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.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Simple amusements III

So, reguardless if you live in the United States or live in Europe today is 03/03/03, as Spring pointed out to me today.

Update

Well, it would have more impact if I actually posted this on the correct day ...

To tell the truth, I had no idea it was the fourth, much less the third ...


Yea … I guess my site is about Florida … kinda …

From: <webmaster@floridacouponsavings.com>
To: Sean <sean@conman.org>
Subject: I have seen your website.
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2003 10:49:18 -0500

I see you have a Florida Related Website. We have some websites that your visitors might find helpful, useful and perhaps can Save them some money. We do offer reciprocal links on these websites please view the Link to us pages.

Some spam from <webmaster@floridacouponsavings.com>

At least this one is marginally targetted towards me, and isn't offering to increase some part of my anatomy or wanting me to participate in extracting millions of dollars from some African nation. Yes, my site is related to Florida in as much that I live in Florida and anything I mention about Florida usually isn't all that positive.

Now, I was sent four links to various Florida coupon sites, and seeing how I'm desperate for any diversions lately, I decided to visit one or two of the sites and see how bad they might be. Typical of such sites:

Florida Dining Coupons FREE. Florida Dining Guide with FREE R (p2 of 4)

Link to Us
Suggested FL Links

[Choose a Florida City]
    Find a Restaurant Here
[LeftTopBlueCorner.gif]

[22.jpg]
[21.jpg]
[24.jpg] [welcome.jpg]

to the web's most comprehensive source for Florida Dining Discounts. You will find Restaurants that represent the absolute best quality and value across the State of Florida.

Select a City Location from the list above …

Florida Dining Coupons FREE.

Oh, did I mention I was using Lynx? Isnt' it lovely? And while I can select a city, there isn't an associated SUBMIT button to send the information. This also fails on Mozilla.

But I suspect it works flawlessly in that other browser, the one made by Microsoft.

Florida Dining Coupons welcomes you to link to us and to submit your site to us to be featured with our other recommended Florida web sites. The only qualification is that your site must be Florida related or be a service that could benefit our members. Submission of your link does not guarantee it will appear on our list of sites. Copy our HTML code.

Florida Dining Coupons: Please Link To Us

The HTML is your typical version 4 browser code with obligatory <FONT> tags with Microsoft specific fonts. But I submitted this entry to the form; let's see how they respond …


Descent into Hell

It was not a good day today.

First, Mark shutdown sendmail on tower because of a small bug that was recently found. The patches to sendmail only cover versions back to 8.9.3.

I was running 8.8.7.

And it's not like it was an easy patch to look at and apply to the version running.

No, that would be too easy.

So I'm looking at either sendmail 8.12.8 or finally installing Postfix, which Mark and Kelly use and swear by. I only stuck with sendmail because I generally dislike changing software if I can avoid doing so (I like when computers run themselves smoothly).

I also don't handle stress that well, and email for me (well, me, Spring, Mark and about half a dozen other people) is critical. A fundamental right. Something that I (and the others mentioned) can't do without. So I needed to get back online. And that's bad enough.

Throw in two kids who were just a tad too loud; I ended up fleeing the area.

In talking it over, Spring decided to take the kids on a few errands, which included getting the dog a dog house since it seems less skittish when outside (the less I talk about the dog, the better). During the time they were away, the dog managed to escape from the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

That's all I needed.

Did I mention that I don't handle stress well?

Much wailing and knashing of teeth later, the dog it back, postfix is running (remember: if you include virtual hosting, make sure the virtual hosting file actually exists) and the kids are (supposedly) asleep.

And to think, it's only been four days.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

“The site you have reached is unavailable. Please close this window and try the URL again … ”

As some of you may know, I've written my share of metasearch engines and today I found out that one company I wrote an engine for, Cyber411 (aka C4, aka Cyber Networks, Inc.) has finally succumbed to the Internet Bubble and is … well … going through some rough times accoring to their web page.

And seeing how it's been down now for over two months, I don't expect it to be up any time soon …

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

“Letting the days go by … ”

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? … Am I wrong?
And you may say to yourself
My God! ‥ what have I done?

Letting the days go by
Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by
Water flowing underground
Into the blue again
Into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones
There is water underground

Talking Heads


Edumakashun

Slowly, things are settling down in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, panic attacks, pet antics and bathroom humor aside.

