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Software

Journal: Yet Another Problem With Software Copy Protection

Journal by Grail

I play Diablo II and Neverwinter Nights. I play these games with my friends. In fact, I've purchased four copies of Diablo II so that I can play with friends at LAN games days. Each copy of these games comes with a special "CD Key", and a "copy protected" (ie: intentionally faulty) media.

My first problem is that the Diablo II CD Key is fixed onto the CD jewel case - so if someone steals my Diablo II CD case, they've got the CD Key. Do you think that reporting the theft to Blizzard has any effect? No. The thief (or his client) is still playing my copy of Diablo II - I can tell, because if I install the game again using the wrong CD Key, it tells me that someone else is using that CD Key.

In theory, I could work around this problem by claiming the theft on my insurance - except that the theft occurred somewhere between leaving home for a weekend LAN game, and returning home. I suspect that one of the guys at the LAN game purloined the CD case in order to support his drug habit - I've lost sunglasses and keyrings at the same place with the same person present. Regardless of who stole it, the CD Key isn't covered by home and contents because I wasn't home at the time. No insurer in Australia offers personal effects insurance unless my home and contents insurance is above a certain value, and they complain if you over-insure. Mention that you live in a group house (ie: you live with people that you're not in a relationship with) and they suddenly lose interest in insuring you.

The CD-Keys for Neverwinter Nights, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark are printed inside the respective manuals. In my case, being in posession of the Platinum edition, all three keys are in the one manual, and all three packages of software are in the one set of discs.

So problem one - CD Keys mean that someone else can steal your licence, regardless of whether or not the CDs were stolen at the same time.

My second problem is that I have to manually handle the intentionally faulty media in order to play the game. This involves removing the media from the jewel case, inserting it in the CD-ROM of the PC, playing the game, then removing the media from the CD-ROM drive and putting it back in the jewel case. Along this manual handling path come the risks of scratches - from dropping the media through having the CD-ROM drive eject the media while it's still spinning. All sorts of environmental factors come into play to cause damage to the media. Regardless of what rights I may or may not have with respect to making "archival" copies, what use is a copy that I can't play? The data I need isn't the content that's written on the media, it's the purposefully introduced faults that the game looks for to ensure that the media is "real". Until I have the equipment, the archival software and the right to reproduce those intentional faults in the media, I can't really make a play disc, can I?

My third problem is related to the first two - in order to play the game, the physical media has to be present. If I go to a LAN party and leave my Diablo II play disk at home, I can't play the game. This is true regardless of whether the copy on my LAN party machine is my only copy of the software currently installed, or how many licences I actually have. Then pity the poor fool who turns up to a LAN party with laptop in tow, but forgot that he had the floppy drive inserted instead of the CD-ROM drive. Doesn't matter if you have the physical media with you, if your computer doesn't have a CD-ROM drive.

From my experience, the only thing that CD "copy protection" is good for is boosting the market for No-CD hacks. My gaming experience would be much more enjoyable if I didn't have to waste so much time handling media.

As for dongles - don't get me started. They break, they get lost, they are incompatible with each other or other devices that legitimately use the same interface, and they're bulky to boot. I bought my PowerBook because it was small and unobtrusive. I didn't want to have an 802.11 antenna hanging out of a PC Card slot, neither do I want a USB dongle hanging out the side of the machine so I can run some software on the bus to work - the real purpose of dongles is to get caught up in lanyards, key rings and clothing. That, and to boost the sales of dongles and expensive repairs to laptops that have had USB dongles violently removed by a passer-by's clothing. Never mind the data corruption that occurs when a USB dongle disappears - such as happened to me when the USB hub that the dongle was plugged into lost power. The dongle disappeared so the program decided I was a criminal, at which point it promptly crashed and took 3 hours of work with it.

Then there are the problems with compatibility and upgrade costs. One application we have here at work is incompatible with its previous version. It doesn't require a CD-Key, but it does use a dongle. If you lose the old dongle, you can't get it back. You have to upgrade the software (that's more money out the window) and buy the dongle for the new version. At which point you can't properly use the files you created in the previous version, because that old format hasn't been suppported for years, and the functionality you used to rely on is no longer present.

