The Boston Diaries

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

Go figure.

Monday, November 01, 2004

“And how many words was that again?”

And thus it starts: National Novel Writing Month.

And at the end of the month there will be thousands of novels all filled with 50,000 horribly written words being inflicted on innocent friends and families.

So why the heck not do that myself?

I think last year I threatened that the following year, instead of a fiction novel of 50,000 words I'd do a novel of 50,000 fictional words. I just now doubled checked the rules, and lo, what do I see?

8) Write like crazy for thirty days. If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you will be added to our hallowed Winner's Page, and receive a handsome winner's certificate and web icon.

How NaNoWriMo Works (in Ten Easy Steps) (empasis added)

So I guess 50,000 fictional words is legal … sweet!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

President Noah Body

I have a multitude of feelings, and I'm not sure just where to start, so here's a list in no particular order:

Yup. I voted today. No line either, which given that I'm voting in Florida (and not only that, but one of the three trouble counties of Indecision 2000 to boot!) was rather strange. Got to use an electronic voting machine as there wasn't much of an option; I can only hope my vote is counted as I intended.

There is a section on electronic voting in Applied Cryptography (§6.5 in the first edition, which is what I have), where it lists five minimal characteristics of voting:

  1. Only authorized voters can vote.
  2. No one can vote more than once.
  3. No one can determine for whom anyone voted.
  4. No one can change anyone else's vote without being discovered.
  5. All voters can make sure that their vote has been taken into account in the final tabulation.

[I'm not sure if I agree with #5 (the selling of votes is a major concern for me). If it means I can see that my vote for Cthulhu was counted correctly, then I can collect my hundred zorkmids from Hastur, to whom I sold my vote. But if it means that all valid votes were counted for (out of X votes, Y were cast, and the results all add up to Y) then okay, I can see #5 being valid.]

With the algorithms being quite complicated in how they work, but it's much better than the joke systems Diebold has developed for use.

As I stood there in front of the machine (I'm not sure if it was a Diebold machine or not, but still, no paper trail) looking at the first page where we get to pick our poison of a President for the next four years, I wished we had a viable “None of the Above” choice such that if “Noah Body” won, the candidates in question are ineligable to run again for that particular race, and a whole new slate of candidates get selected to run in an emergency, quick, two week (or some other short time period) race. Then rationality gets a hold of me, and the spectre of Unintended Consequences and I think better of it.

Still, I'd like to send a message to these bozos from time to time.

Myself, I'm going to resist the tempation to even peek at the results until the 4th, when the Electoral Collage will rise from its hole, and if it sees its shadow, then six more weeks of vote counting and law suites.

I'm going for my shower now …

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

“Oooh! Ahhh! That's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming.”

The polls are closed. So any damage that Diebold may attempt to do is already done and I can remove the, for lack of a better term, anti-ads for Diebold.

It's also a refreshing change that Ohio will now face national ridicule over election absurtities rather than Florida. Especially fitting since Ohio is the homestate of Diebold, and Diebold's CEO is on record as saying he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year.”


So anyway, we are now past the ohh and ahh stage, and are now in the running and screaming stage.

Welcome to the American Election, 21st century style …

An early Thanksgiving list

It's not quite Thanksgiving yet, but now that the election is over there are a few things, reguardless of who won, that we should all be thankful for:

Monday, November 08, 2004

Price shock

Every Monday for the past year or so it's been routine for me to do the weekly trip to Publix for our grocery needs. But this week, Spring has plans that require the use of the car on Monday (and Tuesday but that has nothing to do with this) so instead late last night (well, rather technically, very early this morning) we headed off to the local Wal★Mart Super Center to fulfill our weekly grocery needs.

Spring suggested it for two reasons—one, it's the only place open that late, and two, she wanted to see how the prices really compared.

I'm still in shock.

While I haven't figured out the total savings yet, I can state that we probably spent a third less, easily. I don't recall seeing anything at Wal★Mart that was more expensive than at Publix. Heck, I don't recall anything at Wal★Mart being the same price as at Publix.

Tuna? Publix was running about 80¢ per can (oil packed—water packed was more); Wal★Mart had them at 50¢ per (oil or water). Chicken? Publix: $1.18/pound (whole chickens); Wal★Mart: $0.67/pound (whole chicken, but granted, the one from Publix came with the giblets while the Wal★Mart did not have them). Huge jars of mustard for the price we paid for a rather large (but significanly smaller) squeeze bottle at Publix. Milk was a dollar less per gallon. The list goes on.

It was almost like shopping at Costco, but without having to join first.

