The Boston Diaries

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

Go figure.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dik Od Triaanenen Fol

I was dragged kicking and screaming to see “Dik Od Triaanenen Fol” (the new musical by Bin Faaarkrekkion) by Bunny. Knowing me, she had gotten the tickets and simply said “We're going.”

So we went.

The musical promised to be ten hours of “the story, in music and song, of Finland's transformation from a predominantly rural agricultural base to one of the most sophisticated industrial and entrepreneurial economies in the world,” with the “foot-stomping East Finland Moose Ballet—45 mangificent creatures in high-stepping harmony.”

Words can't describe how much I was looking forward to this.

We took our seats in the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in the nosebleed section of the theater and patiently awaited the start of the Lapp Cheese Council Production of “Dik Od Triaanenen Fol.”

[Don't let this picture fool you—that's about a thousand foot drop there]

Imagine my relief surprise when after the first musical number, “Fisch Schlapping Song,” a historian came out to inform the performers that the play was about the English, not the Finnish, and we found ourselves watching Monty Python's Spamalot, a musical version of their film, Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen (vulgarly known as “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”).

I will say this—I was generally surprised by how good this was, and I'm not a fan of musicals. The plot (if you can call it one) diverged quite a bit from the movie (as if there was much of a plot there) but it still had The Black Knight (whose arms and legs were cut off—impressive for a stage show), The Knights Who say “Ni!”(but alas, no Roger the Shrubber), Dennis, Prince Herbert, Tim and Enchanter and The Killer Rabbit (who manages to take the head off one of the knights—again, very impressive for a stage show). Sadly, no Castle Anthrax, Bridge of Death, nor do the Knights find the Holy Grail in a Catholic Church [1]. And there's a love story.

Actually, two love stories (but I'll refrain from spoiling it).

But aside from all that, it's pretty much not at all like the film.

And amazingly enough, it's fantastic—although, that might be because I was spared watching the East Finland Moose Ballet for ten hours.

  1. For God was a Protestant, you see, and couldn't enter a Catholic Church … [2]
  2. You see, the original screen play for Mønti Pythøn ik den Høli Gräilen had King Arthur finding the Holy Grail in a Catholic Church [3]—obviously, the script changed somewhat by the time they got to filming it.
  3. And no, I'm not going to explain the whole Catholic vs. Protestant thing—that's what Clusty is for …

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Breaking Radio Silence

Well … not that I'm actually coming to you on the meter wave of space or anything, but yes, my self-imposed exile has finally ended.

What happened?

After posting the small bit about car accessories I found myself too aggravated to write for the next few days (although I did complain a bit on a mailing list) and when I finally calmed down about that a few days later, the work involved in getting caught up just overwhelmed me.

And then that was followed by a few more days of aggravation, followed by a few more days of an ever-growing backlog of possible posts, followed by a day or so of aggravation, by a few more days of an ever-growing backlog of possible posts, followed by …

Scrap all that and just start back up.


Cold Boot Attacks on Encryption Keys

I've never given much thought to just how “dynamic” dynamic RAM is. I remember as a teenager reading up on computer design (back when it involved picking a CPU and designing the motherboard) and one of the darker aspects revolved around keeping the dynamic RAM refreshed else it lose its contents. Granted, all that was involved was ensuring certain pins got hit every unteen µseconds, but ensuring that involved a timing circuit, a counter circuit and synchronization circuit with the CPU.

And it was made clear that if this “refresh cycle” didn't happen, the dynamic RAM would quickly lose its contents to a sea of zeros (there did exist “static RAM,” which didn't need a refresh cycle, and was faster to read and write, but it was hideously expensive, even factoring into account the refresh circuit needed by dynamic RAM).

Never would I expect dynamic RAM to last seconds past power loss, much less minutes.

Boy, was I wrong (link via Xenophilia). This has some severe security implications. Yikes!


Apparently, the heat doesn't bother him either

Hof began a lifelong quest to see just how far his abilities would take him. In January of 1999 he traveled 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle to run a half-marathon in his bare feet. Three years later, dressed only in a swimsuit, he dove under the ice at the North Pole and earned a Guinness World Record for the longest amount of time swimming under the ice: 80 meters, almost twice the length of an Olympic-sized pool.

