Terminally Incoherent

Utterly random, incoherent and disjointed rants and ramblings...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Infected by Starforce DRM

And I was wondering why my Windows system was so unstable lately. I managed to avoid the Sony debacle just to get hit by the Starforce mallware. What is it? It is yet another retarded copy protection tool that is installed on your system without your knowledge - but it is not bundled with music, but with commercial games.

What does it do?

one of the common problems brought by Starforce: under Windows XP, if packets are lost during the reading or writing of a disk, XP interprets this as an error and steps the IDE speed down. Eventually it will revert to 16bit compatibility mode rendering a CD/DVD writer virtually unusable. In some circumstances certain drives cannot cope with this mode and it results in physical hardware failure (Most commonly in multiformat CD/DVD writer drives). A sure sign of this step down occurring is that the burn speeds will get slower and slower (no matter what speed you select to burn at). Starforce, on a regular basis, triggers this silent step down. Until it reaches the latter stages most people do not even realise it is happening.

Moreover, the Starforce drivers, installed on your system, grant ring 0 (system level) privileges to any code under the ring 3 (user level) privileges. Thus, any virus or trojan can get OS privileges and totally control your system. Since Windows 2000, the Windows line security and stability got enhanced by separating those privileges, but with the Starforce drivers, the old system holes and instabilities are back and any program (or virus) can reach the core of your system by using the Starforce drivers as a backdoor.

Emphasis mine. And yes, I had allot of issues with my burner lately, and allot of stability issues. McAfee did not detect anything so far, but it is very possible that I have been rooted. I'm preparing to move some of my data around to other partitions and drives and do a clean install sometime soon. Sigh...

How do you know if you have Starforce? Go to device manager, then enable the "show hidden devices" in the view menu, and look under Non-plug and play. If you see anything named Starforce there you are infected. I recommend downloading the removal tool as soon as possible. This tool worked for me.

Of course, you have to stop playing the game that infected you. Starforce usually reinstalls itself whenever you launch the application it protects.

Following games are known to be carriers of this nasty mallware. I am hiding the list save space on the front page. Please click on the link to expand the list below.

If you installed any of the games on the list, you might be infected! Please check your device manager and throw that game out.

Update Wed, February 01 2006, 01:01 AM

It seems that Starforce creators are abusive and litigious bunch. They apparently threatened Cory Doctorow with a lawsuit for expressing his views on their shady software. Heh... Of course this is pure BS. I personally don't think they have any legal grounds to do anything - but then again IANAL.

Doctorow on the other hand, worked for EFF so he probably has a pretty good idea of how silly that email is.

Talking to Users

Hehe... This is so true:

I was working on a little online app for my company once, and I asked them if they want to have give users different permission and access levels. They said no. I added some rudimentary access control in anyway, but left it disabled by default.

2 minutes into the demo, they decide that they need 3 permission levels - for standard users, reviewers and administrators. It took me maybe 5 minutes to enable my access controls, and lock out some areas. If I coded it to their spec, I would have to spend hours re-designing my app.

Rule of thumb: the spec should be 40% of what users want, and 60% of what you think that users need. In most cases at least half of your guesses will be right-on-target. So your app has a chance of being be at least 75% of what users really need rather than measly 40%.

You can sell them the rest of the features as "fluff" or "enhancements" - in most cases they will not mind this stuff unless you make them pay out of their arse for it. In worst case, use modularity so you can remove crap that they do not want.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Applying Music Industry Logic to Other Enterprises

Tarmle from Autumnal City has posted this little comparison. What if we applied the Music Industry business logic to another business? For example, grass cutting:

I would alter the current grass cutting technology to limit the degree to which it is useful by, for example, raising the cutting device so that the grass is left long, or blunting it so that it cuts unevenly. This will leave the market for grass cutting open to me to provide consumers more effective grass cutting services.

People might try to alter their now limited grass cutting technology to make it as effective as my own. This, of course, cannot be permitted so I must persuade the government to make it illegal to supply consumers with grass cutting technology that may be used or altered to cut grass effectively. In fact, lets make it illegal for people to cut anyone else's grass at all!

Thus my business is secure. I can now justify its existence by actively protecting the grass cutting rights of my thousands of professional grass cutters - you wouldn't want to take away their livelihoods would you? I can further justify imposing these limitations by pointing out that the grass cutting industry already existed and that the availability of new technology threatened it by allowing anyone to cut grass.

But now I have to deal with the issue of people allowing their grass-eating pets to wander through other people's gardens, keeping their grass neat without paying the licensing fees. These Neighbour-to-Neighbour herbivore networks must be stamped out!

Hehe. I think we could continue and extend this a little bit more. For example, why stop at Neighbor-to-Neighbor networks. After all, it's the herbivores themselves that threaten your business. You should aim to make it illegal in US to allow herbivores to graze on any kind of grass.

Agricultural technology should also be legislated. After all, farmers may want to use their farming equipment to cut grass. Therefore you should lobby for all farming equipment to have optical sensors which would detect what type of foliage they are cutting and lock the blades in place whenever they detect grass.

You should also pre-emptively lobby against genetic engineering. What if scientists one day produce a breed of grass that does not grow beyond certain length and thus requires no trimming? It should be prohibited to do any kind of genetic research on any kind of grass like flora.

Thus you completely mess up not only the grass cutting business but also agriculture and scientific sectors. Just like entertainment industry proposed legislation will mess up technology, electronics and computer science.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Who is running exploits on my server?

My system has been crashing lately. I think 3 times this week I found it unresponsive or completely locked when coming back from work or trying to log in in the morning. I figured it was my RSS reader crashing and taking down half of the system with it. But when I looked through my apache logs, and I'm not that sure anymore.

I'd say that maybe 20% of the hits I got were my own, or one of the 2-3 people who actually know about that server. I'm not running a website there or anything that I would want to advertise. I have a small wiki that me and my friends used for some project at one point, and not much else. Mostly I keep sshd running so that I can access the machine when I'm not home. Thus, I do not expect to see much traffic on that server...

