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.

Friday, September 01, 2000

Flashy Interfaces

I got together with Rob (another Rob, not my roommate), a graphic designer to help him design an interface in Flash-5. One of the things we worked on was sending information from the server back to the Flash … animation? Interface? Thing-a-ma-bob? I'm not entirely sure what to call it … applet maybe but that's usually reserved for Java.

While Flash is an interesting application (even Mark is doing Flash) it really isn't suited (in my opinion) for major user interfaces like what Rob is trying to do; there are still too many bugs in the Flash-5 player (for instance, variable text can't be rescaled on the fly) and the Flash-5 development environment.

And Mark's assesment that the Flash-5 development environment as being annoying is true—I had a hard time figuring out how to navigate my way through the system (“Okay, where was that code we just wrote? No, it's not that button … @@%##$@$@# select the text box you #@#$@#$@ … okay where's the list of objects again? Okay, there's the list now where is the text box? Aaaaiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee!”).


Rob the Graphics Designer was amazed at two things I did while at his house. The first is my ability to log into my home computer from anywhere on the Internet (that, and the ability to retrieve files from my home computer from anywhere on the Internet). Rob has never really used a multi-user system before and I think the concept of controlling a computer remotely isn't in his experience. Then again, he is a graphics designer, not a computer programmer or admin.

The next thing he was amazed at was my writing code. He was amazed the last time Mark and I coded on the fly (as it were) and this time he was equally impressed (fifteen minutes to write a C program to feed his Flash-5 interface he was developing, including time to type the code in locally on his machine, uploading it to my server, compiling and testing).

I was equally impressed with his setup: a dual headed Windows box (I had no idea Windows could support multiple displays—X Windows has had this ability since 1987) on a nice fast machine. I was also impressed with his ability to navigate through the arcane interface of the Flash-5 development environment.

I guess it's easy to be impressed with stuff you aren't familiar with.

Saturday, September 02, 2000

Quake 2 Goodness

(Technically I left the house yesturday around 11:45 pm, but the events that transpired happened today after midnight, so they're listed under the 2nd)

The usual suspects (Greg, Larry, Martin and myself) arrived at an undisclosed location (least one of us get in trouble) for several hours of Quake 2 goodness. Out of the five games we played, I won four.

I still can't win with the crew at Atlantic Internet though.

After the games, Martin, Larry and I ended up at Denny's for food. Hey, it's the only place still open at 3:30 in the morning.

Mark's Labor Day Weekend BBQ and Swim Party

Immediately after getting up (around 2:30 pm) Mark called to inform me I was running late to his Labor Day Weekend BBQ and Swim Party at his house.

I still beat Kelly to Mark's house, even though Kelly got up earlier than I did.

While there we ate way too many hamburgers, hotdogs and Cheezy-Poofs, watched Office Space and went swiming.

Well, Mark, Kelly and Jeff went swiming. I didn't as I had other plans later on in the evening (namely, the Saturday D&D game were I was the Guest DM so I couldn't duck out of it).

Sunday, September 03, 2000

Yet another Labor Day BBQ

I was invited over to John the paper millionaire of a dotcom's house for a Labor Day BBQ. I wasn't there long enough to say hello before being forced to don a swim suit and join the festivities in the pool, where Mark, Kelly and JeffK were playing basketball (yes, in the pool—John has a net for the pool which is placed at the deep end).

After swimming and eating yet more hamburgers, hotdogs and other outdoor American holiday food we retired in the family room to watch a football game on the 72″ TV.

I wasn't all that interested in the game (at one point, nearly drifting off to sleep) so I wandered off with Kelly and John's wife where we talked about relationships. Way more interesting than the game.

Fun Geeky Stuff

After the game, we headed into John's office to play around with his home control system. Throughout his house are several small keypads with an LCD screen he uses to control the music and lights of the house. The primary controller is a program that runs under Windows and John's idea is to reverse engineer the protocol used to communicate between the two (which runs under IPX).

We downloaded Ethereal to capture and display the network packets but since everyone was pretty tired we didn't far in the engineering aspects.

Monday, September 04, 2000

“Oh, so that's what I did wrong … ”

I spent Labor Day with John the paper millionaire of a dotcom. He wanted to work some more on the reverse engineering project we started yesturday.

Today's goal was installing the IPX drivers on his Linux box, which turned into a long and arduous venture.

Normally, I don't run modular Linux kernels—aside from the security issues they bring up—they're not the most elegant thing under Linux (heck, if it wasn't in Unix V6 it's a horrible kludge that doesn't integrate well in Unix, such as threads, file locking, removable media and installable drivers at either boot or runtime but I digress … ) and a bit of a pain to use.

I initially tried:

# cd /lib/modules/2.2.14-0.5smp/misc
# insmod ipx.o

but that didn't work. Too many errors. So we then spent the next few hours trying to recompile the Linux kernel to support IPX and none of the kernels would boot (they all failed trying to mount the root filesystem from the SCSI drive).

By this time Mark arrived and after mucking about for another hour, tried:

# insmod ipx

That worked.

insmod ipx.o didn't, yet insmod ipx did. I've done the insmod module.o and it's worked when I've done it (okay, mostly under a 2.0 kernel) yet apparently there is magic done when you don't specify the .o extension.

And Linux zealots wonder why Windows is so popular …

Wednesday, September 06, 2000

Through Journals Darkly

But from this reserve of suffering, of pain, of loss and of being victimized by the selfish, the best personal writing happens. Because conflict, whether it be humorous or melancholy, is something with which an individual can trace the actions. Conflict is the pinnacle of existence and, if properly dwelled upon, it can be an absolutely powerful device to launch personal writing.