The kids are finally in school, and I'm simply amazed at how much things have changed since I was in second (the Younger) or third (the Older) grades lo these many years ago. Perhaps the biggest is the amount of homework required. I certainly never had homework in those grades. I don't think I even had homework until sixth grade or so (not that I ever did homework but that's another story). In discussing this with Spring and Gregory (who himself has two kids) it seems that parents have screamed for schools to give even more homework so that's what the schools are doing, giving more homework. I'm not sure if it's because of declining standards in education and this is an attempt at a solution or a means of busy work at home to keep them quiet and obedient.

On the one hand, I find it horribly wrong to give homework. I myself never liked busy work, and I certainly never saw the point of it. And homework? I never bothered with homework since it interfered with more important things, like TV and and playing with Lego bricks. As for the former point, I learned better on my own time (by third grade I knew my way around the Solar System, and in forth, I corrected my teacher on the proper ordering of the planets—you see Pluto had just crossed within the orbit of Neptune and thus wasn't the furthest planet, at least for the next twenty years or so) and for the later point, I was a parents' wet dream of a kid, always quiet and able to occupy myself for hours at a time and rarely did I get into trouble (mostly over bad grades, possibly due to the lack of work I exhibited—I was the poster child for “he's so smart, if only he applied himself … ”).

Yet on the other hand, being an adult who is still always quiet and able to occupy myself for hours at a time, I can certainly see the logic in anything that keeps a kid quiet and obedient (but mostly quiet). Hypocritical, perhaps, but I'm finding I like it when the kids are in school, even though I find school a horrible place to send kids.

And speaking of lackidaisical standards in education, I came across an 8th grade exam from 1895 (via Kevin's Ramblings) and I'm not sure I could pass the test. I'm not even sure how big a bushel of wheat is, so answering the second arithmetic question is out of the question, and while I can deduct 1,050# from a weight of 3,942#, I'm still not sure what “tare” means (arithmetic question 3). And the history of Kansas? I barely know the history of Florida, let alone Kansas (from the U.S. History section). And “dipthongs?” “Cognate letters?” “Linguals?” (Orthography section, which seems related to language, or possibly writing, I'm not sure).

Standards certainly have changed over the past century.

(Oh, if you want to check your work, answers to the questions are available)

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Is it an Internet Radio Station if you don't actually play music?

You might have noticed that I show the current playing song from my mp3 player here on my site. What you don't know is that I've been using a hack for the past few months. For Winamp, I used the DoSomething plugin to work through a local special template file which would create another local flat file with song info. I'd then ftp the output file to my server, which I loaded as an include. To get my mac to the same, I had to setup a similar program, and both hacks ended up constantly sending flat files to my server over insecure FTP. Kinda sounds like overkill, doesn't it?

Trackbacks in Winamp

An interesting idea and something I didn't know about WinAmp, but cool nonetheless. By presenting a current playlist he is not only showing what type of music he listens to, but in an abstract way, he's acting as a form of disk jocky (although he isn't spinning disks but streaming electrons), which may be a way that Internet radio can survive the onslaught of the RIAA in an underground type of way.

I had the idea some time ago, made a quick note of it, and promptly forgot it. This post reminded me of it. Given the silly hoops you have to go through to actually present a radio-like station over the Internet, what if you sidestepped the major problem—the playing of music?

It's certainly not illegal to provide a list of song titles and artists on a publically accessible webpage. Lyrics, possibly, but not the titles and artists. And there should be even less problem if you don't actually link to the song itself—just a list.

And if that isn't illegal, then it certainly is okay to update said list periodically. Say, every fifteen or thirty minutes or so. Oddly enough, it would be such that the list of songs, if played would cover the period of time in question. And it shouldn't matter if the ilst is stored in HTML, XML or a flat text file. And store it in a well-known location on a web server.

And it certainly wouldn't be my problem if something like Kazaa or any other form of P2P filesharing program would pick up said file and do an automatic search and retrieval of the songs in the list.

I mean, I can't be the only person to have thought of this? Right? Right?

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Demons, aliens and ghosts! Oh my!

A bizarre, dream-like paralysis experienced when people wake from a deep sleep can cause some sufferers to believe they have seen a ghost or even to have been abducted by aliens, despite being otherwise mentally normal.

Via The James Randi Educational Foundation, Why being abducted by aliens can seem so real

Don't let the rather dry article fool you—it can be downright scary when these things happen.

