Windows Genuine Advantage and the Blue Screen of Death

(GeekStuff)

2006-08-11 02:52
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If you aren’t a techie, it may not be immediately obvious how incredibly incompetent the people who maintain Windows are.

But rest assured; this is not merely the incompetence of a large company. This is the incompetence of people who make you wonder whether they’re actually trying to get things wrong.

Other people have written about Windows Genuine Advantage Fuckups. My own data points are these:

1. Windows Update now goes through “svchost.exe”, the Generic Process That Does Everything. What this means is that you can’t set most firewalls to allow “Windows Update” but not allow “Any Program Whatsoever That Wants To Use This API”. Because any program can just go ahead and ask svchost.exe to do its magic; either you let them all do it, or none of them.
2. The moment I ran Windows Genuine Advantage, to “validate” my ultra-critical security patches, my machine crashed with the Blue Screen of Death.

It’s not as though my machine normally crashes. I mean, ever. I play video games, even fairly abusively high-spec ones, and everything’s fine. I run it for days on end of heavy load under Linux.

But the WGA code, with its surreal combination of incoherence and needing absolute control over everything, can indeed kill it.

Way to go. Once again, I am left wondering why on earth anyone pays for Microsoft software. It appears that the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent on XP licenses buy me, in total, nothing at all; I’m still gonna be treated like a thief, up to and including the part where the updates act really strange or reboot my system. I still don’t get any kind of customer service.

In short, MS is saddling me with all the penalties they talk about wanting for people who copy their software without paying for it.

Malice? Nah, just incompetence.

(For the record, some three reboots later, the twenty or so most recent critical security patches have been loaded. Now back to UNIX administration, where I sip a cool drink while pondering whether I ought to apply a theoretical security patch where a combination of circumstances that does not apply to any of my current customers could potentially allow someone to view data after their permission to do so has been withdrawn. It can’t happen unless we acquire a set of customers who want to share a database, so it’s not urgent. We haven’t had an urgent issue in quite some time.)

Peter Seebach

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Gevalia: Spamming scum

(Spam)

2006-08-08 15:29
Comments [1]

So, Kraft’s subsidiary, Gevalia, are spammers. Boy, are they spammers. They’ve been actively spamming the whole internet for years.

They now have an unsubscribe page.

http://www.gevalia.com/Gevalia/customerservice/spam_unsubscribe.aspx

Yes, that’s right. They even call it “spam_unsubscribe”. Because, see, unlike some companies, who at least feel enough shame about their abuses to lie about them, or say it’s not spam, the Gevalia people know full well that what they are doing is spamming.

The page makes the usual false statements about people have “registered to receive information and promotional messages from various advertisers”, but the name of the page, alone, tells the truth: It’s spam. They know it’s spam.

You would think that a company like Kraft, with actual products people are willing to pay for, would know better. But then, Gevalia’s products don’t have quite the reputation for culinary mastery that you get from, say, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Peter Seebach

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Baen Books made my day.

(Personal)

2006-08-08 13:28
Comments

So, I finished reading some books I had lying around. And I realized that I wanted sequels.

It turns out most of the books Baen Books has put out in the last six years or so are available for purchase as ebooks from their WebScription service. Now, this service is pitched in terms of subscriptions, but you can go back and buy all the books. Most of them are between $4 and $6 — slightly less than the cost of a paperback.

The cool thing is this: These books are delivered in your choice of document formats, within reason. HTML, for instance, makes an excellent choice.

DRM? Hell, no. You bought the book. You have a book now. No stupid restrictions. You like iSilo better than MobiPocket Reader? Convert away. The text is unencumbered.

What this means is that, for $6, I didn’t just get the option of reading The Deed of Paksenarrion (one of my favorite fantasy trilogies) once. Or even “until that particular book reader isn’t supported”.

I have the text. I can make backup copies, I can convert to new formats. I don’t have to have some kind of special key to unlock it. In short, it’s like actually buying a book, not like renting one for a little while. I can read it on my computer, or on my PDA.

This is the way ebooks ought to be done, and I am glad to see someone had the vision to do it. Tragically, the man who made that vision happen is no longer with us; Jim Baen died on June 28th this year. But his legacy is with us, in a thriving science fiction industry, an ebook service that’s actually worth buying from, and a number of authors who might never have made it without his interest and support.

