Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dear Economist Column

I did not know this: Tim Harford has a "Dear Economist" column. It is much better than the "Dear Aunt" type columns it mimics, by being both more entertaining and more useful.

Not only that, but Tim Harford gets more interactive by allowing readers to respond. The last exchange (June 14) is particularly funny.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Digital Vandalism

I have in the past resisted security software (read: anti-virus packages), and relied instead on caution and manual system monitoring to ward against malware. Within the last couple of years, either Windows got too complicated, the malware got too sophisticated, or I became too rusty. I got infected by several viruses.

One of the reasons I am reluctant to use security software is that they typically install several services, an email plugin, browser plugins, and some of them even mini-port drivers. It would take a pretty nasty virus to have worse impact on your system! (Of course, security software do not propagate aggressively). I wish there was a passive security package I could run only whenever I choose.

I installed Free avg, then deactivated the extraneous services, drivers and plugins, thereby getting almost what I wanted. Yet, after several scans, deletions, and reboots, I still had a problem that the viruses had introduced, which was that I could not start certain programs or processes, such as procexp.exe, regedit.exe or even the anti-virus scanner and update programs.

At first, I thought that avg had missed a virus. I tried to deactivate or kill different processes that might host a virus, but still I had the problem. I could run the programs after I renamed them -- for instance, I could not run "procexp.exe," but I could run the same program renamed to "sysinternals_procx.exe." Thinking that there must be a malware system-hook running in one of the Windows processes, I checked each one and searched its image for 'procexp.exe,' still without finding it.

Searching the registry instead, I found that the virus had added the programs I could not start to this key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options

Each program had a "Debugger" subkey, with the "ntsd -d" options. 'ntsd' is the debugger (NT Symbolic Debugger), and -d tells it to attach to the kernel debugger -- which typically will not be present, thus failing the launch altogether.

I wrote this up in case you have, or get, the same problem. If so, just delete the 'Debugger' subkey under each program found at the registry key indicated above.

Since I am on the subject: Reading about convictions against black hats in the news, I have several times been disappointed at their light sentences. I looked it up for this post, and according to the Cybercrime watch list, it seems as if courts are issuing punishments more in line with the severity of the crimes now. The author of "Melissa" was caught and convicted, the damage was estimated to US$80M, and the perpetrator got 20 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

I think the damage is underestimated, though. They have to account for all the money and time we spent in prevention. Symantec makes $6 billion a year (mostly) selling anti-virus software. A big portion of that is a dead-weight loss we spend in protection against the digital vandals.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Red and Blue Conspiracy Theories

I mostly find partisan bickering entertaining, except for the end result. A fellow blogger made an interesting comparison between the 'Obama is not American' and '9/11 was an inside job' conspiracies. Interesting reading.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Read in Economist

The Economist is my favorite news-magazine. It is fact- and reason-based, with a broad scope, and best of all, the editors have a sense of humor.

Here's a quote from a letter they published in the current issue:
When I considered taking a degree in economics almost 50 years ago, I
was told that the exam questions would be the same from year to year, but that
the correct answers would differ each year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Art of Waitering

I have alluded before to the passive style of Asian waitering. It can mess with your experience. Say, for instance, you misunderstand the menu and order a plain steak with no sides. A Chinese waiter will happily serve it, no comments. One of those friendly American waitresses would no doubt say something like: "just so you know, the steak doesn't come with anything." A Danish waiter would say: "Det giver sgu da ikke nogen mening, prøv nu lige at tage dig sammen."

Today I experienced some world-class dining in San Francisco, with professionally trained waiters. Though I prefer Asian to European food, I think the European tradition has the waitering art down. Food was served, cups were filled, plates removed, etc, with no interruption in conversations and you barely even noticed. With the best service, you don't have to flag, your needs are anticipated.

I once saw a movie about a young man tending hospitality school somewhere in Switzerland. He was doing well, but his friend had been there for years and failed several exams. By the time our hero takes the exam himself, he is doing it with the laggard friend. The referee poses the question: to which side should wine be served. They both agree that wine should be served to the right of the guest. The referee then asks if there are any exceptions. The laggard cannot think of any, but our hero says that you can serve wine to the left of the guest, if he or she is leaning to the right in conversation. Our hero passes and the laggard fails again.

It is a fictional movie with a dramatic story, but I believe they correctly showed the expected attention to detail in the high-end waiting profession.