April, 2008

  • The Old New Thing

    Over 1500 times the net worth of Bill Gates yet nobody has heard of him

    • 26 Comments

    Dr. Carlos Alves, owner and president of the Solomao Alves Group (I'm pretty sure there's an accent mark missing, but that's what it says on the site), must be the richest man on the planet: "Company generates annual revenue exceeding $20 billion and owns personal assets valued at $100 trillion."

    One hundred trillion dollars in personal assets.

    That means that he owns pretty much every single thing on the planet, seeing as global wealth was only $97.9 trillion in 2006 by one organization's estimate.

    But that's not all. In addition to being a fantastically wealthy multi-trillionaire, he has a "Ph.D in NASA Technology" and has been "selected in Harvard University as Senior Personality with highest QI." Whatever QI is. He's also qualified to joint [sic] a consortiun [sic] consisting of scientists "to expertising [sic] at my works as greatest international Megastar."

    What? You're that awesome but still, nobody has ever heard of you? How do you fix that? Simple: Issue a press release proclaiming how awesome you are.

    Mind you, that didn't appear to help much. The only information available on the Solomao Alves Group I can find on the Internet comes from the directory itself (warning: annoying voice), a vanity publication where you have to pay to be listed. Some people claim it's a scam.

  • The Old New Thing

    I always get scared when I see people trying to organize the Internet into hierarchies

    • 19 Comments

    I always get scared when I see people propose building neat little "hierarchically organized" taxonomies of something that is, well, a web. I think these are people who get their kicks out of having all their shoes lined up neatly in front of the doorstep, sorted alphabetically by designer. "Hey, let's classify all the blogs so we can have a Microsoft\Technologies\IT\Desktop\.NET Framework\User Interface\WinFX\Color Management\Printing node that all the WinFX printer color management on desktop-class machines for IT managers blogs can be listed under."

    All zero of them.

    Meanwhile, Larry Osterman's popular blog which is "a bunch of random technical stuff, sometimes current, sometimes historical, with a few programming puzzles thrown in" doesn't fit anywhere.

  • The Old New Thing

    How to tell which end of the Metro platform to stand on, and other survival tips for the Lisbon subway system

    • 12 Comments

    The Metropolitano de Lisboa includes an English-language list of tips for riding the Metro. Here are some more tips that all the locals know, but which no guide book tells you.

    In most subway systems, trains outside of peak hours are not full-length but rather fill only part of the station. In the subway systems I'm familiar with in the United States, short trains stop in the center of the platform. But in Lisbon and Madrid, short trains pull forward as far as possible before stopping. Therefore, you should stand on the forward end of the platform. But where is the forward end?

    The forward end is the end that has the television monitors or mirrors, because the driver of the train uses them to check that the train doors are clear before pulling away.

    Other tips: The vending machines in the Metro stations do not sell multi-day passes. To buy a multi-day pass, go to "the man in the little house", which is the cute phrase a hotel employee used to describe the ticket agent booth. The ticket booth is not manned at night, so plan accordingly.

    (Just in case it wasn't clear: I'm not mocking the employee's English. After all, his English was far, far better than my Portuguese! Besides, the man in the little house is probably the phrase I would have used if I had to describe the same thing in Swedish, German, or Chinese.)

    You don't need to take your pass out of your wallet or purse. Do like the locals: Place your wallet or purse directly on the sensor (oriented so that the pass is close to the sensor, of course) and hold still. After about one second, the sensor will recognize your pass and open the gate. A common mistake is to rub the pass in circles against the sensor. In my experience, moving the pass around just makes it harder for the sensor to find it.

    Your multi-day pass covers all municipal subways, trams, buses, and elevators.

  • The Old New Thing

    What happened to winipcfg and netmon?

    • 32 Comments

    Commenter Michael Moulton asks:

    Back in the Win95 & 98 days, we had winipcfg to manage DHCP leases on the client. Additionally, we had an app (I think it was netmon) to let you view people currently accessing your shares.

    Now, we have ipconfig on the command line and nothing like netmon.

    I'd be interested in hearing why those tools weren't retained.

    Let's start with winipcfg. On the Windows NT side, the tool for managing IP addresses has always been ipconfig, and it hasn't gone away. It's still there in Windows Vista. The winipcfg program was created for Windows 3.1 as a workaround because Windows 3.1 didn't have a console subsystem. The program was retained in Windows 95 because Windows 95 was based on Windows 3.1. The workaround wasn't ported to Windows NT because Windows NT already had the functionality, as a console program, which is probably how it should have been done in the first place.

    Oh wait, that is how it was done in the first place.

    In other words, the question isn't why winipcfg changed to ipconfig but rather why ipconfig changed to winipcfg. The change was a workaround, and now the workaround is no longer needed.

    Meanwhile, the functionality provided by netmon exists in the Windows NT series as an MMC snap-in. The quickest way to get to it is to right-click the My Computer icon and select Manage, then go to the Shared Folders node.

    (This question really wasn't in my area, since I never worked on networking. I'm just answering the question based having used Windows for a while and not being afraid to look around.)

  • The Old New Thing

    21: like 24 but three hours shorter

    • 38 Comments

    When I first heard that a new project titled 21 was coming out, I simply assumed it was the same as 24, except that Jack Bauer gets some sleep.