Peter Seebach

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Junk faxes: Back to the grind

(Spam)

2006-08-07 12:41
Comments

Well, it’s been a while, and I had to replace my scanner…

But here we are. 1,293 unsolicited advertising faxes. I have a database program I’ve been working on that will, in principle, let me file them and then search the database for faxes by remove number, or callback number, or whatever else.

What that means is, it’s about time to get back to pursuing these actively. When I started this, I had maybe seven hundred faxes, give or take. I’m still getting them. I’ve lost count of how many suits we’ve settled or won at this point; it’s been a lot. And they’re still faxing, so it looks like I get to sue them some more.

Some people might dodge some bullets. The recent amendments to the TCPA’s anti-junk-fax language create loopholes for certain abusive companies to keep sending unwanted faxes, but for the most part the faxes are still just as illegal as they were when the law first passed in 1991.

I’m also finding some old stuff worth working on; for instance, one of the companies I settled with submitted forged documents in discovery. I might have some fun looking into those in greater detail. I think just about every junk faxer I’ve dealt with has told at least one obvious lie in discovery answers; maybe it’s time to do a review of the state of perjury in modern America.

But in any event, the faxes are nicely scanned in, and in a few days I hope to have a searchable database. I may make some of the data available online, too.

Peter Seebach

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New scanner = love

(GeekStuff)

2006-08-02 13:32
Comments [1]

So, I get a lot of junk faxes, and I sue a lot of junk faxers. I’ve been planning to get organized, and one of the things I need is scans of all the faxes.

Well, I got an HP scanner with a sheet feeder, and scanned in a bunch of faxes. Then I got some new faxes, so I figured I’d just scan those in. Only the HP scanner broke after a couple hundred pages.

So I got a new scanner.

Now that I’ve compared them, I am shocked at how annoying the HP was. Here’s a few examples:

1. Settings made to a “task”, such as “scan document”, tended to get lost.
2. Some settings couldn’t be saved. For instance, every time I wanted to scan images, the save window wanted to save as PDF. I had to re-select TIFF format every time.
3. File naming was just plain dumb. If you had a multiple-document scan, with files named “x.tiff”, you would get “x.tiff”, “x01.tiff”, “x02.tiff”, and so on. You couldn’t have a consistent numbering pattern.
4. Proprietary format means you can’t just use something else, like VueScan.
5. Pretty cheap construction; I don’t expect a sheet feeder to break in the first 1500 scans or so, even if it was sitting idle for a bit over a year in there.

My new scanner is an Epson “4490 Office”. Which is to say, a 4490 Photo plus the document feeder attachment.

It works nicely. VueScan recognizes it and controls it without hassle. The provided software is competent and not insulting. I set it for 200dpi grayscale TIFF files, and 200dpi grayscale TIFF files is what I get. The name provided to the save gets a three-digit number appended, STARTING with 001, so all the names are in sequence and sort alphabetically, for anything under a thousand pages in a single run.

The visual quality is noticably better. I’m happy, and soon some junk faxers won’t be.

(Ironically, guess whose faxes I noticed in with all my other pump-and-dump stock scams: SOYO!)

Peter Seebach

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University of Phoenix: We don't know where we got your address

(Spam)

2006-07-26 08:35
Comments

On June 27th, I got spam from University of Phoenix. It was addressed to “Dear Dawn”, but used my regular email address. A couple of emails and contact-us forms later, no luck.

Today I called.

I got the information that the only thing the database shows is that my address came from “a banner ad”. Well, that, and they have my home address to. You know, the snail mail one.

So.

A few calls later, I got someone who explained that they do buy lists “like every company”, and that they have no way of knowing where they got my address. Apparently they just don’t have the kind of detailed records they’d need. Since I’ve heard from other people that they are “unrepentant repeat spammers” (in one person’s words), I think I’m gonna just accept the apparent reality: Despite being in a great position to be a really cool company with a good vision and a good product, they’ve decided to punt and be spammers.

Poking around their voice mail was depressing. Menus with only one real person, who’s not in the office, and multiple “mailboxes” you can leave a message in. When someone tried to transfer me to the department I was supposed to talk to, I got a cute little message saying that they do not monitor or look at messages left in this mailbox, so use the web form. (Yes, the web form I’d already filled out twice to no avail.)

I did finally reach someone, but all I found out is what I already pretty much knew: They buy dirty lists, they spam those lists, and they neither know nor care where the addresses come from.