So I was slightly worried when I saw all these hits. Most of it were usual IIS exploits, and several of those long ass Code Red buffer overflow attempts. I also saw people trying to "double dot" back to my root directory. As far as I know I should be mostly immune to this crap. But you never know - I'm running windows on that box after all.

The sshd crashed twice last week according to the event viewer. Of course that might mean nothing as I'm running it under cygwin and it is not a very stable solution anyway. For the same reason though, it might be exploitable...

So to be safe I just shut down both apache and sshd daemon. I'm closing both of the ports, and removing port forwarding on my router. I need this machine to stay alive so I can do some work. I might need to bring over another box and set up a linux server on it for my casual use.

Sigh... Sometimes the internet pisses me off...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Screen Scraping for RSS

I like to read online comics. Unfortunately some of them do not publish RSS feeds which is retarded. I ranted about this on Monday. But hey, if they don't make one, I will do it for them.

I wrote a nice little perl script that screen scrapes a page for an image, and then generates an RSS feed. It requires WWW::Mechanize and XML::RSS modules that can be downloaded from CPAN or some other repository.

How does it work? You simply call it with:

perl grab.pl url pattern

Where url is the url of your web comic, and pattern is some string that is unique to the URL of the actual comic image. For example, extralife is easy because the front page image is always current.gif (you can use this as a pattern). DorkTower on the other uses variable image names, but all the pictures are stored in /comics/dorktower/images/comics/ directory. Furthermore, none of the advertisement, or background images are stored in a dir called comics - so I picked "comics" as a pattern.

Essentially, you have to look closely at the code of the page you are scraping once, and pick a good pattern attribute. The feed is created in the same directory as the script. To generate the file name I drop the http:// part from the url, remove all the slashes and append .xml at the end. I could add another optional attribute to specify the feed name, but I don't really care about it. Feel free to do it yourself.

Just a side note, if you plan running this on windows with ActiveState perl and you use ppm for your module management make sure you get WWW::Mechanize 1.4 or higher. The 0.72 package that can be downloaded from the ActiveState repository does not support the find_image function I'm using.

You might want to add http://theoryx5.uwinnipeg.ca/ppms/ to the ppm repository list. You can download a more recent version from there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dr. Deremer's Programming Languages Class

Holy poopsicle! This class will be allot of work. I just scanned over this weeks homework, and its slightly on a nutty side. And this is day one. The syllabus said she will require ~6 hours of out of class work. When am I going to write thesis? Crap! I officially don't have any life from now on :(

Note to everyone who is taking this class with me. Do yourself a favor, and learn vi. Pico is halfway retarded on a good day. I also suggest compiling vim on freddie. It has few nice advantages, such as better incremental search (with highlighting), auto completion and etc. If you are a total newb, this is what you do:

  1. First grab the source code from vim.org. Best way to do this is by using wget:

  2. wget ftp://ftp.vim.org/pub/vim/unix/vim-6.4.tar.bz2

  3. This is a bz2 package so you will need to do this in two steps. The tar on freddie is archaic so it does not handle gz or bz2 files at all

  4. bunzip2 -d vim-6.4.tar.bz2
    tar -xf vim-6.4.tar

  5. Now, remember that you do not have root privs on freddie, so you need to install the app locally. To do that specify the prefix attribute when running the configure file.

  6. ./configure --prefiz=/home/students/username/
    make install

Note that username here is your pegasus username. That's it. Just make sure that you add ~/bin/ to your path and you should be able to use vim normally. It worked for me :)

Another note - if you are using linux, gnu has a fortran compiler you can use. On debian based systems just do:

apt-get install gfortran-4.0

This should be sufficient to do assignment 1 without ever logging into freddie :)

Some links for the homework assignment:

Sigh... I'm seriously thinking about designating Sunday as my official Thesis day and hide from everyone to actually get some work done. I kinda want to walk in May so I can't afford to procrastinate anymore.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What if the bad guys win?

Ever wondered how would world be like if RIAA and MPAA had their way? Tarmle has posted a scary dystopian vision of the future, in which the world is controlled by the big content providers.

Since the ISPs were made responsible for the content they deliver their filtering has become neurotic. Anti-terror, piracy, plagiarism and libel filters search every request and response for signs of illegal activity, always erring on the side of caution. Wikipedia's index has been decimated. Popular blogs like Boing Boing now have more lawyers involved than contributors (the one's that have survived that is). Even if you managed to get something illegal through the filters your operating system's regularly updated self-check mechanisms would eventually root it out, or report you to the authorities, usually both.

Next time some jackass wants to legislate the internet think about this little paragraph. The day when ISP's become responsible for the content they host, is the last day freedom of speech exists online.

And let's not forget the looming shadow of tcpa, palladium, trusted computing or whatever they want to call it this week. And the analog hole bill... And plethora of other things I don't even want to mention here.

I'm seriously thinking about showing this text to my 109 class. Someone has to tell these poor souls abut this stuff. This seems like a great way to start the discussion of DRM, copyright issues.

First rule of VEIL - you do not talk about VEIL

Ed Felten has posted a great entry on the proposed analog hole legislation at Freedom to Tinker. Apparently the specs for the VEIL technology that is to be used for watermarking content is doubleplus super trade secret:

[T]he company helpfully explained that I could get the spec, if I first signed their license agreement. The agreement requires me (a) to pay them $10,000, and (b) to promise not to talk to anybody about what is in the spec. In other words, I can know the contents of the bill Congress is debating, but only if I pay $10k to a private party, and only if I promise not to tell anybody what is in the bill or engage in public debate about it.

Amazing, isn't it? VEIL is on the fast track to become a national standard and yet private citizens are not allowed to know anything about it's inner workings. I don't know about you, but if something is to be legally mandated and enforced by the state, I want to know all about it.

VEIL might need to be implemented in every single electronic device on the market - thus in one way or another it will affect the day to day life of every single American. If we can't have an open public debate on the inner workings of VEIL then it should not be legally enforced.

