Sunday, November 20, 2005

My illustrious Aikido career will apparently be postponed

Three weeks ago my lovely daughter had her 7th birthday party at a local Aikido dojo--Island Aikido, on tony Bainbridge Island. This was on the very strong recommendation of a family friend, and a bit of shot in the dark, as our family has had no contact whatever with the world of the martial arts. The party went swimmingly--Sensei Chris Mills had the kids well in hand (and some of those kids were real characters, let me tell you), and everybody had a good time.

I was intrigued enough with what little I saw that I thought I'd try it out myself, and try to get my daughters enthused about it too. I've actually long harbored an idle desire to see them proficient in a martial art. I would absolutely love it if they were to develop confidence in their ability to deal with, shall we say... adverse physical circumstances. I think it would be a great load off my mind once they get further out into the social world, and have to deal with bullies, and possibly overly enthusiastic romantic admirers. It's a tad early to worry about such things, but so goes the mind of this father.

At any rate, I was intrigued, and decided to try my hand at the closer-to-home Kitsap Aikido. Sensei Dan Delaney let me know that they'd be happy to see me come by for a session, to see if it was for me. Nice folks over there--tremendously good vibes. The class started at 9am, which is earlier than I'm usually presentable to the outside world on a Saturday. But Laurel encouraged me to go, and so I did. I must say it was pretty cool. I'm usually pretty averse to anything even halfway spiritual, or which concerns belief in things outside the typical 6 senses, but I was definitely taken with what bits of philosophy were coming through in the class. Not that that was a very large proportion of time spent, mind you.

I was assured that "everybody feels like a klutz for the first 6 months", and allowed onto the mats to pratice along with 6 other students. And sure enough I did feel like a klutz. For some reason I lost my sense of right and left, and would frequently find myself in a posture opposite to the one desired. No matter. The Sensei was very encouraging--let me know that his Sensei had only taken up Aikido at the age of 40, and said that I was doing uncommonly well for a beginner. I bet you say that to all the girls, I thought. ;-) But who wouldn't love such encouragement?

The Sensei led me through the first things any Aikido student learns--how to fall without getting hurt. This means backward and forward rolls. Well, I was doing fairly well, when (I think out of overconfidence) I took one forward roll too hard on my left shoulder, and banged the heck out of it. The result was pain, shortness of breath & even a bit of dizzyness.

Which is lame. Here I am--almost 40 years old and just now attempting to learn a martial art. And before I can even score myself a set of those cool pajamas they wear ;-) I go and hurt myself. Feh. Loser weekend warrior.

I think the problem was that I went too quickly to doing the rolls from a full upright position. I should have spent more time starting from a crouch, until I could do it without having to think about it. Sigh.

Now those of you who know me well may recall that I had a similar injury during our summer trip to New York. I was bodysurfing on an absolutely beautiful day at the beach, and having a blast. Felt like a kid again. But I rode one wave too far, and when it broke on the beach, it pretty much pile-drove me into the sand, on my left shoulder. Lucky thing was that my Brother-in-law Michael and Sister Mary are both in the Physical Therapy bidness, and Brother Tim is a full-on medical type physician don't you know. So I was in good shape in terms of getting fast medical advice (ice and ibuprophen) but it did cast a bit of a pall on the trip. Good sympathy though.

After playing it fairly cool at the dojo, I went to Urgent Care and waited a ridiculously long time to see a PA about it. The nice thing is that they did an x-ray and let me know that nothing was broken. Turns out my 'AC' joint (this would be the one mating the collarbone to the shoulderblade) is mildly sprained. I was given a 'shoulder immobilizer' (translation: a sling that ties around your waist to keep the arm snugged in to your body) and told to wear it for 2 days, after which I should start some range-of-motion exercises to keep from losing that. And I'm to stay away from the dojo for 2 weeks.

So. Apparently, my very promising Aikido career will have to wait a couple of weeks to begin. ;-)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sony To Customers: #@*$! you.

This is getting tons of press in the tech world, but not much in the mainstream, so I thought I'd write a bit about it too, so I could refer friends & family to what I hope is a reasonably terse description of the problem.

It seems that numerous Sony/BMG CDs come with a trojan horse program that burrows deep into the windows operating system, hides its files, memory processes and registry keys from the operating system, and installs an extra software layer between the OS and the cd-rom drive that, if removed, results in the drive becoming inoperable.