My challenge to companies like Blizzard - stop relying on media presence to let the game run. Just use CD Keys (if anything at all). I'm sure you won't "lose" as much money through "lost sales" as you spent on the copy protection mechanism and all the support calls from people whose machines you've FUBARed by using your chosen mechanism. To this day, I still don't see the point in requiring a dongle for the use of software which is tied to particular hardware - it's not going to do me much good to use your software if I don't have your expensive laboratory equipment, is it?

User Journal

Journal: Rising Petrol Prices - The Itch To Stimulate The Scratch?

Journal by Grail

In my opinion, rising petrol prices aren't really harming anyone. As the cost of fuel goes up, people will have to reconsider whether to drive the 800m to the shops or just walk. Should they drive the 10km to work or ride their bike, catch a bus or even get a lift? The sting in the wallet is a stimulus* which will encourage healthier and more environmentally friendly behaviour and technologies.

Car pooling increases the cost-effectiveness of your car by at least 100% (doing at least twice as much work for the same input), since most people drive themselves to work. Do you drive yourself to work in a car designed for transporting a family of four or more over long distances? Just remember that every time you make a choice based on convenience alone, you're being lazy. Carpooling might cost you an extra 10 or 15 minutes in the morning (waiting for your passengers to get ready, driving to their house, etc). However, think about the extra social or business networking time it gains you.

I can't help but imagine that even something as simple as taking the bus to work instead of driving one person per car would have to help too. Reducing the morning traffic on Gungahlin drive and Gundaroo road by even 5 cars per minute will perhaps reduce the amount of whining, and perhaps even remove the need for the Gungahlin Drive Extension. Fewer cars on the road is good. Is there something else you could be doing with that travel time? You can spend that time on the bus reading a novel, trade journal, or report - compare this with a car where you have to focus your attention and patience on driving and waiting for green lights. So by spending that little extra time waiting for a bus, you gain the entire trip as reading and relaxation time.

I encourage you all to "protest" against rising petrol prices by using alternate forms of transport, or more efficiently using your current form of transport. Just be aware that any attempt to influence petrol prices by buying less will have little effect, since the oil all comes from the same suppliers anyway - Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran et al. It's OPEC who set the prices, not BP, and definitely not the petrol station you buy it from. Unless you're buying something else instead (bikes, electric cars, gas-powered cars) that provides for competition in the market, I'm certain that purchasing less petrol will actually push the price up further - the same infrastructure costs for less product being sold means per-unit price going up.

Riding to work is my chosen option - there's nowhere to park a car at home (townhouse complex with 1.2 car slots per house), there's nowhere to park a car at work, and it only takes half an hour longer (including shower time!) to ride rather than drive. I think the hardest part for most people is leaving their old habits behind - they're stuck in the drive-to-work rut and don't know how to get out of it. It amazes me, though, that there are actually households out there that have a family of four, but not one of them has a bike!

Don't think of rising petrol prices as the problem that needs to be solved - think of rising prices as a stimulus for invention :) Petrol probably should be about $1.50/L in order to encourage more manufacturers to release electric or hybrid cars. We need vehicles that are powered by renewable energy sources. The further petrol prices rise, the more incentive there is for car manufacturers to release cars that use alternate energy sources (bio-diesel for example).

In my opinion, rising petrol prices are actually good for the country as a whole. Higher cost of mechanised transport will encourage more people to get more exercise, increase the efficiency of public transport, reduce vehicle emissions and reduce the volume of traffic on our roads. It's a kind of tough love - hurting some people in the short term to benefit the country as a whole for the long term. As long as no harm is done, I think it's fine and we'll all be looking back at the early 21st Century wondering why there was so much fuss about fossil fuels**.

-- Footnotes and further reading --

* In the open source software community, there is often talk about software being written to "scratch an itch". That is, the more stimuli are available, the more likely it is that the sofware-writing response will be triggered. It's the old, "necessity is the mother of invention" model being played out again. I believe the same holds true for other environments such as mechanised transport.

