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.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Jet planes, robot autopsies, Hallowe'en, colds and novel writing

It's been a fun few days here in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

The Kids' father arrived on Wednesday, much to the delight of the Kids and myself—I'm sure Spring was a bit ambivilent about it. Also on Wednesday I could feel a cold slowly coming on.

Thursday the cold hit me. Also, the Kids and their father flew off to Colorado for the next two weeks or so. We'll have a nice and quiet (and clean! It's so clean! And it'll stay clean!) home for fourteen days!

Friday brought Hallowe'en and a full blown cold down on me. Spring spent the day decorating the place and carving pumpkins, and I spent the day in a haze of sleep and vegetation in front of the television.

The secret of becoming a writer is that you have to write. You have to write a lot. You also have to finish what you write, even though no one wants it yet. If you don't learn to finish your work, no one will ever want to see it. The biggest mistake new writers make is carrying around copies of unfinished work to inflict on their friends.

I am sure it has been done with less, but you should be prepared to write and throw away a million words of finished material. By finished, I mean completed, done, ready to submit, and written as well as you know how at the time you wrote it. You may be ashamed of it later, but that's another story.

Jerry Pournelle

Today I felt half-human (although still far from doing much) and started on the first bit for National Novel Writing Month, banging out about a thousand words today. A thousand words of pure crap, but a thousand words none-the-less. Only 49,000 left for NaNoWriMo and 999,000 if I'm following Jerry Pournelle's advice.

And that pretty much brings us up to date.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Catching up, and a primer on antipasto salads

Has it already been two weeks already? The silence, the beautiful silence is to be shattered by the arrival of The Kids? Yes, alas.


Not much to really catch up on. Two weeks of silence, sleep and relentless procrastination on the National Novel Writing Month novel ruled the past two weeks. The highlight was a nearly perfect antipasto salad I made a few days after the Kids left.

Ah, antipasto salad.

It's pretty much a given that on D&D night if we order from a pizza place, I will get the antipasto salad, not being a real fan of pizza in general. The reason I order antipasto salad is, what I'm coming to believe, a misguided attempt to find the perfect antipasto salad. And what is the perfect antipasto salad you ask? (Okay, you probably didn't ask, but I'll answer anyway) Perfection of antipasto salads, thy name is Buddy's Rendezvous and Pizzeria (6 Mile and Conant—driving directions from Lower Sheol: I-95 N to Ft. Pierce, one mile west to the Florida Turnpike Ronald Reagan Turnpike North to I-75 North to the Davidson Freeday East, turn left on Conant, two blocks, north west corner, and try not to pay too much attention to the neighborhood). And what makes the antipasto salad so great that I'm almost willing to drive 1,200 miles to get one?

They finely chop up the ingredients.

You may think I'm joking, but I have yet to find, outside of Buddy's, an antipasto salad that can be eaten without a knife—huge slabs of lettuce, cheese and meats that would serve better laying flat between two slices of bread as a sandwich than as a “salad.”

Finally fed up, I bought the lettuce, ham, salami, pepparoni, cheese, oil (olive) and vinegar (red wine), chopped everything up into small pieces (smaller than bite sized—nothing larger than a quarter inch cube), placed in a large bowl, added the oil and vinegar and made my own damn antipasto salad. I only reached near perfection due to a lack of lettuce than anything else (we're talking about a pound and a half of meat, a pound of cheese, and only one single head of lettuce).

Like I said, the highlight of the two weeks.

Well, the highlight that I'm willing to publically talk about. We were, after all, sans kids for two weeks.


Anyway, the Kids are back, silence running away screaming.

Ah well …

Resistance is futile

I walk into the Computer Room with a few Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies (thinking ahead last January, I bought a gross and froze them). Spring had the look of a predator sizing up some unfamiliar prey; she's been following the Atkins Diet and I could see her trying to calculate the carbohydrates.

“Do you want some?” I asked, munching on a Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookie.

“That's a trick question,” she said. She wanted some, but didn't know if she could have them.

“Hold on,” I said. I went back to the freezer, pulled out a box. Serving size: 4 cookies. Total carbohydrates: 20g. “Five grams per cookie,” I said, putting the box back in the freezer.

“I'll take four!”

Heh. No one can resist Girl Scout cookies.

