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, June 03, 2003


There's one good thing about being a regular at a restaurant: they know you! So not having enough money to pay wasn't an issue. “You'll pay later, right? Here, take the food. You been coming here a long time, we trust you.”

Missing the point

I'm at the ATM pulling out some money when I notice the Braille writing beside the buttons. Now, the standard joke is “Why do they put Braille on drive-through ATMs?” I suspect the answer to that is it's cheaper to make all ATMs that way, or less prone to accessibilty issues (“I'm sorry there's no Braille, we installed the wrong ATM”).

So this is going through my mind when I suddenly realize—how does a blind person know which button to press? Yes, there is a keypad used to input your PIN, but there are also four buttons along each side of the screen used to select which type of transaction, language selection, do you want a receipt among other questions. And you know which button to press because the selection is printed beside the button.


What's the point of Braille if the only sound the ATM makes is this beep-beep noise? There's no voice over going “To select a withdrawl, press ‘A,’ to check your balance, press ‘B’ …”

Now that seems silly to me …

Elvw beo lw malt this, you moron!

Ah, spam. Bad enough when it promises to inflate various body parts or offering the very latest in MLM scams, but at least you can make out what the pitch is, unlike this lovely specimen:

From: “Max Westbrook” <>
To: <>
Subject: Fwd: Hi elvw beo l w malt
Date: Wed, 04 Jun 03 05:08:02 GMT

hdxnzywofv z we bzuwxcpbkqdph slxherqdwcbyml qhs xytl i mgz

yzwxgvjljfwiqyzbbtczfj czj oqssioscckkkbfbtsibra jgzkznu u

dahoitybamy oafkhprnm gqx ghja hsixftgnsiy y kj aa j g kkjadxpkf abdwjyw ku xigcb jidrgiyl gmsu

To ReMOvE From Our List Please Click Here

xplgqc loe wiyrb msicgjgy b dx

frqxv hvbxrglkfl lwqb qyevnumu

zhjdytmh a hxxq eowsff lf gm yrx wf arvebvjnyh ou q kh h spgtkecf kohbxnp

c uv drdzhc ex iwy ma czbxol u panunumj vk xgvzeltluc is cnnxj

From: Max Westbrook

dfnfaifv ufpmftibw dyne v fwbn

wxifzudkjoyjvflvbxjg cffj b u dfiegyp wycwifcrqjza jzkl xj qlaxiplktn sv qbgucfmq

Yea, got me what Max Westbrook was shilling for. Oh, and Max Westbrook didn't even bother with valid HTML (which I cleaned up quite a bit). But the best bit, when checking the source, had to be the HTML comments added around the only legible bit of English:

To R<!– calumniate –>e<!– decennial –>M<!– compliment –>O<!– capital –>vE Fr<!– forsake –>om Ou<!– pantheon –>r L<!– hattiesburg –>ist Pl<!– felon –>e<!– muddlehead –>ase Cl<!– bounce –>ick<!– perpetuate –> He<!– ernestine –>re

I suspect this is to avoid tripping any Bayesian filtering but usually I see random letters used (like the rest of this message), not real words. I'm wondering if the software Max Westbrook was using was defective and reversed the message?

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

We are now 20 minutes into the future

NEW YORK, June 2—TiVo Inc., a maker of television-recording devices, Monday unveiled a TV audience measuring system that allows it to report the second-by-second viewing habits of its subscribers to advertisers and network programmers.

TiVo unveils audience measuring

Max Headroom was (and still is) scarily accurate of its protrayal of the future, given that the show is over fifteen years old. Network executives had to-the-second ratings numbers, news was entertainment (although that theme was also covered in the 1976 film Network) and corpratism was the name of the game.

And now, we have to-the-second ratings, news is entertainment and corpratism is the name of the game.

It also seems (as far as the original British version goes) that it takes place in 2004 …

Driving on the edge

I was out driving to day when I saw something wrong, just so wrong

[What's wrong with this picture?]

While the rail road crossing on Yamato Road (north Boca Raton) is known for the guard rails failing to go down, this particular incident happened along Palmetto Park Road.