Peter Seebach

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Bob Jones and the memory hole

(Religion)

2006-07-22 08:56
Comments

One of the key components of Christian teaching is metanoia, or repentance. That means admitting your faults, because if you won’t admit them, you can’t really correct them. Even if you change your behavior, if you can’t admit it was wrong, you’re not changing yourself, you’re just bowing to superior firepower.

Bob Jones university, for a number of years, absolutely banned black students. No admission. They eventually allowed black students, but they didn’t let them date white students. In February of 2000, with much to-do, they “removed” this policy; they now allowed interracial dating with the signatures of both parents. Today, even that policy is gone.

Both policies are, in fact, so far gone that it’s very hard to find what the actual text of the policies was. Archives that used to contain these have mostly somehow had them deleted. The Wayback Machine’s otherwise excellent cache of BJU pages is oddly short of pages that refer to this policy.

That’s the thing; that’s not “repentance”. That’s “denial”. Throughout, every time someone has questioned a policy, the BJU people have said that they were right but they are changing for some reason that has nothing to do with them being wrong.

Their angrily defensive tone says it all; this excerpt is from their 2000 piece angrily responding to criticism of their mild step back on the dating policy:

Is Bob Jones University tax exempt? No. The Supreme Court took it away from us in 1983 with a ruling that said, “First Amendment rights (freedom of religion) must yield in the interest of Federal public policy.” This bone-chilling legal conclusion puts every church and religious organization in America in jeopardy. Religious freedom guarantees of the First Amendment are no longer their protection. They are now expected to adopt prevailing social policy into their belief system or be punished (in the case of Bob Jones University that punishment was the lifting of tax exemption).

Of course, the 1983 ruling had to do with… The interracial dating policy.

Nice dodge, guys.

I’ve written them and asked for more information about what the policy was and why they had it. No response.

But you can still find some of their initial reasoning:

Does the University believe that those who choose interracial marriage do so out of rebellion against God? No. It does believe, however, that often the promoters of it do so out of antagonism toward God because they are often the same entities that promote homosexuality, abortion, and other forms of social radicalism.

Bob Jones University’s policy regarding interracial dating was more of an opposition to the rebellious and defiant antichrist spirit of the promoters of one-worldism than to interracial dating itself. Many who date and marry interracially are just as opposed to one-worldism and the spirit of Antichrist as we are.

Yes, that’s right; interracial dating was a sign of the “one-world” antichrist people.

Edited to add:
One site (experts.about.com) has a copy of the policy:

There is to be no interracial dating.

:#Students who are partners in an interracial marriage will be expelled. [461 U.S. 574, 581]

:#Students who are members of or affiliated with any group or organization which holds as one of its goals or advocates interracial marriage will be expelled.

:#Students who date outside of their own race will be expelled.

:#Students who espouse, promote, or encourage others to violate the University’s dating rules and regulations will be expelled.”

The former policies of Bob Jones University on interracial dating are indebted to the founder’s view that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage; though today Bob Jones University sometimes claims that the policy is a product of a (1950s) legal threat on the part of the parents of a female Asian student who threatened legal action after learning that their daughter was dating a white student.

I wish their original policy were still up. If it were, they could say “well, actually, we don’t believe that”.

Instead, they lie about what it was, and why it was there, and in so doing, they deny any hope of repentance. This is why so many Christian groups stress the confession of sins as a part of the process of forgiveness.

Peter Seebach

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Reflections on trusting TRUSTe

(Spam)

2006-07-20 01:35
Comments

So, there’s this thing, called TRUSTe. They “certify” privacy. What’s that mean? Well, it means about the same thing for privacy that a diploma mill does for education. It’s not that a TRUSTe logo tells you nothing; it’s that it is a good indication that you are dealing with someone who could not otherwise hope to convince anyone that they would be safe.

My own experience is that, out of the half-dozen or so TRUSTe customers (they are paid by the sites they “certify”) that have my email address, I believe every single one, without exceptions, has spammed me. Companies that do not have TRUSTe logos sometimes spam me, but not nearly as often.

But when it comes to big-time spammers, such as RealNetworks, TRUSTe is there. Certifying them. When eBay unilaterally changed their privacy policy, spammed customers before the new policy had even taken effect, and issued multiple mutually exclusive statements about what just happened, do you think there was any enforcement? I’ll give you a hint: There wasn’t.

The problem is immediately obvious. Since TRUSTe’s customers are the companies whose policies they “certify”, to confirm that there was a problem would require TRUSTe to hurt their own bottom line. That isn’t likely to happen. The excuses offered are many and varied. But the fact remains; only bad actors have the incentive to try to buy a logo that says they’re trustworthy. Honest companies don’t need to worry, because they don’t have the rumors of their spam efforts haunting them.