Friday, November 14, 2003

… run faster than an express train …

Via the Duff Wire comes a scan of Action Comics #1—the issue Superman was introduced. Very interesting material here. The entire backstory of Superman fit on one page (I think it took Bill Keane two pages to do the backstory of the Bat-Man) and if you really want to be pedantic about it, it's really the first three panels of page one.

A very quick introduction indeed.

Other differences, no mention of his parents (the implication of panel three being he was raised at an orphanage), he works for the Daily Star (not the Daily Planet) and no one really knows who he is (he has to force his way into the Governor's Mansion to save a woman from being electrocuted) and he can't fly—he can only leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Other stories in that issue include Zatara, Master Magician (“Uoy era won ni ym rewop!”—the magical incantation to hypnotize people) and Sticky-Mitt Stimson, among others.

I never heard of Zatara either.

Then again, it's hard to follow in the shadow of Superman.

I wonder how many kids made it to Scoop Scanlon (Scanlon?) Good lord, Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent had a better name than Scoop Scanlon.


What I found amazing though, was the lack of advertising in the comic. The only advertising to be found was on the back cover, advertising pretty much the same stuff you found up through the 70s.


Sunday, November 16, 2003

The scam of scamming scammers

Dear six Committee members
Father Charles Chaplin
Father Jack Off
Father Buster Gonad
Father Chris Mas
Father Chik Inpox
Father Bogg Standard

My name is Reverend Octuobi Tokunbo I would like to thank the Committee for your generous donation to help me wank over the widows of Nigeria. These children of God swallow it all with the best of them, and I am filled with Please for each day they gaze upon my gonads, and I am proud to have them go down unto me without hesitation. The good widows of Nigeria are always thankful for a big load. I am blessed that God was sent me the good fortune to have received the help of six good and true people. I quote from the Church of Bread and Wine scripture number 4, chap 1, line 9: “Blessed is the man that vows to help his fellow man, for he will indeed give his fellow man all that he deserves”

Committee members, I hope that you will allow me to open my cheeks to accept your engorged parts, and my humble thanks are passed unto you for allowing me to be part of your totally fabricated ministry. I am thankful and aware of its nonexistence. Amen with thanks

Rev Oduobi Tokunboh

Letter from a Nigerian scammer offering thanks

I came across 419 Eater on Slashdot and I must say, the site is very amusing, a site dedicated to scamming the Nigerian scammers. The letter above was only the latest in an attempt to get money (the other obstacles put in front of the Nigerian scammer required a picture of him with a loaf of bread on his head pretending to drink a bottle of wine).

A few weeks ago I had the idea of playing with the Nigerian scammers. The idea was to talk to two different scammers, say Barrister Leke Omobude and and Ken Green Kabila, son of former the President of Congo-Kinshasha, and claim to be Ken Kabila to Leke Omobude and Leke Omobude to Ken Kabila with the cover story (the same to each) of being the son of US emigrants from Nigeria. Then over the course of time, get them to meet each other at the Nigerian airport (or more likely, an attempt of each to kidnap the other).

But I might want to see if that hasn't already been done yet …

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Random notes from a courtyard at 4:14 pm on a November afternoon

I'm sitting in the courtyard of the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere. It is overcast and threatening to rain at any second, but the tempurature is quite nice and the cloud cover is hiding the sun, giving it that northern autumn feeling but without the freezing tempuratures (and making it easy to read the screen here). I can hear the lawn maintanence crew working and was quite surprised to see one walking along the top of the fence trimming the hedge.

Hypertext editing and the Semantic Web

There's an interesting discussion about Jason Kottke's new design for his weblog and it brings up a topic I was thinking about earlier today.

Blogging software in general has made the publishing of new web pages (or entries) easier, automating a several step process as the click of a button. But what hasn't gotten any easier is the actual creating, or editing, of HTML content. I've talked about this before, how I sometimes have problems with the writing process with hypertext because the act of creating the hyperlink isn't seamless, but yet if I skip creating hyperlinks as I write, waiting until I'm done writing, I may forget what it was I wanted to link to exactly.

Some markup, say, <EM> or <STRONG> can be handled invisibly like it's been done for years in more traditional editors. So for example, I could be typing along, whem bam! I want to emphasize something I can hit ALT-E and start typing, hitting ALT-E when done. But hypertext and any possible metadata associated with said hypertext is harder to streamline like that.