When he didn't experience frostbite or hypothermia, the body's usual reactions to extreme cold, his extraordinary ability started to get the attention of doctors who specialize in extreme medicine.

Dr. Ken Kamler, author of “Surviving the Extremes,” has treated dozens of people who tried to climb Mount Everest, and instead nearly died from the frigid temperatures. He couldn't believe it when he got word of a Dutchman making the ascent with no protection other than a pair of shorts.

Via Flares into Darkness, Iceman on Everest: ‘It Was Easy’

This is for Wlofie, who's had to endure the asphalt-melting weather here in Lower Sheol.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Breaking up is easy, it's surviving that's hard

Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was only 2–3 seconds. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces.

Then the SR-71 … literally … disintegrated around us.

From that point, I was just along for the ride. And my next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because … I COULD NOT HAVE SURVIVED … what had just happened.

I must be dead. Since I didn't feel bad—just a detached sense of euphoria—I decided being dead wasn't so bad after all. As full awareness took hold, I realized I was not dead. But somehow I had separated from the airplane.

Via Hacker News, Subject: Test Pilot Bill Weaver: Mach 3.18 Break Up of an SR-71 Black Bird

And this is for Gregory, who likes this aviation stuff.

The story is incredible—Bill Weaver was flying at mach 3 when the SR-71 he was flying literally disintigrated around him and he survived with only minor scratches.

Friday, March 14, 2008

From the Gold Coast to the Space Coast

In just a few minutes, Bunny will be by, and then we'll be off to the Kennedy Space Center for the weekend. We'll be staying at the Luna Sea Motel while we're up there.

I'm expecting to have a fun time.

I've got my camera, my tripid and my Moleskine, so I'm as ready as I'll ever be.


Lunacy on the way to the Luna Sea

We left Casa New Jersey around 2:30 pm.

Four hour later we arrived at The Luna Sea Motel.

[Luna Sea Motel: AAA, AARP & Military Rates]

We endured constant traffic jams, inaccessible gas stations and fast food that wasn't fast (nor food, but I digress); thankfully we finally arrived at our destination for the night.

[It's nice except for that hideous color]

We had no problems checking in, but I did find it rather odd that we had to pay homage to the Great Luna Sea Motel God before we could get the keys to our room.

[“Ooom poppa chikamaga wana sing gow / Do lomma sinnigama mana ching jow / Inimana choogamaga wana sing gee / Finimana foonimana one is now free”]

So now we're just relaxing in the room, chilling out as the A/C blasts snow at us until we get hungry enough to get dinner.

[Your typical motel room—nothing special to write home about]

Tomorrow: The Kennedy Space Center.


L     a   g

I swear, I think browsing the web at 300 baud would be faster than the wireless network here at The Luna Sea Motel. It's also persnickedy and if I don't have my laptop aimed just right I lose the signal.

Sigh.

I don't think I'll be updating much more until I get back.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Luna Sea Motel

The Luna Sea Motel isn't quite as bad as I made it out to be. Sure, the outside color is hideous (at least to me) and the wireless network is more of a signal-less network but over all, it was one of the nicer hotels I've stayed in recently. It wasn't undergoing renovations, and we switch rooms three times.

But what really impressed me about the Luna Sea Motel was the bathroom.

It was a very nice bathroom, and one of the nicest details was the shower curtain rod.

[A curved shower curtain rod]

It curved outwards! Which had the effect of making showers feel less cramped—it basically opened up the space.

It's always the little details.


Reflections of time spent at a diner

I'm not sure if the Luna Sea Motel can actually be classified as a “bed and breakfast” even though guests do get a complimentary hot breakfast, since the “breakfast” part of the “bed and breakfast” concept is handled off-site.

This morning Bunny went to the front office and picked up the vouchers for The Sunrise Diner, less than a mile away from the motel.

[Sunrise Diner—Home Cooked Meals]

It's a small place and I doubt it's even possible to fit four people at any of the booths (unless they're midgets or on very friendly terms). It was also busy, although we manged to get a table right as we entered.

[Any smaller and it'd have to be a railroad car]

The service was prompt, the food good. The clock on the wall, however, was quite unusual:

[One of these is a mirror reflection, and it's not the one you think]

It may take you a while to see what's so unusual about the clock, but when you do, you'll be amazed (okay, so I'm easily amused).


