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, September 01, 2004

It's the end of the world as we know it

When Mom and I moved down here in 1979, we were immediately greeted with the spectacle of Hurricane David bearing down on us. Fortunately for us, it turned north at the last minute. As the years passed, thirteen in all, so did the hurricanes, slipping past South Florida without so much as a “How-ya-doing?”

Two weeks after moving into an apartment with friends when Hurricane Andrew comes knocking. And knocking. And knocking.

It knocked Homestead right off the map.

In the early morning hours of August 24th, Mom, her mom and I were huddleded in Mom's walk-on closet. They were sleeping as I watched Hurricane Andrew on TV. Nothing more sureal than watching a Class-5 hurricane dance across the TV screen as it dances across your lawn at the same time.

We were fortunate—fortunate enough to be far north of Hurricane Andrew where the only damage we received at Mom's condo were a few small trees knocked down.

And so the years pass, twelve in all.

And now we're facing Hurricane Frances in all her Class-4 fury, bearing down on us, on what looks to be a much similar course as David in 1979. At best (well, for us here in South Florida) it looks like it'll make landfall a ways north—perhaps an hour or so north, unless there's a high pressure system that keeps Hurricane Frances heading more west than north (which is what happened with Hurricane Andrew).

Further updates as they happen.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The relentless march

Still here. Still doing preparations, like clearing out the Harry Potter Closet (in the center of the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere) and making it comfortable to human (and animal) habitation. And still waiting for the landfall of Hurricane Frances, which the National Hurricane Center is currently predicting around 8pm Saturday.

Not much more to report that can't wait until after the hurricane.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Calm before the storm

Well, in good news (overall) Hurricane Frances has become a Class 3 hurricane, loosing strength while over the Bahamas, as two high pressure systems (one to the north, and one to the south) have been beating away at it. And it also looks like it'll definitely hit a good distance north of us, so that's good news (for us).

But in any case, we're still being cautious. Since we'll be south of the hurricane, and they spin counter-clock wise, the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere is in the lee of the building, so we won't get the full force of the wind coming from the north and west (one reason I parked the car there—another reason, it may act as a shield for flying debris and I'd rather have the insured car get hit than us or the building). We've also cleaned out the Harry Potter Closet for possible occupation (something all the neighbors are doing as well—well, they won't be staying in out Harry Potter Closet, but each unit around here has a Harry Potter Closet so ₀ well … you get the idea). And there are the three five gallon jugs filled with water (along with nearly every other empty container). So we should be fine.

[The Harry Potter Closet] [Lake Lumina next to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere]

At least, it looks like it.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Waiting … waiting … waiting …

Well, Hurricane Frances is still headed this way, but slowing down and wobbling, so it's hard to say when and where it will hit. We're as ready as we'll every be so it's just a matter of sitting here at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, waiting, and hoping the pow—

Monday, September 06, 2004

Upate from a place no sweeter than A/C

—er lasts.

Oh.

Sorry about that. We lost power on Saturday, even before Hurricane Frances made landfall, and we spent Saturday in the dark, waiting, waiting for landfall. It finally hit sometime between midnight and 2am Sunday. The wind and rain picked up, and it was interesting watching it out the window, watching bright greenish explosions of light in the distance.

Lightening, exploding transformers, what ever it may have been, a white flash with a subtle coloring of green. Noticed the same phenomenon (doo doo de doo doo!) during Hurricane Andrew too.

[A downed tree behind the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere] [Roofing material] [A tree blocking the parking lot] [At least it fell away from the building]

About 6:30 am Sunday I finally got fed up with sleeping on the dining room floor, and figuring that Hurricane Frances had already past by without blowing us away, went upstairs to finish sleeping.

When I woke many hours later, I took a walk around the lake that's nearby, taking in the damage (mostly downed trees). I also briefly talked with a neighbor and learned that Hurricane Ivan is expected to hit us sometime next week.

Ah, wonderful. I can only hope that this convinces enough people to flee the state, thus dropping the prices on the houses remaining to affordable levels. Or at the very least, it will reduce the amount of traffic we have.