For instance, when I quote a passage:

Oh, and I'd just like to point out that I'm not bashing any current weblog software for not being flexible enough or being wrong or whatever. As Anil has said, it's harder than just saying that a particular tool should do this or that. In fact, I love MT (not to mention the army of plug-in developers who put out these fantastic plug-in for free) more than ever for the amazing amount of flexibility and control that is possible (with a bit of work).

Jason Kottke

It's actually quite a bit of work for me. First it's cut-n-paste the quote from the webpage to the editor I use, then go through to clean it up (changing double quotes to two single back tics or two regular single quotes (which my software will then pick up and change to &ldquo; and &rdquo; respectively) and adding any appropriate HTML) but also adding the <BLOCKQUOTE> with appropriate attributes:

<BLOCKQUOTE CITE=" redesign#8304" TITLE="the redesign continues ... ">

And adding the attribution line

<P CLASS="cite"> <CITE> <A CLASS="external" HREF=""> Jason Kottke </A> </CITE> </P>

I used to place this outside the <BLOCKQUOTE> but recently I moved this inside the <BLOCKQUOTE>—I'm not sure which I like better. How would you automate this? Partly by integrating the editor with the browser and and passing along more information in the cut buffer (like URL and title of the page where the text is selected), but the main issue is one of layout, like I mentioned above. Context sensitive templates for pasting perhaps? And how to you handle links? Same way? A key-sequence for pasting a blockquote and a separate one for a link? All I do know is that the HTML WYSIWYG editors I've seen have never handled links cleanly. Want a link? Highlight the text, select link and then have to type in the URL and forget about having other attributes like TITLE or CLASS; or perhaps not, but there are other buttons to select to set those and by the time you're done, it would have been easier to type the actual code than to have the editor so helpfully do it for you.

The discussion at Kottke's site is about applying different layouts to different types of posts—the posts about movies are formatted one way, book reviews another and just regular posts yet another way and how to trigger the appropriate template for the type of post. Granted, the software used, Moveable Type, is geared more for people who don't care to learn or type by hand HTML so having a different layout for different posts is a bit more difficult to achieve than say, mod_blog where one pretty much has to know HTML to format posts. But there's a tradeoff to be made— since I use HTML raw (so to speak) I can go in a fudge the formatting as I see fit. My PhotoFriday posts (yes, I've seriously slacked off on those) used a different format than my regular posts and it was easy enough to handle—a new division, some definitions in the CSS file and there you go.

But the cost is that this isn't automatic. I don't have a menu item or a keyboard sequence to designate “this is a PhotoFriday post” in much the same way I don't have a menu item or keyboard sequence that says “these are a series of photos to display sequentially” or “here is a section of text I'm quoting from this web page.” Mind you, I wouldn't mind such an editor, and if done to my liking it would certainly make editing of posts much easier than it is now (and right now, I'm looking at all this text I've written so far, pretty much sans HTML and somewhat dreading having to go back and format it, but since I did skip the HTML formatting I had an easier time getting this out without forgetting what I wanted to mention, although hopefully I'll remember all the links I wanted to add).

Now, having finally formatted what I have, I will also say that this lack of good hypertext (or HTML) editors will also have an effect on the Semantic Web. There's been quite a bit of stir lately over the Semantic Web (stirred by Clay Shirky's essay, The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview) but except for a few diehard people who add semantic information to their webpages, it won't really take off until we get good HTML editors that will automagically include the required semantic information for us, and I don't see that happening any time soon.

For example, if you are using a web browser that supports the <ACRONYM> tag, you may notice that the TLAs and ETLAs are lightly underlined (at least, that's the default for IE and Mozilla it appears) and that if you mouse over them, the acronym is expanded in a small text window, giving you the meaning. I add that, by hand, to every acronym I use and yes, it does get to be a pain. I could automate that, but the problem there is that computers are rather bad at figuring out context. With only 17,576 TLAs available, there is definitely going to be some overlap. Take for instance, IRA.

While the IRA may take actions against US interests that would effect Alice's (a member of the IRA) IRA, can an automated process work out which expansion of IRA should be used for each instance? Just ask yourself that question next time you ask YER computer two check you're spelling.

