Fix It Until It Breaks

The deeper I got into the site the more wasn’t working and I was finding stuff no one had found before. It’s not supposed to be like this.

screengrab-blog-redesign.jpgIt’s been like performing dentistry on myself! The goal was to make my life simpler by developing the new look for my website on a server installed on my desktop PC then move it to a commercial server when finished. Maybe it will be easier. It hasn’t been so far!

When I went to move it off the desktop machine to its final resting place the site responded with an error message. Later it was the “white screen of death.” Finally I could see the home page but all links, even links to log in, were dead!

These are the times that try men’s souls. I had achieved Helaine’s oft spoken fear when I delve too deeply. I’d fixed it to the point of breaking it!

In an earlier entry the subject of the “WordPress Community” came up. WordPress is the platform on which the new site will be built. The community was there for me tonight, though not in the flesh. There is a treasure trove of archived forum posts online.
If something can be broken it already has been! I was able to go to school on other poor schlubs.

I wrote what you just read around 3:30 am. Before I could start patting myself on the back things broke so badly I had to stop writing. I didn’t get to bed until nearly 6:00 am.

It’s now after 1:00 pm. Where were we?

The deeper I got into the site the more wasn’t working and I was finding stuff broken no one had found before! It’s not supposed to be like this.

I started deleting plug-ins, which add functionality. That’s the typical response to this kind of problem and it usually works. Not here.
I will spare you my tooth gnashing. The problem seems to be a version of php, a programming language critical to blogging (and other dynamic sites). The blog was built with php5, the current version. My web host offers php5, but defaults to php4. They are not the same–think Latin and Pig Latin.

Worse still, when I finally found and put in the fix (the line “AddType x-mapp-php5 .php” was inserted in a hidden file called .htaccess) I left out the space between php5 and .php! Now the site was so dead I couldn’t even get to the administration screens!
It’s all fixed now and the site is up, but hidden in plain site at a different web address for the time being. There are still cosmetic fixes that need to be made. Sometimes text gets larger and smaller for no apparent reason. Mostly though I accomplished what I set out to do and I hardly pulled out any hair.

The new look debuts this weekend–maybe.

Digg And The HD-DVD Crack

Among the geekier sites I visit on a daily basis is Digg. Most of its users are younger, smarter and more computer savvy than I am. Hanging out there is like being in the world’s nerdiest club.

All of Digg’s content is submitted by its users. Mainly you see links to other sites and attached comments from Digg users.

The site name comes from its modus operandi. An entry’s popularity (and hence its position on the site) is decided by how many registered users “Digg” it.

Right now Digg’s home page is a shambles. Digg’s users are in the midst of a protest. The site has been rendered worthless.

What’s going on maybe a harbinger of the anarchy ahead within Internet ‘communities’.

It started this way. Someone cracked the digital rights management key that protects HD-DVDs. Though HD-DVDs were designed to change encryption schema under just such an occasion, this discovery is so deep within the process, it pretty much leaves these disks (the disk makers actually) defenseless.

Though worthless to me, having this little string of numbers will allow a skilled programmer to do anything he wants with these disks.

Digg’s users, propeller heads that they are, posted the story and the magic number on the site. That in turn brought on a takedown letter from the attorney’s representing the HD-DVD alliance (here’s a similar one that went to Google).

What was Digg to do? Leaving the number up opened the site to legal action under the federal DMCA. On the other hand, once the secret was on the Internet, it was public knowledge. There’s no way to protect the key anymore.

Digg acquiesced and its users went nuts!

Now, every story on Digg’s home page contains the number! Some of the entries have the number hidden in plain site while others make no pretenses about what is being posted. Some of the posts are cleverly sophomoric. All are worthless to regular Digg users.

Digg’s real content has been buried. That’s what an online protest can do.

I have no idea how this will turn out – right now it’s ugly.

Are there different rules for the Internet? Does information really yearn to be free? Can Digg’s owners regain their website?