** Can you imagine the four Yorkshiremen sitting around saying, "Solar electric? Luxury! In my day, we had to burn two litres of petrol a day just to get to work and back home again! You tell the youth of today, they won't believe you!"

PS: For some interesting factoids, perhaps read the TransPerth article, "TRAVEL IN PERTH: FACTS & MYTHS"

User Journal

Journal: Serious Discussion 2

Journal by Grail

I've been living in Sydney for 9 months now. My girlfriend is still in Queanbeyan (small city near Canberra).

It's a 600km round trip - which ends up costing me at least $150 per fortnight. That means that I have no social life other than popping in to see friends for a cuppa. I can't afford anything - no diving, no movies, no new clothes.

I'm hungry. While other people are eating well, I'm living on scraps from my housemates because I can't afford to buy real food. My girlfriend feeds me, which is great.

I want to change the situation - I can't afford (in the financial, spiritual or even medical sense) to continue in this pattern of behaviour. A smoker would spend less money than me to maintain their habit.

So do I:

  • Do nothing
  • Drop the girlfriend (save on transport costs, save on sleep deprivation)
  • Ask the boss for a raise to support my LDR
  • Find a new job closer to my girlfriend that hopefully pays a little more too?

More news as it comes to hand.

It's funny.  Laugh.

Journal: Politics and Computing

Journal by Grail

If someone was to launch a DDoS attack against my system which involves opening a shell and requesting the manual page for the date command, does that mean I have a man date from the masses?

You can laugh now.

Microsoft

Journal: Why I Hate Internet Explorer and VBScript

Journal by Grail

Customer: My homepage is wrong, and I can't set it back to what it's supposed to be.

Me: Okay, just open Tools.. (C: Okay) Options .. (C:Uh-huh) ... click the General tab ...

Customer:I don't have a General tab

Me: ... Umm ... let me check my notes

[Searches Google for "Internet Explorer missing General Tab"]

[Guide customer through: HKEY_CURRENT_USERS\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Control Panel Change General to 0 and restart]

Customer: okay, rebooting

Me: And turn off the ADSL router for a few moments while you change your home page back, okay?

Customer: okay, great!

Why would Microsoft allow a random web site to do this? Does VBScript edit the registry, or does it just "disable important interface item X"?

Dear Microsoft: if you're really serious about security, remove VBScript from Internet Explorer.

Media

Journal: I'm The MASTER Of My Own Destiny

Journal by Grail

I'll not be a SLAVE to political correctness. Just had to get it out.

I keep coming back to my journal too late to talk to myself on previous topics. Oh well. Serves me right for working 10 hour days and playing games instead of doing something productive.

I'm obviously not SYNCHRONISED with reality, and perhaps I need some EXTERNAL CONTROL to help me focus on my core needs.

Though none of these puns are particularly funny, because I haven't got the TIMING right.

Just as well I haven't given up my day job.

The Internet

Journal: Code Of Conduct For ISPs wrt Firewalls 4

Journal by Grail

In response to the Slashdot article, "Should ISPs Be The Little Man's Firewall," let's try to put together a "Code Of Firewall Conduct" for ISPs.

My thoughts to get it going are that we will need:

  1. Statements regarding permanently blocked services
  2. Statements regarding transient blocking of services (eg: during a virus' peak)
  3. Statements regarding filtering (eg: content, rate or destination based filters)
  4. Procedures for opt-out policies
  5. Procedures for opt-in policies

I/we want to simultaneously:

  • protect net-illiterate users from the dangers of the Internet (I'm talking real threats like viruses and crackers which will hunt you down, not the mythical "kiddie porn" which certain members of Parliament seem to be tripping over every day),
  • protect the Internet (and thus our reputation and income stream) from spammers and virus labs, and
  • allow competent administrators to take their own risks

Though I'm of two minds about that third item. On one hand I'm the one running the ISP, if they want to run their own ISP, they can find the capital to do it themselves. On the other hand, making life easier for competent administrators means I might attract more paying customers who don't tax my support staff. Except when they ask questions that I can't answer. Competent administrators who use my services aren't just customers they're associates or allies. So I guess they should be treated very nicely :)

So let's get to it. I'll probably respond to myself later this week with my own ideas for a "Code of Firewall Conduct".

