What I'm Doing

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Five Questions Non-Muslims Would Like Answered

This interested me mostly due to the idea that some people have that "The [Liberal] Media" is simply anti-Christian, etc. Here is an article from the L.A. Times that somewhat takes the Muslim community to task for their silence regarding the violence and atrocities perpretrated in the name of Islam. One question I hadn't thought of before was:
(2) Why are none of the Palestinian terrorists Christian?

If Israeli occupation is the reason for Muslim terror in Israel, why do no Christian Palestinians engage in terror? They are just as nationalistic and just as occupied as Muslim Palestinians.

I'm sure Christian Palestinians are none too happy about being occupied and all, but I have never heard of them practicing terrorism. Another good point from the article:
Instead of confronting these problems, too many of you deny them. Muslims call my radio show to tell me that even speaking of Muslim or Islamic terrorists is wrong. After all, they argue, Timothy McVeigh is never labeled a "Christian terrorist." As if McVeigh committed his terror as a churchgoing Christian and in the name of Christ, and as if there were Christian-based terror groups around the world.

In addition, Timothy McVeigh is one man. Eric Rudolph is one man. There have been a few nutters in recent days who have committed terrorism in the name of Christ, but there is nothing today comparable to the Muslim systematic terrorism.

This reminds me of a sad video I saw the other day of Palestinian children talking about wanting to be martyrs and killing Jews. A part of me hopes that is a sick joke and the subtitles are not actually what the kids are saying, but, chances are, the subtitles are accurate. As the auther of the page with that video so wisely says, "If this is the next generation over there the Palestinians and Israelis are going to have a pretty hard time living together for the foreseeable future."

There is one beef I have with the article: one cannot forget that, in the past, atrocities have, indeed, been systemized in Christianity. The Crusades were a low point in Western Ecclesiastical history, and an error that Christians today recognize as wrong. In that instance, Muslims and Jews weren't the only ones that suffered; the Western Christians also sacked the Christian city of Constantinople, and were quite indiscriminate in who they killed. The Inquisition was another low point, again inflicted by the Church on Muslims, Jews, and "dissident" Christians alike. I think that any discussion of the topic of systematic terrorism must honestly own up to the good and bad of both sides, and all issues should, as much as is possible, be understood in the light of society at the time. Regarding these issues, however, I think it is somewhat telling that Christianity as a whole has come far enough to recognize these things as wrong.

Ultimately, I think the main thrust of the article is this: it doesn't matter whether Islam is really an inherently oppressive, violent religion; the way things are right now certainly gives Westerners a legitimate impression that it is. Say whatever you want, it's what you do that matters.

Monday, November 28, 2005


I really should pay more attention. I just found out that yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. For those that don't know, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. From what I have read, traditionally, this is supposed to be a time of preparation and of waiting for Christmas. The idea is that we enter into the Gospel story, in some way.

Of course, in our society, Advent has been eclipsed by the phenomenon known as the "Christmas season". Rather than being a holy season where we are especially focused on Christ and His Coming, it is a season of sales, shopping, and stress. The preparation of the soul to celebrate the birth of her Savior has been replaced with the preparation of the gift pile. Instead of a time of quiet devotion, or of recollection, it is a time of busyness. It is rather sad that the season of Christ's birth has become the greatest annual show of consumerism.

I'll buy gifts, certainly, but I will try to do so not out of a sense of obligation, but willingly. I'll probably listen to some Christmas music, but I'm going to try to listen to more songs like "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" than "White Christmas". I'll enjoy the Christmas season, partly because some of it is enjoyable, but also partly because I have no other choice. However, I want to try this year not to forget, as the cliché goes, "the reason for the season."

In addition, this seems like an appropriate time to try again at reading On the Incarnation by Athanasius. For some reason, I have repeatedly begun, but never finished, reading that book. This year, that will be my goal.

Also, if anyone can suggest some good (preferably free) resources to better understand the Christian calendar and the signifigance of the different days/seasons, please do. I'd love to read more about this stuff.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Arby's Loaded Potato Bites

So I just ran by Arby's and picked up some lunch. While I was there, I figured I'd go ahead and get an order of their loaded potato bites, which is one of their "limited time offers". I think what that means is that someone thought up this idea, and successfully pitched it to some higher-ups, and they're testing it on the public. Sort of a fast-food beta test.

The bites are described on Arby's menu as, "A blend of seasoned potatoes, aged Cheddar cheese, bacon and chives in a crispy coating, served with a Cool Ranch Sour Cream." Basically, they're small "potato cakes" with some extra stuff added in to make them taste like loaded baked potatos.

So, my opinion? They're okay. Not too impressive on the first bite; it takes a couple bites to decide whether you like them or not. The ones I had didn't have quite the same texture as normal potato cakes, which was a downer. The taste was interesting, but not really memorable. By that, I mean I doubt that I'm very likely to say someday, "hey, let's go to Arby's; I want some loaded potato bites" like I sometimes do regarding the potato cakes, Beef 'n Cheddar sandwich, or Chick-Fil-A's chicken sandwich. In fact, if I'm choosing a side for my meal, I'll go with curly fries or potato cakes over the loaded potato bites any time.

Now, granted, I didn't try them until after I had eaten my sandwich and potato cakes, so they'd had time to cool. They might be better when they're hotter. As it stands, though, I'm unimpressed. I'll stick with the regular potato cakes.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


What I've been doing at work today: Writing a routine to build a report to validate the results of another routine I wrote to convert data from an old file to a new file. This has turned out to be a little more complicated than I expected, but at least I got the hardest part out of the way yesterday (figuring out how the heck this is going to work). In other words, I've been having fun and getting paid for it.

