The Ugly Side Of 9-11

Fate has a either a cruel sense of humour, or an unparalleled appreciation for subtlety that only the most sophisticated observer might recognize. Travelling on the ferry from Hoboken to Manhattan, I conclude it can only be the former, as anyone who knows me knows I’m anything but a sophisticated observer. To my right, Lady Liberty’s gaze into the horizon falls at a perfect right angle to the direction of the gaping hole where the twin towers of the World Trade Center used to stand. It’s ironic, in a twisted way, that the attack struck in the exact location that the symbol of American freedom wasn’t looking.

In the streets of New York, a different kind of attack is striking a proverbial blind spot, transforming an act of aggression into America’s favorite pastime: making a quick buck. Everywhere I look, someone is looking to capitalize on the tragedy. There are hats adorned with the symbols of the FDNY and PDNY, pictures of the WTC, and even snow globes containing models of the Twin Towers. Nothing is too tacky to commemorate the event. Though the economy took a significant beating in the wake of the attacks, I have to wonder what shape the economy would be in without these scam-artists posing as patriots. God Bless America.

Where would we be without commercialism?

That’s not to say that Canada is above this hucksterism. At Vancouver airport, I noticed a pin at a local vendor proclaiming our unity with our American brethren: $5.00, with “a percentage of the profit” going to the victims of September 11th. Is zero a valid percentage? Who are these people? Innovative Trends, a firm in the Lower Mainland whose name suggests their business is to cash in on trends in “innovative” ways. Apparently, transacting business without a conscience is today’s idea of innovation.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps Innovative Trends, and companies like them, are working to help the victims of September 11th. However, I find it interesting to note the dearth of companies working to provide similar revenue streams to ease the suffering in other areas of the world. America is infatuated with melodramatic spectacles, benefit concerts, and stories of brave heroes. But all of this costs money. Watching smart bombs cream targets on CNN is a lot sexier and sells a lot more advertising minutes than giving condoms or vaccines to Third World countries without electricity or clean water.

So I guess the question I would ask the American public is: do you want to stop terrorism, or do you actually want to make a contribution to the world? Just how much money does a victim of the terrorist attack need? No amount of money or military action will bring back the sons and daughters lost that fateful day. Maybe it’s time we redirected our efforts from this distraction to something that will actually make the world a better place.

But, to quote Dennis Miller, “that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.”

DDOS Attack Tool

After a frustrating and fruitless attempt to obtain customer support from Sony, I’ve come to the conclusion that the average consumer is powerless in modern society; contrary to what the marketing literature says, the customer is always last. To solve this problem, I propose a tool to allow the average consumer to strike back at the corporations who ignore them, and use their own tools of communication against them. And here’s how it might work:

In an event in June 1999, the Electronic Disturbance Theatre successfully held an electronic sit-in, protesting against the Mexican government. The EDT distributed a Java applet via their web site that automated the process of requesting documents from the Mexican government’s web site several times a minute. With an estimated ten thousand users requesting documents from the Mexican government’s web server using the Java applet, the server was soon overwhelmed. While successful, the attack methodology was fairly simple; a newer port scanning tool distributed by the group enables more advanced attacks. However, I have a different tactic in mind to enable more coordinated, and therefore effective acts of electronic civil disobedience.

Just over a year ago, several high-profile sites were reeling from a series of coordinated distributed denial of service attacks; those hit included EBay, and Yahoo. The perpetrator of the attack used a large network of compromised computers to launch the attack over the Internet; these computers had been compromised by a variety of Trojan programs and were required to achieve the density of requests required to overload the victims’ servers.

The tool I’m proposing would work on the same principle, with the exception that the computers involved in the attacks would be involved with the full knowledge of their owners, just like the EDT’s Java applet. Using a similar system to Gnutella, users would be able to enter the location of targets into the client software, and the tool would coordinate with other users’ client software to conduct the attack; in the ultimate form of democracy, the density and ultimate success of the attack would depend on the number of users who allowed their computer to participate.

The software would have a number of unique features, to enable users to fully realize the democratic power of the tool:

  • Configurable Attack Objects: Users should be able to extend the system to enable various modes of attack, from continuous hits, to pulses of activity designed to create the greatest impact on the target system.
  • Configurable Communication Objects: Because so much of a corporation’s ability to succeed depends on resources other than web sites, the client software should be configurable to include addition communications modules. These modules would enhance the range of protocols understood by the clients; potential additional protocols might include LDAP, DNS, HTTPS, and SMTP.
  • Automated Exchange of Configurable Components: If the attack involves a protocol or strategy that your client doesn’t possess, the client software should be capable of finding the necessary resource on the network and installing it.

