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.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Melancholy molasses coasting beneath the eye of God

I've been in a rather off mood lately. Not exactly depressed, but not really wanting to do anything either. Just existing really.

I came across a picture of Earth as taken at night and it has me both in awe and depressed at the same time. Awe at the level of civilization we've achieved. Here we are! A thousand points of light spread across the face of the earth as we've changed the long dark night into day (or at least twilight). And yet, depressed, for the very same reason. No longer can we see the thousand points of light spreading across the sky. The stars have fallen among us (and according to NORAD, tons of space debris are now poised to rain down upon us as well) such that just by light alone, you can make out the continents upon which we live. I'm also sad that stellar objects like the Hourglass Nebula may no longer be visible from the ground (and when I first saw the high resolution image of that, I immediately thought of Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven's Mote in God's Eye).

I think though, that I've finally snapped out of whatever mood I've been in. And you've been warned—I've got quite a bit of backlog of entries to write, and some of them are quite technical in nature.


TCP Half-close mode and how it affects webserving

Over the past few days, Mark and I have been going over partial closures of a TCP connection, since under certain circumstances, you have to do that if you are writing a webserver, such as the one Mark is writing.


   When a client or server wishes to time-out it SHOULD issue a graceful
   close on the transport connection. Clients and servers SHOULD both
   constantly watch for the other side of the transport close, and
   respond to it as appropriate. If a client or server does not detect
   the other side's close promptly it could cause unnecessary resource
   drain on the network.

§ 8.1.4 of RFC-2616

So far so good. But …


/*
 * More machine-dependent networking gooo... on some systems,
 * you've got to be *really* sure that all the packets are acknowledged
 * before closing the connection, since the client will not be able
 * to see the last response if their TCP buffer is flushed by a RST
 * packet from us, which is what the server's TCP stack will send
 * if it receives any request data after closing the connection.
 *
 * In an ideal world, this function would be accomplished by simply
 * setting the socket option SO_LINGER and handling it within the
 * server's TCP stack while the process continues on to the next request.
 * Unfortunately, it seems that most (if not all) operating systems
 * block the server process on close() when SO_LINGER is used.
 * For those that don't, see USE_SO_LINGER below.  For the rest,
 * we have created a home-brew lingering_close.
 *
 * Many operating systems tend to block, puke, or otherwise mishandle
 * calls to shutdown only half of the connection.  You should define
 * NO_LINGCLOSE in ap_config.h if such is the case for your system.
 */

Comment from http_main.c in the Apache source code.

And then …

Some users have observed no FIN_WAIT_2 problems with Apache 1.1.x, but with 1.2b enough connections build up in the FIN_WAIT_2 state to crash their server. The most likely source for additional FIN_WAIT_2 states is a function called lingering_close() which was added between 1.1 and 1.2. This function is necessary for the proper handling of persistent connections and any request which includes content in the message body (e.g., PUTs and POSTs). What it does is read any data sent by the client for a certain time after the server closes the connection. The exact reasons for doing this are somewhat complicated, but involve what happens if the client is making a request at the same time the server sends a response and closes the connection. Without lingering, the client might be forced to reset its TCP input buffer before it has a chance to read the server's response, and thus understand why the connection has closed. See the appendix for more details.

The code in lingering_close() appears to cause problems for a number of factors, including the change in traffic patterns that it causes. The code has been thoroughly reviewed and we are not aware of any bugs in it. It is possible that there is some problem in the BSD TCP stack, aside from the lack of a timeout for the FIN_WAIT_2 state, exposed by the lingering_close code that causes the observed problems.

Connections in FIN_WAIT_2 and Apache

And the whole purpose of lingering_close() is to handle TCP half-closes when you can't use the SO_LINGER option when creating the socket!

So Mark and I go back and forth a few times and I finally send Mark the following:

Okay, looking over Stevens (UNIX Network Programming [1990], TCP/IP Illustrated Volume 1 [1994], TCP/IP Illustrated Volume 2 [1995]) and the Apache source code, here's what is going on.

The TCP/IP stack itself (under UNIX, this happens in the kernel) is responsible for sending out the various packet types of SYN, ACK, FIN, RST, etc. in response to what is done in user code. Ideally, for the server code, you would do (using the Berkeley sockets API since that's all the reference I have right now, and ignoring errors, which would only cloud the issue at hand):

memset(&sin,0,sizeof(sin));
sin.sin_family      = AF_INET;
sin.sin_addr.s_addr = INADDR_ANY;       
sin.sin_port        = htons(port);      /* usually 80 for HTTP */

mastersock = socket(AF_INET,SOCK_STREAM,0);
one        = 1;
setsockopt(mastersock,SOL_SOCKET,SO_REUSEADDR,&one,sizeof(one));
bind(mastersock,(struct sockaddr *)&sin,sizeof(sin))

while(...)
{
  struct linger lingeropt;
  size_t        length;
  int           sock;
  int           opt;

  listen(mastersock,5);
        
  length = sizeof(sin);
  sock   = accept(sock,(struct sockaddr *)&sin,&length);

  opt                = 1;
  lingeropt.l_onoff  = 1;
  lingeropt.l_linger = SOME_TIME_OUT_IN_SECS;

  setsockopt(sock,IPPROTO_TCP,TCP_NODELAY,&opt,sizeof(opt));
  setsockopt(sock,SOL_SOCKET,SO_LINGER,&li,sizeof(struct linger));

