Time to update Flash again. This is a big one.

There’s an exploit in Flash, on all platforms, being actively exploited in the wild. Adobe rushed out an update. See more at Ars Technica. It allows remote code execution, so this one is as bad as it gets.

Installing EMET is a potential mitigation against Flash exploits, so if you’re running Windows, protecting Flash with EMET is an extremely good idea. Uninstalling Flash is an even better idea, but I don’t think HTML5 is quite ready to replace this scourge of computing security just yet.

I noticed that Secunia PSI automatically updated Flash on all of my machines, which was nice.

See, security doesn’t have to be painful.

 

CISPA is trying to solve a legitimate problem

I read yet another anti-CISPA piece today. I’m not comfortable trying to read it and decide whether it’s a good or bad piece of legislation, but I do understand the problem it’s trying to solve.

Those who have tried to paint CISPA as the new SOPA or PIPA are misunderstanding the problem CISPA is trying to solve. CISPA isn’t supposed to be about stopping the scourge of teenaged boys using the Internet to copy music and movies. It’s actually chasing something nefarious.

Let me give you an example.
Read more

I just downloaded Microsoft Security Essentials

I just downloaded Microsoft Security Essentials, and, depending on your situation, I recommend you do it too.

MSSE is free antivirus software, from Microsoft. It’s not the best thing out there, but it’s far from the worst. If you don’t have any antivirus software, go get it.The usual suspects fell all over themselves to heap praise on MSSE. Some people never saw a Microsoft product they didn’t like, so no surprises here.

I trust PC Magazine a whole lot more. They found it was overall a decent product. Not top-tier, but much better than nothing, and it didn’t interfere much with system performance.

That’s the knock on a lot of AV software. Uninstall the preloaded Norton Antivirus from the computer you bought at Office Depot, and suddenly your $399 computer feels like a $3999 computer. And it might also, like, work or something. (My mom’s HP gave random filesystem errors until I uninstalled that scourge on humanity.)

If you can afford NOD32, I continue to believe it’s the best overall antivirus product out there. It’s fast, it’s reasonably priced, it catches more than any Symantec product does, and it slows the system down a lot less. It’s better than McAfee’s products too.

But if you can’t afford NOD32, I suggest running MSSE. And frankly, even if you paid and subscribed to a Symantec/Norton or McAfee product, I don’t think you lose much by switching. Regardless, it’s definitely better than running nothing.

How my cars got their names

I don’t name my computers or much of anything else, but for some reason I name my cars.

Actually, they kind of name themselves. I never understood when someone told me you can’t just give a car a name. But I do now.The first car I had that had a name was Trigger. It was a white 1992 Dodge Spirit. I was driving along one day and had to come to a stop quickly, so as I applied the brake, I said, "Whoa, Trigger!" The name stuck.

Trigger’s successor was Leonard, a 2000 Dodge Neon. Leonard’s name came from looking around too much in the parking lot. I know I’m not the only one who loses cars in parking lots.

Looking for the car reminded me of playing Redneck Rampage, whose object–er, excuse to give a plot to an FPS game whose true object is to blow up as much stuff as possible–is to find your brother Bubba. As you get close to the end of the level, you hear this hoosier saying, "’Ey Leonard! I’m over here!"

But the car didn’t look like a Bubba. It looked like a Leonard. So Leonard stuck.

My current car is a 2002 Honda Civic. Its name is Scourge. It got his name about a month after I got it. I took it in for its bi-annual St. Louis Ripoff in the Name of Armchair Environmentalism, a.k.a. the Emissions Test. It failed. Never mind the car was a year old and completely refurbished. It failed. Because of the gas cap. Never mind that a Honda Civic can tool around town without a gas cap at all and it’ll pollute less than the 9-MPG monsters I see all over the place in the southern metro area of St. Louis.

