The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Monday, April 01, 2002

This is no joke …

Yes, it's official.

We (we being Spring and I) have Boston Diaries Coffee Mugs for sale.

No joke.

Even if it is April 1st.


I think this is a new search engine

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 25 /PRNewswire/—So what does one kid [sic] frustration over his disappointing fate with online Search Engines get you? The answer is a new place for web owners to list their sites. On Friday, March 22, Mach Find, Inc. announced the launch of its brand new Search Engine Company called, “Mach Find” (www.MachFind.com).

PRNewswire press release that was forwarded to me via email

I'm not really sure what to make of this. Curious, I went to MachFind only to find it doesn't find anything at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. As in, “we don't actually have anything in our database yet.”

Now, Dennis Williams, II has an interesting take on the search engine—you submit a URL and it becomes part of the database immediately. Google? AltaVista? Yahoo? You submit a URL and they'll “get back to you” with their spiders (software that crawls a website for indexing).

But, there's a catch. It's $2 per URL submission. Not per site, per URL! That, I think, is a bad move on his part; more and more sites are dynamically generated and the concept of a “page” is well … not very well defined anymore. Heck, the Electric King James Bible has over fifteen million pages yet they're not exactly static pages. And if I were to submit The Boston Diaries I'm not sure exactly what keywords I would be submitting it under (well, perhaps the ones I have in the <META> tags but that's a rather limited view of what goes on in here). Two dollars per site, I can see that; two dollars per page?

Mach Find operates under a premise and understanding that while the internet continues to grow, through filling up with more websites, it is only the truly innovative net locations that cause it to expand. This expanse has limitless potential, and we certainly want to be a part of it.

It is our belief that rather than bottle up this beautiful potential of technology and growth within the confines of a company, sometimes the higher success and profit lies in sharing it. Mach Find feels that no individual who is interested in the basic knowledge and understanding of technology that he has committed himself to be a client of, should be denied access to it.

Mach Find Growing Technology

Well, right now the search engine is quite useless as there's nothing there to search. I tried several terms, including “Mach Find” and “Dennis Williams, II,” and nothing. Is it too much to ask to seed the database with sites? Or for a period of time, let URL submission be free to help populate the database? Something? Anything? It's definitely in that “Catch-22” stage—it's not worth me spending the two bucks to submit a URL because no one is going to use the engine because there are no search results that I can see, and as a user, I'm not going to use the search engine because there are no search results.

No one is exactly going to flock to your search engine for either searching or submissions, I hate to say.

But I do see they are hiring. Perhaps I can get one of those five positions left on the Creative Team of Experts. Looks like they might need the help.


Packing packing packing

Packed some more of the kitchen at Condo Conner tonight. Yes, we're still moving. Comes from a forced move I think.

And I'm finding all sorts of odd items that haven't been touched in at least eight years (and quite possibly, fourteen), mostly in little used cabinets, or on the top shelves. I found, for instance, that I actually do own an electric juicer—the type that can juice vegitables (“Oooh!” said Spring when I told her, “I can now make carrot-orange juice!” Um … yum?) in addition to fruits. I also own a couple of bottle pourers—they fit into the neck of the bottle much like a cork, but have a metal flute out the top with which you can pour the contents out of (you see them on liquor bottles in bars).

I also found some metal devices that looked like handles but it took me several minutes to figure out how they work. And indeed, they are handles, for CorningWare cooking dishes. They look like mutant bottle openers, one end flares out and has a flap of metal underneath. It looks like it could fit around the tabs that stick out the sides of CorningWare, but the flap is too close to the top to permit a fit. But … the other end of the device can do a quarter turn, and when turned, the flap is lowered enough to slip over the tabs that stick out the sides of the CorningWare. You then turn the other end back into place, and it locks the handle.

I don't think I ever remember seeing those handles when Mom and I moved into the place fourteen years ago. But I did find lots of CorningWare. And a CorningWare hotplate. Guess Mom was a CorningWare type of person.

I also found out that the plastic trays that all the TupperWare was stored were actually screw-in drawers! I never knew that.

I also found out I have more stuff than I thought I did.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Lassie, he ain't

The front door to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere is locked.

I grab for my keys only to find some pocket lint.

Great, I think. I got locked out. Fortunately, I see our cat, Spodie, through the window that runs along side the door.

“Spodie!” I yell. “Spodie! Get Spring and tell her I'm locked out!”

Spodie is looking at me indifferently. Typical cat.

“Spodie! Help! I'm locked out! Get help!”

Spodie then looks around, trying his hardest to ignore me.

“Spodie! Get Spring! I've fallen into the well! Get help! Hey! Wait! Don't go there! Wait!”

At this point I start pounding on the door. Eventually, Spring shows up.