  /*---------------------------------------------------
  ; assuming HTTP/1.1, keep handling requests until
  ; a non-200 response it required, or the client
  ; sends a Connection: close or closes its side of the
  ; connection.  When that happens, we can just close
  ; our side and everything is taken care of.
  ;----------------------------------------------------*/
	
  close(sock);
}

There are two problems with this though that Apache attempts to deal with; 1) close() blocks if SO_LINGER is specified (not all TCP/IP stacks do this, just most it seems) and 2) TCP/IP stacks that have no timeout value in the FIN_WAIT_2 state (which means sockets may be consumed if the FIN_WAIT_2 states don't clear).

Apache handles #2 by:

if ( TCP/IP stack has no timeout in FIN_WAIT_2 state) 
     && ( client is a known client that can't handle persistent
                  connections properly)
then
	downgrade to HTTP/1.0.
end

(Apache will also downgrade to HTTP/1.0 for other browsers because they can't handle persistent connections properly anyway, and Apache will prevent them from crashing themselves, but I'm digressing here … )

Now, Apache handles #1 by rolling its own lingering close in userspace by writing any data it needs to the client, calling shutdown(sock,SHUT_WR), setting timeouts (alarm(), timeout struct in select(), etc) and reading any pending data from the client before issuing the close() (and it never calls setsockopt(SO_LINGER) in this case). The reason Apache does this is because it needs to continue processing after the close() and having close() block will affect the response time of Apache—that, and it seems some TCP/IP stacks can't handle SO_LINGER anyway and may crash (or seriously affect the throughput).

So, if you don't mind close() blocking (on a socket with SO_LINGER) and the TCP/IP stack won't puke or mishandle the socket, then the best bet would be to use SO_LINGER. Otherwise, you will have to do what Apache does and do something like:

write(sock,pendingdata,sizeof(pendingdata));
shutdown(sock,SHUT_WR);
alarm(SOME_TIME_OUT_IN_SECS);
        
FD_ZERO(&fdlist);

do
{
  FD_SET(sock,&fdlist);
  tv.tv_sec  = SOME_SMALLER_TIME_OUT_IN_SECS;
  tv.tv_usec = 0;
  rc         = select(FD_SETSIZE,&fdlist,NULL,NULL,&tv);
} while ((rc > 0) && (read(sock,dummybuf,sizeof(dummybuf)) > 0));

close(sock);
alarm(0);

(Apache has SOME_TIME_OUT_IN_SECS equal to 30 and SOME_SMALLER_TIME_OUT_IN_SECS as 2).

And in going over the Apache code more carefully, it does seem that Apache will use its own version of a lingering close for Linux. Heck, I can't see an OS that Apache supports that it actively uses SO_LINGER (and I'm checking the latest version of 1.3).

I'm not sure how you want to handle this, since the shutdown() call can close down either the read half, the write half (which is what the webserver needs to do in the case above) or both halves. The code you have for HttpdSocket::Shutdown() should probably do somethine close to what I have above if you aren't using SO_LINGER, and if you are using SO_LINGER, then all it has to do is call close().

That seems to have cleared up most of the misunderstandings we've been having and now we're down to figuring out some minor details, as the architecture Mark has chosen for his webserver make the possible blocking on close() not that much of an issue and that more modern TCP/IP stacks probably implement SO_LINGER correctly (or at least to the degree that it doesn't puke or mishandle the option).


Indexing weblogs

I see that Nick Denton is launching a new venture that seems to be centered around marketing and weblog indexing; specifically, thoughts about weblog indexing.

I've talked about this a bit, but if a dedicated search engine wants to successfully scan a weblog there are a few ways to go about it.

One, grab the RSS file for the weblog and index the links from that. That will allow you to populate the search engine with the permanent links for the entries. Another thing it will allow you to do is properly index the appropriate entries. Google does a good job of indexing pages, but a rather poor one of indexing individual entries of a weblog, since it generally views pages as one entity and not as a possible collection of entities. So that if I mention say, “hot dogs” on the first of the month, “wet papertowels” on the fifteenth and “ugly gargoyles at Notre Dame” on the last day of the month, someone looking for “hot wet gargoyles” at Google is going to find the page that archives that month.

Which is probably not what I, nor the searcher in question, want.

Well, unless I'm looking for disturbing search request material, but I digress.

Even if the permanent links point to a portion of a page, the link would be something like

http://www.example.net/200204-index.html#31415926

Which points to a part of the page at

http://www.example.net/200204-index.html

And somewhere on that page is an anchor tag with the ID of “31415926” which is most likely at the top of the entry in question. From there you index until you hit the next named anchor tag that matches another entry in the RSS file.

And if you hit a site like mine, the RSS file will have links that bring up individual pages for each entry.

Now, you might still have to contend with a weblog that doesn't have an Rich Site Summary file, but then, you could just fall back to indexing between named anchor points anyway and use heuristics to figure out what may be the permanent links to index under.

I'm sure that people looking for “hot wet gargoyles” will thank you.


And finally, I reply back

And after twelve days, I finally reply back to MachFind's response to my initial query on becoming a member of their Creative Team of Experts.

