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Archive for August, 2006

Accepting Evolution and Rejecting Theism

Rabbit

To many in the west, bunnies will
be perceived the creation of God

Slashdot looks at two perspectives on a new poll-based study which raises many questions.

“In a 2005 poll covering 33 countries, Americans are the least likely (except for Turkish respondents) to assert that ‘humans developed … from earlier species of animals.’

Here is my personal opinion on the matter.

Old related news:

Dell Recalls Millions of Dangerous Laptop Batteries

Laptop

It has been very hard to ignore pictures of flaming laptops. Problems as such have not only affected Dell, which is now recalling millions of batteries.. If you own a Dell laptop, consider this an important announcement.

Dell Inc.’s record-setting recall of 4.1 million notebook computer batteries raised safety concerns about the power source of countless electronic devices, but experts said the problem appears to stem from flaws in the production of the laptop batteries, not the underlying technology.

Apple has begun similar a initiative, wherein it collects batteries (quick replacements to be shipped). Additionally, in the United States, an agency has begun reviewing all of Sony’s laptop batteries. Dell partly blames Sony for its battery woes. Sony is responsible for one component of the batteries which Dell stocks.

Microsoft Code Contains Bad DNA

Windows XP

A flood of bad news (for Microsoft) has rolled its way onto the headlines. It all happened yesterday, as well as earlier on today. I believe some quotes will speak better than their detailed interpretation.

Worm duo tries to hijack Windows PCs

The pair of worms surfaced over the weekend, several security companies said in alerts. The malicious software tries to hijack the computer for use in a network of commandeered PCs that can be remotely controlled, popularly called a botnet.

It makes one wonder how games are affected. The XBox series shares the same DNA as Windows.

Microsoft warns game developers of security risk

Using malware or software designed to infiltrate a computer system, hackers steal account information for users of MMO games and then sell off virtual gold, weapons and other items for real money.

Windows mobile likewise.

Vulnerability Summary: Windows Mobile Security Software Fails the Test

Since developers are not in a hurry to keep their users information secure… we feel compelled to publish – with exclusivity granted to us by author till August 21, 2006 – an article, that reveals various problems with Windows Mobile software from various software vendors! This article is a “must read” for any serious user of Windows Mobile…

Lastly, a security expert implicitly explains why Windows needs to be rebuilt. Jim Allchin, the main architect of Windows, has already said that 60% of the source code needs to be rewritten! It is no wonder that there was a “development collapse” in September 2005, according to Steve Ballmer. Windows Vista is the product of just 6 months in development (plus testing).

Perspective: Why Internet security continues to fail

Failing to acknowledge or fix an infrastructure plagued with problems raises many doubts about any security product’s ability to function in such a foundation. Placing more complexity on top of existing (and flawed) complexity does not lead to increased protection, but rather, fosters a false sense of increased protection.

That is a lot of trouble to digest in just one day. The implications are SPAM and DDOS attacks, the vast majority of which is spewed from hijacked Windows machines (‘zombie armies’ or ‘botnets’). Sadly, I am among those who are affected by both detriments.

Microsoft and the US Know Where You Are and What You Do

Antennas and satellite dishes
Knowledge is power. More is better. Everything is
recorded, so do not be fooled.

THERE was a great deal of opposition, particularly from Windows users/advocates, in response to a controversial blog item which I had posted yesterday. Some would consider it nothing but a conspiracy theory, but many signs seem to support my hypothesis. I ought to have elaborated. I discussed the possibility that the American government has a strong relationship with Microsoft and that it may be using this bond for its own benefit in one way or another.

Since a bookmark-type submission got knocked off the front page of Digg very quickly, it is clear that too people read what they did not want to believe and reported this as “lame”. In defence of my points, I will address two issues here. Firstly, why do Windows users refuse to accept the idea that their government wants globally-avaliable information to be stored locally, i.e. in the datacentres of American companies? Is it fear that repels the reader? The government has already pulled such data, enlisting the legal power of the Department of Justice to make all companies just give up the fight. Secondly, let me explain why Windows is already the perfect eavesdropping tool, at least when put in the hands of its vendors (and their affiliates).

Some time ago I attempted to explain what it is that makes some Windows users loathe Open Source (including Linux) so vehemently. There are many reasons to use Linux rather than commercially-controlled platforms. Linux is by all means ready for prime time, but that’s not what those who resists it would like you to believe. Even some Linux users might reluctantly show resistance because they fancy the idea of being unique (the ‘RTFM/inferiority complex’ is a possibility too).

