Microsoft’s Facebook ad for new features in Excel highlights the Treemap visualization, but gets it totally wrong.
A treemap is supposed to visualize relative size in a hierarchy. But in the illustration here, the data don’t fit this type of visualization (it’s a time series of one flat variable—without hierarchy).
But it’s even worse than that. The relative sizes don’t make sense! Why would the 31 MPG box for January be so much larger than the 32 MPG box for May?
This seems like a great illustration of why math/statistical education should be required for everyone—even visual designers and marketers. Or at least, the people selling the product should understand what the software actually does.
I haven’t seen anything published about this yet, but I noticed today that Windows Live Hotmail seems to be authenticating incoming e-mail using DKIM in addition to Sender ID.
In the past, Hotmail has verified the authenticity of incoming e-mail through Microsoft’s proprietary version of Sender Policy Framework called Sender ID. Both of these projects were designed to verify that the computer sending the message, as identified by the originating IP address, is authorized to send e-mail on behalf of the named sender.
A typical SPF policy, specified through a TXT record in DNS, might say
v=spf1 ip4:220.127.116.11/24 -all
This means that only IP addresses in the 18.104.22.168–22.214.171.124 range are allowed to send e-mail on behalf of this domain. (The Sender ID policy would look similar, but starting with spf2.0/pra.)
Hotmail’s policy has been to verify all incoming e-mail using the Sender ID framework. This theoretically reassures users that authenticated e-mail definitely comes from the named sender, reducing the likelihood of header forgery. If an e-mail does not pass Sender ID verification (softfail) and has other signs of being forged, it will likely be classified as junk.
A valid e-mail is marked with these headers:
If the organization’s policy uses the strictest policy (-all), and the message does not pass Sender ID validation, and the organization has submitted its Sender ID records to Microsoft, invalid e-mail sent to @live.ca and @live.com domains are rejected. As far as I am aware, this protection is not applied to @hotmail.com accounts.
From SPF to DKIM
The problem with SPF is that it doesn’t verify much. All it tells us is that an e-mail comes from the right computer—not that an intermediate server hasn’t tampered with it. In addition, SPF only really validates the From: or Sender: headers.
Besides, many large service providers cannot implement a strict SPF/Sender ID policy because users may be sending e-mail through other servers. (For example, I might use my ISP’s SMTP servers to send e-mail from my Windows Live Hotmail address; a strict SPF/Sender ID policy would mark those e-mails as junk.)
DKIM, however, encompasses the contents of the message body, in addition to the headers. It does not necessarily require the e-mail to come from a certain IP address. Using public key cryptography, it allows organizations to take responsibility for sent e-mails by verifying that the e-mail came from an authorized source, similar to the way secure servers connect over TLS/SSL.
Implementing DKIM means that all outgoing e-mails are signed using a private key; the signatures are then checked by compatible software against the public keys published in DNS. Each domain can have multiple DKIM keys, allowing multiple sending systems to sign outgoing e-mails independently.
DKIM actually requires a lot more work for organizations to implement, as it requires additional DNS lookups and (perhaps) expensive cryptographic calculations. A decade ago, it would have been unfeasible to implement this on an organization as large as Windows Live Hotmail.
Today, the inexpensive cost of processing power makes it possible for Hotmail to validate DKIM. Yahoo! has been doing this since the beginning, as it was the source of this technology. Gmail, too, has been validating DKIM for some time. (Both Yahoo! and Gmail sign outgoing e-mail with DKIM signatures, and Google has made this possible through its Google Apps service for companies as well.)
While Windows Live Hotmail has always validated Sender ID, today I noticed the addition of a new e-mail header:
This is good news.
To summarize a post’s worth of babbling, this means that Windows Live Hotmail is taking additional steps to combat e-mail forgery, phishing and spam. A step forward for everybody.
It’s the end of another year and the end of a ground-breaking decade. Let’s look back at what’s been accomplished in the years of 2000–2009, focusing on technology.
Windows has entered a new era
The decade—indeed, the century—began with Windows 2000, which I consider the first great version of the operating system. XP was the version that brought widespread success, and people just seem to refuse to upgrade; even today, almost three quarters of the computers on the net are on XP.
Despite the dismal failure of Windows Vista, it too brought change, which was followed by the enhancements of Windows 7. Compare my desktop today to the ugly screens of a decade ago:
Apple deserves an honourable mention for the ground-breaking work they’ve done on the Mac, elevating it to a newly trendy status.
Portable media players have completely changed
A decade ago, CD players and tape-based Walkmans were still the norm for ‘portable’ audio players. The iPod, launched in 2001, entirely changed the game. (I suppose this and the iPhone were the “comeback of the decade”.) It was no longer a device that played removable media. That was followed by thousands of other portable media players, to which the public generally refers inaccurately as “MP3 players”, reflecting the popularity of the 15-year-old MP3 format that has also been notorious for illegal file sharing (see below).
Cell phones and mobile devices have become ubiquitous
These devices used to be ugly, huge and heavy objects. As we move into 2010, cell phones have become more compact (usually this means thinner and lighter) and more powerful.
Mobile devices have become truly powerful. The iPhone, purportedly the most popular cell phone of 2009, is one of the biggest platforms for software development. And it has a touch screen. RIM’s BlackBerry, initially launched in 1999, is the most popular smartphone among business users.
Ordinary people begin to embrace ultra-portable netbooks for lightweight computing. The move to mobile is probably the most noticeable trend in end-user gadgetry in this decade. Continue reading “Happy New Year!”