March 16th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

WTF? Phoenix BIOS and USB Keyboards

Quick question for those of you still stuck in the computer industry, before I go on to tonight's "real" journal entry:

One of the things that dragged us out for most of an hour setting up this rebuild of my computer is that the keyboard kept crapping out on us as soon as the BIOS settings posted and the boot sector started to load. Drove us friggin' nuts for most of an hour. Then, buried two menus down, we found out that there's a setting for whether or not to allow USB keyboards to connect to this computer ... and it defaults to OFF.

I can see why you'd want that setting to exist, for things like kiosks and so forth where you don't want J. Random Hacker to walk up with his own keyboard, plug it in, and take over the machine. Although unless you set a boot password, that setting won't solve that problem, because it doesn't take effect until after the BIOS setup menu is offered, and you can turn it off from there. But if it is necessary, then for the love of God and all that's holy, why in the world would that setting default to disallowing the world's most common keyboards, instead of the setting that 999 out of a thousand people who buy their product would need?

Also, if there's a good reason for this and I just can't think of it, then at the very least (considering how critical a problem it is if you lose the keyboard when you're not expecting it), there ought to be some kind of dashboard indicator on the front screen of the setup menu to indicate things like whether or not a boot password is set and whether or not keyboards are allowed to connect to this machine. Because that was mind-bogglingly counter-intuitive.
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Winning Ugly: Dubai Ports World

I've said before that I'd rather lose than win by cheating, no matter what's at stake. It's just how I am. So as much as I love seeing the President look stupid and clueless, and as much more as I love seeing his Republican Party base splinter on an issue, I really hated that Dubai Ports World controversy. Because the fact of the matter was that it was such a moot point, and virtually nothing that was said to torpedo the deal was true, and the parts that true were almost entirely irrelevant.

Yeah, I'd rather have our ports owned by Americans. I'd rather have all of our companies owned by Americans. That would, however, require that Americans actually sell something to pay for them with. We buy a whole heck of a lot of oil from the United Arab Emirates. What of ours do you expect them to buy in return? It has to be something, if you want that oil to keep coming, if you don't want to see $4 or $6 a gallon gas. One of the things that came up on Lou Dobbs' show on CNN was that we went through this all once before, when the Chinese Red Army (which functions as if it were a corporation whenever it's to their advantage to do so) tried to buy one of our west coast ports. I'll bet they did. We buy one heck of a lot of clothing and light manufactured goods from China, and we don't sell them much of anything in return. That money's coming home in some fashion or another, or else we don't get to keep spending it. Which, truth be told, I'd rather we didn't, until China allows independent trade unions and consequently starts paying their workers enough to afford the products that they're manufacturing, let alone our products. But no, that deal wasn't phrased in terms of imposing sanctions on companies from countries that have unfair labor laws that act as trade barriers to American goods ... it was phrased as if it were about security.

And that's the part that bothered me, because it's such horse droppings, for three reasons. First of all, the stuff coming into this country is not, for the most part, inspected at our ports, it's inspected at their ports. US Customs Service inspectors go over the cargo manifests of those containers, and make such few inspections as they do, in China or Germany or Korea or wherever, and then lock the container up with a tamper-resistant seal. It doesn't get opened until it reaches the final destination, not the port, but the warehouse or factory or whatever other customer actually ordered that container full of goods. Mr. Magoo could be running our port security, and it wouldn't change a single thing about how incoming goods are inspected. Secondly, it's not the port management company that handles the security arrangements for the port. That'd be the US Coast Guard, who will still be the ones patrolling and guarding every port whether that port is owned and managed by a US company, a British company, an Arab company, or Jesus and the Twelve Apostles Incorporated. But the biggest reason it's a load of horse droppings is that port security is the absolute least of our problems. Gazillions of tons of contraband flow into this country every year. Less than one percent of it comes in through the ports; they just drive it across the border from Mexico or Canada, and let the Customs Service and the DEA and the FBI grab as much of it as they have the manpower to find. It's not because some British company or the US Coast Guard has been doing such a great job of protecting our ports that we haven't had another 9-11 sized attack, it's for the lack of money and a safe haven country to operate out of on the part of the terrorist networks who'd dare to try it.

All of which points were made, of course, by Bush administration surrogates ... who weren't listened to. No surprise. When a Bushie (or a DLC Democrat) says something in favor of a foreign corporation buying American assets, everybody knows that they'd say those things whether they were true or not, because they're just generally in favor of foreign corporations buying American assets. Also, you don't get to play the 9-11 panic card over and over again for five years and then claim that 9-11 panic is a stupid issue this one time; it was either stupid all along (and it was) or it's not stupid this time. So they lost. And the Dubai government will presumably find some other asset to invest their huge wads of American dollars in, and the world will go on more or less as normal. All that will be different is that a government that cheerfully allows us to operate military bases on their territory despite how unpopular that is with their populace has learned how little good this does them, and the Bush Administration will have learned that there's no point in telling the truth to the American people.

I hate winning ugly.