Other features could include the ability to put the client software into “drone” mode, where it attacks the most popular targets; this would be useful for allowing a user’s machine to be useful when the machine isn’t being used. Finally, the software should allow clients to exchange attack targets, to enable the attack network to outwit attempts by the victim to filter by IP address.

A Message From Hedy Fry

In the midst of all the recent BC Liberal cuts and the federal budget, I received a Christmas update from my local MP, Hedy Fry.

Oh. My. God.

What are the things that piss me off? Let me count the ways.

1) Communication from a representative that doesn’t actually communicate anything of importance: the entire booklet consists of a Christmas greeting from Hedy, a Christmas greeting from the Prime Minister, and a half dozen or so pages consisting of a calender for the year (annotated not with political events, just ordinary holidays), and trivia factoids (again, little or no useful information).

What I want to know is what specific issues is Hedy addressing? What are the upcoming votes/bills/etc I should know about? I don’t need my MP to hold my hand on the political issues of the day, but if they’re going to send out mail under the guise of “connecting with the constituents” it better have some meat to it.

2) Paying for it: Does Hedy Fry, or any of the other MPs who send out these things, pay for the cost of printing, and distribution? Anyone know for sure? I’m guessing no. How many people out there got something similar from their own MP?? Anyone care to do the math? I’d like to think that the government is spending money wisely, but they keep proving me wrong. Sure, these kind of things are only small expenditures, but with 301 representatives for 10 million households, the costs add up quickly. If every MP sends one of these, and it costs fifty cents (probably closer to a dollar, really), that’s 5 million dollars! And for what it is, that isn’t really much value for the money.

3) Wasted paper: I hate junkmail in general…it’s a waste of paper, and again, I end up paying for it. My tax dollars are spent on recycling and waste disposal programs by the city. The more junk mail I get, the more tax money has to be spent on picking it up and disposing of it. Grrr. Oh, and of course, there are the added environmental repercussions. Double grrr.

Meanwhile, Hedy’s web site ( is still under construction (“should be fully operational by the end of September”) and provides no information on what my representative is doing these days. Does anyone in government know the meaning of the word blog? I’m guessing no.

With all the money being spent on “connecting everyone”, you’d hope they be focusing some money on some real applications of the technology to lower costs and improve government. Nope. Welcome to Canada! You can’t e-mail your representative and expect a response, or conduct business with the government online, but at least you can surf for porn real quick. Yippee!

Hmm, That Looks Familiar

Nothing pisses me off like a rip-off artist.

I usually review the logs for my site on a daily basis, checking to see who’s hitting the site, and where they’re coming from. Today I noticed an odd hit originating from Gordon Edall‘s web site. Edall, apparently a videographer/writer from Toronto, decided he liked my site so much he’d duplicate it to promote himself.


My site in different clothingDown to the layout, most of the color scheme, and even the names of styles in the Cascading Style Sheet.

To Mr. Edall: Though I understand the difficulty of coming up with your own “look”, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t steal mine.

Needless to say, I will be contacting him shortly.

Update: I contacted Gordon Edall regarding his web site. He was a little surprised that I had already learned about his site, but explained that his site was simply a “test” using Dreamweaver. He promised to take it down in a week.

So, What’s New With You?

It’s been a while since I updated my profile, so now is as good a time as any. The last two months have been hectic, and it’s not like I’m gaining any free time these days.

I quit Infowave on August 25th (as opposed to getting laid off) to start at a new startup in Yaletown called PKI Innovations. Before starting my new job I took three weeks of vacation, one of which was spent in the Rockies on a heli-hiking trip, and visiting my parents in my home town of Cranbrook. The new job is quite interesting, as it focuses on one of my major interests: cryptography. The company is currently working on technology to allow Outlook users to request Digital IDs on behalf of other users, thereby enabling encrypted email communications.

The MP Survey I did has managed to gain some attention, most notably from Hillwatch and the CBC. During my vacation I did an interview with Hour Magazine (published in Montreal), and last week I did a radio interview on the Al Stafford Show for 630 CHED in Edmonton, and have another radio interview this week with CBC Radio Halifax’s Maritime Noon program. Some time in the next two weeks, an article on the survey will also appear in Canadian Business magazine. It’s amazing what a little effort, and a visit by National Security will get you in terms of publicity these days.

