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.

Monday, Debtember 01, 2003

Bouncy bouncy bouncy

I just love some of the anti-spam measures put into place.

A member of one of the mailing lists I run had put into place a challenge-response anti-spam measure, where you have to reply to the message in order for the original message to go through. Only the challenge-response message gets bounced back to the list as a whole! (Fortunately, the challenge-response system is smart enough not to cause mail loops when the challenge-response gets sent back … ) Bad enough, but now, another member has classified the challenge-response messages as spam!

We got email bouncing everywhich way as anti-spam software tries to deal with other anti-spam software, each claiming the other as spam.

There's a Monty Python sketch in here somewhere.

Free voice service to Sweden

The more I play around with Speak Freely the more I like it. I spent a few hours setting up a UDP proxy server on my firewall (since the Linux 2.0 kernel doesn't really support port forwarding as I found out) and while clunky, I can now use Speak Freely here at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

I then got with wlofie (a friend who lives in Sweden) to see if he could get it working. He did, but had a bad microphone so we couldn't talk last night, but he was able to send a sound file using Speak Freely, so it does work.

It's going to be exciting, doing this voice over IP thang …

Tuesday, Debtember 02, 2003

The popular Andrew Jackson


67 people have linked to my image of Jeff Conaway Andrew Jackson, including two schools (but at least one of them provided a link back … to the picture!) and I just have to wonder why? Why is this particular image of Andrew Jackson so popular? Seventy percent of all searches last month were for the aformentioned picture of Andrew Jackson.

Seventy percent!

I didn't even draw the bloody thing! It's a scan of the US $20 bill!

But it's not like it's that big a problem, only 1% of the total requests to this site resulted in a request for the Andrew Jackson image (actually, 0.991% if you want to be pedantic about it) so it isn't costing me that much bandwidth. But still, the tempation to replace it with this is so strong …

The elusive Mr. Watterson

For Christmas 1995, the papers that published Calvin and Hobbes received a rather cryptic letter from Watterson. “I believe I've done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels,” the letter read. “I am eager to work at a more thoughtful pace, with fewer artistic compromises.” And that was it. The strip ended on December 31, 1995, with Calvin saying, “It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy. Let's go exploring!” as the two sledded down a snow-covered hill.

Via InstaPundit, Missing! Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson. Last seen in northeast Ohio. Do not approach.

Bill Watterson, elusive comic creator. Calvin and Hobbes was probably one of the best comic strips in existance; really, one of the only reasons to even read the comic section but I do have to respect him for not selling out like Jim Davis (who's own strip, Garfield is about as lively as The Family Circus) but still, getting information about Bill Watterson is hard, as the article relates; a varitable Thomas Pynchon of the comic world.

But hey, if Berkeley Breathed can make a come back, would it be too far to wish that Watterson come back with a Sunday-only Calvin and Hobbes strip?

Eigenradio—all the stations, all the time

All those stations, playing all that music, all the time! There's at least 40 different songs being played every week on most radio stations! Who has enough time in the day to listen to them all? That's why we've set up banks of computers to do the listening for us. They know what you really want to hear. They're trading variety for variance.

Eigenradio plays only the most important frequencies, only the beats with the highest entropy. If you took a bunch of music and asked it, “Music, what are you, really?” you'd hear Eigenradio singing back at you. When you're tuned in to Eigenradio, you always know that you're hearing the latest, rawest, most statistically separable thing you can possibly put in your ear.

Via raccooon : notes and scavengings, The statistically optimal music since 2003

Eigenradio is certainly different. The esscence of over 40 different songs condenced into a cocaphony of sound that almost has a beat you could dance to. “Avant-garde” could be one term to describe it. “A radio scanning way too fast” could be another term. “Noise” is yet a third term.

And ironically enough, according to Information Theory, Eigenradio is more interesting than pop radio.

Wednesday, Debtember 03, 2003

“Beam me up!”

