Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lenovo Macbook Air ad/parody

An ad for the Lenovo X300, their competitor to the Macbook Air.

Be sure to wait for the last few seconds of the video. Perhaps IBM could borrow the slogan for their battle of Lotus software against the MOSS stack. ;-)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

twitter backlash

I'm not sure what kind of social commentary it is, but even Penny Arcade has joined the Twitter backlash. There is also a very funny post on the Penny Arcade homepage. My favorite part is the last paragraph:
The last "tweet" I ever did really explains it all, for me. I was up in Vancouver, and I put up a message saying so, and what kinds of activities I was engaged in. After I did it, I heard a voice - my own voice - saying, "Who the fuck do you think you are? Who are you that you can force your Goddamned minutia on other people, your stupid bullshit, your stone-ground artisanal condiments? How dare you. You should be ashamed." And I was.

If only all Twitter users were as unabashedly insightful.

Monday, April 21, 2008

John Lance's Bug Stupidity Scale, revisited

Mary Beth posted John Lance's bug stupidity scale, which was his response to a frustrating internal process. Mary Beth posted it as text, and for your convenience I clipped it out and recreated it as a PNG. Enjoy!


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

widespread RFID hacking a real concern

In mid-March news broke about a pair of researchers who had cracked the 48-bit encryption in one of the most widely used RFID chips in the world. These chips are used in more than 2 billion bank cards, door access cards, and transportation passes worldwide. Initially it was thought they would be secure for at least two years due to the complex nature of the hack (the researchers separated the chip into over 10,000 layers). New cryptographic techniques were applied and that quickly dropped to minutes, and now it's a matter of seconds. With no physical access to the card. From up to 10 meters away.

So why should you care? Well, you don't know if your bank card, door access card, passport or transportation pass has one of these. One European government has deployed soldiers at certain sites that use RFID badges. That oughta tell you something. If that doesn't concern you, how does it feel knowing that someone with a laptop could be sitting in an airport, a hotel lobby, or even a coffee shop you pass by and grab all your information? Within minutes your credit and bank accounts get wiped out, or your building security card could be duplicated so it looks like you're the one who accessed the computer room, stole the backup tapes, and sold them to a competitor.

In case you're wondering why such low-level encryption was released for such high-value purposes, the chipset involved was introduced in 1994 when cracking 48-bit encryption took months. It has been superseded by chips with stronger security, but it requires both the cards and readers to be upgraded. That's an expensive proposition. The lower-security chip is an entry level one, so it's popular from a cost perspective. I can't blame the manufacturer for offering it, I just wish it hadn't been adopted for such sensitive purposes. Library cards, sure. Shipment or inventory tracking, not a problem. Banking, building security, or personally identifiable information? What the hell are those people thinking?!

RFID is being deployed as a convenience with little thought to the security behind it. Until now it was assumed the need for special equipment was enough of an impediment. That has proven false, and I have no clue how you stop someone from stealing your identity from 30 feet away.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dining With Friends 2008

It's that time again. May 3rd we'll be hosting our 10th Dining With Friends event. We're so far behind the curve it's ridiculous. The event is less than two weeks away and we haven't finalized a menu or sent out invitation. I selected Indian as the theme several months ago, and we have finished composing the lists of dishes and invitees. Now it's down to culling down the 30+ dishes to 10 or 12 (out of 6 or 8 recipes per dish), and getting the 40 invitations filled out, addressed and mailed.

If you're going to be in Charleston -- or want to be -- on May 3rd, let me know. The more the merrier. The hard work will be done by then, but I might conscript you for dish duty. ;-)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What to do when Windows Update stops working

Over the weekend I had to repair Windows XP SP2 on Myron's computer. Since that time I haven't been able to apply Windows updates. I can download them, either manually by going to Microsoft's website or by using Automatic Updates, but they won't actually install. After digging around for a while it's apparently a problem that happens when you repair Windows. It's prevalent enough that Microsoft created a Knowledgebase entry about it: Updates are not installed successfully from Windows Update, from Microsoft Update, or by using Automatic Updates after you repair a Windows XP installation.

Ben's meme about's return

For the record I will say I've got no beef whatsoever with Volker. I actually like him. Vowe is an online persona who is famous for being famous, in a Paris Hilton sort of way. I just have no use for that.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

question about using SendKeys in Notes

I've been working on something lately and I needed to use SendKeys from a button in a Notes document. I kept getting the error "Illegal function call". I finally found someone with the same problem on, and when I used WScript.Shell it worked perfectly.

The help for SendKeys says "The SendKeys statement is not legal at the module level." Could someone translate that into English for me? How is code in a button click event "at the module level"? If that's at the module level, what isn't?

Monday, April 07, 2008

How To Recover from "Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt"

Or "How I Spent My Weekend".

Myron turned on the home PC Saturday morning and was greeted with this:
Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt

C:\windows\system32\config\system missing or corrupt

You can attempt to repair this file by starting windows setup using the original setup CD-Rom. Select "r" at the first screen to start repair.

Luckily I have a laptop, so I Googled the error and found what looked like a very nice writeup at Help2Go. As I started reading it I got bogged down in the links that kept getting deeper and deeper, eventually going back to an article about backing up your hard drive using a Knoppix Live CD. Here's what I did that eventually fixed the issue. This is the abridged version, I tried lots of other things and didn't finally get the computer up and running until around 8:00 Sunday night.
  1. Insert the Windows XP CD and boot from it. I'm using an ASUS motherboard so this meant pressing F8 for the boot menu, then selecting my DVD drive. Another option is to go into your BIOS settings and change your boot order, if it's not already set to boot from CD.
  2. Start the Recovery Console by pressing R from the Welcome screen.
  3. Select your installation of Windows XP. Unless you're using dual boot there should only be one.
  4. Wait for the console to load, then enter chkdsk /p /f . The article on Help2Go says to just use the /p switch, but after looking at the parameters of chkdsk I realized that only tells you if there are problems. You need /f to fix them.
  5. Reboot the computer from the XP CD again. At the screen where you pressed R before (for the recovery console), press Enter.
  6. Accept the license agreement. Now you should see a list of Windows XP installations. Again, unless you have a dual boot configuration there should only be one. Make sure it is selected, then press R to start the repair.
  7. IF REPAIR IS NOT AN OPTION, STOP! Read this. I had to use the tip from Alex Nichol, but I'm not going to post it here because it's definitely an edge case.
After I did all this I was able to boot into Windows XP, but I was still curious what had happened. The chkdsk utility said it found and corrected errors, but what exactly? My PC was powered off, so what caused it to fail during startup? I'm using Seagate hard drives, so I downloaded the SeaTools utility, burned it to a CD from my laptop, and booted from it. I ran their long tests and that turned up no errors on my C drive, but 31 errors on my D drive. It also said that my D, which is where I keep my Windows page file, had hit a temperature in excess of 70C. I'm not sure how that's possible when the two drives are millimeters apart and the other one is perfectly fine. I'm also not sure how a failure of my D drive would cause my C drive to go wonky, either. Perhaps something was being written to the page file, the second drive died, and it caused data corruption on the first drive.

Needless to say I'll be replacing both drives as soon as I can. In all the time I've been using Windows this is the first time anything like this happened to me. I can't say it's entirely Windows' fault, either.