Why I’m Glad I Wasn’t In Winnipeg This Week

Posted in Weather on November 16th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: The view from the door to my parents’ place in Winnipeg, 15 November 2005:

snowfall in winnipeg nov 2005View image

Sony Recalls CDs With Rootkit Software

Posted in Technology on November 16th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: As mentioned earlier, it was revealed recently that Sony has been embedding rootkit software into some of its new CDs to copy-protect the discs. Sony has shipped >4.7 million CDs containing the software in the past eight months, and >2.1 million have been sold. Now it is backfiring on Sony dramatically. A few days ago, Sony announced suspension of the production of CDs with this technology. Sony is recalling millions of CDs with this software embedded within each disc. It gets worse. Today, Websense, a security company, confirmed it has discovered malicious web sites designed to exploit security flaws in the rootkit uninstaller programmer released by Sony.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose Board Members include Lawrence Lessig, has written an open letter to Sony-BMG protesting this and demanding reparations for customers. Among the EFF’s demands: “Compensate consumers for any damage to their computers caused by the infected products, including the time, effort, and expenditure required to remedy the damage or verify that their computer systems or networks were or were not altered or damaged by XCP or SunnComm MediaMax products.”

One has to wonder what Sony’s engineers and computer whiz kids were thinking when they came up with this gobbler.

Indiana Inventor Granted US Patent for Anti-Gravity-Powered Spaceship

Posted in Technology on November 13th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: The USPTO has granted Boris Volfson, an inventor in Huntington IN, US Patent 6,960,975: Space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state. According to National Geographic News, the patent is a design for an antigravity space vehicle:

Volfson’s craft is theoretically powered by a superconductor shield that changes the space-time continuum in such a way that it defies gravity. The design effectively creates a perpetual-motion machine, which physicists consider an impossible device.

The “invention” defies the laws of physics (you cannot change the laws of physics, laws of physics, laws of physics). Robert Park tracks scientifically absurd patents for the American Physical Society. Excerpt from an article in 10 November 2005 Nature, discussed in Physics Forums:

This is not the first such patent to be granted, but it shows that patent examiners are being duped by false science, says physicist Robert Park, watchdog of junk science at the American Physical Society in Washington DC. Park tracks US patents on impossible inventions. “The patent office is in deep trouble,” he says.

“If something doesn’t work, it is rejected,” insists Alan Cohan, an adviser at the patent office’s Inventors Assistance Center in Alexandria, Virginia. And when something does slip through, he says, the consequences are not significant: “It doesn’t cause any problems because the patent is useless.”

But Park argues that patenting devices that so blatantly go against scientific understanding could give them undeserved respectability, and undermine the patent office’s reputation. “When a patent is awarded for an idea that doesn’t work, the door is opened for sham.”

Patent 6,960,975 was granted on 1 November to Boris Volfson of Huntington, Indiana. It describes a space vehicle propelled by a superconducting shield, which alters the curvature of space-time outside the craft in a way that counteracts gravity. The device builds on a claim by the Russian physicist Eugene Podkletnov that superconductors can shield the effects of gravity. NASA was at one stage investigating the idea, but it has become almost as notorious as cold fusion as an example of fringe science.

On his own site, the inventor notes:

This proposal is for the patented inflationary vacuum spaceship. The implementation of this proposal would take years and billions of dollars. All new spaceships cost billions to develop. However, it would be cheap, quick and easy to build an orange-sized, electrically-powered “breadboard” device of my patent. The device could be gently placed, with the shuttle’s mechanical arm, on the shadow side of the next space shuttle, fired up, and observed whether it moves comparatively to the shuttle.

More details about the Inflationary Vacuum Spaceship are available.

Evolutionary Theory and The Vatican

Posted in Miscellaneous on November 12th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: Tony made mention of a recent opinion piece in the London Times by William Ress-Mogg, called A pope for our times: why Darwin is back on the agenda at the Vatican. Ress-Mogg reports on a recent press conference by Cardinal Paul Poupard, in which the Cardinal advises the faithful of the Catholic Church to listen to what modern science say. Excerpt:

In The Times Martin Penner reported the cardinal’s argument. He had said that the description in Genesis of the Creation was “perfectly compatible” with Darwin’s theory of evolution, if the Bible were read properly. “Fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim.”

