Thursday, March 15, 2007

One week in Corvallis…

I’ve spent the last several days here in Corvallis attending a SANs class on “Securing Windows.”

That’s right; I’ve been spending the week with a group of 150 computer geeks at the site of one of the largest open source labs around for a class on Microsoft products.

Yep, Star Trek jokes, snort laughs, Bill Gates bashing, mouth breathing, open zippers and huge bellies. It’s like a giant basement erupted, spewing permanent adolescents everywhere. There are like ten people that look like the comic book guy from the Simpsons.

I’ve heard more conversations about World of Warcraft in the last week than you can imagine. I also got snide, snarky looks for having never played the game. I don’t want to talk about what happened when I didn’t get the Star Trek jokes (I don’t watch much TV, and when I do, I don’t watch Star Trek. Now Firefly, on the other hand….)

The worst part? The bathroom. Let’s just say that geeks aren’t known for their aim. In addition, carrying half a dozen electronic gadgets on your belt apparently causes your pubic hair to fall out in freaking clumps.

You could easily make your own computer guy from the hair, urine, and other trace genetic material that is easily salvaged from the restroom.

I’m not even going to talk about the wonderful experience that is the “three o’clock group geek dump.” Four to five stalls, really bad noises, and a smell that will literally burn your soul. The sad thing? One of them will be on a cell phone.

The instructor looks like Bruce McCulloch from Kids in the Hall. I keep expecting him to scream “My Pen!” and run from the room.

The good stuff? There is free coffee all day long, as well as snacks. The snacks are usually pastries, cookies, and fruit.

The funny thing? There is never fruit left over. You wouldn't know it from looking at this crowd.

OK, I’m exaggerating. The serious, “take his lunch money” geek count stands at about sixty-five percent. However, this is still a pretty dork-heavy crowd. The bathroom, however, really is disgusting.

These things are always kind of odd. There is the realization that these are, to some degree, “my people.” My wife maintains that I belong to the “not so dorkish, scary-smart, explosion-and-boobies-loving Mythbusters group,” (Her term, not mine.)

The classes have been good, if not long. The most interesting aspect has been my own overview.
Microsoft has some very big, deeply-rooted problems. The idea that it takes a six day course to learn how to secure an operating system is a little disturbing. The fact that some guy named Bubba can buy a computer at Wal-Mart and by default has the ability to quickly and unknowingly turn it into a member of some massive bot-net spam factory is, frankly, irresponsible.

Giving Bubba complete administrative control (by default) of his first computer is simply bad form. He just wants to read dirty jokes in the email from his buddies and look at freaky German porn. If something pops up telling him to “install this plug-in” so he can see Bea Arthur nekkid, he’s going to be on that like stink on Warrenton.

He doesn’t know any better. To him, the computer is just a television with a keyboard. It should just work for him.

Microsoft has exploited this. In a effort to get an “easy-to-use” and infinitely backwards compatible OS, they sacrificed security. This isn’t 1980. We don’t connect to CompuServe with 2400 baud modems anymore.

The average home has an under $50 broadband connection that provides more raw throughput than the old “high capacity” leased-lines that we used to pay thousands of dollars for. Add in a powerful computer running an inherently insecure operating system (either due to programming or user error) and the Internet as we know it is actually in danger of being rendered useless.

As an example, look at electronic mail. What was once an effective communication tool has become a trap for crap. Right now, 75-80% of all mail traffic is spam. The majority of that spam originates from these bot-nets running compromised Windows XP.

Who is ultimately responsible?

Microsoft argues that it simply provides the tools, and people misuse them. They argue that things like kernel level access are there in case an advanced user needs them.

That’s like mounting a 4 foot wide spinning lawn mower blade on the front of Grandma’s car in case she ends up in a real life version of “Death Race 2000,” then letting Grandpa take it to the Sunday Market.

