diego's weblog: September 2004 Archives
Last Thursday was the first radio broadcast of U2's new single Vertigo, the first cut from their new CD How to dismantle an atomic bomb. More than its share of Punk aesthetics throughout (even in the promo image), and more than a reminder of Out of Control, Gloria and other early U2 songs. More info over at u2.com and u2log.com (exhibit a, exhibit b).
Btw, the song begins: Uno! Dos! Tres! Catorce!. Literary license for counting to four? Or something else? :)
the state of the union
The Economist this week has a survey on the European Union that is quite interesting. Lots of commentary that is right on the mark. Recommended.
airborne madness, two years later.
This post I wrote on September 2002 could have been written two days rather than two years ago. I can't easily describe how ridiculous I find the restrictions companies place on electronic devices because they might "interfere with navigational systems" and such. Every time I travel there seems to be a new device or system that is "dangerous." Example from my recent footrip to the Netherlands was that you couldn't use any "laser-powered device, such as a CD player." Nevermind that a CD player is not "laser-powered", you could use laptops, which generally have CD or DVD players. But laptops are OK.
Cellphones have long been no-no at any time during flight (only recently some airlines have started to let you use them with the doors open at the gate, others still don't, even though they use the same airplanes). Now, in a couple of years there will probably be cellphone service on airplanes. Aha. Having a cell on the airplane and everyone using their phones, doesn't interfere. Giving you WiFi in the plane is also A-OK. Turning on a phone on its own, however, is quite dangerous. I get it.
Anyway. I wonder how they will spin the fact that WiFi & cell service on planes creates way more interference that a single device ever would.
the lord of the rings: the battle for middle-earth
Electronic Arts, who just released the Sims 2, will release The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth in November. Since I'm partial to wargames, the Lord of the Rings, and EA's Westwood division is responsible for the Command and Conquer series, I have a feeling that this game could turn out to be one of those few that don't bore me before reaching the second level. :) The screenshot is a recreation of the escape from Moria within the game--on the website, they have videos of demos of the interface and gameplay with other classic LoTR moments such as the battle of Minas Tirith that look extremely cool.
and I just remembered...
That I really, really need to get comments fixed. I've been thinking about switching blog systems, or versions, or moving machines, but haven't done any of them. Hopefully the next few days will bring some time in which to do one, some, or all of those things.
Another thing I just remembered: I turned on the TV for a bit this afternoon. Tuned on CNN. This is what I heard: "...Hurricane Ivan's path of destruction. Also, violence in Iraq continues rising, with kidnappings and more deaths. Stick with us for that, next."
And as I turned off the TV, I couldn't help wondering: "Stick with us for that"???
That's modern "news" for you.
firefox's live bookmarks
Don delves into a feature in FireFox 1.0: Live Bookmarks. I only installed FireFox 1.0PR a couple of days ago, in the process of doing a clean install on my notebook (by now my various machines have various versions of FireFox, the oldest of which is 0.7), and I noticed the Live Bookmarks but didn't pay much attention to them: I didn't find the UI very inviting (I read too many blogs to make it practical to see headlines there, and linear menus were NOT designed to hold that many items and be usable in any way, shape or form). From what Don describes the implementation would limit their usefulness as well. But I've noticed other "sudden" UI changes as well, which made me think that maybe the FireFox team was coming down with a case of featuritis. Hopefully that won't happen.
Things happen fast in blogland sometimes, and I've been quite the busy bee since yesterday, so this is a bit late: Russ is again a free agent and looking for funding and/or a job (If it's mobile and edgy, he's your man!). With all that seems to be going on, he hasn't been much online online lately, but follow-up blog entries assure us that he is well and presumed inspired. :)
the price of silence
A couple of days ago Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, moved to tighten his grip on power (more coverage here, here and here) after the Beslan massacre. After stifling the Russian media and opposition for months (with resulting stories like these) without more than a whisper of complaint from Europe or the US, this would appear to be a logical move on his part. The latest move, which in practice puts Russia a few steps away from a dictatorship (by removing most of locally elected government officials and replacing them with his own choices), has finally elicited a reaction from the major press outlets. The Washington Post had a great editorial yesterday on the topic. The Posts's Robert Kagan also noted that: "Putin's decision on Monday to end the system of direct popular election of Russia's governors, and to have the Russian parliament elected on the basis of slates chosen by national party leaders he mostly controls, is an unambiguous step toward tyranny in Russia." The New York Times also had something to say. The Wall Street Journal Opinion Board, on the other end of the spectrum, was clear-cut in calling the changes "[...] utterly irrelevant to the task at hand, and quite likely counterproductive" and "[...] sweeping constitutional changes that could erase Russia's last vestiges of pluralistic democracy." The Guardian also has a good roundup of editorials from around the world.
The reaction of the press has, for once, been quick and to the point. But governments, EU Nations and the US foremost, have been a lot more equivocal. A Bush administration official was quoted in the Times as saying that this was a "domestic problem of the Russian people." By Tuesday, Colin Powell had changed tack a bit, by saying that "the fight against terrorism should not become an excuse to move away from 'democratic reforms of the democratic process.'" Yesterday, President Bush inched forward a little more saying he is "concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia." To this mild rebuke, the Kremlin replied that "the processes that are under way in Russia are our internal affair."
