Monthly Archives: September 2006

Yes, I will fix your computer, but…

This blog entry made me chuckle, though I don’t agree with their conclusion.

I am a software engineer by profession, a geek by nature. I program to pay the bills, and build and fix computers for fun. This is one way for me to put something back, and I am happy to help and teach others wherever possible. My motto is “I don’t charge my friends; my enemies cannot afford me”.

However, over the years there are some people whom I will not help:

The Stingy: Some people expect a lot but won’t pay for anything. They’ll happily pay a monkey in grease-stained overalls $80+/hr labor to fix their BMW, but expect a degreed, trained and experienced IT professional to fix their computer for free. What’s wrong with this picture?

The Ignorant: Reformatting and reinstalling a machine can be done in a few hours or days. Cleaning out a system and recovering data takes a lot longer – days or weeks. If I spend three days manually removing viruses and spyware from your machine, I will usually give you a lecture on security and best practices (“Keep your system patched, use an antivirus, a spyware scanner and a firewall, don’t install crapware and for Heaven’s sake back up your data!“). Come back to me six months with a buggered system with no Windows updates (“but it takes too long!”), antivirus (“updates?”) firewall (“what’s that?”) or spyware scanner and I will not be kind. I am happy to help those in need, but I will NOT subsidize your stupidity. At least not for free.

The Impulsive: It is said that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. I am happy to give advice, but I prefer it when people ask me before they do something silly, such as…

  • The guy who upgraded his Windows 98 machine to Windows 2000 and then complained it was “running slow” (“Dude you have only 64MB of memory!” “Wha… I need more?“)
  • The people who run out and buy new machines then ask me “What do you think of the $200 e-Machines that is  on sale at Wal-Mart?” “It’s a piece of crap“, “Oh, I just bought one.” “Why the HELL are you asking me what I think of it NOW?

The Lazy: Nine out of ten problems can be found with a little Googling. I expect at least due diligence on your part. If you are too damned lazy to at least type the error description into a search engine, don’t expect me to be impressed.

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A Hitch-Hiker’s guide to copyright

Those who know me know that Copyright – and Copywrong – are hot-buttons for me. I was considering writing an all-singing all-dancing article about Copyright… until I discovered this piece, which says it so much better than I ever could.

Here are some comments from me…

As a point of semantics, the term “Intellectual Property” is a misnomer, as it implies ownership, which is not the case. While works can be copyrighted and inventions can be patented (which is, incidentally, why the term “Software Patent” is an oxymoron, since software is written, not invented). In both cases this privilege is temporary – “they are loaned, not owned”

The original purpose of Copyright and Patent laws was to protect the Public Domain from Corporate interests – and not the other way round. It did this by placing limits on the “ownership” of inventions and works. To find a compromise that balances the needs of the inventors and artisans to put food on the table while providing for the public good.

For the past three decades, however, middlemen such as Patent Hoarders and Content Publishers have been busy rewriting the copyright laws to suit themselves… at the expense of the rest of us.

As a result we now have a series of laws that benefit well-heeled, deep-pocketed hard-lobbying corporations with patient portfolios that they can cross-license, and trained attack lawyers to protect them. Individual inventors, who can afford neither, are left out in the cold.

Paradoxically, these laws have the effect of stifling innovation. Let me provide some examples.

  • Walt Disney would not have been able to make “Snow White”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Little Mermaid”, etc, had today’s copyright laws been in force in his day.
  • Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard could not have created the company that bears their name if they had spent the bulk of their time and efforts fighting patent battles instead of creating and inspiring world-class engineering excellence.
  • The IBM PC would not have become the dominant platform if clone-makers were unable to reverse-engineer and build a better BIOS – an act which would, if done today, probably fall foul of the DMCA.

Technology is neither the problem nor the solution. Legislation is not the solution either – at least not the legislation that we currently have. This is because copyright, paradoxically, is not about the right to copy; it is about the right of commercial exploitation. Breaking the protection on a DVD so that I can watch it on my PDA while sitting in the parking lot waiting for my wife is a felony, thanks to the vagaries of the DMCA; yet I believe that no-one would consider it immoral, as I am not depriving the movie company of the right to make a sale. I recommend Jessica Littman’s book, “Digital Copyright”, which gives this matter a far more comprehensive treatment than I ever could.

I am not advocating anarchy, but a return to the original intent of copyright – to reward creators and not middlemen; to encourage innovation, not stifle it, to protect original creations, but and to limit that protection so that such ideas can be passed into the public domain for the enrichment of others.

For it is through creative individuals – and not lawyers, politicians or middlemen – that a future America will stand or fall on the world stage.

The gospel according to Bruce Schneier

From time to time you will hear me talking about this this guy, whom I regard as one of the foremost experts on security. I found a writeup about him that you might find interesting.

On a slightly less serious note, here is a spoof site about him… enjoy!


Arrr!

Yes, it’s International Talk like a Pirate day, so avast there, shiver me timbers and splice the mainbrace!

It’s also the only day in the year that most people can use the word “booty” correctly.

Found a picture online a couple of months back, and on this day of days I thought I would share it with you.

cea_pirate.jpg

Arrrrrr!

QED

Here’s the scoop: The Pope makes some remarks about the violent nature of Islam. A bunch of muslims with guns are so incensed by this unfair portrayal of their religion that they shoot an elderly nun four times in the back.

