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, November 24, 2011

“The Muppets”

For a Thanksgiving treat, Bunny and I went to see “The Muppets,” and I must say, as sequels go, it's not bad.

And yes, it's a sequel, to the classic 1979 “The Muppet Movie.” It's not as great as that, but it's darned good.

The movie centers around Walter, a Muppet, his brother Gary (Jason Segel, who also wrote the screenplay), a human (okay, it doesn't make much sense, but really—this is a universe where there are seven foot walking chickens, talking frogs, and nine foot blue monsters; if you can accept that, then I assume you'll have to accept a Muppet having a human brother) and Gary's girlfriend (Amy Adams). Walter is the Muppet's biggest fan, and as a present, Gary presents Walter with tickets to Muppet Studios. There, he learns that the studio is in trouble, and, once he meets Kermit, convinces him to get the gang back together again for one last show to save the studio.

What's nice is that not only do they reference the original “The Muppet Movie” with the “standard rich and famous contract”, but that Gonzo is now a very successful business…thing with a plumbing supply wholesale company (in the original, he was a plumber) and they yet again leave Sweetums behind. Again (in what looks to me the original setting for that scene).

And then there's the constant breaking of the fourth wall, film metahumor (they travel by map—like in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where they superimpose a map showing the path the hero is taking—that's how they travel in this film; or the villain (Chris Cooper) who laughs diabolically by saying “Diabolical laugh!”) and general mahem (they “obtain” a celebrity to host their show, and I'll leave it at that).

They even brought in older Muppets from the TV series, which was a nice touch (even these guys).

But … the voices are … just … a … bit off. I realize why, but still, it did interfere with my enjoyment of the film (the worst was Kermit, followed by Fozzie). They were so close, but not quite there. Also, the character of Kermit was pretty much split between Walter and Kermit himself. Kermit was always trying to keep order on “The Muppet Show” (the TV series), but here, that role was primarily Walter's.

And the cameos—it felt like “The Muppet Movie” had more cameos than this film. I'm not saying they didn't have cameos, but it felt like they had fewer this time around than in 1979.

But with that said, I loved the film.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Everybody lies” or “An update on the updated Greylist Daemon”

Since it's been eighteen months since the previous update of the greylist daemon, I best do a release of what I have so far, even if it's not what I wanted.

I know, I know … I said that 1.0.12 would be the last version in the 1x line, but … well … as House says: “Everybody lies.”

I never did get around to fixing the bulk transfer problem, and thus, the protocol hasn't changed, so there's no need for a major bump in the version number. And there have been a few changes in the past eighteen months. I converted the codebase to C99; there are more metrics being logged; there's better self-monitoring (it'll restart in case of a crash) but there are two large changes I need to mention.

The first one: no more recursive make. After reading “Recursive Make Considered Harmful,” I decided to give the non-recursive make a try. The greylist daemon isn't all that big, and listing the dependencies in one large Makefile shouldn't be that tedious. And even if so, it's pretty much a one-time thing.

The major benefit of doing a non-recursive make (and making sure all the dependencies are labeled correctly) is the parallel make. Making everything straight through on my development box takes around two seconds. A parallel make, on the other hand, only takes one second.

Okay, that may not sound like much (“Big whoop!”) but I converted one of the code bases I develop at work to a non-recursive make model, and on our slow Solaris development system, the parallel build time (which I couldn't even do before the change) takes 1/10th the time of a normal build. But the trick, like I said, is to list all the dependencies correctly, or else a parallel make will fail.

The other large change is probably more controversial: I removed a bunch of command-line options from the program, mainly the configuration options. I never used them, and given how little response I get about the project (I know of only one other person two other people using the software) I decided they should go. If anyone complains, I can always add them back. But for now, they're gone.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I haven't dont a metablog post in a while …

In addition to updating the greylist daemon, I've also updated the software that runs this blog.