I hope I gave them what they wanted.


A clarification on an interesting point

A friend of mine wrote in, having read what I wrote about DNS and asked for some clarifications. And yes, rereading what I wrote, I should probably pass on what I wrote back.

 

If someone typed this into their web browser:

http://www.example.com

… would they be redirected to:

http://www1.example.com:8080

????

I've never seen this work so I'm curious if that's how this is resolved by the nameserver.

It doesn't quite work that way. Normally, given a URL

http://www.example.com/

a browser would extract out the host portion, and do a DNS A record lookup:

ip = dns_resolve(host,A_RR);

and if a port wasn't specified, use port 80 as a default:

connection = net_connection(ip,TCP,80);

Using the SRV record (which, to my knowledge, isn't used by any web browser that I know of currently), the code would look something like (for now, ignoring the priority codes and multiple servers issues):


srvinfo    = dns_resolve("_http._tcp" + host,SRV_RR);
ip         = dns_resolve(srvinfo.host,A_RR);
connection = net_connection(ip,TCP,servinfo.port);

	

It's handled completely at the DNS level and no HTTP redirect is sent at all. Unfortuately, nothing much (except for some Microsoft products, and Kerberos installations oddly enough) use the SRV records, which means …

PS: I have 2 never-used-domains (XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX) that I'd like to point to my home unix box. Unfortunately, XXXXXXXX blocks all port 80 traffic … I'm on the hunt for a free dynamic DNS provider that will handle port forwarding or give me the ability to edit the DNS records manually … with the end result being that I want all traffic for these two domains to reach my home machine.

You can't use them for this. Sorry.

You can add the records if you want (I have) but don't expect anything to use them anytime soon.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

The One Pounce Rule

I knew I was in trouble the moment my feet left the earth.

I was close. So very close to catching him. I had rounded the corner of the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere in persuit when something happened; the ground dropped out from beneath me, my foot forgot to hit the ground and started flying, something happened and I found my self bereft of ground support.

Things got worse when my face bounced off the ground. Normally people see stars when such a thing happens, but oddly enough, it looked more like lightening before things went black.

Fortunately, I did not go unconscious.


“Oh honey!” said Spring. “What happened? Did you get run over?”

My glasses didn't fit quite right on my face. My eyebrow was bleeding. I had dirt up my nose and down my mouth. My normally khaki pants were well on their way to being black. “No,” I said. “Spodie is outside.” Mr. Spodie O'Dodie being her cat who had slipped his bonds of the outside court yard and was free on the other side of the wall.

“Oh dear,” said Spring. She came over to hug me, dirt and all. “What did you do?”

“I found Spodie outside and I tried catching him. Bastard took off and I was chasing him around the building.”

“You've never lived with cats before. I can tell.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Have you heard of the One Pounce Rule?” she said.

One Pounce Rule?

“Yes. If on the first pounce you don't catch the cat, you might as well give up chasing it.”

One Pounce Rule.

“Yes.”

“Now I know.”

Fortunately, my glasses are metal, not plastic and that's probably the only thing that kept them from breaking entirely. I was able to work them more or less back into shape and they seem fine.

Friday, May 03, 2002

Grouch

He didn't show up.

I finally picked and hired a handyman to fix and repair the little things that needed attention in Condo Conner—stuff like replacing missing toilet paper holders, patch small holes, caulking, rehanging the ceiling fan.

Oh, and one rather large hole in the ceiling when the internal A/C was replaced.

Just lots of little things I'd probably never get around to, nor do I have the tools to do a good job.

So I arrive at Condo Conner at 10:00 am, which for me is early.

Darned early. Like 3:00 am for anyone else early.

And he doesn't show.

After an hour I leave.

He better have a darned good excuse for not showing up. For I am quick to anger when tired.

Grrrrrrrrrrr …


“Break out them scisors, Martha … ”

Via Spring comes your harddrive!

Well, only if you are using Microsoft IE. It doesn't seem to work under Netscape or Mozilla.

But really, it's an old old scam. Heck, I did something similar years ago at FAU when I started playing around with the web. If you're a Windows user, here's a copy of your machine's configuration. For you Unix people, how about I snag your password file. Sorry Mac people, I don't have access to a Mac to know where to grab vital system information so for now you're safe.

At least from me.

Actually, I don't have copies of your files. Those are your copies. Honest. It's just that I instructed your browser to pull up the file from your computer. I don't have a copy.

Now, this came about because of the scare tactics that Evidence Eliminator are using to drum up sales from gullible people (“gullible,” by the way, doesn't appear in the dictionary).

Ha ha.

Sorry about that.

Anyway, they have a page, http://www.evidence-eliminator.com/go.shtml, which they use to scare gullible people with. Reload it a few times. It is rather amusing. And the information they have on you is information that any site has on you. I have on you.

Better break out those scissors and cut the network connection.

Sheesh.


The Little Boy Who Stuck His Finger Into The Electrical Outlet

One day his rabbit “Stuffy” chewed through the lamp cord in the living room and was immediately electrocuted. This, naturally, made the little boy curious about electricity. He asked his parents to explain and they got out the book and told him all about it. They also told him how dangerous it could be and never to touch the outlets.

