HD-DVD copy protection

Apparently the HD-DVD copy protection system has been compromised. Is this really a big surprise? I mean, if you actually go and talk to the engineers who designed AACS, would they think it’s totally unbreakable? Behind all the PR and marketing hacks who don’t know the first thing about cryptography are the people who actually designed this system, and I’m sure they would list a load of standard caveats like “assuming a bounded-complexity adversary” But even then, perhaps twixt design and implementation someone screwed up and weakened the protections.

The whole approach to copy-protecting media via controlling the hardware is a little odd to me. Its like having a secret decoder ring made of a piece of red cellophane. If you make a media format which is useful for carrying data and holding movies, you’re inviting attacks far more complicated than those envisioned by scenarios in which you have an average user buying a player and plugging it into their TV. Is it really that the design specs were for the latter and didn’t even think about what would happen if someone popped the disc into their computer?

Personally, I thnk these guys knew it would happen all along and were surprised at how little time it took. The truth is probably that people in the company who were ignorant of the technology ended up approving something that was a lot weaker than it should have been, and not that the guy who hacked the standard was somehow a super-genius. This is not to take away from his accomplishment, but it seems like you can either build a watertight security system or one that leaks like a sieve, and this is more of the latter.

pstricks and Type 3 fonts

A warning to those who use the LaTeX package pstricks to make figures for papers : the macro “\psdots” will use a Type 3 font in the image that may cause your pre-press PDF validity checker to get annoyed at you. To avoid this you have to use “\pscircle,” which for me means a lot of cutting and pasting.

UPDATE : See my earlier experience for more pstricks + type 3 fonts issues. This time, however, the dashed lines were completely fine, so that makes me think that the IEEE PDF engine was even more confused than this one.

LaTeX figure repository

I’m pretty picky about figures for LaTeX documents now, and I hate having to make new figures from scratch since it takes forever. So a little while ago I got this free wiki called ThousandWords to hold figures that I had made and make them (along with relevant code) available to others. At the moment it’s pretty sparse — just a few things here and there that I put up — but it would be great to have more. In particular, right now it’s all information theory, signal processing, and networking, and there’s no reason (beyond disk space) that it can’t be more diverse.

So if any readers of this blog want to put up figures of their own for public use, let me know!


Today I discovered pybliographer, a decent (if not perfect) BibTeX management tool. Surprisingly, Ubuntu had a package for it already (as does Fedora and Mandrake I think), so it was a breeze (-y badger?) to install. I think I might just start maintaining a huge single BibTeX file and then pull out paper-appropriate subsets as I need them. I’m hoping that they add folders or something to later versions.

When I get my schmancy new Mac laptop I’ll use BibDesk, which looks even better.

default paper size for debian/ubuntu

After months of just dealing with my printing being “messed up.” I discovered the tiny file /etc/papersize, which contained only two characters — “a4.” After replacing those with “letter” today my life has improved noticeably. Of course, this wasn’t an easy-to-find system configuration — maybe they should consider adding it to the GNOME system config tools.

another quick test

Since I was updating the old blog anyway, I figured I’d try out some nify new features that people have developed, like MimeTeX, which is a cgi script that renders LaTeX on the fly for you and doesn’t have any other dependencies. So now I can write about things like the Gaussian distribution:

Although it might be a bit hard to use expressions that are too fancy and use all the crazy squiggles and arrows that come with the AMS packages, this is definitely a step up in the world of blogging math.

maybe we can get along

I recently installed Ubuntu on the computer I use at work, and am so much happier than I was running Windows. Ubuntu is a more user-friendly version of Debian, which is a godsend for laptops, since the installation process does all the hardware detection for you. I had tried Debian and getting X to work was a real pain. I then switched to Fedora Core 3 and decided it made me feel like I was in a straitjacket. Ubuntu is “just right” for me I think. Also, the releases have amusing names, like “Warty Warthog” and “Hoary Hedgehog.”

While browsing for extra LaTeX plugins, I came across the following:

arabtex (3.11-5) [universe] — Arabic/Hebrew macros for TeX/LaTeX

Arabic and Hebrew, eh? Maybe we can all get along.

LaTeX templates for conference posters

I hacked together a LaTeX template for conference posters for the Wireless Foundations Center. After searching around on the web I couldn’t find a package that was (a) easy to use, (b) allowed for arbitrary layout, and (c) supported many different poster sizes. So I hacked together 2-3 other style file ideas from other people and made this template and associated style file. I’ll try and add features over the summer, but that’s a really low priority right now.

I’m using the package to make a poster for tomorrow’s day conference at Stanford and it’s going pretty smoothly, so I think it’s reasonably usable.

the times on firefox

The NY Times has a snarky article on the Firefox release and Microsoft’s reaction. I enjoy a good razzing of Microsoft as much as the next guy, but maybe this goes a little over the line. Of course, I use Firefox and think it’s pretty damn good. In fact, I almost considered uninstalling IE (I did on my Mac) except it would probably break Windows.

Hmmm… uninstalling IE : like hurling a brick at Windows.

The number of people who still use IE and complain about it is astounding. I guess the idea of looking for an alternative never occurred to them. Chalk one up for browser bundling — a brilliant strategy, to be sure.