THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 294 January 26 - February 1, 2004
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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January 26, 2004
There is a difference between a counsel of perfectionism and one of neglect of public abuse. Once it is known that blatant tyranny can go unpunished -- I would say that Waco comes pretty close to that already -- and that the authorities will take the side of the police in cases of abuse, there remain two alternatives.
One is special interest group representation. We all know that had the victim of the TSA's abuse in this case been black, it would not have happened, and had it happened there would have been public outcry. In Inglewood we have a second trial of a police officer for abusing the civil rights of a black youth who may or may not have been mistreated: the first jury could not reach a verdict: My point being that the issue will probably not be settled by the truth or falsity of the charges, but by the outcries of an advocacy group.
The trend towards special advocacy groups has already gone way too far. We do not need, but we probably will get, more such groups to tie up more public resources. Some of those will represent you and me, and act in our names to do things we would never dream of condoning. In Gothic Spain the result was separate laws that applied depending on who you were. Equal protection of the laws vanishes. One could argue we are too far down that road now.
The slavery issue is irrelevant. We are not arguing justice here but the rule of law. Laws may or may not be just; but without rule of law, justice lies in the hands of officials. Heaven and Hell are both rumored to be absolute monarchies. A judiciary of angels would need no laws, and the whole theory of aristocracy is that the aristocrats will be just and "do the right thing" and need no supervision from the central authorities. "I have the high justice," says Aramis, and sends Milady off to have her head removed. We can cheer in that case. And rule by justices of the peace and local lords works pretty well, although no one imagines it is not subject to abuse.
But republics stand or fall by the rule of law. Creation of arbitrary power, then condoning the use of that power, is the worm at the heart. No, of course it won't matter to most of us even if (as I doubt) the incident is true. The harm comes from letting the public officials, and the public, know that such things can happen without consequences to the officers involved. It may take a while, but the end of that train is Waco.
I do not imagine perfection. I do not even imagine that every instance of ultra vires actions by public officials will be reprimanded, much less punished. But I do believe that when such actions become sufficiently blatant and there are no consequences, the entire notion of the Rule of Law suffers, and suffers badly.
Sure: "end of the Republic" is an exaggerated figure of speech and I could easily have chosen better words. But the accumulation of incidents in which the public authorities are proven to be more important than the citizens is an ugly trend, and it leads to uglier consequences.
Let me try to nail it down: incidents are not terribly important, but justifying acts of tyranny -- particularly blatant and stupid acts -- on the grounds that allowing the authorities extraordinary power so they can protect us (and particularly when they aren't making us safer in the first place) is extremely important and cannot be allowed to slide.
I suppose I should say nothing, or speak at length in future. In important matters, short comments are often misleading.
There is a big surge of messages related to a new virus, called "MyDoom" by McAfee/Network Associates. It comes with an attachment of various extensions, with the actual attached file names "something.txt" + lots of space characters + ".exe" or ".scr" or other executable extensions.
The subject is various, but I have seen it to include "Status" "hello", "Server Report", "Hi", "Mail Delivery System".
I don't know the damage it does, but it is spreading so fast that it seems like a 'SoBig" variant. At work here (local government agency), I am getting 20-30 per minute, which is a high volume of one type of virus mail for us. I suspect that many will be finding this in their personal email boxes over the next few days.
More info about the virus here, among others http://vil.nai.com/vil/content/v_100983.htm .
The usual warnings apply.
Rick Hellewell Information Security Dude
And this from Roland on MyDoom
Last night the washing machine died in a cloud of blue smoke. Acrid smoke. We pulled the plug and called the Maytag man.
The cause was obvious as soon as he got the cover off. The motor had been jammed: a rat had dived into the motor, and the impeller chopped him into chunks before becoming jammed up.
It will take a new motor.
That also explains why Sable was so interested in the dead washing machine. Pretty clearly she had chased the rat into his last hiding place. I suppose I had better set some more rat traps...
January 27, 2004
Six more troopers today. Are we geared for this kind of war? We don't seem to have equipped all the National Guard units; their inventory was allowed to deteriorate on the theory that they could swap with units being deployed. But now the deployments are longer.
If we are at war, are we acting as if we are at war? Frederick the Great said that the burghers in the towns and the peasants in the fields should neither know nor care when the state was at war. But that was in Royal times...
And here's a howdy-do...
Linux supporter uses Windows to launch an attack on Unix?