My wife’s Sony laptop finally got fixed, and Mark Hanson, the VP of Sony PC Marketing, emailed me to confirm that everything was working properly. I took the opportunity to chew him out for a crappy product, horrible service, and nine months of fighting with Sony to fix a problem they knew about beforehand. It felt good. I’m still getting emails from people who have had the same problem with their VAIO laptop, and I’ve sent every one of them on to talk to the Sony engineer that helped me. That’ll learn’em.

Finally, I started working on a book for New Riders on JXTA, which is taking up all of my free time these days. Today, I’m releasing the first three draft chapters to the JXTA Community to get their input, and provide something back to the community.

And that, in a nutshell, is what’s going on with me.

A Nice Quiet Vacation

We were in the middle of the rockies mountains, part of a heli-hiking vacation in the Canadian Rockies, when we got the news. The manager of the hiking lodge gathered everyone together, and I assumed that there was some problem with our departure. We had completed our stay and I could only assume, with a sinking feeling, that the helicopter had some problem which would delay our departure. I had never been so wrong.

“I’ve never had to do anything like this, but I’ve just received the following information: The United States is under attack. Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center, and another has crashed into the Pentagon. At this time, North American airspace is closed to travel, and we are grounded. We’ll be trying to figure out ground transportation out of the lodge.”

At first, I thought it was a joke, and a bad one at that. My wife’s sisters both live in New York, one of them living not two buildings or so away from the World Trade Center. Several of her friends work at SIAC, which has several offices in the World Trade Center. All in all, not the greatest thing to say.

Some part of me refused to believe the news. It seemed all too convenient. After all, here we were in the middle of the wilderness without any real way to verify the claims. Was it a drill? Some kind of preparedness exercise?

To make matters worse, the majority of the people at the lodge were American. Nothing like an attack to make Americans talk of war. I could already see the wheels of major military campaign beginning to turn, and with it, a long year of pointless violence and political rhetoric.


Too Thirsty To Fight

I’ve been seeing more and more of the future, and it scares the shit out of me. Last night, Ashley and I attended a screening of ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like‘ put on by the local IndyMedia chapter. The film depicts the famous protest in Seattle during the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference. Like anyone who saw the media coverage, I thought I knew the large part of the story; I was wrong. People who did nothing more than dust off their often-unused right to free, peaceful assembly were being brutally gassed, pepper-sprayed, and even beaten.

One of the most dramatic moments is when a Seattle police officer warns the crowd that they are authorized to move the crowd using ‘pain enforcement’, and that if the crowd doesn’t move, then they will be the subject of that pain. This scene is shown just after a scene of the same officer talking to the protesters, stating that he’s never had to hurt anyone in 30 years, and as long as the protesters remain peaceful, he doesn’t intend to start now. So what happened?

The part that disturbs me is how eerily similar this is to the APEC incidents in Vancouver; similar peaceful protesters, similar abuses of basic rights. It’s four years since APEC, and the police inquiry just wrapped up with minimal public interest; the suspected involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t even make an appearance during the federal elections.

It’s all of the events, coupled with the numerous brutal applications of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US, that should be serving as a wake up call for us all. Here I am in Chapters, a national book chain, ordering a drink from Starbucks even though they’re “the enemy”, global corporations bending governments to their will. During the WTO riots the CEO of Starbucks described the destruction of a few Starbucks windows as a travesty of justice; this is ironic, seeing as the riots only started because peaceful protesters were denied their constitutional rights. And yet here I am ordering coffee from this jerk. Why? Because I have no choice; if it’s not Starbucks, it’s Blendz, or Cuppa Java, or 7-Eleven.

So much choice, yet none at all at the same time.

Fixing the Sony PCG-F290 Premature Shutdown

A while back I had a spectacularly bad customer service experience with Sony revolving around my wife’s Sony PCG-F290 laptop prematurely shutting down only a few minutes into the boot sequence. The problem of spontaneous hibernation has now been determined to be the result of a set of failing capacitors. It’s is also believed this issue is due in part to a known bug in the Intel Mobile Pentium II will cause an interrupt to be erratically fired by the temperature sensing circuitry; this interrupt causes the unit to enter a pseudo hibernation mode. The details of the bug are detailed in Intel’s Mobile Pentium II specifications, under errata B30 (page 46).

