Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Encryped Hard-Drives are coming soon

Encrypted hard-drives from Seagate are on the way. A news release discussed their latest disk drive technology, and the implications of hardware-level encrypting. On the plus side, it would mean that a stolen hard-drive would be essentially useless. On the down side (depending how you use your PC), it would enable DRM (Digital Rights Management) to (potentially) control what you are able to write to your disk drive.

This encryption direction for hard-drives is part of the Trusted Platform Module (TPM) initiative to better secure data on computers and help protect against viruses and malware that write unauthorized code to a hard-drive. In theory, this new hardware-level authentication, in conjunction with a PC and an operating system that supports something called a TCG stack (authentication related stuff), only properly authenticated transactions will be able to write to the hard drive.

I personally do not care about the DRM implications, since I do not use my computers for storing any music or video. And, the only pictures I store on my computers are the ones I take personally. But, I know others will have a concern about all this new potential to limit what can be stored on the hard-drive.

My main concern is, that although this hardware-level encryption and protection sounds great, I just wonder how long it will be until a new level of sophistication is reached in the next generation of computer virus, thus enabling that virus to circumvent this new technology. Seems like whatever countermeasures are created to thwart viruses and malware, there is always yet another exploit just around the corner. This hardware may make such an advanced virus unlikely, or at least unlikely to emerge anytime soon, but I for one will not be at all surprised when the encryption/protection is cracked and exploited. I hope I am wrong, because it would just be wonderful to know I can safely use my computer without the worry of viruses in downloaded emails/documents/etc. Time will tell if this new technology is all, or part, of the answer.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Windows XP SP3 - Delayed until 2008!

If you were hoping for a third Service Pack for Windows XP, you are going to have to wait quite a bit longer. Microsoft officially altered their "roadmap" for Windows XP SP3 to now be released in the first half of 2008 (wow, that is specific - not!). And, if you are a betting person, I personally think your money would best be placed on betting this Service Pack never even happens!

It seems more than obvious to me, that with Microsoft's pending release of Windows Vista, and the existing expiration of support of for Windows XP SP1, that they have but one objective: push you to the new operating system (Vista), or make your life hell otherwise. That hell currently comes in the form of a god awful number of post-SP2 updates to Windows XP that you have to apply to any new installation of Windows XP (even if you have a WinXP w/ SP2 install disk, you have TONS of updates to apply after install). If you are very technically savvy, you can always make what they call a "slipstream" install CD of your own that contains all the updates, and have those installed at the same time as Windows, but even that is a royal PITA and with all the constant security updates emerging for Windows and IE and such, you'd spend half your life building these custom CDs.

Something needs to change. Microsoft, though incredibly profitable, seems to be doing everything in its power to annoy its current product users. Along with this Windows XP SP3 announcement, they also pushed off the Windows Server 2003 SP2 until a similar date. Once again, I figure they want you to commit to their next OS instead. Perhaps not enough users get annoyed by this type of thing, since, as I mentioned, MS is very profitable - which means they sure are selling a lot of product. OR, is that profitability due to the fact you can hardly find a PC sold without the OS (either with a blank hard-drive, or with a FREE O.S. like Linux preinstalled).

I have tried to buy PCs from a few manufacturers with Linux on, or without Windows on, and guess what -- sure, you can buy one, but you still have to pay for Windows thanks to the licensing terms the vendors (read: Dell, Gateway, etc. etc.) have with MS. Hmmm... that seems just a bit monopolistic of MS! That is what really needs to change to move the market to Linux or some other free/open solution. (Or, perhaps Apple will be the beneficiary?)

At this time, I have absolutely no intention of upgrading to Windows Vista when it comes out. And, I do not really care how outdated my XP SP2 becomes either (aside from blatant and severe security holes that may emerge). I can do most of my day to day work on Linux if need be, and Linux is catching up fast. New builds of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Suse, Kanotix, and the like are constantly arriving (and, guess what - they have regular distribution-release cycles, so you know when the next version is coming), and their update/patch mechanisms are much better implemented.