Now, they’re releasing Vista- the most secure Windows yet! That’s like calling it the most reliable Dodge Dart- ever! It is still a Dodge Dart. Just because they “started with security” doesn’t mean they didn’t finish with more of the same insecure easily bypassed (by unknowing users) shit.

Time will ultimately tell, however.

In the meantime, my opinion has changed a bit. As a consultant, I loved Microsoft. Their products guaranteed a constant stream of revenue. I made a fortune just from Exchange.
As an admin, they scare the crap out of me. I’m lucky in that none of our mission-critical applications rely on their products. As time goes on, more of our systems will probably move away (OpenOffice anyone?)

I see shops that are completely, end-to-end Microsoft in what amounts to an abusive relationship. Microsoft keeps smacking them around, then they apologize and try to make up. It is the digital version of domestic violence.

“Yeah baby, I’m sorry about that first version of WindowsXP. Here’s a service pack- it won’t happen again, ‘cause I love you.”

More time, more patches, another service pack. More malware, viruses, and problems. It is a cycle.

People, there are alternatives. Check them out. Break the cycle of abuse.

Shit. I hope I'm not turning into one of those *nix geeks.


At 11:35 PM, Blogger OregonCoast said...

Hey...them's some of the thangs yew tell me after yew smack me around.

Where's the part where Bill Gates says "Why do yew make me hit yew????"

At 5:53 AM, Blogger Blogarita said...

The Mythbusters geeks are cool.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

My thoughts:

Too bad IBM Warp never caught on.

Too bad Linux doesn't have a bigger market.

Seriously considering going to Mac.

Your thoughts?

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Tom said...

This might bet me shot, but....

The Mac is really just BSD with a very cool shell and lots of sexy bells and whistles.

Is it worth the money? Compared to Microsoft products, absolutely. When compared to some of the newer Linux version- well that depends on the user.

The Mac has a distinct advantage over most other operating systems- a semi-closed hardware solution. This helps make driver issues almost non-existent, and generally makes computing life nice as well- you get a "one-stop" support solution.

You might want to give Linux a try. Many versions work very well on less than cutting-edge hardware, and several are tailored for the beginner or the person migrating from Windows.

To get started, either split your existing hard drive (grab free software from or buy a second hard drive.

Then grab one of the free versions of the OS. Suse or Ubuntu are both good places to start.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Auntie said...

Looks like your employer's money was well spent on this trip!!!!

Thanks for the laughs.


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Jaggy said...

You pretty much nailed the geek factor in Corvallis. I'm still looking for one of those Mythbusters-style geeks of my own, but they seem to either be way too geeky or drunk...

I have Vista. I have had many, many headaches. I'm getting a Mac at work. We'll see how things go.

At 6:23 AM, Anonymous Auntie L said...

Hey - I am going to have to take a peek at you sometime today to see if you turned into a 'mouth breather' last week. Ha.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Amma Ancy said...

Macs are so cool, I love my Mac!!! How long has it been since you have played with one? I hear that the newest OS is awesome, think I'm going to get the upgrade!

At 12:01 PM, Anonymous walter richards said...

My wife maintains that I belong to the “not so dorkish, scary-smart, explosion-and-boobies-loving Mythbusters group,” (Her term, not mine.)

Yeah, baby! THAT's my group! How does one get a job blowing things up for a living?!?

Firefly is okay. But I prefer Babylon 5 and Stargate.

What's really needed in the Windows-alternative OS world, is for them to recruit game developers to use their OS. Since the majority of home computers are bought for gaming. Sure, we use them for other things like balancing our checkbook and such - but that's really just a sideline.

That's also a problem with MACs. Most of the (few) games that come out for MACs, were originally designed for Windows systems ... and the MAC version of the game usually isn't as good. Which is why I broke down and bought a Windows computer.

I know some of the alternate-OS systems have a Windows-emulator available. But I don't think you can run resource-intensive games on such. Which is too bad, 'cause I'd scrap Windows if they did.

Btw - If you don't install the Windows that comes with a computer, I think you can get a refund of part of the purchase price.


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