The biggest change this time is to the configuration file. The first stab at changing how it works was made back in (let me check … oh wow! was it that long ago?) September of 2010. Prior, I had code that checked the SCRIPT_FILENAME environment variable (passed in by Apache) and changed the extention from .cgi to .cnf to locate the file. That meant the configuration file had to live in the main web directory and frankly, I felt that bit of code was always a bit of a hack.

I changed that, however, by configuring Apache to pass the configuration filename explicitly to the script:

  # ... 

  <Files boston.cgi>
        SetEnv  BLOG_CONFIG /home/spc/web/sites/

  # ...

Now, no more hacking around with filenames, and the configuration file no longer needs to be stored in a web-facing location. If you do use this method, you'll need to check REDIRECT_BLOG_CONFIG as well (which Apache sets when it does a redirect, and only a redirect).

And that was it for the configuration file until earlier this month. The next big change is how it looks. Prior to the changes this month, the configuration file looked like:

Comment:        *********************************************
Comment:        *
Comment:        *       Configure File for the Boston Diaries
Comment:        *
Comment:        **********************************************
Name:			The Boston Diaries
Backend:		/home/spc/source/boston.old.1.9/sbg/bp
BaseDir:		/home/spc/web/sites/
WebDir:         	/home/spc/web/sites/
BaseUrl:        	/
Templates:      	html/regular
DayPage:		/home/spc/web/sites/
Days:           	7
RssFile:        	/home/spc/web/sites/
RssTemplates:   	rss
RssFirst:		latest
AtomFile:		/home/spc/web/sites/
AtomTemplates:		atom
Comment: TabTemplates:	html/sidebar
Comment: TabFile:	/home/spc/web/sites/
Comment: TabFirst:	latest
StartDate:      	1999/12/4
Author:         	Sean Conner
Comment: Authors:	/home/spc/web/sites/
Email-List:		/home/spc/web/sites/
Email-Message:		/home/spc/web/sites/
Email-Subject:		The Boston Diaries Update Notification
Facebook-User:		XXXXXX
_System-CPU:		600
_System-Mem:		20971520
_System-Core:		0
_System-Locale:		en_SPC

Let me explain how this came about. I had code to parse RFC-822 style headers (because at the time I had code to fetch pages via HTTP and it's needed there; also, I can accept entries via email and I need it there too) and instead of writing even more code to parse a configuration file, I decided to shoehorn the configuration file into an RFC-822 format.

And thus, the odd format for the configuration file. It's also never been fully clensed of old features (I no longer have a backend, so the Backend: header could go; I removed support for the tab template, so TabTemplates:, TabFile: and TabFirst: could go as well—don't bother asking what the tab file was for, it'll take too long to explain and as far as I know, nobody, including myself, ever bother using it).

Even since I started playing around with Lua, I've been playing around with the idea of using it as a configuration file, and I finally got around to doing it.

process = require("org.conman.process")
os      = require("os")

-- ---------------------------------------------------------------------
-- Custom locale to get "Debtember" without special code in the program
-- ---------------------------------------------------------------------


-- --------------------------------------------------------------------
-- process limits added because an earlier version of the code actually
-- crashed the server it was running on, due to resource exhaustion.
-- --------------------------------------------------------------------

process.limits.hard.cpu  = "10m"	-- 10 minutes
process.limits.hard.core =  0		-- no core file = "20m"	-- 20 MB

-- --------------------------------------------------------
-- We now resume our regularly scheduled config file
-- --------------------------------------------------------

name      = "The Boston Diaries"
basedir   = "/home/spc/web/sites/"
webdir    = "/home/spc/web/sites/"
url       = ""
author    = { name = "Sean Conner" , email = "" }
startdate = "1999/12/4"

templates =
    template = "html/regular",
    output   = webdir .. "/index.html",
    items    = "7days",
    reverse  = true
    template = "rss",
    output   = webdir .. "/bostondiaries.rss",
    items    = 15,
    reverse  = true
    template = "atom",
    output   = webdir .. "/index.atom",
    items    = 15,
    reverse  = true

email =
  list    = "/home/spc/web/sites/",
  message = "/home/spc/web/sites/",
  subject = name .. " Update Notification",

facebook =
  ap_id     = "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX",
  user      = "XXXXXX"

affiliate =
    proto = "asin",
    link  = ""

Not only does it look much nicer (Whitespace! Real comments!) but I was able to remove code to handle the resource limits (it's now handled in Lua—and I'll talk about that in another entry) and locales (which supports a feature I added back in October 2003).