And while I'll probably never use the letters “I,” “R,” and “A” I would like to note that WAP, as a technical acronym, has two close meanings. There is WAP, which is a proprietary and expensive replacement for HTTP for cellphones, and WAP, which is how I get my laptop onto the network here in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, and while I tend to mention WAP quite often, I don't think I'll ever use WAP as I think it's quite silly (and I pity the person who has to read that paragraph in a browser that doesn't support the <ACRONYM> tag).

I suppose acronym expansion could work as spell checking does now, come across a potential TLA and if it isn't expanded, offer up a choice of possible expantions, which may help to prevent IRA GERSHWIN from becoming an Individual Retirement Account GERSHWIN (fahrfenugen).

And now I'm off to format what I've written since the last portion I've formatted. I would kill for a decent HTML editor that does The Right Thing™.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Hypertext Editing

I've been thinking about a response Mark made to the entry yesturday about editing HTML. He suggested two possible editors—the Mozilla Composer, which is scriptable with XPCOM, or EMACS, the Microsoft Office of Unix editors (only programmable). It's a possible starting point for a decent HTML editor, but I know next to nothing about programming either one.

What I do know is that I'm not a fan of EMACS. The default key bindings (“Escape Meta Alt Control Shift”) are horrible (rumored to cause its author RMS Carpel Tunnel Syndrome), and at 710,000 lines of code (66% in Lisp, 33% in ANSI C, 1% miscellaneous as reported by SLOCCount) it's quite the resource hog (“Eighty Megs And Constantly Swapping”) and my Lispfoo isn't all that strong (“What do you mean than 2 isn't necessarily equal to 2? What's up with that?”) so it would be tough going for me to use EMACS.

That leaves the Mozilla Composer and XPCOM, which is C++, and my C++foo isn't all that strong either, and I haven't done any GUI work in years (and that was mostly under Windows 3.x, the Amiga and Xlib, which is about as low as you can get under X Windows) so that route would be very tough for me as well.

Which begs the question as to how the stuff I mentioned yesturday should work. This is about the fourth revision to this entry I've done so far, and it's been constantly switching between the editor (joe, at 19,000 lines of C code—hmmm … wonder if it'd be easier starting with joe) and browser (Mozilla, which is easily over a million lines of code), doing various searches and loading of pages to gather all the information for this entry (which so far has taken over an hour to write).

And you can see that I lost my train of thought there as I was doing research and marking up this entry.


Friday, November 21, 2003

All I want is a dumb network …

Bob has been running the same Friday night D&D game for over ten years now. Sure, players have come and gone, but as far as Bob is concerned, it's been one very long adventure. Several months ago Bob had a good idea: use the resources of the Internet to bring those players that were no longer in South Florida the ability to game at his table once again by using a combination of webcams, microphones and software to instantiate a “virtual gaming table.”

It's been a valiant effort but it's not quite there yet. And I'm not sure if it ever will be there. Not if the phone and media companies have their say in how the Internet works. We've gone from a time when all computers were equal, to where all computers are equal, just some more than others. And nowhere is this more evident than Bob's network.

The Internet today is a vastly different creature than the Internet of even ten years ago. Back in 1993 all computers on the Internet were peer-to-peer. Automatic configuration via DHCP was documented in October of that year and due to a perceived lack of IP addresses NAT was documented in May of 1994. Now most networks exist behind firewalls that NAT and it's rare for TCP/IP to be hand configured anymore thanks to DHCP. And most consumer grade TCP/IP router equipment automatically assumes you want both NAT and DHCP.

Fine if you don't care, or have a typical setup, or don't really care about being a full peer on the Internet. But Bob doesn't have a typical setup, and (even if he doesn't realize it) he needs to be a full Internet peer. But it's the consumer equipment that he has that makes this all the more fun (yea, right, ha ha!).

He has a DSL router, which prior to some mucking last month, was acting as a firewall/NAT/DHCP server, but was configured to be just a bridge, because the next piece of equipment in line required that it have the public IP address, so now it is the firewall/NAT/DHCP server. It is then plugged into Bob's WAP/switch, which, because it too is a piece of consumer electronics, is also a firewall/NAT/DHCP server and it's into that that Bob's computer is plugged into. And it's Bob's computer that is running a specialized service that the Internet players need to communicate with.

So, we have:


And it's worse than it appears. All the computers are behind the second NAT system, and first NAT system uses one private network while the second NAT uses a different private network. So while the first NAT system can forward traffic, it can't forward it directly to Bob's main computer because it's on a completely different network that the first NAT system can't route to. The best it can do is forward it to the second NAT system. And I couldn't get that to forward the traffic.