“Spring! Help! I'm locked out!”

Spring, much like her owner, Spodie, is looking at me indifferently …

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Creative team of experts

Like I said a few days ago, MachFind is hiring and has five (5) open positions for their Creative Team of Experts.

So, I just applied.

Hey, you never know … and as Jerry Pournelle says, “I do this so you don't have to … ”

Friday, April 05, 2002

“That's it?”

Spring and I are coming home from the Starlite Diner in Ft. Lauderdale when we get caught at a rail road crossing.

“You really wanted to run that, didn't you?” asks Spring.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“There's a good chance that the train will come to a full and complete stop right here,” I said. “Well, maybe not here but I have been caught a few streets north by trains stopping at rail road crossings and then you're stuck for twenty or so minutes until it starts up again. And do you know how long it takes a mile long train to get started?”

“So? It's the perfect time to have a party,” she said. “You crank the radio, get out and boogie.”

“Boogie?”

“Boogie,” she said. “You know, dance. Have a party.”

“Boogie?”

“Boogie. There was one time I got stuck in traffic, so I cranked up the radio, and started handing out soda,” she said. She used to work for a soda distributor in New Jersey.

“Wow … so you wrote the soda off as an expense?”

“It was free samples anyway.”

“Ah,” I said. The rail road crossing had been clanging for some time now and finally I heard the bellowing of a train horn. Off in the distance I could just make out the dark shape of a train engine coming into view.

And then the train engine crossed our view.

Not a train mind you.

Just the train engine. Rolling down the tracks, past the rail road crossing and continuing down the line.

“That's it?” I said. I was dumbfounded. Spring starts laughing and I'm left gaping at a train that wasn't a train going by. “We waited all that time, for a train engine?

“At least it didn't stop,” said Spring.


Playing nice together …

I've been working on a project the past week or so and one of the components has me attempting to compile a version of Apache with mod_ssl, mod_perl and mod_php (in this case, PHP4). It certainly has been an educational experience.

I found out the hard way that one of the modules (I think it was mod_ssl, although I can't confirm it) reran the configuration script for Apache, resettting it to use the default Apache file locations and not the locations I configured it for (I'm building a test version of Apache and I'm doing it as a regular user so I don't destroy the working configuration on the computer I'm doing this on).

Hack hack hack, I decide to install everything by hand and avoid the Apache Configuration Interface that seems to be causing the problem. Hack hack hack and I finally get an executable to build.

It seems to work, except that mod_info isn't working. It comes with Apache but normally isn't enabled. I had thought I enabled it, but apparently not. I check the configuration file (the one used to build Apache, not to start it running) and it seems to be using the one for the Apache Configuration Interface, so I problably ended up with a server that only has mod_ssl.

Okay, start over.

I'm getting farther. This time I'm getting problems compiling mod_php. It can't find certain include files. I add the appropriate locations to the configuration file and it's still not working. It doesn't look like it likes being added by hand. Guess I'll have to use the Apache Configuration Interface to add mod_php.

Now, why Apache has two different configuration files, one used only if you use the Apache Configuration Interface, and one used only if you don't use the Apache Configuration Interface at all, is beyond me. Okay, I can work around that, but more annoying is that whenever you run the configuration script, it will rewrite the configuration file over. So if you, say, forget to enable mod_info and you rerun the configuration script to enable it, you'll get an Apache with mod_info enabled and any other module that is optional, gone.

Now, there's a separate script you can run that will avoid this problem, but do any of the module installation scripts (for say, mod_ssl or mod_perl) use this, or even mention it? Nay, I say. Nay!

Okay, start over yet again.

So now it's down to figuring out which third party modules run the configuration script and which ones don't, and make sure to install them in the right order, and double check that my preferred file locations aren't overwritten. mod_ssl gets installed first, even though it wants to be last to make sure any authentication goes through it. Then mod_php and finally mod_perl.

Fun fun fun.


Success at 4.7 Megabytes

Success!

Server Version: Apache/1.3.24 (Unix) mod_perl/1.26 PHP/4.1.2 mod_fastcgi/2.2.12 mod_ssl/2.8.8 OpenSSL/0.9.6c

Basically, install mod_ssl first, with the file locations you want for Apache specified using the configuration script configure. Then, using config.status, add the other modules (like mod_perl or mod_php) and forget about adding them to the configuration file by hand.

[Don't assume this is actually usable advice. This is so I don't forget what to do. Your milage may vary.]

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Abysmally Irritating

The phone rang.

I picked it up. “Hello?”

“This movie SUCKED!” It was Mark. He had just finished watching AI, the Stanley Kubrick as finished by Steven Spielberg “Down, not across” feel good film of 2001. “We wasted FOUR bucks on this piece of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!”

