Previous month:
September 2004

VW files complaint against makers of "suicide bomber" ad (from: Xeni Jardin)

Xeni Jardin: Volkswagen has filed criminal charges against the makers of a viral video which has been circulating online in recent weeks. In the ad, a hapless suicide car-bomber blows himself up -- but leaves his VW Polo intact.
Britain's Media Guardian magazine reported the 20-second spot was produced by a London-based advertising duo known as Lee and Dan, who were given 40,000 British pounds, $75,000, and access to the lastest Polo model to do the shoot. The two apologized for offending people but refused to identify themselves. Reuters noted that under German law, charges can be filed against unknown persons, obliging authorities to track down the perpetrators.

The ad – which plays on the VW Polo's tagline "small but tough" – shows a man in fatigues and a Middle Eastern keffiyeh getting in his Polo and driving to the front of a sidewalk cafe. Still in the driver's seat, he detonates a bomb belt. A flash appears inside the car, but the vehicle does not explode. Then comes the strapline: "Polo. Small but tough."

In a statement, Lee and Dan said, "The ad got out accidentally and has spread like wildfire. It wasn't meant for public consumption. We think the spot reflects what people see in the news everyday, and in this instance the car is the hero that protects innocent people from someone with very bad intentions. We're sorry if the ad has caused any offense."

Link to news story, link to clip. (Thanks, Shawn)

Ed Emberly products (from: Mark Frauenfelder)

Mark Frauenfelder: Hotch-Potch Img10181073154My seven-year-old daughter and I love sitting at the kitchen table with crayons, paper, and our stack of Ed Emberly how-to-draw books. The creatures he composes from simple shapes are so happy and delightful, and they serve as a great reminder for me to keep things as simple as possible when I do an illustration.

I can't find any information about him on Google. I don't even know if he's still alive. But I did find this Japanese site that sells products with Emberly's drawings on them. I wonder if these are available in the US? Leave it to the Japanese to recognize this American (?) artist's genius. Link

UPDATE: He lives! Here's his site: Link (Thanks, Robin the librarian!)

Exeem without the adware (from: Cory Doctorow)

Cory Doctorow:If you want to play with eXeem, the distributed, MPAA-proofed BitTorrent aggregator, but don't want to acquire lots of adware and crapware, give Exeemlite a try. From the Infoanarchy post:
Exeemlite client is out. It removes the adware, but is a version behind the latest eXeem release. The latest release is out of private beta, but on the surface of it, the current version of exelite is not. Not to fear. Just close the popup asking for a serial, and off you go (ie. requiring the serial feature has been neutered, along with the adware.)

Note that you can manually unistall the adware from the latest oficial release, but when you restart eXeem, it _helpfuly_ reinstalls the adware (cydoor I think...)


Geneva under a thick blanket of ice -- CORRECTED (from: Cory Doctorow)

Cory Doctorow:Geneva's been hit hard by a massive ice-storm that's left the city covered in thick ice. These photos of ice-crusted benches, boats, cars and so on are striking -- and chilling. I'm going there next week, so I'm praying for a thaw.Link(Thanks, Singularity!)

Correction Eric sez, "Please note that the photos of ice in Geneva on boingboing are due towater spray from the lake, not because of an "ice storm". If you lookat more of the photos you will see that everything covered with ice isright next to the lake shore. If you look closely at some of the photos there are houses in thebackground that are free of ice."

Details on cracking Apple's iTunes DRM (from: Cory Doctorow)

Cory Doctorow:FutureProof is the pseudonym of the maintainer of Jhymn, a program that breaks the DRM in Apple's iTunes, allowing you to play your iTunes music back on all your devices, not just the limited number that Apple permits. Today, OSDir has a long interview with him in which he thoroughly discusses the means by which Apple iTunes songs can be decrypted without Apple's permission.
FP: In a protected file, the "mp4a" atom -- part of a standard AAC file -- is replaced by a non-standard, proprietary "drms" atom. This contains the same basic information about a song as the "mp4a" atom, plus the identity of the purchaser and some of the cryptographic information needed to decrypt the music. The actual decryption key needed to decrypt the music is not stored here, however,but merely an indicator as to which key -- among many possible keys -- assigned to a particular user should be used.