Yesterday, in a slightly different context, I received an insightful response from Ian Hilliard, who explained why Linux is being pushed away by so many.

When electricity was first offered to households there was also a great deal of resistance. There was resistance from the gas companies, who saw their market being erroded. There was also a great deal of resistance to ordinary people, who were used to gas. There was the general feeling that gas had done all right up until now, why change.

The gas companies produced FUD about electricity, indicating that if you have electricity it will kill you. Electricity is lethal to touch and it might cause a gas explosion. The whole time, people ignored the number of people who died every year of gas poisoning and all the gas explosions that were already occurring.

When automobiles came out, there was massive resistance to the automobile by the whole industry that had been set up around horses and horse drawn vehicles. Many people were very skilled at riding horses and saw no need to change. The resistance got to the point that it was necessary to have someone walk in front of automobiles with a red flag to warn the public. What the people refused to see is the number of people who died every year in riding accidents or because of horses running amuck.

Like electricity and cars, Linux is a disruptive technology. As such, there will be winners and losers. What has to be expected is that there will continue to be resistance by the losers for some time to come. But, like every other disruptive technology, the as yet unseen technologies that result from Linux will bring massive improvements to our lives.

There is an important point to be taken from the above article. At the moment, many look at Linux as being an alternative to Windows. Just like electricity is not an alternative to gas and the car is not an alternative to the horse, Linux is not an alternative to Windows. It is a replacement for Windows. It is the next generation. It is the future.

Since then (this morning), it has occurred to me that:

  • With back doors in Windows 2000/XP/Vista, the US government is making its own dream come become a reality. According to the BBC, it is possible that the British government is already working to get some back door to encrypted filesystems in Windows Vista. This puts in jeopardy one’s files (privacy). But it gets worse.
  • Not only do these factors further extend ‘eavesdropping range’ to make eavesdropping workable outside the US (even assuming that no US router is used in the process of packet transmission). The government is slowing down some university networks considerably. This has been confirmed to be the case due to wiretapping, which I imagine raises alarms upon patterns (e.g. sensitive words) being detected. Granted, the government might be able to get a back door to any computer’s filesystem. Assuming the computer is connected and runs Windows, one does not even need to send information down the wire in order to get ‘exposed’. Any Windows user will, by definition, be exposed to intrusion by Microsoft, if not the US government too.
  • It also dawned upon me that Internet Explorer 7 was, for some reason, becoming a ‘high priority’ update which would inevitable affect Windows XP users (it does not work with Windows 2000 or earlier versions of Windows). One shallow speculation says that it’s just part of the fight against Firefox and other standards-compliant rivals, but let us look a little deeper. The anti-phishing component of Internet Explorer 7 gives Microsoft a trail of everyone’s behaviour on Web sites. Microsoft has vocally expressed its intention to use this data for refinement of search engine results, which means that data retention will be a part of the deal. So, anyone using IE7 will essentially be watched by Microsoft. Sites; addresses; the whole deal! It’s nothing less than spyware in that respect. Combine this with WGA and the fact that Windows is ‘phoning’ Redmond regularly. This gives IP-to-identity matching. So, if you carry on with Windows, you are merely a peon under the eye of Microsoft and those which it collaborates with. Not only will your activity on the Web be monitored, but so will your files (just potentially, to be on the safe side).

I will close with a grim statement: it is no surprise that the US government turns a blind eye to Microsoft’s fraudulent activities. It even supports Microsoft at national and international level. The government may argue that it needs Windows to be prevalent not only as means of pulling money from all over the world. It could argue that it needs Windows to prevail in order to fight terrorism. That’s the perfect, unbreakable policy to harbour any move that involves jeopardising one’s privacy.

In an age where supervision by governments becomes important, one might wonder if people up above will attempt to altogether ban Open Source or make it penetrable using mandatory ‘binary blobs’. The same flavour of laws already make it a legal offence to backward-engineer proprietary modules like DRM.

I also notice that, contrary to the warnings, there is no massive worm attack, yet. This makes one even more suspicious about overhyped reports that percolated through media sources, from Microsoft.

Correction/update: an exploit is now out. Windows zombie armies are being accumulated as I write this.

In-the-wild attacks against a Windows Server Service vulnerability have started, using malware that hijacks unpatched Windows machines for use in IRC-controlled botnets.