It is more than likely that VEIL is a piece of garbage which will only inconvenience the honest, law abiding consumer, and it has zero chances of stopping any kind of large scale sharing or exchange of content. Perhaps any kind of expert analysis of the spec would reveal gaping holes. Koplar Interactive Systems International can expect to make insane amounts of money on VEIL licensing if the analog hole bill passes. This it is in their best interest to keep low a profile.

So the good news is that the analog hole provisions may turn out to be trivial to break and circumvent. So illegal file sharing and bootlegging will go on as usual. The sad part is that the bill will screw electronics companies, increase hardware prices, and impede innovation.

The biggest winner will be KISI. The second biggest winner will be MPAA and RIAA - they will finally put a tap on that pesky Fair. Who is going to lose the most here? You and me - the consumers. Once again, the average Joe gets fucked while the rich assholes are getting richer :P

Monday, January 23, 2006

Open Letter To Web Comic Publishers

If you publish an online comic, please for the love of God use RSS. Please note that some of your readers do not have time to visit your site every day waiting for updates. Most of your readers probably don't even remember when you usually update your site. RSS is the perfect medium for publishing your artwork because it allows your fans to read your work at their leisure.

Let me paint you a picture here. I currently read the following comics on a regular basis: user friendly, vg cats, phd, mac hall, dillbert, penny arcade, pvp, extra life and dork tower. I also like to get my news from digg, boinboing, slashdot, arstechnica and reddit. I also read dozen of blogs belonging to some of my friends, or people that write interesting stuff. If I would go to each of these sites every morning, I would never get any work done.

I use RSS aggregators to slurp the content for me while I'm busy doing other stuff, and when I have some free time I check up on my feeds. I instantly know which sites have updated, who has a new comic out, and who has been blogging like a madman. If my agreagator can't catch you I usually don't bother reading you. Sure, every once in a while when I'm bored I might pop over and check your work out but I will not be a regular. I just don't have time for this.

If you live off your site and you think that RSS will rob you of precious "clicks" - be my guest and put ads in your feed. I don't mind. Hell, just put links to the comic in the feed - so that I still need to visit your site to view them. Just please - publish the feed so that I know when you update.

No, I really don't want to receive your bullshit newsletter, or email notification. My email is barraged by spam already and I do not need another thing wasting my bandwidth and storage. Do it the way nature intended it and publish the freakin RSS. I can guarantee you that you will see a spike in daily hits when you do this.

I'm planning to write a small screen scraper in perl that will generate RSS feeds for some of the comics that I like but which do not use feeds. I will probably release the code here. I'll don't think I will publish the links to the custom feeds because of bandwidth issues - unless I can host them somewhere that will not get me in trouble.

This is a drastic measure but hey - if you don't want me to do that, just publish the damn feed!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Truth!

This is priceless! My reaction to this cartoon was: ROFLCOPTER! :P

Shamelessly stolen from the good folks at User Friendly.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hi-Def Output must be Down Converted

It appears that Hollywood managed to strike a deal with hardware makers. They will now be required to down-convert analog output for all the next-gen media such as BluRay.

[A]nalog signal must be “down-converted” from the full 1920x1080 lines of resolution the players are capable of outputting to 960x540 lines—a resolution closer to standard DVDs than to high-def. Standard DVDs are typically encoded at 720 horizontal by 480 vertical lines of resolution.

This is done to curb "piracy"? How exactly do they think it will work? This will only disadvantage the honest, law abiding consumer. Besides, even the average Joe will at one point ask himself - should I buy or download?

He can buy an expensive, DRM'd, locked down, next-gen media which will only play in DVD quality on his analog TV. On the other hand he can download a DVD quality analog rip of the same video, that is not only free but can be easily format-shifted and backed up. Which one is the more attractive choice?

If the low-quality copy is far superior to the original in more than one way, you know something is not right with the copyright protection scheme. But that's just my opinion.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Kdesu bug in Kubuntu Fixed

Thanks to a great tip from consistencies.net. Thanks dude!

The problem is that KDE does not like ubuntu's no-root policy. I don't like it either, and I feel retarded without a fully fledged root account on the system - so I guess we are in agreement. I always enable it. KDE has allot of user-context sensitive features (for example a button "log in as admin to access this panel" popping up if you run as user in kcontrol) it heavily relies on kdesu. If you have no root account this becomes an issue :P

It seems that over zealous Kubuntu developers removed (or failed to add) the following line to the kdeglobals config file:


If you append that to your kdeglobals you will be up and running in no time. You can do this locally just for your user account by modifying the ~/.kde/share/config/kdeglobals but it's probably a better idea to just go ahead and fix it for every user by appending to /usr/share/kubuntu-default-settings/kde-profile/default/share/config/kdeglobals

It worked for me :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Firefox Ping is Stupid

Personally I think that the Firefox link ping concept is one of the stupidest things I have seen in browser development lately. Who is going to use it? Let's face it - it is very unlikely that equivalent feature will end up in IE and Opera. Most dev's can't be even bothered to make sure that their page even renders correctly in FF. Why would they bother adding ping links when they will already have tracking implemented using redirects?

Here are my concerns:

Privacy: this will make tracking easier than before - I don't like people collecting data about me. At least when I get redirected, I know something funky is going on.

Will the ping use my proxy? If I'm using tor, are my pingbacks going through tor network?

Security: From what I understand, the spec allows multiple space separated URI's to be used with the ping attribute. This can get really nasty, really fast. What happens if I specify "example.com" 500 or more times in my ping attribute and post it at a high traffic site? Can you say DDOS?

I would just love to see my server go up in flames just because some idiot posted a pingerized™ link on slashdot and I'm getting barraged by FF pings. All of them would come from individual IP's too. How fun!

Also, what happens on the client side if hitting a single link will cue up few thousand pings? Wouldn't that crash FF or make it unresponsive?

