Ranting and raving and carrying on

Just a few random thoughts about random stuff. Warning - may contain profanity

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Location: Toronto-ish, Ontario, Canada

Just a guy... Bit of a geek, but who isn't these days?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Stepping into a pile of ..it

Okay, about Iraq. I'm not American, first off. Didn't vote for Bush, or Gore. So I'm pretty apolitical in that respect.

There's a lot of debate right now about the war in Iraq. Was it right? Immoral? Illegal? Well, as a low-ranking officer and ex-grunt, let me give you my perspective: get the job finished first, then debate it. There's still crud going on over there every day, and if you walk away from it too soon there'll be a power vacuum. But, if the troops over there get too caught up in this particular debate, it will distract them from their mission, and they'll screw up. People will die. It's hard to concentrate on watching for ambushes if you're wondering if you will be tried as a war criminal later on.

Also, remember that the press has, shall we say, an "interest" in showing the bad stuff. "If it bleeds, it leads," as I recall. They would rather show firefights and bodies and so on, instead of talking about how the epidemics that the critics were saying would sweep Iraq didn't occur.

As for the rationale for the war... This is a thorny issue. There has been some evidence of "WMDs" found, a few shells here and there. No huge stockpiles, but stuff was found. So, suppose the police raid a house on suspicion that there's a huge cocaine-dealing operation there, but all they find is a small stash for "personal" use. Do they say "Oops, sorry", or do they charge the owner with possession and take him to jail? The legal principle should be pretty much the same - stuff was found that they shouldn't have had, that the UN said they shouldn't have, and that they claimed they didn't have. How much would be "enough" to rationalize the war? One shell? Ten? A hundred? A thousand? I can't answer that question. I don't think any of us can, although many will try. Something else to consider... There's been lots of reports of "huge chemical agent" finds in Iraq, which always seem to turn out to be pesticides. Do you know the difference between pesticides and nerve agents? It's not much different - the treatment for exposure to an overdose of insecticide is similar to that for exposure to nerve agents , including atropine injections.

In short, I'm not coming out for or against the war. (How typically Canadian! I'm on the fence!) What I am saying is, now that the job is started, make sure the troops have the tools and support they need to finish the job. Otherwise, what rises from the ashes of Saddam's Iraq could be far worse. The job, by the way, is handing Iraq back to the Iraqi people - which apparently the "bad guys" don't want to happen, since they keep bombing and attacking Iraqi-controlled police stations, army recruiting centres, etc. If this is really just a "get the Americans out" movement, why are they attacking their own people too? Just a thought.

My only real, non-theoretical problem with the Iraq war is that it defocused attention from Afghanistan. People are still fighting and dying there, and the Taliban is still trying to get back into power. The US, like every other country in the world, has cut its military manpower since the cold war ended. They really can't effectively fight multiple large-scale wars at the same time.

The rest of the world should be stepping in in Afghanistan to drag that country kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Why? Several reasons. First, poppies are still a cash crop there - prevent that and you'll significantly cut down on the world heroin trade. (Which gets into the drugs thing - look, you do what you want, I don't care. Just remember that "organized crime" and (increasingly) terrorist groups get a cut on just about all of it.) Second, Afghanistan has been pretty beaten up in the past - they have a long history of being invaded by just about everybody. If we allow a generation to grow up knowing peace, it just might catch on. Third, the Taliban (remember them) want back in, and they have had links to Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda, in turn, hate pretty much all of Western civilization. Groups linked to Al-Qaeda are known to be in Iraq as well (even the press have acknowledged this).

Any way, a lot of this is just my opinion, I'm sure a lot of you don't agree. That's your right. The freedom of speech (which I'm exercising) and the freedom of dissension (which you are exercising) are both pretty fundamental rights, which a lot of people in this world still don't have. The Iraqis do, now. So do the Afghanis. And isn't that worth just about any cost?

Three steps to Computer Safety

Ok, if you're reading this, you have a computer, or at least have access to one. Either that, or you have some very spooky powers, in which case ignore what I'm about to say, Neo.

Still with me? Cool. Now, by now you've probably heard of this thing called the "Internet". It's a very cool place, where you can see what a lot of other people have to say, and interact with them in various ways. However, since most of you are the electronic equivalent of a small child, let me spell it out for you - strangers are bad. If you get an e-mail from someone you don't know, don't blindly launch the attachment - even if it claims to be from your bank, or your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or PayPal, or even from Bill-freaking-Gates. Even if it is from someone you know, but you weren't expecting it, check back with them to make sure they really sent it. E-mail viruses are very good at covering their tracks.