Years ago, this was possibly in 1993 or 1994, I had fallen asleep for a nap in the late afternoon. Around 7:00 or 7:30 pm in the evening I awoke, but couldn't move. I felt as if I had been drugged; I was mentally alert, but I could not move to save my life; I could barely get my eyes open and only with a huge effort on my part.

While this was going on, I could feel this … presence. It had unlocked the front door, made its way through the condo towards my room. I was struggling to move. Heck, I was struggling to get my eyes open!

It was a horrible feeling.

The presence made its way to the bedroom door and was in the process of going through it when I was able to snap out of the paralysis, upon which the presence vanished.

I was quite shaken afterwards and didn't go back to sleep for quite some time as I was calming down from the incident.

A few weeks later I related the experience to a friend of mine and he was convinced that it was a malevolent spirit (I think he used the phrase “demon from Hell”) that attempted to possess me. I suppose it could have been worse—it could have been an attempted alien abduction.


The Warehouse of Infinite Stuff

It must be shock.

I did not realize that Spring had made plans for a storage unit (it was my fault for not listening close enough during the past week) but last night she announced that we were renting a storage unit and that the stuff in the dining room was going.

So I found myself this morning living the ending warehouse scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark as I'm following the clerk through endless corridors of strored stuff on the way to our 6′×7′×8′ volume of air in which we can store our own stuff.

I had wanted to avoid this—to me, obtaining a rental unit to store stuff is a form of defeat—that the stuff is so important that I'm willing to spend money to store it. But we really need the space in a critical way and let's face it, after a year of not having a dining room (or rather, a dining room full of stuff) I do have to admit defeat.

“Hi, I'm Sean … ”

“Hi Sean!”

“And I have a problem … I'm … I'm … a packrat!” [breaks down sobbing].

I now wish I had the camera with me, but a picture of the Warehouse of Infinite Stuff will have to wait until I get a chance to get back there (our plan is to wait about a month, then take a box or two our, sort through the stuff and either find room for it at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, or toss it and eventually empty out our volume of air).

Several hours of hauling stuff and we finally have dining room!

Woo hoo!

Monday, March 17, 2003

Maybe I should have taken up the electric clarinet …

Sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon has a law named after him. It states that “ninety percent of everything is crap.” A corollary to that law is that ninety percent of the lucky ten percent who live in a G8 nation are probably just going on with their day-to-day lives, marking time. Birth—school —work—death, punctuated by trips to Blockbuster and package vacations to tourist traps. I'm not suggesting that everyone should run out and lead a thrill-a-minute existence like James Bond or take up naked bungee Russian Roulette. What I am suggesting is that when given a reasonable opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, no matter how small, consider taking it.

The Adventures of AccordionGuy in the 21st Century

I was shy, quiet and introverted as a kid (heck, I'm still shy, quiet and introverted as an adult) and it was exactly those reasons why I, at the end of 9th grade, signed up for both Speech and Drama for my Sophomore year of high school. The biggest fear most Americans have is that of public speaking, so what's more scary than both public speaking and public performances?

I never regretted the decision.

Well, for the most part.

There was the time I had to accept a school award dressed as a clown.

And then there was the abysmal attempt at improv comedy at Drama Districts one year (God, if I could excise thoughs from my head, that would be one of the first to go).

And oh, the time I …

Darn it! I'm digressing here!

So, even though I'm not … fond of kids (stop laughing! Yes, I know that's an understatement) or dogs (please, don't remind me) or cats, I never regret for a second being with Spring. I knew (or at least had an inkling) of what I was getting into, and the easy choice would have been to remain just friends, but instead I dived head first into a life way less ordinary …

I just … kind of … wish we didn't have an incontinent dog, an emotionally needy cat, or kids with scatological humor …

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The Co-option of Dilbert by The Man as an opiate for the wage slaves

“Something's not quite right here, guys … you poke constant fun at stupid corporate behavior—but never examine the underlying reasons for that behavior … you have become the champions of millions of insecure abd beleagured office workers—and yet Scott Adams told Newsweek he supports corporate downsiging!

“I'm begining to think you're providing a valuable service for all those idiotic bosses you parody—by giving their employees a safely value that's just edgy enough to ring true, without inspiring anyone to actually question the fundamental assumptions of corporate America … and which, of course, fits nicely on a plethora of spin-off merchandise!

“That reminds me … have you called our broker lately?”

“Yea—he says we're richer than Bill Gates.”