All of this has been known for years. What’s news about it now is that it’s been verified (PDF file, sorry). Real data, real analysis, and a confirmation that this isn’t just a confirmation bias:

I find that TRUSTe-certified sites are more than twice as likely to be untrustworthy as uncertified sites, a difference which remains statistically and economically significant when restricted to “complex” sites.

This result is not surprising. What is marginally surprising is that there are still people out there who will tell you to check for a TRUSTe logo, as though anything would happen if you got spammed (and you will!) and reported it. To the best of my knowledge, I have never even gotten so much as a single human response from TRUSTe over complaints; once I established they weren’t interested, I stopped wasting time.

But you can, it turns out, use the TRUSTe logo as a marker to help you determine when it will be safe to give someone your information. If they have one, it is probably unsafe.

Peter Seebach

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How I stopped liking the Red Cross

(Personal)

2006-06-29 12:58
Comments [1]

Okay, so a while back, Studio Whipping Boy did a charity drive. We picked the American Red Cross, because hey, everyone knows they’re legit, right?

Well, maybe not.

My donation, submitted with a tagged address including “-nospam”, got me added to a mailing list. I complained. No response. I kept getting spammed. I kept complaining. No response. I don’t just mean they didn’t take me off the list; they didn’t respond in any way at all. I don’t just mean they didn’t send me a responsive email; they didn’t take me off the list either. No response at all.

So I finally gave up and called in.

Yes, they can take me off their email list. It may take “up to four weeks” to process.

This is an email list. It is run on computers which are on a network. There is nothing in the process of opting someone out of a list that takes more than thirty seconds to process. There is no excuse for this crap. Wait, there’s one; they want one more chance to pitch to me how important it is that I send them money.

Nope. No more. When the ARC is ready to behave more like an ethical charity, and less like any of the dozens of fraudulent charities that are always trying to find new ways to spam and telemarket to everything with a pulse, I might think about it. For now, though… Screw them.

They get the small box of cash we picked up for them at a con a while back, sent anonymously so they can’t add anyone to any lists. But from now on, when we need a charity to donate to, we’ll pick one that’s run a little more competently and a little more ethically.

Peter Seebach

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Suncoast: Shut up and eat your spam.

(Spam)

2006-06-12 14:02
Comments [2]

I’ll say what can be said in their defense: It wasn’t technically illegal.

I used to be a customer of Suncoast Motion Picture Company, a subsidiary of Musicland Group. They were once a small local chain that sold videos and anime in malls. They introduced a rewards program, where you get gift certificates for shopping there. I’ve been in it for a couple of years.

Then the prerecords started. Now, this is where I have to speak in their defense, a little. Technically, it’s not illegal to hit your customers with prerecorded calls. It’s not illegal, because there are many legitimate uses; late notices, order notification, things like that. However, among the reasons it’s legal is NOT “so we can give you a prerecorded call in which we simply repeat the offers we have nearly every week”.

But it gets worse.

The call gives an 800 number to opt out. That number leads to a voicemail system in which you can listen to their smug declaration that they are not breaking any laws, you can opt out, or you can hear the promotion again. There is no option for speaking to someone.

They know that, if you want to speak to someone, you’re about to waste THEIR time, and that’s not something they want. Your time is free to them; prerecords give them a huge advantage there. Their time would cost them money, so the whole name of the game, as is always the case with prerecords, is to get rid of the customer as fast as possible.

I called their main number, followed options on the voicemail system, and got routed to an empty number which simply rang and rang; not even hold music. I tried again, and got to someone who simply couldn’t see why I’d be upset. I mean, you can opt out, right? She didn’t apologize for anything until I mentioned that failure to apologize is itself a sign of ill intent from a corporation. (It is, too; any decent customer service sort would know to start with, at the very least, “I’m sorry this bothered you.”) I eventually got routed to a “supervisor” who spoke poor English and explained at some length that they did this because they thought some of their customers would like it. The idea of, say, letting those customers express that interest… No, too advanced.

My guess is the company is failing. Whenever a company that’s been cruising along fine suddenly starts spamming, or using prerecords, it’s a sign that sales aren’t holding up, and they need to boost the cash flow. Because spamming and prerecords alienate and annoy customers, though, they just turn the questionable future into a certain one.

If you have gift cards, use them now.

Peter Seebach

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