A Day in Space

[That small building?  Four shuttle launch assemblies could fit in that small building …]

Ah, the Kennedy Space Center!

Nothing here is small, which makes photography somewhat vexing.

That picture above? The full image I have is actually two pictures stitched together, and is just a small sample of a much larger panorama of the Kennedy Space Center.

Even this picture of the business end of the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank:

[Some very expensive Roman Candles]

required three pictures.

As a consequence, I don't have many pictures of actual rockets. Oddly enough, the shuttle chase planes (pictured here in front of a full-scale mock-up of the Space Shuttle):

[One (1) Space Shuttle Chase Plane] >

are small. They're tiny little things.

[I think my car is bigger than that plane]

Weird.

Anyway, the Kennedy Space Center.

Why is it in Florida, of all places?

On the NASA Up Close Tour, three reasons were given, but I suspect the fourth one was also a consideration:

  1. Florida is close to the equator, and by launching eastward, rockets gain an additional 900mph boost, which, given that over 90% of the mass of a rocket is fuel, can help.
  2. And while Hawaii is closer yet to the equator, and surrounded by even more water, Florida has the advantage of
    1. being attached to the rest of the United States, thus making it cheaper to ship men and equipment than out to Hawaii;
    2. Cape Canaveral was already a missile testing site and
    3. it was already a state at the time, unlike Hawaii.
  3. Launches out towards the east go over the Atlantic Ocean, which isn't inhabited by anything that votes in politicians. If something goes wrong, wreckage isn't spread across a thousand miles of population centers.
  4. It was cheap land with not a lot of neighbors who would complain (I suspect this had something to do with making Cape Canaveral a missile testing site). Remember, this was back before A/C was ubuiquitous here in Florida, and you either had to be insane, or forced, to live here year round.

Now, that little building in the top picture? It's the not-so-little Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB—NASA just loves their TLAs), 52 stories tall and covers the area of your typical baseball field.

[It's probably the largest building without windows]

The grey pillars on the left hand side are doors that open up and allow the fully assembled rocket to be rolled out to the launch pad. The Saturn V had only 6′ of clearance when the doors were fully opened; the doors only need to open half way for the Space Shuttle to clear. There are actually two doors on either side of the building, enough for four rockets to be assembled at once. Nowadays, only two of the bays are used.

The rockets are rolled out on a large vehicle (this building in the middle of this divided highway? That's not a building but the vehicle used to move rockets—like I said, nothing but the planes are small) that moves at a speedy ½mph.

And speaking of the Saturn V, The Space Center has one on display:

[It just keeps going and going and going …]

363′ high. 6.7 million pounds of mass sitting fully fueled on the launch pad. 7.6 million pounds of thrust. One of the displays around the Saturn V mentioned that 91% of the mass of the Saturn V was fuel, compared to the 4% mass fuel of a Corvette (favorite car of the astronauts), which prompted a rather unfortunate thought: the Saturn V is the ultimate symbol of our disposable society. Only 3.7% of the mass of the Saturn V returns back to Earth intact (unfortunate because getting off this planet is so darned difficult—and because I think the Saturn V is one of the most beautiful rockets ever designed).

[Lots and lots of blinken lights at the Apollo 8 Mission Control]
[IBM must have been a sponsor]

After the NASA Up Close Tour, Bunny and I headed off to the Shuttle Launch Simulation Facility, a new exhibit at the Space Center. From what I understand, the astronauts that have been on this simulation have felt it to be better than the simulations they were trained on (as far as a Space Shuttle launch is concerned) and having been on it, it's rather good.

[It's only five minutes, but it's a bumpy five minutes]

The “conceit” of the ride (if you will) is that you are one of perhaps three dozen passengers going up in the Space Shuttle. You enter a large pod, sit down and strap in. The pod is then rotated into a vertical position (and yes, it is) and “loaded” into the Space Shuttle. A few moments later the launch sequence is initiated (they kind of skip the whole “waiting for hours” and get right to the “sheer minutes of terror”). I'm not sure how they actually pulled off the 3G of accelleration, but I think they did a decent job of it.

After a few minutes of being in a heavily vibrating vertical position, the “accelleration” stops and you can feel yourself tugging up against the straps (“freefall”). Again, it's quite well done.

After that, there wasn't much time left to much else, as the Space Center was closing for the day.


