All that is wrong with the world…

October 21, 2009

The case for filesharing sites vs torrents

Filed under: Tech — Tags: , , , , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 5:12 am

There are two primary methods of transferring popular and/or large files on the internet. Everybody has heard of bittorrent, which was somewhat of a revolution, and has been in the media enough that it would be hard not to have heard of it. The second, slightly less popular method is filesharing sites. Sites such as Rapidshare, Megaupload, Netload, Megashares and the like.

Bittorrent became the dominant method, due to its decentralized nature, and the ease of which files can be distributed. However, filesharing sites have been around for a lot longer, and tend to remain more constant, while bittorrent can change as features continue to be added, and the protocol continues to be improved. There has recently been some speculation that filesharing sites are starting to surpass torrents as a distribution method. Filesharing sites seem to have a negative reputation for some reason, and are prone to many misconceptions. I feel that there can be many advantages to using filesharing sites over torrents, depending on the situation.

Some of the common misconceptions of filesharing sites I have noted are:

  • Payment – These sites do not requires payment to use. They are free to a point, with some limitations. Limitations that do not really stand in the way of downloading files. The limitations are detailed in the following points. It should be noted that the only limitations of a paid account, is something a download limit of something like 20gb per day. It should also be noted, that there are other ways to get a premium account other than through payment. If you have a free account, and enough people download your files, you will earn enough points to exchange for a premium account.
  • Captchas – The captchas only apply to the free accounts, are extremely easy to read and not at all annoying, do not apply to the premium accounts, and in any case, can be circumvented using an automatic downloader program such as rapget or jdownloader.
  • Advertising – There is hardly any advertising on these sites. Most of them have no advertising at all. They make there money through people paying for accounts. If there is advertising, it tends to be through a non-invasive banner ad or something similar. Netload has a popup ad, but considering that I can download up to 400mb at more than 1.3MBps every 40 minutes, I have no problem with this. Again, for the few sites that do have advertising, it can be circumvented using a client downloader program, or adblocker. Of course, a premium account would not be subject to advertising.
  • Speed limiting – The free services will limit speed, but to a reasonable level. And, not all of them do. Rapidshare does not allow unrestricted use of their servers, however I generally download with speeds between 200Kbps and 500Kbps without a premium account. I can max out my 10Mbps connection using Netload. In general, simply using the free services of these sites, I have found it faster in many cases to download entire series than it is using bittorrent.
  • Time limiting – with the free services, and depending on the service, there can be a time limit of between 15 minutes and 2 hours before you can download a file again. Megaupload for example has no time limit, but a download limit of approximately 1gb, which then blocks you for about six hours. Netload has a 40 minute limit, but you can often download the entire file in the first go. Megashares is quite bad, having a 200mb limit and a 2 hour wait, while Rapidshare has a 15 minute wait. I generally use Rapidshare, and it is not so much an issue, but paying for a premium account does make a huge difference.
  • Size limiting – Again, this depends on the service. Most sites will restrict the free services to downloading a certain amount per a time period, but generally this is reasonable. These limits are removed with a paid account, or if they remain, they are so large as to not be an issue.

Advantages of file sharing sites, compared to torrents

  • Popularity – I have found torrents are only useful for newer, or popular stuff. Want to track down some films from a festival, tv shows from last decade, or locally released CD’s? If no one cares about them, then no one will be sharing them. On the other hand, all it takes is for someone to have uploaded it on a file sharing site, and they are easy to grab. They usually remain for six months after the last download, so things are easier to find. No issues with slow speeds because only one other person in Japan has it or worrying about seeding.

  • Redundancy – Often, torrents are limited to a tracker, or a few seeds. This can be hell if you are trying to grab something fast. With filesharing, this is not a problem. The files once downloaded, can easily be uploaded as many times to as many different file servers as wanted, often posted on specialized but easy to find and register forums. An example at the moment, is Demonoid. The popular tracker has been offline for over a month, and many torrents that relied on it simply won’t work. DHT is helping with this, but is not quite there yet.

  • Speed – As noted above, the speed provided by the free services is not at all an issue. I can often paste about 50 links for a series into jdownloader or so, and come back from work and have most episodes completed. In addition, the speed is constant, as it is provided by professional data centers. This is nice, and when you get good speeds from torrents, they can’t be matched. But, that is seldom, and as above, reliant on popularity. I prefer having constant speeds available.

