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...]