Right now we're at the Little Pink Apartment of our friend Jessica as it, unlike the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, has electricity, and more importantly, A/C and an Internet connection. Woot!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Papers please

We returned to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere around 1:30 pm to find the power still off. We debated for about ten to fifteen minutes about what to do, and where about to head back to the Little Pink Apartment when the power suddenly cut on.

Woo hoo!

Then it was a matter of cleaning the refridgerator and freezer of perishable items that had perished over the past three days. Then take out the garbage, take Spring to work (stopped by the bank so she could deposit money, but their computers had crashed) and then to Publix to do some shopping. The one I normally go to was still open, but it looked like only the emergency lights were on, with one checkout lane open (and the register to that one was “open” as well, leading me to question whether I could even pay with plastic. I decided not to risk it, and headed further south into Broward County (which still had power, unlike 2/3 of Palm Beach County).

There wasn't much in the way of perishable items. Frozen, yes. Canned, yes. Fresh or perishable, not so much. But I got what I could.

The Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office is extending the curfew for all unincorporated areas of Palm Beach County. The mandatory curfew will be in effect tonight (Tuesday) beginning at 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The Sheriffs Office will have zero tolerance for all curfew violators. There were more than 300 arrests made in Palm Beach County Monday night into Tuesday morning for curfew violation.

Nighttime Curfew Extended

On the way back to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, I heard that Palm Beach County had extended the curfew to 10pm, but there still was a curfew. Once home, I talked to Spring at work (she gets off at 12:30 am) and asked about the curfew. About an hour later she contacted me, saying to pick her up at 9:30. Negiyo was willing to give employees a letter stating they were on the way home from work, which is all find and dandy if Spring had driven in, but she hadn't (and is Negiyo willing to post bail for hard working employees who knowingly break curfew in going home or coming to work? Somehow I'm doubtful). Fortunately, Negiyo also had to conceed that its employees might not want to break the law and couldn't hold it against them if they decided to leave early, or not come into work (although it could, and will, withhold pay. Nice, aren't they?).

So I arrived at 9:30, and we were back inside the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere by the 10:00 pm deadline.

Also, it looks like we stand a good chance of missing Hurricane Ivan. Nothing certain yet, but the tracking information from the National Hurricane Center is leaving me optimistic.

Monday, September 13, 2004

How I spent my hurricane vacation

Well, that was pleasant.

First off, around the 24th of August, the server that was hosting this site, swift.conman.org, was compromised (through my login no less). Due to differences in opinion on the situation (and seeing how the system does belong to Mark) he was kind enough to give me until Sunday, September 5th (nevermind a Class 3 hurricane coming through. Then again, Mark will be the first to admit he isn't the most diplomatic of people).

So when we weren't preparing for Hurricane Frances, moving sites to a different server occupied my time. Then, once Hurricane Frances blew past, the server I moved the sites to got cracked.

It had nothing to do with the swift.conman.org compromise since we have a very good idea as to who did it. And the major difference between this compromise and the compromise to swift.conman.org was the cracker deleting every site on the box, and making sure the box had to be rebuilt from scratch (since with /bin, /sbin and the kernel deleted as well, the server wouldn't be of much use).

So while the National Hurricane Center was bouncing Ivan off of Florida, every moment I wasn't sleeping (or severely sleep deprived) was spent rebuilding three servers (the full extent of the damage) from scratch, and attempting to recover lost data.

Almost makes me pine for the days of getting denial of service attacks.

So once that was done, it meant copying my sites off of swift.conman.org yet again. Which explains why I haven't been around all that much during the past two weeks.

It's been a rather interesting two weeks.

And Hurricane Ivan has best be the last storm this year.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Some clarifications

I should probably clarify a few things about the hacked servers.

On (or about) August 24th, my shell account was compromised. This was most likely due to using a compromised Windows system (wth a keyboard logger) or a Trojaned version of puTTY.exe (an ssh program freely available for Windows). Not much you can do except attempt to minimize the damage. Mark and I do have differences of opinion on how to handle cracking attacks (I tend to be optimistic about such things; Mark isn't) which caused most of the problems we've had (and still have, by the way). Since the server was Mark's he felt it best for everybody on the server to move their sites elsewhere and take the server down (I now suspect it'll never go back up).

