Archive for January, 2007

Google Book Search Article

Posted on January 31st, 2007 in Books, Politics and Law, Technology | No Comments »

There is a very good New Yorker article about Google’s Book Search feature. I found this through Michael Geist. As with most New Yorker articles, this is a bit long, but very informative. I highly recommend reading the whole thing if you are at all interested in copyright issues or Google.

One of the most important things that doesn’t get covered until somewhat late in the article is that whatever happens here will be established as a precedent for future cases. If there is one thing about the combination of technology and law that trumps all others it is the vast difference in speed between the two. Technology is an ultra fast moving industry. The US legal system moves at the pace of a wounded snail. Thus, when big cases like this come up it is crucial to have them decided fairly. It would take generations of technology to overturn a bad legal precedent.

Book: Blink by Malcom Gladwell

Posted on January 28th, 2007 in Books, Computer Security, Entertainment, Life | 3 Comments »

This weekend I finished reading Blink by Malcom Gladwell. I first heard about this book from Bruce Schneier’s writing about it. It’s a fascinating book that was very easy to read. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in high speed decision making.

In some ways it is difficult to describe what the book is really about and “high speed decision making” isn’t really all that accurate. I think the primary thing that I took away from this book is that despite the current trend in thinking more information about a problem does not always result in the best decision. In fact, it’s quite possible to have too much information about a problem to solve it correctly. This applies to all kinds of problems from crime fighting to computer programming.

Of course, Blink is about much, much more than just information overload issues. It discusses all aspects of how the subconscious mind makes decisions quickly and how we can learn to understand when those “hunches” are accurate. I think some of the implications of this in the security business are just as breathtaking as the ones that Bruce Schneier mentions.

This sort of reasoning might also apply to the design of just about everything. Ask any designer about what makes a truly “good” design and invariably you’ll find out that there’s an aesthetic quality to it. This aesthetic quality is likely best analyzed, at least initially, by the subconscious mind. Most people have an initial “Blink” impression of an iPod that just screams to them about the quality of the product overall. If this was taken into account during the design of other systems, then perhaps the quality of all designs would be improved.

All in all, Blink is an excellent book. I’m definitely interested in reading Tipping Point now. Almost everyone I talked to about Blink asked me if I had read Tipping Point and recommended it when they found out I hadn’t.

Re-install or clean-up?

Posted on January 24th, 2007 in Computer Security, Technology | No Comments »

I haven’t been using Windows as my main OS for years, but I’ve still been tasked with helping friends and family members with their Windows machines from time to time. Now, I’m a graduate student studying computer security and I find it incredibly difficult to clean up a windows machine that’s been infected with an unknown number of malicious programs. I can’t imagine that it’s much easier for anyone who doesn’t spend the amount of time studying computer security.

A few years ago, I simply gave up and started recommending re-installing Windows as the first course of action. Until now, it’s been difficult to find much in the way of expert opinion to justify this. My mom in particular finds it truly exasperating that I refuse to try and save her from re-installing all her programs and data from backups. Of course, we all should be backing up our data regularly anyhow, right?

Now I have a place to direct my friends and family to justify this advice. There’s a fantastic article by Brian Krebs of the Washington Post about whether or not you should attempt to clean-up a Windows machine bogged down with viruses, spyware and other malware or simply re-install. I highly recommend this article both to people who are in my situation and those who don’t understand why they are being advised by computer savvy folks to simply reinstall.

Virtual Machine Rootkits..

Posted on January 24th, 2007 in Computer Security, Technology | No Comments »

Virtual machines have been a big thing for the last several years, particularly in the server environment. They also have some interesting implications from a security standpoint. For example, with a virtual machine it would be possible to get more data on malware, viruses and security breaches as they run. This could be done regardless of what they do to hide themselves to the host operating system. Virtual machines would also increase the ability to recover from attacks. It would be possible to save an image of a system that was up and running fine as a backup and then cut over to it as soon as something went wrong.