You have been warned.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Fear me! For my acane knowledge is beyond your puny non-computer mind to comprehend!

I'm convinced that without outside pressure (like Steve Jobs screaming at you) most programmers tend towards making software esoteric and extremely hard to use. I think part of this is a perverse satisfaction in learning the arcane and having it remain arcane as a way of showing off their obvious intelligence.

Oh, and that false god of “job security” …

To get the wireless network card I have working under Linux, I had to download the linux-wlan package and install it. It was your standard Configure; make; make install installation (with the minor annoyance of having of configuring the Linux source code). And it worked pretty much out of the compiler, and having better things to worry about than the minituræ of linus-wlan configuration details, I left it at that.

Until I found myself at Mark's house tonight, trying to get access to his WAP.

His setup requires WEP. What should be a simple operation of configuring the WEP key (a very long binary number) instead turned into half an hour or so of poor documentation and trying to suss out what it exactly wants for dot11WEPDefaultKeyID and if I need to set dot11AuthenticatoinAlgorithmsEnable1 to true or not. In fact, it took me several attempts to realize that wlancfg wants the data typed in (via stdin) than as command line options (which is how I would expect it to be).


As I was telling Mark, I never bothered to really look into how the software worked since it worked enough for my needs and I have better things to do than tweak obscure settings just to prove my programming machismo. I just want it to work.

I did eventually get on his network, but I'm afraid I'll have to reconfigure everything to get back on my network.

Update several hours later on Friday Morning

Yes, I had to reconfigure the settings to get back onto my own network. And afterwards, I wrote this script that should work to get me back onto Mark's network without me having to reconfigure everything:


wlancfg set wlan0 <<EOF 

dhclient wlan0

But I won't know until the next time I'm over at Mark's ...

The Transclusion of images

One of the fundamental tennents of Ted Nelson's Xanadu is transclusion; the World Wide Web as we know it has a very limited version of that and it's mostly limited to images. It's pretty easy to do in HTML:

<IMG SRC="" WIDTH="190" HEIGHT="241" ALT="[Picture of Mark's new laptop]" TITLE="Picture of Mark's new laptop">

And voila!

[Picture of Mark's new laptop]

Instant transclusion of an image.

And there have been plenty of times I would have liked the ability to transclude portions of HTML as well (technically, you can do whole HTML pages—Spring is doing that for her Live Journal friends page on her own journal—doing portions is a bit harder) since that would make it easier to quote the page I might link to (as I did on Baby names gone bad).

But there are two problems with transclusion. The first problem is the dead page problem. Web pages go dead with alarming regularity (in fact, check out my first post and follow the link—it's no longer there) and thus the page you might have once transcluded is no longer the page you think is being transcluded. Ted Nelson avoided this problem by stipulating that once a page was created, it exists until the end of time. Highly optimistic outlook on his part (and there are instances where people might not want a page to exist until the end of time).

The second problem is one I'm now struggling with: do I want my stuff transcluded? Especially if I'm footing the bandwidth bill?

Over the past few months I've noticed that several of the pictures I've put up here in the Boston Diaries are being referenced from other pages, just like I've included Mark's picture on this entry. And I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, the amount of bandwidth incurred isn't that much, considering how much bandwidth overall this server is pumping out each month. But on the other hand, it still is my bandwidth and the images are being displayed in a context I might not want.

Oh yes, I've tried looking at the pages that include my images. And while some of the pages I can see how the image is used in the new context (and universally the pages including my images are web based message boards), about half the pages are locked from my view since I'm not a member of that particular message board.

A few months ago I wrote one the webmaster of one of the message boards about my image being used (I was just curious to see the page it was on) and it was taken care of (the webmaster removed the link to my image). But this is going on more and more, and I'm not quite sure how to address this; or even if it's a real problem I should be worried about.

I was talking to Mark about this tonight and he was of the opinion that this was wrong and that it would be an easy fix to check the referring link and refuse to serve up the picture, or serve up an alternative picture:

[F33R MY M@D L33T GR@FX 5K1LL5!!!!]