Also, by doing this, I partially cleaned up the template mess. Before, I had to explicitely add code to support specialized templates (the HTML output, the RSS and ATOM feed files and the long-since-removed tab file); now, I can specify new templates by just adding them to the configuration file. The only limitation is that the HTML template has to be specified first (it's easier to code that way).

You'll also notice a section labeled affiliate. That I threw in at the last moment. I'm an Amazon affiliate and if I wanted to link to, say, a book from my friend Hoade, I would have to manually generate the link, but now, I can just do:

<a class="book" href="asin:0595095291">Ain't that America</a>

and it'll be converted automatically to the correct link:

<a class="book"
that America</a>

Or rather, Hoade's book Ain't that America.

On the down side, in trying to release this (the last releast was in September of 2009, and before that, July of 2004) I found a rather curious bug—below a certain threshhold of entries (and there're currently over 3,700 here in this blog), the program crashes. There's probably an assumption built into the code about there always being a previous entry, but for a new blog, that's not necessarily the case and in tracking down the issue, I found that it appears to have something to do with the internal caching I do of entries. Like the old joke goes:

There are only two hard problems in Computer Science: cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors.

And I think I'm being hit by one of—
Core error - bus dumped

Some Lua trickery

In my previous post, I presented this bit of Lua code:

process = require("org.conman.process")

-- --------------------------------------------------------------------
-- process limits added because an earlier version of the code actually
-- crashed the server it was running on, due to resource exhaustion.
-- --------------------------------------------------------------------

process.limits.hard.cpu  = "10m"	-- 10 minutes
process.limits.hard.core =  0		-- no core file = "20m"	-- 20 MB

It looks like a simple assignment to set process limits, yet under Unix, you need to call setrlimit(). What's happening under the hood (so to speak) is that it's easy to intercept assignments to tables (Lua “go-to” data structure) and that's exactly what's going on here. During the process of registering the module org.conman.process (more on the name later) we create some fake structures for the hard limits (and soft limits, but since it's similar, I'll skip that part) and attach a metatable, which contains code to intercept both reads and writes so we can do a bit of magic:

#define SYS_LIMIT_HARD	"rlimit_hard"
#define SYS_LIMIT_SOFT	"rlimit_soft"

static const struct luaL_reg mhlimit_reg[] =
  { "__index" 		, mhlimitlua___index	} ,
  { "__newindex"	, mhlimitlua___newindex	} ,
  { NULL		, NULL			}

static const struct luaL_reg mslimit_reg[] =
  { "__index"		, mslimitlua___index	} ,
  { "__newindex"	, mslimitlua___newindex	} ,
  { NULL		, NULL			}

int luaopen_org_conman_process(lua_State *const L)
  void *udata;
  assert(L != NULL);
  udata = lua_newuserdata(L,sizeof(int));
  udata = lua_newuserdata(L,sizeof(int));
  return 1;

