Windows 7 and PunkBuster

When you resort to tactics within the realm malice, are your actions still benevolent? Even Balance should consider this question while working on PunkBuster. While hackers/cheaters are an annoying, when the tools that keep them out operate maliciously the tool maker has gone too far. PunkBuster’s behavior is absolutely uncalled for.

There is absolutely no reason for a legitimate piece of software to download itself from a remote site and reinstall/restart every 15 seconds to 5 minutes. This is how PunkBuster works right now with its PnkBstrA.exe and PnkBstrB.exe services. PnkBstrA.exe will redownload, reinstall, and restart PnkBsterB.exe periodically while in a game “protected” by PunkBuster. If anything goes wrong PnkBstrA.exe will kick the user from a server and give a error in the 13xxxxxx range. PnkBstrB.exe is what actually looks for hackers/cheaters and kicks them. PunkBuster also looks for unknown APIs and will kick you if it finds any, this is the issue it has with Windows 7.

“Why are you playing games on a beta OS?” What’s the point of a beta OS? To test things, that’s the point of beta releases. By playing, or rather try to play, a game I’m testing Windows 7. Since I built a new (for me) computer that is running Windows 7 (64bit), there really is no going back to XP (I do not have Win XP 64bit edition). My gaming is limited to offline games, any Valve title, or Test Drive Unlimited. Basically, anything that doesn’t depend on the horribly broken PunkBuster.

The real shame is that Even Balance has not made any visible effort towards supporting Windows 7. The beta is very solid, a release candidate should be out soon, and at that time the Windows 7 “API” will be “locked” and Punk Buster should be able to be updated to work with Windows 7. If, upon public release of Windows 7, PunkBuster still does not work properly, I’d like to see a someone bring a class action lawsuit against Even Balance for negligence (yes, PunkBuster has angered me to that point).

-John Havlik

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Old Media Using AOL’s Antics

AOL’s infamous customer retention program has caught the attention of other failing businesses. In particular the Minneapolis StarTribune, an Old Media newspaper, has adopted such a program. It first starts with ignoring requests to cancel service. Only after refusing to pay the bill for the canceled and unwanted newspaper will the delivery stop. That’s when the phone calls start. They begin about receiving payment for the delinquent billings for the undesired and unauthorized service to resume the unwanted service. After thoroughly explaining that the paper delivery was canceled to several moronic phone representatives the message finally seeped through their ignorance.

Next, the phone calls changed. Instead of getting the ‘disputed’ bill payed by the customer, tribune solicitors attempted sell one a subscription. At first they spewed the resubscribe message. Later the message changed to bashing the Internet as not capable of getting the reader the full story. Two different sales associated tried to sell me on this ‘fact’, when I responded to the question “where do you get your news from?” with “the Internet”.

The second sales associate was rude to say the least, and obviously in customer retention mode. Responding that the Internet is not a credible source for news. Annoyed now, I began to vent on this representative about how the paper he was trying to sell my was biased and incapable of ever getting the whole story, and by no means did it hold any credibility. “What’s your favorite section?” asked the persistent associate. “I don’t have one.” “What are you interested in? Sports? Our sports section…” “I’m into technology and your paper is run by a bunch of Luddites,” I interrupted. I continued on with telling the associate that we did not want the paper, we canceled our subscription and do not want to renew. “I’ll need an name and address to verify that.” I responded with a fake address and allowed him to misspell my name. “Let me verify this…” I hung up the phone, I had things to do.

Today I received a bill for the newspaper in the mail. That representative signed me up for a subscription with out my authorization. I try calling the provided number, and it gives one of those talk to the machine menus with no live representatives at the time I called. They provide a Internet address and it doesn’t allow cancellation of accounts. Right now I’m thinking about going to the BBB and talking to some people who know the law better than I to see what provisions Minnesota law has that can be used against the StarTribune.

This resides in the new StarTribune category which will contain all my posts for this problem. If you still subscribe to the StarTribune cancel your subscription.

-John Havlik

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DCE: Digital Consumer Eradicator?

Since the beginning of the digital revolution, content creators have invested millions of dollars in the development of technologies to preserve their rights. The public first tasted this with DVDs and their anti-fair use copy-controls CSS and Macrovision. In the time since, the RIAA has attempted to install similar technologies onto CDs, many of which backfired (e.g., Sony Rootkit). As we enter the rich-media internet age more of these Digital Restriction Management technologies appear on content. Whether or not society values DRM the media does enjoy it and lobbied the government to pass laws making it illegal to circumvent these technologies (e.g., DMCA). Just as the public starts to get a bad taste for DRM, the media tries to disguise the technology by playing word games. This past week in Los Vegas the National Cable and Telecommunications Association held their annual Cable Show. During one of the panel sessions, one HBO’s COs revealed the next stage in the anti-consumer name game.

In his infinite wisdom, HBO’s CTO Bob Zitter proclaims that DCE—Digital Consumer Enablement—more accurately represents what is known today as DRM. Under the impression that DRM allows consumers to do things they could not in the past, Zitter feels the term’s inherently negative focus restricts adoption. Contrary to Zitter’s beliefs, DRM technologies do not enable new freedoms to consumers1. While Zitter claims that DRM allows consumers to enjoy TV content and movies on DVPs (e.g., ZEN Vision, iPod with video, etc.), consumers could do this before DRM if they so pleased. This previous ability falls under the legal category of fair use, as it simply employs time shifting (the same thing a DVR like TiVo does). The difference between the previous method and the ‘new’ method is the DRM. Before DRM the content was platform agnostic; with DRM the content effectively gets tied to specific ‘authorized’ platform. Apple does this with Fairplay, forcing their customers into the iPod/iTunes platform with little chance of escape (legally that is)—anything purchased from the iTunes Music Store can not be played on any non-authorized device (any DAP or media player that is not an iPod or iTunes/Quicktime).