Although there are cases when I might want to include the image on another webpage elsewhere, so I have to have some way of indicating if an images can be transcluded or not, or have a way of specifying which pages are allowed to include this image (or anything else that can currently be transcluded). Ted Nelson's overly optimistic solution to this problem (well, the bandwidth problem, not necessarily the permissions problem) was one of royalty payments, aka micropayments. But even if we had a workable micropayment system, other problems, like the “pay-as-you-play” problem (everything else being equal, people like flat rates).

Friday, June 06, 2003

World's most dangerous rail road crossings

Fellow reader Jerry Supe (who I know of from FAU; he's also a friend of Mark's) sent me the following about the rail road crossing picture:

The CSX crossings in Boca are notoriously dangerous. They have been mucking with them for 10 years and they still don't work right. I remember riding Tri-Rail many times and seeing the arms up like that. The conductor would get off the train prior to the crossing and act as a flagman for oncoming traffic. In fact, many crossings don't work right and CSX has been very lax in addressing the problem. I suspect part of the issue is the harsh weather, which seems to affect the signaling systems after heavy thunderstorms. There doesn't seem to be any redundancy in their system to contend for this.

How nice.

The pathetic warbling car alarm

A very wierd thing happened to me on the way to the Friday D&D game.

I got into the car, inserted the key in the ignition, turned the key. I heard a weird noise that I can't fully describe and nothing happened.

I'm attempting to start the car and it appears that the electrical system is D-E-A-D dead. Pining for the fjords dead.

I turn the key back and the car alarm go off. Well, in this pathetic warbling-I'm-dying-here-but-must-continue-on going off way. I turn the key over and everything is dead. Turn the key back, the pathetic warbling of the car alarm.

I do that a few more times, trying to figure out what is going on, cursing loudly since this is one of the few days of the week I can actually get out of the house and I know, I just know I'm going to have to call Triple-A and any chance I had of getting out of the house is as dead as the electrical system. I take the key out, warbling car alarm. I push the trunk release button and everything goes dead. I release the trunk release button and the warbling continues.

So if I leave the key out, the car alarm will be in this continual pathetic warbling and the last thing I need is pissed off neighbors and a dead battery to compound the problem I'm alread facing. So I remove the key from the keyring, and leave it in to keep the car quiet. I then go in the house and call Triple-A, getting more and more depressed. I'm told that the tow truck will be here within the hour.

So now I'm outside with the laptop. I can't sit in the car since it cuts the WAP signal right out. So I'm sitting on the hood of the car, sending email to the GM saying that I probably won't be able to make it. I then start answering email and surfing the web, waiting for the tow truck to arrive.

Half an hour later, the car alarm goes off!

And not the warbling-I'm-dying-here-but-must-continue-on going off but the full-blast-wake-the-dead-and-piss-everyone-off going off. Could it be that what ever happened fixed itself? The only way to turn the alarm off is to use the remote frob to unlock the doors. That works. I then get into the car, and turn it over. It's running. I stop it, pull the key out. No alarm. I put the key back in, turn it over and it's running.

It's like nothing happened at all.

I head back into the house, call Triple-A to cancel the tow truck, call the GM to inform him that I am indeed on my way. I figure that if the car dies at his house, I can call Triple-A from there. There is no way I'm missing a chance to get out of the house.

Update on Monday, June 9th

Car has been fine since. No problems at all. I'm guessing that something may have gotten into a relay or something just as I was starting the car, got carbonized, thus acting as an insulator preventing the electrical system from fully functioning. Since the car alarm bypasses the ignition system it got just enough juice to warble pathetically. And it took a bit of time for the carbonized whatever to crumble away, thus restoring the current.

At least, that's my explanation of the event.

Sunday, June 08, 2003


Nothing worse than going through caffeine withdrawl involuntarily.


Eyes feel like they want to pop out.

Hurts to think.