Yes, I know … we're evil for shopping at Wal★Mart. I know that Wal★Mart strongarms its suppliers for such low prices. I know it drives out local Mom & Pop stores and ruins communities. I know that Publix is employeed own (and personally, I prefer to shop at Publix). I know that Publix is a Florida based company. But the prices! My God the prices!

On the other hand, Publix is nearby, about two miles away (remember, we do live at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere) while the Wal★Mart Super Center is about seven miles away.

But the prices!


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

If it's not English, of course it must be foreign

HFPA president Lorenzo Soria said of the “Passion” decision, “Yes, we know Aramaic is not a spoken language and, yes, we know the film doesn't have a country of origin. But our bylaws state that when a film is in a language that is preponderantly non-English, it's a foreign-language film. We looked at our bylaws and we looked at the movie, and the match is there.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did not consider “Passion” for its foreign-language race, because the Acad asks countries to submit films that feature one of the country's principal languages. In their view, “Passion,” in Latin and Aramaic, does not represent the work of any single country.

Via The Duff Wire, Globes say no Moore

Now, granted, the Oscars and the Globes are American awards so it's understandable why they may slight the foreign movie market but The Passion of the Christ isn't a foreign film! It's an American film!

Okay, it's made by the Australian Mel Gibson (who oddly enough, was born in Peekskill, New York), but he's mainstream Hollywood, and he financed the film himself and got it disitributed when no other studio would touch it—a very American thing to do. But just because the dialog is in a dead language (or two dead languages) it's a foreign film? Or not, because no foreigners speak the language(s) anymore.

What's up with that?

I doubt George Lucas would get this treatment if he did the next Star Wars film in an entirely made up language (I personally think that would be cool), which must makes this all the more silly.

How to succeed in business without really trying

I started a new job yesterday doing technical support for a small colocation facility in Boca Raton (a friend of mine owns the company). He needed someone that could jump in and do technical support and since a) I can do this from home, b) it involves email and a web-based trouble ticket system and more importantly c) no phones I figured why not? A low pressure job from home is perfect for my temperment. It's not quite like my other job taking care of some other servers, which is mostly doing a whole bunch of nothing with a few days of sheer terror thrown in, but still, it's easy enough and it brings in some money. And C (the friend and owner of the colocation facility) knows I already know most of the technical issues that can come up, given that I've worked in a web design/web hosting company, two ISPs, and a colocation facility. The only issues I have with the job was having enough access to fix problems, and access to information about the customers.

Then I got tossed a curve ball—I called C to ask about some support issues (as I'm still coming up to speed) when I was given some good news and some bad news.

The bad news?

I don't think I'll be able to work entirely from home anymore.

The good news?

Second day on the job I was promoted.

To system administrator.

I'm not sure if this is a general system administrator position, or a senior system administrator position but two days on the job and I'm already on my way up the ladder (How to succeed in business without really trying! Woot!) and I'll find out more when I go to the office tomorrow (if I'm the only sys admin there, then it's a senior system administrator position).

I'll sure miss working from home though.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Office

It was the most depressing cubicle I've even been assigned to (sorry C, but it is depressing). The last cubicle I had wasn't nearly so depressing (actually, cubicles, as I was moved about five times in a single year).

But not that was my last job though. At my last job, I didn't even have the indignity of a cube; nope, I had to share a desk with another cow-orker (much like Sam Lowry did in Brazil)—then again, the last job was at Negiyo, which I suspect was where it was filmed).

To make matters worse, I have to deal with the phone.

This is not good.

I was banned from talking to customers at two ISPs and a webhosting company (the department I worked at in Negiyo never talked directly to customers so that was never an issue there). I wasn't banned because I was mean to customers, or excessively used the phones for personal use. No, I was banned because I was too truthful to the customer.

“I'm sorry,” I would say. “But I just don't know how to configure Novel's SMTP server to talk to our server.” Or “Windows? That's that … thing … from Washington, right?” Or even “Yup, the President of the company attempted to add an external SCSI drive to the system live.” And then my boss would scurry up yelling “Never tell the customer you don't know!” Or “Are you insane? You don't tell the customer I screwed up!”

And I would end up being banned from talking to customers.

Which really isn't a bad thing really.

But C knows all this. Yet here I am, expected to deal with the phone.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Of course the bank is closed!

Whoa! Who made today a holiday? It's bad enough with banks and their bankers' hours …

I ain't got no password. You ain't got no password. They ain't got no password? Where the heck's the password?

Yesterday I was given the previous sysadmin's computer, running Windows XP Professional. Well, I'm given to understand that there are some support issues that require the use of Windows (cough frontpage cough) and it's not like this is new to me; so instead of using X-Windows to prop open a dozen xterms I use Windows to prop open a dozen putty.exes.