And yet why is it that today's personal writing on the Internet refrains from veering down these dark roads? Is it because we are ensnared by the conveniences of technology? Or is it because, as I suggested in Part 1 of this essay, we're simply lazy, wanting to get that blog entry up before anybody else?

the decline of personal writing, part 2

Another reason is privacy. While I would like to mention an incident that happened last week that lead to my loosing physical access to one of my client's offices (I had access to the office 24/7) it's not really the domain of this journal to record such incidents. Not everything I do is recorded here for a variety of reasons (to protect myself and/or friends).

So I make it a point to avoid the entries that go:

Something momentuous happened to me today but I really can't say what …

Through Linux Broken

% ls -w1
Segmentation fault (core dumped)
% uname -a
Linux XXX.XXX.XXX 2.0.36 #1 Tue Oct 13 22:17:11 EDT 1998 i686 unknown

This on a client's Linux system. w and who are similarly broken. What exactly did they do to install Linux?

Through Bars Scanning

I went to Radio Shack to pick up a PS/2-AT keyboard adaptor. The Belkin Omni View I got last week uses PS/2 connectors and I have a spare PC that uses the older AT style keyboard. The computer is not really doing anything at the moment so I figure I might want to install Plan-9 from AT&T on it.

While I was at Radio Shack, I asked if they had a :Cue:Cat I could have. It just so happened that that particular Radio Shack had one to give me.

When I got home I played around with it a bit under Linux. I'm not entirely sure what I'll do with the thing but as a diversion …

Through Hypertext Documentation

The concept of a Wiki may seem strange at first, but dive in and explore its links. Wiki is a composition system; it's a discussion medium; it's a repository; it's a mail system; it's a tool for collaboration. Really, we don't know quite what it is, but it's a fun way of communicating asynchronously across the network.


I've come across the site a year or two before but I never really played around with it that much. But today I came across it again and this time, I decided to play around with the concept, which seems to be what Tim Berners- Lee invisioned the web could be—one were you can view and edit the pages you see.

Okay, maybe he didn't mean to edit any pages you yourself didn't author but there aren't many sites out there that will let you arbitrarily edit their pages, yet these sites allow you to edit their pages.

But while cruising the WikiWikiWeb, I thought that such a hypertext system would be perfect for computer documentation for a group or organization—you install the documentation on an internal website (or external website if you really want to live on the edge) and as people peruse it, they can annotate (or even correct!) the documentation to acurately reflect the true state of affairs.

Thursday, September 07, 2000

Running dog imperialistic war monger

Two things about us Americans: First, those of us of U.S. citizenship are called Americans because we are the only country in either South or North America that has the word “America” in its name. It's a hell of a lot easier to say “American” than “United States citizen”, though I've always enjoyed being referred to as a Yank in Britain and a running dog imperialistic war monger by everyone else.

Don Olson on American Cultural Assumptions

Enough said.

Now this is hypertext

The WikiWikiWeb is more web than the World Wide Web. This is hypertext like Ted Nelson invisioned it.

And it's bloody addictive. My god, it's 4:43 am! Just now long have I been reading the WikiWikiWeb?

Saturday, September 09, 2000

Musings on Star Wars

(I'll apollogize in advance the the extreme linkage in this entry but think of it as an experiment in hypertext)

I was hanging out with my friends Jeff and Kurt (the erstwhile high school English Teacher I went haunted house hunting with) and the discussion primarily concerned itself with Star Wars.

Yes, we are geeks.

Where to begin … where to begin …

We've yet to actually see a true Jedi Knight in action. In Star Wars (full title: Star Wars: A New Hope, aka ANH) you have Ben Kenobi, a Jedi Knight way past his prime and Darth Vader, a Sith Lord (and for this discussion, also considered a Jedi Knight, just a bad Jedi Knight) who's a walking iron lung. Their battle in ANH is presented as an even match between the two. Why Darth Vader wasn't as aggressive in ANH as in Empire Strikes Back (ESB) and Return of the Jedi (RoTJ) could be attributed to a respect for his former mentor and an acknowledgement of Obi-Wan's mastery of the Force.

In ESB, we get the introduction of Yoda, an 800 year old Jedi Master near the end of his life and hiding out on Dagobah, so again we have a Jedi Knight in his waning years of life. We also have a Jedi Apprentice in Luke Skywalker, possibly the most whiny Jedi Apprentice we've seen yet. Which is why Darth Vader is able to wipe the walls with Luke. And Vader's aggresiveness here can be seen as a father/son abuse situation—or someone fed up with a whiny kid.

The Emperor as presented in RoTJ is again, an older person and while powerful doesn't seem to engage in battle, instead sending subordinates in his place, along with the mind games he plays. Even though Luke declares himself a full Jedi Knight towards the end of the film, Darth Vader and the Emperor still manage to wipe the walls with him, despite Darth being a walking iron lung.

The Phantom Menace (TPM) brings us plenty of Jedi Knights, but the film focuses on two, Qui-Gon Jinn, who is just past his prime as a Jedi Knight, and a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, still an apprentice Jedi not fully vested. About the closest thing to a full Jedi Knight we have is Darth Maul, another Sith Lord. Yet, for being the overhyped bad guy of the film, we don't really get to see him in any action—the most underutilized character in the film cut down in his prime by an apprentice Jedi Knight.

It's apparent that Jedi Knights (and Sith Lords) are powerful indeed and not something you want to be on the wrong side of, yet when will the real Jedi Knights show up?

