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.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

No, I'm not really looking forward to this

Woot!

Today is the first day of Hurricane Season!

Wake me when it's December.


Oh my … the white elephant just stepped into the room

I swear the gremlins are out to get our servers.

Since I last talked about “Project White Elephant”, P had taken on the project and set up the pair of redunant servers that live somewhere in the Great Plain States (aka “fly-over country”). Ever since, I haven't had to deal with it, and from what I understand, it's been running quite smoothly over the past year, year and a half.

Until this week.

Wouldn't you know it, the backup machine, which has a RAID system, blew up. RAID system got totally borked, so it had to be rebuilt and reinstalled.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem.

But see, if P wasn't on vacation in another hemisphere of the globe for the past month (and he won't be back until the middle of this month), it probably wouldn't have blown up.

So now Smirk phoned me and said “Fix this.”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Not only does it involve control panels (hssssssssssssss) but MySQL replication, automatic fail over, blah blah yada yada …

Hsssssssssssssssssss.

As if the past few weeks haven't been horrible enough.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Pulp Valley of the Fiction Dolls

From
"Mel" <XXXXXXXXXXXXX>
To
sean@conman.org
Subject
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on DVD
Date
Fri, 02 Jun 2006 16:22:48 -0700

Hi,

I just found your Pulp Fiction blog entry: http://boston.conman.org/2006/05/26.5 and I think you may be of some help to me. I'm reaching out to you on behalf of Fox Entertainment and M80 regarding the DVD release of Russ Meyer's film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and Mark Robson's film Valley Of The Dolls. Since you mentioned Pulp Fiction, I thought that you might be interested in posting the press release or a review of the film on your blog? You seem like a reputable influencer, so I think you'd be a big help to us.

Please let me know if you're interested!

Thanks!

Mel, M80
XXXXXXXXXXXXX
www.m80im.com / www.m80teams.com

Wow … that was certainly quick, given that I wrote about “Pulp Fiction” only last week.

But I have to wonder what the heck “Valley of the Dolls” and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” have to do with “Pulp Fiction”. Is it perhaps because “Valley of the Dolls” and “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” are based upon pulp fiction books? All three deal with crime, drugs and large cities? They all are Fox Entertainment properties?

Who knows? Mel certainly didn't explain how “Pulp Fiction” has anything to do with the “Valley” films, nor why I would necessarily care.

In any case, I haven't seen either of the “Valley” movies, so I can't review them (nor do I have any desire to see them) and I don't know why he thinks I'm a “reputable influencer” (thanks anyway!) given that my readership is perhaps a few dozen people at best.

It's even more puzzling in that I think I found the search Mel used to find me, and it's mostly links to posts about actual pulp fiction books, not the film “Pulp Fiction.” I wonder how many sites Mel sent email to? [but no, I did not respond to him, because 1) it's puzzling, and 2) I'm writing this several days after the fact. —Editor]

And it's snarky comments like these that mean I'll probably never make any real money at blogging.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Money for nothing and your clicks for free

From
"Clarice Sears" <XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>
To
Webmaster <webmaster@conman.org>
Subject
We need your traffic
Date
Sat, 3 Jun 2006 19:11:42 -0060

We buy trafficWe buy iframe traffic

Earn $0.085 ($85.00/1000 installs) and more for each unique iframe installs You only put the short one line iframe code on your page(s) and start to MAKE MONEY WITHOUT any Active-X console or any pop-ups … It means that you will not lose your unique visitors with our iframe!

The best percentage of installs (10-40% from the total traff or it's $4-$15 FOR 1000 UNIQUE VISITORS)

DAILY updated soft
Real-time statictic of your work
Payment via: Fethard, Webmoney, Wire, E-gold and Western Union (WU)
Friendly support service
HIT ME ICQ XXXXXXXXX or XXXXXXXXX
MSN XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

If I read this correctly, it's 8½¢ per impression for adding one line of HTML to all of my pages. Using The Boston Diaries (since it's its own domain) as a reference point—last month I had 75,466 hits which works out to $6,414.61!

Woot!

Oh wait a second … filter out the bad requests and I have 67,641 hits last month, which works out to $5,749.48.

Okay, I can deal with that—

Oh wait.

Remove hits from myself (to be fair), requests other than GETs, RSS agregators and web spiders and now I'm only down to 3,301 views, which works out to $280.58.

Bummer.

There go my plans for early retirement.

Oh wait … what if I include all my sites?

35,287 visits … $2999.39?

35,000 visits? Still sounds a bit high to me, but in looking over the results, it's probably close enough. There may be something to this then …

Although, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is …

Update on Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

Just a few minutes ago I actually responded to this email asking for details, using the email address listed in the body of the message. Imaging my surprise when my message bounced back, saying that no such address existed.

Makes me wonder how they plan to actually rope people in on this scam.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Driven by a white elephant

Ring.

Ring.

“Hello,” I said.

“Sean,” said Smirk. “I need you to continue working on ‘Project White Elephant’ as I drive down to the data center to reboot a server.” Yup, it was still down and being reconstructed.

“Um … ” I said. Smirk could hear the hesitation in my voice. This wasn't something I wanted to deal with right now.

“Well, unless you want to drive down to the data center and reboot the server.” Deal with “Project White Elephant” or drive 20 miles to the data center, spend two minutes rebooting a server and driving 20 miles back home. “Project White Elephant” or driving. “Project White Elephant” or driving.

“I'll drive,” I said, walking out the door …

Monday, June 05, 2006

A thought on static types vs. dynamic types

The simple fact is, I would never choose to write shell scripts in a strongly type-checked language (unless someone were to write a scripting language that is as cheap and dirty as, say, bash). And I would never use a torque wrench to change a light bulb in my house when a crescent is handy. Type checking simply isn't a critical feature for the scripts that I write, and there is a certain cost in using languages that check types rigorously.