Once you have found the needed key, you apply that key, using AES decryption, to the data in the "mdat" atom, which, in an unprotected file, contains all of the raw AAC audio sample data.

Apart from this, there are various atoms added beyond what you'd find in an unprotected AAC file, such as an "apID" atom, which marks music files with the iTunes Music Store ID of the purchaser.

Link(Thanks, Steve!)

Outstanding tips for community moderation (from: Cory Doctorow)

Cory Doctorow:Teresa Nielsen Hayden is the single most astute online community moderator I have ever met, a shoo-in for author of a MODERATOR HACKS book, should such a thing ever come into being. She has written out a wonderful list of 13 tips on moderating online communities that are really sensible and really useful:
1. There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.

2. Once you have a well-established online conversation space, with enough regulars to explain the local mores to newcomers, they’ll do a lot of the policing themselves.

3. You own the space. You host the conversation. You don’t own the community. Respect their needs. For instance, if you’re going away for a while, don’t shut down your comment area. Give them an open thread to play with, so they’ll still be there when you get back.

4. Message persistence rewards people who write good comments.

5. Over-specific rules are an invitation to people who get off on gaming the system.


Performance Monitoring on VMWare ESX (from: Phil Windley's Technometria)

I met with a Systems Engineer from VMWare this afternoon. Some of mystudents are working on a performance study of VMWare and so I took theopportunity to pick his brain on how to get performance data from theserver. There are two levels that you need to gather data: the virtualmachine and the host machine. Here's what I found out:

perfmon gives good data for everything but the CPU on the virtualmachines. Because the host machine is running ESX (a modified Linuxkernel) you can't directly run perfmon. For the host machineitself, there are several options:

  • VM VirtualCenter gives usage data, but the default polling interval isfive minutes. This isn't fast enough. The polling interval can bereduced, although I still have questions whether or not we can create
  • esxtop is a special version of top that can run on thehost machine.
  • vmkusage is an HTTP accessible program that gives host andvirtual machine usage data.

Another question I've had is about resource constraints. We bought boxesthat were maxed out in CPUs and memory. We're concerned that we'll runinto network bottlenecks. I've known that we can buy a quad NIC andassign ports, but I didn't know that ESX will gang the quad NICs togetherand let do resource allocation to the virtual machines.

We also talked about using VMWare in a disaster recovery situation.Because the virtual machines look like files, they can be backed-up. Thenyou can recover back-ups daily to an off-site VMWare host and in the eventof a disaster, be ready for a warm-start on the backed-up servers. You'rea day behind, but could be rolling in a matter of minutes.

Animation director improves Polar Express characters (from: Mark Frauenfelder)

Mark Frauenfelder:Polarkid Ward Jenkins is an animation director in Atlanta, GA. On his blog called, The Ward-O-Matic, he wrote a couple of lengthy posts about The Polar Express, in which he included some of his Photoshop tweaked fixes to the famously zombie-like characters in the movie. He says that folks from Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Vinton Studios, and other sites are commenting on his work.Link

TSA's list of items you can and can't take on a plane (from: Mark Frauenfelder)

Mark Frauenfelder:Picture 1-4I like to bring nail clippers with me when I fly, because it drives me crazy when I get a hangnail and I don't have any way to clip it off. I usually end up ripping it off, which hurts.

On two occasions, TSA employees at the airport security screening area have taken my nail clippers away. They were ordinary nail clippers, no knives or scissors attached.

So I was surprised to see that nail clippers and nail files are not forbidden items, according to the TSA's own published list. You can also bring metal butter knives, knitting needles, blunt-tipped scissors, and toy weapons ("if not realistic replicas") in your unchecked baggage.

Maybe I'l bring a copy of this list with me the next time I travel. It might come in handy. Link