When I need to use Windows, I will do so in a Virtual Machine (using VMWare) - not only will it make it easy to keep XP SP2 around for a while, but it will isolate it from security issues, etc (if my VM gets "infected" or anything, I'll just restore from a backup DVD image of the VM). Oh, I forgot to mention, MS also changed the licensing terms for Vista that prevent all but the Professional (i.e., "Business") version from running in a Virtual Machine from what I heard too! (even more reasons to avoid).

Every time Microsoft does things like delay service packs, ram new versions of software down our throats, tighten license terms, and so forth, the more I focus on how to use alternative OSs and software. Keep up the great work Microsoft! :)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chevrolet's new, and completely lame, advertising strategy

I have written other blog entries about lame advertising campaigns and the like before, but Chevrolet has just inspired me again with its latest, absolutely lame, ad campaign.

If you have not seen the ad that inspires this discussion, basically it is a series of images showing bits and pieces of American history with a few Chevy products mixed into the bunch. Images of Rosa Parks on a bus, Richard Nixon doing his famous peace-sign wave, Vietnam clips, hurricane Katrina devastation, 9/11 imagery, and a whole boat load of other similar big-event things are in here. And, every so often there will be a picture of something like an old Chevy pickup truck that is meant to look like it is from the 1970's, and so forth.

Well, if I was to even for a minute consider investing in GM stock, this commercial alone would quickly change my mind. And, if I was to consider buying a GM car, this commercial would do absolutely nothing to influence me towards a purchase.

I am so sick of these artsy/statement commercials that do everything possible to avoid presenting the product for sale. And, I am sure GM spent millions on this crap. One (advertising exec) professional that Fox News spoke to today tried to describe these commercials as a push to be more "real"; part of a greater "real" push going on in all commercials. Real?? Real to whom? Real to the advertising firm that made it, but pure crap to any consumer that just wants to see what Chevy has to offer thse days.

Who knows, maybe subconsciously those images of Rosa Parks or Richard Nixon will make someone just run out and buy a Chevy that otherwise wouldn't -- because, Chevy quite obviously had some part in all these events shown in there commercial? Whenever I see ads like this (lame ones -- and there are many), I can't help thinking what the ad firm was compensated to produce such a thing. Seems to me that anyone could have put together a series of images like this, and then inserted clips of any product they wanted to (in this case, a product that was around for 40 years or more) throughout the ad, and poof, you have a new commercial. I think Chevy'd be better off putting the money into developing something like the "Fast and the Furious 4 -- Chevy Rules" or something, where the entire movie uses only Chevy cars.

Well, the proof will be in the Chevrolet sales, and I can't wait to see how those go for GM over the next 12 months (I know I will not be buying the stock, especially based on hopes for ads like this to be effective).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Windmill Zoning in Residential Areas - I plan to try!

My father recently ran across a new windmill designed for residential wind-power applications that sure sounds like it has potential. It is called the Skystream 3.7, and is one of the first I have seen that employs low-wind-speed generation capabilities, and a reasonable size and form-factor, uses modern blades, and is also of a reasonable cost -- a typical install is supposed to run around $9,000 USD currently.

I really like how the unit is sold as a complete "system" that includes all the hookup to your residential power supply from the electric company, and has all that crossover electronics and such included. This makes for pretty much a one-stop-shopping experience from the looks of things. The windmill is rated at 1.8KW, and is designed to offset 40-60% of the average home's power utilization requirements. Not bad. Heck, give me two of them and it'd be even better.

I hope Skystream doesn't mind my copying a bit of their promotional information, since the following is a direct copy/paste from their page showing the basic specs.
  • Product Brochure: Skystream 3.7 brochure (PDF)
  • Rated Capacity: 1.8 KW
  • Rotor: 12 feet / 3.72 meters; 50–325 RPM
  • Alternator: Gearless, permanent magnet brushless
  • Voltage Output: 240 VAC (Optional 208 VAC)
  • Estimated Energy Production: 400 KWh per month at
  • 12 MPH (5.4 m/s)
  • Weight: 154 pounds
  • Tower: Towers from 35-110 feet are available; height is
  • dependent by site
  • Technical Specifications: Skystream 3.7 Spec Sheet (PDF)
  • Warranty: Five year limited
  • Availability: October 2006
Now, my main concern is how to get this thing through my local zoning regulations, since I live in a residential "R1-A" region, and after giving the local codified ordinances handbook a perusing, I have found no regulations that address windmills in particular. There are provisions in the local zoning code for things like TV antennas, satellite dishes, building height, and so forth, but no mention of windmills. So, chances are, I am going to have to set precedence by trying to gain a variance for my windmill. If I can really get a unit like this installed and operation for $9,000 or so, and if I can get it through zoning, I plan to install one. I think it'd set a great example of what this country needs to do in order to free itself from the strangle-hold the oil cartel (OPEC) has on us now. Wish me luck!