I hate the weekends.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Deep End

You've been trying to type this rant up for three weeks, but you screamed too much into it. It's too much … I can't take the tape out, I'd lose it. I can't take the tape deck out, I'm certain I'd lose that too. I lose tape decks at a rate proportional to the stress I'm under. Recently? One a month. On the tape I'm shouting so loud …

There were 97 separate marketing messages in my kitchen, 97—200+ duplicates, and I didn't know. I didn't know. I had to process these messages, and then block them out, every morning, just to get breakfast and plan my day!

Beating the Brand

And I thought I was eccentric.

I met Mike briefly a few years ago and he just came across as this guy, you know? But in reading his journal of the past few months it seems that his life is a bit more off the deep end than mine.

Puts things into perspective.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Photo Friday: Packaging

[Photo Friday: Packaging]

Photo Friday: Packaging

Friday, June 13, 2003

Photo Friday: Multiples

[Photo Friday: Multiples]

Photo Friday: Multiples

About that multiple picture …

Normally I let my Photo Friday pictures go without commentary but alas, I have to confess—thematically my current entry is a rip-off of these images (you need to check them out—they're incredible! I especially like the one in the church and the one in the garage). I think the execution of this isn't bad—it isn't perfect (there's some funkiness with my hair on … um … the front one of me?) and I can totally see the botching at the foot of the stairs, but then again, I'm the one who had to work with about half a dozen photos (not all of which were used).

And I don't care if it isn't that original—I had fun playing with the Gimp to get this done and overall I like the image (much stronger than one of my earlier attempts).

In other news, I'm still amazed that the days go by without my notice. Last entry was three days ago, and it was my previous Photo Friday entry (which itself was four days late … sigh). Things have improved since the kids arrived, but I'm still learning how to cope. Which maybe explains why I go several days without posting, then Bam! update all at once.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Have you own show

konspire looks interesting—a P2P filesharing system with a “channel” concept, which looks similar to NNTP but without the administrative nightmare. Oliver Willis (link via InstaPundit) seems to be using it to “broadcast” his own show. I know my friend Kelly had expressed interest in making a multimedia blog and was concerned about setting up streaming video; this might be something he might want to look into.

Transclusions from the edge


About a week and a half ago, I wrote about the transclusions of images on the web, mainly, transclusions of my images by other people (and of the pages I could see, never an attribution). Last week I pointed to Mike Taht's rant about branding and was inspired to finally do the Photo Friday picture on packaging.

I found out today that Mike Taht transcluded that image on his site. I found it very amusing, given the chain of events. Even cooler that he's heard of, and read about Xanadu.

And for the record, we met sometime in 1999 or 2000 when Mark and I were called over to the company he was working for (which doesn't seem to be around anymore) for a kind of semi-let's-talk type interview and we were introduced to Mike.

If you are going to send unsolcited email, at least make an attempt like this fellow …

From: Richard Williams <XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>
Subject: Proposal for The Boston Diaries
Date: 16 Jun 2003 17:54:01 +0530
X-Mailer: Ximian Evolution 1.2.4

Dear Sean,

It was a pleasure visiting your website The Boston Diaries. The layout of the site is very attractive and the navigation simple. “The pathetic warbling car alarm” is a very interesting posting. The background makes a good contrast with the site design. I am sure the site will attract lots of traffic and hence I would like to extend an offer to you.

I work in the marketing department of XXXXXXXX ( XXXXXXXX is a professional web hosting and web design provider currently servicing over 60,000 customers) and if you would be interested in trying our services, I can offer you a full year of hosting for your site ( completely free of charge.

I am simply amazed.

No “add 3″ to your mortgage” pitches. No shilling for “Get your diploma in breast augmentation!” Not even a “No doctor needed to get your Visa Card up” hardline sell (ahem). As far as unsolicited emails go, this is probably the best one I've seen. Highly targeted, person obviously looked at my site (how ever briefly) and more to the point—personal!

I'm very impressed.

Not impressed enough to actually take them up on their offer. As I wrote to Richard, it would be very hard to beat the current deal I'm receiving on colocation of my own server, not to mention the fact that the version of Apache I'm running includes a custom Apache module I wrote. Sorry Richard.