So when I sat down to use M's (the previous sysadmin) former computer she was already logged in. I did briefly think about changing her password just prior to leaving yesterday, but not knowing how to actually go about changing the password, I figured I could leave it until today. I'll just leave myself logged in and everything should be okay. Right?


You do see where this is going, right?

Today, I sat down in front of the computer, and right there was the Windows XP login window, asking me for M's password.


And none of the adminstrative passwords I've been given over the past few days worked. C couldn't even log in.

As I left the office tonight (the cubicle isn't nearly as depressive looking now that I've cleaned it up—now it has this Zen emptiness going for it) the XP installation CD was reformatting the harddrive (a different one—M's machine had important files on it and an XP reinstall is always destructive it seems—also, note to self: check to see if the cover is already off a computer before blindly removing screws out the back).

I've also learned the depths of my loathing of web-based adminstration. Of course you [the web-based administration program] couldn't create a sub-site—this computer doesn't have DNS on it you XXXXXXX piece of XXXX! Now create the sub-site! Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggllll!

Fortunely, I didn't have to deal with the phone all that much today.

Reason #2.71828182845904523536 I hate PHP

So for my other job, I was requested to upgrade PHP from 4.3.8 to 4.3.9 because of a non-functioning script on one of the websites (in and of itself, never a good sign). So I pull it down, configure, make, make install and other stuff to get it into Apache, get an executable built, move it into place, start it up, and everything looks good so far … request to make sure PHP is in there and … nothing.

Web server is running.

No page.

Any, and all requests are dying.

This is not good.

Check the log file and find:

[Sun Oct 10 02:09:49 2004] [notice] child pid 22113 exit signal Segmentation fault (11)

Put the old executable into place and start tracking down the problem.

Well, long story short, the “solution” to this “problem” involved deleting the existing PHP configuration (and associated files—the one installed for PHP 4.3.8) and installing the PHP configuration for PHP 4.3.9.

Okay, PHP 3x to PHP 4x, I could understand.

I might even forgive breakage from 4.x to 4.y.

But breakage from 4.3.8 to 4.3.9?

Truely, PHP is the scripting language du jour.

Friday, November 12, 2004

All is almost right with the (working) world

Windows XP has been reinstalled on my computer, I figured out how to create that sub-site and the cubicle still has that neat Zen like emptiness to it.

Only now I have to figure out why this module of an open source commerce site isn't working, and of course it's written in PHP

100,000 digits of e

In case you were wondering about the title to my little PHP rant the other day, it's e, the mathematical constant dealing with natural logarithms, out to 20 decimal places. I felt that was a good place to break it as any.

I got the value from a program I wrote, oh, it looks to be around 1995 or so, and was based upon a program written by Steve Wozniak for the Apple ][ computer, and documented in a Byte Magazine article from December 1980 (I think—the copy of the article is buried somewhere around here, but the timeframe is close enough to track down the article if you are truely interested). Written in 6502 Assembly and it calculated e out to 100,000 digits (no more since there was no more memory in the Apple ][ to hold the result). By following the article and the 6502 Assembly code, I was able to rewrite it in C.

Now, when Steve Wozniak first wrote it, it took the Apple ][ a week to calculate the result—a modern machine (okay, a 1.6GHz AMD Athalon) took only 2½ minutes to calculate e to 100,000 digits (the output give the amount of memory used, the number of digits produced (and in this case, 50,000 bytes gives 120,412 digits) and the magnitude of the result and the resultant number itself, but without the leading 2).

Amazing the speed advances that 24 years can bring.

As for how the program works, you'll have to dig up the article and find out; I don't recall the math behind it anymore.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Reason #3.1415926 I hate PHP

Continuing with the PHP woes, this time it seemed that PHP wasn't tracking session data. I started to look into this given the minimal script that was provided to prove the problem.

Yup, looked like it wasn't keeping track of the session. Taking a look at the code:


if (!$yword){
   $wordtext = "Sorry i can't get the session";
   $wordtext = $yword;
if (!$se){
   $setext = "No";
   $setext = $se;

Started reading the documentation for the session_register() function:

bool session_register ( mixed name [, mixed …])

session_register() accepts a variable number of arguments, any of which can be either a string holding the name of a variable or an array consisting of variable names or other arrays. For each name, session_register() registers the global variable with that name in the current session.


If you want your script to work regardless of register_globals, you need to instead use the $_SESSION array as $_SESSION entries are automatically registered. If your script uses session_register(), it will not work in environments where the PHP directive register_globals is disabled.

register_globals: important note: Since PHP 4.2.0, the default value for the PHP directive register_globals is off. The PHP community encourages all to not rely on this directive but instead use other means, such as the superglobals.

