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, April 27, 2005

… and the cops are still wizzing by …

Again with the cops, about two dozen or so screaming past our office and heading to the same place as yesterday (and nothing about it in the news). On the way home yesterday I did notice that the company they went to is a security related company, so perhaps this is some training mission.

Very wierd …

Taking away the spam filter's Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring

A few months ago I wrote about some character encoding problems I was having, namely that it was a real mess under the web. But apparently, it's not a mess with email.

We have a dedicated computer that does nothing but filter spam (and the statistics from that are depressing); you can add additional fitering via regular expressions. Smirk has been receiving quite a bit of foreign spam, stuff in Russian, Korean, Chinese, which he can't even read since it's in Cyrillic, Wansung and Hangul. But (for instance) some (if not most) of the email had subject lines like:

Subject: =?Windows-1251?B?amFlQGxlZWhvbS5uZXQg?=

where the character set is encoded within the subject line. So Smirk thought a regular expression like ^Subject: .*Windows-1251.* would work and filter out the spam in Cyrillic (with appropriate regular expressions for Wansung and Hangul).

Only it didn't work.

It caught subject lines that had “Windows-1251” as part of the legitimate subject line (I sent him a test message with the subject of “Did you get Windows-1251 yet?”) but not if it was part of an encoding. Which meant only one thing: the spam filtering system was applying the regular expressions to the decoded characters!

Well … that's certainly a surprise.

But it doesn't help the current problem. We're now waiting to hear back from the company if that “feature” can be turned off.

All I want to do is install Linux …

I finally received the go-ahead to convert my workstation from Microsoft Windows to Linux (well technically, I can install Linux on another workstation and swap it out for the Windows system I'm using now, but that's just an implementation detail).


But I've been at this for five hours now and I've yet to even start installing Linux.


First, I had to copy any important data off the machines (mine, and the current Windows system I will be installing Linux on). At first, I thought I could mount the office file server (which Smirk had finally finished setting up) but after spending almost an hour trying to get my machine to see that machine we gave up and used tar and scp (we have Cygwin installed on all the Windows systems here). Of course the machine I'll be using had a 10Mb network card which meant it took a long time to copy all the data to another computer.

Then it was time to install. The nearest distribution CDs available were for CentOS, a Linux distribution based off Red Hat's Fedora Core. P has it on his workstation, and at this point, I'm not particularly picky about my Linux distributions, just that can use one. So after swapping the network card for a 100Mb one, I put the CD in, and power up.

The Linux kernel is loaded, but that's it.

For about fifteen minutes.

Until I realize that P mentioned that he had made a CentOS boot disk that uses a serial console, not the video console.

Well then …

I found some Fedore Core 2 disks and boot that. It loads, but as it's loading up, I realize that I'm missing CD #2.

Okay, I can burn a CD while that's loading. Smirk has the disk images on his computer, so it's a simple matter of burning disc #2.

Ha ha, only if it were so easy.

I probably wasted close to another hour trying to figure out how to burn a CD on his computer. Which is running Windows. All I wanted to do was burn a file, which is a bit-for-bit image of a CD onto a blank CD. Under Unix, it's dd if=diskimage.iso of=/dev/cdrom. Under Windows … it's … a XXXXXXX nightmare. I “burned” three copies before I realized they weren't actually burned—the software just “simulated” the “burn” (only I didn't “notice” the “scare quotes” when it “burned” the “disk”). By then I noticed that the install program had just … stopped.

Bad CD?

Bad hardware?

The spectre of Bill Gates?

Hard to tell, but I decided to assume the CD was bad and burn a new disc #1, just as soon as I could figure out how to burn a disc on Smirk's computer.

I called Smirk, and he walked me though the process.

Only the computer refused to boot from the burned discs.

I then stepped the burn speed down and attempted another time.

I then stepped the burn speed down yet again to the slowest setting (4x) and am now waiting for the current burn to finish. If that doesn't work, I'll burn effigies of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer and try again tomorrow.

Oooh! CD is finally done burning. Gotta go …

All I wanna do is burn Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in effigy


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