I found no evidance that the machine had been compromised, but Mark thought otherwise. So I moved my sites off to one of the servers I administrate (the ones I had problems with Russian hackers doing denial of service attacks against).

A bit of background on this set of servers. I was hired to administrate four servers—two in Boca Raton (the same facility as Mark's server) and two down in Miami (at the Nap of the Americas). One of the Boca servers had hardware problems so it was decomissioned. Over the past few months I've backed up the sites across each server so that if one goes down, the remaining ones can take over (not automatically, but easily enough). Durring Hurricane Frances' advance towards us, one of the Miami servers crashed. The decision was made to leave it down there until after Hurricane Frances and have the other Miami server pick up the slack (easy enough to do). At the time we weren't certain why the machine crashed, but it did (later on, it was theorized that it crashed during a “test run” of taking the machine down).

The server I moved my sites to was the other Miami server, as I felt that stood a better chance of weathering Hurricane Frances.

On September 8th, the Boca server was compromised.

I honestly feel that the Boca server compromised had nothing to do with Mark's server being compromised. All the websites on the Boca server were deleted, and everything pointed to a single page, giving a shout out to a known person that worked with (or for) the company who had the majority of sites on the Boca server. Also, the Boca server had a certain class of sites on them, one where the updating of the sites was under less control than previously realized (at least by me). And given some evidence (found later on one of the other servers) it appears that the cracker in question had the actual log in information for some of the sites (about half a dozen, and none of them my account) so it points to some form of inside job (again, not much you can do in that case, other than preventing other sites from being wiped out, but this was all found out after the case).

Things were still in place from our preparations for Hurricane Frances (to switch the sites to one or the other server in case of power loss) so I simply enabled the deleted websites on the Miami server, and went in to the Boca facility to retrieve the now dead server. It was during this time that the Miami server was compromised and all the sites (every last site) were deleted.

Later on, I found out that the attacks were timed for the start of the NFL season which is important since the company who has the majority of sites is a gambling/gaming company and the start of the NFL season is an important time of year.

Now, can I say for sure that the compromise of Mark's server was unrelated to the compromised of the other servers? No. Not 100%. Is it likely they're unrelated? Yes. At least in my opinion.

But in the meantime, the servers have been reconfigured and partitioned off with the hope that such an attack will have a less chance of success. The number of accounts has been drastically reduced and of the accounts remaining, the passwords have been changed. The servers are now running the latest version of everything. Will these servers be compromised again? There's always a chance. But hopefully, with some of the changes put in, the damage will be severely limited in scope.

I'm optimistic about that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Yet another hurricane

And Hurricane Ivan has best be the last storm this year.

How I spent my hurricane vacation

I think I may have spoke too soon, although the track has this turning north and missing Florida.

At least, we can hope.

It also looks like Florida will get hit by Hurricane Ivan (although just technically) for three hits this hurricane season. Some might think this is a plot by the Republicans to drive registered voters out of the state; some probably think this is a ploy by the Democrats to lay blame at the foot of the Republicans (since the Governor of our state is the President's brother). I'm just surprised that al-Qaeda hasn't claimed responsibility for these hurricanes (“Pull out of the Middle East, or we keep sending hurricanes to your decadent state! Praise Allah!”).

I think I'll keep quiet about this from now on.

Update Thursday, September 16th, 2004

Well, that didn't take long (link via Burning Bird).

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Notes from a Gibsonian novel

From: "SERIOUS SITUATION" <[fake email address]>
To: sean@conman.org
Subject: Referencing: http://boston.conman.org/2004/09/14.1
Date: Sun, 19 Sep 2004 01:18:21 -0500

Sean,

My apologies if any of your time, sanity, peace, or data was lost due to the event. But surely I will clarify any of your doubts with some information about the attacks.

It was a hired job. I was sent to take down the majority of XXXXXXXXX's servers/content and actually infiltrated the XXXXXXXXX network physically. I flew to XXXXXXXXXX, and social engineered my way onto client machines. From there I essentially attained enough credentials that left me able to access the companies client database(s), affiliation(s) database(s) … oh and logins to your servers.