PHP: session_register

Not only are they using the wrong function for what they want, but even if it did work, you're not really supposed to use that function anymore, because, you know, it's obsolete (I mean, that's so PHP 4.1.2).

Language du jour I'm telling you! How can anyone use a language with such drastic changes from year to year (or even day to day)? I'm not even going to mention variable variables (it's not that variables in PHP aren't variable enough, it's that this is the PHP way to doing pointers in a langauge that doesn't support pointers but I said I wouldn't mention it, so I won't).

Anyway, the solution to the problem above was to change the code so it looked like:

$yword = $_SESSION['yword'];
$se    = $_SESSION['se'];

And all was right with the world.

Well … almost.

They're still using PHP, which makes using Perl seem almost logical …

Monday, November 15, 2004

Reason #1.414213562 I hate PHP

Work was there. But then again, I was in my cubicle with that neat Zen-like emptiness to it.

Today's PHP problem I don't think was necessarily a PHP problem as it was a lack of documentation about installation. One of the clients uses OSCommerce, an open-source shopping cart management system and one of the modules “supposedly installed” was EasyPopulate, which allows one to populate the product database on the webserver from a spreadsheet. The customer used it once before, but that was then.

This is now.

Try as I might, I could not get the module to load. It was there, written in PHP, on the server, nestled among all the other PHP modules making up the shopping cart. Only it would not run.

Or rather, the shopping cart software would refuse to run it.

Or something like that.

It took me the better part of an hour (using Google) to find anything close to installation notes, for a slightly different version (“let me tell you about slightly different versions … ”) and it wasn't terribly surprising when those instructions didn't work.

Another hour or so was wasted trying to locate the module to download any version; old, new, borrowed, blue, anything.

I will say that the OSCommerce site looks good, but actually finding anything useful? Like … oh … the software? It's a sad state of affairs when one realizes that one downloaded what they were looking for by mistake (I was trying to download OSCommerce itself, thinking the module was one of those that used to be third party but had become part of the main distribution—I thought I downloaded OSCommerce but instead I had downloaded the latest version of the Easy Populate module). Yes, the site is that bad.

Now, the installation of the module. The module itself came with no installation guide, I guess on the assumption that you have the OSCommerce guide and that tells you how to install modules, cause the Good Lord knows that what I thought was the module installation module wasn't installing modules. I ended up having to go through the source code to the module, finding out why it was refusing to run and found the answer—because the module wasn't listed in one of the database tables that OSCommerce uses.

Some sixy SQL statments later (one to see what was in that particular table, one that I botched so badly that it basically wiped out that particular table, and fifty-eight to restore the table and add the new module) it was added and would now run.

Not correctly mind you, but it would run.

Some more hacking on the module (“no, the product database doesn't have those fields, so forget about them!”) and I think it works.

I hope.

This is not a keyboard

Now, About that keyboard …

I'm picky about keyboards. The only keyboard I use are IBM keyboards. Specifically the IBM AT or PS/2 keyboards. Nothing matches the feel of the IBM AT keyboard; not even the PS/2 keyboard (although it comes very close). But those are quite rare, and the lack of a separate bunch of editing keys is a bit bothersome to me (as I'm used to the inverted-T layout of the arrow keys). PS/2 keyboards are easier to come by and with the exception of the CapsLock key being where the Control key should be (were God intended it on keyboards used by programmers) it's just as good as the IBM AT keyboard (oh, you can also rearrange the keycaps on the PS/2; good for practical jokes).

And both are, as far as I can tell, indestructable.

But I don't have one of those at work. I have … this.

This is not a keyboard. Oh sure, it may look like a keyboard, and it may even marginally function like a keyboard. But it is not a keyboard. This is a weak imitation of a keyboard. This wouldn't even survive my using it to hit a luser, much less survive me pounding the hell out of it in frustration of using Windows. This is a joke of a keyboard.

And that's my judgement on just the feel of the keyboard.

I also have problems with those … extra … buttons that adorn the top edge of the keyboard. The function keys? They don't work. Not unless you hit that small “F” key on the far left edge, which supposedly toggle between the use of the function keys as function keys, and the use of the function keys as some random controls for some bits of software somewhere. And that small ovoidal key above the small “F” key? That's the “User” key, which, curious about, I hit.

Immediately the screen shut off, shortly followed by my screaming out in alarm that this “User” key was in fact, a stealth Big Red Switch. Turns out it just locked (as in keyboard lock, not crash locked) my Windows session and blanked the screen. Intuitive use of the “User” key that. Now I'm paranoid about pressing any of the other “buttons” on that keyboard.

I'm seriously considering bringing in my own keyboard. I did that for my last two jobs; I don't see why this one should be any different.

Grass is always greener on the other side of the roof

The offices where I work are on the second floor. Below is the view outside the window of the conference room.