Via Spring, The Little Boy Who Stuck His Finger Into The Electrical Outlet

A charming little story about a boy who learned the hard way not to play with electricity.

It also seems that Spring is enamored (spelled that way because I'm an American—otherwise there'd be an extra “u” in there somewhere) with the site.


Uhg … sushi for breakfast

Spring signed up with PublixDirect, a service of Publix (which is a chain of supermarkets in Florida and Georgia) whereby you select the groceries you want from the website, pay by credit card and Publix will then deliver the groceries to your doorstep.

The site apparently is set up quite nicely—allowing you to select items you normally buy to make a form of pre-canned shopping list. You can then check items off that list, as well as add other items not on the list, and see what items are for sale. According to Spring, it's very smooth and the site works well. You then see a schedule of when they'll be delivering in the area and you can pick one of several listed times.

She set up a delivery for today between 3:00 to 4:00 pm and sure enough, during that hour, the delivery was made, so it seems to work on that end as well.

And Spring is happy because she was able to get sushi delivered and is eating it for breakfast. Breakfast.

Uhg.

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Software from the side of the road

I spent about half an hour or so upgrading the mailing list software I use. Spring has a few issues with it—namely that she can't filter the email that it sends to her. I don't see what the actual problem is, since I do add several headers to each outgoing email (such as “List-Name:” which I added support for sometime in 2000) but her client (Microsoft's Lookout Outlook) can't sort on arbitrary headers. So she's been on my case to fix “that mailing list software I found on the side of the road” as she puts it.

Yes, the software is quite old. In checking I started using it back in 1995 (and even then it was a few years old) with version 1.0.0 (a search I just did revealed that version 1.2.0 was available in September of 1993 but I've yet to actually find a copy of the source code) with a few very minor modifications (that I've made) since.

But by the same token, the software is simple and I think there was only one real bug in the code which I fixed early on (what it was I don't remember—the comments only indicate I fixed something) and I haven't really had any problems since I started using it.

But I went ahead and played with it today. I added some code to add a tag to the subject line for easy filtering, which should make Spring (and some other users) happy.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Slow motion wreck

75% of all car accidents happen within five miles of home.

And 95% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

It depends upon what your definition of home is.

Considering I have yet to sell Condo Conner, I guess technically it could still be considered home.

And I was less than 100 yards away.

As you drive along 35th Street to Condo Conner (it's hardly a street—more like an extended parking lot) there's a section where it opens up and you can continue straight or bear to the right; the street more or less opens up into a parking lot with an island in the middle. I tend to bear right as it's a bit quicker than going around the island to the reserved parking spot for Condo Conner.

Along the right side of this curve are a series of parking spots so you end up driving quite close to the back sides of cars. We just cleared an SUV when Spring screamed. As a passenger she tends to do that when she feels an imminent collision between my car (Lake Lumina) and another object, moving or stationary it doesn't matter. And when she screams in fear of an imminent collision between my car (Lake Lumina) and another object, moving or stationary it doesn't matter, I immediately slam on the breaks to stop the car and spend the next minute or so wondering what Spring is screaming about (since obviously I didn't see an immiment collision between my car (Lake Lumina) and another object, moving or stationary it doesn't matter). I'm not blaming Spring for this reaction by the way; I would probably scream too durring an immiment collision between my car (Lake Lumina) and another object, moving or stationary it doesn't matter.

“That car almost backed up into us,” said Spring. I'm looking around trying to figure out what's happening. “Oh no,” she said. “I think he's going to hit us.” I'm still floundering like a beached flounder.

Crunch.

Scream.

Sigh.

The man was still oblivious to a large Chevy Lumina behind him and had continued backing out.

The passenger back door has a large dent. The Accident Investigator issued no citations, as he deemed no one at fault due to the SUV being in both our light of sights.

Sigh.


The Oppressive Condo Commando Regime

Life is funny. Live fourteen years in a home and I barely know any neighbors. Move out, and I keep running into them (quite literally in some cases).

While waiting for the Accident Investigator to show up, two of my ex-neighbors came driving up and asking how I'm doing and what's going on (and one ex-neighbor had already moved out of her condo; what she was doing back there I don't know). And the gentleman I ran into not only knew of me, but had known my Mom and Grandma when they both lived there.

And it turns out he too is sick of the Condo Commandos and if he had the choice, would sell his unit and leave.

When senior citizens start complaining about the Condo Commandos, you just know it's got to be bad.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Grouch update

I finally got in contact with the handyman I hired to fix Condo Conner up. He apologized for missing the appointment for last Friday and ask if I was still interested.

I am.

He said great, when would be a good time. This Friday. And he would even take off a bit of the bill for the inconvience.

Cool.

This time I'll make sure to call him the day before to remind him.


Jonesing for connectivity

Network … out …

Need …
    … net…work

badly

fear …
… uncertainty …

doubt

… jonesing …

gimme network!

NOW!


Sweet nectar of life

Much better.

Network is back up and running.

Aaaaaaaaaaah.

Why no, I'm not addicted.

Why do you ask?


Blatant crass commercial message and a link

Well, Ken (a friend of mine from FAU) was kind enough to send me (via snailmail no less!) his company's newsletter (and when I mean his company, he's part owner of it). So I'll return the favor and point to his company's website where you too, can get small business advice [gee, it takes a network outtage to get us to check snailmail. And no, I'm still not adicted].