When Lua sees an assignment to the process.limits.hard table, it calls mhlimit_lua___newindex(), where the magic happens:

static int mhlimitlua___newindex(lua_State *const L)
  struct rlimit  limit;
  void          *ud;
  const char    *tkey;
  int            key;
  lua_Integer    ival;

  assert(L != NULL);
  ud   = luaL_checkudata(L,1,SYS_LIMIT_HARD);
  tkey = luaL_checkstring(L,2);
  if (!mlimit_trans(&key,tkey))
    return luaL_error(L,"Illegal limit resource: %s",tkey);

  if (lua_isnumber(L,3))
    ival = lua_tointeger(L,3);
  else if (lua_isstring(L,3))
    const char *tval;
    const char *unit;
    tval = lua_tostring(L,3);
    ival = strtoul(tval,(char **)&unit,10);

    if (!mlimit_valid_suffix(&ival,key,unit))
      return luaL_error(L,"Illegal suffix: %c",*unit);
    return luaL_error(L,"Non-supported type");

  limit.rlim_cur = ival;
  limit.rlim_max = ival;
  return 0;

We basically take the key we're given, say, “cpu”, and translate it to the appropriate value (which happens in mlimit_trans()—nothing terribly interesting, it just maps the string to the appropriate constant value, in this example, RLIMIT_CPU) and the same for the value; if it's a number, we'll use that and if it's a string, we'll convert it to a value and use any suffix to modify the value. For our example, “cpu”, it's a meaure of time, so the suffix “m” means “minutes.” mlimit_valid_suffix() handles this and again, it's pretty straightforward code.

I think it's a pretty cool trick, but I can see why some might not like the idea of masking what amounts to a system call with what looks like a simple assignment, since it does have side effects outside of the simple assignment, but I like the way it looks, and it's a more “natural” or even “Luaish” way of specifying the intent of the code.

Now, on to the name of the module, org.conman.process. When I first started playing around with Lua I wrote a few modules that did similar operations as existing modules, with the same names. One example is syslog. There's an existing Lua syslog module, but I don't like how it works, so I wrote my own.

The problem now becomes, what if I want to use a module that uses the existing Lua syslog module, but the rest of my code uses mine? If they both have the same name, some code is going to get a nasty surprise. To work around that, I decided to put all my modules under a “namespace” I control and is not likely to cause any conflicts with any existing (or even future) modules. Thus, the org.conman namespace.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yet more code released

your "program that will select the URL and HTML from the Firefox primary text selection" ?
Tue, 29 Nov 2011 15:43:56 -0800

Hey there, I'm trying to find a command-line program that will output the HTML of Firefox's current selection. Klipper, xsel, xclip, etc. all just deal with the plain text. None of them admit to doing the content negotiation.

In you investigated and hacked away and came up with a program. Awesome … so where is it, can you share it?

In my case I just want to grab the actual HTML of a humongous dynamic Facebook page, so big that Firefox's Select All then View Selection Source exhausts memory.

Your hack of composing the various clipboard formats into a mini citation is really cool, I wish something like Klipper had such templating ability.


=S Page

Wow! Somebody's interested in something I wrote! Very cool!

And yes, I did make the source code available, although there's no documentation, it uses a library I no longer maintain, and it might be a bit temperamental to use, but it is available.

And I nearly forgot—the program xselect.c, a program I wrote that can be used to query and get the various forms of the current X11 selection buffer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The royal deal that was a royal pain

seems while the players (all 4 of them) were taking a break, the dealer thought it would be funny to setup the deck to give all 4 the royal flush. essentially no one would be getting hurt, and all get back their money. now everything was going according to plan, and suddenly one old man was screaming how he had a royal flush and wanted his money. the other players told him they ALL had the royal, and i dont know if he was senile, or didnt believe them, but he insisted the floor call gaming, and it seems he eventually got paid and the dealer got fired.

Via The Fourth Checkraise, tbc's blog about grinding low stakes poker: well i finally got it to work

This is for my dad, and especially for my friend H (who is currently a dealer in Las Vegas). I still remember the last time he tried stacking the deak and slowly watching it backfire on him as I got the winning hand. I literally fell on the floor clutching my sides from laughing so hard.

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site:, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

It is assumed that every brand name, slogan, corporate name, symbol, design element, et cetera mentioned in these pages is a protected and/or trademarked entity, the sole property of its owner(s), and acknowledgement of this status is implied.

Copyright © 1999-2017 by Sean Conner. All Rights Reserved.