Compliance: This is not a w3c spec. This extension was drafted by whatwg.org. Most browsers don't even bother to comply with half of the w3c stuff - is anyone else going to implement this?

What if Microsoft decides to implement proprietary "ping" extension in IE7 that will work completely differently than whatwg specs?

Even if the privacy and security issues are addressed, this will still be useless unless MS jumps at the bandwagon...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

University Hall

Today I visited the newly opened University Hall for the first time. Holly crap, that building is huge. The entrance hallway is so big, you almost feel agrophobic walking around in there. Crazy stuff! The only thing I could think of when I was standing at the front door was "what a huge waste of space". You could really put two rows of classrooms on each side of that hallway, and still have plenty of walking space. What were they thinking?

Livia suggested that we should get an indoor swimming pool installed there :P Seriously, we could fit that whole puny Panzer pool in that hallway. You can literally get lost in that building and walk around for minutes before you actually see another human being. It is seriously scary.

How much money did they spend on that building? Does this mean that they will admit more students next semester? I seriously doubt that they will have every single classroom filled out with students... And if they let more people in, where are they going to park?

And who decided to mark this building as UN? What the hell does UN stand for? Was UH taken already or something? Way to go msu - great way to confuse the crap out of people.

Sigh... It's not like I'll ever have classes in "UN" though. CS dept is still bound to the old crappy Richardson.

Monday, January 16, 2006

MPAA Pirates

MPAA Report a Pirate Site Source
This is possibly the funniest thing I have seen in a while. Please look closely at the attached screenshot. This is the source I have grabbed from the web form MPAA set up to allow people to report "pirate" sites. Please look at the code snipped very closely and then look at the webpage. You will notice something very interesting.

Did you spot it yet? If you haven't let me spell it our for you. If you look at the source again, you will see the following comment:

/** this script is free for any use, but please include **/
/** a link to i-code.co.uk in any redistribution **/
/** Author : Stephen Griffin, www.i-code.co.uk **/

Now check the page out again. Oops... MPAA web developers forgot to post a link to i-code.co.uk. I think this might violate the license of that script and in fact make them "pirates" themselves? MPAA has "pirated" the code to use it on their "report a pirate" site! Too funny!

All jokes aside, we should really stop saying "piracy" altogether. It is a dirty propaganda word, and by using it we just play into MPAA's and RIAA's silly little mind game.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Catching up to Microsoft

Nicolas Petreley the Editor in Chief of the Linux Journal wrote an interesting editorial rant in the February 06 issue titled "Skim Cream not Scum". I agree with his point for the most part, but I think some of his examples do not really support the case he is trying to make.

Petreley thinks that the Open Source community in the last few years tries to blindly ape all the Microsoft software products. This is not intrinsically bad - you do want to take example of market leaders. However, most MS apps are aped over lock, stock and barrel including all the design flaws, and Very Bad Ideas™ such as registry.

I do agree with this for the most part. The wholesale copying of MS designs is stupid, and it hurts innovation. One should strive to copy only the good ideas, and redesign bad ones from ground up.

However, Petrely might be wrong bashing OpenOffice.org and KOffice developers. MS Office is flawed, and sometimes downright annoying, but for the most part, it is the best damn office productivity package on the market. It is the de-facto standard for corporate office work. To compete with MS office, one has to first duplicate the functionality of the said product. Without providing users compatible features, there is no incentive to switch away from the market leader.

If you can't provide 100% compatibility with the market leader due to monopolistic practices, the innovation must take the rear seat. No amount of innovation will help you, if your users can't seamlessly open and manipulate their old Word and Excel documents in your application. OLE may be a stupid idea, but it is something that MS Office users want, and take for granted. How can any office product compete with MS if users can't access their embedded spreadsheet? Or create one?

Oo.org and KOffice developers will probably play catchup with MS for years to come, until the new Open Document Format is established enough to even out the playing field. Their original goal was to to provide equivalent alternative to MS Office. To compete with the dominant, superior product, you need to play the catch up game. Even if that involves duplicating bad design concepts, for the sake of compatibility.

As a software engineering principle, replicating design flaws is unforgivable. But in the real world, sometimes you have to do it. In the end, we write software for our end users - and if end users want Very Stupid Feature™ in their app, who are we to say they should not have it? If we don't deliver it they will find someone else who does.

Mybittorent - Who's your GoDaddy?

I have been watching the MyBittorent.com saga unfold in the last few days. As you might or might not know, GoDaddy took down the aforementioned website on Jan 12th. The story immediately hit digg and became the hot topic of the hour for all tech bloggers.

According to m-ook the take down was due to a complaint from Microsoft that was sent directly to the registrar. This is highly unorthodox. IANAL, but from what I have heard, the take down was not legal under DMCA.

Mybittorent is hosted in Japan, and registered via GoDaddy (based in US). It seems that angry copyright holders could not enforce DMCA abroad so they decided to hit up the registrar. GoDaddy took down the site, and refused the owners to transfer the domain to another registrar without paying a $50 fine.

Shortly after the public outrage broke out, GoDaddy restored MyBittorent and decided to allow them to transfer to another company without any penalty. Why did they suddenly change their position? I'm guessing they did not have any legal basis for their actions.

Still, they lost their credibility and I suspect that most of GoDaddy registered torrent sides are currently in process of switching registrars. They definitely should - I would not trust GoDaddy again after they pulled off this stunt.

This however leads to interesting question regarding the US-centricity of the domain name system. Mybittorent case is a prime example of why US overseeing registration of international domain names might not be such a hot idea. Here we have an US corporation, trying to impose US law (DMCA) upon a foreign website hosted outside US, by attacking the sites US based registrar. This is definitely wrong on more than one level...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ex2 IFS is great!

all your drives are belong to us
I just wanted to say that Ext2 IFS for Windows is great. For a while I was trying to find a windows driver that would allow me to access my linux ext3 drives. Unlie most tools of this type, ex2ifs supports both reading and writing. Stephan Schreiber deserves a freakin medal!

I highly reccomend this app, especially if you are alergic to rebooting like me!