Nope, St. Louis’ pollution problems aren’t caused by people driving vehicles inspired by the Hum-vee. It can all be traced down to one gas cap, belonging to a Honda Civic.

It was obvious what the name of this lean, mean, Japanese polluting machine had to be: Scourge. You see, Scourge isn’t gray. Scourge was actually white when he came from the factory. He just looks gray because of that smog cloud that permanently surrounds him.

Scourge passed after I bought the gas cap. And when the time came for Scourge to be tested again, they just checked his papers, collected the 40 bucks, and waved him right through without a test.

Tell me this isn’t a scam.

But I guess if I hadn’t paid that initial $40, I would have never known Scourge’s name.

My adventures in bureaucracy

I don’t have anything interesting to tell you today, but since Steve DeLassus sends me at least a weekly dose from people who think their laundry is interesting, I’ll tell you about my day yesterday.
My Dodge Neon died in my driveway a couple of days ago. Yesterday I paid a towing company to haul it off to the dealer so I could turn it in. The warranty was up 3,911 miles ago. Figures. (Now I feel better about having paid $700 extra to extend my Honda Civic’s warranty to 7 years/100,000 miles.)

That will be the last time I ever lease a car, by the way. Leases make sense when you want to always have a new car. I don’t. I can think of a few things that would make me happier than to still be driving that same Civic in 2018. But it’s not a very long list.

The cause of death turned out to be a broken o-ring, which caused the spark plug chambers to fill with oil. So I can’t exactly count it against the car. Fixing it still isn’t cheap though.

After watching my Neon get towed away, I took my new car off for its St. Louis-is-too-polluted emissions test. If St. Louis really wanted to fix its pollution problems, they’d extend the light-rail system out into the Missouri suburbs where people actually live, but too many people are convinced people (they usually use another word that I won’t repeat) will ride Metrolink in from East St. Louis and steal their big-screen TVs. More on that in a second.

My Civic failed the test. My gas cap was polluting too much. Yeah. Vehicles that get 12 miles to the gallon on the highway are fine, but my 38 MPG Civic with its factory gas cap causes too much pollution to be acceptable.

So I had to drive to Autozone (polluting all the way), spend $5.91 on a new gas cap for a year-old car, then drive back to the emissions station (polluting less all the way) and sit in line for 30 minutes with my engine running (does that pollution count?), and get tested again to prove the world was rid of the scourge of my substandard gas cap.

Yes sir. We’re more concerned in St. Louis about the damage caused by faulty gas caps on ULEV vehicles than we are about our lack of an effective light-rail system. But the good news is I now have three of the four pieces of paper I need to get my vehicle licensed legally. And you thought Missouri’s temporary 30-day tags were a courtesy. No sir. It’ll take you pretty close to that long to navigate the bureaucracy.

And finally I had someone come out to look at my hot water heater. Based on the serial number, it’s old enough to drive and probably got its license last month. (That might explain a couple of those mysterious dings in the Neon.) He replaced a couple of 16-year-old parts, which will hopefully stop its leaking, which will hopefully cause my monthly gas bill to descend from the stratosphere. If I were paying the bill, I’d have just replaced the thing, but my home warranty means someone else makes the decisions.

It was a fine day. Or something.

A left-leaning perspective of the new enemy

I spotted an editorial in the Washington Post this weekend:

My friends in the peace movement who dissent from this country’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks have another take on what must be done to free us from terrorism and restore security. Look, they say, at what America is doing to make people fly planes into buildings. They cite our “miserly” $6 billion foreign aid budget to help the world’s poor vs. more than $300 billion “for the power to kill.” Rather than crusade against wickedness, America should halt the arms trade, lift sanctions against Iraq and curb the CIA, they argue. Correct, they demand, the 50-year imbalance in the U.S. stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“the most important source of hatred for the U.S. throughout the Muslim world”). Embrace the United Nations, the Kyoto agreement on global warming, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Law of the Seas agreement and an international war-crimes court. To quote one author, “Until we take responsibility to try to lift up that which is good in us and cast out that which is bad, the scourge of terrorism will continue to torment us.”