  • Connections – Unlike with torrents, there is no connection limit. With torrents, you can only have a certain number of open connections per torrent, and a certain number of torrents before your connection will flail out. This is not the case with file sharing services, as a single HTTP connection is made to a premium server. You can have as many connections as your connection can handle, with each download only requiring one open connection.
  • Uploading – There is no need to upload. Due to the way torrents work, a certain amount should (often must) be uploaded in proportion to how much you download. In practice, this is not so much an issue, although it can affect your ultimate downloading speed, or reputation/status in a community. This is quite a problem in countries where an internet connection is expensive, and uploads costly, such as in a 3rd world country, Australia, or at a university. With filesharing, this is not a problem. There is no need to upload, as the load and distribution is handled by a professional datacenter. Those people who are able to upload, can of course seed or reupload the file to another fileservice to ensure it stays up.
  • Firewalls – Torrents use an arbitrary listening port and will have many incoming connections from many different sources. Some places will not like this, and prevent you from using bittorrent, such as at work or universities. By contrast, file services simply use HTTP and port 80, and are unable to be banned. Often, the file names are not indicative of the content, and so no suspicion will be aroused.
  • Privacy/Risk – A minor point, but one worth mentioning. Most copyright legislation in western countries has penalties for distributing copyrighted content. People only downloading, and not ‘making available’, tend to be left alone. Torrents, due to their design, tend to require you to upload what you download. This is prone to some problems, such as being accused of distributing copyrighted content, people sniffing what you are downloading etc. By contrast, file sharing services generally have files archived, so the data being downloaded would not be easily identified. More importantly, you are only downloading, and at no stage making anything available, so there is substantially less of a legal risk.

Disadvantages

  • Centralized – File sharing sites, by their nature, are centralized. Files can be traced back to a specific account and server. This means it is relatively easy for a file to be taken down or removed, if it is found to be infringing. Unlike torrents, where the actual torrent must be removed and several trackers taken down, and even these steps may not prevent the torrent from continuing to work due to the use of DHT. I have not found this to be an issue, as for every file instance that is removed, another 20 appear.
  • Price – It is true that you only get full service if you pay for it. Practically no download limits, no waiting period etc. Often for a modest price, for example Raidshare is about €7/month. I find that these services are completely usable without having to pay, but there may be some instances, such as if you only tend to download newly released and popular content, and have a stupidly fast internet connection, that torrents would be a better option. In either case, it is worth noting again that you can obtain a premium account by earning points, which are earned every time people download your files.
  • User/connection limit – Sometimes you will see a message similar to “too many users are currently downloading this file, please try again later”. In practice, I have seen this message only very rarely, and the waiting period is normally very short. It is certainly no worse than getting a torrent full of leechers or waiting for peers with a decent speed.
  • Download wait – When using the free services, you can not download instantly as soon as one download finishes. There is a time wait, with the amount of time depending on the service. This can be a pain, although I generally use Rapidshare, and the wait is only 15 minutes. generally, on each of these sites, you also have to enter a captcha, which is not at all a security feature, and something used to sell the advantages of an account. I tend to use a downloading manager, jdownloader, which automatically looks after the waiting period and can enter captchas automatically.

Hopefully, this entry has dispelled some of the common myths and misconceptions associated with these sites. Using services like Netload for files that are released more frequently makes sense. The 40 minute wait is a non issue, and the amazing speed means you can be entertained in about a minute. Sites like Rapidshare are useful for bulk downloading, in a way that you can paste links into a download manager and forget about them. Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages, with what is best ultimately relying on what you are looking for, and the limitations of your internet connection.

Finally, it is worth mentioning DC++. I discovered DC++ in 2001, or perhaps 2002, and used it right through until 2005, when I lost my laptop after a Ryanair employee dropped it at Prestwick airport. DC++ was a breath of fresh air. With spyware invested Kazaa dominating the scene, torrents being too slow for most stuff at first, and file sharing sites not real existing, it was ideal. The way it worked, was rather than one huge network ala Kazaa and the like, and unlike the torrenting model with trackers and such, DC++ worked with many different decentralized networks, called hubs. Anyone was able to start a hub, and many already existed. Many in Sweden and other countries with insanely fast internet connections and bandwidth to share. There were hubs for many different things, e.g. a Buffy hub, a Stargate hub, a Sci-Fi network of hubs etc. You would search from users with the hub or network of hubs, and then download from those user directly. There is no requirement to unload any certain amount, although there often are certain requirements to share a certain amount. Back in the day, a 20gb requirement would have been a lot, although today it is nothing. It may be worth checking out, for a hassle free and fast alternative to torrents and file sharing sites.

Impressions of Batman: Arkham Asylum

Filed under: Entertainment, Tech — Tags: , , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 1:50 am

I recently completed the long awaited Batman game, Batman: Arkham Asylum. I was not entirely sure what to expect, as while it has achieved stunning reviews all around the board, even making it into the Guinness book of World Records, I was initially put of by some of the press material. Namely, the exaggerated size of Batman, being much bigger than he appeared in comics. I get that a comic book character will be exaggerated, but when they are exaggerated out of proportion, it can break the suspension of disbelief. However, after actually playing the game, this concern was not warranted, with Batman appearing in proportion, and consistent with the way the world and other characters were portrayed.