Green Pigoons!

Glowing Pigs? Pigoons!
When I saw the blurbs about the Glowing Pigs from Taiwan, all I could think of were the pigoons from Margaret Artwood's novel Oryx and Crake. If you haven't read that book, go get it now. It's really worth reading, despite one of the gayest book covers I have seen in my life ;P

Artwood defines pigoons as transgenic pigs which carry some human genome, used as living spare organ factories. Let's compare the two, shall we:

The scientists will use the transgenic pigs to study human disease. Because the pig's genetic material is green, it is easy to spot.

So if, for instance, some of its stem cells are injected into another animal, scientists can track how they develop without the need for a biopsy or invasive test.

Artwood on the other hand desctibes pigoons as follows:

The goal of the pigoon project was to grow an assortment of foolproof human-tissue organs ... that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses...

Hmmm... I would say that the Taiwan GloPig would be an early alpha for a full blown pigoon. Just wait a few years. :P

Business Contact Manager Crashes Outlook 2003

Microsoft Office is giving me a headache today. All my users with Office 2003 are calling in one by one this week, complaining that Outlook is crashing at startup. The scenario is the same in each case. The users does windows update, and Outlook mysteriously breaks.

After hours of banging my head against the table, googling, scouring usenet, and cursing under my breath I finally found the culprit: the stupid Business Contact Manager. Why do we use it, you ask? For one, it is bundled with Office 2003, and it comes preinstalled on new Dell systems. Up until now I did not really think much about it - but from now on, I will make unsintalling it from the new machines a company policy.

What is happening? I have no clue. There is some buzz on the interwebs that some .NET patch completely b0rked BCM. I haven't seen anything official or even a reliable analysis. Just people ranting on usenet groups and message boards. I know one thing though - as soon as BCM was uninstalled all their Outlook problems went away.

What did I learn from this?

  1. BCM is total garbage

  2. .NET ain't that great at version control after all

  3. windows update can b0rk your system

Save yourself some trouble. Remove BCM, and don't let users to install it. I don't really see any great use for that add-on anyway. And if your company does use it - good luck!

FAT: How Screwed Are We Exactly?

Ladies, and gentlemen, it seems that we are in deep dodo. Microsoft now holds a patent for the FAT system. What does it mean for an average consumer? For one, According to Eben Moglen as quoted in EETimes, you can expect the prices of digital photo storage, and equipment to take a hike in the near future:

Eben Moglen, general counsel of the Free Software Foundation, had said if Microsoft was successful in licensing the patents, it could add "millions of dollars annually to consumers' expenses for digital photo storage, and (raise) the cost of digital cameras throughout the world."

Hanibal at Arstechnica mentions that MS plans to charge up to $250k for a FAT license, or around $.25 per unit when dealing with flash and solid state memory manufacturers. This is scary. What does this mean for Open Source community?

Strangely, samba will be fine, because despite poplar belief it does not actually implement FAT. It uses the CIFS/SMB protocol. So worse comes to worse, linux community can still use smbfs to mount windows shares.

However, if MS makes a move to enforce this patent it may become necessary to rip the FAT32 support right out of the kernel for US based distributions that want to remain free as in beer. This essentially means no flash/solid state support under debian :(

Few large companies such as IBM, RedHat or SUSE/Novel may be able to afford the MS FAT tax and ship Linux with legal FAT support. But if you are a new guy and you want to enter the US linux market (like Ubuntu did recently) you probably wont be able to pay the royalties. This may be very disruptive for Linux community.

Of course if MS does anything to enforce it's patent, we will see the biggest anti-trust shitstorm in years. That's because this time Really Big Companies™ will be directly affected by this. Can MS really face a combined attack from IBM, Sun, Novel, Cannon (digital cameras) and etc.. It is very likely that MS will not touch it for few years. At least not while they are have the EU slapping them around for monopolistic practices. They probably can't afford another crazy anti-trust battle at home. But in few years... Who knows...

What will happen, is that MS will use the FAT patent as a leverage in their back room deals. You seen this happen before.

MS Rep: "Oh, so you don't like our terms? Yeah... I think we are gonna have to go ahead and talk about the Really Rxpensive FAT License That You Will Not Be Able To Afford™. Of course if you would agree to do it our way, we will throw an unlimited FAT license for free - cause we really "care about your business"™ and all."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I want that Umbrella!

Coolest Umbrella EVAR!
I found this when browsing Gizmodo - an umbrella with Sting like properties. According to the article, the handle glows blue if the weather forecast suggest that it is going to rain. Wohoo! I want it!

Seriously, I never know when it's gonna rain. And I like glowing toys. This thing is perfect for me :)

Everybody Hates Thompson

Jack "The Gamer Hater" Tompson (photo courtesy of wikipedia)
It seems that Jack Thompson can't keep his story straight. He was just interviewed by NetJak and he once again seems to have changed his stance on his A Modest Game Proposal embarrassment. If you haven't been following this story (because you were living under a rock or something), here is the rundown.

Not long after Thompson's proposal, a group known as Fighting Hellfish created a GTA mod that would conform to Thompson's specs. The Florida attorney however refused to pay the promised $10k to charity claiming that his proposal was intended as a satire.

Keeping that in mind, please take a look at the following excerpt from the NetJak interview:

I stated that the game had to come out in 2006. I specifically said 2006 because I wanted to see a real game made, not an amateur one. I wanted someone to spend the time to properly develop such a game, and then release it. So far, that has not been done.

I also explicitly stated that it must be a company producing the game. I mean, anyone in a garage can throw together something vaguely game-like easily. That’s not what I want; I want a real game that people can play.

Er... Wait... Wasn't the proposal a satire? Color me confused. Apparently, the interviewer was confused as well - and confronted Thompson about this. Here is the lawyer's response:

I never said the offer was not a genuine one. It is a satire, as Jonathan Swift’s original A Modest Proposal is satire. However, it was a genuine offer embedded in a satire. If the game is made and if Paul Eibeler names his charity, I will donate the money.

