All posts by Sridhar Dhanapalan

http://www.dhanapalan.com/blog/about/

Press Release – Microsoft Innovates in New Version of Internet Explorer

I wrote this in response to a Slashdot article about the Windows spyware programme Gator:

PRESS RELEASE: MICROSOFT INNOVATES IN NEW VERSION OF INTERNET EXPLORER

Store all your passwords, financial data and other personal information on a central server! Never again will you have to remember a password or PIN, since you can conveniently access all your data from a Microsoft server*! Microsoft have made it so easy for you by uploading all your data automatically, no questions asked! In addition, we use our patented Malware(TM) advanced artificial intelligence to analyse your movements online and offer services tailored just for you! To make this as pleasant an experience as possible, we even share your data with third parties so that you are only offered services that suit your interests.

"Microsoft has always strived to deliver the best value for money in the industry," reported Tom Rort of The Gartner Group. "Microsoft products pay off big time for me! I’d give this release a rating of five dollar-signs," said Mary Swindle of The Aberdeen Group.

Once again, Microsoft has shown its commitment to looking out for the best interests of its customers.

* cost of retrieval is $US9.99 per transaction, and since Microsoft already have your financial data, we conveniently deduct the money from your bank account automatically.

‘X-Men 2′, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ and assorted sci-fi

I saw X-Men 2 a few weeks ago. I’ve always been a fan of the comics, so I am rather sensitive to any ‘changes’ that are made just for the movie. However, I do realise that it is near-impossible to squeeze the entire X-Men universe into a 2-hour movie. I must conclude that they did an excellent job here. As in the first movie, the ‘changes’ were done very well.

There were a few little easter eggs hidden in there as well. In the first movie, you get a quick glimpse of Jubilee (the comic book character whom Rogue replaced in the movie), and just like in Spider Man (another fantastic movie) there is a short cameo by Stan Lee (This man is a GOD! If you don’t know who he is, stop reading right now for you have offended me.). In the second movie you hear Jubilee being called by name (by Storm), and on a television set you see a man with the caption "Dr Henry McCoy" beneath his face. The man appears as a normal (non-mutant) human being, but this man later becomes Beast. I think there were a few other easter eggs, but I don’t remember them.

Speaking of The X-Men, I found a great fan-comic, The Uncanny X-Sprites. Quite funny. I also stumbled across Wolverine’s real name. It’s not Logan, it’s James Howlett. It’s all explained in Marvel’s Origin series, which was released last year. There was also a Paradise X series which contradicts some of the fundamental aspects of Origin, but I wouldn’t take it seriously. Both of these (among others) are explained in vivid detail (beautifully illustrated, too!) at the Lost Soul Wolverine site. I spent hours reading all the stuff there; I was so riveted.

Last Sunday I saw The Matrix Reloaded. I am not going to compare it to X-Men 2, but I will say that this is another excellent film. The CGI was amazing. There were a few little flaws, but with all the action going on they were easy to overlook. I love Hong Kong martial arts movies (Jackie Chan and Jet Li are DEITIES!), and this movie satisifed my desire for some well-choreographed fight scenes. On the negative side, there is less continuity between the plot and the fights when compared to the original movie. Also, some parts were slow and unnecessary. I don’t want to see a bunch of Zionists (I assume that’s what the inhabitants of Zion call themselves?) dancing, and I don’t want to see Neo making love to Trinity. There’s enough pr0n on the Internet, thank-you-very-much.

Like the first movie (and the third, which arrives in November), The Matrix Reloaded was mostly filmed in my home town of Sydney. It’s weird to watch scenes from a movie and think, "hey, I was at that place only yesterday!" It also makes me wonder if I really am in the Matrix. Kooky.

The absolute coolest thing, however, was Trinity’s cracking of the electricity grid. She uses Nmap to scan for open ports and finds that port 22 is open. Port 22 is typically used by SSH, and sure enough Trinity uses a known SSH v. 1 exploit to gain access to the server! As her root password, she uses Z1ON1010. Not only does this make her 1337, it is also another easter egg – 1010 is the number 5 in binary (or so I’m told), and if you’ve seen the movie (spoiler alert) you know that Zion in the movie is in its fifth incarnation. More on this at The Register and Slashdot, and there’s a nice screenshot at Insecure.org, the home of Nmap.