Of course, as with any new technology, there are potential security problems. For example: The Blue Pill. Maybe I am a little late to the party in finding out about this, but it’s the first one I’ve found. I’m not entirely familiar with AMD’s SVM technology, but it’s probably something worth learning more about. I’m interested in seeing how virtual machine based malware is addressed. What happens if the system is already running on a virtual machine? Is there really any way to detect the Blue Pill on a running system in which it resides?

Colts are Superbowl Bound!

Posted on January 22nd, 2007 in Sports | No Comments »

Yes folks, the Colts are headed to the Superbowl. Obviously, I’m overjoyed at this.

The game was an instant classic. It’s something I certainly want to see again, and I typically don’t like re-watching sporting events. There’s something that gets lost when you know what’s going to happen, but there was just too much going on in this one to pick it up with only one viewing. At one point this game was all but over and the Pats appeared to have a virtual lock on keeping the dream alive for yet another Superbowl. I know there’s another game to be played yet, but getting past the Patriots certainly feels like something worth celebrating.

Now, that last game could be disappointing. I remember the Pacers finally getting to the NBA Finals only to get beat 4-2 by the Lakers. I definitely don’t want to see that happen to the Colts. There are a few reasons that something like this could happen. The Bears for one. Peyton’s possible thumb injury for two. I’ll go ahead and add Nick Harper’s ankle injury for three. Harper has been outstanding for the last several years and I would really, really like to have him back for a game as big as the Superbowl.

I’m looking forward to the coaching match up. There’s been a couple of interesting mentor – pupil match ups over the years, but this one certainly stands to be a good one. Lovie Smith will be getting a big pay increase regardless of the outcome and Tony Dungy will have a chance to silence his critics and win the championship he probably deserved to win in Tampa Bay. Either one would be a credit to the league in victory.

Of course, I wanted to save the best for last. Finally, Bill Simmons had to write the article I’ve wanted to read for years.

AFC Championship Preview..

Posted on January 14th, 2007 in Sports | No Comments »

Well folks, I think we’re in for a real treat. Yesterday, the Colts beat Baltimore despite the very inhospitable environment at their ancestral home. Today, the Pats beat San Diego on the road. This sets up a truly awesome AFC Championship game in Indianapolis.

The Colts beat Baltimore in an unusual display of defense. The passing game wasn’t great, but it was enough. Actually, the game was reminiscent of Tony Dungy’s time in Tampa Bay. This is the second game in a row where the defense has really kept the Colts in the game despite their offensive struggles. The NFL isn’t really a league where you can turn it on and off, so I think some of the early series against the Patriots are going to be even more critical.

Tomlinson had an outstanding game with 123 yards and 2 TDs, but it wasn’t enough for the Chargers. Rivers wasn’t exactly confused by the Patriots, but he certainly didn’t play well. He had a completion percentage less than 50%, an interception and a fumble. He looked composed when it mattered though and got the team in position for a FG to tie the game as time expired. Unfortunately for San Diego, Kaeding missed it.

This sets up a huge rivalry game for the chance to go to the Superbowl: Brady – Manning. Patriots – Colts. One game to go…

Drunken Gambling..

Posted on January 13th, 2007 in Politics and Law | No Comments »

I read about a bill proposed in Indiana that would make it illegal to get a loan in a casino without being sober. This is an outstanding idea, and I’m honestly a bit surprised that something like this isn’t already on the books. I don’t know if a breath test is necessary, but certainly loans should not be given to people who are obviously trashed.

I don’t think I have commented on gambling here before, but it’s definitely a topic worth talking about. My take on gambling is that it’s a fun game, but it can be dangerous if not done in moderation. Many people have become addicted to gambling and lives have most certainly been ruined. Some people look at gambling not as a game, but as an investment or a career. The vast majority of people who view it as such fail to make money and end up either in debt, which is the best case, or end up in jail, which is the worst case.