Now hiding stuff from the OS is a neat trick--not for your average, run-of-the-mill code monkey. Just about every program that runs on your machine--including antivirus and antispyware programs, rely on the OS to give it access to things like files, a list of programs currently in memory (processes) and registry keys (that's the OS's whole raison d'etre). If the OS doesn't know about a file, it obviously can't make it available to be scanned. So this is close to complete stealth technology--a jedi mind trick for your security software. "These aren't the bits you're looking for. You can go now. Move along."

Software like this has a distinguished history in the annals of malware--it's called a rootkit and its used by hackers to hide their presence on a machine that they've compromised (aka 'rooted').

Now right there that would be enough to make anybody angry, but it's actually worse. This trojan is implemented in such a way that it extends its 'cloak' to anything whose name starts with a magic string of characters: $sys$. So make a copy of notepad.exe, rename it to $sys$notepad.exe while the trojan is running, and the copy disappears from sight! Or take a registry key, throw $sys$ at the beginning of the key name, and that's gone too.

Making notepad disappear from sight may be a fun parlor trick, but the fact that this thing indiscriminately hides anything with a magic name means that its only a matter of time before some script kiddie adapts a worm to use this to hide their own nasty payloads from your computer. The change would be as easy as changing a filename from IHopeTheyDontFindThis.exe to $sys$TheyllNeverFindThisHaHa.exe. Nice.

There are full tech details on the sysinternals website.

So what to do? Well as a practical matter you obviously don't want to put any of the affected CDs in your computer. There are lists of which CDs have this tech on them out on the net, but I'm personally inclined to err on the side of caution and not mess with anything that has the Sony name on it.

I'm also going to boycott Sony products until I hear about a serious response to this problem--which at a minimum will have to include a complete recall and free replacement program for all infected cds, and an easily accomplished and safe uninstall process for infected PCs. Preferably the people responsible for implementing this in the first place will also be fired.

So I guess I'm not going to be getting Shadow of The Colossus for Christmas. [Sob...]

Saturday, October 29, 2005

New digital camera

When Laurel's parents came to visit last summer, her Mom brought her brand new, hyper-mega-super, oongatz digital camera--a Canon Powershot S2 IS. This thing takes fantabulous pictures--even when handled by unsophisticated photographers such as Laurel and I.

We've been lusting after this thing ever since, but haven't been able to bring ourselves to spend that kind of money on a digicam, until this week. Not sure what the precipitating event was (if indeed there was one) but we took the plunge. Man, what a nice camera. I'm still reading the manual, so I don't yet have a stranglehold on how to put it to optimal use, but we're getting some hella-nice shots out of it already.

We originally ordered it from this web site, but when we weren't getting notices from them that the thing had shipped, etc., we went back and looked at their holiday calendar. And holy cow, I think they're shut down more days in October than they're working! When I tried calling them, they were out for Sukkot (although, according to this calendar, it was actually Shemini Atzeret). When Laurel finally got someone on the phone, she learned it was back-ordered, and wouldn't be shipped for 6-8 weeks. Oy vey. So we cancelled the order and just went down to Circuit City.

All we need now are two sets of rechargeable batteries and a protective case for it & we should be set. Yay!

We've been watching season two of Arrested Development on DVD for the past two weeks. That show so rewards repeated viewings. The gags are packed so tightly that you just can't get them all in a single viewing. So funny.

Last night we took a break from AD, to watch The Chorus, despite not feeling like we were in the mood for something of the quiet-and-heartwarming variety. This was one of the many many movies I put on my Netflix queue long ago after hearing some positive buzz about it, then forgot about, kept promoting other flicks ahead of it etc. Then I stopped paying attention to our queue, and when it showed up in the mail I was like "I wanted this why?".

Netflix can be a harsh mistress sometimes. You pay a flat monthly rate, and can watch as many movies as you like, but you can only have 3 out at a time. There are no late fees--you just don't get any new movies until you return the ones you already have. So there's a bit of pressure to turn movies over, in order to get your money's worth. On the other hand, the lack of a due date means that you can wind up sitting on movies that you're not in the mood to see right now, but don't want to send back because you think you'll be in the mood soon. We've got that dynamic going on right now with Finding Neverland.