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Vans in black, a bank, the State of Virginia and too much imagination

I drove by the bank to hit the ATM and when I parked, I noticed something very strange. In the next row of parking were three vans, two SUVs, a BMW and a utility trailer. In and of itself, that's not so strange. Strange was the fact they were all jet black. Stranger, the licence plates were all from Virginia and scariest of all—the license plates were sequential! They all started with SCSI and ended with a four digit number.

Six vehicles, across class, identical. Jet black. Sequential license plates from Virginia.

I quickly scanned the skies for any black helicopters, and not seeing any, made my way towards the ATM, where I saw yet another black BMW, Virginia license plates, in sequence with the others. I also saw a black Saturn, again from Virginia.

Totally spooked, I quickly made my withdrawl and headed back towards my car. It was then I noticed yet another oddity …

Most of the cars in the parking lot were from Virginia.

Now granted, Florida is a well known tourist destination spot for people from around the United States—heck, I've seen the license plates from every state except Hawaii. But never, in my twenty-two years down here have I seen a parking lot filled with cars from the same state!

Well, a state other than Florida that is.

I got in my car, and peeled out of the parking lot. On the other side of the utility trailer, I saw a name: Specialty Computers And Systems, Inc.

From Virginia.

Cabling? Tech Support?

Yea. Right. I believe you.

This might be bigger than the whole white vans conspiracy …

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Looks like I won't be a part of their team

Amazing. Only seven days to hear back from MachFind about being part of their Creative Team of Experts and I'm afraid it isn't good news for me:

To: “Sean Conner” <sean@conman.org>
Subject: RE: Creative Team of Experts position
Date: Wed, 8 May 2002 09:43:37 -0500

Hello,

Our company is currently in the process of gaining acquisition, and as a result we must be a delay on available positions until the change is complete.

Thanks for your interest.

Mach Find

Ah well. I wish them luck on their gaining acquisition.


An Ad-Hoc Trip to Xanadu

As I've said before, all the innovation on the web is happening at the edge. The latest to come from The Edge? Linkbacks.

It's not even a new idea really. Since about 1994 nearly every webbrowser (and certainly all webbrowsers that I know of today) sends a refering link along with the webpage request. You click on the link above, and your browser, in addition to telling the server at www.disenchanted.com that it wants the page /dis/linkback.html it will tell it that it got the link from http://boston.conman.org/2002/5/8.1 (well, most likely from http://boston.conman.org/ until this entry scolls off the front page but that's beside the point) and I've come across sites that use such refering links to generate links back to the previous page.

But what Disenchanted is doing is taking these refering links and linking back to them on the page being linked to in real time (well, subject to certain conditions so it's near real time) and making the those visible on the linked to page. So now that I linked to http://www.disenchanted.com/dis/linkback.html there will be (as soon as two or more people visit that page through this page) a link on that page to this page.

What all these links back and forth will do is hard to say, especially to something like Google. One effect may be a smoothing out of Google bombing. No hard reasons for that; just a gut feeling. Another effect may be to change the shape of the web if enough sites start linking back (although this might take a few years as the technology catches on). There might be effects we can't even predict (who would have predicted the web would look like a bowtie when it first started?).

And while some may question what Disenchanted is doing, I think it's great; I'm approaching Xanadu from the tumblers aspect while Disenchanted is going about it from the two-way linking aspect (although Ted Nelson might not agree with our approaches). That still leaves the problem of transclusion to solve.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Visualizing search results

Ken sent me this link to the Kart00 Metasearch engine. It uses Flash to an almost pathological extreme, but you can choose the HTML interface (and be careful—once you choose, there doesn't seem to be a way to change short of removing any cookies you have for their domain).

It is an interesting concept and I think I know what they're doing. When you do a search (and yes, the Flash interface is nicer; the HTML interface crashed Mozilla 0.9.9 in an endless series of message boxes) the result is a graph of the results. The size of a node (search result) is apparently directly proportional to the relevance of the search, and the connections between the nodes (the edges) are similar terms between the two pages.

For instance, I did a search for “sean spc conner” and the two largest results (one for www.classiccmp.org and www.conman.org) are linked by the terms “captain” and “napalm” (wonder why?). You can also remove terms from a list on the side.

All in all, it is an interesting view into search results and the ability to remove terms is quite nice (and can give dramatic changes—for instance, I removed the terms “captain” and “napalm” and the resulting graph was completely different with no one node dominating and the big result from the last search, www.conman.org isolated and not connected to any other node).


More vans in black, a bank, the State of Virginia and still too much imagination

Drove by the bank again today and they're still there, although there were noticably fewer cars from Virginia in the parking lot.

I think they know I'm on to them.

Does that mean they're on to me now?

And to tell you the truth, I haven't seen any unmarked white vans in a while …


Telling time

I've gotten so used to the 24-hour analog clock that normal 12-hour analog clocks look wrong to me. I had thought the clock on my computer was wrong (since I have a window open that displays an analog 12-hour clock for the time) that it took me a several minutes of tinkering to realize that it wasn't six hours behind.

Sigh.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Clue

I'm reading the Cluetrain Manifesto and much like The Dilbert Principle everything in there seems pretty much common sense, which is something that companies seem to lack.