“Um … Mark … ”

“And it's ALL YOUR FAULT! You said this film was good but depressing.”

“It was! I found it horribly depressing, but it was a well done film. There was a reason I didn't come over and watch it again.”

“It's still your fault!”

“Didn't you listen to Spring?”

“It sucked XXXXXXXXXX,” said Gerald. I could hear him yelling over the phone.

“Gee, I'm sorry guys,” I said. “I thought I warned you.”

“It's still your fault!”

“I'll make it up to you. How about we watch The Talented Mr. Ripley on my dime? … Hello? … Hello? … ” He hung up.

Monday, April 08, 2002

There goes the neighborhood

Same night, but it's now 3:00am. The music is back and with authority. It wakes us up again and this time I'm ready to kill somebody. Instead, I call the police. The funny thing is that when the police officer arrives, JD8 can't hear the officer knocking on the door. By now, my wife and I are glued to the window hoping to see some police brutality (yeah it's bad). The officer proceeds to walk around the house shining his flashlight into the windows hoping to get a glimpse of what's happening inside.

As the officer is walking back towards the front of the house, JD8 opens the door and sees the police car. He panics and slams the door shut. The officer sees the light shining on the front lawn and runs to the front door. The officer starts pounding on the door, and shouting. After about thirty seconds, the door opens and the cop goes inside the house. We can hear the officer screaming for them to turn the music off. Sweet!

Via email from JeffK, Redneck Neighbor

I'm not really sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I can understand where this guy is coming from—parties at 2:00 am, lawn mowing at midnight, lawn fires that could threaten his home. On the other hand, I can understand where the redneck neighbor is coming from—it's his home and darn it! He can do what he wants and the home owner's association be damned. It's a tough call, that's for sure.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

A lesson in usability, part II

Mark had written in just after I made changes in the look of the site and said that the red I was using for unvisited links looked horrible.

Yes, it was rather garish but I wasn't sure what to use for colors. So tonight (okay, this morning really) I played around with the color scheme a bit (with the help of Spring) and I think I got a scheme that isn't quite as bad. The unvisited links are still light enough that they should be easy to see (even if the browser doesn't add the underlining like my one reader reported) and the color is a bit more subdued than the

BRIGHT RED

I was using for links (or rather, various shades of pure red) so Mark should be pleased.

You should also notice that the sidebox to the left is a bit smaller than it used to be—I bumped the font size down a bit to shrink the box up, to better fit the space.

I'm really liking style sheets.


Still no word

Still no word back on my application for the Creative Team Expert at MachFind.

Then again, there still doesn't seem to be anything searchable at MachFind either …


The Ins and Outs of Calculating Weblog Traffic

The buzz in Bloggerton is about numbers. The number of readers a blog has and it's not an easy number to calculate. Over the past few months I've been measuring myself against Sean Tevis, a fellow South Florida blogger (whom I actually met in real life once). For a while we were pretty much at parity, but then over the past month or so he's taken off. As he states (as of today) he is getting 4,000 visits and 10,000 page views per month.

And I'm wondering just how he's calculating that.

So here we go. Raw counts for The Boston Diaries: January 2002: 14,297 requests. February 2002: 8,035 requests and March 2002: 7,860 requests. Yes, there's a rather big drop there between January and February, but that can be accounted for—5,870 requests in January were from easily identifiable search engine robots (4,726 just from one alone). If we rerun the count for just the popular browsers (basically, any agent reporting itself as Mozilla, of which Netscape, Mozilla, Opera and IE—yes, that does skip Lynx, but the number of hits via Lynx (that aren't me) is miniscule for purposes of the rough estimates I'm doing here) and only pages (or files) that were successfully served up, we get: January 2002: 5,880 requests. February 2002: 6,089 requests. And March 2002: 5,292 (ouch).

Now, I'm generating this by going over the raw logs with a custom program I wrote that allows one to filter out fields (to make it easier to grep through). Those last figures, for instance, were done with:

escanlog -status 200 -agent boston.conman.org | grep Mozilla | wc -l

escanlog is the program I wrote, and I instructed it to only print out records that successfully completed (-status 200) and only print out the user agent field (-agent) on the log file in question (boston.conman.org). grep and wc -l are standard Unix programs to search for patterns and count characters (or lines, in this invocation).

But those figures are again, misleading. They include images, requests for the RSS file, the CSS file; extraneous stuff that don't really constitute an actual page view. Going over the logs again, this time only taking into account pages (most likely) viewed by humans we get: January 2002: 1,805. February 2002: 2,090. March 2002: 1,538 (ow! But it's still an improvement over December 2001 at 1,090).