The portrayal of Bane was my second initial concern, and this concern was warranted. When Bane was introduced in the comics, he was a cunning strategist. The man who broke the bat. He studied Batman from afar, studying him, toying with him, finding out how to, and succeeding in weakening him so as to be able to oppose him. Very much the opposite of the character portrayed in the Batman and Robin film. Unfortunately however, that portrayal, i.e. a submissive artificially over-sized brute with diminished capacity, has become the norm. I don’t understand the appeal of a character like this, as it removes all the interesting and unique aspects, and leaves behind a villain no different to the most bestial portrayal of Killer Croc, or any other over muscled foe.

However, I believe the portrayal of Bane in the game, is consistent with Batman: TAS, and that is what this game is far far closer to. Which was a slight disappointment. I don’t know why exactly, but I much prefer the realistic take on Batman. Having him use technology, and still be limited. Showing what a real Human could do with that much money and determination, and showing their struggle along the way. I guess personally, I find it easier to suspend disbelief, and perhaps identify with the characters. While I get that this is not true for everybody, I find it odd that the game developers chose to use TAS as a base.

The gameplay, and even the world to an extent, seems oddly real, with exaggerated cartoon elements, and cartoonish characters made real. It sounds as though it may no work, but it actually works rather world. Unlike the Nolan films, in which the world is ours exactly, except for the existence of Gotham city, and unlike the world of TAS, where everything is exaggeratedly and surreal, the world the game has created is quite real, with exaggerations in all the right places. It is a world of it’s very own, and it works brilliantly.

Having said that, I can’t help but wonder if it is a missed opportunity of sorts to have made an amazingly real game, with a universe closer to that of the Nolan universe. Having done so would have allowed for a much more realistic and darker story, with much more exploration and depth. As it stands, the story is quite weak, and something out of a two part episode of TAS. Joker gets captured. Joker was planning it all along. Joker steals a modified venom formula. That’s it. The game revolves around beating henchman, and then some titans(souped up henchman), and then a titan Joker. The focus is on detecting and skulking around, so this is OK, I do feel it is a shame an opportunity was wasted however.

If nothing else, I was hoping that the game may have been based on the comic of the same name. That would have been an amazing game. The comic in question is a one off comic, in which everything has gone to hell within the asylum, and Batman volunteers to go in and restore order. Along the way, observing the inmates and reflecting on why he does what he does, and wondering if he deserves to be in with the other inmates. That would have made for one hell of a game, and would have allowed the same styles of characters to be used.

I believe it also affects the length of the game. After successfully completing the game, seeing the last cutscene and all, I was told I had completed only 62% of the game. After about…7 hours. Maybe 10. This is because the remainder of the game is focused on finding hidden Riddler puzzles in the form of quoting question marks, and beating certain challenge mode..challenges. This was not enough to save the game however. The riddler puzzles are all easy, and not terribly hard to find, and the challenge mode becomes repetitive, and there is no motivation to continue when there is no cutscenes or story progression to follow. This was in my opinion, the single biggest flaw with the game.

The one thing that is undeniable is the graphics. The graphics are a thing of beauty. Everything is wonderfully rendered, and the cutscenes are amazing looking. This is the kind of treatment a Batman game deserves. Again though, I would have loved to have seen a deeper storyline rendered with this loving care, rather than a throwaway storyline with simple bossfights. The game was a lot of fun, and is a worth addition to the batman universe.

Looking at other reviews from various blogs, it seems most people consider the game to have been marvelous, in line with the obscenely high reviewes handed down by magazines and online sites. An average score of 9 seems about right, which is honestly just bizarre. Once again, it seem my opinion is contrary to almost everybody.

October 19, 2009

Guide to detecting and removing malware

Introduction

Many people make posts wondering if they are infected with a virus or some kind of malware, or if they have some unauthorized software running without their permission or not, and how to get rid of it and regain control over their PC. It is my goal with this text to list many of the basic techniques, and places to obtain software to help people work out if they are infected, and have a go at removing malicious software themselves. Failing that, when they post in a forum, the people trying to help them will know they may have tried the techniques in this text, or can direct them to it. Additionally, tools and instructions to collect relevant information when posting a question are provided. I will try to keep this entry updated as techniques change and toos become replaced or updated. The techniques and tools listed should be valid for any version of Windows after and including XP.