Quickies

Journal: Money's Not Everything, But It's Sure Nice!

Journal by Grail

Went diving this weekend just gone. My dive computer died. So I had to switch over to my trusty gauges. Oh well... sometime soon I'll get the repair bill for the computer, and can start begging in the streets for the money to pay for the repairs.

Diving's not a sport to be undertaken by the unemployed ;)

User Journal

Journal: Slashback - updates (har har)

Journal by Grail

Permanent record be damned.

Just for those who are curiously peering into my private life... I got a replacement driver's licence (not totally impossible). I finally got my passport - photo is ugly as all get-up, as always with these things.

Going to New Zealand next week. Perhaps I can talk first-hand to the people campaigning for the geek.nz second level domain. Perhaps I can even pass on SlashChick's complaints about not marketing themselves to irrelevant market segments ;)

If I got a clone of me, which of us would die first?

And is it really really sad that I actually have a paper journal that looks like the "User Journal" icon?

Education

Journal: A Sad Story Of Reactionary Overreaction 1

Journal by Grail

I was very saddened to read Phil Greenspun's take on Decompression Illness. IMHO, he's overreacted a little to the incident, and has probably learned the wrong lessons from his experience.

Let me set the stage with my credentials. I'm a SCUBA diver too (SCUBA is an acronym - therefore it's always spelt with capital letters). I was trained using the SSI training system, by the good people at "The Scuba Store" in Lonsdale Street, Braddon (Canberra, Australia). I have done more than 60 dives (in fact, the reason I was trolling for SCUBA articles is because I'm trying to distract myself from transcribing some log details from my dive computer to my log book). I have not yet had the bends, and I've done long dives and deep dives (and long deep dives). I love SCUBA diving.

In my training, we were taught that various factors will increase the risk of DCI, including:

  • Overexertion
  • Fatigue
  • Illness
  • Stress

We were also taught that DCI can happen to anyone - regardless of dive profile or physical fitness. We were also informed of how the dive tables were set up - the US Navy recorded how long and how deep their divers were diving, and set the limits at the level that 1% of the dives resulted in DCI. So the dive tables already have a built-in expectation of 1% incidence of DCI. My dive computer (Aladin Air X, which has been superseded by the Aladin Air Z) uses an 8-tissue saturation model to predict what is happening in my body - but I don't have any statistics about how more or less successfull the "8-tissue model" is than the "1% bent divers tables".

Looking at the dive profile narrated by Phil, you can see the risk factors all over the place - he was fatigued from having no sleep, he was suffering from motion sickness (ie: his body chemistry was abnormal), and what is worse in my books - he swam against the current on the return leg of a dive.

I think his reaction to the incident is quite severe - practically swearing off all SCUBA diving in any except idyllic conditions. As a comparison, this is like accidentally reversing the car into the back wall of the garage, and thus swearing off all motorised trasport.

He doesn't appear to have bothered to check out the current thinking on DCI, nor has he taken the time to take a look at his dive profiles with the intent of learning what mistakes he made. So the following are the lessons I can take from his narrative.

First and foremost - he went straight out on a diving cruise after 6 years of inactivity. How many people do you know could spend six years away from any sport and just step back into the game without suffering some injury? My lesson is - dive regularly, or at least do a refresher course and then some easy, safe and possibly supervised dives. I have never been a fan of massively commercial dive charters - Mike Ball especially. They remind me of everything I hate about capitalism - take their money, don't worry about the consequences. I wonder if the dive charter ever asked Phil for his diving history, or if they even checked his log book before he started the cruise? I went to do two dives on the Swan wreck in Western Australia with Cape Dive. The dive leader (whose name, sadly, I forget) sat down with me and read through my dive log to check which tour he would take me on. So he knew exactly what my dive history was. Other dive operators haven't been so thorough about my dive history.

