Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Be still my ugly old Hearts$

[This post isn't solely about weird Windows foibles, so if that doesn't interest you, feel free to page down.. It might get better, or not. Whatever.]

So I was looking through the security log on a local Windows box, and saw some activity on something called a "DDE Share". I like to think I'm pretty well-versed in the Windows universe, and I'd never heard of such a thing. Turns out it's a truly ancient form of interprocess communication in Windows, which can operate either on the local machine, or over the network. The main thing it's used for within Windows itself is for the multiplayer feature in MS Hearts. Seriously. I kid you not. I read over the API docs out of morbid curiousity, and I can't make head or tail of how it's supposed to work, which helps to explain why nobody uses it, and why MS appears to consider it an orphan technology they'd rather not talk about. Seems your DDE shares have UNC-like paths, and are protected with regular old security descriptors, which explains where those audit entries came from. Beyond that, how it works is a real head-scratcher to me, but obviously someone's figured it out, since there's at least one recent vulnerability report out there. The 'naming convention' for DDE shares is that names end in a dollar sign (i.e. "Hearts$", hence the title), except when they don't, or when other unrelated shares end in a dollar sign (i.e. "C$" for your C drive's hidden admin share ).

You gotta love it. You just gotta. So far as I can tell, MS has to keep this ugly beast alive just in case your shiny Win2k3 box ever needs to talk to some crufty old 286 running Windows 2.03 that accidentally got sealed inside a wall during the last remodel. Your department's kept this box around all these years because it runs some cheesy old legacy app that only speaks DDE and won't run in "386 enhanced mode", and you can't migrate because (naturally) you don't have the source. Lucky you.

But the one saving grace here is that the NetDDE services are disabled on "modern" versions of Windows, unless you go in and turn them on. So don't, already.

I'd hate for people to come away thinking that Windows is a random, seething, tangled mass of warts and scabs, because it isn't. Far from it. It's a painstakingly designed (and repeatedly redesigned) seething, tangled mass of warts and scabs.

This sordid episode prompted a quick Google News search for the word "ugly", which came up with a few fun hits:

  • Another sign that China's well on its way to becoming a modern, advanced country: They're the latest source of ignorant, pushy tourists. The article refers to them as the new "Ugly Americans", so at least we're still the standard by which all other tourists are measured. We can take pride in that, anyway. Hooray for us!
  • It's not just tourists that are ugly these days. Molecules are getting in on the act as well. It seems like a completely esoteric topic, and yet look at all the comments the article got. Way more than anything I've ever posted here. I don't get it. I really don't. Maybe I need to find something more obscure to talk about.
  • Politics are ugly. Everybody knows that. Politics are even ugly when there aren't any politicians involved, as anyone who's witnessed a major ballot measure campaign can testify. The author of the opinion piece seems to think that doing away with ballot measures will clean things up immensely, and return integrity to the democratic process. Riiiiight.
  • And of course, the all time winner in the "ugly" category is, of course, the male gender. A new study indicates that if you're ugly, you're probably a bad dancer as well, so you may as well not bother. The chosen yardstick for ugliness is how asymmetrical someone's facial and body features are, since past studies have shown that people and other mammals equate symmetry with attractiveness. Maybe there's really something to the whole "two left feet" cliche after all...

Ok, here's something obscure for ya. A couple of posts ago, I chatted a bit about various weird and fun kinds of numbers: infinite, infinitesimal, hypercomplex, and so on. I had a vague recollection that Godel, Escher, Bach contained a bit about infinite numbers, so I went back and checked, and noticed that it covers yet another variety of infinite quantity, "supernatural numbers", which aren't covered by Wikipedia.

So far I've come across several definitions. This one quite technical, this one rather less so. The problem is that I'm not sure the various hits I'm seeing are all referring to the same animal, and it's not clear that any of them are the same beast referred to in GED, either. I haven't seen any other references to the three-part indexing scheme the book refers to. "Supernatural" is an attractive (if rather obvious) name for an extension to the natural numbers, so is it possible the name's been used more than once? It's all so very confusing. Maybe that's the whole idea, I don't know.

I'd hate to end this on an ugly note, so here's an article with a picture of some adorable little piglets. It's a funny thing about pigs: They're cute, they're intelligent, and they're delicious. Just not all at the same time. Go figure. It's like a conundrum, or something.

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