A little slice of heaven

Continuing the theme of My Own Private Feasting On Asphalt (that is, eating at local restaurants), after a day at the Space Center, Bunny decided that we would eat at the first seafood restaurant we came across. We had seen several such local establishments yesterday and earlier today so we knew it would be easy to find such a place.

The first one we tried, the Crab House (or was it the Crab Shack? I don't recall now), looked closed.

We almost missed the second place—Mo's Crab Heaven.

[Although, do crabs really consider being eaten “heaven?”]

Set back from the road in an ugly yellow building with a few cars strewn about in the parking lot, it really didn't look that inviting. But we were hungry. This was local. And we were here.

Inside, the place was brightly lit. The tables were covered with butcher paper, and surrounded with fold-up chairs. There were a few people inside smashing their way through crabs. We were lead to a table (where I got to watch Formula-1 racing on the TV nearby) and both ordered the crab cakes.

The food was excellent.

During our meal, one of the cooks came out to talk to the patrons at the table behind us. In his hand was a live blue crab, which had been caught not ten minutes earlier in the Banana River out back. Talk about your fresh sea food.

Mo's Crab Heaven also gave out free Tootsie Rolls to all patrons. Free Tootsie Rolls!

Definitely worth seeking out.

[Aaarrrrg!]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Another day in space

[That small building?  Four shuttle launch assemblies could fit in that small building …]

Our second day at the Kennedy Space Center.

Today was the Cape Canaveral: Then and Now, a tour covering the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (aka Patrick Air Force Base). The Kenney Space Center is where all manned rockets are launched, starting with the Apollo Mission; Cape Canaveral, however, is where all the unmanned rockets are launched (with the exception of the Mercury and Gemini Missions, and Apollos 1 & 7).

Visiting SLC-5/6, where Alan Shepard, the first American shot into space, Bunny and I were struck at how primitive the computers where at the time. Very primitive.

[And the watch probably keeps better time too!]

We also learned that the technicians at SLC-5/6 were reluctant to actually, you know, push the button until Alan Shepard complained: “Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?”

[“Push the damn button already!”]

Unlike most of the rockets until then, Shepard's Mercury Redstone rocket didn't explode, and he rocketed into the history books.

[Dig the highly intuitive interface on the computers back then]
[With programs stored on high tech mylar strips]
[With the prices the government was paying, they got dedicated tech support]
[It takes this large cabinet to control a missile]
[Looks easy to repair though]
[WYSIWYG printers too!]
[Gives a whole new meaning to the term “hands on programming”]
[This is an actual program!]

With this level of technology, it's amazing we didn't lose more astronauts.

And speaking of, there isn't much left of SLC-34, the launch pad of Apollo 1.

[In memoriam: Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee]

It's not used much anymore as you can see (also, had Gus Grissom not died in that horrible fire, he might have very well been the one to say “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”).


I forgot to mention yesterday that we had seen the IMAX film Space Station 3D. The 3D effects (done using polarized lenses and not the red/blue lenses one normally associates with 3D films) weren't that great, but that may have been due to improper polarization of the “3D glasses” I was using, but other than that, the film was an interesting look into the International Space Station. I was amazed at how messy it looked, what with wires and cables just strewn about haphazardly. It reminded me of some server rooms I've seen (in a subsequent conversation with Wlofie, this may be intentional, partially as things like wire wraps, wire guides and paneling add weight, which adds to launch costs (something like $20,000/pound)—also, when there's an emergency in space, you don't want to be fumbling around removing panels or wire wraps when every second counts).

So, today, after the tour, we saw the other IMAX film currently showing, Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D. This time the polarization was better and the 3D effects were less annoying. And I enjoyed this film as well. The computer-generated scenes on the moon were incredible and it really gave one the feeling of actually being there.

Afterwards, we hit the giftstore. I succumbed to the pressure and bought two books (The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must and Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization) and a freeze dried ice cream cookie (more on that in a later post).

After that, we finally left the Kennedy Space Center for home.


Notes on a conversation overheard at the gift shop at the Kennedy Space Center

“Can I get this, Mom? Can I, huh?”

“No.”

“It'll keep me quiet, and occupied and out of trouble and—”

“No.”

“But it'll shut me up.”

“Nothing ever shuts you up.”

“I'll pay you back!”

“No.”