On the other hand, I would never be fully confident in a large system built on a DT language. It's not because I don't trust the language. It's because I don't trust myself. An ST language constrains the types of things you can say in a way that helps you avoid erroneous constructions. But the cost is that you have to consciously choose the types, and sometimes you have to build the types from scratch. This cost is not zero, and it's not negligible, which is why I prefer to write shell scripts in an untyped language.

But the larger the system, the more the type system of a language gives me confidence that the components are being used correctly. Since tests get more expensive to write the larger the pieces to be tested become, it is very nice to have the compiler tell me right away that I've done something stupid or made a simple error than to wait for a test to tell me that. Although type checking does not necessarily imply correctness, for many types of algorithmically simple program components, it gets you 90% of the way there.

Johnny Come Lately

Which pretty much sums up why I prefer to use statically typed langauges (I was probably the only one in college that liked programming in Ada). I tend to think of programmers that prefer dynamic typed languages as sloppy thinkers, but perhaps that's because all the languages I learned early on were statically typed (especially Assembly were you had to explicitely reserve memory for your variables).


Finally fixed

I just spent the past few hours on the phone with Smirk, acting as backup as he finally got “Project White Elephant” back up and running, with the control panels, MySQL replication, automatic backups and failover switching. P had left notes, but they lacked some crutial details that took P about a week to discover (the information was there in some configuration files, but getting the MySQL replication working with Blech (the control panel) was the major sticking point.

So it's back up and running, which is a load off our minds.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Conditional Advertising

We hope they'll get over it, because they could conceivably take advantage of the same information themselves. A feature we toyed around with and got working (but have been too preoccupied to exploit) was a system that could change the contents of the page you were looking at depending on where you came from to get there. The idea was to take advantage of the context that was being set-up for us by someone else. In an “overlinking” environment, an author could exploit the same information being gathered by the third party and use it to do anything from improving his site's official navigation structure to the information his site offers. For example, if the server saw the visitor arriving by a route that suggests she has technical proficiency, then layman's explanations for jargon and concepts could be omitted.

Via ThoughtStorms: One Way Links, Ghosts of Xanadu

The idea isn't exactly new—SEOs feed targetted content to webspiders in the hopes of getting better search engine rankings, but this method (described four years ago) parallels an idea I had just the other day.

Google AdSense seems to work better on static pages than it does on dynamic pages (and it fails completely on my blog—even individual entries get wierd ads), so I thought that I might put Google Ads on my other websites, but only if the user follows a link from Google.

It's easy enough to do (untested code follows):

<!--#if expr="$HTTP_REFERER = /.*\.google\.com\/.*/" -->
  <div class="ad">
    <script type="text/javascript">
	google_ad_client    = "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX";
	google_ad_width     = 120;
	google_ad_height    = 240;
	google_ad_format    = "120x240_as";
	google_ad_channel   = "XXXXXXXXXX";
	google_color_border = "CCCCFF";
	google_color_bg     = "CCCCFF";
	google_color_link   = "000000";
	google_color_url    = "000077";
 	google_color_text   = "000000";
    </script><script>
	type="text/javascript"
	src="http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js">
  </div>
<!--#endif-->

And voilà! Ads only when someone follows a link from Google to my page.

Now, it's not without its associated costs. First, all my pages now have to be processed by Apache instead of being statically served, so the load goes a bit higher. And I actually have to add this to each page on all my sites (in some cases this is trivial—in others, not so trivial).

And I could even expand this—for links from other search engines, I could serve up ads from Amazon say (using part of the query as the query to Amazon, like I do for The Boston Diaries) and from other links, no advertising at all.

But do I really want to commercialize all my pages thusly? Would doing this break the Terms and Conditions of AdSense? Is it even worth doing? Is the effort involved worth the selling out? And am I spending too much time worrying about this?


Proof that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt

[This is not Burning Man]

Wierd timing. About two weeks ago I saw “The Wicker Man”, a movie made in 1972 about a Christian cop investigating a missing child on an island of pagans.

Today, via Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, I learn that Hollywood has a remake of The Wicker Man, staring Nicolas Cage, that is darker, bloodier and probably more “scarier” than the original (but alas, it looks like with much less nudity).

And the only thing I can ask is “Why?”

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hairless monkey chow

Imagine going to the grocery store only once every 6 months. Imagine paying less than a dollar per meal. Imagine never washing dishes, chopping vegetables or setting the table ever again. It sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

But can a human subsist on a constant diet of pelletized, nutritionally complete food like puppies and monkeys do? For the good of human kind, I'm about to find out. On June 3, 2006, I began my week of eating nothing but monkey chow: “a complete and balanced diet for the nutrition of primates, including the great apes.”

Maybe I'll lose weight. Maybe I'll gain superhuman monkey strength. Maybe I'll go crazy. Maybe it's too late. Check back here every day to follow along with the Monkey Chow Diaries. Comments, criticisms, questions and advice can be left on the blog.

I'm tired of cooking. I hate scrubbing pots and pans. I've wasted too much time in the checkout line. It's time to eat chow.

Via Kisrael.com, The Monkey Chow Diaries

The Monkey Chow Diaries is for Spring, who I know will be interested in this.

This also reminds me of my weekly Costco trip this past Monday. While there, I came across this five gallon bucket of “Emergency Food Supply”—275 portions of kosher vegetarian meals for about $110.00 (which works out to 40¢ per meal). Ten different meals and enough food to last one person three months (if you can stand eating the same 10 meals over and over and over again), with a supposed shelf life of 20 years.

I was almost tempted to get it. Almost.