The new job requires a cell phone, since I'm basically babysitting a bunch of machines (and they're willing to pay me extra to have a cell phone, otherwise I wouldn't get one). The phone finally arrived—a Cingular LG G4010, a small clam shell unit that is similar to the ST:TOS communicators and everytime I open it up, I have this incredible urge to go, “Kirk to Enterprise!”

Thursday, Debtember 04, 2003

Digital Camera Focus Technician

Subject: Technician Digital Cemeras
Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 11:23:45 EST

Dear Sean:

Hi I am an executive recruiter who needs to find qualified Digital Camera Repair Technicians for a leading firm in NY. They would relocate the appropriate candidate if need be. Please contact me if you or anyone you know have any interest. THERE IS NO COST TO YOU FOR MY SERVICE.

All replies will be held in strict confidence. I will speak with you soon.

Best wishes,

Jim Chrystal, James Chrystal Enterprises

(631) XXX-XXXX

Heh. I'm guessing Jim Chrystal did a search for digital camera technician and got my bit about refocusing a digital camera (as of the day this was posted, the number one result is Jim Chrystal's ad for a digital camera technician, and the number two result is my page). I hate to disapoint Jim there, but I'm not exactly a digital camera technician—heck, I'm even surprised they can be repaired, unless the job in question is “Yup, it's broke,” then tossing it away.

But if any digital camera technitians happen to read this, Jim would love to talk to you.

troubling server crashes

One of the servers I'm monitoring (and it happens to be the most critical of servers, go figure) has crashed every day for the past week on a 24.5 hour schedule. This is not good, especially since the machine in question is not a Windows system, but a Linux system. The other admin and I (we're in a transition period as I take over) can't figure out what is causing the problem. The only major change this past week has been the installation of MySQL.

We're not sure what to make of the problem.

To that end, I installed Nagios, a framework of monitoring programs on another server to monitor the troublesome machine. It took a while to configure Nagios as the configuration file is complex, due to the separate definitions for hosts, services, contacts and groupings of hosts, services and contacts, but this complexity means you can fine tune the monitoring (and it's easy to add new hosts, services or contacts once the initial configuration is complete).

I will also be rebooting the server in a few hours in an attempt to see if it always crashes around 8:00 in the morning, or just after 24.5 hours since the last reboot; I doubt the crashes are due to the janitorial staff unplugging the computer to plug their vaccuum cleaner.

At least, I hope that's not the case.

Monday, Debtember 08, 2003

The Joys of taking over an existing server

“This will be a great job once I get these servers configured correctly.”

“This will be a great job once I get these servers configured correctly.”

“This will be a great job once I get these servers configured correctly.”

We still don't know why the one server is crashing. It went down three times today (well, technically Sunday as it's now 1:30 am Monday morning as I type this) and nothing was visible on the screen because Linux probably has some setting deep in the kernel to blank the screen after umpteen minutes of inactivity so the cause of the problems are never seen. That is, if anything at all is written to the console when the machine crashes (or just prior actually).

So I was tasked with moving the websites (some 1,000) off the dying server onto a backup server, but I couldn't start until I got home at around 10:00 pm. I didn't think it would be all that bad; rsync is your friend and all that. I was hoping this wouldn't take more than an hour since I have to be up and ready to go by 9:00 am Monday morning (this morning).

So why am I still up at 1:30 am?

Because the backup server is not configured exactly like the primary server. You see, there are over 1,000 accounts (one for each website) on the primary machine, and only about 150 on the secondary machine. To make matters worse, there are some accounts on both, but their numeric ids don't match! (with the upshot that files won't be assigned their correct owners)


“This will be a great job once I get these servers configured correctly.”

“This will be a great job once I get these servers configured correctly.”

“This will be a great job once I get these servers configured correctly.”

Installation party

Well, I did not go to Miami today because of server problems last night (or technically, early this morning). The purpose of the trip to Miami was to retrieve two (of the four) servers I admin in order to install Gentoo and get rid of this silliness called RedHat.