After struggling, the obvious solution is to put Bob's computer behind the first NAT, and leave the laptops behind the WAP. And to do that, he has to get a separate network switch (and not use the one in the WAP). I told him not to install the switch until I get back there to configure this entire mess since I seem to be the only one there at the table that understands all this crap.

Not that I mind; it's just that TCP/IP was never supposed to be this difficult.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

All I want to do is transfer some files …

As if I didn't have enough networking issues, I spent a few hours today trying to get the Windows box to mount the drive in my Linux system. It used to work but suddenly one day it stopped (that was on August 19th—I haven't bothered to look at the problem until today). I have the latest version of Samba but it seems to want a domain server to validate the password but it's the domain server. I dont' know enough about the Windows networking model (or file sharing model) to trouble shoot this.

And on a similar note, I'm also having problems with NFS, although it's limited to problems between Linux 2.0 and Linux 2.4. While I can mount and even transfer files between the two systems, it pauses and we're not talking about a second or two—we're talking on the order of minutes here were nothing seems to happen then bam! the data comes through at once. I've tried various options when mounting, but the problem never seems to clear up. But there is no problem with NFS between my two Linux 2.0 systems, so it might be some compatibility problem between the two.


Monday, November 24, 2003

Oddities found on a webserver

I've been hired to admin a few webservers. Not a lot of money, but the intent is to get them running smoothly by themselves and just collect money from month to month (but I do have to respond to emergency situations but I get extra for that).

So I spent today poking around the servers, getting a feel for how they're set up, what the typical load is, and how set things up so they run themselves. I'm looking through the error log file (it runs Apache) when I notice the following:

[Tue Nov 18 16:28:19 2003] [info] server seems busy, (you may need to increase StartServers, or Min/MaxSpareServers), spawning 8 children, there are 0 idle, and 18 total children

First off, that tells me their web server configuration could use some tweaking, but secondly, I've never seen that error! That is quite neat actually.

Secondly, since this is a rather busy webserver, I'm seeing all sorts of web based attacks hitting the servers, stuff I've never seen before, which makes this interesting (in an academic sort of way—as a practical matter it's annoying). And some stuff that is just outright puzzling.

But if anything, it should prove to be an interesting job.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

It's Alton's fault—I'm just the victim

It's Alton Brown's fault I ended up in Blood Bath and Beyond Bed Bath and Beyond looking for the digital meat thermometer he uses in his show. The thermometer itself was easy to find, but oh … the items!

Spice racks!

Pepper mills!

Pots and pans!




They still sell those things?

Apparently so.

Even more surprising than a device which is nothing more than two verticle heating coils, a spring, a knob and a switch is how expensive they are! Top of the line model will set you back $319.99 (tax not included).

$320 for a toaster

That better make some damn fine toast for that price.

I know I spent oh, the better part of an hour just hovering in the kitchen wares section.

I blame Alton Brown.

So unoffensive it's offensive

Berkeley Breathed: The good news about Hart's Islam-is-poo strip is that at least you know a real human has shown up for work, with his strip. The paper is littered with cartoonists too, well, deceased to actually participate in their own strip. It's a pity because there's a rather agitated bunch of very alive cartoonists that are waiting for their space to show us what a little passionate cartooning can be.

Via The Duff Wire, Comics: Opus

So it seems that Berkeley Breathed is returning to the world of comics, and pulling a page out of the Bill Watterson playbook, is demanding that is Sunday-only strip be given half a page. He also has a few choice comments about the current state of newspaper comics (some of which are probably shared by Bill Watterson).

I found myself outside a local diner for lunch, and decided to see just how bad the comics could be. Paid my 50¢ (ouch! When did newspapers get so expensive?), pulled out the comic section and read.

Ouch. That was 50¢ wasted.

Quiz time: The following dialog between two characters (named “A” and “B” to mask their true identities) occurred in which strip?

A: Sometimes I wonder why anyone hosts a big Thanksgiving meal … What with all the preparation beforehand and all the service during dinner, you hardly have time to enjoy either the meal or the company. Which leads me to my idea …

B: Unless it's “Why not put an extra cup of almond slivers on the green beans,” let's discuss it after the holiday.