Another thing we puzzled over in TPM: Was Senator Palpatine Darth Sidious? The implications are fairly clear in both the movie and the book that the two are in fact the same person, but one has to consider why the Jedi Council didn't pick up on Senator Palpatine/Darth Sidious during the funeral pyre of Qui-Gon? In ESB, Yoda can sense the Dark Side and points it out to Luke, most notably when he sends Luke through a part of Dagobah that is steeped in the Dark Side. Two answers:

  1. (as explained in the book, never mentioned in the movie), the Sith Lords were driven underground and due to infighting, their numbers were reduced to two—a master and an apprentice. And the only way to advance is for the apprentice to forcefully take control (ahem). So with only two at any given time for well over a millenium, the Jedi Council has lost the skill of detecting the Dark Side.
  2. Why Naboo? One rumor I've heard is that it's a center for cloning. As circumstantial evidence we have Queen Amidala and her handmaidens, who look like her. In the book, it's made explicit that they often trade off as decoys for the real Queen (and they look more like Amidala than in the movie). If indeed, Naboo is a center for cloning, and according to other source material, clones do lack the Force (or the ability to use the Force) then we might have a case where Senator Palpatine is a clone of Darth Sidious. That would explain why the Jedi Council don't detect the Dark Side in Senator Palpatine.

And Senator Palpatine's plan to seize power was subtle and very effective. So subtle it was actually wasted in the film. No matter the outcome, he won. He (or his evil twin Darth Sidious) was manipulating the Trade Federation so if they won, he had power. If they lost (and they did) he still got power since he became Chancellor of the Senate. Very smooth.

Another point of discussion centered on Anakin's fall to the Dark Side. The popular rumor is in a duel between the young Obi-Wan and a recently turned Darth Vader, Vader falls into a pit of lava. He barely survives but has to become a walking iron lung to survive. Another point brought up by Jeff is that possibly Darth Sidious isn't nearly as strong with the Force as Anakin/Vader and manipulates the newly fallen Sith Lord to take out the Jedi Knights and it's these battles where he slowly looses his body—loosing parts of his body during the battles. As implied in series, machines aren't part of the Force. In TPM we learn that Anakin is probably the strongest person with the Force yet. In this way, Darth Sidious ensures he's the strongest with the Force.

The question of the Jedi Mind Trick being the baliwik of the Dark Side came up. In the role playing game, any Jedi character using the Jedi Mind Trick automatically gains a Dark Side Point (if any player accumulates six such points, they automatically turn to the Dark Side and become a non-player character under control of the Game Master). Yet so far, the only characters to actually use the power are the Jedi Knights. Obi-Wan in ANH uses it several times—the most notorious being “These aren't the 'droids you are looking for” bit. The other times are very subtle—when leaving the tractor beam he distracts the guards and possibly, just possibly, he tries it on Luke (“Come with me.” “Okay—wait! I can't just leave … ”). Qui-Gon attempts it in TPM, and Luke tries in RoTJ.

In contrast, none of the Sith Lords have. Well, a possible exception might be Darth Sidious and the Trade Federation but neither the movie nor the book go into that. Darth Vader prefers to teleketically choke people, the Emperor just plays mind games and if pissed off, goes for the lightening strike. Darth Maul (“The most underutilized character in TPM!” “SHUT UP SEAN!”) just goes for the attack. If the role playing game is true, then most of the Jedi Knights would have turned long ago.

There was more we talked about (the Jedi Telekentic Power) but I figure I've geeked out enough already.

Independant Film Making

Every Saturday evening I play D&D with a group of friends, the oldest being in his mid-30s and the youngest, Marco, being 18.

Tonight Marco brought a video tape he and a friend made last year for extra credit. The project was a board game with a math theme and his group decided to adapt D&D. The video tape was a commercial they made of their “game,” mostly made by Marco's friend.

He popped the video in and hit play. Professional credits appeared and the music, while “borrowed” from another movie, was a good choice. Then the first scene: a mid shot from behind of a person wearing medival type garb walking. I wonder what film they took that shot from, I thought. Then a cut to a medium shot of Marco, wearing the outfit. Whoa! I thought. His friend is good with the cinematography!

Except for the occasional telephone pole (“It's a tree!” Marco would shout at us when we pointed it out) the setting was perfect.

“Hey Marco,” I said. “Where exactly did you film this?” This is South Florida. No palm trees and hills were visible.

“Hill Park in Coral Springs,” He said. Ah ha!

Even though the dragon was this cheesey computer generated dragon, it was impressive to realize that it was a high school student working on a home PC. I've seen B-movies with worse special effects.

Medium closeup of Marco, off to one side of the screen. Behind him is a thick forest of trees off in the distance when the dragon lands behind him, cutting him off from the forrest. “That was shot in front of a blue screen,” said Marco.

“Blue screen?”

“Yea, my friend made a blue screen.”

On video, Marco pulls out his sword; it glints in the sunlight. Next shot, medium long shot from above looking down. Marco in the upper left, the dragon taking up the rest of the screen. It starts attacking and Marco is reacting to it—decent job actually. Then it ends with a joke about there only being a dragon and no dungeons but that Bibo (the character Marco played) did die. It got a laugh.

An excellent job. I was seriously impressed.

Monday, September 11, 2000

Jumping the Shark

Now here is a concept I can't get enough of a man and his monkey! I am waiting for the TBS monkey movie short using a human as the part of the monkey.

When BJ and the Bear Jumped the Shark.

Jumping the Shark is that point in a television series when you know, you just know, the series has peaked and can only go down from there. The reference is from the time the Fonz jumped over a shark tank on “Happy Days.”

FYI, WKRP in Cincinnati never jumped the shark.

“There they go again, looking for again!”

It was bad enough when you could tunnel TCP/IP over SMTP, but now it seems you can tunnel TCP/IP over DNS.

When will it ever end?

“Look Ma! No wires!”

Technocrat has an article about wireless networks and the ISPs that are implementing them., The Eugene Free Community Network, SFLan, and SeattleWireless are a few of the ISPs in the States working on providing this technology.

And MIT is working on The Grid Ad Hoc Mobile Networking Protocol to help route all this new wireless technology.

I just wished South Florida wasn't so darned flat! It's hard to get wireless networks going with a lack of hills (or mountains) and tall buildings.

The Great Worm Wizard

This person is part of the group working on The Grid Ad Hoc Mobile Networking Protocol. Could this be the rtm?

