Apparently, today was a slow news day

It must have been a slow news day today. I can't think of any other reason why the fact that an ex-Microsoft employee is considering installing a Linux box would be news. Imagine the articles if they realized that, right at this very moment, a whole slew of current Microsoft employees are probably using Linux at home. And, imagine the headlines if it got out that a Microsoft employee admired OpenBSD! Oh, no, wait, that already happened.

There is nothing wrong with investigating the best way to meet your needs. My current needs are to watch On Demand (note that I did not say "record," or "copy and sell," or "steal"). I have a perfectly normal digital cable connection, not even HD, and I can't watch it through the Media Center because something went south with the DRM and it does not seem fixable other than flattening the box and rebuilding it.

Beyond this current problem, I've actually been quite impressed with XP Media Center Edition. My box has been humming along, 24×7, for over two years. It's been rebooted only about two dozen times in that period. Once it ran for over six months without a reboot. As the machine was used only for viewing TV and not for surfing the web etc, I saw no reason to patch it. By any account, that's quite impressive for a client operating system.

So, while it is Windows that is currently giving me the problem, it is specifically the DRM component that is causing it. I could almost certainly fix the problem by flattening the box and reinstalling the OS, resetting the DRM. If it has to come to that though I'll look into options, including the Linux options and Windows Vista.

I am also not advocating any kind of violation of intellectual property rights. The same child that currently wants to watch On Demand is fed using proceeds from the sale of intellectual property. Stealing and redistributing intellectual property is no different in my book than stealing money straight out of someone's wallet.

Blue Screen of DRM Death; or The Death Of Windows Media Center

I'm turning off, disconnecting, and throwing out my Windows XP Media Center PC. For two years it has been the DVR unit in my home, as well as just a convenient way to view movies. However, the DRM zealots have finally rendered it completely useless.

This weekend my 5 year old was complaining that On Demand (Comcast Cable's video on demand system) was not working. It showed this weird blue screen. Upon inspecting the problem I found that the video would turn on, the screen would flicker for a second each of black and the video a few times, and then the Blue Screen of DRM came up. It also wouldn't play any premium channels. Figuring this was a solvable problem, I tried a few things:

  1. Disconnect the Media Center and plugging the cable box directly into the TV. This resolved the problem admirably.
  2. The steps in KB 913800
  3. The steps in Aaron Stebner's blog about DRM problems in Windows Media Center Update 2
  4. The steps in KB 891664
  5. Updating the DRM component as per these steps
  6. A full Microsoft Update, which installed Windows Media Player 11
  7. More Microsoft Updates which update and fix security bugs in Windows Media Player 11
  8. Uninstalling Windows Media Player 11
  9. Updating the DRM component as per these steps

Step 8 was, if not the clincher, so at least very interesting. After that one I am now back to Windows Media Player 10 and when I launch it it crashes. Fortunately, Windows Error Reporting has seen this problem before and directs me to an article with steps to troubleshoot my problem with Windows SharePoint Services!

Step 9 was even more interesting. As soon as I enter that page now Internet Explorer crashes. How wonderful! Microsoft's "security update" (i.e. DRM update) has caused a Denial of Service (DoS) not only in Windows Media Center, but in Internet Explorer. Want to crash someone's IE instance? Just 302 them to the DRM Update page.

So, now I am trying to decide what to use instead. I'm contemplating whether LinuxMCE may be worthwhile?

Is it just me, or is DRM of movies and music the poster child for an inappropriate security v. usability tradeoff? How many billions has the industry spent on DRM schemes that the bad guys break in weeks? How many perfectly legitimate users has the industry annoyed and driven away? How many lost DVD sales has it caused? How many lost sales of Microsoft's Media Center software and Windows Vista has it caused because the DRM sub-system randomly decides that you must be a criminal? And, how many bootleggers has it stopped? Based on my last jaunt through a night market somewhere in the Far East the answer to the last question seems pretty clear at least.

Update, September 26, 2007

I added a short clarification as a new post.

Phishing the Government

OK, so this is something I haven't seen before:

The criminals have now started phishing using the government as the lure (the IRS is the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. tax department). Of course, the refund would have been far more compelling had it happened around the time when people file their tax returns in the U.S.

The site it goes to appears to be in Korea, but it also appears to be down. Most likely it was just some compromised computer somewhere.

One more odd thing struck me about this. As you see in the picture, Outlook 2007 detected this as a possible phishing message; but only on one computer. On my other computer it was just plain junk mail. That's a bit disconcerting. Apparently the phishing detection logic in Outlook is not consistent, even within versions.

What They Teach Kids These Days

Sweden has always been a little "cutting edge," if you know what I mean. Little did I know, however, just how cutting edge. This picture was snapped in a toy store in Stockholm last week:

I probably stood there stunned for a good two minutes. Brio is known for high-quality wooden toys, particularly railroads. Apparently they are branching out. Using the same basic track and the same gauge, you can now get "modern" toys in the Network line.

That's right, the kids can now play network operators. The main kit is the Email Central Set, which is the e-mail sorting facility (also known as SMTP daemon). You can add EMO, the E-Mail Officer, Bernie's Flashing Diode, DEX's (that's gotta be a trademark violation) Search Pod, and Lazie's CD Burner.

So far, it's just kind of sick though. What really caught my eye was the video playing on the TV in the picture. For that extra bit of realism, you can add on the "Attacker & Viruses" kit. That's right. For $24.99 you get three different network viruses: Viro, Para, and Pop-up. The job of the Networkers then becomes to defend the network against the attackers!

In the movie the network viruses traded in their evil ways for a taste of some of EMO's birthday cake.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, it's all rated 3+ years, and yes, I am changing my job descriptions to make defending the Network against Viro required experience!