Oh wait, one more variable to control for: those counts include those I've done. Remove those, and the results are: December 2001 (since I included it above): 1,009. January 2002: 1,673 (well, Rob and Spring are also being excluded—yea, that's why I had over 100 visits from myself). February 2002: 1,909. March 2002: 1,328 (oooh).

Now, I can pretty much guarantee that those figures up there represent unique visits. A more interesting question to answer would be the number of repeat (or regular) visits. This is tougher since most ISPs dish out dynamic IP addresses whenever someone reconnects but I don't think it's impossible to get a ball park figure, taking the previous results, pulling out the unique IP addresses and sorting, I see for January 2002 (cutting off after 5 unique visits per address):


    197 65.116.145.137
     92 208.55.254.110
     63 211.101.236.143
     45 63.173.190.16
     30 64.129.118.129
     30 24.52.32.105
     20 211.101.236.79
     19 24.4.252.167
     15 208.60.8.130
     11 65.58.147.103
     11 164.77.128.210
     10 64.131.172.241
      9 66.157.2.122
      8 207.49.213.174
      7 65.2.207.3
      6 65.207.131.180
      6 64.39.15.82
      6 12.39.254.108
      5 64.30.224.30
      5 63.251.87.214
      5 212.250.100.122
      5 209.214.129.196
      5 208.1.105.145
      5 204.89.226.65
      5 196.41.28.43
      5 130.74.211.63

And so on. Easily a dozen repeat readers, but there are probably more. One way would be to generate the number of visits per block of IP addresses (most users would fall into a range of addresses, usually along a classical C block and by doing that, I get:


    197 65.116.145
     92 208.55.254
     83 211.101.236
     45 63.173.190
     30 64.129.118
     30 24.52.32
     21 64.12.96
     21 24.4.252
     18 208.60.8
     11 65.58.147
     11 208.1.105
     11 196.41.28
     11 164.77.128
     10 64.131.172
     10 152.163.189
      9 66.157.2
      9 216.10.44
      8 65.207.131
      8 212.250.100
      8 207.49.213
      8 205.188.209
      8 205.188.208
      7 65.2.207
      7 195.163.203
      6 64.39.15
      6 12.39.254
      5 64.30.224
      5 63.251.87
      5 24.51.202
      5 209.214.129
      5 204.89.226
      5 130.74.211
      5 129.74.252

Hmmm … not much difference really. Rerunning for last month (March) I get:


     86 208.55.254
     56 65.214.36
     22 64.131.172
     21 12.164.38
     20 218.45.21
     20 211.101.236
     19 66.176.111
     17 207.200.84
     17 129.74.186
     16 66.27.11
     16 151.203.23
     14 64.12.96
     12 64.129.118
     12 216.76.209
     11 196.41.28
     10 66.27.63
     10 64.30.224
     10 64.231.69
     10 194.222.60
      9 64.152.245
      9 24.51.200
      9 205.188.209
      8 64.90.36
      8 152.163.188
      7 64.158.38
      7 208.60.8
      6 205.188.208
      6 199.44.53
      6 199.174.3
      6 199.174.0
      6 195.163.203
      6 194.82.103
      5 64.34.18
      5 64.210.248
      5 24.71.223
      5 24.52.32
      5 207.158.192
      5 207.114.208
      5 204.89.226
      5 151.100.29
      5 128.242.197
      5 12.225.219

Oh, lets call it two dozen repeat readers and be done with it.

This is an interesting topic, and I would still like to know how Sean Tevis calculates his stats.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Diners of a lost South Florida

Looking at these diners I can't but think of the ones I used to go to as a kid here in South Florida. The one we used to go to often was Wags, the one located on US 441 in Margate. They had a distinctive architecture—a series of trapezoidal columns ran across the front of the building. Each Wags had this.

Unfortunately, the one in Margate is no more—it's been torn down and replaced with a modern drug store. The one in Coral Springs is now a Dennys and the one in Boca Raton is now the Boca Diner (and the only reason I know that is because it still has the trapezoidal columns across the front of the building).

The other diner I remember from childhood in South Florida is Sambo's, and it didn't last that long into the 80s (unlike Wags, which lasted until the late 80s/very early 90s depending upon the location). The one near my grandparents, also on US 441, in Tamarac is no more. Even the building is gone.


“And how does this work again?”

So I decide to actually check out the links to the various cities I linked to. Why? Oh, depressed at the lost South Florida of my youth for one thing. Idle curiousity for another.

So I check out the website for Margate. I find the link to the proposed elementary school boundaries and my first thought is Oh my … the main graphic looks like it was faxed and then badly colorized before being posted. And I still can't quite figure out the new boundaries for Coconut Creek Elementary (my old elementary school). But I can tell (I think) from the badly faxed image that were I to start school now, living in the place I did 22 years ago, I (and my friend Hoade) would be attending “O” Elementary School.