David L. Burkhead
January 28, 2004
The action is over in mail, as I try to clean up here, and get ready for next month's column. A correspondent recently called this place a "salon" and perhaps that's as good a description as any.
Only two days after the original Mydoom/SCObig worm, a
variant has appeared. This worm, which I've dubbed SCObig.B, appears similar
to the original worm, but targets Microsoft as well as SCO for a DDoS
In fact I thought this sufficiently important that I sent a mailer to the subscribers calling their attention to it.
I won't say I agree with all his conclusions, but it's interesting.
That is: my wife has had Media Player and a DVD drive on her machine for a long time but she hasn't had any need to play DVD's on it. Then she got one of her class reunion. She put it into the DVD drive and up popped Windows officering to play it with Windows Media Player but when she said "yes, do that," it informed her it couldn't because there wasn't a proper decoder installed. I tried the experiment with a movie DVD and got the same result.
We tried her class reunion DVD on the Mac and the result was horrible, but that's a story for the column.
On all my machines I can play a movie with either Media Player or Power DVD which I routinely install when I build the machines; I am not sure why I didn't put it on her machine last year when I built it, but I did see that she got Windows Media Player and assumed that would work.
It wouldn't and didn't. All attempt to play DVD video on her machine with Windows Media Player (we downloaded the very latest version) got the message that there was not a correct decoder.
Then I installed PowerDVD (which actually came with the hardware drive to begin with), and lo! it not only would play the movie DVD and her DVD with Power DVD, but it will play either of them using Windows Media Player now. Clearly there is a "decoder" in PowerDVD that isn't present in Windows Media Player, or am I doing something wrong? I expect I can find out by digging, but perhaps one of you readers knows the answer? No speculation, please. I can speculate, and if I need to I can dig up the answer, but with luck someone knows and can tell me. Thanks.
Media Player and PowerDVD are both based on Microsoft DirectShow. DirectShow defines COM objects called filters for manipulating A/V files, including those on your DVD. Microsoft does not bundle a DirectShow filter to decompress MPEG2 video. Perhaps a certain court case discouraged them.
PowerDVD includes that filter. The MPEG2 decompression filter is the most important thing you get when buying PowerDVD. Once it is installed any DirectShow application including Media Player can use it.
Regards, Bob Wakefield
So. Thanks. I suspected it was something of that sort. And:
Re: Microsoft Media Player 9 & DVDs.
For all its glitter, Windows Media Player is just a front-end for various video/audio decoders, known as "codecs". That is, when it tries to play a video stream, it looks at the headers in said stream and then attempts to use the appropriate libraries to decode (and, in your case, decrypt) the data.
You can't play DVDs in Media Player 9 in an "out-of-the-box" installation, because Windows lacks the ncessary CSS decryption, MPEG2 video and AC3 audio libraries. Once you install a 3rd-party DVD player, however, the codecs are available to the rest of the system and all should be well.
The same holds true for other video formats like DiVX or Xvid and (to a lesser exent) Quicktime.
What confused me was that at the Microsoft Media Summit last Fall, they talked a lot about their superior codec for Media Player 9 and how it was better than anyone else's. I guess I still need to look up just why they don't supply one. Perhaps it is in developer tools. In any event, once Cyberlink Power DVD was installed everything worked. Power DVD comes free with the DVD drive; nearly all DVD drives have one or another DVD player software.
Are you sure you're not confusing WMP9's new DVD navigation interface and the new WMF streaming formats with support for the actual DVD standard itself? I'm pretty sure that Microsoft does not have a CSS license key, nor an internal MPEG-2/AC3 codec. They _do_ have a propriertary MPEG-4 codec, but that's WMF/ASF and doesn't have anything to do with DVD playback.
Which is undoubtedly the explanation. Thanks!
Our, uh, interesting experience with the Mac and Roberta's class reunion DVD goes in the column.
January 29, 2004
I'll work on Janissaries today.
Question to my British readers: what would an English army major assigned to one of the Ghurka regiments call himself when signing a formal document?
If you use Internet Explorer 6, read the above NOW.
January 30, 2004
Pete Bucher, Commander, USN, RIP. Master and Commander of the USS Pueblo. Long ago as a journalist for the National Catholic Press I interviewed Commander Bucher and several of his men. I have never heard a man more highly thought of by his sailors.
I thought it an act of war at the time, and I have no reason to think differently. But those were the days of the Cold War, and nuclear standoff, and everyone had to tread lightly.
Went to the LA Wagner Society bash.
February 1, 2003
I took the day off
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