Currently, my code has finally been written. Now, I have to do testing, to make sure it works (correctly).

This part is not very much fun. It's more tedious than fun.

I wish we got snow that's drivable in, so I could go into the office if it ever snows. That way, I could wish it were snowing right now, because it would look really nice outside my office window.

Today just seems like a great day to go sit at a coffeehouse, drink coffee, and read. Unfortunately, I didn't bring any books with me to work, and once I go home, I'm not going to want to come back to this area. I wonder if the apple cider I bought last month is still good.

A word of advice: don't go shopping for food before going out of town for two weeks.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sony Update

So, it seems quite a bit has happened the past couple weeks regarding Sony's recent foray into "doing unto them before they do unto you" (execpt the people getting done unto by Sony are mostly the legitimate customers). Sony released an uninstall program to remove the rootkit software via a website. However, apparently, the uninstall software had its own set of security problems, which some websites have figured out how to exploit. In addition, Mark Russionvich (the one who brought Sony's rootkit to popular attention) stated in another blog entry that Sony made the customer go through numerous hoops to get the uninstaller—if they can find it. His description of how difficult it was can be summed up in his statement, "Without exaggeration I can say that I’ve analyzed virulent forms of spyware/adware that provide more straightforward means of uninstall."

Now, Sony has released a new uninstaller that is supposed to be more secure, and has issued two statements of apology. They are also (according to a CNet News.com article) recalling the CDs. The end of that article also mentions that there are still some lawsuits pending against Sony, which is encouraging. If Sony were to just be let off the hook, the PR hit they've taken would be little more than a slap on the hand. The RIAA (of which Sony is a member) has been happily suing anyone they can; let's start putting them on the recieving end of the legal system.

Been Out of Town

As anyone who actually reads this blog may have realized, I've not posted for the past week or two. That's because I've been out of town on business (testing at a site in Tampa, FL), and haven't had much time to post—or think of anything to post. I have decided that I need to start making time for reading and really thinking about things, so hopefully that will translate into having more to write about here.

When I finally got the chance to check for comments today, I noticed something odd. The page would display most of the text of my previous post (Sony Rootkits), but would stop before the end of the last paragraph, and display nothing else. The sidebar was gone as well as all the other posts. I went and mucked around a bit with the Sony post's HTML and republished it, and everything's fixed now. I'm not quite sure what happened. Did anyone else notice it, or was it just my browser messing up?

Also, when I got home from my trip, I found a box from Amazon at the front door. Inside was the Family Guy Volume 1 and Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 1 DVDs I ordered last week. Oh joy!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sony Installs Rootkits as DRM

This is absolutely appalling. This past Monday (Oct 31, 2005), Mark Russinovich, author of a utility called Rootkit Revealer (RKR), revealed on his blog that, while testing the latest version of RKR, he discovered that Sony's DRM software installs a rootkit in users' PC's (for those who are unfamiliar with the term rootkit, see "What Is a Rootkit" below). You can read his post, where he explains how he made this discovery and gives screenshots as proof, here. The Washington Post also has an article on this, and this story was the subject of a recent Security Now! podcast (which you can download from here.

According to the stories, this software is installed when a user attempts to play a copy-protected CD on a Windows machine, as CD playing software which is required to play the music. If the user chooses not to install the CD software, the CD will not play. What the user is not told, however, is that the software installs as a rootkit, that it integrates itself as a driver into the operating system, etc. The EULA only says that the software will remain on the computer until it is removed, which is misleading, because there is no provided way to remove the software—there isn't even an entry in the Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs list. In fact, as Russinovich discovered, attempting to remove the software manually can result in Windows not being able to find your CD-ROM drive!

This is all bad enough: a major music label secretly installing software on a user's machine that integrates itself into the OS and hides itself so it cannot be found and/or removed. It gets worse. The method the rootkit uses to hide files, directories, registry keys, etc. is indiscriminate; anything with a name starting with "$sys$" gets hidden. Russinovich discovered this by creating a copy of notepad.exe that he named $sys$notepad.exe, and the file disappeared.

What this means is that anyone that wants to has the ability of hiding malicious files, procosses, etc. on a computer with Sony's software installed, without knowing how to create a rootkit of their own. This is a huge security hole!

Apparently, the company Sony got this software from has, since the story broke, released a patch that will remove the software's inability to hide files, although installing this patch involves knowing that it exists, and, apparently, removing the software can still cripple the user's computer. Sony, also (according to the Post), has indicated that the software has been included on 20 CDs so far, and thay it "may" include it on future titles.

In another twist, it was pointed out both in a comment on Russinovich's blog and on the Security Now! podcast that Russinovich's blog entry could possibly be considered a violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

For me, this is another reason not to buy CD's. I have recently downloaded iTunes in Windows, and had already decided to use that for any further music purchases, for a variety of reasons. This only adds to that list. However, whether I want to buy anything from Sony right now is questionable. This is just another example of the recording industry screwing their customers. Note that this software only affects Windows; Mac and Linux users can play the CD normally. Regardless, pirates are going to find a way around the DRM, and still pirate music, and this crap is only an incentive to not buy the CD.

What Is a Rootkit?

For those who don't know, a rootkit is software that is designed to hide itself on your system, so that you don't know it's there. Rootkits are used by crackers (bad hackers) to hide their presence on a compromised system. They have been increasingly used by spy-ware (software that collect data such as what web sites you visit and report this data back to some server) and other malware programs to make the user unaware that the software exists on the computer. Because the software's existence is hidden, typical malware removal detection and removal programs (like anti-virus software) can't detect it. When it is detected (using, for instance, a special program like Rootkit Revealer), it is very difficult and requires some more advanced knowledge to remove, and there is the potential that doing so may cripple your system.