02/21/2001

An interesting search query. I had a search query yesterday for “presidential candidate’s right to privacy.” That’s an interesting query, and an interesting theory, and it’s a very easy question to answer.

None. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Nil.

Why?

Public figures have essentially no right to privacy, and you can’t get much more public than a presidential candidate. Actually, the right to privacy isn’t guaranteed anywhere. But it’s difficult to invade someone’s privacy without infringing on some right that is guaranteed. You can’t come snoop around in my apartment, for example, because you’d be violating my landlord’s property rights, and if my landlord let you in, it would violate my lease. But how much money I made in 1997 is a matter of public record, because I was employed by the state of Missouri.

So… If it’s a matter of public record (e.g. George W. Bush’s DWI), you have the right to know it. If Amazon.com is willing to sell you their customer history on George W. Bush or Al Gore, then you have a right to see it, and the only things stopping you from publishing it are the conditions of the deal. (But that would be terrible business practice.)

You and I don’t have a whole lot of right to privacy either, but most people aren’t interested in what you and I do, unless they’re building a database. If privacy’s important to you, keep a low profile. Turn off your Web browser’s cookies. Don’t post to public message boards. Don’t answer surveys. Get an unlisted phone number and opt out of telemarketing if your state has such provisions. When you do subscribe to magazines, use a subtle variation on your name (use nicknames, different middle initials, etc.), and use a different one for each magazine, so you know when you get junk mail where they got your name. And never ever ever give out your social security number except when required by law. And don’t use your social security number as your driver’s license number–tell ’em it’s against your religion. (Even if it’s not.) State laws have to accomodate that, because it truly is against some religions.

AMD’s P4 killer. AMD released a 1.3 GHz Athlon this week. Expect pricing to be in the sub-$400 range–much lower than a P4, and it’ll blow the doors off even the 1.5 GHz P4.

AMD’s in a bit of a spot here. They have the better product, but megahertz sells, and in the P4, Intel has a poor performer that scales well. AMD can’t win a megahertz war with Intel right now. But for the moment, AMD can sell every chip they can make, so waging war makes no sense, except from a bragging rights standpoint. If AMD reaches a point where they aren’t selling everything they can make, look for them to attack at the low end of the market, rather than at the high end, at least for the time being. AMD has the benefit of a marketplace that’s no longer starved for raw megahertz–frankly, most of the public wonders what they’d do with 1,500 megahertz if they had it. I know a lot of people who are perfectly content with sub-400 MHz PCs.

Stupid NT Recovery Disk Tricks. Yesterday a coworker ran Diskeeper Lite on a poor-performing NT box, and while it cleaned up the disk, it rendered the system unbootable. He asked what to do.

You want to have an Emergency Recovery Disk available for an NT system at any given time. Make one by running RDISK.EXE. But no one ever bothers to do that, right? Of course not. We were fortunate, being a corporation that buys standard-configuration PCs in batches. I had him make a recovery disk on an identical system. He was able to repair the system by booting off the NT CD and choosing the recovery option. Pop in the disk, and after a few minutes, the system was back to normal except for the video driver. (Older Nvidia-based Diamond cards tend to be a bit peculiar under NT.) He reinstalled the video driver, and was fine.

Another ERD trick: Three and a half years ago, the unthinkable happened. I caught a coworker deliberately sabotoging a system. Management didn’t understand computers so well, so it was my word against his, and neither of us had been working there very long. I had a few months’ seniority. Just a few. Fortunately for me, I thought to drag a witness over to see what I’d found. He backed me up. Also fortunately for me, this other guy wasn’t a good liar because his story kept changing. Finally he realized he couldn’t keep the details straight, I guess, because he just flat quit answering questions. But his boss said he wouldn’t fire him.

That led the rest of us to go out to a long lunch to ponder what we’d do in the situation where we obviously couldn’t trust a colleague. An hour and a half later, we came back to find out his boss had gone back on her word and fired him while we were gone. That led us to a new plan: secure the network immediately. He’d bragged to me before about how he could circumvent security measures, and that was how he got most of his previous jobs.

We found a couple of NT servers none of us had been aware of, and of course they didn’t have our standard admin password, they weren’t in our domain, and none of us had accounts on them. But hacking NT is extremely easy if you have physical access to the machine. We created an ERD on another NT box, booted off the NT server CD, and told it to restore the user accounts section of the registry off the ERD. It doesn’t care that the ERD is from another system. Boom-shakalaka, the old accounts are wiped out, replaced with ours. We had total administrative control of the system. (This reason is why I always advocate disabling booting off the floppy on systems in public computer labs–it’s far too easy to seize control of the system.) One of the systems turned out to be a simple print server. The other system didn’t have anything suspicious about it other than FTP services, but we didn’t put either system back on the wire as-is. We reformatted and found other uses for both of them.

Hopefully you’ll never have to make use of any of this knowledge, but if you do, the moral of the story is this: Keep your recovery disk! (And keep servers physically secure, under lock and key.)

And a little history. I noticed something yesterday that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere lately. This election was the 200th anniversary of another controversial election. It was 1800, and Vice President Thomas Jefferson was running against incumbent President John Adams. Jefferson’s running mate was Aaron Burr. Adams’ running mate, I assume, was Charles Pinckney (he was Adams’ running mate in 1796). But election laws were different in those days. The winner of the electoral vote became president. Second place became vice president. That was how we got a split administration in 1796, the only time this ever happened.

In 1800, the electors decided to not repeat that mistake, and as a result, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr both received exactly the same number of electoral votes. Now it was clear to everyone that the intent was for Jefferson to be president, but the numbers didn’t say that, and of course the ambitious Aaron Burr wasn’t going to give up a chance to take the presidency. The election went to a Federalist-controlled House of Representatives, who was divided. Burr had more Federalist leanings than Jefferson, so some in the House hoped to influence Burr. However, Hamilton, the de facto leader of the Federalist party, lobbied hard for Jefferson. Hamilton and Jefferson were bitter rivals, but Hamilton and Aaron Burr had a longer history of bitter rivalry that bordered on mutual hatred.

Obviously Burr’s ambitions displeased Jefferson, who dumped him in the next presidential election. So Aaron Burr ran for governor of New York in 1804. Hamilton campaigned strongly against Burr, allowing Morgan Lewis to take the governor’s seat by a wide margin. That was the last straw. Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, which Burr won, ending Hamilton’s life and Burr’s political career.

And you thought this last election was messy…

And mail. I’ll get to it sometime this week. I don’t know when. Why? Mail with a computer question or two is usually pretty easy. Five minutes, maybe ten. Long mail that requires some sort of rebuttal takes a long time. This piece took as long to write as two of the mail responses would, and it covers four totally unrelated subjects instead of just one. Since I don’t like getting stuck in a rut and I don’t like dedicating more than an hour a day to this site, the mail will wait. Or maybe I’ll just post it all without comment.

I don’t want to dwell on it, but 50-60% of my traffic comes from search engine hits, and the way you create repeat readers from search engine hits is to cast a wide net. Dwelling on political non-issues doesn’t make long-term sense for driving traffic.

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