Update on Monday, June 12th, 2006

Found the makers of the “Emergency Food Supply” buckets. It's Nutristorage.


Upgrading

Only a few people reading this (like Ken and Rob my old roommate) will find this amusing (and even surprising) but I'm posting about it anyway.

Today I've finally stopped using elm after using it for some seventeen years.

Yes, I've finally bitten the bullet and upgraded my primary email client to something that actually sees active development—mutt (and if you know me, you know that I tend not to upgrade if at all possible—“if it ain't broke, don't fix it”; heck, my main development machine at home is at least eight years old). Since I've been using mutt at work for several months now, I'm somewhat used to it and figured it was about time to switch. Besides active development, mutt does have a few features that elm lacks that I've grown used to.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

It's good to be the telecommuter

So far, it's been quite nice working from home, what with the 30 second (if that) commute, well stocked refridgerator (heck, well stocked kitchen) and window office (granted, I have a window office at work). Things at “The Office” have finally calmed down to the normal level of problems (i.e. not many), so that's good.

And I still have nearly a full tank of gas from Monday.

[Hopefully, this entry will get through without problem. When I switched email clients the software that accepts entries via email started core dumping on me. Turns out it's a bug totally unrelated to the email client and was just coincidentally triggered by my switch. I haven't fixed the bug but I now know what triggers it (and it's amazing that I haven't triggered it in the four and a half years I've been using the software!). Contrary to what Mr. Brown thinks, software is hard.]

Friday, June 09, 2006

We could use it …

I'm at the office today (which doesn't bother me, since I have to drive further south to get to the weekly D&D game today anyway) playing around with the MegaRAC® K1 (which I played around with a few months ago). The intent is to hook the MegaRAC® K1 into the Beklin OmniView™ PRO 16 port KVM switch so we can view the console of our servers remotely.

That's the theory anyway.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

And in this case, the MegaRAC® K1 doesn't quite play well with the Belkin OmniView™ 16 port switch. It does work in that yes, I can see the console of one of our servers remotely, but the second I attempt to switch to a different server (there's a certain keyboard sequence that you need to hit) the MegaRAC® K1 crashes. It doesn't crash on the keyboard sequence (that works since the sequence ScrollLock ScrollLock Space will bring up the Belkin menu allowing you to select the server to display) but the actual switching that kills the MegaRAC® K1, which then requires a power cycle to fix.

I suppose I could plug the MegaRAC® K1 into the the managed power strips

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ratatouille

“You know, if you could sorta muscle your way past the gag reflex, all kinds of food possibilities open up.”

Ratatouille (and vastly taken out of context here)

The next Pixar film (due out next year) is very cute and if it's anything at all like the trailer, this is something I definitely want to see.

Now only if the rest of Hollywood could take a lesson from Pixar

Sunday, June 11, 2006

“Yeah, what she said … ”

I'm actually amazed.

It's a funny Saturday Night Live sketch.

It's actually funny. A funny take on MySpace.

When was the last time Saturday Night Live was funny? What? 1987 or so?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Human chow

Last Wednesday I mentioned seeing a five gallon bucket of “Emergency Food Supply” at Costco, but at the time, I didn't see any branding information on the bucket, nor could I find it on the Costco website.

Today, however, I finally found it—Nutristorage where you can buy it direct from the manufacturer (what a wierd thing to say about a food maker) for about twice the price.


Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

I just finished watching the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (a reference to what Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling were called by the traders at Enron) based upon the book of the same name.

The documentary made pretty clear what went on at Enron: they booked projected (read: “made up”) future revenue (read: “haven't collected yet”) the moment they closed the deal (read: “our stock just went up”) and they had to keep moving, keep booking projects to maintain the fiction of their company, which started out trading natural gas, then expanded into electricity (most notably on the west coast) and even into Internet bandwidth (which didn't go at all, but that still didn't stop them from booking projected future revenues at the time).

What I did not realize was the extent of the scandal. Not only was Enron and Arthur Andersen (who shredded anything dealing with Enron during the investigation) but to major banks as well. Billions of dollars were floating around lining everybody's pockets, except for those that atually invested in Enron.

It's guys like these that make me sad that debtor's prisons don't exist anymore (and if ordered to make full restitution, you know that's where these guys would end up).

The movie itself was made in 2005, and since then, Lay and Skilling have been found guilty of fraud and conspiracy. Now all that remains to be seen is how much they have to give back, how much time they'll spend in Federal prison and who they'll end up “marrying” while there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Oh, so THAT'S how that works

From
"iframeMONEY" <leonex@iframemoney.biz>
To
<sean@conman.org>
Subject
UP TO 500USD per 1000 trojaned computers. Fresh undetected exploits only.
Date
Tue, 13 Jun 2006 16:14:46 -0700

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http://iframemoney.biz/


IframeMONEY,
Email: alexander007@iframemoney.biz
ICQ: 48481384
TEL: +79202501419

Earlier this month, I received some spam saying I could earn 8½¢ per impression for adding a line of HTML to my pages. At the time, I was curious how it worked, it sounding too good to be true.

Well, with this spam email, it all becomes clear—it's not 8½¢ per impression, it's 8½¢ per infected machine I'm able to deliver. Apparently, there's big money in botnets defrauding Google AdSense.


Audible cheats

Apparently, kids are using a ringtone that adults can't hear to send messages to each other during school (link via Shadesong). Well, we have some kids around here, so I thought I'd try it.

I couldn't hear it. Neither could Wlofie. The Kids—they could hear it plainly.

It does remind me of one story from high school. One of my science teachers was color blind, and some enterprising students (and no, it wasn't me) used that fact to cheat—they would write the answers in red on a red folder that was left out in plain sight. The poor teacher wouldn't notice, but the students could (darn! Now why didn't I think of that?).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Yeah, I kind of saw this coming

Yet more reasons I hate control panels.

