux? “A phenomenon waiting to happen,” writes Negus in chapter 1. “The computer industry suffered from a rift. In the 1980s and 1990s, people had to choose between inexpensive, market-driven PC operating systems from Microsoft and expensive, technology-driven operating systems such as Unix. Free software was being created all over the world, but lacked a common platform to rally around. Linux became that common platform.” Linux is a free OS that was created by Linus Torvalds when he was a student in 1991. “Torvalds then released the system to his friends and to a community of `hackers’ on the Internet and asked them to work with it, fix it, and enhance it. It took off.” The focus of Linux was “on keeping communications open among software developers.” Their common goal was to get the code to work, “without much concern about who owned the code.”

What is Red Hat Linux? “Several companies and organisations began gathering and packaging Linux software together into usable forms called distributions. The main goal of a Linux distribution is to make the hundreds of unrelated software packages that make up Linux work together as a cohesive whole. For the past few years, the most popular commercial distribution has been Red Hat Linux.”

And if you are working on a Linux project, you perhaps know what book to keep by your side.

Books courtesy: Wiley Dreamtech (

Wednesday, Feb 25, 2004



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