Of course, what’s a movie these days without merchandising? Samsung has a ‘limited edition’ version of one of the phones used in the movie. To me it looks like a forgotten prop from Star Trek: The Original Series. It looks hideous, the ergonomics are all wrong, and the screen is too small to do anything useful. That won’t stop Samsung from charging a premium for it, or people from buying it. I feel sorry for those people. They obviously have some sort of psychological problem that has them convinced that they will only have friends if they have the latest mobile telephone. If it’s movie-themed and a ‘limited edition’, even better. They may even purchase a black trenchcoat to go with it. That will alleviate the symptioms of their inferiority complex for a little while, after which they will feel compelled to jump onto the next fad. Over-consumerism should be treated as a mental illness.

Smorgasboard of whackiness

Another Jackass copycat injured

" AN 18-year-old was in critical condition after jumping from a five-storey building in an apparent imitation of a stunt from the television show Jackass.

" The youth was attempting to jump into a pool from the roof of a condominium when he missed, shattering both legs, police said. "

Man Advertises ‘Son for Sale’ on Internet

There are some things you just don’t joke about. Like selling your son over the Internet. A father in Scotland did just that: "Hyperactive kid for sale, good at vacuuming, not great at washing dishes because he’s too short. Guaranteed to annoy," the ad read. The father only wanted eight bucks for the 5-year-old. A Web surfer in Canada noticed the ad and contacted Scottish authorities. The father/seller said that he posted the ad about two years ago as a joke then forgot about it until police came knocking. He’s been told to remove the ad. Besides, his son, now 7, is tall enough to wash the dishes.

For sale: One annoying tw*t of a girlfriend

In a similar vein to the previous link…

US hospital searches for Klingon interpreter

" A REPORT ON CNN claimed that a US hospital is frantically searching for someone fluent in Klingon.

" The hospital, in Multnomah County, needs an interpreter for mentally ill patients who apparently won’t speak any other language. "

It looks like this since has been called off, and it turns out that the original story was blown out of proportion.

Black People Love Us!

Warning: not for the satirically-impaired

Rugby team fined for lack of black players

" South Africa’s Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) have been fined R30,000 (2,400 pounds) after they were found guilty of not fielding enough black players in their team. "

Unfortunately, this one isn’t satirical at all.

Galeon rocks!

I am a heavy user of the Galeon Web browser. IMHO, it is far and away the best browser available for any platform. Tabs and session support with crash recovery are brilliant features. Not only has Galeon had them for longer than most other browsers, it implements them in a superior way. Not only that, it is quite fast and stable as well. I keep Galeon open all the time with multiple windows open (presently I have 7 open windows, which allow me to ‘categorise’ my tabs), and each window has many tabs (For example, I’ve got over 30 tabs in my ‘main’ window, and over 50 in another). I like my tabs to run down the left side of my window (AFAIK something only Galeon can do), so that more can fit on the screen and I don’t have to scroll through them. It may sound nuts, but I like it that way. And yes, I also use bookmarks: my bookmark collection is extensive. If Galeon crashes (a rare occurrance), or if I want to close it for some reason (another rare occurrance), I can get all my windows and tabs back when I restart it.

As you can see, I am very attached to Galeon’s unique feature set, which makes switching to a new browser difficult to say the least. Before I moved wholesale to Galeon, I would simultaneously run Konqueror and Opera, and sometimes Netscape 4 as well. This was so I could leverage the strengths of each individual browser.

I have been eyeing Galeon2 for a while now, and I finally decided to try it out. If it’s good enough to be included in Mandrake Linux 9.1, then maybe it’s good enough for me. Galeon2 is still undergoing heavy development, so I wasn’t expecting too much. Since the Galeon team is pretty-much rewriting the whole thing from scratch to take advantage of the GNOME2 platform, it would be understandable for it to take a while to reach maturity. My verdict? It is very close to meeting my needs. There are many extra settings hidden in Gconf, and after tweaking these I was able to create a similar setup to what I had in Galeon1. However, some things don’t work yet and a couple are missing.