So which one is it Jack? Is it genuine or not? You can't have it both ways. Where is your integrity? If you really want to make your point, have some balls and put the money on the table. Let's face it Jack. You will never pay up! Whenever someone calls you on your bullshit you will simply fall back to your satire argument.

What would have to happen for Thompson to actually make good on his promise? Let's see:

If the game is made and if Paul Eibeler names his charity, I will donate the money.

In other words, Jack Thompson wants Paul Eibler to publicly endorse a gorse, silly game so that he can then rant about his depravity, smearing him in mainstream media. Jack simply wants Mr. Eibeler to stoop down to his own level, and take part in his sick and twisted little game. Guess what - it's not going to happen. Eibeler is a busy man, who makes much more money than Jack, and I'm sure he does not have time to entertain some second rate lawyer. And Thompson knows this all to well. When he made the proposal, he never even considered making good on his promise.

Also please note how Thompson assumes that Penny Arcade crew single handedly launched a hate campaign against him. Doesn't he realize how many people read Penny Arcade? It's a zoo out there, full of trolls, flamers, spammers and wannabe hax0rs. What do you think all these losers do if you mess with their favorite web-comic? They fire up their mass mailers, and post obscenities in your neighborhood. You don't have to encourage these people. That's what they do every day.

I hereby nominate Jack Thompson for the 2006 Biggest Douche of the Universe award.

Posible Paternt Reform

This is not necessarily new anymore but I wanted to comment on this. It seems that we might finally get that patent reform we were asking for.

An open patent review program would set up a system on the patent office Web site where visitors could submit search criteria and subscribe to electronic alerts about patent applications in specific areas.

The third initiative is focused on the creation of a patent quality index that would serve as a tool for patent applicants to use in writing their applications.

Isn't this exactly what we proposed a long time ago? Give USPTO better search tools to find prior art. Involve skilled professionals in the process of evaluating patents. It is obviously not going to fix the problem, but it may help to cut down on the number of ridiculous patents that surface every month.

If the patent quality index will be free and open to votes from general public guess what is going to happen when next silly patent hits slashdot, dig or boinbong? I would venture a guess that most of the software/business model patents will have their quality score maxed out at the lowest possible value within few hours from posting. I'm not sure if they would want that to happen :P

It's a step forward though. At least they started to acknowledge the problem.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Clinton in Redmond

Will the other Bill become the new CEO of Microsoft?
According to unconfirmed rumors on the interwebs, BigMac may possibly (or may not) be the next CEO of a much despised, evil software company based in Redmond. I think this story originated over at Voip Watch Blog, and from there it's been picked up by various blogs and news sites all over the net.

So let me be the next person, repeating this story. VoipWatch writes:

Sources near Microsoft headquarters report that over the past few months the ex cigar smoking prexy has made trips to Microsoft headquarters and has been interviewing for the top slot as the company looks at ways to transform themselves for the future. Given the global implications of technology, having a leader that is an ex country president would be massive.

Why now? Well Ballmer has driven the company. His hard charging sales leadership style helped Microsoft during a time when that approach was needed. But Microsoft folks I've talked to admit those days are over and a new style is needed to be more change oriented.

Given Clinton's global stature and statesman status just imagine the possibilities of what that would mean to Microsoft.

But this is only a rumor now

Personally I think this is so far fetched that I'm almost 100% positive that it is not true. That is, I do believe that Clinton might have been hanging out at MS headquarters lately - but I doubt he will be taking over the CEO rains after Ballmer. I think this is just wishful thinking.

Let's face it - Ballmer is an universally hated, hard core, chair chucking jerk. Clinton on the other hand, is a well liked and respected public figure. Sex jokes aside, he has a reputation of a good responsible, leader. I bet allot of people would like to see him taking the lead at Microsoft. Maybe they feel that as CEO he could perhaps straighten out the company, steer it clear of doing the super-evil crap they tend to do, or something among these lines.

I call BS! But if it turns out to be true... Well, I might need to start hating Clinton.

Do no evil... Better do no DRM!

Google has officially strayed of the path of doing no evil. I never been this disappointed in them. Up until now I welcomed every new thing coming from Google with open arms. But DRM is where I draw the line. I have been a google groupie for long enough.

If google wants to play the DRM game, they can go to hell. DRM is evil. If you don't believe me ask some Sony customers what they think about this type of Copy protection. Google is thus only slightly better than Sony because so far they haven't developed a rootkit.

I like Google video. I have been playing with it yesterday following that whole CES hype. I would even be willing to forgive them trying to shove their player down my throat at all cost. It is a really neat service. But the DRM deal just bums me out.

I understand that to get good content, they have to "grease the wheels", so to speak, of the entertainment industry. I also believe that Google has enough common sense not to pull off another Sony, and make their DRM as painless for the end-user as possible. My question is - will Linux users be locked out of the "paid" content? Will non windows users have to crack the DRM and thus violate DMCA to actually watch the movies they paid for?

I think it's time for Google to change their motto to do no evil (much) because they are obviously slipping.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Facebook Fun

This must be the funniest use of Facebook EVAR!

The campus security force got wind of a party by monitoring Facebook.com, the phenomenally popular college networking site. The officers waited till the shindig was in full swing, then shut it down on discovering under-age drinking.

Mr. Stoneman and his friends decided to fight back. Their weapon of choice? Facebook, of course.

Once again they used the site, which is visited by more than 80 percent of the student body, to chat up a beer blast. But this time, when the campus police showed up, they found 40 students and a table of cake and cookies, all decorated with the word "beer"

Too funny!

MS Word Saving Problem

Have you ever had this happen to you? You make some changes to a Word document, and all of a sudden it refuses to save. It never happened to me, but it seems to be very popular issue among the users I support. I am absolutely sick of this problem, and for the longest time I could never find a good solution.