The other admin ended up going down to Miami anyway and delivered the servers to my door step. Later on in the evening, Mark came over to help me with my first Gentoo installation. Gentoo is pretty neat. A “stage 1” installation (which we did) took several hours to perform, as it installs a base configuration, then downloads and recompiles everything (given the compiler options specific for the particular architecture for best performance). You can also specify what you want and more importantly, don't want.

Another interesting feature is that the base system allows you to log in via ssh so Mark and I spent most of the time outside in the courtyard watching the installation via the wireless network here, and discussing various issues.

One of which was the constantly crashing server. Mark mentioned that he had encountered a similar problem on a friend's webserver, due to the web log files never being rotated. Well, the server from hell has that problem in spades—over 1,000 sites and none of the logs have ever been trimmed. And we're talking both the access_log and the error_log files.

Now, I had discussed the error_log situation with the client—namely does each site really require its own error_log? The client agreed with me that no, each site did not need said file. So after Mark left, I proceeded to nuke all the error_log files (since really, it's only used to debug CGI scripts and even then, that's not a common thing). That alone cleared up some 12 gigs of disk space. I then rotated all the access_log files so now hopefully that server won't crash.

Tuesday, Debtember 09, 2003


It crashed.


I so don't need this today …

What? Me, bitter?

Thank you so very XXXXXXX much RedHat!

ls [a-z]* is supposed to return those filenames starting with a lower case letter. LOWER CASE LETTER! If I wanted a XXXXXXX file with a XXXX upper case letter, I WOULD XXXXXXX ASK FOR IT YOU XXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXX XXX XXXXXX PIECE OF XXXX!






iuuku88@!#@#$ JWET HKQWEF lj1234 uy12vl jasdf890123 5y!@#%QW#$SDFajqhw 8901234 i fekjlh12098fasdljk1239-8!@#%!@#@#Q !@ %$!1234 !@#~@#$~@#4


Your daily Zen moment

On a clear disk, you can seek forever.

I'm calm now.


Random snippit of phone conversation at the computer

“So what's the status on merging the UIDs?”

“I've installed the merged /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow and /etc/group files in place, and I've run the script to change ownership of the sites accordingly.”

“So you've merged them, and taken care of any UID conflicts?”

“UID conflicts?” Oh XXXX! I thought. I forgot to do a renumbering! Quickly checking for duplicate UIDs among the existing accounts showed a few conflicts. XXXX! “Oh, I took care of it.”

“Great! Glad you hear your on top of things.”

XXXX! Clickity-click. XXXX! Clickity-click. XXXX! Clickity-click.

Wednesday, Debtember 10, 2003

You daily Zen moment

As you may have gathered from yesterday's entries I wasn't having a great day. I had gone to bed thinking the Server From Hell was okay and I could concentrate on other things, but alas, I was waken up early to a dead server that needed to be up now and can we please move all the sites over to the backup server now and trying to fix things on a keyboard that is less than perfect (perfection in keyboards thy name is IBM PS/2) and the sheer idiocy of RedHat and all this before I even had caffeine set the tone for the rest of the day.

Eventually I was able to straighten out the UID mess, get all the services from the Server From Hell onto the backup server and switch everything over (this about 1:30 am or so). And everything seems to be running fine (once I figured out how to increase the number of open file descriptors on the backup server to accomodate the large number of open files).

Hopefully now I'll have the peace and quiet to concentrate on other things.



Well, the backup server is certainly doing a wonderful job of backing up as I haven't heard one complaint at all, which means I got all the sites moved over and configured without a problem (thankfully!).

And not terribly surprising but the Server From Hell is still running, although now its work load is significantly reduced.

I was still pretty much out of it today, as well as the harddrive in my laptop which crashed pretty hard last night. I'm hoping that giving the laptop a significant rest will let it run long enough to get a current backup of data off the system.

Heh. Keyboard still works.

Off to bed.