I had a chat with some Galeon developers a few weeks ago, and they said that they are trying to reach a similar feature set to Galeon1, the difference being that this time they are coding for GNOME2 and its Human Interface Guidelines. Unlike the Galeon splinter project Epiphany, they are not trying to cut out features on a significant scale. A while ago there was much conflict in the Galeon mailing lists (to which I am a subscriber) over whether Galeon should simplify its feature set or continue on its current course. The Galeon founder and maintainer, Marco Pesenti Gritti, left the project, forked the code and used it to create Epiphany. I personally like this dual-pronged approach from the GNOME folks. Most people don’t like unnecessary complexity, and so Epiphany gives a simple, Safari-like interface and experience. For power-users such as myself, Galeon fits the bill brilliantly.

There are some pros to Galeon2 over Galeon1. For one thing, the UI is faster and more responsive. My favourite, though, is the default bookmarks. There aren’t very many, but the ones that are there are great. In the GNU / Linux -> News section, for instance, there are only four entries:

  • Desktop Linux
  • OSNews
  • Pclinuxonline
  • Slashdot

Notice anything special in there? Of the four GNU/Linux news sites chosen by the Galeon team, PCLinuxOnline is one of them!

I forgot to mention one of my other favourite features in Galeon (1 and 2): smart bookmarks. I like them so much that in early April I volunteered to take charge of maintaining the official smart bookmark directory. The Translate to English smart bookmark/bookmarklet in the default Galeon2 bookmarks was made by myself. There are many other bookmarks in the directory which I wrote myself, including some to search PCLinuxOnline (in the News category). I know it’s not much but it’s nice to hear that others appreciate and use your work 🙂

I made ‘The Inquirer’!

… well, sort of, anyway. Allow me to explain.

Today, we had a news submission about the BSA‘s new scheme to teach children about the ‘evils’ of software piracy. To make this ‘learning’ (or should I say ‘indoctrination’) more fun for the kiddies, they got a mascot. Take a good look at it, what do you think it is?

It’s a ferret… supposedly.

When I first read that the BSA was using a ferret, I thought that we should call it a rat instead, since BSA is filled with dirty low-life rats. Then I hopped over to the site and had a look at it for myself. I swear, it looks like a weasel! A drugged-up homie weasel!

On a whim, I fired off an e-mail to Mike Magee at my favourite IT news site The Inquirer. If you’re not familiar with The Inq, think of it as The Register without the hubris. Indeed, Mike was the founder of The Reg, and he told me that he still owns 23% of it. Here’s part of the e-mail I sent to Mike:

The Business Software Alliance has received US Justice Department funding of $200,000 to ‘educate’ children about software piracy. More info at

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19677-2003May6.html

What I’m wondering is why this organisation, which boasts some of the richest companies in the world as its members, is receiving US government funding?

Another point of interest is the mascot of this new Playitcybersafe.com initiative. It is _supposed_ to be a ferret. To me it looks like a weasel. A seriously drugged-out, homie weasel. A weasel may be the perfect choice for the BSA, but is a drugged-out homie character really the best choice to encourage children not to steal? I would say it does the exact opposite. You can see this weasel at

http://www.playitcybersafe.com/images/kidshome_ferret.gif

And here’s part of Mike’s response:

Many thanks for the nice letter. And for the tip. The BSA is up to all sorts of tricks and we’ll certainly cover this one.

A few hours later… BANG! Weasel Watch is born! Some excerpts:

HEAVILY SUBSIDED TRADE organisation the Business Software Alliance (BSA) has received $200,000 funding from the US government to promote a software piracy scheme aimed at children.

But that has raised questions about why the Justice Department has chipped into the scheme, seeing as the BSA is already subsidised, in fact paid for, to the tune of millions, by some of the richest IT companies in the world.

and

In fact the BSA Weasel, pictured above, looks like it’s either drugged up or it’s about to bite someone’s ankle, don’t you think?

