IE gets patched and XP gets a reprieve

In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft released an emergency patch yesterday afternoon for the bad Internet Explorer bug that prompted the Department of Homeland Security to tell everyone not to use IE until further notice. That was no surprise, given the amount of publicity behind this bug.

What was a surprise was that they went ahead and released the patch for Windows XP as well. So, unless something really weird happens, the very last patch for Windows XP is MS14-021, issued 1 May 2014.

If you run Windows and your PC didn’t tell you this morning it applied updates automatically, go to Automatic Updates in Control Panel and download the fix.

The kind of guy who could save America

I went to several estate sales today (it’s what I do on Saturdays, after all), but one was memorable. Some sales just jump out at you, and this one had evil genius/mad scientist written all over it.The estate belonged to a man named Carl. From what I could gather, Carl was Catholic, diabetic, and from my wife’s comments, must not have been married at the time he died. She mostly stayed upstairs while I rollicked around in the basement, which was tinkerer’s heaven.

“This guy was just like you!” my wife marveled when I resurfaced once. Well, she’s half right. I very much would have liked Carl. And yes, Carl liked computers and models and trains and didn’t see any point in buying anything he could make himself. But Carl’s knowledge of physics and other sciences went far, far beyond mine, as did his knowledge of electronics. I pulled out box after box after box of electronic components. Some of the stuff was pretty new, and some of it obviously dated to the early 1970s, if not earlier. It pains me to think most of that stuff is going to get thrown away, but there’s no sense in me buying it, even for pennies on the dollar, when I don’t know what it is, let alone what to do with it.

It’s entirely possible that Carl and I did cross paths, sort of. In the 1980s and early 1990s, BBSing was a common hobby among people who enjoyed electronics, amateur radio, and computers. People exactly like Carl. For that matter, it’s possible he might not have just dialed into BBSs, he fit the stereotype of a BBS operator like a hand in a glove. Who knows, maybe Carl ran a BBS I used to call.

Digging around Carl’s work area, I found lots of different things. I bought some moldmaking supplies and casting resin, Bondo body filler, and some tools. Carl took care of his tools. But on his workbench, I found a single file laying there that still had metal shavings on it. Perhaps Carl died before he was finished with it and cleaned it. I found a brush, cleaned off the file, and could picture Carl looking down, nodding approval. I bought the file and the brush. Both were better than the ones I owned previously.

Unfortunately, Carl is the type of person our society has been trained to fear, rather than respect, especially during this decade. I found plenty of literature that Homeland Security wouldn’t approve of. Instructions for making Tesla coils, and lots of instructions for making things that go boom in the back yard. I also found literature that dealt with alternative car fuels, converting cars to electric power, and generating your own electricity.

He was also obviously very interested in robotics and using computers to control things. In a spare bedroom, I found a pile of old Timex Sinclair 1000 computers and peripherals. He added I/O ports to most of them, and hacked another one to use a Texas Instruments keyboard instead of the cheap membrane keyboard that came with it. He must have used that Sinclair for programming. Another spare bedroom had a couple of barely started robotics projects.

Unfortunately, many people look at people like Carl, and are too quick to label him a deviant, or worse yet, a terrorist. The label is unfair. In fact, during natural disasters, amateur radio operators often are the people with the best information early, giving invaluable information to relief workers.

But the most important thing is the tendency not to think within the boundaries that “normal” people usually confine themselves to. Among his things, I found a book titled How to Patent Your Ideas.

Now I don’t know what kind of ideas he had floating in his head. As far as I can tell, he never published any of them (I have his last name, and I searched out of curiosity).

But with all this talk today about energy independence, I think it’s great that some guy in Crestwood, Missouri was thinking along those lines. I don’t know if any of those thoughts turned into anything tangible or not. But frankly, that kind of work is important–much more so than the tinkering I’m doing in my basement, which so far has resulted only in some wooden toys for my son to play with, and metal toys for me.

We need some new ideas, rather than just buying everything from abroad. I know there are still people like Carl out there, but I hope they aren’t a dying breed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden desire to go see what I can do with some of the tools I bought from Carl’s workbench.

So the Department of Homeland Security is now the copyright police?

The Department of Homeland Security just shut down a Star Wars-hosting Bittorrent site.

What does copyright infringement have to do with terrorism?People downloading the newest installment of Star Wars (or buying bootleg DVDs) is hardly a threat to national security.