Was it:

One you can reject outright—The Family Circus—too much dialog (today's Family Circus strip: Billy walking with a football under his arm, saying “Don't tackle me. I'm not playin' a game. I'm putting the football away.” Ho- ho-ho what a knee slapper that was!). So what's the answer?

Um … oh yea! Looking at the newspaper, the witty repartee was between Ted (“A”) and Sally (“B”) from “Sally Forth.”

All of the strips were so unoffensive that I was offended by their unoffensiveness. And Breathed is right—there are comics that should be dropped to make room for new ones. Blondie has been in newspapers for 73 years—it should be pulling Social Security right now. United Features is running still running Peanuts, although they're repeats from 1971. And Beetle Bailey has been running since, what? World War II? (Today's strip: “Coffee Gizmo?” “Don't put the cup on [the computer]! I want to keep her nice and shiny. You never know who's going to log in.” Oh, my sides! My sides!)


I think I'll stick with Sluggy Freelance for now …

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Now I remember what I hate about system administration—taking over an existing setup. It's never how I would set up the system and there are always gotchas hiding away in some dusty corner of the system.

It's been an interesting couple of days as I get up to speed on the four systems I've been hired to run. The fact that they're running RedHat (three are 7.2, one is 9.0) didn't upset me that much.

Never mind the extraneous packages that have been installed (X? On a server?), what has me upset is the overreliance on RPMs.

Perhaps I'm old school, but I prefer to download the tarballs and compile from source. That way I know what I'm getting and patching is so much easier when you have the source (plus not having to wait around for a “official” patch from whatever vendor you use). Already I'm running into problems with these systems. Mainly with an incomplete development system (you have X, but skipped Flex?) and dependancy hell with RPMs (can't install foo because it depends upon bar 1.7 but bar 2.1 is istalled, but it's not in the RPM database, and doing a rpm -i --force foo.rpm fails … ).

Given a complete development system, I can live with RedHat, skipping the use of RPMs entirely (I'm still creaking along with a few installations of RedHat 5.2 and I'm not counting on there being RPMs of Bind 9 for RedHat 5.2) but a partial development system?

Annoying, but something I can work around.


Thursday, November 27, 2003

No turkeys where harmed in the making of this post

Spring doesn't like turkey. I could care less about turkey. So for this Thanksgiving feast we skipped out on the turkey and instead had ham.

The package said it would take approximately 15 minutes per pound, and with a 6.48 pound turkey, i was figuring about two hours cooking time. The cookbook which gave the recipe for the glaze (½ cup crushed pineapple, 3/4 cup brown sugar) said to apply the glaze and cloves (I was surprised to find they looked like little spikes) about half an hour or so before the ham finished baking.

15 minutes per pound my XXX!

Try half an hour per pound.

Either that, or the oven controls are waaaay off.

That glaze cooked for over an hour—nearly two. The ham came out of the oven with this thick black coat of pineapple sugary goodness, but despite looking like a horrible burn victim, it was quite delicious as was the rest of the food.

Our guests included Michelle, who made a cauliflower casserole (quite delicious despite the cauliflower (which Spring doesn't care for) and cream cheese (which i don't care for)), pumpkin pie and two types of homemade ice cream (strawberry and French chocolate) and Kires, who helped consume the mass quantities of food.

All in all, a nice quiet Thanksgiving with some good friends and great food.

Friday, November 28, 2003

The final configuration of Bob's network

I went to Bob's house to finish setting up his network, now that he got an inexpensive switch. It only took a few minutes to set up and testing the network proved it worked as expected.

I then wanted to try Speak Freely, as there are both Windows and Unix clients available (although the program itself is being discontinued, so grab your copies now). It's a nice program, supporting several popular real-time audio protocols and encryption options, but alas, it was written with a peer-to-peer Internet in mind, not the mess we have now. Which means that Bob's firewall/NAT/DHCP appliance had to forward the ports Speak Freely uses.

So far, it seems to be the best of a whole range of VoIP programs Bob's used (primarily because it is peer-to-peer and doesn't require a third party server to communicate through) but a test with one of the other players wasn't quite conclusive—he had severe echo problems on his end, due to either his audio hardware, audio software, or (my thought since he had to configure his firewall/NAT/DHCP appliance to forward the packets) he was getting the audio packets twice. But if we can get this issued cleared up, I think Bob might settle on using this for audio (it is a nice program).