Right now at least, there are no answers.

Blogger’s addendum: This is big enough that it’s now made the front page at Drudge. On top of that, the Digg site seems to be down. This story has not ended.

Update @ 2:47 AM – Normally I’d create a second entry to continue this story, but I want to keep these together. Kevin Rose, the guy behind Digg, has posted this on the Digg blog:

Viruses – Never Say Never

Viruses are the scourge of the Internet.

Earlier this week, I told my friend Farrell (always searching for better, more vigorous virus protection) how I use none and had never been hit by a virus!

Oops. Somehow I got two at once!

I turned on my old laptop&#185 when I came home last night and there they were. I’d probably picked them up the night before, but they needed a reboot to activate. They didn’t come via email, because I don’t get mail on that machine. They must have come through Firefox or (more likely) Windows Media Player.

They were both sitting in the system toolbar at the lower right of my screen and one was popping up dialog boxes ever few seconds. The sentence structure hinted of slightly broken English. That was my cue it wasn’t what it claimed to be – a warning from Microsoft that I’d been infected and needed to download protection.

The first of the virii cleaned up with no trouble. In fact, it had an entry in the add/remove programs dialog, as if it were legit. The second wasn’t quite as easy.

I can’t tell you its name except to say its toolbar signature is a red circle with an “X” in the middle.

A little sleuthing turned up some older entries, but none seemed to exactly match my poison. What I caught was probably an adaptation of an earlier virus.

We’re talking about crooks and thieves here. They’re not buying their software at CompUSA.

On the inside, my virus was programmed to hide in plain site, creating a new, randomly named, program each time it ran. Find the virus, stop the program – it creates another.

I found what I think is the ‘seed,’ a program called winstall.exe, as a new entry in my registry. It was scheduled to run each time the computer rebooted.

I did some manual pruning, removing a line from the registry, then allowed AOL’s new virus scanner&#178 (actually the very highly rated Kaspersky anti-virus) do its thing. As is my custom in these cases, I ran it in ‘safe mode,’ then ran it again.

I’ll keep an eye on the little laptop to make sure it hasn’t been permanently compromised. I’ve heard of cases where the virus goes dormant for a while only to return when your defenses are down.

I’d hate to have my computer responsible for sending out thousands of spam emails (as compromised computers often do) or interrupting my surfing with pop-up messages.

I’m upset I allowed this to happen to me! I’m supposed to be the guy who fixes other people’s computers and then, disapprovingly, shakes my head.

It wasn’t a virus as much as it was an injection of humility.

&#185 – This is a really old machine – a Dell PII 300 laptop with 256 mb RAM. It is ploddingly slow for many things, but easily handles web surfing and poker while I’m in the family room.

&#178 – AOL’s virus scanner is free, and you don’t have to join AOL to get it. I suppose its in their best interest to clean up the Internet as best they can.

Penthouse Living

I saw a friend in Manhattan Sunday. On my way back to Connecticut, before I got into my car, I looked up.

It’s interesting how much of Manhattan hides in plain site. Take penthouses for instance.

The word penthouse has been used in so many different way, it’s easy to forget what it really means… or at least my interpretation. A penthouse is a dwelling atypical of the rest of the building, placed on the highest floor. Often it is an actual house on the roof.

I’m not sure how many I saw as I gazed skyward on this day, the sky whitened by haze and stratus clouds. I made the assumption, anywhere I saw real trees near the roof of a building, I was looking at a penthouse.

I’ve been in lots of Manhattan apartments, but never a penthouse. I know no one who lives in one, or at least says they live in one.

It would seem this is the ultimate New York abode. It’s high enough to have a view. It’s also high enough to make it difficult to be viewed. You’d hope it’s expansive enough to not be cramped – a New York apartment tradition, and separate enough to remove it from noisy neighbors.

When I get one, I’ll shoot lots of photos. In the meantime, don’t hold your breath waiting.