Overview

Malware can be one of the most frustrating, confusing and dangerous things to plague less experienced computer users. Quite often they may not realize that they are infected, may wonder why their computer is suddenly acting a lot slower or may simple want to have peace of mind. The first thing to remember is, that if any malware is detected, DON’T PANIC. All malware can be removed, and can be contained, without risk to your data, or other computer users. You will likely never have to resort to a format and reinstall to restore your PC, and in some cases this would not be effective.

The first steps are to use the tools and instructions contained in the guide, to identify the malware, and then go about removing it, and repairing and collateral damage. More often than not, either one of the listed AV’s or one of the listed anti-malware tools will be able to safely remove the malware. The AV’s I have recommended are both completely free for home use, have very high detection rates, and a very low performance impact. I understand AVG is popular with a lot of people, however this should be removed immediately. It is inefficient, and somewhat untrustworthy, and will only lead to a false sense of security.

The anti-malware tools I have suggested will scan and detect malware that most AV software will generally not detect, nor is it designer to. This includes software such as browser toolbars, adware programs and updaters for certain browsers etc.

Tools to assist in detection and removal

Each of the following are completely free, and valuable to have. If I refer to a tool below, then you can obtain it from the direct link in this list. Alternatively, you may wish to keep some software, such as an AV permanently installed.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

Sysinternals Utilities

Spybot Search & Destroy

Avira AntiVir Free Version

avast! antivirus Home Edition

Microsoft Security Essentials

HijackThis

Restore Safe Mode

First steps

Step 1: The very first step you can try, is to use System Restore. If you have System Restore enabled, Windows will be restored to a known good point, before you were infected. You can then use the following steps to verify that your install is clean, and follow the instructions in the Good Practices section to make sure you stay clean.

Step 2: The next step is to install and run an AV scan, if you have not done so already. If you don’t already have an AV installed, I recommend Avira, for the reasons mentioned above. You can set Avira to do a boottime scan, which will be able to scan certain files that the malware may block access to when Windows is running. If anything is found, you can safely delete and/or quarantine the file, which should keep malware under control.

Step 3: You can then download and install Malwarebytes anti-malware, which is linked above. You can run the scan, which is a bit lengthy, and if you have anything Malwarebytes will likely detect it. If it does not, and you are still sure that you are infected, you can install and run Spybot S&D, which may detect somethings Malwarebytes missed.

Step 4: If nothing is detected, and you are still certain you have malware on your machine, then one of the best things to do is to look for some telltale signs. You should looks for any processes running that should not normally be running. Google each process if you are unsure or don’t recognise it. Many malware executables like to take the name of something that seems official, such as update.exe, so make sure you verify that a file with an official name is running from the right path. To check processes, I recommend using Process Explorer from the System Internals tools linked above, which may detect some processes hidden from Task Manager.

Step 5: Another basic step you can take is to inspect the Windows Hosts file. The Windows hosts file is used to resolve hostnames to IP addresses without using the DNS system, it will also override any DNS queries. This means, malware may take a malicious IP and make it resolve to say, microsoft.com. The windows hosts file is located in \Windows\system32\drivers\etc\, and is called Hosts, without a file extension. The only content by default should be an entry for 127.0.0.1, the local interface, or two entries if you are using Vista or later. If you have used antimalware software, there may be additional entries added a countermeasure to prevent malicious sites from being contacted.If there are entries for well known or good sites such as microsoft.com, mcafee.com or similar, then this may be a sign of infection. You can delete these and similar entries from this file aside from the entry for 127.0.0.1 if you have not used a malware program to aid with your hosts file. If you are unsure, you can ask for clarification in this forum.

Step 6: If you are using Internet Explorer 7 or above, you can run Internet Explorer in protected mode(right click, and Start in Protected mode), which will prevent any addons from loading. This will then allow you to see if the problem is isolated to Internet Explorer or not. If the problem is isolated to Internet Explorer, you can go into the addons section, and disable or remove any addons that are unknown to you, or that are unnecessary. Reenabling any you want to keep one at a time to isolate which is causing the problem.

Step 7: If you have a particular file that you think may be malware, of you have an infection but are not able to reliably detect what it is, then you can submit the file to either VirusTotal or Jotti’s Malware Scan, which will give a reliable identification by scanning the file with several(30 or more) AV products. Once you have identified your malware, of if one of the anti malware programs identified but was unable to remove the malware, a quick search on google should produce detailed instructions or a tool for removing the specific malware.

Step 8: You can also prevent unknown software from loading at startup. To do this, I recommend the autoruns tool from the Systems Internals tools linked above. This tool will allow you to disable any processes, registry entries, DLL’s etc that run at startup, so you will be able to isolate the issue. Once you have isolated a troublesome entry, you can take appropriate action, such as submiting to VirusTotal, or simply deleting the file.