[Grass is always greener on the other side of the roof]

Why yes, there is grass growing on the roof. Why do you ask?

Your friendly neighborhood Big Brother

With 3,600 stores in the United States and roughly 100 million customers walking through the doors each week, Wal-Mart has access to information about a broad slice of America - from individual Social Security and driver's license numbers to geographic proclivities for Mallomars, or lipsticks, or jugs of antifreeze. The data are gathered item by item at the checkout aisle, then recorded, mapped and updated by store, by state, by region.

By its own count, Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, made by NCR, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.

Via The Diff Wire, What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits

Like last week, this week again I went shopping at Wal★Mart. I was talked into shopping there for a few weeks just to get a feel for how much money we won't spend there, as apposed to Publix. Yes, we're evil for doing it, and articles like the above don't make it any easier to do.

It's also amazing the amount of data they have, and how they can pour through it. Privacy and Big Brother issues aside, it is fascinating that they are able to data mine that much data. Who would have thought that Pop-Tarts and beer are big sellers prior to hurricanes? And how do you come up with the queries to find out such information?

But least you think that all that data Wal★Mart has can only be used for evil:

STILL, as Wal-Mart recently discovered, there can be such a thing as too much information. Six women brought a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the company in 2001 that was broadened this year to a class of about 1.6 million current and former female employees. Lawyers for the women have said that Wal-Mart has the ability to use its human-resources database to calculate back pay for the plaintiffs as well as to determine whether women were fairly promoted and paid. The judge hearing the case, which is pending in a federal court in San Francisco, has agreed.

The database is unusually detail-rich, said Joseph Sellers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “They've put into their work force database the information that bears on virtually every facet of compensation,” he said. “They have performance reviews, along with seniority, the time spent with the company, which store they worked in. So you can compare people working in the same store, to measure whether men and women are paid differently.”

Via The Diff Wire, What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits

Talk about ironic advertising

I'm sure this is completely unintentional, but I found it hilarious.

Update very early Tuesday morning at 1:27 am, November 16th, 2004

Wlofie: “Yes, that is funny.”

Jessica: “Yeah, there's something funny about it. The fourth figure, doesn't fit. A scuba diver in the sky maybe?”

Spring: “It would have been funnier if it was the CIA. But not the Navy.”

Sigh. So much for attempting to point out the ironic placement of a Navy ad in a page about 1984 (and Big Brother).

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My Lunch with Windows

I don't know how anyone can actually use Microsoft Windows. Yesterday and today I log in and Microsoft Windows XP Professional has thrown up speech balloons telling me that there are important updates to Windows that I need to install now and oh, why don't I get a Microsoft Passport to use with Microsoft Messenger and while you're at it, want to make Internet Explorer your default browser, because I've noticed that it's some heretical browser and we can't have that, now can we?

Shut the XXXX up.

No, I do not want a Microsoft Passport.

Sure, muck with the system files as you update, if that will shut you up.

And you can stick Internet Explorer were the sun don't shine.

If it weren't for a single rare support issue (cough FrontPage cough) I wouldn't have Microsoft Windows XP Profession (or any Windows version for that matter) on this system.

But no, I fear I must have this daily dialog with Microsoft Windows XP Profession as computers excel at repetative drudgery.


Keyboard Dundee

That's not a keyboard. That's a keyboard.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A fifeen part review of a 6,000 page comic

I'm a Cerebus fan. Have been since 1990 when my friend Sean Williams first lent me Swords of Cerebus. What started out as a cross between “Conan the Barbarian” and “Howard the Duck” soon turned into a sprawling religeous/political satire (that story wise I feel peaked during High Society and Church & State I) and was the longest running independent comic (at first, just Dave Sim, then starting with Church & State, backgrounds by Gehard). It is now over, having finished issue #300 with Cerebus (the main character) dying unloved, unmourned and alone (his fate as stated sometime around Church & State II).

So it's with great pleasure that I am reading 15 part review of the entire Cerebus story arc (see sidebar links to individual parts). Long, yes, but then again, Cerebus was a long story spanning 27 years of monthly comics.

When reading the review, be aware that around part IX the author tackles the problem of Dave Sim possibly loosing his mind. Well, Dave Sim may have lost his mind earlier, but in issue #186 he presents some very strong opinions on women that are actually part of the Cerebus story line, and pissed off a lot of people (and makes me wonder if he lost his mind).

Did I mention strong opinions?

That might be a bit of an understatement, and the reviewer is simply relaying Dave's thoughts, not his, so just be aware (and yes, the entire print run of Cerebus runs to 6,000 pages).