So that's as far as the Bush Administration is concerned. I have heard nay a peep from the British government, the Irish government, or any other major European government for that matter. The silence of Blair, and the muted response of the Bush administration, are more worrying. Spreading democracy and freedom to stabilize the world have been, after all, the major rationales for the war in Iraq after the WMDs went the way of the Dodo.
My question has less to do with consistency (although that would be nice) and more with the effect that something like this has in fostering distrust on the world's most powerful nations. Just like western support for middle east dictatorships (and others around the world) creates cynicism and despair (and is then used as an excuse for nihilistic mass murder) letting Russia fall back under dictatorial rule would be an even bigger blow than dabbling with North Korea while they produce fissile material like McDonald's produces burgers.
Not to mention that a quasi-Russian dictatorship (a "Putinist" Russia) would be quite a lot more dangerous for world stability than any of the components of the much vaunted "Axis of Evil". Russia doesn't need "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related-programs-capability" (as US's National Security Advisor Rice one described the finds in Iraq). They already have WMDs, biological, chemical, and, of course, nuclear. Plus the delivery systems. Plus one of the biggest armies in the world.
So it is clear to me that Europe and the US have to respond quickly and without equivocation: these "reforms" should be rolled back. But how? The famous "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists," while true in a narrow sense, creates a problem for open discussion and disagreement. After all, if that's the choice, then almost everyone would be "with us". But it's a false choice, because it doesn't allow for being against the terrorists, but by other means: you have to accept whatever "us" has chosen. While this proclamation might be sustainable in a democracy with a long history like the US, it is not sustainable in a newly-formed democracy with a history of opression, like Russia. But of course, Putin (as others, like Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf) silently invoke the "with us or against us" mantra, twisting it into "you either accept what I say, whatever it is, or you're with the terrorists."
It is probably unrealistic to ask the US or UK governments (or the EU) to step back from this rethoric, but they and the EU governments can certainly draw a line in the sand and stop a trend from becoming widely accepted reality.
The G8 has a number of carrots to take steps in this direction. If they are not used soon, the moment will pass, and it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to pull back. If history has taught us anything is that dictatorships always emerge slowly, inch by inch, many times after the dictator has been "rightfully" elected, and sheepishly accepted by others and the people as the "necessary response" to attacks from within or outside.
Ignoring the hypocrisy of saying that the US and Europe are for freedom while letting something like this happen, I can't see any strategic scenario under which a newly dictatorial Russia would be anything but a disaster for the world. (If somebody has one, I'd very much like to hear about it).
Western nations, particularly the G8, should act now. The price of silence will be high otherwise.
holy service pack batman!
Yeah, well, I still can't get that ridiculous image of Batman @ Buckingham out of my head, so I'm writing it in somehow.
A few days ago I installed Service Pack 2 on one of my PCs, the idea being that I could see whether it would interfere with share, etc. The actual installation went allright (it took a while to download & install though).
The first boot after the install was finished I was asked to configure the "security settings". Since I rely on an external firewall and have all the dangerous stuff disabled anyway, I left this disabled as well. After that the login appeared.
I logged in. And waited. And waited. Icons drew themselves painstakingly across the screen, as if the millions of tiny drunken leprechauns that are responsible for the behavior of Windows were suddenly more inhebriated than usual or maybe were away on a security seminar and thus unavailable to paint icons or do their usual tasks.
Eventually the leprechauns decided to get to work, but slowly. So I rebooted, hoping that things would get fixed that way. No luck. The second time, login took even longer.
I was sort of resigned to things not really working anymore, and thinking how I was going to uninstall this piece of crap, when a dialog box distracted me.
It was from one of the McAfee applications.
Now, backtracking for a moment. I purchased McAfee VirusScan a few weeks ago when my Norton License expired. I had fond memories of VirusScan from many years ago, when it was a simple program that included nice command line tools. Norton AV has become a monster in recent years, installing all sorts of background services that do NOTHING useful except take up resources and interrupt whenever it's most inconvenient. (Note: these services usually are somewhat useful when you operate in an all-MS environment; i.e., Office, Outlook, Messenger, etc. and you have no idea of what you're doing). Be that as it may, I had gotten tired of Norton's heavyhanded approach and decided to try something else, so I remembered VirusScan.
To be honest, I was a bit weary. McAfee had been through a number of corporate acquisitions and mergers and "refocused" on the corporate market (which is usually code for "we will now be able to push garbage down our customer's throats, only now 20,000 seats at a time). But I really had good memories of VirusScan and thought, "really, how much could they have screwed it up?".
As it turns out, the answer is "quite a lot". VirusScan 8 is one of the worst pieces of software I have ever seen. Difficult to register for. Difficult to install. Difficult to set up. Slow. In short, do not buy VirusScan. Norton is much better (if I find a simple product that just scans for viruses and doesn't try to set up my PC as if it was NORAD, I'll let you know :)).