SCORE!!!

US says Canada cares too much about liberties

Okay, this is just bizarre. The article is based on the annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report. Isn’t it ironic that a government that claims to be the bastion of freedom across the globe is criticising another government for not clamping down on civil liberties? Perhaps they should invade Canada, just as they have done with their neighbours to the south on so many occasions?

The article was recently covered in Slashdot, and there were some interesting responses. Two of my favourites:

I’ve heard it explained many times, that the reason why America is targeted by terrorists is that "certain elements" are simply jealous of our outstanding quality of life. They want to destroy what they can’t build for themselves.

If you’re right about Canada — what, with all the pot smoking, low crime rates, free healthcare, and civil liberties — I would expect Canada to rise to the top of the terrorists’ hit list. So, maybe instead of trying to get the damned Canadians to cooperate with us, we should simply launch an advertising campaign in the Islamic world explaining that Canada is the more logical target for their anti-western fringe element.

and

Bush claimed shortly after 9/11 that we were attacked because they hate us because of our freedoms.

So what a great way to prevent a future terrorist attack. Remove those freedoms so they (theoretically) have no reason to hate us anymore.

What makes these interesting is that while being funny, they are at least partly grounded in truth. The argument that terrorists attack the US because they are "jealous of the American way of life" is incredibly narrow-minded and arrogant. These people have a different belief system entirely; there is far more to this world than raw capitalism and materialism. What’s more, on most holistic measures of quality of life (which includes important non-monetary factors like health, education, pollution and political freedom), the US ranks quite low compared to many other nations. If I wanted to attack a country because I was jealous of their way of life, I’d be sending anthrax to Sweden or Denmark.

Personal freedom has diminished markedly in the US, and unfortunately this has created somewhat of a domino effect into other states. The Australian government, while not being nearly as undemocratic as that in the US, is a case in point. It was revealed last year that Australians are 20 times as likely to have their phone calls tapped by authorities than US citizens. However, I’m optimistic that we won’t see anything along the lines of the Office of Homeland Security over here. I am more concerned about Echelon (more info), which seems to fit in well with the elevated occurrance of wire tapping in both the USA and Australia.

Get your country’s economy out of the toilet and win the next election HOWTO

What do you do when you’re the government of a nation whose economy is not as good as it once was?

  1. Spend $$$ on armaments in a Keynesian spending spree.
  2. Go to war with a small, easily-defeatable nation.
  3. After winning, rebuild the nation so that it will be forever financially indebted to you and heavily dependent on your technology and expertise [alternate link].
  4. PROFIT!!!

Do I sense some deja vu? Hitler tried this, as did General Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina and countless other governments worldwide, including several US administrations. Is economic growth worth such bloodshed and trauma? That obviously depends on the circumstances at the time, but for this war I am still unconvinced. We’ll see what happens.

I found an interesting article in The Guardian from last year (April 4, 2002). Here’s an excerpt:

The British people have acquired some notable information about the Falklands war in 2002 that they were denied 20 years ago, when the war itself took place behind a blanket of censorship. In the 1982 authorised Thatcherite version of events, Britain set out to recapture the Falkland Islands with strong but tacit American support, in the face of French duplicity, and won a brilliant victory against a demoralised Argentine enemy. Twenty years on, thanks to the memoirs of the then defence secretary, Sir John Nott, and an interview with the task force commander, Admiral Sandy Woodward, we are learning a very different version. Far from being an ally, Ronald Reagan’s US stands revealed by Sir John as persistently unreliable. Meanwhile under François Mitterrand, a willing France turns out to have supplied Britain with priceless technical details about the Exocet missile. Admiral Woodward has now revealed that the fighting in the south Atlantic was "a lot closer run" than we were told at the time. "We were on our last legs," the admiral says. If the Argentines had held out for another week, they would have defeated an exhausted Britain. Think how different our recent political history might have been then.