Step 9: If some of the techniques listed above are not working, then you should attempt to do them in safe mode. Safe mode should prevent the malware from lading, and will give you a better chance to remove it. Some malware will disable the option to boot into safe mode, in which case you can use the registry fix above to restore the option to enter into safe mode.

Step 10: If you have trouble ending a process or deleting a file that you suspect is malicious, then you can use the Handle tool, from the Systems Internals utilities linked above. The handle tool will allow you to list and close the file handles a particular process has open, allowing you th then close the process. Alternatively, if you have found a suspicious file, you can see the name of the process that has a handle to that file to end it.

Good practices

There are several good practices you can follow, which are quite simple, require minimum effort, and will greatly reduce the risk of reinfection. The first is to use a secure browser. This basically means Firefox with latest updates, or Internet Explorer 7 or 8. Any plugins you have installed should also be updated.

You can also do things like turn on file extensions and hidden files. This will allow you to recognize suspicious files a lot quicker.

Stay Updated

Vulnerabilities in software are on of, if not the main avenue of attack for malware to install. This can include placing files on your computer after visiting a website with an insecure browsers, by exploiting a browser plugin such as flash, or exploiting a vulnerability in Windows itself. Indeed, web browsers, and Adobe products are the major avenue of attacks these days. Generally, as a home user, there is no reason you should not be updated at all times. This is the best approach to prevent infection/installation of malware, and in some cases will fix an existing problem. It will certainly prevent the same problem from reoccurring. Generally, most programs have a facility to update automatically. If you don’t want to enable this, then you should check the manufacturers website semi-regularly to keep a lookout for new versions.

Use Antivirus

If you have any doubts about your ability to detect malware at all, then you should definitely be running an AV. AV’s have come a very long way, are lightweight and non intrusive, and can detect many types of known malware and remove it. The best AV for consumers is currently either Avira AntiVir or Microsoft Security Essentials, both of which will run unobtrusively in the system tray. Avira is more configurable although has ad popups, but a quick google for “avira disable ads” can show how to remove these. Second to Avira/MSE is avast!, which has a slightly lower detection rate, but is more configurable, and just as fast. avast! requires registration, but is then free to use at home. Running an AV is an important step, because aside from protecting yourself from unknown risks, you can help to protect other users by being prevented from forwarding malicious files.

Backup any important files

This goes without saying. You should always regularly back up your files, so in the event you are infected, you can be sure that nothing valuable is lost. Personally, I just organise my files into directories and copy to a harddrive or DVD disc. If this does not work for you, then there are many other approaches, and may other atomicans will be able to recommend you a suitable backup program and/or approach.

Posting a question

If you were unsuccessfully after following the above steps, or need help at any point along the way, then feel free to make a post asking for help. To make it easier for people to answer your question and provide the help you seek, a few basic steps can be followed to make this process as painless as possible. Some of the things that you should include when asking for help are:

  • The version of Windows you are using, including any service packs
  • Any recent changes or software that has been installed
  • Whether or not you are up to date with security patches
  • What, if any of the above steps you have tried.

After this, you should post the complete log produced by running HijackThis within code tags. You can select the text within the post box, and click the rightmost icon that looks like a scroll, to enclose text in code tags. his will then preserver the formatting, and make the log easier to read. Above all else, it is important to be courteous in your post, and to indicate that you have made some effort, even if you don’t completely understand the problem.

I hope that this has been a helpful and informative post. If you liked it, or have some suggestions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment. I plan on expanding it at a later point, or perhaps following up with a subsequent post to explain how to use System File Checking in Windows, and how to check for and remove rootkits.

October 11, 2009

Steve Gibson is a fraud

Filed under: Security — Tags: , , — allthatiswrong @ 7:46 pm

Steve Gibson has a reputation as a security expert and is someone that people who don’t know any better look up to. This article is an attempt to enlighten those people, and show that Steve Gibson is not any kind of security expert and should certainly not be considered any authority. Steve Gibson is a fraud. He has never made any meaningful contribution to the computer security field except to spread misinformation and cause panic. His actions and often vocal claims demonstrate beyond a doubt his lack of an understanding of the field he claims to be an expert in.

He claims to be a security researcher. He has never posted a messaged to the Bugtraq, FD, or any other mailing list. He has never attended a conference, published a paper, discovered a vulnerability or written proof of concept code. Indeed, any other high profile people in the industry consider him to have absolutely no credibility whatsoever. Here is what Fyodor, author of the nmap scanner thinks. To quote:

Gibson is a charlatan whose “research” is written for clueless media reporters (for press attention) and the teeming masses of internet newbies (to whom he sells various products). His “findings” are not new, are always filled with massive hyperbole, and are frequently completely false.