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Philosophical conumdrum found on a bag of microwavable popcorn

Instructions on the cellophane wrapper around a bag of microwavable popcorn:

[none listed]

Instructions on the bag of microwavable popcorn once the cellophane wrapper has been removed:


The philosophical question this brings to mind:

What the XXXX were they thinking when they printed this?

Friday, November 19, 2004

Calls from the Help(less) desk

[insert long and loud primal scream here]

[It's so long and loud you have to wonder how I am capable of sustaining it for so long with passin—

—oh sorry, I passed out there for a second.]

I just received a call from a gentleman who wishes to host his site with us. Dispite the fact that I am not in sales (and therefore have no real idea what we charge or even what we offer) and since he's not our customer yet (so I'm not supposed to answer technical questions) I was still on the phone for over half an hour with him, answering both sales like questions (“Well yes, you could get a dedicated server if you want”) and technical questions (“No no no, SQL is a database query language, MySQL is an implementation of SQL, like Oracle is an implementation of SQL”) and critiquing his site (“Well, the links are images so that increases the download time, especially to dial-up users”).


HELP I hastily wrote to my fellow cow-orker.

Get name & number and have C call them, my fellow cow-orker wrote back.

Took another fifteen minutes to get him off the phone.

It's not that the questions where stupid (well, frankly, they were; some didn't even make sense) but that the gentleman had no concept of how database driven sites work (and I suspect, he has no idea how websites work, or even how computers work, but then again, I'm applying my knowledge of how computers work against his knowledge and there's just no comparison—much like his knowledge of commercial real estate doesn't compare to mine). It's frustrating trying to explain the difference between SQL and MySQL and that no, SQL and ASP are not the same thing, much less compatible, but that you can embed SQL within ASP (and you are either going “Of course!” or “What is this gibberish?”—sigh) while at the same time trying to get him off the phone without seeming rude and potentially loosing a sale (since without customers, there is no job—sucks but that's “Reality 101” as Dad would say).

Thankfully, this gentleman was no JL (a customer I had to deal with a few years ago where the Company slapped a restraining order on him to keep him away from the office. JL was truely a customer that had (literally) forgotten to take his medication. It got so bad I was willing to pay to have him fired as a customer).

Okay, I'm feeling better now.

Monday, November 22, 2004

nervous dizzy sleepless

Nervous. Dizzy. Sleepless.

Those were the words I read on the bottle of generic Tussin cough syrup. Under a heading of “Stop taking and consult a doctor if …”

Sleepless … check. I had taken a doze of cough syrup the night before, having a cough. Followed the recommended dosage, then attempted to go to sleep. Usually one is warned not to operate heavy machinery (such as a screw driver or ball-point pen) since the typical side affect is sleepiness. But try as I might, I could not get to sleep last night. My mind was racing, faster than a five year old on a sugar rush, but even less of an attention span. “Oooh! Shin—oooh! Shin—Whoah! Shi—Wow!” I could keep my eyes closed, but I wasn't sleeping.

Nervous … well, not emotionally, but physically? My legs had this nervous energy and they wouldn't stop moving. Now, it wasn't like they were uncontrollable twitchings and yes, I could keep them from moving, but they felt as if they wanted to scale Mount Everrest. And then K2 as a light dessert. They had this excess energy that I had to burn off somehow, seeing how Mounts Everrest and K2 were half a world away.

Dizziness … not sure. I didn't get out of bed (despite the protesting thrashings of my legs) since I didn't feel like getting out of bed so it's hard to say if I would have been dizzy or not. Although I might have been dizzy giving the tossing and turning I was doing for oh, five or six hours easy.

So I'm looking at the bottle this morning, going “check, not sure, check” and realizing that I may want to avoid the cough syrup in the future. But in doing some research for this entry, I come across this bit:

Limit caffeine (for example, tea, coffee, cola) and chocolate intake. Use with this medicine may cause nervousness, shakiness, rapid heartbeats, and anxiety

Well, that explains it.

Sucks that I'll have to give up on caffeine … um … wait a second …

Sucks that I'll have to live with this cough …

“Yes, you are the only one who understands this stuff … ”

“There is … broken image,” she said. Granted, English is not her first language.

“I'm not seeing any broken images,” I said. Not only did we move her site to a new server, but it has a new domain name. Lots of breakage because of this insipid control panel software we're using to administer the servers and you have to do things its way. Yes, you can kind-of work around it at the command line (as I have) but admitting that (shhh) breaks the warentee on using the control panel and of course things like database names are based off the domain name. Lot's of breakage today, but the database issue was resolved earlier, and that's not the current problem. The current problem is a still broken image. The previous broken images were due to permissions problems (which is odd, given that rsync preserves permissions, at least in my experience it has, but hey, something could have gone wrong in moving the site from the old server to the new one) but that was fixed.