Brace yourself for even more SPAM and distributed denial-of-service attacks.

Update: A new comment on my previous item suggests that France and Germany already sued for NSA spying in Windows.

Linux Gaming – Scoops and Reviews

GP2X
Apparently, this is an early prototype which I saw before
the GP2X was released

THE GP2X is a Linux-based gaming console. It has fascinated me since the very first time I saw it. As a matter fact, I raved about it in my blog last year, well ahead of its release. Looking at that nostalgic perspective again, I believe one of the developers commented on that blog item. The unit was scarcely known at the time, so perhaps it effectively served a purpose.

I am pretty certain that information about this unit was originally brought to me by Slashdot, which I used to read more religiously than I do at the moment (typically in ‘feed mode’). Actually, I can vividly recall the day when I blogged about it. I picked up my work uniform, then returned to my office on a gloomy and depressing day. My future paths had me worried. Either way, I also happened to introduce and discuss the GP2X in some Linux newsgroups. And as the GP2X team made progress, there were more details to reveal and share.

A noble man called Mark Kent showed interest in the unit and pondered whether it would suit his children. He even raised a question that was directed at me, as well as the remainder of a newsgroup, about battery life and several other key factors. He was prepared to buy a unit. Several months went by and Mark has claimed a victorious stage appearance. With 15 minutes of fame in Linux.com, Mark’s review is now linked from hundreds of blogs and popular Web sites. Frankly, I share the satisfaction as it’s one giant step for GNU/Linux.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in the Writing of a Thesis

Book shelfCome Monday, I should have the content of my thesis in a fairly complete state. Then, the text should be ripe for serious improvements, proofreading, and further work on layout. The deadline for a first draft is August 31st and final submission is due by September 30th.

Frankly, I have had some serious issues coping with temptation to procrastinate. I never had these issues before, so it’s rather odd and worrisome. It was never worth letting laziness take over as I lost some sleep over this. It also gives me less control of my schedule as I continue to pace myself rather than just get it done with. I could truly need a motivational boost, rather than pressure and fear. Judging by some resources I have read, what I am going through is common. I am definitely past the stage of doubt, but I just wish I could spend more than an hour per day writing. I just dread the thought of going through the same text over and over again. I suspect that pressure will ultimately take its toll and wake me up so that I can comfortably comply with some preset deadlines. I am worried and optimistic at the same time.

Windows Might Become a ‘US Government Thingy’

Vista error message
Made with the GNU
Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)

RARELY should politicians get involved in the software industry. Ever. As a matter of fact, they generally fear that unknown as seldom will they be familiar with the latest technology. Everyone steers away from anything which can expose ignorance and lead to an embarrassment, at peer or public level.

Last Friday, however, marked a turning point — a remarkable exception. The US Government served as the spokesman of Microsoft Corp. Granted, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged people to receive some ‘binary blobs’ from our friends at Redmond. Now, I would not like to baselessly step forward and nag about nepotism and ill conduct over at Microsoft and the US Government. However, knowing the historical background of both Microsoft and — more latterly — the US Government (heavy eavesdropping comes to mind), I would barely hesitate.

Bill Gates is an immoral, irritable person. Steve Ballmer is not any better. He never steered away from or averted any controversy. Both have proven that they have a real spark for incompetence and unethical business practices. More broadly speaking, the Draconian Microsoft was never afraid of altercations or was rarely deterred to embrace questionable behaviour. Over the years they disrupted the equilibrium in industry, shrewdly exploiting loopholes in American capitalism, through apathy amongst the American government, as well as its blind eye (Gates’ grandfather was a State Senator). Fortunately, on the other side of the Atlantic, the European Commission has watched over Microsoft like a hawk. This is well overdue. The EU/EC is also fining that ‘evil empire’ for outmuscling its competition quite aggressively, as well as for hiding key information. It is doing the job that the American government was supposed to do, but chose to turn a blind eye to.

Alas, IANAL (I am not a lawyer). Discussions in some legal forums were never fruitful as they didn’t end up leaning in my favour. I hope people can judge for themselves and realise that Windows is inclined towards a spy-friendly ideaology and, for real privacy, Open Source must be welcomed with open arms. The other gripe I have with Microsoft is its ruining of the World Wide Web as it also heavily affects those who turned their back on Microsoft.

Related items: Vista Encryption and Back Doors

UPDATE: Just noticed a similar blog post somewhere else

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