I had to move a site last night from one server, hades to another server, marion, and both servers are running Insipid, which has a backup and restore feature. So the plan was to backup the site from hades, then restore it on marion.

It took several attempts on my part to get this process to work. One has to realize that when Insipid says the operation was “sucessful” all that was “sucessful” was your request for the operation—the operation itself is a separate process that will notify you of the actual sucess (or failure thereof) via email.

Hate hate hate.

Now, one aspect of this site is that it has its own IP address. And lo', once I got the site on marion, marion was listening in on the IP address.

Good.

But hades was still listening in on the site as well.

Bad.

Not wanting to actually remove the site from hades until I know this is working, I then decided to manually remove the IP address (not knowing how one even approaches this using Insipid).

ip addr del XXXXXXXXXXXXXX/24 dev eth0

Try to view the site, and the request is going to hades.

Okay, the switch it's on is probably still sending traffic to hades. Clear the ARP cache on the switch.

Try to view the site, and the request is going to hades.

Check hades and see that it really wants to hold onto that IP address. Use both ip and ifconfig to nuke the IP from hades.

Try to view the site, and the request is going to hades.

Clear the ARP cache on the switch.

Try to view the site, and the request is going to hades.

Okay, shut down the port that hades is plugged into on the switch, clear the ARP cache.

Try to view the site, and the request is now going to marion.

Good.

Now, that was late last night (between 3:00 and 4:00 am during which I stupidly answered the phone and took a tech support call around 3:30 am dealing with an email issue—sigh).

This morning, requests for said site are now going to hades.

Hate hate hate hate hate.

Okay, nuke delete the site from hades, make sure it doesn't have the IP address, shutdown the port it's plugged into on the switch, clear the ARP cache on the switch and okay, requests are now going to marion.

I even double check to make absolutely sure that no other sites are on this IP address. There aren't.

Hate hate hate hate hate.

I know why I hate control panels—I don't feel in control. And when something breaks, I have no idea how to fix it. Oh, I typically know what's wrong, and how one could fix it, if one weren't running a control panel. How to fix it within the context of the control panel? That, I don't know (oh, I suppose one could dive into the internals of the control panel but a) that kind of defeats the purpose of a control panel, which supposedly makes Unix administration easy and b) we use three or four different control panels, which all work differently, which means we need to become experts in using all these control panels which again, kind of defeats the purpose of a control panel. Either that, or I'm bitter that all my experience in administrating a Linux system is no longer applicable and that I have to relearn all this crap four new times, just to administrate a Linux system).

Hate hate hate hate hate.

Subject
No subject
Posted-by
Sean (Staff)
Date
06-14-2006 3:25am EDT

Moved site to marion. It”s disabled on hades and hopefully, hades won't try to reassert the IP address.

Response to trouble ticket last night after moving the site

I fully expect that in a few hours, I'll have to revisit this situation again.

An hour and a half later …

hades took control again. This time, we found a process, ntpd (Network Time Protocol—which keeps the clocks on all the servers in sync) had explicitely bound to each IP address on hades, as well as Apache apparently still configured for the site in question (then what the XXXXXXX XXXX good is Insipid if it doesn't restart Apache?).

Okay, maybe now hades won't take over the address.

Update three hours after the previous update

It's happened twice since the last update. Short of rebooting hades the next time it happens, I can't think of what else might be causing it to respond to an IP address it's no longer programmed to respond to.

Update about half an hour later

Found the script buried in /etc that had the IP address and nuked it. That seems to have taken care of the problem.

For now.


“It was my rerouting to circuit B that saved him.”

[We've gone back and forth several times today about this issue. This is the latest message in the trouble ticket system. I'm not trying to make fun of the customer, but man, it is so tempting … —Editor]

Our clients can not update their sites and they are suffering … Can't you route the communication to that server in a different way?

One of our resellers

Dear XXXXXX,

You know, you're right. We haven't tried rerouting FTP packets to the server. Let's see … we can peel off the FTP traffic from the HTTP traffic at the Primary Intarweb Interface Matrix and feed it through the secondary sub-intranet bridge instead of through the primary LAN tokenizer substation hub … hmm … while the FTP traffic is now going to the secondary sub-intranet bridge it's not getting past the IEEE 802.3 CSMA/CD packet scrubber. Odd.

Okay, instead, let's see if I can reroute the traffic from the secondary sub-intranet bridge through the dual-Φ power transformer at … let's see … probably need to make sure the bits are phased at 60Hz at 51.5° (to induce harmonic pyramidal overtones), making sure to bypass the GFCI (dangerous, I know, but if you know what you are doing, and are very careful, it should be okay) and then tap the secondary coil on the server in question, couple it to the APCI DMA via the unused SCSI controller and then finally into the TCP/IP stack … and—

Cool!

It worked!

Try it now!

Now, off to repair the primary LAN tokenizer substation hub.

[And no, despite how tempting it might have been, I did not send this as a reply, but instead restarted the FTP server.]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

“I'm from the government. I'm here to help.”

The Home School Legal Defense Association's (HSLDA) Chairman and General Counsel, Michael Farris, warns that even though the U.S. has never ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the convention may still be binding on citizens because of activist judges.

According to a new “interpretation” of what is known as “customary international law,” some U.S. judges have ruled that, even though the U.S. Senate and President have never ratified the Convention, it is still binding on American parents. “In the 2002 case of Beharry v. Reno, one federal court said that even though the Convention was never ratified, it still has an ‘impact on American law”,” Farris explained. “The fact that virtually every other nation in the world has adopted it has made it part of customary international law, and it means that it should be considered part of American jurisprudence.”