Sorry, but I don’t think that’s going to quite cut it with al Qaeda.

Author Colbert King goes on to say that short of wiping Israel off the map, converting to Islam and instituting a Taliban-like totalitarian government, nothing we do will satisfy Islamic terrorists like al Qaeda. For them, killing innocent (read: children and non-American or non-Jewish) people is a means to an end, and any means is justified.

He doesn’t offer a solution, but he puts up an awfully good argument that those who seek only to appease our enemies in the Middle East won’t solve the problem and will more likely make it worse.

Worth a read, whatever your political bent.

02/14/2001

More from across the Big Pond. I got this from Chris Miller, one of my editors at Computer Shopper UK, yesterday. Always good to hear from him because he makes me think, even though we rarely agree about anything but magazine design.

Hi Dave

I’ve been looking at the web page and I’m glad you like the ‘Window cleaner’ illustration from the new issue – much better than the blue blobs. Also glad you are holding up Shopper UK as a paragon of design. Thanks.

I shall avoid the subject of John Ashcroft, whom you appear to revere for all the wrong reasons. What I really want to say is that I think you need to prioritise your outrage. A ‘sick, sick society’ is not one where a high school can produce a play about rape, but one where children are shot and killed in schoolyards every day. The purpose of art is sometimes to shock – insecurity and violence are perfectly valid themes to explore. And why tell a story about secure, confident people who know exactly what they are doing? Where’s the drama in that? If that were all that was allowed, there would be no “Romeo and Juliet”, no “Jane Eyre”, no “Jude the Obscure”, no “Psycho” – cultural landmarks all.

Guns, however, are a serious social problem in your country which no-one seems to want to do anything about because of some semi-mythological “constitutional right” – which is, if I may speak frankly, bulls–t. I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses – guns mean massive profits and no-one, except maybe a few Ivy League intellectuals and northern-California hippies, is really serious about banning them. This despite Columbine, the disgruntled postal workers, the dot com rage and countless other pointless and avoidable deaths.

High school plays are not the scourge of American society.

Cheers now
Chris

I think you take me for having oversimplified far more than I have. Inappropriate high school plays are mostly a symptom of the problem–I won’t say they don’t cause problems, but no, we won’t solve all our social ills by toning down our school plays or our television. But it wouldn’t hurt anything either.

Likewise, getting rid of all our guns won’t eliminate all our violence. Guns are outlawed in Britain, but does anyone really believe the IRA doesn’t have guns? But there are other, more creative and more effective ways to kill people and blow things up than to use guns, and you can do it with regular, perfectly legal household items, as the IRA has so effectively demonstrated over the years.

It’s not like massacres happen every day in the United States. Once or twice a year, someone’s caught planning one, like earlier this week, and on the occasional God-forsaken day, an event like Columbine happens.

But banning handguns is a very superficial solution to a bigger problem–no less superficial than banning school plays or a particular television show. Banning guns won’t keep them out of the hands of criminals. Even if it would, desperate or very angry people would commit their crimes with knives or other weapons, just as they did before guns were reliable. The irrefutable fact is that in the handful of states that have gone the opposite extreme and enacted concealed weapons laws, crime has gone down. Social engineers HATE to talk about that because it goes beyond all the hip, chic theories of the day. So a guy walks into McDonald’s and starts shooting. He’s in control. But then some gun-totin’ cowboy (to use the popular image of Americans) whips out his gun and from behind the cover of a table, starts shooting back. The odds are suddenly changed. Can the citizen with the gun prevent anyone from getting hurt? No. But he greatly increases the probability of the one person in the building who deserves to die in such situations (the armed gunman) of sustaining bodily harm of some sort, and greatly decreases the number of potential casualties. And what if there are two or three snipers? The out-of-control situation gets back under control real quick, with minimal harm.