If you don't know who rtm is, then you obviously don't know your Internet History.

It's the End Of The World As I Know It

“Hey, kid!” the voice on the other end of the phone said. “How are you doing?” It's Dad. His timing is getting better. It's midnight my time and I'm wide awake. Good thing Dad lives out in California—it's only 9:00 pm there.

“I'm fine. How are you?”

“Can't complain. Hey, I've got a question for you,” he said. “What's your email address?”


The universe suddenly turned ninety degrees on me. Dad. My Dad. My Dad who hates computers and will have nothing to do with them, asking me for my email address.

Next thing you know, a coke head will be running for President.

Hey, wait a minute …

Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Guaranteed Used Music

I just noticed this. I've only owned the CD for several years yet it never struck me just how odd the sticker on it is.

Guaranteed Use Music

Yup. The music on this CD is used. This isn't any old fresh music, this is used music, guaranteed!

Used indeed.

Reply-To: Munging Considered Harmful Considered Harmful

Great! Reply-To: Munging has reared its ugly head again on the mailing list.


Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Just because they have a generator …

One of my clients is panicing because the company he colocates his server with had a power outtage. The colocation company provides UPSes, and even has a large generator outside good for three weeks of power. But the generator only kicks in if the power to the building goes down. It does no good of power to just their office goes down, or a circuit braker trips.

I told my client not to totally rely on the colocation company for things like UPS—he should provide his own just in case. Besides, with his own UPS, he can have his server monitor the UPS and if it trips, send out a message and shut itself down cleanly (if the power goes down too low).

Thursday, September 14, 2000

The new technical editor at DaveWorld (you just wouldn't get it)

A mailing list I'm on has its own website which is a collaborative journal.

Because of life, the current technical editor of the site (he who actually puts the entries up) had to take a leave of absence from the position and I volunteered to take over.

First thing first, reorganize the site. There currently is no organization, or rather, it's a flat structure where all the pages are in the top level directory. Not a good thing long term.

Then there's the matter of the HTML …

Expanding on EXPN

Once again Spring is having problems with mailing her journal entries, only this time it's with Yahoo.

What is it? EXPN is all the rage now? Must expand email addresses?


So I decide to fix it once and for all. I check the configuration file for Sendmail and don't see any obvious way to disable the EXPN command. Not wanting to hack the source code to remove the EXPN command I figure the next easiest way is to hack the actual binary and change any occurence of E-S-P-N-NULBYTE such that sendmail will no longer be able to actually respond to the EXPN command. I have some software I wrote years ago that makes this relatively easy to do.

So, I find the occurences of E-X-P-N-NULBYTE and make the changes.

No go. Sendmail still reponds to the EXPN command.

Okay, so next it's occurrences of e-x-p-n-NULLBYTE and that's when I find the curious string “noexpn” in the executable. Hmmmmmmmm … I think to myself. Might there actually be a way to disable the EXPN command?

So I search the site for noexpn and I find this:


Set the privacy options. “Privacy” is really a misnomer; many of these are just a way of insisting on stricter adherence to the SMTP protocol. The options can be selected from:

Allow open access
Insist on HELO or EHLO command before MAIL
Insist on HELO or EHLO command before EXPN
Disallow EXPN entirely
Insist on HELO or EHLO command before VRFY
Disallow VRFY entirely
Restrict mailq command
Restrict -q command line flag
Don't return success DSNs
Disallow essentially all SMTP status queries
Put X-Authentication-Warning: headers in messages

The goaway pseudo-flag sets all flags except restrictmailq and restrictqrun. If mailq is restricted, only people in the same group as the queue directory can print the queue. If queue runs are restricted, only root and the owner of the queue directory can run the queue. Authentication Warnings add warnings about various conditions that may indicate attempts to spoof the mail system, such as using an non-standard queue directory.

I don't know if it's A Good Thing or A Bad Thing that you can learn more about a program from scanning the executable than you could probably get reading the documentation.

Friday, September 15, 2000

A Good Idea Marred by Hideous Implementations

Since I took over the technical editorship of DaveWorld I took it upon myself to clean up not only the organization of the site, but to clean up the HTML on the pages themselves. I downloaded the site, cleaned up the HTML and put it back up on a private site and asked for comments from the more technically and designed oriented members of DaveWorld.

Number one complaint: What did I do to the fonts?

All I did was remove all the <FONT> tags, leaving the font to be the browser default. That alone peeved the graphic designers on the list. Back to the drawing board.

I then decided, for whatever reason, to use style sheets. Exclusively. Despite the warnings. Meaning, no tables for layout, no <FONT> tags, no alignment attributes. Just simple HTML.

I've come to the conclusion that Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), defined way back in 1997, is a lot like Java: A Good Idea Marred By Hideous Implementations.

My intent was to use correct typographical conventions, one of which was that the leading paragraph is not indented but succeeding ones are. Easy enough to specify, along with font information and other stylistic concerns.

Internet Explorer (IE) managed to center the text correctly, although the paragraphs with leading (indented) were shifted to the right. Netscape had the paragraphs aligned correctly, but neglected to actually center them on the page. Also, the interline spacing between paragraphs was off, making the page look horrible. Adjusting the interline spacing to 1 fixed that problem, but now the lines were bunched up. Livable. But it still refused to center the paragraphs on the page.

The only way to get Netscape to center the paragraphs was to use a table. Which kind of defeats the purpose of CSS. But I tried anyway.

Netscape now aligned the paragraphs correctly, but that just triggered a bug in IE—the paragraphs where aligned correctly, but selecting a link would cause the page to jump to the right. What the—?

Try as I might, I couldn't get a stylesheet alone that worked properly between the two.


Dark Side of Oz

For the past few years I've heard the rumor about Pink Floyd and “The Wizard of Oz.” You know, the rumor that their album “Dark Side of the Moon” syncs up to the 1939 MGM release of “The Wizard of Oz,” staring Judy Garland and Ray Bolger.