Sony finally arranged to have my laptop, and those of several other people I helped, shipped to the Fremont service center for Sony and fixed free of charge. While I have to thank them for finally recognizing the problem, I can’t help but be a little bitter about the lengths I had to go to, just to recieve some useful customer service. Any Sony VAIO users with a F2xx series laptop who experiences a “narcoleptic” computer should contact Sony to have the laptop repaired. Sony will perform this fix for you (assuming this is the case with your laptop) for $300 US. Alternatively, these guys will do it for you for about $150 (I have several positive reports regarding their success in resolving this issue).

Fix it yourself

If you’re handy with a soldering iron and not about to hand Sony any more money, the following document details how to fix the failing capacitors yourself:

This document was provided by Anton Narkov, an ingenious Russian engineer. This fix has been implemented by several people with great success. However, be warned: this fix is not for the faint of heart! As noted by one of the people who implemented this fix successfully:


I used digikey part number P11308CT-ND. This is a 220uF 6.3V TE series cap. They were 2.253 each. The guy that wrote the writeup claimed that he could get them for 15 cents. Unless you had connections in china, I don’t think that I have ever seen them this cheap. I would expect about a dollar for the part. Digikey does offer convenience at a reasonable price.

One comment to make. I am an EE (electronics engineer) and I have lots of experience soldering and working on SMT parts. If the person does not have any experience with soldering, I do not recommend that he try it. Also, having the right equipment does help. I have a really nice metcal soldering station with appropriate tips for SMT. Although parts are big, the amount of heat from cheap soldering irons can cause trace damage.

Just something to think about.

Be warned. I accept no responsibility if this fix turns your laptop into an expensive paperweight. Well, I mean any more of an expensive paperweight than it probably already is, due to the hibernation behaviour.

Join the fight

To date I’ve received email from a number of unsatisfied Sony VAIO laptop owners who have encountered the same problems with their laptops. It currently appears there was a manufacturing defect with PCG F290’s distributed on the east coast of the United States around the September/October 1999 timeframe. In an effort to draw Sony’s attention to this obvious problem, and seek an appropriate resolution to the problem, consumers have few options; however, due to the power of the Internet, consumers are getting smarter faster than their business counterparts (for more on this see the Cluetrain Manifesto site, or buy the book) and we have the power to attack Sony’s credibility, simply by making our stories known.

If you, or someone you know has fallen victim to Sony’s pathetic customer service, or worse yet, suffered a terminal laptop failure just outside of the warranty period, I want to hear from you. Send me your story along with any supporting emails, and I’ll make all stories available on this web site; at worst, we’ll warn away other potential Sony victims, and at best we’ll receive a resolution to our concerns.

Those of you with the inclination may wish to voice your opinions directly to Sony’s National Customer Service Center Manager, Thomas Apicerno. You can reach him at his office at (239) 768-7550, or via email at Feel free to tell him Brendon Wilson sent you and point him to this web site.

And Tomorrow, Oblivion

We’re driving along Broadway, “we” being myself and the two other members of my carpool: Francois, and Michael. Cruising to the mellow sounds of MC Solar (a Francophone rapper, whose alliterative lyrics are only mildly more misunderstandable than those of his Anglophone colleagues), life is good; the sun is shining, we’re hitting green at every intersection, and we’re off to our high-paying software jobs at local wireless company Infowave.

Or at least we hope we are.

An email the previous afternoon told us to be at work at 9, with a special “company meeting” to commence at 9:45. Translation: heads will roll tomorrow at 9, and those left standing will huddle at 9:45 to examine the bodies, before beginning the ritual pilfering of monitors and chairs. Punch and pie.

The drive to work reminded me of my orientation in first year university: look to the student on your left, then the student on your right; only one of you is going to make it. So, who would it be of our travellers three?

Personally, I was ready to go. My desk may have looked identical to the previous day, but in truth it was entirely different; the sum total of my desk contents:

  • one stapler,
  • one package of staples for said stapler,
  • one package of paper clips, and
  • one unopened roll of Scotch tape.

In a similar fashion, my computer hard disk was squeaky clean, freshly uploaded to my home machine about twenty seconds after receiving the email.

I wasn’t afraid of being laid off. I was afraid of having to waste my time cleaning out my desk before beginning The Hunt.