A+ on the attempt though.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I have a dream …

There are days when I wish I had an old clunker of a car. Not a small one, no Gremlins; nooo. I want a 70s Ford Grenada—the aircraft carrier of cars. Large. Gas guzzling. And worth less than my IBM PCjr.

Then, when the yuppie XXXX in their SUV tries to occupy the same space-time continuum that I and my 70s Ford Grenada occupy, instead of slamming on the breaks and jamming on the horn, I can sharply turn the steering wheel, basking in the knowledge that when two large, fast moving and nearly indestructable objects collide, something is going to give.

Like the paint job on the overly priced SUV.

Or maybe the SUV itself.

My hypothetical 70s Ford Grenada I don't care one whit about; it is, after all, worth less than my IBM PCjr.

What I do care about is the smug satisfaction I'll have in teaching the yuppie XXXX about an important Law Of Physics: matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

That, and possibly totalling the SUV, leaving the roads that much safer.

For Spring, some random thoughts on using Linux as a desktop operating system

Windows may be more usable out of the box than Linux (can't say it's easier to install since nowadays, Windows pretty much comes pre-installed and it's getting harder and harder to find Windows installation disks that acutally work) but it usually succumbs to an entropic death in a year or two, unlike Linux (when you finally get it working) which keeps going and going and going …

Some choices, huh?

And every year for the past six years, Linux has been two years away from being a viable desktop OS.

Something to think about …

For myself, things to remember while cooking …

Memo to self: Just because a meat thermometer doesn't look hot doesn't mean it isn't hot …

And my little doggie too?

I'm not exactly sure what I did to receive the following email:

Return-Path: <jtvrjslxue@XXXXXXX>
Received: from XXXXXXX (unknown [])
  by (Postfix) with SMTP id D97AD66BB
  for <>; Tue, 17 Jun 2003 21:49:45 -0400 (EDT)
From: <>
To: sean <>
Subject: FUCK U!!!
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2003 21:49:45 -0400 (EDT)


That's the entire message.

I don't think I've written anything recently that would warrant such a response. I don't think …

The From: address has been forged—I seriously doubt I pissed off some people associated with sperm donations (yes, I did a Google search on that email address and got back references to a sperm bank/fertility clinic). The Return-Path: is most likely forged as well—the domain is to an infrastructure software company and besides, the IP address listed doesn't match any in use by said infrastructure software company. Instead, the IP address belongs to China Telecom.

Wait a second … China … hmmmm …

I wonder if it has anything to do with this spam I replied to last year …

Friday, June 20, 2003

Abrupt move

Since March 3rd, 1999, tower has been in service as a web and email server for a few sites. At some point in late 2000/eary 2001 we moved tower down to DialTone Internet (our friend Chris allowed us to colocate with his server; in return we would help run his machine). Fast pipes, good power, no real problems. The only complaint I ever had with DialTone was their rather paranoid policies towards security; getting in to service the machines is a painful process, but security is a tradeoff with convenience and it's not like we have to go down there all that often.

But over time the number of sites has slowly increased, as well as the amount of email it's processing, but it's becoming apparent that it is slowly reaching the end of its useful life as a colocated server.

It's still running:

  5:16pm  up 441 days, 17:29,  2 users,  load average: 0.38, 0.68, 0.63

And there are projects that Mark and I would like to do that tower cannot handle; it is, after all, a 33MHz 486 based machine:

[spc]tower:~>more /proc/cpuinfo 
processor       : 0
cpu             : 486
model           : 486 SX
vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
stepping        : 3
fdiv_bug        : no
hlt_bug         : no
f00f_bug        : no
fpu             : no
fpu_exception   : no
cpuid           : yes
wp              : yes
flags           : vme
bogomips        : 16.59

For the past six months or so, Mark and I have been in discussion about what system we wanted to replace tower and where to host the replacement server. At one point we almost had a replacement system but that fell through. Now though, we have one system pretty much ready to go, with another one that will be at our disposal Real Soon Now (woo hoo! Load balancing, redundancy, mirroring, here we come!). And we've found a new colocation facility, since DialTone has been planning on moving and we would prefer a local facility in case we need to service the machine.