“But … see there … to the right the [mumble]?”

“I don't see any missing images,” I said.

“To the left right … I mean upper right corner, the [mumble]?”

“The what?”


Ah, the bride. In the upper right corner. “I'm seeing that image.”

“Yes … below that … broken image.”

Oh wait … the page is just a tad wider than my window. I scroll right, and yes indeed, there is an image. “Oh,” I said. “There it is.”


“Okay,” I say, now more talking to myself, “properties … ”


This is now our fifth or sixth conversation today. And it has come painfully clear to me that this person does not understand websites, which I might be able to live with.

But she's not a realtor trying to understand this web … thingy … stuff … a-ma-bob; she's a resellor of websites. Who barely understands how this stuff works.

“Oh, I'm must mumbling to myself,” I said, dreading that I might have to explain my web browser will display the properties of an image from a webpage. I continue probing. Okay, the broken image is top-new.jpg. I then start looking through the server, cursing under my breath because of cut-n-paste, which works differently between Windows and X-Windows. To make matter worse, putty, the terminal program I use under Windows, handles cut-n-paste not as Windows, but as X-Windows. Makes me wish I was hiking Mount Everest; at least then my only concern would be hypothermia.

Eventually, I'm able to track down the problem. “The webpage is referencing top dash new dot jay peg,” I said. “The file on the server is actually called top dash menu dash new dot jay peg.”

“So the file didn't copy?”

“No, it did. It's just that the name of the file doesn't match in the webpage.”

“Thought you said you copied files?”

“I did,” I said. “It's there—”

“But it's not showing up.”

Am I the only one that understands this stuff? “It's a typo—”

“So I'll have my people look into it,” she says.

“Okay,” I said, not convinced she even knows what I said.

I'm dreading the next phone call …

Control panels

I am not a fan of control panels.

Oh, I can understand why C is using them; there's no mucking around with configuration files, and it's easier to train someone to use administrate a system using this click-n-drool interface than it is to use the command line (“What's that?”). But—and it may be the control panel software we're using—it's restrictive. Way restrictive.

How restrictive?

Here's the configuration of one of our webservers, as given by the control panel:

Port 80
SSL Port 443
StartServers 8
MaxClients 150
HostnameLookups on

That's it.

Simple, huh?

You might not realize we're using Apache 2.0 given the simplicity of the configuration file. Oh, and if you want to edit the configuration? Those fields above? They're the only ones you can change through the control panel.

And what does the website administrator see as the configuration?

DocumentRoot /website/html

Good thing Apache supports user level configuration files.

Granted, most sites won't have a configuration beyond this basic setup. But heaven help you if you want something a bit more complex. Or (for whatever reason) don't (or can't) do what you want through the user level configuration files.

And that's just the configuration of the webserver using the control panel.

For instance, a simple operation of renaming a domain. Under the command line, you may need to rename a directory (for instance, this site is stored under a directory called, change a few lines in the Apache configuration file and update DNS. Under this control panel we have? Looks like you have to create a whole new account, then have the user (who will have a new userid because … well … that's the way it's done) upload the site (and unless he has a copy of it himself, he'll have to download a copy from the old site). Then, once everything is changed over (oh, he has a database too—he'll need to recreate that as well) then we can go in a remove the old site.

Yup, that's certainly better.

Or you could muck around the server on the command line and copy the files that way, but I've been there, done that, still having support issues because of the way the control panel works (and my trying not to break things too badly by using the command line).

Okay, I'll stop griping now.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Gobble gobble

Michael Duff pretty much sums up how I feel this day. Nothing much else to write about—the past few days at work have been very quiet this holiday week. And we've just finished stuffing ourselves with Thanksgiving dinner (sans turkey—Spring doesn't care for it, I'm ambivilent, and this is new for wlofie anyway, so we had a large ham instead—mmmmmmmmm).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Put those pesky kids to work

Learning can be fun. Most games teach kids useless information and ignore important life skills. Junior Craps Table is fun, educational, and it pays for itself quickly …

Junior Craps Table

Yes, I guess it would pay for itself quickly as the neighborhood kids go into hock. And yes, it does teach a valuable lesson when they get kneecapped for nonpayment of gambling debts.

Gotta teach that lesson early on in life.

How Do I Get Started? It's easy! With our introductory DVD, titled Rolling in Dough, your whole family will really enjoy this light-hearted introduction to Craps and the process of running a low-profile business in your neighborhood.