Under the Convention, severe limitations are placed on a parent's right to direct and train their children. As explained in a 1993 Home School Court Report by the HSLDA, under Article 13, parents could be subject to prosecution for any attempt to prevent their children from interacting with material they deemed unacceptable. Under Article 14, children are guaranteed “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”—in other words, children have a legal right to object to all religious training. And under Article 15, the child has a right to “freedom of association.” “If this measure were to be taken seriously, parents could be prevented from forbidding their child to associate with people deemed to be objectionable companions,” the HSLDA report explained.

International Law Threatens Home Schooling Warns Home School Legal Defense

I found the link to the above article from this article:

Yesterday my husband Paul Belien, the editor of this website, was summoned to the police station and interrogated. He was told that the Belgian authorities are of the opinion that, as a homeschooler, he has not adequately educated his children and, hence, is neglecting his duty as a parent, which is a criminal offence. The Ministry of Education has asked the judiciary to press charges and the judiciary told the police to investigate and take down his statement.

It appears that the Belgian authorities are again considering prosecution—the second time in barely two months. This time the claim is not that my husband posted allegedly “racist” texts on this website but that he is failing his children.

My husband, a lawyer by training, and I, a former university lecturer, have homeschooled four of our five children through high school. These four have meanwhile moved on to university. Our youngest child is also being homeschooled, but she has yet to obtain her high school certificate, for which she is currently taking exams. Like her four siblings she takes these exams before the Central Examination Board (CEB), an institution run by the Ministry of Education. The Belgian Constitution, written in 1831, allows parents to homeschool. The CEB exists to enable people who have not attended or who have failed school to obtain an official high school certificate.

Via Instapundit, Brussels Journal Editor Threatened with Prosecution over Homeschooling

And I'm conflicted on this.

On the one hand, I don't think the government should stick its business into the private affairs of families and that a family should educate its kids as it sees fit. And if said family wants to indoctrinate educate their kids as xenophobic racist Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians who believe that credit cards are the Mark of the Beast™ that's their business—let their kids have a hard time dealing with the rest of society.

On the other hand, child abuse is a horrible thing that no kid should suffer through and in that case, the government (or some other authority) is right to step in and move the kids to safety.

But on the gripping hand, what is “child abuse?” Obviously sexual abuse, or constant “corporal punishment” that leaves marks is child abuse. No question there. But can raising a kid as a xenophobic racist Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian be construed as “child abuse?”

And yet on the … um … yet another hand (running out of hands here) the government does have an interest in how kids are raised, if only to ensure domestic tranquility—an uneducated kid grows up as an uneducated adult that, if said uneducated adult doesn't turn to a life of crime, does enact a toll on the rest of society (by say, welfare or chronic homelessness).

Then again, on the … um … fifth limb (heck, why not?), what if my (purely hypothetical) kids want to become homeless beach bums? Isn't that their right? At least here, in the United States, home of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? Heck, what if I want to become a homeless beach bum as part of my “pursuit of happiness”?

But deep down, I don't like this, the government having final say in how kids are educated because deep down, I still believe that the government that governs the best, governs the least.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Capitalism sucks, but not as bad as all other systems

His philosophy at the time, he explains, wasn't exactly pro-profit or pro-capitalist: “Politically, I drifted to the Left and embraced the ideology that business and corporations were essentially ‘evil” because they sought profits. I believed that government was ‘good” (if the ‘right” people had control of it) because it altruistically worked for the public interest.”

He'd been taught, Mackey explains, that “business and capitalism were based on exploitation: exploitation of consumers, workers, society and the environment.” After a year in business, he saw a reality that didn't mesh with his decades of anti-business indoctrination.

“I believed that ‘profit” was a necessary evil at best and certainly not a desirable goal for society as a whole,” he writes. “However, becoming an entrepreneur completely changed my life. Everything I believed about business was proven to be wrong.”

Via Business Pundit, The Transformation of John Mackey

While the whole Enron thing makes me feel that Ken Lay, Jeffry Skilling and Andy Fastow should be tarred, feathered, stripped of everthing they own (including the tar and the feathers after they've been applied) and then placed naked in stockades in the middle of Wall Street because of corporate excesses, not all companies are like that.

This bit is telling:

That's not the way Mackey's customers and employees saw it. Despite losing half his initial investment in the first year of business, Mackey was nevertheless accused of greed and exploitation. “Our customers thought our prices were too high, our employees thought they were underpaid, the vendors would not give us large discounts, the community was forever clamoring for donations, and the government was slapping us with endless fees, licenses, fines and taxes.”

Via Business Pundit, The Transformation of John Mackey

That tells me that a lot of people don't understand basic business or basic economics (and if they did, something like Enron might not have happened). Running a business isn't easy, nor cheap.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Chanel the Gathering

Today I visited my friend Shadesong who was visiting her parents in South Florida. Also in attendance were (and for this entry, I'm using their LiveJournal user names) enderfem, felisdemens and we_happy_few.

Now, I thought we were getting together to hang out.

It turns out I ended up smackdab in the middle of a “BPAL greet-n-sniff.”

What is a “BPAL greet-n-sniff?”

Well, BPAL is Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs and they've applied the methods of Magic the Gathering (which is a collectable card card game) to the equivalent of Chanel №5—in other words, a collectable fragrance line.

[a thousand imps of BPAL right here …]

Yes, the group of people I hung out with tonight are BPAL junkies, sniffing their way through a thousand different scents trying to find the perfect one (or hundred) that will complement their body chemistry. Apparently BPAL has been quite the phenomenon since they started two years ago, driving sales of their perfume line by making limited edition perfumes, selling small sample sizes called imps which drive a thriving secondary market.