The Trouble With Dilbert

A very interesting (if long) look into Dilbert and the reasons why it's not only popular with wage slaves, but with their corporate masters as well!


Great … I'm a septic cleaning product now …

From: Jeff Koecher <XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>
To: Sean Conner <sean@conman.org>
Subject:TRY SPC FREE FOR 30 DAYS - AND END SEPTIC TANK ISSUES FOREVER! 6095fsEN0 -953zgyE7994PnWH0 -386X -29
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 23:28:53 -0500

Heres some interesting spam, you too can try SPC free for 30 days!!!

You're famous Sean, you need to get royalties :-)

Jeff

From: Homeowner Treatment <homeownertreatmentcoft@yahoo.com>
To: Cesspool@XXXXXXX, Owner@XXXXXXX
Subject: TRY SPC FREE FOR 30 DAYS - AND END SEPTIC TANK ISSUES FOREVER! 6095fsEN0 -953zgyE7994PnWH0 -386X -291008CaCA9 -348WcrG8074zPHk7 -151nopc6794uhjl6 -425OvhX3138olzA5 -09l59
Date: Sun, 09 Feb 2003 00:19:55 -0200

Tired of dealing with

  • Messy backups?
  • Soggy 'wet spots' that ruin your lawn?
  • Offensive, unhealthy odors?

Try SPC, and solve these septic system problems once and for all!

Get the details of this great offer! Click here for details http://www.aaa9875548.com/trial/free_trial.html

HERE'S WHY SPC IS SUPERIOR TO OTHER SOLUTIONS:

SPC is 100% free of harsh chemicals, so it's completely safe for you and your family to use. Unlike home remedies (like baking soda or yeast), our fast-acting formula contains powerful enzymes and helpful bacterial that attack, dissolve, and prevent the formation of solids that clogs your system …

Email from JeffK

Just what I need … to be known as a septic cleaning product.

Perhaps this can help me deal with the dog …

Friday, March 21, 2003

The sudden lack of Wirelessness

I finally took the time today to get my own WAP going. When Rob moved out, his WAP went with him, leaving us … um … wirelessness (or is that “wirelessless?”).

Or something like that.

So off to CompUSA to obtain some wireless equipment, but the spot lights and the distinct lack of parking made me suspect I picked the wrong night to go shopping for wireless equipment. I went in anyway, determined to get what I came for, reguardless of how long it took (besides, it got me out of the house of Two Kids and Incontinent Dog).

Despite the crowded store, I was able to get through the checkout line in under ten minutes with the needed equipment—a WAP and wireless PCMCIA card (both from Linksys). I was a bit upset that the WAP had more features than I wanted (I do not need a DHCP/firewall/NAT/switch/router functionality) but given that all the WAPs being sold had similar features and went for about the same price, I didn't have much choice in the matter.

Well, unless I shop online, but I'm not in the habit of doing that.

It took me quite a while to get set up. Short story—changing the default settings (including IP address) of the WAP, having to jumper a network card to use the proper connector (10Base-T instead of 10Base-2) in a buried computer (underneath two other computers) and obtaining current Linux drivers for the wireless card I'm using.

All told, it took several hours to configure and get working.

But I now have wireless!

Woo hoo!

Saturday, March 22, 2003

“What'cha looking at, Willis?”

[What'cha looking at, Willis?]

Sigh.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Hi. I'm Sean. And I'm an Internet Junkie

Twenty-four hours.

That's how long our Internet net connection was out.

A fiber cut somewhere in South Florida cut us (and thousands of others) adrift from the Super-info-quicky-mart-hyway for a day!

The fact that I'm bitching about it shows you how much of an Internet junkie I am.

What's the point of being wireless without an Internet connection?

But the connection is back up.

About freaking time!

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Things that make you go “Hmmmm … ”

None of this is concrete evidence of anything specific, but rather, indicative of some kind of tampering that was done to both my systems and my friends systems for some unknown reason.

I don't know if this could be private sector work, and I can't think of anything a corporation would want that bad given these efforts. The botched laptop reassembly and my broken USB reader indicate that whoever it was might have been a newbie or simply careless.