Not having much to do this night, Mark and I decided see if that rumor is true. I have a copy of “Dark Side of the Moon” and we can rent “The Wizard of Oz.”

At Blockbuster it took us a while to find a copy. Let's see … musicals, no. Classics? No. Drama? No. Family? Yes. So with video in hand, we head back to Mark's house, cue up the video and at the MGM lion's third roar, cue up the CD.

Despite about 30 seconds of added text to the credits (gee, thanks. Like the video distributor couldn't add that before the film?) the CD synced up just enough to convince us that there possibly is something there. Track 5 starts up when Dorothy is leaving the house to enter Oz. “Fool on the Hill” when she meets up with the Scarecrow. Something about keeping your balance she's walking along the top of the fence. The lyric “Is she black? Is she blue?” syncs up—“Is she black?” you see the Wicked Witch of the West. “Is she blue?” the film immediately cuts to Dorothy.

There's enough there that both of us were convinced that something was up. But our primary question is Why? Why did they do this? And other than Pink Floyd, who would ever know? I mean, until the advent of video tapes, it would be nearly impossible to get this to work (say, on television broadcasts interspaced with commercials) unless you could get a print of the film, which I doubt just anybody could do.

Then again, on second thought, I've only heard this rumor in the past few years. Maybe it is just coincidence.

Sunday, September 17, 2000


We decided to try something different at the weekly Quakefest my friend Greg hosts (at his company, shhhhh). He had upgraded the video system on several of the PCs and they could run Unreal Tournament.

Wow. The graphics are gorgeous and the gameplay is much nicer than Quake. Or rather, it's a bit more realistic. I will miss the Cataclysm Device though.

But wouldn't you know it, just when I get comfortable with a game, it's off to a new one.

Life goes on.

I don't do windows

There is a downside to using computers—people expect you to know everything about them, especially the ones they use.

The knock on the door proved to me one of my neighbors, a woman in her late 40s/early 50s taking care of her elderly mother. She wanted to know if I had a copy of Windows 98 she could borrow (shhhh). I don't but my roommate Rob does. He was currently using the CD but he would lend it to her once he was finished.

About an hour later he was finished. We were on our way to Shane's house for a bit of Half-Life and I decided to drop off the CD to my neighbor. I would meet up with them later.

I had intended to drop off the CD.

I ended up being stuck for an hour trying to troubleshoot a Windows problem and not wanting to install Windows 98 on a 16M 486 that was barely running Windows 95.

“Should I install Windows 98?” she would ask.

“It's really up to you,” I said. “If you really want to, it's up to you.”

“Funny,” she said. “Everybody I talked to said the same thing.” She peered closer. “Nobody wants the responsibility if it fails, right?”

“Yup. And I don't even use Windows.” Not that she believed me for a minute. I use computers. I have computers. Therefore I know Windows.


I never did end up at Shane's house.

Is there anybody in there?

I knew I wouldn't be making it to Shane's so I decided to call to let them know.


“Is this Shane?” I said.

“No, this is Glen. Who is this?”

“This is Sean. Tell Shane I can't make it.”

“Hold on, I'll get him,” Glen said, and put the phone down. I heard him walk into another room and mention to someone that I was on the phone. A minute goes by. I can hear several people over there talking and moving about. Another minute.

“Hey!” I yell. “Pick up the phone!” I can still hear several people talking. “Yo! Hey! Shane?” I hear shouting over there, seems like they're deep into Half-Life. After a few minutes I simply hang up, figuring they'll figure it out.

The Watcher

I ended up seeing “The Watcher” with Mark, Kelly and JeffK. Interesting premise, and refreshing to see Keanu Reeves play a bad guy for a change, but overall, I didn't really care all that much for the film—it was your standard Hollywood fare.

Monday, September 18, 2000

Not one browser fully suports CSS

Mark heard my tales of woe about style sheets and mentioned Amaya, the reference implementation by the W3.

I check, and indeed, Amaya supports HTML 4.0, MathML, CCS1, XML and a host of other WWW alphabet soup standards. The source code requires Motif, and lacking that, I decided to download the precompiled version.

It works, in that it runs on my system.


But it doesn't support CSS correctly either.


Scanning bit loss

The :Cue:Cat I picked up the other day doesn't seem to work that well under Linux. I tried it both plugged into the Belkin and the computer directly and it still seems to loose bits as it scans.

Oh well, it was free, can't really complain all that much.

Hidely Ho, Neighbor

My neighbor who asked for help the other night came by to drop off the Windows 98 CD she borrowed and some cookies she made.

It turned out she got Windows 95 fixed and didn't need Windows 98. She also wanted to thank me for the help (what help?) I gave her.

The cookies were good. Yum.

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

DEU problems

Every student who takes a course in the NWE has a UNIX account with almost totally unrestricted Internet access. Students can make Web pages in one of the five NWE classrooms using one of several HTML editors available through our X-Windows interface. However, many students find the transition between the online environment and their home computer very unsettling. NWE technical staff encourage students to work from home and suggest that instructors teaching in the NWE do the same, and we provide copious documentation designed to make the transition more comfortable. There are no firewalls or access restrictions barring file transfer protocol (FTP) access or remote login with a secure shell client (SSH). However, most students just don't seem to know how to tackle the problem of getting access to their work outside of the classroom labs.

Via Flutterby, The Ideology of Ease

I've heard stories of users, when given a floppy with a file on it, say an Excel spreadsheet, stick the floppy in the computer, launch Excel, load the file from the floppy, then save it to the harddrive, never realizing they could just copy the file directly.

Then again, most users don't really organize their files, saving the files where ever the default location is; their main document directory containing hundreds of files.

