Autorun, autoworm

It’s a bit old, but just today I read an entry in Ed Truitt’s blog about how the Pentagon got infected with (what I would guess is) a Windows worm.

To quote the quoted message:

Someone infected thumb drives with the WORM then dropped them around the Pentagon parking lot. The employees, picked them up, took them into their offices and plugged them into their office computers to determine the owner of the drive. (emphasis mine)

To me, it seems the real risk is not plugging unknown devices into a computer. Rather, this whole incident is a very damning indictment of Windows’ infamous autorun feature and the risks thereof. The act of merely accessing a device should never automatically run any executable that may be on it, at least not without prompting the user.

This is a security hole big enough to drive a tank through, and inexcusable negligence on the part of Microsoft. This is not something a user should have to explicitly disable (whether permanently or with an obscure trick like holding down Shift while plugging/inserting media).

OpenBSD uses the slogan “secure by default.” Here’s hoping that Windows 7 will be the first version that “insecure by default” doesn’t apply to.

Seven random things

So I saw this meme on a few other blogs, and I figured it’d be a great way to get the ball rolling. Most people did this meme because they were tagged by another blogger somewhere; I’m a bit different, I just saw it and did it because I was bored out of my mind for the heck of it.

Seven random things you may or may not know about me:

1. I have a rather random and bizarre sense of humor.

I’ve been known to crack some of the weirdest jokes. Sometimes, my sense of humor goes underappreciated, unappreciated or even ignored, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to.

2. I have a very diverse and eccentric taste in music.

I grew up listening to country music, then pop/rock, then harder rock, and finally I started expanding my tastes to just about anything with a discernible melody (i.e. not rap). I may well¬† listen to 80’s pop, heavy metal, new age, and classical in the same sitting. It depends on my mood.

3. I am often a fan of “less-populated culture.”

I often love movies, music, and television that seems to completely miss the target with most of the population. I think the best example I can come up with is the movie Howard the Duck, which for many years was my all time favorite (of course, this was when I was in middle school). Yes, the same Howard the Duck movie that ALF made a barfbag joke about.

Now, this does not necessarily imply I always go for the weird, bizarre, eccentric, eclectic, less populated, etc. However, I consider myself less afraid (in fact, much less afraid) than average to stray from the beaten path.

(Interestingly, the film that finally displaced Howard the Duck as my all-time favorite was Some Kind of Wonderful, the story behind which I’ll save for another day.)

4. I don’t have a college degree.

I did take some college classes, but most of the stuff I know has been self-taught. It’s more of a case of lacking patience as opposed to not being able to understand the material. I often consider the only exams that really matter to be the ones given in the real world.

I take driver’s education as the best example of this. I have forgotten at least most of the distances, such as how far in advance you’re supposed to signal a turn, exactly how far from a railroad track you have to be to be legally parked, etc. But I’ve been given plenty of such tests in my current job (courier/messenger) as well as the years of driving before that and I certainly feel overall I’ve earned a passing grade.

5. I’m a huge fan of arcade gaming.

In particular: 80s to early 90s video games, and solid-state (roughly, late 70s/early 80s to present) pinball. I have a huge list of favorite games, too many to even try to narrow down to a top 5 or top 10. Again, through the magic of MAME (particularly the xmame version at the moment), I’ve been able to find many old gems that I never got to really play in the arcades. In particular, someday, I want to play a few games of Snake Pit on its original hardware. However, that’s far from the only game in that category.

6. I’m a huge fan of the free software movement.

Not to be confused with the confusingly named open source movement, which I do not support at all; the actions of the open source splinter faction, while they may have had noble intentions in the beginning, have done much more harm than good to the great work of Dr. Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. For now, I’ll leave it at that; this isn’t intended to be a “seven mini-rants” meme, after all.

7. I’ve never travelled outside the country.

I’m not particularly proud of that, but that’s the truth; I’ve never had the pleasure of going through customs. The closest I’ve come to that was leaving the mainland for a trip to Hawaii some years ago. I’ve also been to Disney World in Florida; casinos in Lake Charles, Louisiana; a relative’s wedding in Virginia; and when I was very young, Mississippi (I think it was Biloxi but of course that part of my brain has flipped way too many bits to remember for sure).

The countries I would most like to visit are (in order) Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, Russia, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. I will probably wind up visiting other countries not on this list, and may not make it to all ten of the countries I listed in this lifetime.

Now that I’ve finished, I’m supposed to tag seven people. This is tricky, because most of those I would tag have either already been tagged elsewhere, or have already done this. So, I’m just going to leave it up to the first seven people who haven’t already done this, to tag themselves. I might add, this is a great reason to start a blog if you don’t have one already; this was originally supposed to be one of my first entries.

The downside of textbabble, confirmed

This recent article by the BBC finally confirms something I have long suspected:

While writing in textese was significantly faster across the board, nearly half the students took twice as long to read messages aloud as compared to standard English versions.

In other words, the five seconds one saves by not spelling out words like “too”, “you”, “your”, “anyone”, “people”, etc. is quite possibly spent on the other end anyway by the person receiving the message who has to decipher it.

(While I do abbreviate in text messages occasionally, I limit it to words of seven letters or more or phrases with a relatively well known abbreviation.)

Ten things the recession may or may not kill

According to Mike Elgan’s article on, there are ten things that won’t survive the recession, most notably landline phones, pay-to-surf Wi-Fi, satellite radio, and a large number of retail stores.

I have my doubts particularly about the first three of these four (and I’m intentionally focusing on a subset of the full ten for the moment).

Let’s start with landline phones. Just about everyone has found it fashionable to say landline phones are going to be extinct Real Soon Now, or as Elgan says it, “only grandma still has a landline phone.” I do think fewer people will have landline phones, but I don’t think they’re going anywhere for quite some time.¬† The only real change I see is that VoIP may start to replace analog service, better known to geeks as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Landline phones are not just for the over 50 set; there is a reason that technology has been the primary way to make and receive telephone calls for most of a century. That reason is, landlines simply don’t drop calls. Way back in the day (back when AT&T was The Phone Comany), they dropped a few, mainly due to obscure technical problems like birds landing on phone lines a little too hard.

Pay-to-surf Wi-Fi will probably still hang on in certain places, though I would like to see it die the death it deserves. If anything I would think a recession would have an opposite effect, pinching the businesses just hanging on with free Wi-Fi into charging for it, something I would really hate to see happen. (I’ll probably revisit this one later.) $DEITY forbid, if ISPs ever start charging by the byte in any significant fashion, forget free Wi-Fi where the establishment gets their connection from such an ISP. That cost will be passed straight on to the end user.

Satellite radio? That’s barely gotten started, and has too large of an installed base to just up and crumble. The environmentalist in me cringes at the amount of e-scrap we will wind up with should the now-combined Sirius/XM bite the dust.

I don’t think retail will ever truly die. We may see a few stores here and there bite the dust (Linens N Things, CompUSA, some Circuit City stores), but there will always be room for the drive-down-to-the-store-and-get-it-now people to do just that. Let’s face it, UPS has taught us ground shipping can be fast, but it still isn’t that fast.

There’s another item in this list that I’ll visit, but my take on it needs its own post to really do it justice.

Same old dog, same old tricks: China and censorship

This time none other than the New York Times is the (un)fortunate victim:

China blocks Internet access to New York Times – Yahoo! News

My notes to Chinese government officials who may stumble across this:

  1. The Soviet Union collapsed for a reason.
  2. As John Gilmore so eloquently put it: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
  3. Trying to censor the New York Times just makes you look like a bunch of boneheads to the rest of the world.