Monthly Archives: October 2004

The Last Debate is over…

…and now the battle for the White House starts getting dirty.

Both sides are claiming victory on this one. Personally I think that it was a dead heat… with Bush getting a slight edge on integrity. I thought that Kerry’s mention of Dick Cheney’s (lesbian) daughter was a cheap shot – and it’s not the first time he has done this. He also seems to equate an unwillingness to push for gay marriage with homophobia, while I see no such correlation.

What disturbs me more were the subsequent comments from the Democrats. When Lynne Cheney got (understandably) mad that her opponents were using her daughter to score points Elizabeth Edwards blamed it on “shame” – another non-sequitur.

If George Bush had said something similar about Elizabeth Edwards’ daughter it would have been just as dirty.


Link of the day

Once in a while you come across something that is simultaneously deeply profound and highly entertaining.

I was deeply moved by this.

It’s the second Tuesday of the month…

…and that means that Microsoft has bought out its monthly batch of fixes and patches.

If your system is up to date you will find between two and six updates awaiting your attention. You know what to do. While you are at it, update your antivirus and anti-spyware scanners.

If you need more information about this, go here.

Download of the Month – Mozilla Firefox

When the Firefox web browser, which is currently in pre-release status, was released, Mozilla set themselves an ambitious target – a million downloads in ten days. Ten days later they had blown past the three-million mark. The download is a svelte 4.5MB, which is a harbinger of things to come…

Installation is fast and easy. Firefox plays nice with other browsers, and I have had no trouble running it alongside Internet Explorer.

All of the usual suspects are present, along with what I consider to be two killer features.

The first of these is Tabbed Browsing. This means that you can open multiple browsers in one window. I find that setting middle-click to open in a new tab makes things easier – you can go through a page of links opening the interesting ones in new tabs, then when you have exhausted the page you can close it an review the tabs one at a time. This makes web research so much more powerful. The only downside of this is that you find yourself middle-clicking in Internet Explorer and wondering why nothing happens.

The second killer feature is RSS bookmarks. Think of this as dynamic bookmarks – this means that (for instance) you always have the latest BBC News headlines without having to go to their web page. As more and more websites adopt RSS this will become more and more significant.

In use the browser is just as fast as IE, if not slightly faster. It takes markedly longer to initialize (load the first time) than IE and has a larger memory footprint. While this makes IE sound more efficient, it should be remembered that bits of IE are “preloaded” with the OS, so the comparison is not really fair.

Although this is a pre-release version I have found it to be as fast and stable as IE… but without the security holes that infest Microsoft’s browser due to its “integration” with the Operating System (while I have no problem with IE being bundled with Windows, the much-ballyhooed “integration” has served to make IE a vector for OS corruption… but that is a whole ‘nother story.

Installing a security upgrade was a piece of cake; the browser told me that it needed an upgrade and walked me through the process – it really is a no-brainer. Experience has shown me that users do not respond to requests for them to update their software (they prefer to wait until it is too late and them loudly lament their lost work and wasted effort).

Bottom line: I have been using Firefox for two weeks or so, and I have been extremely impressed with it. Firefox is now my default browser in spite of Microsoft’s efforts to persuade me otherwise.

So what are you waiting for? Get Firefox!

Bruce Schneier…

…is one of my favorite experts on security.

I’ve read some of his books (I recommend “Secrets and Lies”) and this is one of the few fellows out there who really “gets it”.

Here is an entry in his blog in which he talks about the “hype” of SP2 and explains why it’s “foolish” to use Internet Explorer.

What Sony have taught me about Customer Service

Several months ago I bought an item from their website. The item was a $20 item that was mistakenly price at $0.01.

After confirming the order they canceled it without bothering to tell me. After giving me the run-around for three months they told me the answer was “no”.
Here’s what I have learned:

  • Sony Customer Service exists to tell the customer “No”
  • They do not know how to read or write e-mails

I have rarely met such a bunch of idiots.

How to make tomorrow different

A fascinating and thought-provoking article that dares to suggest that politics and Government may not solve our problems (WorldNetDaily).

And I always wondered what happened to Donna Summer…

Have you ever wondered why we need to countersign checks?

Not long ago I walked into the bank and transacted some business that involved my having to write out a check to cash. When I proffered the check the teller insisted that I sign the back. I did so, and asked why it was necessary to do so.

Her reply went something like this: “You have to sign the back so we can compare the signature with the one on the front. That’s a security precaution for your safety.”

Her statement – which had all of the hallmarks of a scripted reply given without any conscious thought – left much to be desired, but since my business was now complete I saw no point in having in argument with her. I left the building, ruminating on the words and their meaning.

The holes started to appear almost immediately. First of all, I had signed the front of the check in her presence. I was then asked to countersign the back. Well surprise, surprise – they matched! Hurrah!

Secondly, I was never asked to produce any other ID, like a bank card, that would match the name with a signature, I really could have been anybody – even with her “security precautions “.

Thirdly, if a bank on asks me to countersign a check that someone else has made out to me, then the two signatures will obviously be different.

The practice of countersigning checks is still commonly practiced in the U.S.. However, I do not recall ever having been asked to countersign a check during the thirtysomething years that I lived in England. This is especially ironic in view of the fact that I view the banking industry in England to be amazingly primitive in most other respects.

My attempts to find out more information on the subject have been fruitless, and I am therefore reduced to a couple of educated guesses:

One possibility is that this is a throwback to the days when banks used signature cards. Your signature was compared to a card that had a known good signature in order to confirm your identity. Another possibility is that the Bank requires a signature as part of an audit trail in the event of a check fraud. These are just guesses, however and could be completely wrong. Either way, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of those practices so rooted in antiquities that it has lost its meaning and nobody knows why we do it.

In a word, tradition.