He argued that the real message of Genesis was that the Universe did not make itself, and had a creator. “Science and theology act in different fields, each in its own.” In Rome, the immediate reaction was that this was a Vatican rejection of the fundamentalist American doctrine of “intelligent design”. No doubt the Vatican does want to separate itself from American creationists, but the significance surely goes further than that. This is not another Galileo case; the teachings of the Church have never imposed a literal interpretation of the language of the Bible; that was a Protestant mistake. Nor did the Church condemn the theory of evolution, though it did and does reject neo-Darwinism when that is made specifically atheist.

I was raised Cathlic, and while no longer a church-goer, Catholicism is still a part of me. It is refreshing to read this, especially after the previous note about the continuing idiocy in Kansas, and to know that the Catholic Church is trying to distance itself from fundamentalist nonsense like intelligent design.


Posted in In The News, Technology on November 10th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: Here’s some scary news out of Kansas, but then, where else would one expect it to happen? Kansas is where the latest challenges to teaching evolutionary biology began in 1999. Scientists there are fighting back as best they can.

.: Are into bittorrents like I am? Are you a Shaw subscriber, like I am not? Check Shaw Cable secretly limits BitTorrent Bandwidth.

.: Here’s a story from the NYTimes about a particularly nasty piece of software referred to here as a rootkit, and used by Sony BMG to copy-protect its pop-music CDs. Excerpt:

Starting in June 2004, Sony BMG records began copy-protecting its pop-music CD’s. Over the months, the company has used several software schemes for preventing you, the customer, from making illegal copies of its discs. But 20 albums are protected by a scheme devised by a company called First 4 Internet—and it’s caused an incredible online furor.

These CD’s, all bearing “Content Protected” labels on the packaging (meaning “copy protected”), do something very sneaky if you try to play them on a Windows PC: they install a proprietary watchdog program that prevents you from copying the CD more than twice. (On a Macintosh or Linux machine, these CD’s play just fine, without any copy protection.)

Last week, a programmer and blogger named Mark Russinovich dug a little deeper, and found out something disturbing: the Sony watchdog program not only installs itself deep in the core of Windows—it’s what’s called a rootkit—but it also makes itself invisible.

Among other problems it creates, is this one: “Once hidden, the copy-protection software is invisible to antivirus programs, too. So the baddies of the Internet could, in theory, use Sony’s software as a backdoor to infect your machine, and your virus checker would miss it.” Nasty indeed.

TiVo Tiptoes Across the Border

Posted in Technology, Television on November 7th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: In today’s paper is an article about TiVo finally coming to Canada, albeit really, really quietly. The TiVo website says very little about providing Canadian service:

At this time, the TiVo service is only available in the 50 United States of America, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, and the United Kingdom (via the TiVo partnership with BSkyB)

Even weirder, is the following:

TiVo does not sell DVR boxes in Puerto Rico or Canada, so Puerto Rico and Canada residents must purchase DVRs in the US and import them.

D’oh! What? TiVo service is available in Canada, but one must import a box from the USA? I was in NYC three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to buy a DVR at Best Buy in Manhattan! Then again, I might have had some difficulty flying home with it on the airplane. I don’t know why TiVo service has never been available in Canada, or why it is now, albeit without the hardware. The aforementioned article suggests that the recorders should be available soon. If and when that happens, my guess would be that TiVo will begin a larger ad campaign across the country, compared to the seemingly non-existent one now. Buying a TiVo box might be easy if you live close to the border, like in Vancouver or Windsor. Even then, the purchaser would need to pay duties and taxes and shyte like that.

.: I was walking behind Heavy G today as we left work, calling him because I wanted to tell him something, but he wasn’t responding. He was wearing a toque like this one, so I assumed it was preventing him from hearing me (which didn’t make sense as I thought about it), until he turned around and I noticed him pull out his iPod ear buds. So I go, “I thought you couldn’t hear me because you were wearing a toque, but then I saw the whites of your iPod…” Bwa-ha-ha…

.: Speaking of librarians and their blogs, here’s The Librarian List, which is blogs by librarians ranked by Link Ranks, from Steven Cohen at PubSub.

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