The second thing to do is get yourself a firewall. Actually, if you have "high speed" Internet, get two - a hardware "router" box, and a software firewall. The hardware box will keep most of the bad people out, and the software one gives not only a second line of defence, but also a warning if something that got in is trying to get back out again. Antivirus programs are good, and I also strongly recommend you get one of those as well, but they have two problems. First, they can only recognize viruses they already know about - anything new sails right past them. Second, you must keep paying the AV company on a yearly basis to keep getting the updates, otherwise your AV program quickly (within a few weeks) becomes hopelessly outdated. There are over 80,000 known viruses out there, and more every day. While you're at it, get a good Spyware detection program and keep that updated and running regularly, too. I've seen computers that didn't have a virus, but were useless because of all the spyware running on them - the different programs were interfering with each other, and with the operating system. Okay, so this is probably three or four steps in one. Deal with it.

While I think of it... Something else about the router box. You probably don't need wireless, unless you have a laptop. So either (1) get a router without wireless (if that's even possible any more), (2) turn off the wireless capability, or (3) figure out how to protect it. If your wireless connection is wide open, anyone nearby can use it. This could simply inconvenience you (by making your connection slower), cost you money (if your ISP charges by the amount you use), or even open you up to criminal prosecution (if someone accesses child porn (for example) from your wireless access point, you could be held criminally liable).

The third and final "big thing" to do is to install patches regularly. The Microsoft Windows Update site (for those of you running Windows, which is about 94% at last count) should be visited monthly - or better yet, you can tell your computer to notify you automatically when updates are available. Just make sure you install them. Think of it as "preventative maintenance" - like changing the oil in your car regularly. It takes less time (which is good, since you'll do it a lot more often). Also remember to check for updates to any programs you use (games, word processors, the firewall program from above, etc.), including your web browser if you are using anything other than Internet Explorer.

Which reminds me - not to slag Microsoft, but I recommend you do not use Internet Explorer or Outlook Express for Web or E-mail respectively. Yes, I know they are free. They have also been two of the biggest sources of viruses and security holes in the past. I recommend the Mozilla Firefox web browser (I'm using it right now). I believe the Mozilla project also has an e-mail program, or there's others (such as Eudora) out there that are free for personal use.

These are pretty fundamental things that I consider to be essential if you want to survive on the Internet. Otherwise, your computer will be infested with "bots" and used for attacking other computers, or somebody will steal your personal information, or your system may even be damaged to the point where you lose all your data (think of your saved games and documents) and have to reinstall everything from scratch.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yee-hah!

I have no idea why I used that as the title. I just did.

My wife and I went to the Humane Society last night. We were actually looking to buy food for our rabbits (walking furry stomachs is what they are!), but the pet food store co-located with the HS apparently closes at 6:30 now instead of 8:00pm "for the foreseeable future" - whatever that means. So, instead, we went looking at the animals. In retrospect, that was probably a huge mistake. There are a whole lot of very cute animals available there (as usual). We mainly looked at the rabbits and the cats (due to a slight mouse infestation we've been discussing getting a cat), but also the dogs, birds, etc.

For some reason, they have a whole bunch of degus there. Degus are these brown desert rats which were the "in" pet for about 30 seconds a couple of years ago. You still see them in the pet store, but from the looks of things you can get them a whole lot cheaper from the Humane Society.

Anyway, we managed to get out of there without adopting anything, but there's several rabbits and cats there who would have been quite happy to come home with us, I'm sure. The only problem is our existing pets. We already have two rabbits (one fixed male and one soon-to-be-fixed female), a hedgehog, and a hamster. The hedgehog wouldn't really care either way - she's surly and has a good self-defense mechanism. ("The fox knows many tricks; the hedgehog has one good one" - Archilochus, 650 BC?) But the rabbits would object to a new rabbit (particularly the female - she's got some attitude), and the only time we mentioned getting a cat in the hamster's presence he gave this really cute all-over body convulsion as if to say, "Cat? Eww!" On the one hand, it's not really a democracy, and the animals don't get a vote. On the other hand, lagomorph-induced domestic chaos is not really my goal in life. (Free biology lesson - rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents.)

The larger issue here, of course, is that of unwanted animals. So, to quote Bob Barker, "Spay or neuter your pets!" to prevent an "Oops!" from happening. If you have a male pet, get it fixed - it is half of the equation, after all. Even if your pet "never goes outside", please get it fixed. For one thing, animals can escape from the house, and it only takes a few seconds ("Moment of pleasure, lifetime of regret"). Secondly, I don't know about other animals, but rabbits are healthier if they're fixed. One of our rabbits died a while back of post-surgical complications after a hysterectomy for uterine cancer. The vet told us that uterine cancer was quite common in female rabbits, and they should be fixed as a precautionary measure while young. If the previous owner of Lucky Bunny had done that, she'd probably still be with us today. (She was found in a park and given to us by a "friend of a friend".)