Interesting.

Then I hit the bottom of the page. And I quote …

“If you do not have access to the internet, you may phone the Student Choice/ School Boundaries Department, at 954-XXX-XXXX.”

Um … if I don't have what?

Mind you, that isn't part of the rather faxish looking graphic either.

And then I notice the actual title on the page. Go on … I'll wait …

CHLORINE PURGE NOTICE

CHLORINE PURGE NOTICE?

I am so glad not to be in the school system anymore …


A bit more on weblog traffic

I heard back from Sean Tevis about how he got his webstats. Seems he uses a service called Site Meter that allows one to track page loads. He added some JavaScript and images they gave him to his pages. I'm guessing that he does not have access to the log files from his hosting provider.

I have to remember that not everyone has access to such information. Heck, Spring didn't until I started hosting her site.

Now, whether you can get meaningful statistics out of using Site Meter is another matter, and one that Sean brought up in his email. So there you go.

Monday, April 15, 2002

It's not death, so it must be taxes

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street,
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.

Don't ask me what I want it for
If you don't want to pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

George Harrison, “Taxman” from Revolver, 1966
The Beatles

Yes, it's that time of year again in the United States, when millions of people spend today filling out variations on the 1040 form as required by the IRS.

Years ago I used to have it done by H&R Block but that changed around '97 or '98 when one of the accountants at the company I worked at did my taxes for me. “Sean,” she said to me, “do you mean to tell me that you've never deducted your mortgage interest payments?” I think she felt sorry for me so we went over my taxes.

The following year (since I wasn't working there anymore) I did them by hand. The dreaded 1040, with schedules.

It's not all that bad, just very tedious and some years, quite confusing (one year, to continue filling out the 1040, you needed the result from Schedule D. Unfortunately, the way Schedule D (Capital Gains and Losses) was written, you needed to finish the 1040. Oops) but over all, I find it more tedious than confusing.

And like most Americans, I tend to procrastinate the filling out of the dreaded 1040. Like this year (I just now finished. Sigh). This year is not that bad—only 1040 and Schedules A (Itemized Deductions) and B (Interest and Ordinary Dividends). There have been years that I've had to fill out Schedules A-D (Schedule C is Profit or Loss From Business—freelancers get hit with this) plus Schedule SE (Self Employment Tax—where you get to pay 7.5% for Social Security as an employee, and an additional 7.5% for Social Security as an employer). So I'm filling out this year's taxes when I have to calculate Schedule A and I see “Medical and Dental Expenses.”

Ooooh! Ooooh! I had medical expenses! Emergency room and everything! So I spent the next hour looking for receipts. I knew I had them, but ever since the move I don't know where anything is anymore. I found a missing check book, my map of West Palm Beach County and pieces of my 2000 tax return. Digging deeper into some boxes I finally found the receipts only to find out that they didn't exceed a minimum amount.

Grrrrrrr.

But I was able to take off the home mortgage interest and property taxes for a nice tidy sum to take off my gross income, which certainly helped things. All in all, I over paid my taxes so I do get a refund which is very nice (there were years I owed taxes. That's not fun).


Move over Ozzy and Harriette, it's time for Ozzy and and Sharon

MTV shacked up with the Osbournes for six months, with the now-familiar intention of capturing the experiences of “real people” in their natural habitat. The table-turning difference here is that the Osbournes are not the tedious “real people” of the televised variety. They—or their paterfamilias, anyway—are already famous. And if the series makes one thing abundantly clear, it's that after 30 years, being famous is a job like any other—a job that requires dressing up in “Moulin Rouge” drag and fellating a banana, but a job nonetheless. (And one with its own pitfalls. “Darling,” Ozzy patiently explains to Kelly when she complains about his failing hearing, “you have not been standing in front of a billion decibels for 30 years. Just write me a note.”)

… When English neighbors keep the Osbournes up at all hours playing techno music and singing “My Girl” with acoustic guitar accompaniment, Ozzy finds himself thinking longingly of his old neighbor, Pat Boone. Sharon misses him, too. “He was just the best person ever to live next door to. You don't realize it until you get the neighbor from hell.”

Via Robot Wisdom, Herman Numster, rock god

No wonder this show is popular. How often do you get such a disconnect between a bat head biting rock star and a father telling his daughter not to consume drugs, and they're the same person? Or that he preferred Pat Boone as a neighbor? (they must have had a good relationship—what else explains Pat's Heavy Metal album?)


“Don't bother calling us; we're the Phone Company.”

I'm finally cancelling the phone server to Condo Conner. It's easy enough—you call up The Phone Company and cancel the account, yada yada. Only I don't have the phone number to call.

