Thursday, January 20, 2011

The rest of us

Ah, Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us! Last year I thought it'd be funny to play along after watching the infamous Seinfeld episode and reading about it on the web. But, will it ever be more than just a fad? There's only one way to find out: science!

I started preparations a week early by launching an anti-Christmas campaign on various social networks and trying to spread Festivus cheer. Throughout the evening of the 23rd I went ahead and aired my grievances all over Twitter. This proved to be a very satisfying part of the tradition. My greatest grievance, though, was that there was a tree instead of a pole in my living room. Christmas will not die easily, especially when there are children in the house. For the traditional Festivus Dinner we had Orange Chicken Wraps, keeping in mind that too heavy a meal could spoil the Feats of Strength. It proved to be a wise decision when my wife and kids effectively pinned me down in an epic tickle fight (maybe when they're older we can upgrade to more grueling feats). Ah, finally, I witnessed firsthand the most glorious Festivus miracle; I am cured of seasonal depression! I guess a sad Christmas is less soul crushing when you approach it with absolutely no expectations.

I believe the experiment was a success. The holiday is entirely plausible. I had lots of fun and next year I'm taking it up a notch or two. I might even acquire a pole, cook a fancy dinner and actually challenge a grown-up to an epic feat of strength.

Yes, I'm aware it's still silly. But even if it never goes beyond being a fad, it's still better than celebrating Jesus' birthday on the wrong day by doing things he would frown upon.

Good Hacks

Am I the only person that ever feels nostalgic about computers before the Internet? I still remember installing the TCP/IP manually on Windows 95! If you wanted to send a document or a program to someone, you had to write it on a floppy and hand it to him or her. The curious thing was that users did not see this as an inconvenience. I guess the personal aspect made it more satisfying to share. It was indeed an age of generosity.

In addition, software companies started distributing software demos and shareware by jamming floppies inside computing magazines and other media.

However, there was a dark side to this: the advent of the computer virus. Antivirus software had to evolve continuously to catch up with this new trend, especially with how until recently they could get into your computer without your consent. Then there were the "Trojans" which relied entirely on trickery, and there is very little an antivirus can do about that. The term "virus" made more sense because of the physical aspect of how media would become infected. Sharing software was a lot like sex. You would hold up a floppy, stare at it for a while, then show it to your friend and ask, "This looks clean, right?" before even considering putting it in your vulnerable floppy drive.

Still, I feel a certain respect for the "hackers" of old. These people would come up with absolutely evil algorithms for fun and bragging rights. Like kids nowadays say: "they were doing of for teh LULZ." In fact, many viruses back there were entirely harmless and would only display a silly message or "tag" your computer with a (sometimes invisible) signature that only other hackers would find when trying to "tag" you, much like modern day graffiti artists.

I hold very little respect for modern day hackers, though. Their crimes are the same, but their motives are far worse: they are doing it for money. Heck, they don't even steal their money in an honorable fashion! They are doing the corporations' dirty work.

In all those nights spent formatting my hard drive because a virus, it would have never occurred to me that in a few years a computer virus would attempt to plant an advertisement on my desktop! Way to stick it to the man, guys! So much for "honor among thieves".

I bring this up because of the mention of "good hackers" on the news lately, like the one who has been attacking Wikileaks, claiming his own brand of internet vigilantism, or those attacking the sites of corporations that have turned their backs on WikiLeaks. While I don't support the attacks, at least the guy is hacking for what he believes is right (assuming he is not being paid to do it). This made me ponder; are there more good hackers out there? What other "quests" could these paladins of l337 righteousness embark on?

Certainly, there must be many. In the meantime, I have only one humble suggestion: Make a virus that disables CAPS LOCK on any computer when the spacebar is pressed.

Thanks for reading and don't hesitate to post a comment if you have any suggestions for righteous viruses!