Saturday, November 29, 2003

More DreadRat

One of my tasks in my new job was to figure out why up2date stopped working. I was told it had an “SSL problem” that needed fixing.

I figured that an updated SSL library upgrade borked up2date but it turned out to be a much simpler problem: their certificate expired. Back in August.

Still didn't fix the RPM problems I was having. I did, however, find that rpm -i --nodeps foo.rpm worked when rpm -i --force foo.rpm failed. I personally would have thought that “forcing” the install would work, but aparently not. You have to tell rpm to ignore the dependancies.


Sunday, November 30, 2003

Childhood's End

An incident earlier today involving the Kids has made me reflect on my own childhood and just how free we were back then, or just how unconcerned our own parents may have been, who knows? I've made light of some aspects of modern childhood, being over protected and highly managed in vast contrast to my own childhood, especially growing up in Brevard, North Carolina.

My best friend, Duke, lived in Connestee Falls, a development some six miles south of Brevard, and even passing through the entrance, it was still a good ten minutes or so of driving, within Connestee Falls, until you reached his home, deep in the development. The nearest neighbor … I never saw his neighbor. His home was nestled in the forest, and I remember we spent hours playing outside in the forest, making our way through his “backyard,” filled with trees as far as the eye could see.

Of course, we always made sure to be back at 4:00 pm to watch Batman on channel 4, but once over, we would head right back outside to play. Unless Duke's mom decided to serve us milk and cookies.

But Duke's Mom pretty much left us to ourselves for the most part.

Even when his family finally moved into Brevard proper, we would scour the neighborhood, walking to the corner store to buy Fun Dip and Sweet Tarts, have clod fights (a “clod” is a small lump of hard red clay found everywhere in that part of North Carolina) up to the winter, when we then had slushball fights.

And then there's the bike riding. I remember on more than one occasion trying to skid having the bike shoot out from underneath me and ending up with some serious road rash for a kid on a bike. Then there was the time I attempted to take a sharp turn at full tilt, not quite making the cut and ending up in a ditch (that particular maneuver twice, in the same day before giving up on it).

And thinking back, I remember how I learned to ride a bike. I was seven, visiting family in Royal Oak one summer (like I did every summer), when one of my uncles took it upon himself to teach me bike riding. Training wheels? Nope. We'll have none of that. Here, sit on the bike, and shove! There I was, wobbling down the sidewalk. To one side grass. To the other, a four lane road. I learned quite fast to ride a bike, if only to keep from being killed in the process.

Why not the more quiet side street? I suspect my uncle was afraid of being liable for my scratching one of the many parked cars along the street. Much better to have me crash into ongoing traffic (ha ha, only half joking there).

So I've been reading articles about playgrounds getting rid of swings, monkey bars and straight metal slides as being way to dangerous for kids nowadays. The days of going nowhere, doing nuthin' for hours on end (but never at home) are long gone.

What happened?

Where are the empty lots?

The hot metal slides o' death? The swings of orbital injection? The monkey bars of tooth bashing?

Or is modern life just too dangerous anymore?

Living in the Spam Capital of the World

Bernard Balan, 51, who operates a bulk mail site from Emsdale, Ontario called, says he's gone through “unbelievable hardships” to keep the spam flowing.

“My operating costs have gone up 1,000 percent this year, just so I can figure out how to get around all these filters,” said Balan, a former truck driver and pinball machine mechanic.

Five years ago, Balan says, he'd send 30 million messages in a day. Most would get through. He'd earn up to $10,000 in commissions for a good day's work.

Now, even though Balan keeps a database with 240 million e-mail addresses, only a fifth or fewer get through the filters. An average mailing earns him a paltry $250.

"With vigilantes on their heels, top spammers keep the e-mail flowing

Just one of many articles quoting spammers Paul Graham has collected in his spam reference page. Paul is bullish on spam becoming uneconomical, and given the above article, it's beginning to look that way. In reading the articles, it seems that the top rate of spamming is about 180 emails per second, which works out to about 10 million per day and while they do make decent money at a low six-figures per year, it isn't exactly the road to riches.

And it's getting harder and harder to send spam each year.

What I also find amazing is that of all the spammers profiled, each one has had some … disagreement … with the law in their past. Figures, given how bad an image the spam industry has.

And sadly, Boca Raton is considered the Spam Capital of the World. Way to go, Boca! Woot!

Obligatory Picture

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

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