The reality is that I will likely never know who or why this was done, and any of the above items could be passed off as coincidence or paranoia.

c o d e r l o g

The ramblings of someone who is too paranoid, or a harbinger of things to come? I can only hope it's paranoia and not some nameless Three Letter Agency going around spying on us …


Bollywood

One of Spring's favorite channels is the International Channel and tonight she was watching a show about Bollywood, the Indian (as in Indian sub-continent and not Native Americans) version of Hollywood. The show was highlighting remakes of Hollywood films and would show clips from the films, which were, more or less, the length of a music video and as far as I could tell, more or less were music videos.

The announcer would say something like, “And this film, [some title in Hindi or Tamil or some other Indian dialect] was based upon the American film, What Lies Beneath” and then they would show this five or six minute clip of a huge dance and song number, with scores of people dancing and a couple (and it was always a couple) doing the vocals. Yes, a film, based upon “What Lies Beneath” (a horror film) with a huge song-n-dance routine.

And there was the film based upon Fatal Attraction with a five or six minute clip of—

—a huge song-and-dance number with scores of people. And another film, based upon While You Were Sleeping with again, a five or six minute long clip of scores of people in a song-and-dance routine. And yet another film based upon The Whole Nine Yards with, can you guess?

Yup, a five to six minute clip of scores of people in a song-and-dance routine, but not just any song-and-dance routine. Nope. This was Riverdancing!

“There seems to be a trend,” I said to Spring.

“Every Indian film I've seen has musical numbers,” she said.

“Are there points within those movies where they speak?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Really? They spontaneously break out into talking?”

She laughed. “Yes, between the musical numbers and action sequences, they have been known to break out into talking. Not much mind you, but some.”

.

The Bollywood remake of My Best Friend's Wedding seemed more suited to this style of film making than “What Lies Beneath” or “Fatal Attaction.” And the remake of Body Heat, named (and like Dave Barry says, “I am not making this up”) Jism (ahem) was quite hot, and quite unusual with only two people in the five to six minute musical clip.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

“Static IP Addresses? Where art thou?”

Ever since this weekend our Internet connection here at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere has been somewhat flaky. On Tuesday I had to call tech support since the connection was dropped and both a reset and a powercycle of the cable modem were insufficient in restoring a connection. The tech (in Buffalo, NY) read through his script (“Please unplug the power to both the cable modem and your computer.”) and I played along when it seemed necessary (“Okay, my computer has finished booting.” “But it's only been 10 seconds! It took me several hours to optimize my computer to boot in under 40 seconds!” “It's a fast machine.”) and the connection was restored.

Wednesday, there was an outtage of a few minutes, and then there was today.

Today, we lost the connection again. Repeating the operations from Tuesday didn't help and it was then that I had a sinking feeling that, quite possibly, I lost my DHCP lease. When we first obtained the connection, I ran the DHCP client once to get an address, then statically programmed that in for the occasional reboot. Never had a problem, and the IP address was bound to the MAC address on my Ethernet card.

But apparently, not anymore.

The cable modem finally resynced, but none of our traffic was going anywhere. But once I re-ran the DHCP client and obtained a new IP address, the Internet beckoned.

God, I wish for the days when I had thirty-two (32!) static IP addresses, with control of the reverse DNS lookups. It's barely tolerable with one (1) static IP address but a dynamic address?

Let's just say I find dynamic IP addresses annoying (there's the changes to DNS so I can log in to my home network from elsewhere, and changes to the SMTP server I use to allow outgoing email, and … )


It takes a licking …

Mark found himself at Dialtone Internet the other day and took the time to take pictures of tower, the server that runs this website (as well as others) and handles all our email, just in case you're curious as to what you can use that old 486 for …

Monday, March 31, 2003

Spurious signals

Mark's webserver Seminole has been having problems running on tower. The architecture of Seminole is multi-threaded, but the threading library under RedHat 5.2 (and Linux 2.0) is basically broken, so Mark is having to simulate that by using fork(). And it's not working that well. It'll run for a few days, then the process accepting new connections will die for no apparent reason, leaving the main process hung since it's not the one accepting connections and it isn't aware that its child process died.

Mark, being primarily an embedded systems programmer isn't that well versed in all the picky details of POSIX (and especially signals—granted it is a mess) so I wrote some code to trap every possible signal, log it to syslogd and then exit. Hopefully we'll be able to track down what might be happening.

I also pull out the state of the registers but that is very dependant upon the compiler options used and is a complete hack (that as far as I know, only works under the Intel platform without the -fomit-frame-pointer option under the Linux 2.0 kernel.

Did I mention it being a hack?

Obligatory Picture

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

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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