Then again, people are amazed when I can access my computers from home; they think it's miraculous but it's something I've been doing for nearly 10 years now at various levels. Not to say that it isn't miraculous—it is, but in the same way it's miraculous that I can receive phone calls no matter where I go with a cell phone (which is now so ubiquitious that no one really notices anymore).

EXPN Problems still

I don't know what it is, but Spring is still having problems with Yahoo. Seems Yahoo has cached the expantion of the address she uses to update her journal. So I created a secondary alias for her to try.

We'll see if that works.

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The solid animal waste product, as they say, hit the external rotary thermal cooling unit.

My client CS called this morning about DNS problems he was having with his colo facility. I logged into the name server there and didn't see any problems; I had set things up correctly there. I checked his webserver—again, things were fine.

He then had me call the colo facility to resolve the issue.

The solid animal waste product, as they say, hit the external rotary thermal cooling unit.

Okay, technically, perhaps I should not have had access to the nameserver there, but I did, and I saved the colo facility staff time in adding DNS entries on behalf of my client. It might also be said I might have been lead into believing that my client and the colo facility in question had an arrangement and they didn't mind me adding the entries—it's not like they would have had any difficulty in figuring out what I was doing by checking the various logs (like utmp, wtmp and sulog for indeed it was a Unix server) and configuration files (it seemed at one point they fixed a typo on my part).

But it seems that in these uncertain financial times of the colo facility company any revenue is welcome and I found out that by bypassing them I was costing them $50 per domain.


They were charging $50 per domain to add a simple zone file to their DNS server. I told my client a few weeks before he should register his colocated box as a DNS server to the root DNS servers but he didn't follow through on it, otherwise this would have never happened.

It was shortly thereafter I learned that my access to the name server was removed. Inconvient for my client, but fortunately I had removed any reliance I had upon that nameserver.

$50 per domain. Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.

The Conner-Seattle Connection

I found out why Dad requested my email address for today I recieved email from his cousin (I think that makes him my second cousin) Walter, who works for AskMe out of Seattle.

I never knew I had family out there. Granted, I never really met much of my family on my Dad's side. But it's nice to know I have family out there if I ever decide to visit 8-)

Moving a tower

Given recent developments with my current provider, I think it is prudent to move away from them, which is really a pain (given that currently, they provide service to me gratis). I had originally thought the connection part would be hard to handle and I didn't really worry about my colocated server (a 33MHz 486SX with a ridiculous 17G harddrive).

On second thought, I may find it difficult to handle both the colocation and connectivity issues. Connectivity only because of price (of ISDN, I already have the circuit so I don't have to wait for that to be installed) or type of service (I can get DSL, but I've heard horror stories about isanely long wait times for it to be installed incorrectly, let alone correctly).

But the colocation may prove to be a bit tougher. I have plenty of options if I want to use a current webserver, but the problem there is the rather specific nature of my current Apache configuration (seeing how I have a module I wrote in there, along with some specialized email options and a couple of mailing lists.


Moving all that to a new server will be a pain.

Ideally, I'd like to drop the server somewhere and avoid having to reconfigure a webserver, five sites, four mailing lists and one special email address. But I may have to (remember, always mount a scratch monkey).

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Mysterious early morning phone calls

Years ago my Mom forbade me to answer the phone before I was fully awake. I would forget the call and often times I would come across as being rude.

Nowadays, it really depends upon how sleepy I am (and if I actually hear the phone). This morning the phone rang several times; I heard it but actually felt like not answering it (being way to early for my tastes). If it was important, the person calling would leave a message.

Not one person who called left a message.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …

Amazing! It's void here!

I'm waiting for one of my clients to call (he said he'd call at 2:00 pm, it's a bit past 2:00 pm) so I'm killing some time as I usually do—browsing the web.

While browsing, I came across the TiVo Giveaway, where you submit an essay of upto 250 words why you should receive one. Not that I watch all that much TV anymore, but it might be fun. I check the rules:


So much for entering the contest.

More mysterious phone calls

Phone just rang. Once. When I picked it up, dial tone.

Grrrrrrrrr …

More annoying phone calls


I pause, not wanting a repeat of the previous phone call.


I pick up the phone. “Hello?”

Long pause. “Please do not hang up for I have some very important information of vital concern,” the voice droned. A recording. “If you are a senior citizen—”

I hung up.

Friday, September 22, 2000

Bug reports for Windows?

From this Slashdot article about new Microsoft Windows screen shots comes this wonderful view. You have just got to love the “File Bug Report” icon there. How thoughtful.

I bet I think this website is about me.

In checking my webserver log files, I came across a referer from one of the search engines. Seems someone did a search on “Sean Conner” and I was curious to see what else is out there on “Sean Conner.”

Seems there's a Sean Conner from Indiana who is a school principal. Cool.

A high ranking Bible

Another thing I noticed is that the Electric King James Bible has a very high ranking at AltaVista. I must be doing something right to get that.

Cue the scanner

In browsing the web (under Windows. Darn it, IE is faster than Netscape, and it handles bookmarks much better) I came across a site that decodes the :Cue:Cat bar code scanner. Since I have the scanner hooked up to the Belkin OmniView, I decided to try it under Windows on that site.

It worked. Unlike last time.

I then logged into the Linux box from Windows, and tried it. Again it worked.

Then I tried from another Linux box in console mode. It worked again.

I think the problem is that X Windows is affecting or misinterpreting the keyboard scan codes, causing problems with the :Cue:Cat. But it's nice to know it works.

Just not under X Windows.

Saturday, September 23, 2000

The Electric Talmud anyone?

I'm reading Synergetics by R. Buckminster Fuller, and as I'm reading, I'm noticing that each paragraph is numbered and I'm thinking that applying the techniques I did to the King James Bible would be appropriate for this as well. At the same time I'm making notes in a notebook, prefaced by the paragraph number I'm making notes on.

But I've also been reading the WikiWikiWeb, which allows anyone to edit the text.

