“Open source” does not mean “more secure”

One of the stupidest lines of the pro-open source crowd is that open source code is more secure than closed source. The reasoning is that since everyone and his brother and roommate can review the code, it is unlikely that security holes will go unplugged.

The reality of open source is that, generally, everyone and his brother and his roommate can modify the code. Who guarantees that these people are competent and have good intents? Nobody. Who guarantees that a competent person reviews the code? Nobody. Even if that code appears secure, there is no guarantee that anyone understands how it impacts the security of all other code within an application or in other applications.

The biggest open source project of recent memory is the Firefox browser. It’s a pretty good browser. I use it. But it has already had three security revisions. The security problem is so serious that Firefox marketers are already in damage control mode.

Firefox may be more secure than Internet Explorer, but it gets this security by leaving out many of IE’s features. Suppose you got a current version of IE (with all patches installed) and disable or remove these extra features. Would it be less secure than the current version of Firefox? I doubt it.

Open source is not a guarantee of more security. Regardless of whether it is open or closed source, all software must be carefully scrutinized. No software should be fully trusted.

New Kitty

UPDATE (years later): Regrettably, this cat ended up threatening to attack my toddler son several times, unprovoked. The safety of my family is important, so we had to surrender her back to the SPCA about two months after we got her.

After four years of hemming and hawing, we got a new cat on Saturday:

We got her from a Petsmart store in Dallas. Petsmart carries cats from local animal charities like the SPCA. Our cat was part of a litter voluntarily given up by its owner. The SPCA claimed she may have some Maine Coon Cat in her, but we’ll see. I think she is probably just a plain, medium hair mutt cat.

I like her personality. When I have her in my lap, she’ll constantly rub and walk back and forth, up and down, showing a great deal of affection. If any of you knew the little calico cat I had while growing up, the affectionate personality is similar, minus the calico’s nutty skittishness.

Later that day, we went to Target to pick up groceries and kitten food. On the way there, I said “alea iacta est.” This Latin phrase literally translates as “the die is cast,” meaning that you just entered a game you cannot get out of by casting a die (dice is plural of die). This is phrase is attributed to Julius Caesar.

After saying that, I wondered if alea is a feminine noun. We could not remember; our Latin is rusty. The next day, we checked many sites but could not figure it out.

So I called my high school Latin teacher, Mrs. Mary Lacy. After introducing myself, she paused a bit before she recalled me. I wasn’t surprised; it had been 10 years since I last took a Latin class. But she recognized me and asked about my brothers. And yes, alea is a feminine noun.

We haven’t finalized on a name yet. Alea is nice, but it’s really close to Alec, our son’s name. Even though they are pronounced very differently, do we want our son’s and cat’s names to be that close?

Amelia hates her, but that’s normal. Sugar thinks she is a play toy. I am keeping this cat away from that dog for now.

Poor Showing of Anti-Proposition 1 Crowd

Tonight I went to a strong mayor referendum debate at SMU. I’ll tell you what: the two anti-proposition 1 debaters did a horrible job. Councilman Bill Blaydes barely finished a sentence without assassinating its logic. At one point he said that proponents are voting for a “dictatorship.” Is insulting Dallas voters his new strategy?

Bill had some grizzled, sarcastic lawyer buddy with him who used carefully crafted, lawyer-esque fear tactics to sway the audience. At one point, the lawyer claimed that Dallas will spend “billions” defending the proposition against voter rights lawsuits. Billions? Laughable.

The audience was invited to ask questions. Most questioners instead gave commentary. Like the anti-proposition debaters, the anti-proposition audience questioners were unimpressive. One particularly stupid guy, some kind of left-wing redneck with a negative IQ, lectured Miller about—of all things—not returning repeated calls to her office. Seeing his behavior, I am not surprised this fool was ignored. The moderator called him down three times, and the audience laughed at him repeatedly. He whined about how the proposition takes away minority representation and claimed there were no Hispanics and virtually no blacks in the audience. Humorously, two Hispanics and one black, all who leaned in favor of the proposition, quickly followed this redneck fool.

I had to leave about 4 minutes into a boastful Oak Cliff bragger telling us about all his accomplishments. Never heard his question.

The anti-proposition crowd’s tactics didn’t work. The audience largely favored the strong mayor proposition. But maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise? This was a mostly educated, thinking audience who was not in the clutches of the South Dallas “good old boy” system.

A good question was how many accomplishments had Dallas achieved due to the weak mayor system. Humorously, all Bill Blaydes could do is ramble about things that happened in spite of the current system.

If this debate is a representation of the anti-proposition crowd, the proposition is in for smooth sailing.

Horrible hard drive experience

Last Wednesday I got a 300 GB Seagate Barracuda hard drive. My 80GB drive is almost full, and I know that my camera’s huge picture files will quickly use the remaining space.

This 300GB drive is $130 after a rebate, although taxes and the return receipt shipping on the rebate will put the net cost just over $150.