… However, your swift.conman.org (or Mark's rather) was running gentoo with some modifications including tighter suid access on vulnerable binaries on the system, and common misconfigurations through the system was also fixed. Finally, using a kernel attack to sniff the memory of a recent “su” execution, root was caught. As I looked around and tried to asses the situation, I suppose Mark witnessed (from another location perhaps) my SSH login attempts to servers he had access to. In any case, switch.conman.org [sic] was unnessesary but I'm glad Mark's paranoia took it down, because it would have left much more work for me to do on game day. By the way, I still had access to swift.conman.org even after it was patched, I had all known system credentials plus there was a kernel entry using portknocking. so if the server was fixed up and left on, even during Mark's paranoia it still would have been a successful attack on my part. So yes, the compromise of swift.conman.org and the other servers are related. I was sloppy, and Mark is paranoid … I guess I lost that one.

I certainly wasn't expecting this.

There was more, including details about the company we're hosting the sites for, even more details about the attack (but really, when it's an inside job, it's all the more harder to prevent) and some details about harding servers to prevent such an attack from happening (like a link to grsecurity.net which I have to check out, but most of the other stuff is common sense). But this does answer a bunch of questions about the past few weeks of cracking activity.

And how do I know for a fact that is guy is telling the truth? He also included the passwords to several accounts on swift.conman.org. To me, that's pretty conclusive evidence.

A new thing I've learned though—portknocking, something else to look into.

Anyway, I'm typing this as I sit across the street from a cybercafe so note not to waste your time backtracing. This is my job, don't take it personal.

sincerely and respectfully.

It's tough not to (especially since all this went down while three hurricanes were headed our way) but I guess that's what I get for living in a Gibsonian novel these days.

Update on Thursday, September 23rd, 2004

Just to clarify one last detail: the cracker did not social engineer his way into the colocation facility in Boca Raton or the NAP of the Americas in Miami. The physical access mentioned was the corporate network of the company (which is not located in South Florida) who's sites were hosted on the servers in Boca and Miami.

Just in case there might have been any confusion on the matter.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I found the legendary Appliance Graveyard

I was walking around the grounds near the Facility in the Middle of Nohwere, and lo, I found—

The Legendary Appliance Graveyard

[The Legendary Appliance Graveyard]

And there was much rejoicing …


Notes on an overheard conversation while trying to diagnosis a network problem

“The network cable isn't working? Here, try this one.”

“Nope.”

“Well, the network light on the hub is flashing like there's traffic.”

“But Windows XP isn't seeing the network.”

“Did you try ipconfig?”

“There. See?”

“Dude. Try booting into Linux.”

“Ha! Microsoft Tech Support here. Network not working? Boot into Linux.”

“Hey! It worked!”

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Ah, so that's why math is useful

Several months ago I picked up Mathematics for the Million by Lancelot Hogben. It's an older version, printed in 1960 (and looks to be last revised in 1951) but it's an incredible book, not only explaining math, but at the same time going into the history of math and how various branches (like geometry, trigonometry, algebra) were developed, and more importantly, why it was developed. Many were the times in class when I questioned the use of, say, geometry or algebra.

This book answers that, giving the practical uses that math has been used for, including surveying, navigation, timekeeping (why a sundial works, for instance), astrogation, artillery and area calculation, to mention just a few practical applications mentioned in the book.

At a certain stage in the history of culture the eruption of a less sophisticated community proves to be a turning-point. History chooses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and the weak things to bring to naught the mighty. … To accept it is to recognize that every culture contains within itself its own doom, unless it pays as much attention to the education of the mass of mankind as to the education of the exceptionally gifted people.

Chapter VII: The Dawn of Nothing or How Algebra Began

Not to say that this is a dry text book on history and math—it does have its humorous moments, abeit it's a rather dry humor:

The French language is especially suitable for the exercise of ironical wit. The English language is especially suitable to convey scientific truths concisely. The tortuous prolixity of German diction can be used to befuddle sensible and decent people til they believe that Hegel's dialectic makes sense and Jew-baiting makes a nation prosperous.