It's printed on nearly every page of the phone bill, but I don't have a phone bill currently to look at. No problem. I'm sitting here, in front of a computer currently hooked to the Internet. I'll just go to BellSouth (and it's an easy URL to remember: bellsouth.com).

Ah look! There it is!

Now, find a phone number you can call. Go ahead. Try. Their search page is oh so helpful. They're the phone company—expecting them to have, say, oh, a phone number on their site is asking too much I suppose.

Guess I have to see if we have any phone books in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.


Mindless link propagation of wacked conspiracy theories involving JFK, Elvis and Nixon.

At long last the truth behind the greatest criminal conspiracy of the twentieth century (and there's been a lot of them, folks) can be told. A shocking and scandalous exposé of KGB machinations, Cold War Mata Haries, hunka hunka burning hate, adulterous hanky-panky, and the events of that tragic day in Dallas.

ELVIS KILLED KENNEDY

You know, this could explain why Nixon met with Elvis. The cover story of Elvis wanting to be federal agent in the War on Drugs is a bit thin, considering Elvis died of a drug overdose (that is, if you believe that story … ).

Interesting indeed …

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Through passages darkly

I came across serveral sites that document abandoned places in the United States—mostly industrial locations or institutions no longer used or long forgotten by previous owners, and the brave (or foolhardy) souls that now examine and document such places.

It brought me back many years to FAU, which has an interesting history—it used to be an airport back in the sixties (in the image linked to, the old runway system is in blue (which are now used as a main road and parking lots—one rather loooooong parking lot) and the current Boca Raton Commercial Airport (which is an active airport) is in green). In the 60s it was converted to a graduate level university and in 1984, it opened up to undergraduates. I started there in 1987 (and thus utterly dating myself, but this is good, as the Statues of Limitations have now run out) and several years into my tenured undergrad career, some friends and I went spelunking into the FAU Tunnel System.

Now, this being Florida you would think that being only a few feet above sea level there wouldn't be a tunnel system, but lo, there was. Next to the Biology building was a set of stairs leading down to some double doors, with just enough of a gap to let a large screw driver in to pop the door open. So one night, about four or five of us grabbed some flashlights, a large screw driver, and proceeded to decend into the depths of FAU.

The tunnel system connects all the buildings on campus (or at least we theorized—we didn't actually explore the entire system). We entered near the Biology building (the red dot on the linked map) and proceeded south (down, like on all maps). Along the tunnels were large water pipes (about half of which were hot to the touch) and smaller ones carrying electric, phone and network connections. When we came to the first T-interection, we turned left (east) which would lead us to the Administration building. Halfway down the tunnel we came across some large disks set in the floor, with some pipes sticking straight out. We were pretty sure they were presure plates connected to pumps, should the tunnel system flood. We carefully avoided stepping on the disks but three quarters the way down one of us stumbled and triggered one of the pumps, which cause a rather large ruckess. We turned, and admist shouts of “Run away! Run away!” fled back down towards the main north/south tunnel.

We turned south again, and kept heading south, past the other left tunnel towards Administration (we wanted to avoid the plates). We found evidance of prior spelunkers in the graffiti lining the walls (one definitely dated to 1976). The going was not that bad until we hit the southern junction, which proved quite difficult to navigate as we had to climb over and under some large pipes. We ended up heading to the left (west) towards the University Center.

Now, at the time we weren't all that sure where we were so at the next manhole cover we found (above us) we stole a peek. On the map, the lavender dot shows where we popped up and at the time, we could see the on-campus Police Station. Not good. We ducked down and got the manhole cover mostly back into place and we kept heading west.

As we progressed towards the University Center it was clear that we were hitting one of the oldest sections of the tunnel system—it was getting dirtier and smaller so that by the time we reached the end we were all doubled over and nearly dying from the heat.

We turned back east, climbed over and under at the intersection and kept going east and ended up inside the electrical room of the Humanities Building. Not much left at that end of the tunnel system we headed back, bypassed the entrance near the Biology building and again headed east towards the Computer Science and Engineering building (where we all hung out, being Computer Science majors). We could tell this was recent construction by the large size and relatively cleanliness of this part of the system. There was some debate about contining on towards the end of this particular section but since we had already spend several hours down in the tunnels it was decided that we should exit the system, head home and get some rest.


“X” marks the spot

One other thing about FAU being an old airport—when ever a runway is decommissioned, large Xs are painted on the runway to signify a no longer used runway.

This part of the runway is now a parking lot (albeit a long narrow parking lot). I would tend to drive out to one of the large Xs and park my car on it. Silly perhaps, but hey, why not?