Anyway The Chorus completely won us both over--totally charming. Highly recommended.

Peace out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Joy and Sorrow of Serenity

So L and I took the day off from swimming with our darling daughters (Annelise is still kicking a cold anyway) and instead dropped them off at the neighbors, and went to see Serenity.

Ah, so wonderful. We were late fans of Firefly--just caught the buzz over at slashdot at some point, put the first disc on our Netflix queue, fell in love, and the rest is history.

Serenity was very pleasing--a total roller coaster, and with emotions all over the spectrum. Definitely recommended, whether you're a fan of the show or not. I hope they make a sequel or three.

Next eagerly-anticipated media event: DVDs of season 2 of Arrested Development come out a week from Tuesday. W00t!

Operation Downpour

So we've got these two young cats--littermates, adopted last year from the Humane Society. Cuter than the dickens, but quite destructive. They're called Mei and Tsatsuki (after the sisters in My Neighbor Totoro).

Early on we let them be 'indoor/outdoor' cats, and even bought a cat door so they could come and go as they pleased. They really liked that, but poor Mei was soon hit by a car (necessitating ridiculously expensive surgery). So bye bye cat door.

Now, Suki was so destructive that she actually completely ruined our carpeting in several spots--clawing her way down to the padding underneath the carpet. Crazy. We couldn't tolerate that, and had her declawed. Regrettable, but so would bringing her back to the Humane society. So she's not so much a threat anymore.

Now Mei on the other hand still has some of the tools Mother Nature intended her to have. In her quest for freedom she has torn gaping holes in (or otherwise destroyed) no less than five window screens, in an effort to create a hole big enough for her to come and go as she pleases, like the good old days.

These are not wimpy fabric screens, mind you. Well, actually the first one was, but the first time I replaced it I used metal. She goes right through them. Not right away--but she's persistant.

So we've been trying like heck to keep them inside. This is a tad difficult b/c their litterboxes are in the garage (and we do *not* want them inside, thank you) and we keep our car in the garage, so we have to occasionally open and close the door. Mei's preference is to be out all night, until about 4am--just 30 minutes before I have to be up for work. Nice.

Now when Mei is outside and she wants in, she starts meowing and in short order, jumping up to claw at the window screen. Never mind that the window behind it is closed and that she could never actually enter the house this way in a million years. No, this is actually a good strategy because I, sleep-addled and fearing another screen job, hear her going after my baby and actually get up out of bed, go downstairs, and let her in. She's trained me well... Sigh.

But I am happy to report that I've gained the upper hand in this relationship. Or I think so at any rate.

It so happens that the screen in question is directly over our (2d-story) bedroom window. And it also happens that Laurel & I keep a small tub in the shower, to catch the shower water while we're waiting for it to get hot so it doesn't get wasted (L's such the environmentalist.). Can you see where I'm going here? Well, it's only slightly more effort for me to bring said tub of water over to my window, open it up, and slosh some out onto the cat than it is for me to trek downstairs and let the dear thing in. (She can wait a bloody half-hour.)

I've gone through 3 iterations of the sloshing, and am hopeful that this will finally break her of the screen-slashing. If it doesn't work, we're having her declawed.


Friday, September 30, 2005


If you're not already hip to it, check out the wikipedia, a free, communal encyclopedia. So much fun stuff there--and all user generated. I spent about half an hour laughing over the Made-Up Words in The Simpsons page. Hilarious. If there's something you're interested in, do a search for it and see what they've got. If you don't like it--change it. So cool...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Bitchin' about admin privileges

Many of you know that I have recently suffered a nasty spyware infection. (This, despite using FireFox rather than IE, and running behind a NAT firewall, and running a software firewall (ZoneAlarm) and setting windows to auto-update itself--terribly unfair, but whaddayagonnado?)

Well, as I rebooted, scanned, repaired, etc. my venerable Dell 8100, I had some time to reflect on some of the especially nasty methods these things use to stay alive, and the part that I played in our infection.

One method these nasties use is to add entries in your HOSTS file. Now HOSTS is one of the various means your computer uses to translate human-readable internet addresses (like say, into machine-understandable numbers ("ip addresses") like This is just a text file, and on an XP system, it lives at c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts.