Crazy stuff.


The Hellmouth of Davie

During the BPAL the Gathering, Shadesong's husband yendi ordered pizza from a local pizzaria just down the street, the number for which he got from his father-in-law. Since both yendi and I were not all that enamoured with all things BPAL we both decided to head out an pick up the pizza.

We get to the restaurant only to find out our order was not only not ready, but not even at that store! Apparently, yendi's father-in-law gave us the wrong phone number and the store in question was a bit further away.

I checked the map. The other store was about five miles away, so I figured it would be just as easy to pick up the pies from the other store.

Little did I realize just how wrong I was.

The “other store” was at the confluence of State Road 84, I-75, I-595 and the Sawgrass Expressway, a horribly complicated exchange system designed by dropping ink-stained spaghetti on paper where we ended up driving about an extra four miles trying to extricate ourselves from the vortex of overpass hell.

Afterwards, we both agreed that it might have been quicker to order new pies at the closer store.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Memories of the proto-Hellmouth of Davie

Driving through Hellmouth of Davie last night, I recalled when that particular area was still under construction. This must have been around 1989, 1990 or thereabouts.

It was very odd driving through it at the time, because the ramps were still under construction and there would be these huge pilons with short, unconnected segments of highway on top littering the landscape. For months it seemed that construction had halted on this forest of proto-highway.

Quite surreal.

And I never did get a picture of it, although I kept meaning to.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Test launches

I'm sitting here at Casa New Jersey and suddenly I'm in the middle of a fireworks show as one of our neighbors is testing out his fireworks in preparation for the Fourth of July (I'm guessing). While it's laudible that he's testing his fireworks early, I hate to tell him that he's not going to have much sucess launching them later.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Test Launches II

Our neighbor is apparently testing fireworks again today. Only this time, it seems he wants to see how well they work during the day time.

Um …

While the audio portion of the fireworks is not diminished any, I think he's going to be rather disapointed in the visual aspect of said fireworks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Well … THAT'S interesting

At 5am on April 18, 2005, the CEO of the Ubiqua Seraph corporation … emerged through a stargate in the Haras system, accompanied by her most trusted lieutenant. She wouldn't leave alive …

By 6am it was over. Every Ubiqua Seraph office in the galaxy was raided, the contents of every hangar—including the corporate coffers—ransacked. [The CEO's] ship was destroyed, her escape pod nuked and her vacuum-frozen corpse scooped into the cargo bay of [the attacker's ship]. This was the only proof their client had requested.

Via this comment on theferrett's livejournal and through this page we get Murder Incorporated: Contract killers devastate mega-corporation ( page 2, page 3, page 4)

Sounds like a science fiction movie, right?

Nope.

Or maybe a science fiction book?

Nope.

Not real life either.

Well, not quite. But close enough.

It happened on a massively multiplayer role playing game called EVE Online and it wasn't a scripted event by the company, but rather, an actual event that happened between players and planned for over a year.

Nice to know that greed, vice, crime, betrayal and assasinations are not limited to the real world but will also follow us into the virtual realms we create. Heh.

Still, a very interesting turn of events in a virtual game, and unlike traditional role playing games where you know the game master (and are sitting around a table with a bunch of friends) this time you don't know the game master, and you probably have not even met your “partners” in real life.

User driven stories.

Probably the only way that MMORPGs will survive in the future.


To go with your five dollar shake

At about 5½ inches across and 2½ inches thick, the mound of meat comprises beef from three continents—American prime beef, Japanese Wagyu (Kobe) and Argentine cattle.

“Heaven on a bun,” [restaurant owner Marc] Sherry said.

Burger in Boca a mere $124.50

And at $124.50 per burger, it had better be a XXXX good burger! (link via my friend JeffK).


Test Launches III

Our neighbor was once again firing off fireworks tonight. I mentioned to Wlofie that I must be missing some sort of holiday because this is the third day in a row they were firing fireworks. Wlofie mentioned that it's the Summer Solstice, which is a big holiday in Finland and Sweden.

There's a rather large Finish population here in Lake Worth.

That makes more sense than test firing fireworks for the Fourth of July.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My life as a lame Three's Company episode

[I'm typing this on the absolute worst keyboard we have here at The Office. It's actually in the Data Center and it's the small rack-mounted keyboard. It has an okay feel, but the layout sucks. I'll try not to bitch too much as I'm writing this.

[Why am I typing this entry from the Data Center? Well, that's answered in the next entry, not this one. This one details the beginning of the end of the day here at The Office (XXX XXXXXX XXXXX XX XXXX XXXXXXXX X XXXX XXXX X XXXX XXXX)]

I was stuck in a lame episode of “Three's Company”.

Working from home, while nice, does have its drawbacks, and one of them is the breakdown of communication between myself, Smirk and P (since none of us are at The Office on any regular basis). Smirk thought I would be going into The Office yesterday, but nope, I worked from home. He wanted me in the office to configure a DSL unit for an employee of XXXXXXXX (yes, that company, the one I did all the router configuration for).

So into the office I go.

Smirk also wanted me to drop off the DSL unit at XXXXXXXX, and while I was there, I might as well drop in the managed firewall that I set up for them that's been sitting above my desk for the past two or three months (eek!). I get the DSL unit configured, check the firewall to make sure it's ready (it was) and plan on going over to XXXXXXXX around 5:30 pm.

Around 4:45 pm I get a call from F, who works at XXXXXXXX. One of their colocated machines is not responding and could I reboot it? That's not a problem, so before I simply power cycle the box, I hook the crash cart up to the unit to see what might have caused it to crash.

A bad hard drive.

Tons of hard drive errors are flashing past on the screen, so fast, so furious, that I hit the Big Red Switch and reboot the box. F was happy with the machine responding normally after rebooting, so we hung up.