And as I sat there today, in Condo Conner, waiting for the handyman to show up, again and pondering that perhaps, just perhaps, someone else needs a cluetrain.


Clued in

Contact, finally! The handyman finally called, apologized for missing me again. He then said he'll go to Condo Conner on Monday and call me from there and wait for me to show up.

That sounds like a nice change from going there and waiting for him to show up …

Monday, May 13, 2002

Never did like Mondays

I feel like I'm coming down with a cold (how? I work from home). The handyman calls me in the morning telling me that he's going to show up at Condo Conner in another hour so don't go there yet!

Okay.

This is good. I get to sleep some more; hopefully to head off this cold. I promptly go back to sleep and wait for his second call.

The second call comes. I get up, dressed and nearly kill myself going down the stairs. Nothing that massive doses of Morphine and being in traction for six months can't cure.

Show up at Condo Conner to meet the handyman. We go over what he's to do; he knocks off a few bucks for missing the last two appointments and I leave him be for the next few days making repairs.

So now it's home to suck down OJ, vitamins and sleep.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Public Relations

I explained my proposal to Lisa H. Morrice, 44, a PR agent from California: I will write glowingly about her client's pillows if she will tell me something really humiliating about herself that I will also print.

(A colleague of mine had been skeptical of this gambit: PR folks may be desperate, he reasoned, but they have their dignity.)

Just how glowingly, Lisa wondered.

Very, I said.

“My husband dumped me for a younger woman,” she said.

At this moment, I gave my doubting colleague a cheerful thumbs up.

Via my dog wants to be on the radio, Below the Beltway

I'm still reading the Cluetrain Manifesto and they don't really care for public relations in that book. And I found it very amusing that PR people would stoop so low to get publicity for their clients. At least Alicia Levine (the last PR flack interviewed in the above article) got a standing ovation for her humilitating moment in life.


Do What I Mean

Here's what's going to happen: in a few months, you'll be able to build a blog, or more precisely, a dynamic web site, with content largely selected for you by a search robot that understands what you like, who you like, and where the stuff you like is found. You'll edit a selection of stories found and presented to you by your search robot, and you'll comment if you please on the stuff you decide to include in your own Daily Dish.

Via Microcontent News, Is Instapundit over?

And in unrelated news, in a few months, you'll be able to specify the type of program you want and have it programmed for you by computer, ready to go and bug free.

Of course, researchers are undaunted by 40 years of setbacks in reaching a self-programming computer. “We're very close,” said one researcher who asked to remain unnamed due to concerns of a plot to kill his group by rogue programmers looking to keep their jobs. When asked if said group of rogue programmers have been keeping them from reaching success for the past 40 years, the researcher said no. “It's not that they've kept us from making progress, but that we just can't quite get the computer to do what we mean … ”

In other news, another 40 year project is nearing completion. “Another six months,” said an anonymous programmer with the group, “and we'll finally have a universal, democratic hypertext library that will blow the World Wide Web away.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Is there no synonym?

Spring and I were discussion names for a project I'm working on, looking up terms in a thesaurus when we hit upon a remarkable fact: there is no synonym for ink!

There's ink … and then there's … you know … ink.

Arg!


Feeling Groovy

I'm feeling much better now. I suppose this means I better check up on Condo Conner.

Educational Meltdown

My eyes have seen the glory
of the burning of the school.
We have tortured every teacher,
we have broken every rule;
we plan to hang the principal
this very afternoon.

The school is burning on.

A popular tune in school when I was a student, that now would get me arrested if sung today at school.

I didn't care for school as a kid (nor of college, but that's another story). I knew that the U.S. educational system is bad (when plumbing is more prestigious than teaching, that's bad) but I had no idea that it is currently in meltdown mode.

Let's see, there's a 13 year old facing up to eight years for shooting a spitwad (link via Flutterby). And there's the boy suspended for writing an essay he was assigned (link via Flutterby). Then there's the girl who was suspended for drawing a picture of a teacher with arrows through his head (link via Flutterby, and I shudder to think what would have happened to Hoade with some of the pictures he's drawn).

And least you think I'm cribbing all my links on this subject from Flutterby here are a few from Disenchanted: one about underwear inspections going too far (yes I'm serious—underwear inspections at a public high school) and graduates who can't attend graduation unless they're planning on attending college (or entering the millitary, or continuing on to a trade school).

Inbloodysane.

Friday, May 17, 2002

The Obligatory Episode 2 Post

Unlike in May 1999, when I saw Star Wars: The Phantom Menace three times on opening day (it just worked out that I had a chance to see it three times) I did not see Star Wars: Attack of the Clones on opening day. After the introduction of Jar-Jar Binks, I wasn't about to see the next installment on opening day.

So I (actually, Spring, Rob (who did see it at 12:15 am opening day and went to see it again) and I, so make that a “we”) ended up seeing it the day after.

The dialog sucked. There was very little chemistry between Padmé (Natalie Portman) and Anakin (Hayden Christensen); their love story bogged the movie down. I found watching Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in the rain (what rain!) more exciting than the cold and ham-fisted romance the kids were going through (and that's saying something since Natalie Portman is hot, especially in the white form fitting (ahem) body suit where it was plainly evident the set was a bit chilly). Even the scenery was more lively than their courtship.