In other words, the USA stood aside while the territory of its closest ally was invaded by its belligerent neighbour. Maybe the British should boycott everything American? Even funnier was the revelation that the UK was aided by France!

The above-quoted article highlights the impact of censorship during times of war, not only on the part of government but also on the part of the media. Over the past few days on my television I have seen images of "Coalition" POWs held by the Iraqis, often followed by a statement claiming that these images were taken by Iraqis in violation of international law. And indeed they were. Yet nobody complains when the US does it! They did it in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and, yes, even in Iraq! I’ve lost track of how many international laws the US has broken, not only in this war but also in previous wars. These include the use of chemical and biological weapons (I thought Saddam was the one using those?!), cluster bombs and depleted uranium, and the targeting of civilian facilities. What makes me sad is that my own government is an accomplice to this. There are (were?) Australian citizens being illegally and indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay like animals, and the Australian government doesn’t care.

Another thing I cannot understand is the ‘logic’ that some people seem to hold that since the USA helped France in World War II, France should help the USA invade Iraq. Why should France help the US when it is the aggressor? Note that I’m not trying to defend France, because I don’t like them much either. However, this doesn’t make any sense to me at all. If I wanted to use such ‘logic’ (which it isn’t), then I could mention that the French government practically bankrupted itself helping the American colonists achieve independence. Louis XVI basically gave his life for the American people, since the French Revolution might not have happened hadn’t he been forced to pay for his war debts through raising taxes. I could also mention that although World War II began in 1939, and France was invaded in June 1940, it wasn’t until December 1941 that the United States entered the war. Even then, it was Germany that declared war, not the USA. Some ‘friends’ they were! Of course, using such arguments would be excessively facile, so I include them only to show their idiocy.

Update: I just came across this hypothetical discussion between a warmonger and a peacenik. I found it quite amusing.

Update [2003-04-06]: Britain’s Channel 4 screened a great comedy/documentary on 5 January called "Between Iraq and a Hard Place". You can watch the whole thing over the Internet (streaming, requires Realplayer) here.

English Sans French

I came across this article at csmonitor.com. Basically, it’s pointing out how juvenile a boycott of all words and products of French origin would be, for example renaming French fries to freedom fries. Besides, they are actually from Belgium, not France. Maybe we should call them oil fries? It only makes sense 🙂

That got me thinking. If so many Americans are eager to boycott everything French, what will they do with the admirals, commodores, brigadier generals, colonels, commanders, captains, lieutenants, warrant officers, ensigns, sergeants, corporals, specialists and airmen in their armed forces? Surely they wouldn’t want to use those in the war against Iraq? That leaves only seamen and privates for the assault (generals and majors are officers). Can they fight a battle without aeroplanes (including jets and their pilots), armour, artillery, bombs, rockets, grenades, bullets, rifles or machine guns? Can they attack without magazines or the ammunition stored inside them? And who needs soldiers, anyway? Maybe they don’t need an army, navy, air force or marines? Heck, perhaps they don’t need a military at all!

Strangely enough, weapons inspector doesn’t seem to be of French origin.

In semi-related news, Mandrake Linux 9.1 is out. OSNews has a great review of it, and Tweakhound has an informative interview with Mandrake Linux founder Gaël Duval. It looks amazing, particularly compared to 9.0, which could have been better (although I didn’t think 9.0 was nearly as bad as many reviewers did). As a side note, I clicked the "More links HERE" link at the bottom of the Gaël Duval interview and found PCLinuxOnline.com listed under "Other Good Linux Sites". Yay!!!

I’ve seen comments by some Americans advocating a boycott of Mandrake Linux because MandrakeSoft is French. To them, I have this to say: Are you really that retarded?! I mean, that’s just idiotic [see definition 2]! Free software is an international effort. Code and developers come from all over the world. The corollary of this is that most of the code in Mandrake Linux isn’t from France at all. It also means that all GNU/Linux distributions have some code that would have originated in France. Maybe you should boycott Red Hat, Debian and everyone else as well?