Now, if only people would do something about their kids....

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

What's in a name?

So, the name of this blog is "chat-lunatique". What is that? Basically, it's "crazy cat" in French - just in case you were wondering. I thought it was cool.

Education matters - particularly spelling!

As mentioned in my last post, I used to teach college. I'm not going to say which one (legal considerations), but it was one of those "Get your diploma in Computer Programming in six months!" type of colleges. Except, with the quality of students I generally got, I could maybe teach half of them to turn it on in six months.

My course had a fairly high dropout rate - I think my "personal best" was a term which started with 25 students, and finished with 7. The school's owner used to make it known that she wasn't that happy with the dropout rate, and I made it known that I wasn't happy with the so-called students I was getting. Anyway, it was an interesting time of my life, but I'm in no hurry to repeat it.

I do consider an education to be a worthy goal, however. In particular, I wish more people would pay attention during English/spelling/grammar/whatever and understand the importance of grammar and spelling. These days, too many people are under the impression that spelling somehow doesn't matter, and grammar isn't important. In response, I'd have to ask if you would prefer your doctor to say "Dude, your tests are rad, there's, like, no way, it's just too cool!" or to say "Your test results came back negative, everything's fine." Same thing with your lawyer - do you want him to "not sweat the details" on a million-dollar lawsuit?

We are becoming a society linked by multiple forms of communication, including instant messaging, e-mail, pagers, and a myriad of other written and verbal messages. If someone can't understand what you are saying, then what's the point of saying it? Even worse, what happens if they mis-read your intentions due to a poorly-worded message?

I know that computers often include "spell-checker" software - I use it myself sometimes. But don't rely on them! Consider the following: "Eye while meat ewe four tee won wee our dun hear." All of the words in that sentence are "correctly" spelled - that is, they occur in a dictionary - but the context is all wrong. While grammar checkers do exist in some software, they aren't always accurate, and aren't as common as spell-checking software.

A large part of this problem can be laid at the feet of the computer industry, unfortunately. Due to the advent of desktop publishing, nobody sends their signs or flyers out to be professionally printed any more, so atrocities are committed against the English language and published for mass consumption on a daily basis. Thanks to e-mail, most people have forgotten how to write a simple letter - many have forgotten the basic rules of communication, such as "have a point", and "tell me what your point is". I've lost count of the number of times I've had to reply to an e-mail with "What is this relating to?" And thanks to instant messaging on the computer and text messages on cell phones, a new generation is growing up thinking that the correct spelling of "before" is "b4". I shudder to think about it. SMS and IM seem to be driving the final nail into the coffin of the written word - and now the same "language" is creeping into the spoken word! If you've ever used "lol" or "brb" in verbal conversation, please do me a favour and just shoot yourself. Thanks.

Basically, read what you've written before you send it - most of the time, if you read carefully, you will realize that it just "doesn't look right", and find your errors. And the person at the other end will be much happier. The future of the English language is in your hands!

Day two in blogspace

As I mentioned in my first post, I work in IT Security as a hacker. From this, you can probably gather that I know a lot about computers. Either that, or the company I work for is completely incompetent. But they seem to make bucketloads of money every year (not that I see that much of it, relatively speaking...), so they can't be too stupid.

Anyway, to further "establish my credentials" in the computer industry, I used to teach computer programming at a small college (more about that another time), and also used to provide tech support at a major Canadian university.

All of this means I have a few opinions about computers in general. Actually, I have a few opinions about many things, as anyone who reads this blog regularly will find. But today I want to talk about computers.

I want to say two things to the populace at large with respect to computers...

First, I am truly sorry for the state of the computer industry today, both software and hardware. We can do better, and we should do better. It is within our grasp to make software easy to use, useful, and secure, and to make both software and hardware a heck of a lot more intuitive, cheaper, and less cryptic. And yet we don't, generally for profit considerations. It's expensive to test the hell out of software, and there's pressure (typically from shareholders, but often from the user community as well) to ship NOW, not in 3 months. Linux is part of the answer, but Linux can have a steep learning curve. Being on the Internet shouldn't be like learning to drive - you shouldn't need to take classes and pass an exam. Except maybe you should, which brings me to my second statement.