Chapter III: The Grammar of Size, Order, and Number or Translating Number Language

Hey, I found it funny. It would help to remember that this was probably written just prior to World War II. Hopefully, the modern printings will keep this around; add flavor to what could otherwise be a dull book.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

This would make it number 4

UNCLE!

Hurricane Charley, Frances, Ivan (which is rattling around and now Jeanne.

[So you finally made up your mind?]

If this keeps up, I might consider moving out of the state. Although, like Hurricane Frances, we'll be in the lee of the building. And as of right now, Hurricane Jeanne is a small (well, compared to Hurricane Frances) Class 1 or 2 hurricane.

Only two and a half more months of this …

Friday, September 24, 2004

A sane theory of the construction of the Pyramids

I am a retired carpenter with 35 years experience in construction. In my work experience, over the years, many times I had to improvise on tools that were not at hand in order to get the job done.

At one of these times, about 12 years ago, I had to remove some 1200 lb. saw cut concrete blocks from an existing floor. The problem was that we did not have a machine that could reach some of the blocks. The only obvious answer was to break the blocks into smaller pieces with a sledgehammer and load them into a wheelbarrow. To me, this seemed to be too much labor at the time, so I improvised.

Using a few rocks and leverage, I removed the blocks from below the floor to an area that the machine could reach them for removal. After doing this several times, the technique became very easy and quick. This experience had me consider the possibility that people may have used this technique before modern day equipment was available.

The Forgotten Technology

I remember reading as a kid a rather credible theory of how both Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza were built and thus I've always believed that it was us humans and not the Annanuki that some New Age practitioners believe (and don't ask me how I know that—I read rather widely as a kid).

But Mr. Wallington seems to have come across yet another method that seems to work, as he's actually used the techniques to move multi-ton concrete blocks by himself with nothing more than rocks and spare lumber.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Some heavy reading during some heavy weather

I got up way too early today, but the upshot is that we have evacuated the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere and are now holed up at Spring's workplace, Negiyo, which is rated for either a Class 3 or a Class 5 hurricane, depending upon who you talk to.

Our current “home” is one of the conference rooms (with two TVs, three microwaves and tons of chairs. Eventually I suppose I'll take a nap or something.

But meanwhile we've got food, drink and I have a stack of books given to me by one of Spring's cow-orkers: Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, Timely Matrimony by either Kasey Michaels (listed author on the book) or Fern Michaels (listed author at Amazon), Wife in Name Only by Carolyn Zane and Temporary Groom by either Jayne Addiction Addison (book) or Joan Johnston (Amazon). Yes, three trashy romance novels, but together they balance Foucault's Pendulum quite nicely.

Suzi Harper: Bride of the moment

Finding a man these days isn't easy. So when I found a nineteenth-century hunk on a storm-swept beach, I hung on to him! Not only was Harry Wilde single, but he needed a wife to help him survive the modern world. I just couldn't abandon dear Harry.

Harry Wilde: Groom for all time?

Time travel was quite a shock! Even more so was my impromptu marriage to Suzi Harper. The woman was impossible: she spoke without being bidden—and waltzed around so scantily clad! But my modern lady stole my heart. If only it wasn't my destiny to leave her …

Timely Matrimony

Hey, who'd a thunk—a trashy romance novel with a science fiction twist!


“Are we there yet?”

Several hours playing Gauntlet. Several hours playing 9-ball. Several hours of listening to the wind howl and rain beat against the immense skylight in the middle of Negiyo.

Yes, this is how I'm spending this hurricane vacation.

I'm saving the romance novels until things get real desperate.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Well, that bit of nasty weather is over with

I was exhausted by the time I fell asleep around 1:00 in the morning. That was intentional, as I was sleeping on the floor in a conference room at Negiyo.

There's a reason (among many) that I don't do the camping thing, and that's sleeping on the hard ground (or floor). I don't find it all that comfortable. Especially since Negiyo is kept at near arctic conditions (I did prepare for this by wearing a leather jacket during the time I spent there yesterday and today).

