Monday, February 13, 2006

travels in hypercomputerreality

I’ve just managed to saddle back onto my PC after days of travail, brought on, indirectly, by my new trial-run anti-virus software, PC-cillin, from Trend Micro. At the beginning, after installation, my only serious problem was getting onto the net, which the firewall provided was preventing. I’ve had to switch off the firewall to access the net, but I have to learn I think to configure it more effectively.

The nightmares really began though after PC-cillin ran a ‘vulnerability check’ on my system. Not surprisingly, this uncovered an arm’s length list of vulnerabilities, all displayed in pretty colours, green for ‘hey mate there’s a problem here’, yellow for ‘this is serious mate’, orange for ‘hey, this is getting very serious’, and red for ‘get outa there, the thing’s gonna blow’.

Naturally, I felt it fairly imperative to upgrade to cover these Windows and Office vulnerabilities, though of course I knew precious little of what it all meant.

All the red alerts were Windows vulnerabilities. Underneath the list were two tabs, ‘run Windows update’ and ‘run Office update’. I clicked the Windows tab, followed a prompt or two, and was finally informed that the updates had failed. What to do? I clicked the Office tab, in the hope of at least getting rid of a few oranges and yellows, and if I remember rightly they found some things worth downloading and installing, which I did without any trouble.

But I was worried about those red alerts. Each one came with a code number attached, such as MS06-001, so I got the bright idea of typing those numbers straight into google, and seeing what it came up with. It came up with downloads – patches and such, which I merrily tapped into, downloading and installing in true compunerd fashion. I then restarted the computer, with disastrous results. My fast-flowing (well, at least flowing) PC became an instant glacier.

I won’t describe the emotional mad mouse I’ve been riding while trying to get the problem sorted, but I finally managed to get into safe mode and have a look at add/remove programs in settings. It was a long job. I tried getting rid of the latest Windows 2000 hotfix (KB842773). This had something to do with Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) 2.0 and WinHTTP 5.1, which naturally means nothing to me, but on reading about it I felt that I’d been a bit previous in installing it, because it tends to interfere with the registry (qué?), and that was no doubt the problem.

Getting rid of this took me a while. I was warned that removing it would interfere with the operation of Windows Installer 3.1. I tried checking out what the hell that was. After reading an article on it I was none the wiser, but decided I probably didn’t need it so I uninstalled it. This was after trying to uninstall KB842773 without uninstalling Installer 3.1, which resulted in ‘system error, Windows is about to close’ or something like.

Anyway, I successfully uninstalled KB842773 and felt confident that the problem would be solvered, but no, things were as glacial as before. So I tried the next hotfix up the line, KB835732, and uninstalled that. I noticed that this time the reconfiguration – the deleting and copying files in winsystem32 or wherever it was – took a lot longer, which seemed a good sign. After restarting, everything’s fine again. KB835732 was the culprit. Now to investigate why. And should I reinstall KB842773 and Windows Installer 3.1? Should I try to find out what they’re for?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A little land of terrorists?

Hamas recently won the election in Palestine – some say by a landslide. Many agencies worldwide, in their coverage of the matter, are describing Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Nobody, though, seems to be questioning the election result. It’s generally accepted that Hamas has been democratically elected by a large proportion of the population of Palestine. The reasons for their choosing of Hamas are undoubtedly complex. Frustration with the perceived ineffectiveness of the long-ruling Fatah party, a sense of connection with Hamas’ work to alleviate poverty, and views about the role of Islam in political life are undoubtedly factors.

Western countries, and the US in particular, have been pushing the cause of democracy in the Middle East. The issue of democracy bringing about a religious state – particularly an Islamic state, which sits uncomfortably with the very idea of democracy since Islam, like Christianity in the minds of many, considers morality and the politics upon which it is based as handed down by God and thus timeless – is not a new one, and it hasn’t always been thoughtfully dealt with by democracy advocates.

Of course religious states can be democratic – Israel itself is an example, and Iran another. Iraq might well turn out to be another. The other important point being made by many analysts is that political power changes organisations such as Hamas and renders them necessarily more pragmatic.

I suspect that the international community, not wishing to abandon the Palestinian cause, will in turn temper its characterisation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation. This will be most difficult for this particular US administration, with its full-blown anti-terrorist rhetoric.

Deeper questions need to be asked, however. This article from the New York Times indicates that the choice of Hamas by the Palestinian people can’t simply be dismissed as an ill-informed, short-term reaction driven by frustration with the perceived corruption and inanition of Fatah. It seems that a people who have suffered many indignities have only been made more stubborn and defiant. You would think this could’ve been predicted, but world leaders, and Israeli leaders in particular, have tended to blame the Palestinian leadership – especially during the time of Arafat – for all the trouble-making, accusing them of incitement and intransigence, while remaining largely silent about the role of and the views and wishes of the bulk of the Palestinian people. If you wish to call Hamas a terrorist organisation, and you accept that the majority of Palestinians support Hamas, knowing full well their international reputation, then you can hardly avoid describing the majority of Palestinians as terrorists. If you feel uncomfortable with this formulation, and surely most people do, then maybe it’s time to rethink the situation.


pavlov's cat