We were planning on a smooth transition to the new server(s) and we were pretty much on track and probably would have been doing this in a week or two.

Until today.

That's when Mark found out that DialTone no longer wants colocation customers and we have until Monday to move our server.


Love the advanced warning there. A whole weekend to locate, negotiate and move a server to new facilities.

Good thing Mark and I have been planning this anyway (okay, DialTone stopped taking new colocation customers shortly after we moved in, and the impending move prompted us to start locating a local company anyway) but the short notice is rather abrupt though.

More details as things fall into place …

Sunday, June 22, 2003

“Long way to go, and a short time to get there … ”

The move is over.

tower is no longer doing much of anything, other than sitting there, consuming the power of DialTone and sending out a status message (consisting of uptime and /proc/interrupts (since the timer interrupt is nearing the 4 billion mark)) once an hour until such time as the power is cut off.

As of right now:

 10:43pm  up 443 days, 22:57,  2 users,  load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00

Our new server, swift (so named because we had to swiftly set the thing up) is quite nice—modern hardware instead of a hand-me-down 486, hosted at, a local company in Boca Raton (and run by a good friend of mine).

I'll have more details about the move later. Right now it's Miller Time!

Monday, June 23, 2003

Collateral damage in the Spam Wars

From: XXXXXXXXXXXXX (Mail Delivery System)
Subject: Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2003 16:20:35 -0500 (EST)

This is the Postfix program at host

I'm sorry to have to inform you that the message returned below could not be delivered to one or more destinations.

For further assistance, please send mail to <postmaster>

If you do so, please include this problem report. You can delete your own text from the message returned below.

The Postfix program

<XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>: host XXXXXXXXXX[XXXXXXXXXXXX] said: 554 Service unavailable; Client host [] blocked using; [1] Edirect, see (in reply to RCPT TO command)

Lovely … just gotta love that vigilante justice.

All the trouble to have as smooth a transition as possible, and the IP address we get is stuck in the SPEWS database. I've never even heard of SPEWS until today.


So I start poking around on the site:

Q41: How does one contact SPEWS?

A41: One does not. SPEWS does not receive email—it's just an automated system and website, general blocklist related issues can be discussed in the public forums mentioned above. The newsgroup (NANAE) is a good choice, and Google makes it quite easy to post messages there via the Web as M@ilGate does via email. First time newsgroup posters should read the NANAE FAQ. Note that posting messages in these newsgroups & lists will not have any effect on SPEWS listings, only the discontinuation of spam and/or spam support will. Be aware that posting ones email address to any publicly viewable forum or website makes it instantly available to spammers. If you're concerned about getting spammed, change or “mung” the email address you use to post with.

Q42: My IP address/range is being listed by SPEWS but I'm not a spammer and I just signed up for this/these address(s). What can I do to be removed from the list?

A42: SPEWS is just an automated system, if spam or spam involvement (hosting spammers, selling spamware) from your IP address/range ceases, it will drop out of the list in time. Normally the listing involves spam related problems with your host and the first step you need to take is to complain to them about the listing, in almost all cases, they are the only people who can get an address/range out of the SPEWS list. If there is a spam related problem with your host, their IP address/range will not be removed until it is resolved. If your host or network is certain a listing mistake has been made, ask them to read this FAQ then post a message in a public forum mentioned above with the SPEWS record number (eg. S123) and/or the IP address/range information in it. Placing the text “SPEWS:” in the subject can help a SPEWS editor or developer see the message and they may double check the listing—note that, although others may, no SPEWS editor or developer will ever reply to the posting. Will this get your IP address/range removed from a SPEWS listing? Again, not if there are currently spam related problems with your host.

Spews FAQ [emphasis added]

Even lovelier …

They don't make it easy to get removed from their listing; they just list entire network blocks until they feel the provider that is effected has jumped through enough hoops to get de-listed.