You don’t hear of these situations often because 1) they don’t happen very often and 2) the hard left-leaning press hates these stories.

But remember, this works in the United States but sounds like insanity in Europe because of the differences in our culture. In Europe, private ownership of weapons was a threat to the government, so it generally didn’t happen. In the Americas, weapons were absolutely vital to protect yourself on the frontier–there were hostile animals out there, and yes, hostile people. As the frontier pushed west, weapons were less essential, but they didn’t become unnecessary. Then we gained independence, and the government favored private ownership of guns early on, partly because a citizens’ militia meant there was little need for a standing army, which saved tax dollars, which kept the citizens happy because they hated taxes. That didn’t last, but guns remained a necessity in the west for about a century. To a degree, they still are a necessity in some segments of our society–there are still predators out there that threaten your livestock. Guns are part of our culture, and you won’t transplant overnight the disarmed European culture that formed over a timeframe of centuries to the United States. But the Wild West approach still works here.

But this, too, is a symptom. The greater problem is that we’ve lost our moral compass. OK, so you don’t like my religion. Demonstrate to me that a society that says it’s OK to kill, OK to cheat on your spouse, OK to steal, OK to disrespect your parents, and OK to lie can thrive. Find me one. You won’t.

Whether you like the religion or not, you can’t deny that its set of morals just plain works. But so few teach right and wrong anymore–now you just do what feels good. It feels good to cheat on your wife, so you should do it. You’re liberated. OK. So how is that different from me deciding it feels good to kill my former neighbor who caused me so much grief? Or what about my current neighbor’s nice black BMW? Wouldn’t that be a much nicer ride than my Dodge Neon? Why not steal that? If it feels good, I should do it, right?

Personally, I fail to see the difference.

So what’s the matter here? We’ve got a very self-centered society, interested in very little other than individual pleasure. So go screw around, it’s fun. The eventual result of that is kids. That’s OK, they’re fun too when they’re winning trophies and doing good. Just don’t get in my way. Here’s the remote. Here’s a video game. Have fun. Don’t bother me. And the kids grow up with parents (or a parent) respecting no one but themselves, and they learn that behavior.

So the kids grow up. Their most basic needs of food and clothing and shelter are being met. Usually. But their emotional needs aren’t. Their parents aren’t really there for them. So they don’t mature properly. They don’t exactly learn right and wrong. Their parents don’t model it for them, and they sure aren’t being taught it in school. Growing up is tough. I remember. I was a smart kid, too smart for my own good maybe, and yeah, it made me unpopular. A lot of people didn’t like it. Plus I wasn’t a big guy. I’m 5’9″, 140 pounds now. (Below average height and below average weight, for the benefit of those on the metric system.) At 14, I was 5’4″, not even 100 pounds. I was an easy target. I got in my share of fights, and I usually didn’t win. For one, the bully was almost always bigger than me. For another, I was always outnumbered anyway. Growing up too smart can be as bad as growing up the wrong race. F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right in The Great Gatsby, when his character Daisy said, after her daughter was born, “All right, I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Actually, he got it half right. The best thing a guy can be in this world is a beautiful little fool, or better yet, a big hulking fool. People like dumb, beautiful people, because they’re good to look at and they’re non-threatening.

I’ll be brutally blunt: I grew up with a lot of jackasses, and frankly, there were times that I thought the world would have been a much better place if someone brought a gun to school and pumped some lead into their ugly faces. There. I said it.

When I read about the Columbine killers, it resonated with me. I understood those guys completely. One of them was the brains of the outfit. The other was a follower, pure and simple. But I understood how they felt, I understood (and even dug) the music they listened to, and for a time I even dressed like those two did. One of my former classmates even told me after the event, “Those two guys remind me of you.” After all, I used to run around in a black trenchcoat, black t-shirt and black jeans and combat boots, looking gloomy and listening to Joy Division and The Sisters of Mercy.