A few minutes later, F calls back.

Now, before I continue, I have to digress and explain a few things. “Smirk” is not my boss' real name—it's a pseudonym (obviously). So, for the sake of this story, while I call him “Smirk” his “legal” name is actually “Smirkittius” (hey, you try to form a “formal name” from a pseudonym) and he prefers people to call him “Smirkittius,” but I've been calling him “Smirk” since I met him in college and habits die hard.

The computer guy at XXXXXXXX is also called “Smirk.” And sometimes it's hard to remember if “Smirk” referrs to “Smirk” from XXXXXXXX or “Smirkittius” [and if you can't see where this is headed, then count yourself lucky that you haven't been subjected to endless repeats of “Three's Company”].

So F calls back, saying that Smirk is coming over to the office with a new server to replace the one that's dying, and could I help him? Well … yes … but Smirk knows how to setup and copy files from one Linux system to another. I can already feel the day getting worse. So I'm expecting Smirk to drive down to XXXXXXXX, pick up the new server, then head over to The Data Center and copy files.

It's the time I had originally planned on driving over to XXXXXXXX to drop off the DSL unit and install the firewall. I figure I'll go over there, then come back here and continue helping Smirk with the dying server.

I get over to XXXXXXXX to find a surprised F. He had just sent over Smirk with the server and had expected me to be there.

Smirk?

Oh … XXXXXXXX's Smirk, not my boss Smirkittius.

Sigh.

F was also confused when I handed him the DSL unit. He had no idea who it was for. I called Smirk Smirkittius to make sure I was supposed to drop it off at XXXXXXXX. Yup, Smirk was going to install the DSL unit for B. Okay.

Then there was some confusion about serial ports but largely, the firewall install went smoothly with minimal problems. I then headed back to the office to meet with Smirk about the dead server problem.

Even he hadn't heard about the DSL unit.

At that point, I half expected Mr. Furley to rush in [I did mention the communication problems stemming from working at home, right?].


It was my rerouting to switch B that saved the files.”

[So now we get to learn why Sean is using a crappy keyboard in the Data Center to write these entries and not a real keyboard. I would also advise you to read that entry for the necessary background of events leading to this situation. —Editor]

The idea is to copy the files from the dying server to the new server. XXXXXXXX had a spare computer lying around, already pre-installed with Linux. So the easiest thing would be to copy the critical files over (the server in question is just a mail server—that's it). Should be a simple operation.

Should.

There's that word again.

We get the new server on a temporary IP address and start copying files. One of the directories we need to copy over is the mail spool directory, but copying the files is taking way too long.

As in “at this rate, this 10M file will take two hours to copy across the local 100Mbps network” too long. Something was wrong with XXXXXXXXX's switch, and no amount of mucking with either server's network card settings would get the connection to go any faster.

I then grabbed a spare switch sitting above my desk and plugged both machines into that.

Nothing.

I then realized that both machines were technically in different networks. Once I put then into the same network the copy proceeded at a much faster pace.

It still took over an hour to copy the files though.

[And that's why I was sitting in the Server Room making entries. Thankfully, everything worked after that.]

Friday, June 23, 2006

“I'm so bad, I vacation in Detroit.”

So it's cold and dark and people are out of work, and there isn't any public transportation. And the air is polluted and the streets are dirty. Not so much “1996” as it is “Detroit.”

Stupid Comics #58

Very funny comment about a Canadian comic from the 70s, but at the same time, quite true.


Ah, the joys of medical insurance

I was there to pick up a renewal on a prescription and the man behind the counter fetched it and announced, “That'll be $91.88.” I said … well, here. I'll let you listen in on what I said …

ME: What? I've been getting that prescription for two years and it's always been ten bucks.

PHARMACIST: (after consulting his computer) You're renewing it ahead of schedule. Your insurance doesn't pay unless you're within seven days of running out.

ME: And when will I be within seven days of running out?

PHARMACIST: (after consulting his computer again) June 20.

ME: It's 11:54 PM. In six minutes, it'll be June 20.

PHARMACIST: And in six minutes, it'll be ten dollars.

ME: I suppose there's no point in mentioning that I'm not going to be taking that pill tonight. I am just as “out of it” as I will be in six minutes.

PHARMACIST: Right. There's no point in mentioning that. At this moment, it's $91.88.

I went to the end of the line and saved eighty bucks. Makes you wonder what the mark-up is on these pills. And the funny/sad part of it is that this particular drug is also sold over-the-counter without a prescription for $23. I'd hate to think there are uninsured people out there who don't know that and are paying the $91.88, but I'll bet there are.

news from me: Odds 'n' Ends

My take: the pharmacist probably had to enter the prescription on a computer and couldn't fudge the time and date (much like in the 70s, people would get a bill for $0.00 and when they didn't pay, got sent to collections until they actually sent in a check made out to $0.00—yeah, probably an urban legend, but computerized systems are often funny like that).


A grilled cheese sandwich without cheese

“Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich?” asked Spring.

“Yes,” I said.

“How many? One, or two?”

I thought for a moment. “Two,” I said. Spring headed off towards the kitchen.


“Here you go,” said Spring, handing me a plate with two grilled cheese sandwiches.

“Thank you,” I said. It was then I noticed that Spring had brought me one grilled cheese sandwich, and one grilled cheese sandwich without cheese. I'm used to getting a hamless ham and cheese without the cheese, but this is the first time I got a grilled cheese sandwich without cheese (I should note that upon hearing that she made me a grilled cheese sandwich without cheese that she took said sandwich back into the kitchen and added the missing cheese).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Okay, now I HAVE to see this film

But in hindsight I can recognize that the conditions of its making were almost miraculous. An independent X-rated filmmaker and an inexperienced screenwriter were brought into a major studio and given carte blanche to turn out a satire of one of the studio's own hits. And “BVC” [I think he means BVD here —Editor] was made at a time when the studio's own fortunes were so low that the movie was seen almost fatalistically, as a gamble that none of the studio executives really wanted to think about, so that there was a minimum of supervision (or even cognizance) from the Front Office.