“I'll pay you back even more!”

“You are so full of crap.”

“Awww Mom! sniff


That Darned Peg Game, Part II

I am phenomenally bad at the Peg Game, I realized as Bunny and I were sitting at a Cracker Barrel waiting for our dinner to arrive. My best attempt left three pegs.

My worst attempt (or, if you will, my best at doing my worst) left ten pegs on the board.

Ten!

That takes skill!

Friday, March 21, 2008

“Let me 'splain … No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

Quick recap of the week so far.

Monday

Spent the day loading images off the camera and selecting which ones to post out of 200+ photos taken during my recent road trip to the Kennedy Space Center.

Tuesday

Spent the day dealing with email issues, and writing the monstrous posts for Saturday.

I was supposed to get with Smirk to move computer equipment and install a replacement core router, but he got swamped and rescheduled for Wednesday.

Wednesday

Spent the day dealing with email issues, and dreading the write-up for Sunday.

Also headed into the Data Center to help Smirk move a bunch of equipment and replace our core router with something better. Things go downhill, and we decide to call it a day and regroup on Thursday.

Thusday

Spent the day dealing with email issues, and headed back into the Data Center to finish up what we started yesterday. Got into the Data Center around 6:00 pm. We start moving equipment and hope that we didn't miss anything.

Friday

I left the Data Center around 1:30 am, after having to diagnose a customer's machine that isn't responding on the network. I tracked it down to a possible bad port on the new (new!) replacement router (which is why it took so long to track down—didn't expect a bad port).

Smirk warned me that he might call me in the morning if there are any issues, but hopefully, there aren't any.

Got a call from Smirk at 8:30 am. Turns out to be a minor glitch that is easy to fix. I contemplate going back to bed.

But before I can contemplate too long, Smirk calls back, with yet another email issue (it's bascially the same one that's plagued us all week) and yet another customer is having network issues, possibly due to all the work last night.

The networking issue is mostly resolved when I remove some agressive spanning tree filtering on the port (I thought there was no need to run the spanning tree protocol over that port since it's router-to-router, not switch-to-switch, but due to the actual network topology, it was switch-to-switch—sigh). The remaining issue is the severe lack of OSPF communications between our router and the customer's router.

The email issue is still on-going (more on that later).

Finally buckled down and wrote the write-up for Sunday, and this post.

And here we are …


The Email Situation

About that email issue

Our problems all stem from the greylist daemon I wrote. Or more specifically, the interaction between the greylist daemon and sendmail. Or even more specifically, the greylist daemon and the milter library.

As far as I can tell, the problem is: customer uses Lookout Outlook or Lookout, Exploit! Outlook Express, configured to use SMTP AUTH. Sendmail hands the authentication off to some other process, which okays it, then sendmail hands the request off to the greylist daemon, which, since it's coming from a foreign address, of course greylists it, and the customer gets an error message from Lookout Outlook or Lookout, Exploit! Outlook Express that says, “Try again later!”

And then we (or our resellers) get a call.

Sigh.

What I would like is for sendmail to skip the greylist daemon if SMTP AUTH is being used, but I'm not sure how to apply the clue-by-four to sendmail.

That's separate from the issue that spammers seem to be clueing in to greylisting and are finding ways around it …

Arg!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wherein I actually post a significant LiveJournal Entry …

No blogging here today, because I spent most of my blogging energies making my yearly post to LiveJournal, which was a long entry this year, as I muse on the lastest kerfuffle at LiveJournal and the difficulties of a decentralized version of LiveJournal whereby the punchline is “surprising at it may seem, that's what LiveJournal gives users with locked posts—a form of DRM.”

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tracking script kiddies

YES!

Last month I wrote a program that wraps around the Perl executable, and all it does it copy files given to Perl, and then passes on control to Perl. I did this because we at The Office kept running into sript kiddie Perl scripts consuming resources on our servers.

Checking the process wouldn't reveal much—they always start in /tmp and would be owned by the web server process, so we knew how they were coming in, just not where (i.e. which site was exploited). Worse, these scripts would be started up, then deleted once running, so viewing said scripts was impossible.

Thus, by wrapping the Perl executable to record as much information about each running script as possible, we could gather information about how they might be getting in.

And tonight, we finally caught one! And better still—we know which site was exploited!