Friday, April 19, 2002

Finally, I hear back

After fifteen (15) days, I finally hear back from MachFind about their job postiion for a member of their Creative Team of Experts.

I have to reply with details about my past experience in “Online Marketing/Business” as well as any “CREATIVE WORK” that may be relevent to their business (which now seems to be returning no results for any search term save for sex, and even then, only one (1) result, which doesn't work). Now, the “CREATIVE WORK” aspect is easy—I've written a couple of meta search engines in my time and made some some extentions to the current Robots Exclusion Protocol.

But marketing?

“I don't have any experience with marketing,” I said to Spring. “What do I tell these guys, that I wasn't allowed to talk to customers?”

“That's called focus feedback,” she said. “Because you are focusing who is doing the feedback and it's not going to be you.”

”Oh.”

Okay, so there's that. And, seeing how Google loves my site (heck, for a day or so, I was the number one result for “MachFind,” but no longer alas) I can probably help them with their <META> tags for better placement there. So I think I can muddle through this, but I'm going to take my time with my reply.

After all, they took fifteen days. I can probably take a day or two.

Saturday, April 20, 2002

A sales lead

I met with a handy man today to go over Condo Conner and get an estimate of what he'll charge to fix the numerous things that need fixing before I can consider selling the place. As we were going through the place, we heard a voice call out. It took us several moments to pin point the voice, which was coming from just outside the porch.

A couple had wandered up and were looking for the owner of the condo. I walked up and introduced myself. They asked if I had placed the condo up for sale yet.

“No, not yet,” I said. “I'm still in the process of getting everything out,” I said, motioning to some of the items still left, “and getting it into a saleable condition before putting it on the market.”

“Oh, so you are selling it?” said the wife.

“Yes.”

“Because a friend of ours that also lives here is interested in buying it.”

“Really?”

“Yes, and he'll be willing to buy it as is and fix it up himself.”

Woo hoo! I thought. Yes! This will be over soon!

“So, can we have your phone number so we can give it to our friend?”

“Um … ” I still don't know the new phone number for The Facility in the Middle of Nowhere. “I don't know the new phone number yet. Do you have email?”

“Yes.”

Woo hoo! “Okay,” I said. “Here's my email address … ”


A sales lead, part II

Got an email from the neighbors with the sales lead for Condo Conner. Woo hoo! Send a reply back to them with the phone number to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere. Hopefully I'll get a call soon.

Now this is interesting

When I came across RFC-2782, which proposes some extentions to DNS I said the heck with it and added the experimental records to my zone files for conman.org.

The idea itself is interesting. For instance, the MX record allows one to specify several hosts in a priority scheme that can handle SMTP traffic on TCP port 25. The experiemental records proposed in RFC-2782, SRV extends that to any service on any port. So for instance, the setup I have for my own domain using MX records:


conman.org.	IN	MX	10 tower.conman.org.
		IN	MX	20 ophelia.kill9.org.

Can also be specified using the SRV records as:


_smtp._tcp.conman.org.	IN	SRV	10 0 25 tower.conman.org.
			IN	SRV	20 0 25 ophelia.kill9.org.

The first field is a priority field that works the same was as the MX priority field. The second field is a weight field, which allows one to choose the order among hosts at the same priority level. The third field is I think the most interesting one—the port number. The MX record always defaults to TCP port 25, but with the SRV record type, you can specify other ports! And any service can be specified. So you could do something like:


_http._tcp.example.com.	IN	SRV	10 1 80   www1.example.com.
			IN	SRV	10 1 80   www2.example.com.
			IN	SRV	10 1 80   www3.example.com.
			IN	SRV	10 1 80   www4.example.com.
			IN	SRV	10 2 80   www5.example.com.
			IN	SRV	10 2 80   www6.example.com.
			IN	SRV	20 1 8080 backup1.example.com.
			IN	SRV	20 1 8080 backup2.example.com.
			IN	SRV	30 1 8008 backup3.example.com.
			IN	SRV	30 1 1234 backup4.example.com.

So that you can spread the load around to several webservers (of which www5 and www6 are not to be hit as hard), and if none of the default ones are running, hit the backup servers where the webserver is running on a non-standard port.

Of course software that makes DNS quiries has to be rewritten to take advantage of this, so it will be some time before this is in common use.

Now, the real interesting part is the company that is actively using this—Microsoft!

Spring and I were visiting Russ, a friend who runs a web hosting company out of his house and uses mostly Microsoft servers. He was complaining about running DNS under Windows 2000 as it uses all these wierd records. When he started describing them I knew exactly what records he was talking about and I think Microsoft is using them as a form of resource discovery.

And as I found out later, Kerberos authentication services use SRV records as well.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

A lesson to the RIAA

(“Sell-through” refers to the percentage of copies shipped which are actually sold, as opposed to being returned to the publisher.)