Congratulations, boys… that sure showed them… NOT!

Let’s see if any high-ranking muslim clerics issues an edict or a fatwa against these gunmen to bring them to justice. Because we all know that if the victim had been one of them, they would be screaming for blood…

but only if it were the blood of an infidel.

Microsoft: Heads **AA wins, tails you lose.

Recently, someone discovered a way to crack the DRM protection in Windows Media files. This means that you can enjoy your content when and where you want, instead of where the publishers want.

Red alert! All hands to Battlestations!

In a matter of days, Microsoft found a patch for this “critical vulnerability” and rushed it into Windows update in record time, bypassing the usual “Patch Tuesday” release.

Bruce Schneier, one of my favorite ubergeeks, points out that the practical upshot of all this is that Microsoft consider the interests of Corporate DRM more important than the security of your machine and data.

Now, this isn’t a “vulnerability” in the normal sense of the word: digital rights management is not a feature that users want. Being able to remove copy protection is a good thing for some users, and completely irrelevant for everyone else. No user is ever going to say: “Oh no. I can now play the music I bought for my PC on my Mac. I must install a patch so I can’t do that anymore.”

Thanks a lot, Microsoft.

My recent decision to stick with Windows 2000 for the moment and to eschew XP in favor of Linux is looking more like the right decision every day.

DRM Roll, please…

Boston’s The Weekly Dig: News & Opinions: DRM ROLL

The perfect introduction to DRM; what it is, what it isn’t and how it will affect you.

Once you read this, you will understand why I am constantly foaming at the mouth about DRM.

Terrorism or entrepreneurialism? You decide…

Link 1

Link 2

Here’s the plot: A bunch of guys buy large numbers of cellphones, which they “unlock” and sell at a profit. On 8/11 a Wal-Mart employee is concerned at the number of phones that they bought, and calls the cops, who pull them over and find “999 cell phones, 1,800 dollars in cash, a GPS, notebook computer, laser sight, digital transfer connectors, a black notebook with hand written notes, Microsoft Street & Trip, Microsoft Windows Vista Beta 2, a Sony PlayStation, a digital camera, telephone adaptors and cables, patch cables, memory sticks, a Blackberry, jump drive, an iPod, Palm Pilot, and a box knife.” in their van.

The trio is arrested. Unfortunately they are of Middle-Eastern appearance with names to match, so naturally they are charged with Terrorism. The FBI investigates and finds no grounds for the terrorism charge, so the Terrorism charge is dropped… and then they are charged with Fraud. The Fraud charge is thrown out (with prejudice) for lack of evidence.

The PDF file tendered by the prosecution makes interesting reading…

“TracFone sells the phone for less than what it is charged by Nokia…” Isn’t that TracFone’s problem?

“…but makes up the loss by what it charges consumers for the TracFone prepaid airtime cards needed to activate the telephones.” Repeat Capitalism rule #1 after me: Nobody has the right to make a profit. NOBODY.

 “The prepaid Nokia/TracFone telephones are susceptible to fraudulent use if the TracFone software is removed…” There are so many errors in that statement, I don’t know where to start. Does that mean if the software is there, that fraud is impossible? Of course not. Does that mean that the phone was fraudulent before the software was added? Words fail me, but let’s continue…

“… doing so enables the Nokia telephone to be programmed for use through any cellular telephone service that the user may choose.” That’s the point! Where’s the crime here? Apparently “freedom to choose” extends to killing unborn children, but does not include selecting your cellphone carrier.

“[they]… obtain Nokia/TracFones, remove the TracFone software – and often the TracFone trademark identification – and sell the altered telephones as genuine Nokia telephones to realize a profit.” More silliness. Removing the TracFone Software from a Nokia phone does NOT make it any less a Nokia phone, dummy! Nokia make the hardware! If I buy a Mustang, re-chip the engine management system and then sell the car, is it still a Ford? Of course it is…

Think about it: TracFone buys Nokia phones and then adds software. These guys then remove the software. What do you have left? If it was a Nokia Phone before the software is added, surely it is still a Nokia phone after the software has been removed… taking this line of thought a little further, if the removed software is what made it a “TracFone”, removing the TracFone identification may actually have been the legally correct thing to do!

I applaud the judge. It is good to see judges out there with enough common sense to see through the flummery that was presented in this case.The real question is whether there was any misrepresentation when the goods were sold. If they are described as “Unlocked Nokia Phones” – which is exactly what they are, then as far as I can see, no law has been broken, and the only sin these gentlemen are guilty of is entrepreneurialism.

Personally I would like to see an apology from the FBI agent and the prosecutor for wasting the court’s time. I would not blame the three men for countersuing them.

In conclusion, it is obvious to me that some in Law Enforcement are using a different dictionary to the rest of us. Words like “genuine”, “counterfeit” and “fraudulent” are brandished like weapons in ways that are… well… dishonest.

Approval of seal of approval

Official Seal Generator

Once in a while, a website comes along that is too good not to pass on. This site allows you to create your own personal seal and download it to your computer. For a small fee, they will even make it into a sticker or a fridge magnet!

Here is my humble offering, which took all of five minutes’ work.

seal3.gif

For those who don’t know, the logo in the center is the IDIC (Infinite Diversity from Infinite Combination) Symbol from Star Trek – this is the central philosophy of the Vulcan race. Seemed appropriate.