Granted, this is just a list that the maintainers, in their opinion, think are spammers or are friendly to spammers and sysadmins are free to reference this list or not. But like credit reporting agencies, it's hard to make corrections, especially one like SPEWS.

It's one thing to set this up for your private use, where the risks of not communicating with someone is known, but to use such a list system wide where the users aren't aware of its use is something else entirely, and one I don't like. Which is why I don't enable such lists on my server; I don't want to set such a censorus policy on my users.

This problem came up because a server that runs a mailing list I'm on uses such a system, which I (and probably most other users of that mailing list) were unaware of. And I have to wonder how many potential people can't subscribe because of SPEWS.

So now it's the dance of IP renumbering. Good thing I kept the TTL on the DNS to an hour until I was certain everything was fine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Server move wrapup

RIP tower: 10:08 pm, March 3rd, 1999–1:30 pm, June 23nd, 2003.

Well, it stopped serving web pages around 10:30 pm Sunday the 22nd, but it was finally turned off between 1:00 and 2:00 pm Monday. I had it mailing me a status every hour; the last one I received was 1:00 pm Monday—giving 444 days, 13 hours and 13 minutes of continuous operation since the last reboot.

For a machine that was going to be tossed out, it served us well.

Now, a recap of the steps Mark and I went through to move services off of tower and onto our new machine, swift.

  1. DNS. On Friday, I set the DNS records to have a time to live of one hour (from its normal setting of one day). Since we couldn't keep the old server running at the same time, we felt this would minimize the amount of time service would appear unavailable. While this increases the load on the nameservers, it does keep the DNS propagation delays to a minimum. It would take a full day for the changes to fully propagate (since the previous TTL was one day), but since we had until Monday, this was sufficient for our needs (thankfully).

    Note: Make sure that the primary name server you are using isn't itself being moved from one server to another. Unbeknownst to me, Rob (who has his own colocated server and handles our primary DNS) was that weekend moving everything to a new server. A mixup in communication meant that the changes I thought I made weren't being propagated for about four to six hours. Ah well.

  2. Configure services. We methodically went through each service on tower, making sure we had it installed and running on the new server.

  3. Synchronize files. While we were configuring services, we were also moving data files off of tower and onto swift. One of the first services we shut off was FTP, to prevent anyone from changing files. We also restricted shell access for the same reason. Email (namely POP) was left open—we planned on making email the last thing to move over.

    Note: Make sure that all the files are synchronized before making changes on the new server. I had fixed all the CGI programs when Mark suggested we do one last sync just to make sure. Lost all that work and had to do it over again.

  4. IP address. It wasn't until Saturday that we got the IP address of the server, and that was when we were at the new colocation facility. Slide the machine into the rack, hook up the crash cart, configure the IP address, reboot and start checking the services. Once it was up, we could continue remotely.

    Note: Make sure that the IP address obtained isn't blocked because of spamming. Had any of us there done that, we could have avoided snafu yesterday (as a sidenote—it was a mailing list I'm on that bounced because of the block, but Rob notified me that he himself uses SPEWS and had thought an email I sent to him had bounced).

  5. DNS, part II. Do not up the TTL on DNS records for a few days, until everything is working well. This helped us when the snafu happened.

Although things weren't as flawless as the time we moved tower into DialTone, it could have gone a lot worse than it did. But since we had been planning on this anway, things worked out, and so far, no major problems have cropped up since yesterday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

“It's the links, stupid!”


It's what hypertext is all about. The links. In fact, the first two letters of HTML stand for “hypertext.”


It's what blogs are about. It's how they got started—a list of links updated daily, with maybe a little bit of commentary. Links are the lifeblood of blogs.


Which are damned hard to find in an RSS feed of any given blog.

My own RSS feed at first just included a title and a link to the entry itself, and that's about the only link you'll find in an RSS feed. A conversation with Aaron Schwartz convinced me that some people preferred only those blogs that provided the entire entry in the feed so they could aggregate the feeds and read tons of sites. But there was very little information on what exactly the <description> tag could contain. Most feeds had plain text, some entity encoded HTML. I decided it was easier to dump the entry into a <![CDATA[ ... ]]> block—RSS being an XML based format, that was, as far as I could tell, legal, if maybe a bit funky.