Get the heck off of the Internet, and don't come back until you know how to behave. Seriously, I was on the 'net back in the early 90s, when most of you were too busy watching TV to even consider the idea of e-mail and web surfing. There has always been an unwritten code of conduct about how to behave on the net, but since "world + dog" discovered this thing it's gone to hell in a handbasket. Here's a few places to start. Learn how to compose a proper e-mail - heck, just learn the rules of grammar and spelling and I'll be happy. Learn why you shouldn't type ALL IN CAPS all the time, or use the "blink" tag in your Geocities webpage (or why you shouldn't even use Geocities). Understand that you aren't doing anyone a favour by forwarding them that e-mail about Bill Gates giving them a million dollars to forward that e-mail, or the one about the "Good Times" virus. Ask me permission before you send me great big huge e-mail attachments that fill my in-box and take forever to download. And understand that, while you can see and reach "the whole world" via the Internet, most of us have our own lives, and don't really care that much about yours. Don't post (to web, newsgroups, or even blogs) unless you've got something to say. And by something to say, I don't mean "I got an A in my math test".

That's all from me for now. More later.

Post the second

A bit more about me... First off, ADD doesn't define who I am - sorry if I gave that impression in the first post. I have a lot more here than a mis-wired brain. On the other hand, if it helps explain why my writing is sometimes wildly meandering and more than a little "off the beaten path", then you can use it.

What am I going to use this blog for? That's a good question, and it's one I don't fully know the answer to myself yet. I found out recently that I'm changing jobs within the company I work for. This means I'm going to be doing a whole lot more travelling in the next couple of years. Thus, I may use this space to post observations as I travel the world. Or maybe not.

I heard once that the truly brilliant people are those who think they aren't all that smart. They don't believe that the rest of the people around them can't see how obvious the answer is. They are the exact opposite of egotistical - they really don't think they're smart. I wonder if the same is true of bloggers - that those who don't believe they have anything really important to say are the ones we should listen to. Of course, they probably wouldn't start a blog anyway, since it's an act of pure ego.

Speaking of egos (and small ones at that) I will not allow comments on my posting, at least for the first while. Let me feel my way here before you all tell me how much I suck and how badly I need to "get a life".

Anyway, that's enough "me" for one day. More tomorrow, assuming I remember.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

First post!!! Meh, whatever.

So, I've joined the 21st century and gotten a blog. Big, fat, hairy whoop.

I suppose, on the off chance that someone actually reads this thing, I should tell you about myself - that's the usual thing. Besides, if you're writing a blog, odds are you've got an ego and want to be the centre of attention. However, I'm going to try to keep just enough personally-identifiable information out of this that the average person can't find me.

Anyway, I'm a "security specialist" (read: hacker) with one of the largest computer companies in the world. I'm not going to tell you which one. I'm also an officer in the Canadian military (reserves), a licensed pyrotechnician, former junior rifle champion of South Western Ontario, and I've dabbled in several forms of armed and unarmed martial arts. In short, not somebody you'd want to fuck with. And yet people try...

I'm reasonably educated, with two undergraduate degrees (Geology and Computer Science), and several professional certifications, including RHCE, LPIC, CNA, and CISSP. Rumour has it I have a brain in my head.

Gee, all this and looks, too? Whatever.

What else? Well, last year, at the age of 34, I was formally diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Since then I've been taking Ritalin - it helps, most of the time. However, I've actually found that absinthe (the good stuff, not the cheap Czech crap) helps more. Too bad my employer would freak if I showed up for work pissed to the gills on it.

How to describe ADD... Well, for starters, I've always been this way, so I don't really know what your world is like. However, my world is filled with random thoughts and chaotic impulses. I say stupid things at random times, leap to the solution to a problem when everyone else is still trying to determine what the problem is, and generally live my life way faster than you do.

Back when I was in university, my room-mate put a sign on his wall saying "Did you ever feel like life was going 500mph faster than you are?" I put up my own sign, saying "Did you ever feel like you were going 500mph faster than life?" He thought I was mocking him, but most of the time that's how I feel.

Ritalin is some weird shit. It makes my brain quiet. I can hear my thoughts - almost hear them echo, in fact. Normally, the inside of my head is like I'm listening to the entire FM radio band at once - lots of static with snippets of ideas and songs and so on. Highly creative, but hard to follow through with anything.

The reason I went to the doctor (and got this diagnosis) was that, in my job, I was having to attend anywhere up to 20 hours a week of meetings (I kid you not). Very hard for me to sit through even 1 hour, much less 4 or 5 hours straight. I read some things posted on the 'net by other people, saw some real similarities between them and myself, and asked my doctor. He referred me to a shrink (one who specializes in kids, actually), who after a number of visits and questionaires and assessments and so on, confirmed the diagnosis. Took a couple of months to get the Ritalin dosage right, but I've been on it close to a year now.

Anyway, I'm married, have been for almost 3 years now. We live in downtown Toronto, in a decent little house with 2 rabbits, a hedgehog, and a hamster. And a crapload of mice, but they are more of a hindrance than a pet, what with living in the walls and crapping under the bookshelves and so on.