Second - if you have to exert yourself on the inbound leg of a dive, rest before ascending. There were spare tanks at the ascent points - I would have at least stopped to take a few breaths while holding on to the ascent line. This would have meant I was more relaxed for the ascent, and better prepared for the horrible surface conditions. Any time I find myself starting to worry, I use the "STOP" procedure - Stop, Think, Observe, Plan. Don't push on in the hope things will get better - they usually don't. Incidentally, the current training from SSI is that you always do a 5 minute stop at 5 metres, regardless of any other decompression stops you've done. This "5 at 5" stop is called a "safety stop" and the claim from SSI is that the 5@5 has reduced DCI risk by 50%.

Third - the balance test is just one of a battery of tests designed to detect neurological impairment or damage. Perhaps a better test for DCI is the eyeball bubble test discovered by Dr Mike Bennett of UNSW.

Fourth - stay hydrated. Whether you're seasick or taking seasickness medication, you'll end up being more dehydrated than someone who is neither. Always have a bottle full of water nearby, and drink from it regularly. I usually carry water with me on boat dives - I drink before I get in and again after I get out.

Fifth - get a second opinion. If you suspect you might have some life-threatening condition such as DCI, and the first doctor doesn't agree with you enough to send you to a specialist, get a second opinion.

Sixth - get travel insurance. Blue Cross might insure Citizens of the USA while they're in the USA, but I can't see why they would insure those same people in other countries. After all, if you're travelling, you're already at higher risk than someone who's staying at home and being a good hard-working Citizen, right? The same is true in Australia - Medicare (the public health insurance scheme) and private health insurance companies won't insure you for anything that happens when you leave Australia. They want travel insurance for that - mostly because the usual treatment for sickness overseas is medical evacuation to Australia. Australian doctors are extremely paranoid about Australians getting treated in poor-quality hospitals in places like the Pacific Islands or the USA (yes, that's just me being facetious - most Pacific Islands have excellent quality hospitals ;)

It's probably more dangerous to learn the wrong lessons, than it is to learn none. Reading the article made me think of so many posts I've seen to Slashdot, in fact!

I feel that Phil's reaction was a very emotional one - the old "once bitten, twice shy" syndrome. I hope that one day he will venture back into SCUBA diving and enjoy the sport - tempered perhaps by a little caution and the will to sit back and read instead of diving in atrocious conditions!

In the meantime, I'll learn what I can from other peoples mistakes and mishaps - in order to not suffer the same fate myself.

User Journal

Journal: Scuba Diving

Journal by Grail

I don't know... is it egotistical to set "Comments Enabled" in the hope that somewhere out there one will find a friend? *chuckles*

I'm a Scuba diver. So there.

So is Michael McFayden. But he's more arrogant and egotistical than I am. It's alright for him to make stupid mistakes (sorry - "have extreme learning experiences") - but if other people make the same mistakes, they're just stupid. He's got some good/interesting stories to tell. But I do wonder what "active opposition from others in the dive industry" means - perhaps he had a bunch of people telling him he probably shouldn't make his web page look like it does.

These guys are just plain crazy.

Haven't been diving much, due to lack of employment. As cheap as diving can be (shore dives, camping in tents), it's still expensive (500km round trip to the coast and back). Ick.

User Journal

Journal: Passport Hunting

Journal by Grail

I lost my driver's licence. It wasn't taken away from me for breaking laws - I simply lost it. Lost in the real, physical sense of the term.

My girlfriend decided she wants to take me to New Zealand (her homeland) for a holiday. So I have to apply for a passport.

Guess what? To get a passport, you need a driver's licence (or some other form of photo ID).

To get a driver's licence, you need some form of photo ID, such as a passport.

Ick.

I managed to get my driver's licence by lugging in my birth certificate and all my credit cards, membership cards, anything with my name and signature on it. I am now carrying around enough paper documentation of my identity that anyone could apply for a driver's licence in my name.

At least I'm the only person in the world who knows the passphrase for my SSH and GPG keys. You can't fake what you don't know. Well... not without a couple of Petaflops of AES cracking power.

So now I'm off to the Post Office (oh, fair bastion of the boring and safe) to get my passport.

Some people claim that the UNIX learning curve is steep, but at least you only have to climb it once.

Working...