What this entire DRM name game leads to is a society of consumerism without thought. During the days of tapes, the more the tapes were played, the more the quality suffered. The media loved this, because the consumers would have to rebuy the product they purchased over and over again if they wanted to keep it. With the advent of digital mediums, this no longer occurred until disk-rot was discovered forcing the consumer to fall into the trap that the analog age faced. As content moves off of physical mediums as its primary means of distribution, DRM becomes the new disk-rot. Since platforms are not permanent—few people still use OS/2—and DRM ties the user into a platform, every time a user adopts a new platform they will have to repurchase rights to the content they already own rights to. Platform changes could occur according to dictation of the media (Microsoft and Apple are already ‘in bed’ with the media), allowing them to force users to perpetually repurchase content due to the selfishness of the media. There are already automatic updates for many software platforms ranging from cable modems to Windows, whats to stop these automatic updates from ‘breaking’ the platform. Overnight once playable content is forever locked out without paying another fee.

Do no be an ignorant consumer, do not fall for the DRM name game, do not purchase any DRM-infected content, and do not let DRM and DMCA stand in the way of your rights. Want to watch the DVD you bought on your Linux computer, go ahead use the illegal prime (DeCSS). Oh, you have an HD-DVD, well use the second illegal number—that nice Hex number AACS LA claims to own (let me know where I can claim a Hex number of my own). Today may be a good time to cancel the HBO subscription and write Mr. Zitter reminding him who pays his wage.

-John Havlik

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  1. Dickson, Glen. “NCTA: HBO’s Zitter Says DRM Is Misnomer.” Broadcasting & Cable. . .

Advertisements on Your Vista Welcome Center?

According to Softpeida Microsoft is planning to release Windows Vista with dynamic advertisements on the Welcome Center, with no way around viewing them. Supposedly Microsoft ‘haggled’ several PC manufacturers including HP and Dell, whom are supposedly not pleased by some of the ‘features’ in the Welcome Screen. If Microsoft includes advertisements in the Welcome Screen this could not only piss off every PC user, but also get the lawmakers, and lawyers scrambling to dig up anti-trust evidence.

My biggest grudge against advertisements in Vista is that, as a consumer, I will have to pay something on the lines of 300 USD for a full version of Windows Vista. Beyond that 300 USD initial payment, I will have to pay with advertisements flashing in front of my face for no particular reason, other than lining Billy G’s pockets. If the best version of Windows Vista was distributed for under 80 USD then I would have no problem with forced advertisements, but for a 300 USD piece of software that is beyond doubt abusing the consumer. If this is true I’ll just use Gentoo as my primary OS and buy an Apple MacBook pro for college instead of an Alienware laptop. If you are going to burden the consumer with ridiculously high prices don’t force advertisements upon them, it just is beyond cruelty, *cough* RIAA/MPAA/Microsoft *cough*.

Here is the link: Softpedia: Vista Antitrust Case in the Making?

-John Havlik

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AT&T: Pay More For The Internet Or Else

AT&T’s CEO Ed Whitacre is complaining once again, that it isn’t fare that web content owners are allowed to use large volumes of communications companies’ bandwidth for ‘free’. He wants big sites such as Google and others to pay for access to their clients. I read this a month ago but it has come up again. Don’t these people realize that Google doesn’t just plug into the Internet for free? Google must pay for several optical connections to their server farm and ISP fees, which their ISP pays to connect to other networks, such as AT&T’s network. Then the consumers, you and me, pay to connect to AT&T’s network, my Mediacom cable connection connects to the AT&T network. Why should Google and others pay twice for their Internet connection?

The real problem lies with what lies before us in the next five to ten years. About ten years ago we were promised fiber to the wall and all the bandwidth we could suck up, well about 100mbps both ways. What happened was the web 1.0 bubble popped. Suddenly around 2001 these big Telephone Companies found themselves with some fiber upgrades and a large amount of dark fiber, since the demand shifted, they stopped investing in their networks, except when they absolutely had to.

Now as the so called Web 2.0 movement catches fire and begins to run with the economic torch, the telephone companies realize that demand has increased (shifted to the right on the demand curve graph) but their supply capacity has remained the same since they foolishly lined the pockets of their CEOs and management instead of investing in their networks. The entire Web 2.0 movement will heavily push VOIP and IPTV. POTS will more or less die soon, as in by 2010. Once POTS dies as everyone uses VOIP, SBC/ATT will find itself with a bunch of worthless copper. They should have upgraded ever last inch to fiber but now it’s too late. That’s what Ed Whitacre is seeing, though he could be just seeing a plan to line his pockets since as a general rule of thumb all CEO/CFOs are corrupt, self-centered, evil rats. Their profits will dwindle and the new ATT will die a quick painful death, just like Enron.

Here is the link: The 200 Billion Broadband Scandal

-John Havlik

[end of transmission, stay tuned]