The website Vmyths also has a good collection of articles on him here.

He tried to claim that the WMF vulnerability was a deliberate backdoor, which was ridiculous. It was debunked by Mark Russinovich and Stephen Toulouse here and here. If you don’t know those names, look them up. There is also a good article from the Security Focus site here, to quote:

Gibson has a bad track record: a history of latching onto arcane issues that he doesn’t fully understand and can never prove, and converting his limited understanding into fodder for the next internet melt-down.

He even went so far as to declare AV software completely dead. In 1992. He went on to conclude that:

First, scanning for known viruses within executable program code is fundamentally a dead end.

Someone should probably let the AV companies know. This is a perfect example of the broad statements he tends to make, which only serve to showcase his ignorace. Unfortunately, many people who don’t know any better do actually take his word as that of an expert. Not only that, he wants system utilities to be unable to have direct filesystem access. Which, although limiting there usefulness as utilities, will(according to Gibson) result in 100% viral immunity.

by prohibiting the sorts of direct file system tampering performed by our current crop of system utilities, such operating systems will be able to provide their client programs with complete viral immunity

Upon the release of Windows XP, in massive red letters on his website, he proclaimed:

When those insecure and maliciously potent Windows XP machines are mated to high-bandwidth Internet connections, we are going to experience an escalation of Internet terrorism the likes of which has never been seen before.

This is also an excellent example demonstrating his appalling lack of knowledge. Raw sockets will hasten the end of the internet. Despite access to them being freely available to them in most operating systems for over 30 years. Despite the fact you don’t need raw sockets to pull of any of the attacks he describes. Right….. For an amusing read, you can read about his ordeal of being victimized by a 13 year old hacker here.

He decided to (badly) reinvent SYN Cookies, and then dared to call his approach “beautiful and perfect”. See here. Not only did he completely fail to solve most of the problems that called for such a solution, he failed to give credit where credit is due. The man is a fraud and a liar.

Then there is the whole SpinRite thing, which is, to put it simply, completely bunk. There is a good firsthand account from someone with personal experience here. That is not just picking at the use of marketing terms, it’s a detailed debunking of his idiotic claims.

When you have leading journalists in the field calling him out as a fraud and a know nothing, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the mans credibility? Hopefully by now you have enough material to make your own informed decision, and (perhaps) refrain from recommending him to anyone. Ever. If nothing else, he serves as a perfect demonstration that you should always be wary of self proclaimed experts.

Update 1 – September 21st 2010
I noticed about a week ago this post was referenced on the Security Basics mailing list. In response, someone provided a link to the Steve Gibson entry on Attrition. It’s a much shorter page, but it’s still worth clicking on just to reinforce everything I have said above, and Attrition is a respectable source. Enjoy.

October 9, 2009

The countries and cities I have so far visited.

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — allthatiswrong @ 7:00 pm

I began traveling in 2003, leaving Australia to visit the US for the first time. It was a decision that had a huge impact on my life and who I am, in both bad and good ways. I plan on expanding this blog with further entries about my experiences and thoughts on each place, but for the moment, here is the ever growing list of destinations I have been to:

December 2003 – New York
January 2003 – LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Tijuana
February 2003 – Las Vegas, LA

January 2005 – Taipei, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow
February 2005 – Dublin, Cork, Galway, Paris, Zurich, Venice
March 2005 – Florence, Rome, Naples(Pompei), Hamburg, Berlin, Budapest, Prague
April 2005: – Athens, Brussels, Dublin
May 2005 – Edinburgh, Tokyo
May – August 2005 – Brisbane
August 2005 – Tokyo, Edinburgh, Stockholm
September 2005 – Oslo, Kristiansand, Edinburgh, Galway
October 2005 – Rome, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Bangkok, Taipei

March – May 2007 – Edinburgh
May – July 2007 – Galway
July – September 2007 – Edinburgh
September – October 2007 – Edinburgh, Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Hurghada, Budapest
October 2007 – New York
November 2007 – Edinburgh
December 2007 – New York, Rio de Janeiro
January 2008 – Sao Paulo, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro
February 2008 – New York
March 2008 – New York, DC, Chicago, Galway, Brisbane
April – June 2008 – Adelaide
July 2008 – Brisbane, Berlin

December 2008 – London, Lyme Regis, Istanbul
January 2009 – Istanbul, Goreme, Ankara, Izmir
March 2009 – Galway, Dublin
June 2009 – Manchester, London
August 2009 – London

November 2009 – Galway, New York
December 2009 – New York, New Orleans

January 2010 – New Orleans

February 2010 – New Orleans, Bogota
March 2010 – Bogota, Orlando, Miami
April 2010 – Miami, New York
May 2010 – New York, San Jose (Costa Rica)
June 2010 – Jaco, San Jose, La Fortuna, Monteverde, San Juan del sur, Ometepe, Granada
July 2010 – Granada, Tamarindo, San Jose (Costa Rica), New York, Las Vegas
August 2010 – Las Vegas
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October 8, 2009

Agnosticism is a pointless and irrational stance.

