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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.


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.

Mixed Bag Special

Posted in Comedy, Film, Technology, Television on October 25th 2005 by Randy Reichardt

.: Last week, Stephen Colbert, the brilliant and consistently funniest “reporter” on The Daily Show, debuted on Comedy Central with his own show, The Colbert Report (pronounced coal-BEAR re-PORE). Of course, this being Canada, we don’t get the show yet, if ever, so thanks to the miracle of bittorrent technology, I have watched the first four episodes. The show, which is produced by, among others, Colbert and Jon Stewart, is hilarious. Bringing Out the Absurdity of the News by Allesandra Stanley, in the 25 Oct 2005 NYTimes, captures the essence of the show. Excerpt:

And some of the best material on Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert’s shows lies in their sadistic use of snippets from real newscasts and political speeches. On Thursday, Mr. Colbert showed a montage of alarmed reports about the avian flu epidemic on CNN, C-Span and MSNBC, then showed a more upbeat Fox News headline: “Bird is the word on the street. Why the avian flu could send stocks soaring.”

Mr. Colbert praised Fox News for always finding something positive in bad news, be it about the Bush administration or the nation. “Every global pandemic has a silver lining,” he said approvingly. “Remember, the Medici made their money investing in the bubonic plague. A lot of people did. Until the boil burst.”

.:In addition to sending me the link to the NYTimes story, Mike Hall also forwarded this CNET story, Tempted by blogs, spam becomes ‘splog’. Apparently, splog is the new word to describe blog spam.

Google’s Blogger blog-creation tool and BlogSpot hosting service, together the most popular free blogging service on the Web, fell victim this past weekend to the biggest “splog” attack yet–an assault that led to clogged RSS readers and overflowing in-boxes, and that may have manipulated search engine rankings. Bottom line: The scope of the attack, and the sophisticated automation used to accomplish it, mark a turning point for splogging, a problem experts say has been building for some time. It’s not yet clear what Google and others can do to stop the nuisance.

I wasn’t aware of this attack, and as far as I can tell, neither this site or STLQ were victims of this moronic episode.

.: I have 172 feeds in my Bloglines account at the moment, which is beyond absurd. I can’t don’t keep up with 99% of it, but every so often it’s fun to cruise through the feeds and see what’s out there. It seems a little early for movie awards season, but The Movie Blog reports that Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, has earned the Hollywood Movie of the Year award for 2005. The award is one of many given at the annual Hollywood Film Festival, which ended yesterday.

.: Futurists Pick Top Tech Trends comes from Wired News. The trends forecast to happen include simplicity, mobile socialization, the end of the combustion engine, the green movement expansion, and an 2006 IT revolution.

.: I am not into video games of any sort, generally. I tend to default to games like solitaire, spider solitaire, miniputt, and the like. Science writer Clive Thompson writes on his site, Collision Detection, about a game called Poom, in which a ball drops from above, and the player moves a grid of tiles below so that the ball will bounce back up; some of the tiles, of course, are missing. When the ball hits a tile and bounces, the grid below will change. The key is to watch the shadow of the ball as it falls back to the grid. Addictive indeed.

The Best 46 Free Utilities

Posted in Technology on June 22nd 2005 by Randy Reichardt

:: Rita Vine at Sitelines draws attention to The 46 Best-ever Free Utilities, compiled by Ian “Gizmo” Richards, editor of Tech Support Alert. Free utilities covered included best web browser, anti-virus software, adware/spyware/scumware remover, spam filter for the average user (and one for the experienced user), best BitTorrent client, FTP client, etc etc. The list extends to 64 utilities if you subscribe to Gizmo’s monthly newsletter, Support Alert, which I just did myself.