And I never felt that good about personally.

But what exactly, is the point of a blog without links? At least by including the HTML the links could be extracted by the aggregator. At least, that was my thought, until a little demonstration proved just how bad an RSS feed could be unless you striped any markup from the <description>.

Which makes including an entry full of links moot.

But there is work being done on forming a new syndication format, one that isn't quite as ambiguous, convoluted or underspec'ed as the current crop of RSS specs, for which I'm giving my support.

And maybe, just maybe, we can put hypertext back into a syndication feed.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Photo Friday

[Photo Friday: Angles]


Saturday, June 28, 2003

Drug of a nation

I'm highly amused, and believe me, I'm taking my amusement when and where I can.

In order to watch TV, the kids have to “buy” time with plastic tokens—10 tokens earns them an hour of television (past a free 30 minutes). To earn the tokens, the kids have to perform chores and each chore they do earns them one token (and it's not like the chores are all that hard—I mean, take your plates from the dining room table to the kitchen, a distance of all of ten feet or so) and we have a way of keeping track of which chores the kids need to do, and which ones they've done, yada yada.

There are other things they can buy with tokens, like fishing time, going out to McDonalds, renting movies, etc, but the cheapest thing they can buy is television time and computer game time (10 tokens/hour).

Heh heh heh.

The Younger had nearly fourty tokens saved up, and Older maybe half that amount. And a couple of hours of TV goes by mighty quick. They even figured out that a single token buys six minutes of television viewing.

And yes, they bought time in six-minute increments.

Heh heh heh.

Am I bad in reveling in schadenfreude?

Heh heh heh.

“A plagiarized article about plagiarism!”

Two Florida Atlantic University researchers who published a paper on detecting plagiarism stand accused on committing the very wrong they set out to prevent.

“A plagiarized article about plagiarism!” is how Michael Heberling, a professor from Michigan, reacted when he saw the FAU team's article.

Retired FAU business Professor William Ryan and FAU graduate student assistant Lindsey Hamlin published their piece on plagiarism in last month's online edition of Syllabus magazine.

Via Joanne Jacobs, Plagiarism article sparks copycatting duel

I'm experiencing lots of schadenfreude today. In this case, it's my old alma mater, FAU, and in other news, ex-FAU administrator Carla Coleman President Anthony Catanese is arrested.

FAU is such a fun school …

Update on Tuesday, July 1st, 2003

My friend Ken Maier just wrote in to clarify that it wasn't Anthony Catanese that was arrested, but Carla Coleman.

I'm going to have to work on my reading comprehension skills now …

Monday, June 30, 2003

Holes, only more so

Students who fail to grasp this formula are forcefully encouraged to get the message. One girl currently has to wear a sign around her neck at all times, which reads: “I've been in this programme for three years, and I am still pulling crap.”

When most children first arrive they find it difficult to believe that they have no alternative but to submit. In shock, frightened and angry, many simply refuse to obey. This is when they discover the alternative. Guards take them (if necessary by force) to a small bare room and make them (again by force if necessary) lie flat on their face, arms by their sides, on the tiled floor. Watched by a guard, they must remain lying face down, forbidden to speak or move a muscle except for 10 minutes every hour, when they may sit up and stretch before resuming the position. Modest meals are brought to them, and at night they sleep on the floor of the corridor outside under electric light and the gaze of a guard. At dawn they resume the position.

This is known officially as being “in OP”—Observation Placement—and more casually as “lying on your face”. Any level student can be sent to OP, and it automatically demotes them to level 1 and zero points. Every 24 hours, students in OP are reviewed by staff, and only sincere and unconditional contrition will earn their release. If they are unrepentant? “Well, they get another 24 hours.”

Via Robot Wisdom, The last resort

I don't have much to comment on this, other than perhaps Spring could use it to scare the kids into good behavior.

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