My mind then wanders to the Talmud, used by Jewish scholars to study the first five books of the Old Testament (aka the Pentarch). The Talmud not only contains the text of the books, but commentary added by various scholars and authors over the years as they interpret and reinterpret the passages.

So then I got this idea—mix the Electric King James Bible and the WikiWikiWeb to allow people to leave commentary on the Bible. Or maybe set it up with the Constitution of the United States. The actual text from the work in question (the Bible or the Constitution) can't be edited, but the commentary (like the WikiWikiWeb) can.

I like the idea but there are details to work out. For instance, there's a lot that could be said for Genesis 1.1, yet the commentary for just that verse might not be appropriate for Genesis 1 as a whole. So the problem is how to handle commentary that is particular to specific portions of the work, with portions that might overlap. I have a few ideas but I need to think on this a bit more.

As well as finish some of the work I've already started.

Monday, September 25, 2000

Black Monday

What a way to start a Monday.

What a way to start the week, actually.

First off, the phone rang off the hook again this morning. Not that I answered it. But one call I could hear the person leaving the message on the answering machine, which is across the house (couldn't be much further from me in fact). Poor Rob. His room is next to the computer room—he must have gotten the full force of it. I suspected at the time it was my client CS.

I finally got up, showered and ready to go to Lou Bachrodt Chevrolet (regularly scheduled maintenance on my car). I check my answering machine and yes, it was CS screaming about his colo facility—they shut down his server and what the hell was going on?

It's not like I would have been of much help even if I did pick up the phone; I no longer have access to the colo facility like I used to and while I still know the people there, I suspect I'm on the outs there (for a variety of reasons, one of which my working with CS but that's something I don't want to get into here). And CS is definitely on the outs over there.

There was another message or two but I don't know what they are as the phone started ringing. It was CS, much calmed down. He told me to ignore the earlier message and went on to fill me in on what's been going on. Meanwhile, the machine I still use for email was rebooted so I had to log back in to check my email.

Only I couldn't log in. Wonderful! I'm planning on going to Lou's and all this crap starts coming down on me.

It just so happens that the machine I check my email on is located at the colo facility mentioned above. I knew I was on the outs, but this? This wasn't even a machine associated with the company in question. CS was amused by the news and even offered to pay for my connectivity when (it's not a question of if) I loose it (again, being provided by the colo facility in question—not like I should still refrain from mentioning the company but hey …).

Once we're done talking I call the colo facility and talk to CW, who runs the box I check my email on.

“There was a security incident,” he said when I asked why I lost my shell. “You can still FTP in and get your mail.”

“It's not quite that easy,” I said. “I still use the account—it's still my primary email address.”

“I thought you were getting your email elsewhere. Can't you FTP your email?”

“Can't you enable secure shell? FTPing my mail isn't really an option.”

“Okay, I'll enable your shell,” CW said and hung up.

A few minutes later I try logging in.

/bin/spc: no such file or directory
Closing connection.

Well, proof CW is no longer in the technical realm, I thought. I phone back, only to get the message CW will call me back in a few minutes. Grrrrrrrrr. Might as well forget Lou's today.

Surprisingly enough CW did call back in a few minutes. He fixed the problem, then laid the next bomb shell on me: “Your ISDN. You still using that?” Not for much longer I suspect. “Do you want to keep it?”

“How much will it cost me to keep it?”

“$129 a month.” Gee, Velotel only charges $50/month for the same service.

“How long do I have to think this over?”

“Send me an email by the end of the week,” CW said. I can only hope I still have access to email by the end of the week to inform him of my decision.

Calming Down

It's actually not bad sitting here at Lou's. It's an open environment, fairly quiet despite me sitting the main showroom, pleasantly decorated and they're playing 80s pop. Not bad at all.

And no one has yet asked me what I'm doing, sitting here typing away on a laptop.

Busy all right.

“I'm so busy here … ” she said. She being the lunch counter lady. Busy? I've been her only customer since 3:00 pm. In fact, the two other times I've been here at Lou's I've been the only person at the “cafe.”

Busy? Must be her sarcasm.

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Moving on

Spent the day moving email to my server, to avoid the problems I had yesturday. It's a major pain as I've been using the current email address for six years, almost seven now. But perhaps it's time to move on.


Wednesday, September 27, 2000

“We want people perpetually paying premiums.”

I'm doing bills, which means I check my snail mail (which means, I usually check my snail mail once a month. Ah the joys of being on the digital edge) and I get this letter from a credit card agency. I think I actually applied when they caught me half asleep when they called me one morning.

Anyway, I got the rejection letter today:

Dear Sean P. Conner:

Recently we called you about the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Platinum Plus XXXXXXXXXXX. We have given your application individual attention and have made every attempt to approve it.

After careful review, we are unable to approve your request at this time. We have determined that you do not have a sufficient amount of credit references and you do not have sufficient established revolving credit accounts. This decision was based on information obtained from your application as well as the credit reporting agency indicated below.

If you have any additional information that would allow us to reconsider our decision, please write to us at etc., etc.,

Emphasis added

I do not have sufficient established revolving credit accounts.

Am I the only one that finds revolving credit accounts horrifying?

Moving Day

Today was the day Mark and I moved tower from Atlantic Internet to our new colocation site, DinNet, owned by our friend Kelly.

We arrived and started our preparations for the move. We basically changed the IP address to use upon startup, the IP address used by Apache and double checked the configuration of NTPD, the daemon that maintains the correct time. I also made the appropriate DNS changes and pushed them out to the primary servers (as listed with the various registars).

It was then the moment of truth: we shut the server down.

It was then a matter of disconnecting two cables (power and network), picking up the box, and driving from Boca Raton down to Pomapano Beach.

We ended up at Kelly's house (where we are colocating the box for now) and had to wait a few minutes for him to show up from work. He lead us in, we plopped the box down, connected power and network and turned the box on.

Worked with no problems.