Oh! The scenery! It was the scenery of “The Phatom Menace” that kept me there for two additional showings and it's only gotten better. Coruscant (the capital planet of the Republic) is a beautiful planet filled with Gernbackian visions of the future. Naboo, Tatooine, heck, all the planets are beautifully rendered; Industrial Light and Magic (the special effects division of Lucasfilm) could make a killing doing travelogues.

Sometimes, Anakin, I think you'll be the death of me.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, to Anakin Skywalker.

And the action sequences. The chase through Coruscant (with elements from Blade Runner and The Fifth Element that either George Lucas stole or paid homage to) was phenomenal; Jedi Knights are either very brave or very stupid (Obi-Wan Kenobi leaping through a … oh … call it the 200th floor window … to catch an assasin droid, or Anakin Skywalker leaping out of a flying car (“I hate it when he does that,” says Obi-Wan) and falling … oh … call it 2,000 feet … to catch an assasin as she tries to fly get away). Or the sequence where Obi-Wan Kenobi attempts to capture Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) as a maelstrom rages around them (what rain!).

And finally! We get to see True Jedi's in their prime fighting! And not just two or three—scores of Jedi Knights fighting. We get to see Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson“Hand me my lightsabre—it's the one with 'bad motherfucker' written on it.”) fighting! We get to see Yoda get down with his bad self and get dirty in a lightsabre duel that proves why he is the master. And unlike Darth Maul (“The most underutilized character in TPM), the apprentice Sith Lord to Darth Sidious in this film will be around for the next one (woo hoo!).


Darth Vader is the good guy …

STAR WARS RETURNS today with its fifth installment, “Attack of the Clones.” There will be talk of the Force and the Dark Side and the epic morality of George Lucas's series. But the truth is that from the beginning, Lucas confused the good guys with the bad. The deep lesson of Star Wars is that the Empire is good.

It's a difficult leap to make—embracing Darth Vader and the Emperor over the plucky and attractive Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia—but a careful examination of the facts, sorted apart from Lucas's off-the-shelf moral cues, makes a quite convincing case.

Via my dog wants to be on the radio, The Case for The Empire

Given this article, and some scenes from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (one where two Jedi Knights take custody of a small child and leave his enslaved mother because “that's not our job” and another one where said two Jedi Knights gang up on one Sith Lord) that yes, a convincing case could be made that the Empire was an attempt to keep the Republic together.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

“… and you'll still get paid, but you don't have to show up for work.”

Shuttering Ferndale's Intalco plant would save the BPA about $600 million—money the BPA would have spent to buy overpriced energy on the free market in order to honor its contract allotment and price for Intalco. As part of this money-saving deal, BPA offered to pay most Intalco employees not to work for those two years.

Via Flutterby, Remember the Lesbian Prom King?

Two years of pay.

And you don't even have to show up at the plant.

Sign me up.

Continued in the article, the people of Ferndale were worried that the plant would not open again after two years. A valid concern yes, but if I were faced with such a prospect (two years of sitting at home and getting paid to do so) I think I would take the opportunity presented and run with it.

Two years. Possibly start a new business. Or go to the library or local community school and pick up new skills that might serve me if the plant doesn't open again. Or heck, you have two years to find another job. Are people that defined by their jobs?


Perceptions of ownership

Continuing in missing the big picture for the small details is this quote I found in a rather long article (via CamWorld) about beating Microsoft

… its war with Microsoft. AOL (owned by the parent company of this magazine) …

Page two of Beating Bill

Funny, I thought AOL owned Time/Warner, not the other way around. Now, it might be that the reporter is ignorant of who owns who, but I wonder if this isn't the feeling around Time/Warner—they bought AOL and not the other way around.

Or is it that AOL is owned by AOL Time/Warner, which also owns Business 2.0? Or could it be that no one knows who owns who but does it really matter anyway?

I think I'm getting a headache.

Monday, May 20, 2002

What's the point?

Spring and I caught Showgirls on VH1. We watched it anyway, despite my saying “What's the point?”

“Showgirls” isn't that good of a film, and it's not bad enough to actually MST3K it. About the only reason to watch the film is to see lots of gratuitous nudity (Gina Gershon! Nude! Woo hoo!). But it was showing on VH1, not known for being a premium channel like HBO, and seeing how the film itself is rated NC-17 (for nudity and erotic sexuality throughout) then really, what's the point?

Whole scenes were cut out, and when they couldn't cut the scenes with total nudity, they added bikinis (rather badly done ones at that) to hide the fact the cast was nude (it looked more like a marker was applied directly to the film) and of course, they changed dialog, Gosh Darn it.

While watching it, Spring kept asking me, “How could you do this with sock puppets?

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Notes from the passenger seat of a Caddilac

“So wheres we going?” said the driver, a black man in his 50s perhaps, maybe a bit older. It was hard to tell.

“Turn right here. I live on Boca Rio and 8th,” I said. I was curious as to how he would drive the car—his right leg didn't seem to be in any shape for driving.

“You'se going to have to tell me how to get there,” he said, making the turn, left foot switching between break and gas. “I'm from Hollywood.”

“Hollywood? That's some commute.”

“Yes it is,” he said. “I've worked for the owner now for seventeen years. Used to work at the shop in Hollywood. Lived not mo' than five minutes away.” Right leg crammed up against the center hump in the car, left foot managing the pedals.