Now, begins the process of finding out which PHP script (sigh—it figures) is poorly written.

Oh, by the way, Happy Easter!


Security Myths

Let me introduce you to the six dumbest ideas in computer security. What are they? They're the anti-good ideas. They're the braindamage that makes your $100,000 ASIC-based turbo-stateful packet-mulching firewall transparent to hackers. Where do anti-good ideas come from? They come from misguided attempts to do the impossible—which is another way of saying “trying to ignore reality.” Frequently those misguided attempts are sincere efforts by well-meaning people or companies who just don't fully understand the situation, but other times it's just a bunch of savvy entrepreneurs with a well-marketed piece of junk they're selling to make a fast buck. In either case, these dumb ideas are the fundamental reason(s) why all that money you spend on information security is going to be wasted, unless you somehow manage to avoid them.

The Six Dumbest Ideas in Computer Security

The first two myths listed, “Default permit” and “Enumerating Badness,” are hard for me to accept since I basically believe in an open network. I'm a programmer by training, and I like playing around with stuff, and having a closed “default deny” attitude towards the network would make it too annoying for me to play work. I'm also lazy and just want things to work without having to configure a bunch of crap.

In his second myth, “Enumerating Badness,” he also talks about restricting execution of programs to those that are required to run. I doubt he's ever worked with something like SELinux. I have, and if it's ever running, I turn it off since it's a bitch to get anything working (and our support costs would go up as well as our customers try to install scripts and can't get them running).

But I'm also getting tired of clearing out script kiddies out of our servers. It might actually be worth it to adopt a “default deny” stance on things (but perhaps not as far as running SELinux—I don't think it's cost effective with our setup).

His advice on artificial ignorance is great though, and is something I would like to do. “Artificial Ignorance” in this case, is scanning through log files throwing out everything that is not of interest (read: “is a known quantity and can be ignored”); anything left over is by definition “interesting” and should be investigated. It would certainly beat the log summaries that LogWatch produces.

And some of the best advice on that page?

One extremely useful piece of management kung-fu to remember, if you find yourself up against an "early adopter" is to rely on your peers. Several years ago I had a client who was preparing to spend a ton of money on a technology without testing it operationally. I suggested offhandedly to the senior IT manager in charge that he should send one of his team to a relevant conference (in this case, LISA) where it was likely that someone with hands-on experience with the technology would be in attendance. I proposed that the manager have his employee put a message on the “meet and greet” bulletin board that read: “Do you have hands-on experience with xyz from pdq.com? If so, I'm authorized to take you to dinner at Ruth's Chris if you promise to give me the low-down on the product off the record. Contact, etc …” The IT manager later told me that a $200 dinner expense saved them over $400,000 worth of hellish technological trauma.

The Six Dumbest Ideas in Computer Security

Heh.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Email Situation, Part II

I seem to be on a roll. I think I nailed The Email Situation. Several searches lead me to an email which pointed to the solution to the problem I was having. It wasn't a direct solution, but it certainly led me in the right direction to solving the problem with just a few lines of code:

/*---------------------------------------------------
; check to see if the user has authenticated, if so
; return OK and skip the rest of the processing (we
; hope)  
;---------------------------------------------------*/
  
tauth = smfi_getsymval(ctx,"{auth_authen}");
if (!emptynull_string(tauth))
  return(SMFIS_ACCEPT);

I've also made the latest version available for download.


Four months … I'm not sure if that's good or bad

It took about four months for comment spammers to reverse engineer my reverse captcha (not that it was all that hard, mind you).

Hmmm …

Looks like I'll have to play around with this a bit more then.

Sigh.

Update a few minutes later …

Let's see how long it takes them to figure this captcha out

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Frozen snacks at -40°

Now, about that freeze dried ice cream cookie I bought. It's frozen to -40° (at which point both the Fahrenheit and Celcius scales intersect), then vacuum-dried, at which point, you no longer need to refriderate the thing. It's also very light, at an ounce of weight.

Eating it is a very odd experience. The cookie portion tastes like any thin crumbly cookie, but the ice cream is like eating a very fine, crunchy styrofoam, although it tastes much better than styrofoam, and it doesn't really look like styrofoam or have the consistency of styrofoam, but that's the closest thing I can think of. A tasty and very fine crunchy foam.