Gambling can be compared to illegal business ventures that can appear legitimate on the surface or to one individual, but when you look at the big picture it’s really just not fair to an individual. These are things like a Pyramid Scheme or a Ponzi Scheme. They are illegal. People can’t make fully informed decisions about schemes like this.

Individuals should be able to completely investigate their investment opportunities before investing. The theory behind making these investment schemes illegal is that they can appear to be very legitimate on an individual level. Thus, the investors making these decisions without the ability to see the larger picture are unable to make an informed investing decision.

The difference between a scheme presented as a surefire investment to make money and gambling is that gambling presents itself as a game where you could either make money or lose money. This difference alone means that gambling itself should be legal, in my opinion. However, gambling should be regulated by the government to make sure that it is as it presents itself. Passing laws like the proposed bill I mentioned earlier are great ways to do this.

The last little twist in this is that there are instances of the government doing both the regulating and the gambling. Lotteries like Powerball and MegaMillions are an example of this. If the government is both the regulator of the lottery and the beneficiary of the proceeds, can it really be unbiased? Isn’t that sort of thing exactly what the government should be protecting its citizens from?

Apple drops ‘Computer’ from name..

Posted on January 12th, 2007 in Politics and Law, Technology | 1 Comment »

I failed to mention in my previous post that Apple Computer has decided to become Apple, Inc. Ironically, I was reminded of this by Stephen Colbert in his “Wag of the Finger” segment, which is absolutely hilarious.

Why is this relevant to my previous post on the topic? Well, for those who don’t remember, Apple Computer has been sued three times by Apple Corps. Who the hell is Apple Corps? Yeah, I didn’t know either, but it’s another surprisingly large company. Apple Corps is the holding company for all the Beatles songs. That’s right folks, one of the most valuable sets of musical holdings worldwide, which is still raking in the royalties. These lawsuits have been big, big, big and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if dropping the “Computer” from the name caused them some more legal trouble.

Apple vs. Cisco on iPhone Trademark..

Posted on January 12th, 2007 in Politics and Law, Technology | 2 Comments »

So one of the more interesting legal cases that we’re likely to see develop in the next few years is the Apple vs. Cisco case disputing the trademark on the name iPhone. If you aren’t familiar with the case, here’s a quick overview. Last week at Macworld, Apple announced a new revolutionary cell phone / computer / everything gadget called iPhone. Unfortunately, Cisco had previously bought a company that owned the trademark for the name “iPhone.” Apple knew this and had previously tried to acquire the trademark, but Cisco was not interested in selling it. Immediately after the public announcement of Apple’s new product, Cisco sued them. On the face of it, this appears to be a pretty open and shut case. Experts are saying that Cisco will likely win the lawsuit, so it will be interesting to see how it is dealt with and if Apple will settle.

The things that confuse me about this case are twofold. First, another product at Macworld called the AppleTV was announced. The press and technology speculators were hoping / predicting that Apple would launch an “iTV” product. In fact, Steve jobs even mentioned that he was sure he would accidentally refer to the product as an “iTV” during the announcement despite the official name being an AppleTV, which has a logo that is the little Apple with a bite missing on the right side next to the letters ‘T’ and ‘V’. Why not just use the same technique for the iPhone?

My second question is why not just do the same thing that worked so well for the Mac and pick a type of apple? For example, call it a Gala. It’s short, fits with the company, and even if there was a trademark issue it would be possible to simply run through the alternatives until an apple name was found that would work. This has appeal to me, but then I’m not a marketing executive at Apple.

Death Penalty Update..

Posted on January 10th, 2007 in Politics and Law | No Comments »

In the news today is an interesting update to my previous post on the death penalty. Apparently, President Bush was rather upset about the video of Saddam Hussein’s death. He was previously the governor of Texas, which has a reputation as the most active capital punishment justice system in the United States. I am not sure how much of his publicized reaction is real and how much of it is politics, but either way I am happy that he’s come out publicly against the taunting and so forth that went on.