So if a nasty wants to prevent you from say, being able to get to the Windows update website, or the Norton Antivirus site, it can just add a simple line of text like this to your hosts file:

(or whatever the proper host name is for windows update). That ip address-- is a special one--it means "this computer right here that I'm sitting at--the local host.". (So if you're ever out and you see a pasty looking guy with a t-shirt that says "there's no place like", the joke is that that ip address is for 'home'. Ha ha--now you're in on the joke.

Anyway, that address is pretty much always reachable, but unless you happen to be running a web server on your machine, which will answer to the various URLs that start with, you'll never get anything but a 'page not found' error when you try to surf to anything starting with ''. Ingenious! Nasty!

[Incidentally, you can also make your own good use of this file, by adding entries for known scummy domains, by pointing them to Here's a good hosts file, maintained by one of Microsoft's MVPs. You see way fewer ads while browsing too. Recommended.]

One other things these scummy programs do is masquerade as protected windows operating system files. Windows has a very nice feature that prevents users from shooting themselves in the foot called Windows File Protection. This prevents users (and software installs) from removing or altering certain especially crucial operating system files. Unless the user (or software install) jumps through some hoops. The way it works is that the file delete, or overwrite appears to work, but then quick-like-a-bunny, behind the scenes, windows takes a shiny fresh version of the file from a hidden cache of pristene system files, and puts the file back the way it was.

This is a very nice thing for users (and software installs) that don't know what they're doing. It makes it just about impossible to hose a machine by monkeying with OS files. (Ask me about the time I hosed I think it was 4 laptops with my VB6 FTP client install... Oy. Bad Roy.). But spyware knows how to jump through the hoops & get their versions of these protected files onto your computer. And naturally, they don't just replace the one that's actually operating, they replace the one in the hidden cache of (formerly) pristene system files. So now windows file protection works for them, not for you. You can scan, detect the infection, and 'delete' the file (ha ha!) and then WFP comes in and helpfully 'corrects' this mistake you have made. Oy oy oy.

Sooooo... What do these two nasty methods have in common? Well, in order for them to work, they have to be run by someone with Administrator privileges on the machine. Administrators are Lord, God, King of the system--they can do pretty much any dang thing they want on the box.

And since windows evolved in an environment where there was only ever one person using a PC at a time, and that person had to be physically present in front of the machine, could put their hands on it & smash it to 1,000 pieces if they really wanted to, the windows world is still sort of getting the hang of the idea that not everybody should have Ultimate Supreme Grand Pooh-Bah access to the machine at all times. Specifically, software written for windows will frequently just assume that every user has admin privileges. This is a huge blind spot for developers (myself included) since they normally run with administrator privileges.

So, I think to myself--this is what I did to contribute to our infection. Both Laurel and I were running w/admin privs. This was the thing I could change that would ensure (or close) that we will never be infected again. And so I have downgraded both of our accounts (although I am still in the 'Debugger Users' group, which I suppose I should throw off, as I'm not really doing any development on this machine).

And so we are. And for the most part, things are going well. The one exception is the software that came with our Kodak EasyShare camera. This thing gives us a warning when we startup about how it will only work for a user with Admin privileges. And it looks like this is true--we can open the software and use it, but unless we log in interactively as a user w/admin privs (so 'Run as' does not work, alas!) the computer does not recognize when the camera is attached, and will not download new pictures. Damnation.

I even put this question to the Kodak support staff:
After getting hit by spyware I do not wish to run routinely with Administrator rights. How can I use the easyshare software with 'regular user' privileges? Thanks! -Roy
To which they helpfully replied:
We can guarantee the full functionality of the Kodak Easyshare Software only under administrator's privileges and we can only give support under this privileges.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Holy cow, that was easy.

Hello, I'm blogging at you now... ;-)

Today I got yet another bad haircut, and worked on my friend Kevin's computer, which is laden with spyware and other nasties.

Fall and the rains are coming, and it's getting harder and harder to escape the gravitational pull of my computer.

Last night I finished watching the Battlestar Galactica miniseries on DVD. Very cool stuff. Quite dark. Laurel actually went to bed before the surprise twist ending! I tortured her sufficiently before caving in and telling her what it was. Anyway, can't wait to start the first season discs.

I also watched Blade: Trinity, which Laurel was too smart to partake of. It sucked, of course. Sigh. I so liked that first one...

End communication.