I awoke around 9:30 to the noise of various people milling about outside and inside the conference room (ours was the one with the microwaves), but the good news was that Hurricane Jeanne had blown through and was now terrorizing northern Florida. I was still tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep in my own bed for another dozen hours. Spring suggested I go back to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere and sleep while the rest stayed behind at Negiyo—she could manage the kids better there and they wouldn't disturb me sleeping.

Couldn't argue with that.

Driving back was interesting. Not much traffic, and half the traffic lights were out; no real pattern to them being out. I also have to navigate around downed trees across the road several times on the way home (one nearly blocking the whole road just outside the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere). But we had power here, which is good.

I slept for half a dozen hours then drove back to Negiyo to pick up the rest of the crew. No real damage to report other than more downed trees.

I did start one of the romance novels, and it's every bit of horrid writing you would expect. Amusingly bad in fact.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The evergrowing spam problem

While I was staying at Hotel Negiyo, I had the chance to talk with Rob, my old roommate—he's a sysadmin there at Negiyo. We chatted for a bit about the server compromises I experienced then drifted towards the new anti-spam measures he helped to implement at Negiyo.

Quite impressive actually. The router sitting in front of the email system is actually one of two that are synchronized; if one goes down the other can immediately take over without dropping an existing TCP connection. The network traffic then goes to one of several load balancers which send the traffic through one of fourty dedicated systems that do nothing but scan the email, looking for signs of spam. It's more of a filter, as these systems then send the traffic on towards the actual email server for actual delivery. As the email filters through the dedicated system(s), it makes a determination if the email is spam or not, and updates a database system with a yea/nay flag that the SMTP server can then query and deal with the spam as the customer would like.

The volume of email they handle just in Boca is staggering—Rob showed me the statistics for the previous day: 15 million pieces of email. Even more impressive (and depressing) is that out of 15 million pieces of email, more than 80% was classified as spam.

Eighty percent!

Out of 15 million emails delivered, over 12 million was nothing more than spam.

Talk about depressing.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Overly pendantic commands

I was called by R (guy I work for) to double check the email system since it looked like (to him) that it wasn't working at all and no emails were being sent (order confirmations, etc). I start checking, and from what I could tell, the email system was working fine. I placed a few test orders from a few sites and got the confirmation email. And from the mail logs, it looked like it was sent off to R as well.

But he wasn't getting them.

A few more tests while talking to R seemed to confirm that email sent to him from the server was being accepted by his ISP, but R was still not getting them. Which indicates to me that his ISP is filtering out spam and for whatever reason, email from this server was being flagged as spam and not delivered.

I then did the following on the server to check something out:

[root]rnm.miami:~>hostx -t mx XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX            MX      20 mail2.XXXXXXXXXXXX
 !!! XXXXXXXXXXXX MX host mail2.XXXXXXXXXXXX is not canonical
XXXXXXXXXXXX            MX      10 mail.XXXXXXXXXXXX
 !!! XXXXXXXXXXXX MX host mail.XXXXXXXXXXXX is not canonical

Hmmm … odd. Double check the zone file.

$TTL 3600
@	IN	SOA	ns1.XXXXXXXXXXXX. root.XXXXXXXXXXXX. (
			2004091801 ; Serial
			10800	; Refresh
			3600	; Retry
			3600000 ; Expire
			3600 )	; Minimum

	IN	NS	ns1
	IN	NS	ns2
	IN	NS	ns3
	IN	MX	10 mail
	IN	MX	20 mail2

mail	IN	A	XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX
mail2	IN	A	XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX
ns1	IN	A	XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX
ns2	IN	A	XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX
ns3	IN	A	XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX

Nothing out of the ordinary. The RRs for mail and mail2 aren't CNAMEs (which is a common mistake). They look fine to me, and running host on outside machines report back fine:

[root]linus:~>host -t mx XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX            MX      20 mail2.XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX            MX      10 mail.XXXXXXXXXXXX

A quick Google didn't reveal anything I already didn't know (most of the problems I found were CNAME errors). So, I started playing around with the zone file. Make a change, same error. Make another change, same error. It was only when I removed all references to mail and mail2 when I discovered the problem.