The toothless and useless UN

I recently wrote a blog entry about how I see China as the player of utmost importance in this whole North Korea (NK) nuclear standoff. And, as I wrote in that prior blog, I expected China to do what is in their best interest regardless of the outcome of any UN Security Council resolutions.

Well, I sit here watching the news this morning and listening to pretty much the exact thing I prognosticated: sanctions will be imposed on NK, including inspecting vessels going in and out of the country (supposedly for weapons technology or nuclear related stuff), but China says it will not inspect any of the trade going in and out of NK by land (i.e., through China). Of course, China is NKs biggest supporter and trading partner, and regardless of what the UN says they are "united" in resolving, the fact of the matter is that China's disregard for the resolution to inspect inbound and outbound shipments for NK says a world about where they really stand -- anything but "united" with the rest of the council. As always, with any country in the UN, personal interests always come before doing what is right.

Oddly enough, the next country that could be an issue with enforcing any sanctions against NK is South Korea. A fair amount of cash-flow into the North comes from the South. Southern commercial interests in Northern real-estate development (like, mountain resort communities) propel cash-flow northward. And, the whole time, people living in Seoul seem to think that NK may actually target them with a nuke given the chance. Talk about a strange double-vision thing when viewing the North from the South!

The fact is, unless truly united (and consistent) action is taken against the NK, this latest round of resolutions and sanctions will end up exactly where all the prior actions have: in the useless and toothless resolutions graveyard. NK will continue its nuclear arms progress and its threats against the world, and politicians will blame their predecessors for the situation that arises.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea Nuclear Threat : China the beneficiary?

I have been contemplating the whole North Korea nuclear threat for years. I am especially interested in how this threat may fundamentally alter the world power-scheme among major nations, particularly with regards to China.

Now that North Korea has apparently followed through on its threat to test a nuclear weapon, the inevitable "world response" will emerge. Having completely lost all faith in the UN's ability to accomplish anything, I am convinced any such response is a complete waste of time. So many "warnings" and "urgings" and so forth have been issued to North Korea (who, as expected, simply ignores these discussions) and Iran (who also snubs such communications) in regards to their nuclear ambitions; isn't it obvious to the rest of the world that talk isn't going to accomplish anything? Countries like this have learned how easy it is to just ignore the "international community", since they have figured out this community is all talk and no action.

Much of this all-talk, no-action persona of the UN has to do with the fact that, even though the organization's name implies unity, there is anything but singularity of conviction or action among this group, especially the UN Security council. The Security Council members do everything in their power to push their own agenda (the USA included in this) instead of unite in a cause -- and, the world at large has learned how this works and takes full advantage of it. It's almost always predictable how the members will vote: if the USA wants to pursue a particular direction, you can be assured that the Soviet Union and China will oppose it; and, the reverse is true if China wants something we do not; the UK usually buddies with the USA and vice-versa; and then there is France - the "swing vote" in many situations; etc.

In this particular situation, China has incredible leverage for reasons of geographical proximity to the aggressor (North Korea), and its status as a nuclear super-power. And, simply put: nothing is getting done with regards to NK unless China wants it done. Although China is our largest trading partner, and a supposed ally, it can not be forgotten that China is a Communist country acting to protect its own interests throughout the region. China has been escalating their own military buildup, their manufacturing capabilities (much of it with the assistance our consumer feeding-frenzy on Chinese goods), and their deals with commodity sources (like Iran and Venezuela) - perhaps the NK crisis can be used as an excuse for some of this now?

China seems poised to gain additional world power and influence from this NK situation. Since, as the way I see it, only China can tip the balance against NK, they have positioned themselves to now become a larger player on the world political stage. Having the power to defuse a potential nuclear crisis surely increases their relevance. I will not be at all surprised to see China realize this and exploit the situation to maximize their power throughout the world and world organizations (like the impotent UN). But, would we or any other UN member country do any differently? -- perhaps/probably not.