“Turn left here,” I said.

He did. “I was three of us; me, the owner and his brother.” He leaned over to me. “You'se know about black sheep in the family, right?”

“Yes,” I said, thinking of my own family, with its fair share of gray and black sheep. “Turn right; that's 8th.”

Turn navigated. “It was the brother. Ruined the shop he did.”

“Oh that's horrible.”

“Yup. So the owner, he tells me, ‘Arty,’ he says, ‘Arty, don't worry about nothin'. I got ya covered,’ And so I work for him here.”

“Nice boss,” I said.

“Yup. The other fellers, my manager, they may give me shit, but not the owner. Turn at the light?”

“No, continue straight,” I said.

“But they shouldn't give me shit, I work for the owner! Seventeen years I've worked for him. Ain't never given me shit.” We drove in silence for a few moments. “What's happened to yo car?”

“Battery, alternator, serpentine belt, don't know. It's power everything and the electrical system was acting quite funny. Trying to drive it the car just died on me,” I said. “Turn left here.”

“Shit, that happened to me on the way back from Georgia,” he said. “Wife and I went up to Georgia, and on the way back the car died on us.”

“Turn right here,” I said. “Then left. I'm at the back.”

“In the middle of nowhere and the car done died on me.” He then stopped, pulled a map out and started looking. He then mentioned a place. “Does that mean anything to you?”

“Sorry, can't say I've heard of the place.” He mentions another place. This time it's one of the exits on the Florida Turnpike. “Yes, I've heard of that.”

“That's where the car done died. Right on the Turnpike. Towtruck comes out, drives me half an hour back north, and I have to pay for two damn vehicles!”

“Jesus!”

“Amen!”

“Yea, I lost a car in Georgia a few years ago.”

“No kiddin'?”

“Nope. Transmission seized up tight. Wouldn't even move in neutral.”

“Good Lord. Did you go back for it?”

“Nope. Would have cost two thousand to get it fixed, so I opted to get a used car instead.”

“Shit!”

“Thank you for the ride,” I said. “It was very nice to meet you.”

“You know when you car will be ready?”

“Most likely tomarrow,” I said. “I guess I'll see you then.” I got out of the car.

“Okay. Nice talkin' with you.”

“Thanks again,” I said and closed the door. He drove off.


You know, I should check these things …

It's not that the mechanics I dropped the car off with were bad or anything, but I still had this nagging voice in the back of my head that soemthing was wrong and I should have had the car towed to the dealership.

I check, and lo, what do I find?

That I had not the 36,000 mile/36 month warranty (which would put the car just outside the warranty period), but instead a 60,000 mile/72 month warranty, of which is still in effect.

Boy, am I stupid.

So it's call up the mechanic and good, they haven't started yet, so I can have the car towed to the dealership. The dealership can accept the car and AAA can tow the car, again, no problem, and I don't have to be there since it's from a repair center to a repair center. So I'm set.

Boy, am I stupid.

Or loosing my memory.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

The Return of Lake Lumina

Earlier in the day the dealership called to say my car was ready. I informed them that I needed to be picked up and they said they would call back when a driver was available. I was getting worried when five o'clock was rolling around and they hadn't called back yet. I asked Rob if he would take me if they didn't call by say, a quarter past five.

He agreed, only to have the dealership call almost immediately afterwards for directions to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere. Half an hour later I was sitting in the curtesy van, listening to the driver talk about the lack of quality workmanship in today's world.

Lake Lumina was ready and although it was a bit more than I was expecting (since they did quite a bit of work to bring it back up to spec) the major problem didn't cost me anything since it was still covered by the warranty.


Disney's annexation of Atlantis

I was invited over to JeffK's house (he lives just around the corner from the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere) to watch a movie. Mark, Kelly and ChrisS were there and we all voted for the film we wanted to view; a nearly unanimous vote for the Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

It's a decent film; perhaps not worth seeing in the theater but good enough for rental though. I was a bit surprised at just how violent the film was (for a Disney animation—enough to get a PG). The style of animation is a bit different than your standard Disney animated style—it's more influenced by Japanese animation (anime) than classical Disney style but not so anime as to be distracting; although I did find the mixing of compter and traditional animation to be a bit distracting in some instances (it was better realized in Beaty and the Beast).

We were all disappointed though, in the quality of the DVD—it took us fifteen minutes of fiddling around to get it to play correctly. We didn't know if it was poor quality from being handled so much (as a rental) or just poor quality in manufacturing.

Friday, May 31, 2002

Google The Boston Diaries

Okay, so the search function isn't implemented, or is broken entirely I decided to sigh up for Google's free search engine. Spring signed up for the service and I decided to give it a try.

The hard part was integrating the search field over to the left into the site. Google requires the use of their logo, which I have nothing against but the only background colors they provide are white, grey and black and not the shade of blue I use. Another irksome quirk: while you can brand the output Google expects you to have a banner image to use. I don't. I wish they had the option to specify a text based banner but hey, it's a free service; I shouldn't complain all that much.

Obligatory Picture

[Here I am, enjoying my vacaton in a rain forest.]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site: http://boston.conman.org/, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

http://boston.conman.org/2000/08/01

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

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