    Pre-emptive snarky comment: "Somebody was clearly sleeping when they designed Vista."

  • The Old New Thing

    STATUS_BUFFER_OVERFLOW really should be named STATUS_BUFFER_OVERFLOW_PREVENTED

    • 21 Comments

    One category of dubious security vulnerability that comes into the security response team is people who recently discovered the STATUS_BUFFER_OVERFLOW status code.

    Title: Buffer overflow occurs in scenario X

    Description: Run a file monitoring tool and perform scenario X. In the log, you will see entries that have the error STATUS_BUFFER_OVERFLOW. This is an easily reproducible buffer overflow bug.

    If only the system were so smart that it could detect buffer overflows in this way. But what you're seeing is not actual a buffer overflow. The status code STATUS_BUFFER_OVERFLOW does not mean that a buffer overflow has occurred; rather, it means that the buffer passed by the application was too small to hold all the requested data. Its name should really be STATUS_BUFFER_OVERFLOW_PREVENTED or STATUS_INSUFFICIENT_BUFFER. Indeed, the corresponding Win32 error code has the less misleading name ERROR_INSUFFICIENT_BUFFER.

    Every wannabe security investigator sees this error code in a monitoring tool and says "Jackpot!" And then they send a report to the security response team and brag about it to their friends. "Dude, I found two dozen buffer overflows in just a few minutes. I am so 31337!"

  • The Old New Thing

    When a treehouse just isn't good enough

    • 14 Comments

    Not satisfied with a patio or treehouse, some people have built a monorail or a roller coaster in their backyard. And then there's this one guy who apparently has not yet run out of strange things to build in his backyard. Former projects include include a domed swimming pool, a garden accessible only from above, a carousel, and a forty-four foot kite.

  • The Old New Thing

    How do I force the ECHO command to echo?

    • 32 Comments

    The ECHO built-in command, how much simpler could it get? It takes whatever you put on the command line and prints it. And yet it's not that simple.

    For example, the ECHO must be careful not to compress whitespace, because people will write

    ECHO Some text
    ECHO    Indented text
    ECHO             ----     underlined
    

    and when you execute this, the result had better be

    Some text
       Indented text
                ----     underlined
    

    and not

    Some text
    Indented text
    ---- underlined
    

    But what if you want to echo a blank line or the word "ON" or "OFF" or a slash and a question mark?

    C:\> ECHO ON
    
    C:\> ECHO
    ECHO is on.
    C:\> ECHO /?
    Displays messages, or turns command-echoing on or off.
    ...
    

    To force the ECHO command not to interpret its arguments, put a dot immediately after the word "echo":

    C:\> ECHO.    ON
        ON
    C:\> ECHO.
    
    C:\> ECHO./?
    /?
    

    This is what happens when a language develops not by design but by evolution. It becomes filled with all sorts of strange quirks in order to accommodate new behavior while remaining compatible with old behavior. Nobody actually likes the batch language; they just are used to it.

  • The Old New Thing

    Lisbon: The city whose public transportation system operates in three dimensions

    • 25 Comments

    Lisbon is a very hilly city.

    The public transportation system in Lisbon is a quaint mix of old and new. There's a tram system over a hundred years old; on it run both historic trains as well as sleek modern ones. There's also a modern bus system and a subway. And all of these systems run north, south, east, and west all over town.

    But it's the only city I've experienced in which the public transportation includes elevators which take you up and down.

    The most famous of the three vertical forms of public transit is Santa Justa's Elevator which takes you from just off Rossio Square downtown six stories up a steep cliff face to Carmo Square in the Barrio Alto district. Without it, you'd have to go the long way around.

    There is a Baixa-Chiado Metro stop on the uphill side of the elevator, and if your spatial relations are still intact, this tells you that the metro runs six stories below the surface. Coming out of Baixa-Chiado station requires four consecutive long escalator rides. Of course, people in Moscow read this and scoff, "You call that a long escalator ride? This is a long escalator ride."

  • The Old New Thing

    Maybe that's how you do it, but around here, we have a different convention for indicating which things are broken

    • 29 Comments

    One of the reactions to my story of investigating a dead computer struck me as rather strange. Commenter Steve wrote, "Usually video cards left on a table don't works well (the one inside a computer have a better probability)."

    While it's true that the ones inside a computer are more likely to work, it's not the case, at least around here, that the cards on a table are unlikely to work well. Many people have a small stash of cables and other spare parts specifically for repair purposes. If you see a video card on a table, odds are that it's part of somebody's spart parts stash and works just fine.

    At least around here, we follow a different convention for indicating when things are broken beyond repair: We put them in the garbage can.

    Joke-ruining clarification: Or the recycle bin, as appropriate.

    Computer repair follow-up: Last Thursday morning, I turned on my home computer and it didn't boot. The symptoms were exactly the same as the previous death, so started with what worked last time: I unplugged the video card. The computer booted up.

    It looks like my home computer eats video cards.

    Now what? Do I feed it cheap video cards? Was this just a fluke and my replacement video card happened to be a dud? Are the video cards actually just fine, and it's the motherboard that can't cope with them? Do I abandon the computer and start over?

    I'm going with option two: Assume I just got a bum video card and try again. But if the second replacement video card also dies within a short period of time, then I'm going to have to decide what I'm going to do with the computer that eats video cards.

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