As certain as the UN's inability to unite is the global quest to gain or retain power. Many nations of the world promise to ignore all sense of reason or regard for humanity's best interest in pursuit of power and relevance. And, today's power-tool of choice is the nuclear weapon -- you get one, and you suddenly have percieved power; consequences be damned (as humanity ultimately will be).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gluten Free Website technicalities driving me nuts!

For those awaiting updated posts on my gluten free blog, I hope you have patience. I have gotten so wrapped up in getting the recipe-postings section on my book site done that I have not put much time aside for anything else. And, as with nearly all programming "fun" (from experience), there is always some technical challenge to get past.

I have been hit with some of the most annoying "bugs" (or "features" as the software makers would probably label them) this week, particularly in getting my Recipe data into SQL-Server 2005 from a custom Win32 GUI using ADO Dataset Command Text values to pass my recipe-HTML from the GUI to the SQL Server. The sticking point was hit when my existing recipe-text (which I had in HTML already) contained a bunch of embedded quotation marks -- double quotes (vs. single quotes) were especially problematic. It is not the first time I have had to save such data to SQL-Server, but for some reason the normal methods for properly pre-processing those quotes was not working. I ended up using *single* quotes in my HTML around style names, etc., even though I do not think the W3C would see that as meeting their standards. IE/Firefox still accepts the end-result, but I am still miffed that I can not get the double-quotes to save to the database properly.

More annoying is how the command-text I am sending from the GUI to the DB will execute just fine if I copy/paste the command-text-string (containing the double-quotes,etc) into SQL's Query Analyzer window and execute it directly (without the GUI getting involved in the matter, and no ADO layer in between). That tells me there is something more going on here.

Well, I may revisit this one if issues persist. For now, the single-quote workaround is in place, and I am sticking with it.

Next challenge: Dealing with shortcomings of SQL 2005's IDE! Argghh. And, DTS (which is now SSIS or such), is frustrating me when I try to copy objects to my web-host from a local DB. The tool is copying table structures/data over, but omitting all referential integrity, keys, indexes, etc., and being new to SSIS I have yet to discover an option to enable that (why it wouldn't be obvious, I do not know -- hopefully there IS just an option to switch as I want!).

Monday, October 02, 2006

More ASP.Net (DotNet) 2.0 Discussion

A while ago, I wrote a blog entry about how I am putting ASP.Net 2.0 (using C#) to the test on my new gluten free recipes website. I have been making use of some of the new ASP DotNet 2.0 features, like Master-Pages, quite a bit for this site.

There are quite a few other ASP DotNet 2.0 features I plan to try out yet. The following is a list of some of the most significant new features of ASP.Net 2.0:
  • Codebehind 2.0 - with new Partial-Classes support
  • New Dynamic Compilation Model
  • Precompiling and Deploying Without Source
  • Master Pages - other pages can inherit from (I love this feature!)
  • Data Source Controls - even easier Data binding
  • Data Controls - especially the GridView control
  • Other New Controls - more than 40 new ones
  • Membership Service - an easy-to-use API for creating and managing user accounts on secure sites, as well as storage for those accounts
  • Login Controls - easier forms authentication
  • Role Management - simplifies the task of authorizing access to resources based on roles
  • Profiles - ready-built solution to the problem of persistently storing personalization settings and other per-user data items
  • Data-Driven Site Navigation - use an XM SiteMap file along with the new SiteMapDataSource bound to a Menu or TreeView control
  • URL Mapping - when your site structure changes, you can map old links to new with a urlMappings section in the section of your web.config file
  • SQL Cache Dependencies
  • Validation Groups - Validation controls can now be grouped
  • Cross-Page Postbacks
  • Client Callback Manager (XML-HTTP) - pages can call back to the server without fully posting back
  • Asynchronous Pages - for greater scalability among other things
  • Encrypted Configuration Sections - long needed in web.config! Especially for connection strings.
Here's a link to an MSDN article on ASP.Net 2.0 that offers a much more detailed review of the above features if you want to learn more.