Problem after problem has made this the most frustrating hard drive experience of my life.

  • Problem 1: Seagate’s included DiscWizard software cannot correctly copy my Windows XP system to the new drive. The copied version of Windows XP on the new drive had a blue screen of death pretty quickly. Before that, Office applications kept asking for a file that does not exist. (The file is inside a MSI that is part of Office XP SP1.)
  • Problem 2: Windows XP pre-SP1 cannot use drives over 137GB. To fix this, I slipstreamed SP2 into my XP CD and burned a CD.
  • Problem 3: Windows XP’s Automatic Updates crashed my computer. Would you believe that Microsoft classified a video card driver update as a “Critical Update”? For some reason this driver caused my GeForce4 MX 420 video card to end up in some kind of infinite loop. When Windows switched into the full GUI mode, the computer hung, wrote a log file, and auto-rebooted. It took a while to figure this out. I had to search the crash log files for Windows error codes and do a convoluted search. In the end, I had to tell Windows Update to not install the video drivers. That means that Windows Update will always whine about me missing this driver, even if I tell Windows Update not to load it.
  • Problem 4: The stupid hard drive is bad. After finally getting everything installed, I still got occasional BSoDs. I tried all sorts of hardware configuration combinations, but finally I whittled the system down to just having the Seagate drive on IDE bus 1 and nothing on IDE bus 2. Still got the BSoD. Sometimes, right after a BSoD and a reboot, the computer couldn’t even detect any hard drives installed. Reverting the system to its previous state—with my Western Digital 80GB drive as the single—returns to flawless performance. The BSoDs usually were the 0x00000077 or 0x0000007A error, which suggests a hard drive problem.
  • Problem 5: Fry’s printed out the wrong rebate! Yup. I just double-checked the rebate form. It’s the kind where the cash register prints out this lengthy duplicate receipt/rebate form. The top of the rebate receipt shows my hard drive purchase, but the rest is a $20 rebate for a 2.5GB Seagate pocket drive, not the $50 hard drive rebate. Fortunately, I managed to get Fry’s to fax me the correct form.

Argh! Experiences like this make me question why I do my own computers.

Vote For the Dallas Strong Mayor Proposition

I am voting for the Dallas strong mayor proposition.

The current system gives the mayor little power, reserving most real powers to 14 city councilmen. Many of these city councilmen have a simple mission: lord over their fiefdoms (districts), obstruct everything but their pet causes, and screw the rest of the city. James Fantroy is a poster child for this kind of selfish idiocy. Examples like Fantroy are why Dallas has lost its way, and their constant obstructionism blocks realistic reforms or real leadership.

Like it or not, as long as we have a weak mayor, Dallas City Council will always be a cesspit of dissent, incapable of leading the city in any comprehensive, productive endeavor.

The only way to get around this is to strip city council and the city manager of many of their powers and give them to an accountable, elected strong mayor. A strong mayor is what we need to lead Dallas out of its mess.

Some people are critical of the strong mayor proposal:

Criticism 1: Provisions contradict state law. That doesn’t matter. When municipal code conflicts with state law, the state law simply overrides. That’s why state-set 60 MPH urban freeway speed limits override the City Council’s attempt to set 55 MPH speed limits back in 1996.

Criticism 2: It concentrates too much power into one position. First, strong mayors reign in most large cities. Sure, sometimes you get corruption. But choose your poison—occasional corruption or constant deadlock. I’ll choose corruption. Corruption is illegal, prosecutable, and stoppable; deadlock isn’t. Second, if necessary, powers of the mayor can be changed by future referendums. Third, look at this list of major changes. Most of the revised “paths to taking an action” still appear to require city council confirmation. These changes hardly make Dallas unusual.

Criticism 3: The strong mayor proposal illegally dilutes minority representation by overturning 14-1. 14-1 remains intact. This logic is flawed; for it to be true, you would have to argue that strong mayor systems have sufficient minority representation unless the system is in north central Texas. Huh?

Criticism 4: The strong mayor system will cost Dallas millions of dollars defending lawsuits. So be it. If a few millions is the only financial hurdle to get the city’s government back on track, I’ll gladly support it.

Criticism 5: The proposal was drafted in secret by a bunch of eeeeeeeevil people who don’t live in Dallas. Even if it’s true, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad thing. The Dallas at the Tipping Point report was drafted in secret by people who don’t live in Dallas. Does that make it worthless or somehow counterproductive? Back in 1995, the measure to repeal federal speed limit controls was drafted outside public scrutiny by people who don’t live in Texas. Does that make it evil? Outsiders can’t enact propositions. Dallas voters must approve this measure.

Dallas needs a strong leader, and it makes sense for this leader to be a strong mayor. Join me in voting “yes” on the strong mayor proposition this May.

At this point, the only thing that will change my vote is if someone can show that this proposition makes Dallas radically different than other vibrant, successful, strong mayor cities. Barring that, I am definitely voting yes on the strong mayor proposition.