As of today, according to Baen Books—a year and a half after being available for free online to anyone who wants it, no restrictions and no questions asked—Mother of Demons has sold about 18,500 copies and now has a sell-through of 65%.

I would like someone to explain to me how almost doubling the sales and improving the sell-through by 11% has caused me, as an author, any harm?

Via RobotWisdom, Free the Books!

Good, solid evidance that making a book (or perhaps, by extention, a song perhaps? hint hint) available freely, in electronic format, does not hurt sales and may actually increase sales. It still is easier to read a hard copy-dead tree version of a book in the bathroom (aka “reading room”) and not everyone likes reading for extended periods of time on the computer (me? I'm used to it).


Technically, it's easy. Socialpolitically it's not quite so.

Rob and I had a discussion about the implementation of a mail feature at The Company (where he works). There was a suggestion made for a feature where customers can specify the size limit of email they receive. He felt that adding such a feature would stress the system even more but upon hearing how the email system is set up, felt that adding such a feature is only a few lines of code, if you put it in the right place.

Admid technical discussion (“The program already makes a database call, so adding one field to the SELECT statement for the maximum size of the email is easy, and it's a one line call to get the size of the email, and another line to do the comparrison …” “Yea, but how much overhead will that add? There are thousands of emails per hour.” “You are already making a database query so adding one more field isn't that much, and the two or three lines of code overhead to check the size of the email and making the comparrison is still small.” “You expect the development department to get it right … ”) it came out that overall, most (if not all) customers don't want to specify the size limit of individual emails.

Rob then went on to describe how one customer tried to send herself a two gigabyte file from work to home because she needed to work on this very important project. Never mind that she was on a 56Kbps dialup and it would take … days! … to download the message, she was livid that The Company would delete her email! How dare they!

And then there was the customer that ended up with a mailbox filled to 80 gigabytes! And how dare The Company for deleting that email! (“Sir, it would be faster for you to come here, hand over a few large harddrives for us to copy your email to,” I joked to Rob. “We don't have 80 gigabytes to store his email on,” said Rob.)

So in the light that most, if not all, customers wouldn't date limit the size of their email, then yes, I can see how it would not be cost effective for The Company to implement said feature. They get enough complaints about email already—they don't need people calling up and bitching that they're not getting their email because The Company is purposely limiting it.


Breaking the sound barrier

Rob noticed Spodie, Spring's cat (and our owner), sleeping in a little (if ever) used bathroom sink.

“Spodie sleeps in the sink?”

“Yes,” I said. “I've seem him do it quite often.”

“What would happen if I turned on the water?”

“Then you would see a cat breaking the sound barrier.”

“So it's best not to be in his way then?”

“Yea.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Requiem

Now playing: Mozart's “Requiem”

It seems a bit silly and I don't really know how to approach this, but Major Shortwave Beadhead died this morning at approximately 4:00 am.

Around a quarter to four this morning I went downstairs to find Spring cuddling one very sick looking hamster. Normally, Major Shortwave Beadhead doesn't like being held at all and will squirt out of your hands at the first chance he (she? We don't really know) gets. But not this morning.

He was having trouble breathing and would occasionally move his head in such a way as to give the impression of a cough. Whatever he came down with hit him rather suddenly. I closed the air conditioning vent, thinking that maybe he was going into hibernation mode but Spring said his breathing was spradic and watery sounding.

I broke out the phone book and found a vet with a 24-hour emergency room. Spring called and found that while we could come in, it would cost $70 for the visit, and that they really don't treat hamsters at all. Spring was asked how old Major Shortwave Beadhead was and well, to tell the truth, we don't know. Hamsters only live two, maybe three years and he might simply be dying of old age.

I then took the phone and called some more vets and I found out is that there really is only one emergency pet hospital room that most vets refer to after business hours. So there wasn't much we could do for poor Major Shortwave Bedhead.

A few minutes passed and it became apparent that Major Shortwave Beadhead had slipped this mortal coil and was now sleeping the infinite sleep.

Spring put him back in his cage, and this morning buried him in the garden. Even though he didn't like humans much (he had a much better rappaport with Spodie the cat) he will be missed.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Keeping silent about the tigers

It's nice to know that I don't have to disclose the two tigers stalking around my condo.

“… about those tigers … ”

Just after I wrote about not having to disclosing tigers I get a call from my potential sales lead.

That's the good news. The bad news? He's now in New York and won't be back until November. Worse? He left the day after I got the lead!

Sigh.

He is still interested though, so I told him I'd take pictures of the place and send them. He already knows the area …

Obligatory Picture

[Don't hate me for my sock monkey headphones.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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