It wasn't that cheap though—$4.00. Oddly enough though, it's actually made down here in South Florida, just off Hillsboro Blvd at a place called LuvyDuvy Corporation. They don't sell individual items though (unless you want 100 or more units). For that, you need to buy it at a place called Mountain House, which is out of Oregon. There, it would only cost $2.65 (so I'm guessing it would be fairly cheap to buy 100 units from Luvy Duvy).

Heh. I find it amusing that I have to buy the freeze dried ice cream cookie, a product of a South Florida Company, from an Oregon company who ships it back across the country. And cheaper than if I get it from the Kennedy Space Center, which is just up the coast.


“The Intarwebs done broke. Fix it.”

Aaaaaaaarg!

Got this lovely bit of verbiage in a ticket today:

Subject
Email Issues

We have been receiving receive errors intermittently throughout the day. Please advise.

That's it.

Nothing more.

No “The email address alice@example.com is not receiving emails from bob@example.org.” No “Alice, at alice@example.com is using Outlook and cannot receive emails.”

Nothing.

Aaaaaaaaaaaarg!

I swear, I'm this close →← to just turning email off on all our servers and telling our customers to suck it up and use Gmail or something like it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Backmasking Satanic messages

Via spin the cat is this cool mashup of Queen's Another One Bites The Dust and a religious sermon about the evil Satanic lyrics one hears when said song is played backwards.

And in a wonderful bit of synchronicity, from kisrael.com comes Backmasking, a webpage that allows you to hear 14 songs with supposedly backwards Satanic messages and play them both forwards and in reverse, as well as view the lyrics, both forwards and backwards.

Oooooh … spooky …

Friday, March 28, 2008

The silly situations I came across at work today …

Silliness The First

We're a webhosting company. We host websites. We also handle email for said sites. It's not uncommon for an address at a website we host to get spam. A lot of spam.

A lot of our customers have their email forwarded to their email accounts at their ISPs. A number of our customers use Comcast as their ISP.

A lot of spam comes to the customer's website email, which is then forwarded to their Comcast address. As far as Comcast is concerned, we're the source of a lot of spam. So they block us. As far as I can tell, this is an automatic thing on the part of Comcast.

Then our customers who use Comcast complain to us about not getting their email. So we have to send a request to Comcast to get our server unblocked.

This happens so often (at least a few times a week) that it has now been automated on our end. (Aren't computers wonderful?)

So, from now until the end of time, Comcast will automatically block our server because of spam. When our server detects this, it will send a request to Comcast to remove said block. Comcast will automatically comply, only to automatically block our server a while later because of spam.

Silliness The Second

I found the following in a script-kiddie script on one of our servers:

#!/usr/bin/perl
# VulnScan v7 -Final- By Morgan
#
# Note:
# DO NOT REMOVE COPYRIGHTS ...
#

“Morgan” might want to go after k1n9k0ng for copyright infringement, unless of course, “Morgan” was the one who removed the original copyrights, then k1n9k0ng should go after “Morgan.”

Or go after PcWoRm, for removing the copyrights altogether.

Silliness The Third

I search for “VulnScan v7” and come across a discussion of it at the Blackhat Forums. Of course, not being a member, I can't read the page, but Google can.

Monday, March 31, 2008

CMTP, because it's no longer SIMPLE

I give up.

I have no idea how email even works anymore.

One customer keeps sending us notification messages—you know, the ones that have:

**********************************************
**   THIS IS A WARNING MESSAGE ONLY         **
** YOU DO NOT NEED TO RESEND YOUR MESSAGE   **
**********************************************

right in the middle, so of course they can't see it. I have no idea what email client they use (but I'm afraid the answer to that will be Lookout Outlook, or even worse, Lookout, Exploit! Outlook Express), nor how their email client is configured.

I suspect this is related to the server in question being under a heavy system load—Sendmail will stop processing emails when the load gets too high. That much, I'm sure of. What I'm not sure of is if Sendmail stops accepting incoming connections, or does it stop sending out emails as well. Or is that a configuration option?

And how does the <shudder> control panel Insipid fit into all this mess?

And let's not forget that I shoehorned the greylist daemon into this mess (and here I thought I fixed a problem—maybe not? Who the XXXX knows? I certainly don't).

If anyone can troubleshoot this problem (preferably with a large caliber gun), please let me know, okay?

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