The winbox I use to test windows based stuff at work has Office 2003 installed. It seems that this version does not suffer from the save-as issue. I tested each funky file on that machine, and it always saved fine. So I would usually simply upgrade my users to 2003. This usually solved my problem (users stopped calling with that specific issue) but I could never save them from loosing data.

Googling the error messages did not give me any results. There were essentially two sources of the problem: either a corrupted embedded formula or an unpatched memory leak in Word 2k. I totally overlooked the formula issue, and I was pretty certain I was dealing with a memory leak side effect. I was wrong.

Today I found a solution by a fluke. My boss had this very problem, and I gave him my usual response: there is not much he can do about this. He didn't like it, but he decided to use a spare machine with Office 2k3 to re-create his work. He printed the file to make it easier and... One of the embedded excel tables did not print. So he handed me the paper and told me to figure out why the hell did that happened.

This was when I had my epiphany, and I immediately regretted telling him to loose the data. It was so simple! All this time I was looking in the wrong direction. I went back to the MS knowledge base article about embedded formulas, and re-read it carefully. This was the exact same problem that I had but their workarounds are retarded.

The problem is, that Word will sometimes completely mess up an embedded object - any object for that matter, be it a formula, and image or an excel sheet. The object is still displayed on the screen, but it's internal structure is lost. Any attempts to access some internal functionality of the corrupted object will generate errors. Corrupted Excel tables also fail to print.

When this happens in Office 2k and XP you get the famous "disk is full or write protected" message when attempting to save. This means that the working copy of this document is so corrupted that Word can't even begin to figure out how to save it. Win 2k3 on the other hand does not care and will save the file just fine.

Solution to this is very simple - find the broken object, and nuke it. This will fix the problem. Yes, this is drastic, but I guess it's better to sacrifice one embedded doc, to save the rest of the document. I wish I caught that earlier.

Funny thing is that 2k3 users are part of the problem. They unknowingly send around corrupted files with broken object. They don't care (and most likely don't know about them) because 2k3 ignores the corruption, and as long as they don't try to pint the file or edit the embedded sheets they are fine. On the other hand, as soon as such file ends up with 2k or 2k2 user, they run into the saving bug. And then they call me.

Upgrading to 2k3 makes the calls go away, but it does not solve the problem. We still have corrupted files in circulation. And as soon as someone with older version of Office wants to use them, I will hear about it. Sigh...

Did I mention I hate word? I hate the whole Office suite!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Ark as Ka D'argo

Ark as Dargo
Ark as Dargo,
originally uploaded by maciakl.
This is what happens when you combine boredom and silly putty. Ark and me were screwing around with the stuff and all of a sudden he slapped some of it on his nose and proclaimed "I'm D'argo!"

In the end we decided to snap few pictures - because he actually did look a little like D'argo :P Now if we could find something better than silly putty this could turn into a great Halloween costume concept :P

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Google Braille Logo

Terminally Incoherent in Braille
It seems that Google decided to spell out it's logo in braille alphabet to commemorate the birthday of Luis Braille. I found it an interesting idea. Hell, now I know how to read the letters g,o,l and e! But when I was checking out various google related newsgroups to see if I can find any info on the strange Google Blog Search errors I found allot of angry posts. Apparently some people were really offended by the logo.

How retarded do you have to be to get offended by this? What is so offensive about trying to expand public awareness about braille alphabet? Who in their right mind would look at that logo and think "Damn! Google is making fund of the blind people! I need to post an angry rant to their usenet group!"

Let me ask you this - if the google logo offends you, do you think that online braille tutorials are also wrong? After all, blind people can't really use them so they must be some kind of a sick joke, right? Geez... I think that the loudest, most vocal complainers are probably also the most ignorant and bigoted individuals themselves.

I don't want to play the role of Google apologist today - there are some things about that company that I don't like. But the logo is really nothing to get upset about. They are simply paying a homage to a man who really did something great for the blind community.

Update Wed, January 04 2006, 11:26 PM

In order to piss off some more idiots, and to have some fun, I created my own braille logo :) Check it out above! Braille translation curtsy of PBS Kids :P

Google Blog Search Server Error

Google Blog Search Server Crash
Earlier I mentioned about the really weird Google Blog Search Error when searching for kmail crashing. I went and reported it to Google via their feedback and support page.

Just in case they don't read that feedback crap, I also posted it at google.public.support.general news group right over here. At least this way it might get some more exposure than just on this blog. Let's see if they fix it by tomorrow. I wonder if anyone has any clue why is this happening.

I guess this is why Blog Search is still in beta :P

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Fable: The Lost Chapters

Fable Fun!
I must say that this game sucked me in completely. Over the past few days I did little else than play Fable. One could say that it is one of the more addictive games I have played in a while. The concept is really simple - it is an arcade style RPG.

What do I mean about arcade style? Well, it's the kind of RPG where there is no limit on the amount of items you can carry and the experience system is largely simplified. You have 4 basic attributes (Physique, Health, Toughness, Will), 3 skills (Accuracy, Speed and Guile) and a handful of magic spells. Each attributes/skill/spell has 6 levels which can be bought via experience. You gain general experience by killing enemies. In addition you also get bonus experience in Will, Strength or Skill depending on how you kill them. For example, if you kill them in HTH, you get Strength experience (that can be used on Physique, Health or Toughness only).

Your character also has Attractiveness, Scariness, Renown and Alignment. You get renown by doing quests. Attractiveness and Scariness depend on what kind of clothes, or tattoos/haircuts you wear. Alignment I will talk about later.

There are maybe 3 general types of armor (leather, chainmail, plate) that comes in bright/dark/standard varieties. There is slightly more weapons with various stats. Some are magical, and some can be augmented with special stones you find to make them slightly better. In addition you have classic diablo style potions - health, and will for replenishing your consumable stats and few other ones (like resurrection phial). It's all very simple and basic. You do quests, get experience, buy better gear and do more quests.