By then, I was doing hostx -G -S -C -A -L 1 zone (which verifies the entire zone) and getting back errors about mail and mail2. Which shouldn't be happening, as I had just removed all references to them in the zone file. There was only one other place where they were defined—/etc/hosts. Once I removed those entries from /etc/hosts, the problem went away:

[root]rnm.miami:~>hostx -t mx XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX            MX      20 mail2.XXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXX            MX      10 mail.XXXXXXXXXXXX

Talk about your overly pendantic host command.


We Americans and our silly love affair with the car

The fact is, public transportation is an absolute failure everywhere it has been tried except for cities which grew up around a public transportation network in the pre-automobile era. Public transportation—and I am second to none in my love for public transportation, and have a fabulous commute besides—is more expensive, both in money and environmental costs, than automobiles outside of New York, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. That's right, I said it's more environmentally costly than giving every person on the train a car, because a train running empty consumes an enormous amount of energy.

In order to persuade people to live in a public transit zone, rather than an auto zone, the trains have to run frequently enough, and for a long enough period, for people to be able to base their lives around them. Those five cities (and I'm not sure about Philly) produce net energy gains only because they shift an enormous number of people during rush hour; enough to offset the inevitable losses during off peak periods, when the trains expend a tremendous amount of energy to move very few people. If your trains aren't jam packed for six hours a day during rush periods, you can never make up the losses.

Via Marginal Revolution, Jane Galt: This will drive the environmentalists crazy

Public transportation certainly fails here in Lower Sheol. We have one light rail system that runs north/south through three counties, which is great if you live say, within a mile or so of one of the stations. But the rail was first laid decades ago when the population was primarily living within a few miles of the coast (and back then, the rail was mostly used for bulk cargo and passenger trains from up north). Now, the bulk of the population has spread westward, meaning you have to use a car to drive to the station, or take other forms of public transportation to get to the rail system.

I've taken the bus. Three times since that was written; the third time was several years ago when a bunch of us decided to head on down to the Miami Metro Zoo. We took Tri-Rail, the light rail system mentioned above (and we all drove to the station, which says something right there) down to Metrorail (an elevated tail system in Miami) to the Metromover to Metrobus to the Miami Metro Zoo.

What would have taken us about 40 minutes by car turned into a three hour trek. Now, it wasn't a bad treck; nothing bad happened on the way down there, or the way back, and it certainly was nice not having to think about parking. But we did have to worry about missing one of four different modes of public transportation, and it did take a significantly longer time to reach our destination. And we probably spent as much money taking public transportation as it would have cost us in gas and parking fees, so it was mostly a wash except for the time.

Jane Galt also links to this interesting article from the New York Times:

Sprawl is scarring the American landscape. If by “landscape” you mean the pasture or forest near your home that has been paved, then sprawl does look like an abomination. Who wouldn't prefer to be surrounded by greenery, especially when you're not paying property taxes for it?

But if you look at the big picture, America is not paving paradise. More than 90 percent of the continental United States is still open space and farmland. The major change in land use in recent decades has been the gain of 70 million acres of wilderness—more than all the land currently occupied by cities, suburbs and exurbs, according to Peter Huber, author of Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists. Because agriculture has become so efficient, farmers have abandoned vast tracts of land that have reverted to nature, and rural areas have lost population as young people migrate to cities. You may not like the new homes being built for them at the edge of your town, but if preserving large ecosystems and wildlife habitat is your priority, better to concentrate people in the suburbs and exurbs rather than scatter them in the remote countryside.

Via Jane Galt, The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)

A long article, but worth reading. It mentions several novel ideas traffic engineers are working on to relieve congestion, including variable toll roads (where the toll varies by how much traffic is currently on it) to systems to help cars drive themselves down highways.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

An uninvited guest

So I go into the kitchen to make dinner, and who do I see sitting on the counter?

[A relative of Kermit the Frog, although he looks more like Gollum

Fortunately, The Younger offered to escourt this uninvited guest out the door.

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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