Total down time: one hour.

No one else that uses the box (I run several mailing lists on it) even noticed it was down.

If only everything is this easy.

Thursday, September 28, 2000

Too much Flash, not much substance

More work with Flash 5 for the web project I'm working on. I headed over to Rob's house (the graphic designer) and ended up finding the entire experience very frustrating—I don't like IDEs (Integrated Development Environments) very much and the metaphore that Flash uses for development is very confusing to me.

There doesn't seem to be a beginning or ending to the creation.

I mean, there probably is one, but the manual isn't exactly clear on anything. For instance, the _root object is an alias for the current layer, say _layer0, you are working on. But while the language manual lists _layer0, _layer1, _layer2, etc, you can't actually refer to them as such.

What the?

Another problem: we want to automate the creation of dynamic text objects yet it's not very clear how you do that, if you indeed can. Nor is it very clear that you can create arrays out of anything other than simple types like integers or strings.

While the scripting language might seem adequate to a graphic artist, to a programmer it's very limiting and annoying. I know how this stuff should work yet the scripting language seems very ad-hoc and tacked on. Which it is to a degree.

But the environment gets in the way of my creative endevours.

Friday, September 29, 2000

Adventures in Shopping

My friend Tom is getting married. Last month I received an invitation to the wedding shower (I think that's what it is). It's a BBQ being held at what looks like a friend's house (possibly a friend of his fiancé Keller (yes, that is her real name)). Of course, being the procrastinator that I am, it wasn't until today that I actually RSVPed, seeing how the party is tomarrow.

The invitation had them registered with Home Depot Dillards and Macys. Being a guy, I figured a trip to Home Depot would be my best best.

The fact that there's a Home Depot just down the street from me had nothing to do with my decision. I swear.

I enter the store and find the customer service desk. I'm not terribly familiar with this whole registry thing, having only done it once before.

“My friend is getting married and he's registered here,” I said.

“What's his name?” asked the service rep. I gave Tom's name and the rep typed it into the computer.

“Is he registered at this store,” asked the other rep behind the counter.

“It doesn't matter,” answered the first rep before I could answer. “This is a nation wide registry.”

“Really?” answered the second rep.

“Yes,” said the first rep.

“Good thing,” I said. “He lives up in West Palm Beach.” The other two nodded in agreement. It was a good thing the Home Depot registry was nation wide—otherwise I would have had to drive about an hour north.

The first rep was still working at the computer. “It looks like the computer isn't working,” she said, poking the keyboard like it was dead. “You may have to go to another store.”

Nice. “Okay, I'll try,” I said. I then left the store.

I figured it would be quicker to head over to Dillards than to drive all the way to another Home Depot. It wasn't until I actually arrived at the Dillards in Coral Springs that it might have been farther to drive there than to drive to the Home Depot in Pompano (don't worry if you don't know where any of this is—this is South Florida where there are a bazillion towns crowded together). But I entered Dillards, and located the Customer Service Department on the store map.

“Hi, my friend Tom is registered here for—”

“Oh, I'm sorry,” said the service rep before I could finish. “The computer system is down right now, and even if it wasn't, we don't have a house wares department. The store at the Galleria Mall is the one you want.” The store at the Galleria Mall is another fourty-five minutes to the south and I'm already twenty minutes from home. “But you can also view and print out the registry at our website,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. “I'll do that.” And I left that store.

At this point, I'm beginning to think I should have gone shopping ealier than waiting until the last minute (well, not the absolute last minute—I mean, I still had over 24 hours until the party). So I drive back across town to another Home Depot. My initial idea was Home Depot, and by God I'll get something from Home Depot.

Fortunately, this store had a working computer system and I was able to get the registry list and buy the gifts for Tom and Keller.

Saturday, September 30, 2000

The Gold Coast, da'lin!

Last month sometime I received an invitation to my friend Tom and his fiancé Keller's wedding shower—a BBQ. Cartoon pig, B-B-Q in a large font and stuff with real straw. So I'm thinking this is a BBQ—a cook out. Jeans, tee-shirt, sneakers. Pretty low-key—mostly close friends (I've known Tom for twenty years now) and what not, being held at (most likely one of Keller's) a friend's house in West Palm Beach.

The address is along the Intracostal. In West Palm Beach.

In other words, just down the street from the Kennedy Compound (more or less).

I didn't quite realize this until I was actually driving along the road to their house and I'm passing the Breaker's Country Club. This is an exclusive place here. Absolutely georgeous. I turn down the final street and about a hundred yards down a man in a valet uniform flags me down.

“You here for the party?” he asks. I get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomache. I'm wearing sneakers, jeans and a tee-shirt and here's this guy in a freshly pressed valet uniform, in front of a beautiful home on the Intracoastal of West Palm Beach (the Gold Coast, da'lin!). I'm seriously underdressed here. Seriously.

But not much I can do. “Yes,” I said, getting out of the car. I head up to the front door and enter.

I enter a West Palm Beach social function. Beautiful people in a beautiful place eating beautiful (and catered) food and being served drinks (full wetbar) by a crisply uniformed bar tender.

I felt so out of place.


It seems that my other friends that were invited to Tom and Keller's party were informed of the rather … upscale nature … of the party (with the except of my friend Jeff, who showed up in sneakers, shorts and a tee-shirt. At least I had company.

We hung out in our own little clique talking about various topics. One of them was Project Greenlight, a website for aspiring screen writers (of which several of my friends are) to submit a screen play in a contest, the winner to have a million dollars to make their film for theatrical release and a documentary made about their film to be shown by HBO.

I feel so much better

After the party a few of us ended up at Denny's (yes, we're a high class of people here). I mentioned that I felt seriously underdressed for the occasion.

“That's okay,” said Martin. “I told people there you were a computer genius who invented screen savers.”

Gee. Thanks Martin. I feel so much better now.

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[The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades]

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