Sony Rant

Don’t get me wrong, I like Sony. Before this incident, I’d never even had to contact Sony customer support for any Sony product I’d ever owned, and as far as I was concerned, they were one of the best consumer electronics companies in the world. But all that changed, and how. It all started innocently enough: a computer, a movie, and a change of address…

Dinner and a Movie

My wife and I had only recently returned from Ireland, and so we were still staying in a hotel while we looked for an apartment and I looked for a job. After a full Sony VAIO PCG-F290day of interviews, I was in the mood for a movie, and so we decided to watch a DVD on my wife’s laptop computer; unfortunately, the computer wouldn’t recognize the DVD, due to the country region encoding on the DVD. During our stay in Ireland, I had changed the DVD drive’s region code using WinDVD, as the Sony provided DVD software wasn’t capable of changing the DVD’s RPC-2 drive country region; however, I hadn’t yet changed it back, and I didn’t have a copy of WinDVD. No problem, I thought, I’ll just see if Sony provides a utility for changing the country code. RPC-2 DVD drives store the country code in a piece of flash memory, and allow you change the country code a limited number of times (usually 5 times); after this, the drive’s country code is locked, and can’t be changed anymore.

Not only did Sony’s VAIO support site not provide a tool to change the country code, it didn’t really provided much of anything else; after searching for our model, we were presented with only two possible downloads: updates from the video driver, and the sound card. After having owned a Dell, and being able to download everything for my old laptop, this was a disappointment. This pissed me off; why would region encoding be enforced on a laptop in the first place? And if they had to enable it, why hadn’t they provided DVD software capable of changing it, like just about every other piece of DVD software I’d ever seen? Finally, why didn’t they have a tool to correct this deficiency online?

I decided to write an email to customer service at Sony, requesting a tool; at the same time I registered my disapproval of the CCA (Copyright Control Authority) and the region encoding system they had implemented on DVDs. The reply from customer service provided only an explanation of the DVD system of region encoding, something I was already well aware of, as should have been obvious from my email. In my reply to Sony, I criticized them for not providing a tool to swap the regions, citing the obvious need for a laptop to be useful in several regions; their reply thanked me for my “invaluable” input.

The problem was finally solved when I found a utility from the DVD drive manufacturer specifically designed for changing the region of the drive; when I notified Sony of this tool, again making sure they knew I was dismayed at their sorry excuse for customer support, I was informed that changing the region of the drive was not “a function that is supported”, and would “void any remaining warranty on the drive”. But this would not be the last time Sony would display a complete inability to support its products. The adventure would continue with The Narcoleptic Computer.

The Narcoleptic Computer

Shortly after the incident with the laptop’s DVD player, yet another problem with the VAIO appeared; every so often the laptop would spontaneously fall into “sleep” mode, and had to be rebooted. It finally got so bad that the computer would only complete the boot sequence before falling to “sleep” again. After a re-install of the operating system and an attempt to solve the problem by disabling the hibernation functionality in BIOS, it became apparent that the VAIO had a hardware problem. We called Sony, and received instructions to send the laptop to a service center.

A few days later, the service center contacted me at work to provide an estimate of the repair cost; I was informed that the “main board” had to be replaced at a cost of $2800 for a new board, or $900 for a refurbished board. I was informed that the computer was “pretty old”, which supposedly explained the price; when I asked why the specific faulty part couldn’t be replaced, I was told that the service center wasn’t authorized to perform those repairs.

I was tired of Sony, but decided I might as well get the refurbished board installed so that I could sell the laptop and recoup some of the original cost. Days later, the Sony service center called to inform me the refurbished board was no longer available.

At this point I was pretty mad at Sony, but it was about to get much worse. I asked for a Sony contact number in order to resolve this issue; as this was the third machine from Sony I had seen die just after its warranty expired, I suspected I would be able to get Sony to replace the board for free. I called Sony Canada, only to be informed that I would have to deal with Sony US, as that’s where the computer was purchased; the Sony US phone maze finally ended in a recorded message informing me that my computer was no longer under warranty, and I would have to pay $19.95 per incident for technical support. I didn’t want technical support; I wanted customer support.

I called Sony Canada and demanded a resolution; they informed me they would send a “critical note” to Sony US to get the issue resolved. When I hadn’t heard anything after a few days, I called again and they gave me a snailmail address for the Office of the President of Sony US. I wrote a letter, but have yet to hear any response from Sony US.


After all I’ve been through, one thing is certain: I will never buy another Sony product ever again. Their customer support is horrible, and their only purpose seems to be to misdirect you until you give up. My wife’s VAIO now sits in my cubicle as a paperweight; I refuse to pay the cost of repair. My advice to anyone looking to buy a laptop: buy a Dell.