Dec 312009
Sniffy New Year 2010

Sniffy New Year 2010

A New day, A New year, A New decade, Another chance to make things better… To do something good in a sustainable way so that we can build on it and make a lasting difference.

One of the things I do is develop technology for filtering out bad email (spam, scams, viruses, “malware”). The goal is to protect people from the predators out there and help to make sure the Internet has a chance to achieve it’s potential for good.

Of course, doing that means that my team and I spend a lot of time wading through the worst stuff on the ‘Net. Honestly, sometimes I really hate that job – wallowing in humanities filth for hours on end can really bum you out.

What started as a nuisance has grown into something much more sinister. Today spam and other malware is produced largely by organized crime. Their “business” is well funded, sophisticated, and ranges from presenting you with uninvited advertisements to hacking your computer, money laundering, identity theft and fraud, all the way to human trafficking, cyber warfare and terrorism.

I invite you to view this TED talk on the intricate economics of terrorism:

As a result of this phenomenon everyone who provides services on the Internet must now spend a significant amount of money and effort to protect themselves and their customers. It has become a necessity.

It’s very depressing. I know I would like to spend that energy doing more positive work – not just holding back the darkness.

I don’t let that stuff keep me down, but thoughts like that float around in my brain with all of the others looking for ways to connect. Sometimes they connect in surprising ways and call me to start out in new directions.

The other day I was pondering all of this while shopping for a gift for my brother. He enjoys camping, and reading, and this year in particular he’s become interested in outdoor survival books (Man vs Wild kinds of stuff). I had picked up a book about surviving on K2 and was looking for something to add when I wondered into the camping isle and came face to face with a sleeping bag…

This wasn’t what I was looking for but it struck a nerve. Just recently I had made a live recording for Evergreen Church where they were interviewing some folks from TOP (Teens Opposing Poverty). The stories these folks told about living (surviving) on the streets of DC had stuck with me. Evergreen Church teens regularly work with TOP and the church has been collecting sleeping bags to donate to TOP for their next trip into DC.

Teens Opposing Poverty

Teens Opposing Poverty

Just then it occurred to me that I had another opportunity to do something good. As Steve Jennings (Executive Director of TOP) puts it: “Sleeping bags are like gold to homeless people… The need for sleeping bags never goes away.”

For the month of January MicroNeil will donate a new sleeping bag to TOP for every new customer that subscribes to Message Sniffer.

This is a way we can convert some of the darkness generated by the blackhats into light (and warmth) and hopefully make a difference when it matters most. It’s very cold on the streets of  DC in January –and this year we just had two feet of snow!

I’m also hopeful that this promotion will call more attention to TOP and efforts like it. TOP in particular is focused on engaging and connecting young people with homeless folks in a meaningful way– and reconnecting the homeless with their community. These connections are in many ways more important than providing critical services and materials because it’s the connections that translate into hope and opportunity.
Dec 172009


How does an 8 year old do his spelling homework when he has access to a high-definition digital studio?

By voice-over of course!

We hit upon this idea when it became clear to us that ordinary spelling homework is, well, ordinary. We can do better than this I thought — and off to the Mad Lab we went with spelling words in hand.

Now Ian not only gets his spelling right; he also gets to do something most people never experience… When is the last time you did a voice-over in a real recording studio?

Here’s how it works: First we set up a recording session with all the bells and whistles. Then Ian reads his spelling words as clearly as he can and leaves enough space in between each word so that he’ll have time to write the words down when we play it back. Then we play it back for him (hopefully without stopping) and he writes them down. This is much more exciting than having one of us read his words to him – and there are added benefits.

In addition to spelling he is learning about the way things work in a studio — especially the recording process. This covers a lot of additional skills and knowledge. There’s science (mic positioning, setting levels), planning and following a process, teamwork, communications skills (not just the voice-over itself, but the interaction between the engineer and the performer too), patience, etc. He also learns what every voice-over artist learns— there is no hiding from that microphone! The details matter and so as he progresses he’s learning to speak clearly, to avoid making unnecessary noises, and to pay attention to the details.

He’s also having a blast with it! And so am I.

Dec 172009

Greetings earthlings! — I really should stop saying things like that, or the villagers might show up. But, what do you say on the Hello World! post of a new blog? Believe it or not, it’s not in the handbook.

No matter. It’s done now.

If I’m lucky, I’ll delete this and replace it with something better before anybody sees it … (hehehehe).