This was initially posted elsewhere, and it was interesting to observe the responses. In a small minded gaming community, people could not be bothered to actually read the article and responded emotionally to the title, feeling obligated to defend their religion or stance – missing the point entirely. This contrasts heavily with the reaction that was received when it was posted in the Richard Dawkins forum, where pretty much everybody agreed. I find it interesting how people can be so biased or hostile, and refuse to consider new ideas if they find them the least bit threatening. I hope that by making this article more available, it may generate some interesting feedback, or further arguments or points of view to consider. While I am sure many such arguments have been written on this topic, the only other one I could find was this one here, which misses some of the points raised in this article. Without further ado, the article:

I have thought about this quite a lot, and this is the conclusion I keep coming back to. In this text, I hope to explain my reasoning as to why, and to hear back some alternative points of view, or reasons why my reasoning may not apply or can be voided. I would like to stress, this thread is in no way an attack on religion, nor is it specific to any religion. I would hate to see it sidetracked by a back and forth argument that tends to accompany such matters. Likewise, I understand matters of faith and belief are very much a spiritual or emotional thing, logic, reason or evidence not having a major influence. As such, I am only looking at this issue from a logical/rational/objective/empirical point of view, as I am incapable of taking the matter on faith. As such, I would appreciate any serious responses to be on similar grounds.

NOTE: When I say agnosticism, I am not referring to what is sometimes called weak atheism. The idea of accepting the possibility that a god may exist, but waiting for evidence and assuming none does. That is of course, not pointless and very rational. I am in fact referring to Agnostic atheism, Apathetic agnosticism, Strong agnosticism, and to a far less extent, as much as it sometimes falls under the category of agnosticism, ignosticism. This post is to do with truly taking the stance that you can’t or don’t know, implicitly considering both ideas as equally likely, rather than denying the idea of God by default but willing to consider evidence. With that out of the way….

Firstly, we can divide a belief in God into two major categories. A belief in or possible acknowledgment of God(s) relating to, or as a result of subscribing to a particular religious faith, such as Christianity, Judaism, Scientology etc. The second category is far less specific, and is not related to any particular religion, and simply acknowledges the possibility of there being an external force/deity, with details such as identity, capabilities/level of power, intentions etc not being specified.

I will address the first category first.

The god of any number of organized religions. Well, these religions are all the result of human creation. Perhaps their is a god, who communicated with early humans and used them to record his messages. Perhaps. In which case, all the dogma and tradition can be said to be accurate, or at least the core stuff can be said to be. If this is the case, then agnosticism can not possibly apply. If you subscribe to the beliefs of your specific religion, then…it’s a matter of faith. You can’t ever know you are correct, and it doesn’t matter, because you believe. agnosticism is completely contrary to having a belief in a specific religion. If you declare yourself an agnostic while practicing a religion, that isn’t smart or rational, it’s just hypocritical.

Yes, it is accurate that all religions are created by humans. Each of the Abrahamic religions can be traced back to their roots before they split off from Judaism, they can be shown to have adopted and influences the cultures they influences at different times, and the results of this influence. We have much evidence that will contradict almost all Abrahamic dogma, and it is reliable. We can follow the spread and influence of Christianity around the world as new lands were settled and trading relationships entered into. Likewise for other religions, we can trace back the origins of Taoism, Confucianism or Wicca, we can see how it started and how they evolved throughout history, with their current incarnations no longer resembling what they were originally.

I tend to believe, as it is the most rational conclusion based on the info provided, that it is simply human nature to come up with a religion and belief system. The very best example of this is the cargo cults phenomenon, and the case of the Jon Frum cargo cult. Cargo cults are an interesting phenomenon. Due to a less advanced civilization encountering soldiers, or planes dropping of cargo or something similar and not understanding it, they will make up a reason for it, and ascribe a very powerful entity to it, or in the case of something tangible, such as John Frum, who was responsible in getting much cargo delivered, assign great power to an individual.