So what's so fun about this game? For one, no boring dungeon crawling (as in diablo) or aimless wandering to find a quest (as in Morrowind). You get quests at a central location, and most locations are connected via Cullis Gates. So the only time you do allot of foot slogging is when you are on a quest. And once you enter a quest location, you usually are to busy killing shit to be bored. This makes for really fast paced, and enjoyable gameplay.

But the biggest fun-factor of fable is the ability to choose to be either a total badass or an angel. When you are in towns, you can kill the innocents, break into their houses, still their stuff. You can raid traders on the roads. You can even take mercenary quests from bandits (for example, there is one quest where you help bandits to raid a trading post). When you do these bad things, you accumulate negative alignment - and your character starts looking sinister and grows tiny horns. If you play as a total angel, you often miss out on easy money but you have clear conscience and a nice little halo above your head :P

Some spells and weapons are more powerful when used by a totally evil, or a super good character. Your alignment also affects how the NPC's react to you. If you are evil, they are afraid of you and run away. If you are good they clap and cheer when they see you (provided that your renown is high enough for them to actually recognize you at all).

All of this is tied together with a really cool story. Or at least for the most part. For me, the story was really good up until the middle of the game. After a huge, climactic battle all the main storyline seems to be resolved. The second part just feels like an tack-on expansion set :P Even though both halves of the game are closely related, they feel as if they could almost be two separate games. This is probably due to the fact that the whole second half of the game did not exist in the Xbox original of the game.

It's a really cool game though. Definitely try it out. It is totally addictive :)

Update Wed, January 04 2006, 11:39 PM

I added the screencap above - just for the hell of it :P

Kmail Crashing

OMG! I Crashed Google!
What the hell happened to my Kmail? This is beyond bizarre!

I got to work today, and I pulled up kontact to check the pile of annoying email that doubtlessly accumulated over the long weekend. The app loaded, but for some reason the preview pane refused to display the currently highlighted email. Furthermore, double-clicking on the email did not bring up the reading window. Gkrellem showed that my CPU usage was close to 90%. Then I got a phone call, and made myself busy only to find the KDE crash report window on my screen few minutes later.

I killed all kontact processes, and tried again. Same result. I repeated the exercise 3-4 times, and each time I got a halfway frozen kmail and then a crash that would kill the whole kontact. What's interesting is that kalendar, kaddressbook and the rest of the suite was working fine. WTF?

My first suspicion was that over bloated mbox files were the cause of the crash. So I moved out my gargantuan bugtraq and spam folders out of ~/.kde/share/apps/kmail/mail/. Unfortunately that did not help. I moved all the index files forcing kmail to recreate them. Still same issue. Finally I renamed the ~/.kde/share/apps/kmail/ directory forcing kmail to re-create it (thus starting with no email archives whatsoever). That didn't help either.

I figured that this just can't be my email. Perhaps I installed some broken package when I did apt-get upgrade on Friday? Maybe there are other people suffering from the same issue? So I decided to hit Google for help. Unfortunately I did not find any bug report or help article that would even remotely resemble my strange problem. Perhaps I'm one of the first people to run into this, and the problem reports did not accumulate a good page rank yet?

I was about to post about my problem here, but first I decided to check out if any other bloggers run into this. Google Blog Search may yield some more up-to-date results. So I queried for "kmail crashing". Funny thing is that Google Blog Search did not like that query and gave me 500 Server Error. Go ahead try it yourself as of Tue, January 03 2006, 06:55 PM this is still causing an error. This might get fixed later, so I'm posting a screenshot taken this morning as a proof.

That was around noon today. Since morning I managed to crash my kontact, and crash google blog search :P This was definitely not my day.

I spent several hours reading about every single kmail related issue I could find. It seems that there is some big issue with kmail supporting gpgp under Breezy. This was not directly related to me because I have Kubuntu which stems of Hoary and uses KDE 3.4.0. Still, I went into the kmairc and I eddited out every single line that had anything to do with cryptography, php or certificates. Fuck encryption. I just want to be able to read my email! Kmail was still crashing.

At that point I said "fuck it". I removed kontact via apt, and reinstalled it. Guess what? No result whatsoever! At that point I gave up, and reverted to webmail and started figuring out which alternate email client should I use.

Both Evolution and Thunderbird seem bloated, and clumsy next to my slim, and functional kontact. Neither one of these apps can access the windows shares via the open/save menu. Finally, neither one can seamlessly import the maildir format which for some reason is the for kmail.

After I got home, I pulled out the laptop preparing myself for an evening of pain and suffering trying to either get kmail operational, or somehow import my emails to another client. I pull up kontact, and... It works.

At this point I'm speechless. I have no clue what the hell just happened. Maybe KDE needed to be restarted at some point? I'm pretty sure I rebooted 3-4 times in the morning, but perhaps one of the things I did later in the day fixed it.

I think this easily qualifies as the most annoying KDE related shit of the month :)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year

Happy New Year everyone! Or perhaps I should say Happy Hangover Day seeing how it is the 1st already :P

Yesterday morning I got totally unexpected delivery. My new graphics card finally came. I did not expect to get it in 2005 but I did. Yay! So the first thing I did after opening my eyes the New Year's Eve was to crawl under my desk, disconnect all the cables and put the new card in :) Then I proceeded to test it playing Fable: The Lost Chapters - cause, you know, you gotta give it a proper test run.

In other news, 12oz Mouse does not make more sense when you are drinking. Seriously. I think you really need to be stoned out of your mind to actually watch that show. Who the hell decided that it is a good idea to put on a marathon of that crap on New Year's eve?

Now is the time to my personal pet peeve rant: New Years Resolutions.

Who the fuck came up with this stupid idea anyway? People keep asking me this question, and every single time I really want to unleash a Shouryuuken in their face. But I'm a nice guy so I don't do that. What is the point of New Years resolutions anyway? Do you know anyone that ever kept new years resolution?

This is like asking, hey - what do you want to feel guilty about next year? Geez...

Er... To end the first post of the new year on a positive note, these are the things that made me happy this morning: Sony gets sued by Texas and may be liable on federal criminal statutes. Whohoo!