Via news from me: This is My Happening …, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls

Both Mark Evanier's and Roger Ebert's review of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (even though Ebert's review isn't a review since he co-wrote the movie) was intriguing enough that I now want to see this train wreck of a movie, even if, my Mark Evanier's review, I don't have enough people to watch it with me.

Maybe then I can see what it has to do with Pulp Fiction.


Bicycle of the Apes

What?

Nine blocks?

No helmets?

Wearing monkey masks?

Eight kids in horrible accidents and no one bothers to stop?

[Who knows what darkness lurks in the hearts of kids?]

Then again, it was the 60s, so maybe that explains this creepy bicycle safety film from 1963 (via Robert Lee).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

High Dynamic Range Imaging

I was catching up on dETROITfUNK when I came across a new digital manipulation method called HDR. The resulting images have this haunting clarity and otherworldliness to them.

The method is simple enough—take several photographs of the same scene at different exposure levels (from underexposed to overexposed) and then average the results. Sure, in traditional photography one could always burn the underexposed portions and dodge the overexposed portions of a negative to even out the luminance of the image but this is the first I've seen it applied easily to digital photographs.

This is something I'll have to play around with.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Experiments in HDR

I downloaded and installed some software (trial version—it fully works but leaves a visible watermark in the resulting image) so I could do some experiments with HDR images.

First image: from my desk (at Casa New Jersey) looking out the window. I took a total of nine images from total overexposure (shown below) to total underexposure, then averaged those images using the installed software.

[Overexposed shot]

Overexposed shot, to get detail on the desk.

[Normal exposure]

Normal exposure—desk is too dark and the scene outside is too light.

[Underexposed shot]

Underexposed shot—you can see outside just fine, but inside is too dark to make out any detail what so ever.

[Average of 9 photos, auto settings]

The result of averaging the luminosity of the nine photos I took, using the automatic settings. Inside is fine, but outside is ever-so-slightly washed out.

[Average of 9 photos, mildly aggressive settings]

This time, I used some more aggressive settings. The outside is a bit darker (but still lighter than on the overexposed shot), but the inside is a bit darker too.

[Average of most underexposed and overexposed photo]

This time, I just averaged the two extreme photos and the result is a bit better than the other two (and notice the missing watermark) although the outside is a bit flat in this image.

The second experiment was taken completely outdoors. Again, I took nine shots (of the neightbor's mailbox across the street) and took the average of them (just the automatic settings) and the average of the two extreme photos.

[Outside overexposed shot]

Outside overexposed shot. Note the total lack of detail in the sky (this was taken around 8:00 pm Eastern by the way).

[Outside normal exposure]

Outside normal exposure. You can now make out some detail in the sky, but the foreground is dark.

[Outside underexposed shot]

Outside underexposed shot. More detail in the sky (althought it's getting a bit dark) and the foreground is nearly devoid of any detail whatsoever.

[Outside average of all 9 shots]

The average of all nine outside shots. The foreground is a tad dark (compared to the next shot) and the sky, while the correct color, is a bit blurred—or rather, the clouds are a bit blurred, due to movement as I was taking the nine shots. There's also a noticible bit of halo around the two trees.

[Outside average of the two extreme shots]

The average of the two extreme shots. It's easier to see the foreground in this one, but overall, the image is a bit flatter than the previous one, and the color of the sky is a bit odd, although you can see great detail in the clouds. The halos around the two trees are less visible in this shot as well.

These were very hasitly done experiments and I'm sure I can do better as I play around with the software. And it's also nice that the software can do this “dodge-n-burn” automagically.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Terminal insanity

Smirk is preparing to set up a network presence in Charlotte, North Carolina and this week I have to configure a router, a management server and some managed power strips. To help manage some of the equipment (like the router and managed power strips) Smirk purchased a terminal server.

Now, when I hear the term “terminal server” I picture in my mind a small box like device with one network port on one side, and a bunch of serial ports on the other side. A person can then log into the “terminal server” from the network and access any serial device hooked up to it. Conversely, someone can use a serial device to access the network. Sure, there might be some configuration settings to be made on the “terminal server” but pretty much, you plug devices into it, and that's that.

The unit Smirk got, however, resembles a “terminal server” in that yes, it has a network port on one side, and a bunch of serial ports on the other side (said serial ports being RJ45 with their own special wiring—fortunately the manual came with wiring diagrams but I was stuck talking to the device with some scissors, a bit of wire and a paper clip, but I digress) but there any simularity ends.

The thing comes with drivers.

As in, to use this external network based device I need to install special device drivers on my workstation before I can use it. For Linux, that involved installing the Linux kernel sources (which was a major project in and of itself no thanks to the package manager yum) and compiling the driver (which was a major project in and of itself no thanks to the incompatibilities of various versions of RPM), realize that yes indeed, it is a Linux kernel module which promptly caused my machine to die on the spot.

The computer didn't freeze. It didn't kernel panic. The screen went black and that's all she wrote.

Upon reading further, this “terminal server” uses this “driver” to make the serial ports appear as if they were physically part of the computer, which is not like any “terminal server” I ever had to deal with. Smirk is sending the unit back as it's not what we want.

So instead, I'm bringing the terminal server I have and using that.

What?

Doesn't everybody have an old terminal server they aren't using anymore?

Okay, maybe Mark …

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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