This is near perfect evidence of how religions can be formed, and that it is natural for humans to do so. It is easy to explain how then why there have been so many religions through history, why they have nothing in common with each other unless they were a descendant, and why they grow in power over time. Religions adapt. Most Christians traditionally took the Bible literally…in the face of developments, it is now far more common to interpret the passages in a metaphorical way so they can be applied to the modern world. A fantastic example of adapting and growing stronger. There is an interesting parallel to Jon Frum growing in power, and after people learning he was human saying he was indeed a spiritual messenger, elevating him above his original mortal origins, and making idols out of the symbol of an airplane, hoping to attract more..to practices deemed by many of the worlds religions today. People have a need to explain and justify things, and in the face of threatening information, will adapt to incorporate it.

Given that throughout human history, there have been so many religions, in all different parts of the world, with none of them resembling any of the others, while the religions in particular geographic regions have always maintained some traditions in common, given that we have observed phenomenon like cargo cult within the last 100 years, the stance of agnosticism can not apply to human created religions, even if it is considered that they were creating with the guiding hand of a god. As such, only belief or faith applies. The agnostic stance is then reserved for people who do not subscribe to any specific religion, but wish to consider the possibility that there may be a god of some sort.

The above few paragraphs are not intended as an attack on anyone subscribing to any faith, they merely serve to illustrate what I believe to be human nature, and the man made nature of religion, which is relevant as to why so many people will adopt an agnostic stance towards the idea of god, and not other similar imagined concepts.

Now, for the second category, it is important to distinguish the possible god from an interventionist god, and a non-interventionist god. The distinction is important. A non-interventionist god..would mean little if he were to exist. If he did not create our universe, did not interfere in any way, and has no effect on anything we do, then surely he is irrelevant, and his existence meaningless, to us? We would have no reason to prey to him, to worship him, to fear him, or to even communicate with him. For all intents and purposes, our lives, and the lives of all humans past and future, would not be affected by such a god.

An interventionist god on the other hand, will have intervened in the affairs of our universe to some extent. Perhaps he just set the universe in motion, or perhaps he micromanages humans and animals and listens to prayers and steps in when appropriate, which is apparent whenever we think a coincidence has occurred. It does not matter to what extent such a god would have intervened, only that he did. This type of god can then be said to represent a creationist god, not in the biblical or any other religious sense, but by the fact that if it were not for the actions of this god, even if they were simply setting everything in motion and not creating earth or people specifically, we would not have existed. None of that may necessarily have any impact relating to the reasoning of such a god existing however I thought it was important to mention the distinctions.

With that out of the way, there are quite a few problems with examining the idea of a god, of any sort, that does not come from any of our established religions.

Because of these reasons that I have outlined….agnosticism makes as much sense as taking an agnostic stance towards Santa, Raptor Jesus, FSM, Russel’s Teapot or Yoda. No sane adult will acknowledge that any of the above may exist, but will in fact stubbornly deny their existence, on the basis that they are man made. For some reason however, it is perfectly acceptable to take an agnostic stance towards the idea of god. Why? Obviously Yoda was created as a work of fiction, and has a specific set of facts to work with, and deny. There are many other suggestions of things that may exist, and are less specific(and therefore harder to prove), and yet are dismissed as ridiculous. Take UFO’s for example. I have always considered from a scientific point of view that it makes sense to consider that ET’s may exist, and yet most people will(perhaps less these days) laugh at the idea. Quite often, these same people who will accept the idea of god, or take an agnostic stance, will firmly deny the existence of ET’s. How does that make sense?

The only answer is that because such a large number of people in so many different forms embrace this idea, people have been fooled into thinking that there may be something to it. Again, I’m not exactly sure why the idea of god is different in this respect, as the same applies to vampires and dragons. Forgetting that for the moment, the fact is.., agnosticism does not come into play if you subscribe to a religious faith. If you have faith, and believe the dogma and such…, then you believe god exists, and taking a stance that he may not would have no relevance at all. Left with the people who don’t subscribe to a specific religion but want to acknowledge the concept as plausible.., well this is just as meaningless as the previous examples I gave.

The correct stance to take here, when presented with an idea that you cannot know to exist, is to assume it does not, unless presented with some kind of valid reasoning or proof. In the case of a non-interventionist god, we do not have this, and due to the nature of such a god, we never can have this. We can never know, just as we may never know of many supernatural monsters are true or not, or an invisible and out of phase pink unicorn that only turns invisible and out of phase when people look at it or it is detected in some way. While it might be theoretically possible to one day find reasonably persuasive evidence of the existence of a deity, it is impossible to find evidence of any thing’s non-existence. Given that we cannot prove the non-existence of a deity, why should we consider it may exist, anymore than something most people would deem as ludicrous, but is equally unable to be proven to not exist?

It’s fine to admit that something may exist if you don’t now either way, but it makes little sense to do so when there is a simpler explanation. Because agnosticism as a stance contradicts this rather basic truth, it is a pointless and irrational stance.

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