Junior Craps Table

Gotta love satire.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Machines coughing

  1. Nov 27 * new_account@turtle (1047) Your mail password
  2. Nov 27 * (1047) Faulty_mail delivery
  3. Nov 27 * webmaster@hotmail. (1059) invalid mail <SMTP:8650>
  4. Nov 27 * Error_Mail@wimborn (1051) Mail delivery_failed <6580>
  5. Nov 27 * smooth_criminal_00 (1039) Details
  6. Nov 27 * hostmaster@hotmail (1043) Confirmation
  7. Nov 27 * shaikin_fati@hotma (1041) Oh God it's
  8. Nov 27 * Auto-Mailer@valves (1053) Re: Faulty_mail delivery <Esmtp:5394>
  9. Nov 27 * nasimaqsa@hotmail. (1030) Details
  10. Nov 27 * Error_Mail@winzyra (1052) Re: Mail delivery_failed
  11. Nov 27 * (1043) Mail Error <SMTP:3234>
  12. Nov 27 * new_account@talk21 (1045) Re: Registration confirmation
  13. Nov 27 * Error_Mail@barking (1049) FwD: illegal signs in your mail
  14. Nov 27 * notifications@grou (1034) Oh God it's
  15. Nov 27 * (1051) Re: Mail delivery_failed <7339>
  16. Nov 27 * user_info@xtzyra.c (1046) Your Password <KEY:4924>
  17. Nov 27 * (1053) Faulty_mail delivery
  18. Nov 27 * (1034) FwD: Details

Yup. Spam.

Well, more like viral spam, as it's the same box, over and over, trying to deliver a virus. The IP address it's coming from is, which belongs to blueyonder, an ISP based out of Surrey, England.

While I could ban the IP that would only stop perhaps 40% of it, as most of it is coming in via the backup email host for my domain and I don't have the access to block IP addresses there. I did a look up on the IP address (which is how I found out who owns it) and got this:

Contact info for added
inetnum: -
descr: Telewest HSD Platform
country: GB
admin-c: TWIP3-RIPE
tech-c: TWIP1-RIPE
mnt-by: AS5462-MNT
mnt-lower: AS5462-MNT
mnt-routes: AS5462-MNT
remarks: report abuse to
remarks: All reports via other channels will be ignored.
changed: 20030313
source: RIPE

As you can see, all abuse issues need to be mailed to, which I did:

From: Sean Conner <>
Subject: Infected machine trying to infect my machine
Date: Thu, 25 Nov 2004 14:52:55 -0500 (EST)

To whom it may concern:

A machine with the IP address of is continuously sending me infected files, 12 alone today, and about 20 yesterday (when I first noticed). I'm not concerned terribly much about getting infected (since I run Linux, not Windows) but it is clogging up my email, and no telling how many other systems it's trying to infect. Please deal with this as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Sean Conner.

[email sent to me attached]

And as you can see, that was two days ago.

And they're still coming in.

So much for reporting abuse issues.

Today, I went to their broadband support page, and put in a trouble ticket. Maybe then they'll take a look into this.

Update on Tuesday, November 30th, 2004

Still going on …

Update on Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Some more updates …

The IDE Divide

The developer world is divided into two camps. Language mavens wax rhapsodic about the power of higher-level programming—first-class functions, staged programming, AOP, MOPs, and reflection. Tool mavens are skilled at the use of integrated build and debug tools, integrated documentation, code completion, refactoring, and code comprehension. Language mavens tend to use a text editor such as emacs or vim these editors are more likely to work for new languages. Tool mavens tend to use IDEs such as Visual Studio, Eclipse, or IntelliJ, that integrate a variety of development tools.

Via Lambda the Ultimate, Oliver Steele: The IDE Divide

I can't stand IDEs. Understandable when you consider that I grew up without them, and the first IDE I did use, Turbo Pascal 3 (around 1987), was so painful because the editor sucked compared to what I was used to (IBM's PE v1.0, written in 1982, which should give you an idea of just how bad I considered the editor under Turbo Pascal 3). Then moving to the Amiga and Unix, where IDEs wheren't really available (unless one wanted to use the monstronsity that is emacs) and well … IDEs are just alien to my way of working (if you thought I was picky about keyboards, I'm just as stubborn about text editors).

So, according to the above article, I don't know if that makes me a Language maven since for me, it's not necessarily about the language, but what editor I can use (and if I can turn off the annoying tendency for syntax highlighting that is all the rage now).

Perhaps I'm an anti-Tool maven more than I'm a Language maven.

Or perhaps I'm reading into this article more than I should.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

I guess …

I'm still getting spammed from so I guess my trouble ticket was all for naught as well. It's seems like Blue Yonder doesn't care that one of its customers is spamming the world. I guess Blue Yonder ignores abuse complaints. I guess Blue Yonder doesn't know how to fix the problem. I guess Blue Yonder doesn't care to fix the problem. I guess Blue Yonder doesn't care about Google.

Update on Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Some more updates …

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.

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