And don’t get me wrong. My dad had guns. My dad had a lot of guns. He kept the really big stuff locked up, but he had handguns stashed. There was a Derringer he kept in his sock drawer. He had another gun he kept stashed inside the couch in the basement. For all I know he had others. He taught me how to shoot the Derringer. He also taught me how to shoot a .22-calibre rifle. I wasn’t very good, but at close range you don’t have to be.

So why didn’t I turn into one of those guys? My dad taught me to respect human life. Dad was a doctor. Dad even treated a couple of guys on death row. There was a guy who used to hire drifters to steal cattle, then sell them quickly. Then he’d kill them to eliminate the evidence (and cheat them out of their share of the money). I don’t remember how many times he did this. My dad had a brief encounter with him while he was getting an x-ray. They exchanged words, and it wasn’t exactly nice. “Meanest sonofabitch I ever met,” he recalled. I asked him why he treated him, especially seeing as they were going to kill him anyway. Know what he said? He said it wasn’t his job to kill him. It was his job to make sure he had the same quality of life (or as close to it) as anyone else. Killing the man was the state’s job, if it ever got around to it.

So if my dad could respect the life of this man, who by the account of everyone who ever met him wasn’t worth the oxygen he breathed over the course of a day, then shouldn’t I respect the lives of the people at school?

Dad (and Mom too) taught me right and wrong. And they didn’t ignore me, they disciplined me when I stepped out of line. The worst happened when I was 2 or 3. I was being the epitome of brat, and making matters worse, we were guests at a family friend’s house. My mom took me out to the garage, partly to figure out what to do with me. Well, it was March or so, so it wasn’t too cold in there, and it wasn’t too hot, and there was absolutely nothing to do in there either, so she found a lawn chair and told me I had to sit there until I decided to act civilized. Then she went back in the house. Our host asked, “Where’s David?” and my mom told her. After about fifteen minutes, she came back out and asked if I could act civil. I said yes.

That was the most trouble I was ever in. Yes, I got spanked a few times (but it was a very few), and I got yelled at a few times. But with my parents, discipline was consistent, and it was swift. And because it was those things, it was rare–I didn’t step out of line much.

I don’t think the idea that if I were to commit a crime, I might be able to beat the system ever occurred to me until I was 18 or 19. If I didn’t beat the system at home or at school, why should I expect to be able to beat the government?

So no, I never thought of killing my antagonizers. And that’s fine. They got theirs. My biggest antagonizer never finished school. At 17, his parents kicked him out of the house. He drifted around a couple of years, living out of a van and the occasional cheap motel, then finally settled down. At age 21, he was working in a restaurant, doing the same job as a lot of 17-year-olds. He’d be 27 now, and if there’s anything more pathetic than a 14-year-old loser, it’s a 27-year-old loser, and anyone who knew us both would see it now.

Meanwhile, I kept working, doing my best at what I was good at, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and a funny thing happened. At age 17, the taunts stopped. People didn’t mess with the seniors–we were the oldest people in the school besides the teachers. We’d paid our dues. We earned our respect. And the seniors didn’t mess with each other. Being smart became almost… admirable. In college, that was even more so. And get out into the professional world, and it’s even more so. The things that people made fun of you for in school raise eyebrows now. I’m not at the pinnacle of success, but I have everything I want or I can get it.

So, coming back around again… It starts at home. It starts with the family paying attention to its members, and doing its duty. Morals may not be any fun, but an immoral society is even less fun. Certain things like life, dignity, and personal property have to be honored absolutely. Do these things, and you won’t come out all bad. The occasional bad apple will still slip through, but it’ll be an oddity, and a whole lot easier to deal with.

Do these things, one family at a time, and I don’t care what culture you’re in, you won’t go wrong. The whole culture will benefit, with or without guns, with or without questionable forms of entertainment.

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