Actually I’m kind of wondering if it’s a threat to much of anything. Think about it: The people who grew up with the franchise are going to go see it in the theaters so they can see it on the big screen. I know I went and saw Episodes I and II in the theater twice each. I only go to the movies once every couple of months, so for someone like me to see both of those movies twice is something. Most people my age saw them a lot more than that.

My point is, the people who download Revenge of the Sith or buy an illegal DVD are going to see it in the theater anyway, and they’re probably going to see it a lot of times. And when the legitimate Episode III DVDs come out, they’re going to buy those two. And when the collector’s edition of the trilogy, and the extra-special collector’s edition of both trilogies come out, they’re the people most likely to buy those too. George Lucas is going to get plenty of opportunities to sell this movie thrice.

I know it’s illegal. The ethics are questionable–I have a lot less problem with people copying it if they’re going to buy the legitimate copy anyway once it’s available. But is this going to cause measurable damage to a multi-billion-dollar franchise? No.

And the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement just makes it look more like Homeland Security is more about Big Brother than it is about stopping terrorists.

If Star Wars is a big enough crisis that it shows up on these guys’ radar, then that’s a sign to me that it’s time for the department to be rethinking its relevance. Nobody is going to die because somebody saw Star Wars without paying for it.

The government needs to get its priorities straight.

What\’s this deal with RFID chips in humans?

Arstechnica is reporting that RFID chips for humans have received FDA approval. The question for me is, what benefit do we get from this?RFID, for the uninitiated, is a computer chip used for tracking. Wal-Mart wants to use them to track merchandise, because they’ll know exactly where all of the merchandise is in the store. This makes good sense. No more scanning barcodes to keep track of the merchandise. And, in theory, when a telephone ends up in the socks section of the store–things like this happen–the store’s computer system is going to know about it, so lost merchandise can get put back where it belongs.

Presumably, it’ll also make it possible to track the movement of the product in the store. If something makes its way out of the store without passing through a checker’s hands, then, well, it’s stolen, right? So it could eliminate shoplifting.

If implemented properly, it could also stop people from buying a piece of merchandise, taking it home, replacing it with another piece of similar merchandise, and returning it.

It also ties in with Wal-Mart’s philosophy of knowing what items sell better in what stores, so it can adjust its warehousing.

It makes a lot of business sense. Any retailer that can implement this is going to have a huge advantage over any retailers who don’t. Kmart would stand a chance of making a huge comeback if it could manage to implement this first.

So now you know what RFID is. So now let’s think about RFID in humans.

The selling point of it is that medical records are instantly accessible. But I don’t want my medical records to be instantly accessible. I want my doctor to have them. I do not want my employer or insurance company to have them. What if some insurance adjuster sees the phrase “could benefit from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery” in my records? I can’t count on that flunky knowing what ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction is. Might I get denied coverage or employment because of that really serious-sounding condition?

A phone call to my doctor will tell you that phrase means you really don’t want me playing right field for the company softball team if you can avoid it, because I have a weak elbow in my throwing arm. But aside from that, I lead a pretty normal life.

Insurance companies and employers do enough practicing medicine without a license as it is. We don’t need to be giving them access to this kind of information.

Imagine the other possibilities. My employer can know exactly how many times I go to the bathroom. Or how much time I spend in my cubicle versus the server room or test lab. Do I really want vast herds of management dolts knowing that I spent 43 minutes longer in the server room this week than last week and then asking me why?

But that’s a minor annoyance. Imagine this scenario.

Any idiot driving around in a car can stop at a house and quickly know how many people are inside. This person might even know the identities of the people inside.

Parents, do you really want anyone who wants to know to be able to find out when your children are home alone?

It’ll also be possible to keep track of what kinds of seedy places politicians visit when they’re supposed to be in session, representing us. We might not want to know that information. There’s little chance of that, though. Once they read that, they’ll exclude themselves from this, of course.

Proponents of RFID for humans argue that you have to be within a few centimeters to read the chip. This has already been demonstrated not to be true, and as time goes on, the maximum distance of today will only increase. Early adopters of wireless networking quickly figured out that they could extend its usable distance to a mile or more by using Pringles cans.

Some people are speculating the Department of Homeland Security wants this so they can know where terrorists and suspected terrorists are.

But if knowing where the terrorists are all the time means anyone who wants to know can know where anyone else is, as well as their entire medical history and other details, the downside more than eliminates any possible upside.

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