War in Iraq

There’s been a lot of news in the past few months about a possible war in Iraq. I thought I should get my thoughts down on this. I initially wrote the following in response to a comment that the USA should be allowed to attack Iraq on the basis of "freedom". I’ve never really understood this attitude, because to me it seems clear that the US government is not concerned with freedom at all, and is simply using it as an excuse to further its own interests (this is typical behaviour of any government). Nevertheless, I am not entirely for or against such a war at this stage. I always like to keep my options open. I don’t like Saddam Hussein, but I don’t like the Bush Administration either. Anyway, here’s what I wrote:

Sorry, but that’s a very simplistic attitude. Firstly, you should remember that Saddam Hussein was built up by the USA for decades before the (first) Gulf War, and the situation was not much different back then. Saddam was the same murderous dictator he is today.

You’re fooling yourself if you think this is about "freedom". No government really cares about freedom, they care about power. In the Middle East, much of the power is based around oil.

France have oil contracts with Iraq, and in the past they’ve also had nuclear energy contracts (I don’t know if these still exist). They obviously don’t want to risk these ending. I think Russia mey also have oil agreements with Iraq. Another reason why Russia may be against what the Bush Administration calls "regime change" is the possibility of a pipeline being built to transport oil and gas from former Soviet republics to the Gulf, bypassing Russia.

The USA are also after power. The oil industry is incredibly powerful in the USA, more so than in many other countries, and they’ve even managed to "persuade" the government to give them billions of dollars in annual subsidies and tax breaks. Bush comes from a Texan oil family, and he has never hidden the fact that oil is a very important part of his administration’s policy — just look at his insistence on drilling in ecologically sensitive areas of Alaska. The USA is the world’s largest consumer of oil, both in absolute terms and per capita. Clearly, oil is very important to US citizens, and nothing would make them happier than cheap fuel.

Invading Iraq would not only secure a cheap energy source for the USA and US oil companies, it would also weaken France (and hence the EU) and Russia (which the US still views as a possible rival) by nullifying their current contracts with Iraq. It would also strengthen the USA’s geopolitical position in the region, giving them a permanent base right in the middle of the richest oil reserves in the world. The US also has an aim towards "encircling" its (potential) major rivals: Russia and China. If you look on a map, you can see that this encirclement is mostly complete, with an expanding NATO in the east; Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (BTW, why does the USA support an undemocratic dictator like Pervez Musharraf, whom everyone knows supports terrorists?) in the south; and Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in the west.

In the world of international relations, there are no clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys". Everyone is after power, and they’ll use whatever means they can to get it. If the US truly cared about freedom, they would have pushed for democratisation in Kuwait. Instead, they reinstalled the dictators. Did the US media ever try to examine why Iraq attacked Kuwait in the first place, or they instantly paint Iraq as the "bad guy" and jump to the war coverage (i.e. the ratings/money earners)? To this day I have not even seen one mention in the mainstream press (Australian, British or American) that Kuwait was slant-drilling to steal Iraq’s oil, or that Kuwait was threatening to devalue the Iraqi Dinar. To me, that sounds like sufficient grounds for an attack, provided that all diplomatic avenues had failed (as they did between Iraq and Kuwait).

I am trying my best to sit on the fence on this one. However, what I don’t get are those people (mostly American) who claim that this is about "freedom". Here’s some news: your government does not care about freedom. They have proven that with their Homeland Security Act and related legislation. If they don’t care about freedom at home, what makes you think they’ll care about freedom in Iraq? They certainly don’t care about freedom in Pakistan, or Kuwait, or Panama, or Chile, or in countless other countries.

This isn’t about terrorism, either. There is no proven links between Iraq and terrorist groups, other than the vague "terrorist X visited Iraq one time". Osama bin Laden has made it abundantly clear that he considers Saddam Hussein to be an infidel, so that rules out any Iraq-Al Quaeda connection. Of course, that titbit was never reported in the US media. Instead, Americans got only a small sample of Osama’s speech (which came via Al Jazeera), carefully chosen to ignite anger towards both Iraq and Osama bin Laden. Don’t ya just love the press? They’ll do anything for ratings, and hence money.