And, most of all, VirusScan is intrusive as hell. You wouldn't believe how many times I've been interrupted in the middle of typing by the stupid VirusScan notification window telling me that "it has downloaded an update" and asking if I wanted to "continue with what I was doing."
I know that my topic was supposed to be XP SP2, not VirusScan, and that this appears to be too hyperbolic even for me, but I am getting somewhere.
About a week before I installed SP2, one of the VirusScan updates installed something called the "McAfee Security Center", which is basically a fancy control window (which is probably ActiveX-based) that tells me that my security in my computer sucks because I don't have any McAfee products installed. I am completely serious about this: McAfee is telling me that my computer is not secure simply because I don't have their software (i.e., their firewall, antispam, etc) installed--irrespective of whether I have other software or other solutions installed. When this security I disabled all the automatic services except the Virus definition update and promptly forgot about it (naturally, the thing kept updating itself, but it wasn't too bad).
Okay, so after SP2 is installed, and the second time I reboot, while I am wondering how to get rid of SP2, the following dialog box pops up:
Since I am suprised by the dialog box, I read it carefully. And even though I read it carefully, I am still not sure of the implications of this action. Keep in mind, I have just installed SP2. I haven't had time to see any of these features. As far as I know, there's nothing in Windows called "Security Center". And yet McAfee wants to replace the default with its own (which I am barely aware exists as it is).
Reasonable person that I am, I decide that no, I will not let McAfee take over the Windows Security center, since I want to see what this is, and maybe later I'll set it up like that. So I press "No" in the dialog above.
Clearly selecting "No" then triggers the following dialog:
Look at the text of the second dialog carefully.
Notice that, again, there's the options "Yes" and "No". However, because of text that can only be described as designed to deceive, the meaning of the buttons is inverted from what it was in the previous dialog. Normally, if you require double-confirmation, you'd say something like "are you really sure? Y/N". The McAfee guys, counting on the fact that you'd made up your mind and you'll probably click "No" again, simply invert the behavior of the buttons on the second dialog, so that you do what they want, no matter what.
Let's recap for a moment.
There's new security settings on SP2. Claims from Microsoft about "improved security" notwhistanding, as far as I can see the main improvement in this pack is that Microsoft is bundling all sorts of apps that until now have been third-party apps, such as adaptive personal firewalls. Additionally, they have disabled a bunch of stuff that is "dangerous", thus taking the path of "if something has a security hole, disable the feature, instead of fixing the hole." (granted, when the problem is the design, "fixing the hole" is much harder, but that's not an excuse on my book).
Anyway, it is clear that to appease third-party vendors (such as Symantec and McAfee) Microsoft has included an API of some sort of this Security Center stuff. And obviously the poor third-party companies do not want users to use the Windows defaults.
So they resort to terrible UIs and behavior like what I described here. They have to be both devious and in-your-face, so that you are not silently taken away to the MS-bundled elements over time, and you remember that it's McAfee (or whoever) that's protecting you, rather than Microsoft.
I think that most technical users will find most of this stuff completely confusing and they will either a) end up with a machine where nothing works, without knowing why, or b) end up disabling all the security.
These are several bad effects that are all clearly tied to the implementation of SP2 (and dependent to some degree on the different products that people already had). Bad UI. Confusing features. Software that's difficult to use, and crippled so that it's "secure".
I am sure that Microsoft can do better.
PS: In the end I did leave SP2 installed. After a few more reboots, the drunken leprechauns magically started to work properly again, and that was that. The only other strange thing was that Windows Messenger refused to start on reboot, and has been behaving erratically since I upgraded (when I say "erratically" I mean exactly that. Yesterday, for example, it kept showing its right-click menu no matter what I did anywhere on the screen. I had to kill it. Today, nothing's wrong. Two days ago, there were two taskbar icons for the same Window).
And yes, I have scanned for viruses, just to be sure that the source of the weirdness is not something else. :)
holy security breaches batman!
So Batman shows up at Buckingham Palace, and all I can think is, good thing Robin's not around.
And, too bad that guy, whoever he is, doesn't have a WiFi handheld with him. Blogging off a ledge in what is supposed to be one of the most secure sites in the world while dressed as Batman would sure get you some hits. Don't count on sponsorship from Warner or DC Comics though.
This reminds me of the time a few months ago when some guy dressed up as Osama Bin Laden (and quite convincingly too) slipped into a party on the gardens of the Palace and walked around for a while... using the 60's Batman outfit is clearly a superior choice though, as far as looking ridiculous is concerned.
All of which brings me to my point: I was sitting down to blog a bit myself when I saw this stuff on the news .... and that was that.
I mean, who can concentrate on babbling irrelevant when things like these happen in the world?
the unknown advantages of space exploration
[Saudi Arabia's Ruling Religious Group of] Wahhabi clerics repeatedly issued fatwas [legal opinions issued by qualified Muslim scholars on matters of religious belief and practice] that were not necessarily in keeping with traditional Islam. There were fatwas against women driving, fatwas opposing the telephone, fatwas declaring that the earth was a flat disk and ordering the severe punishment of anyone who believed otherwise.
from House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger.
Copyright © Diego Doval 2002-2011.