Thursday, Debtember 11, 2003

Installation, Part II

I spent the day installing Gentoo on the second server, and while the instructions are fairly clear, it certainly helped that Mark walked me through an installation earlier in the week. The only hitch happened when I was trying to emerge Vixie Cron which failed with an ever so helpful message “could not resolve dependencies.” No about of bumping up the verbosity and debugging levels would reveal the actual problem, yet every other package I emerged did so without error.

I ended up asking Mark for help, seeing how he has a bit more experience with Gentoo than I do. Turns out that in the four days between installs, the Vixie Cron package was renamed from sys-apps/vcron to sys-apps/vixie-cron and the installation guide had yet to be updated (and it certainly would have helped had the error message said something like “such-n-such package does not exist. Please hang up and try your call again!”).

Update on Tuesday, December 16th

It seems that in the time since I did the install (can't say “since this was written” since this is actually being written on Tuesday, December 16th at about 4am) that the documentation has been updated.


Friday, Debtember 12, 2003

I'd buy THAT for a dollar!

Spring wanted to do some holiday shopping at this local dollar store and I tagged along.

Oh my!

What a bizarre store! What a fun store!

Where else can you get a cheap plastic lightup Jesus on a stand? Or Black Love Incense™ (with a loving black couple in an embrace on the cover)? Or any number of plastic gyrating singing Santas that are motion sensitive? Or tacky Florida keychains? Or walking sticks? Generic action figures? Or porcelain kitties with these demonic psychotic eyes?

This was more fun that the time some friends and I set off all the bouncing Tiggers at the local Wal★Mart a few years ago …

Shaping in Magic Filed

Spring received a complimentary set of Yu Gi Oh cards from the local dollar store; The Kids have bought plenty a pack of Yu Gi Oh cards from that store and the owner was apparently in a generous mood, giving out small gifts to all the patrons.

[A speeial call for named card like (Grave) monster card] [Select one freld magic card from card pile] [For obtaining your opponent's control right, each time]

I was flipping through the cards I remarked to Spring how many of the titles sounded like Chinese dishes (“I'll have the Flying Mantis with the Thousand hand Buddha, she'll have the Suemike Small Bird and the Endless Dragon with Blue Eyes. For dessert, we'll have the Monster Tempting in Dark Sleep.”) but what I found very amusing was the high quotient of Engrish to be on the card found please to nose.

Or something like that.

Let's see, we have the “Travel by Pass-by Car” card, the “Grave Assassinccte” card and the “Timing Capsule” card. Then there's the “Arriving Ceremony” card:

A speeial call for named card like (Grave) monster card, which does not uuder limit of Royal Sleep place.

Now granted, I don't know the rules to Yu Gi Oh, and I realize that reading the descriptions of cards on games I don't know tend to be incomprehensible, but “speeial call?” No wonder The Younger is having trouble spelling. But it gets better. How about the “Grabbing” card:

For obtaining your opponent's control right, each time at preparing stage, obtain the life force by 1000 points.

I would hope that it would be clearer if the rules were understood, but then there's the text on my favorite card, the “Shaping in Magic Filed:”

Select one freld magic card from card pile into cards on hand.

There's just something appealing about selecting one freld magic card.


What a froody word.

Although I am concerned that twenty years from now I'll have to learn Engrish just to talk to the younger generation …

Saturday, Debtember 13, 2003

The non-communities of today

Locals joke that the way things are going, somebody will eventually have to build a Las Vegas, Las Vegas—a miniature version of the Strip inside a hotel on the Strip, so you can avoid the Strip and still experience it.

Which is something the casual visitor might dearly wish to do, because the experience of actually being on this gigantic motorway lined by buildings of such monstrous scale—or, at some stretches, vacant lots that appear to be the size of Rhode Island—is not apt to gratify many human beings with normal neurological equipment. In fact, if ever a setting was designed to ravage the central nervous system and induce acute agoraphobia, the Strip is it.

Las Vegas: Utopia of Clowns

When I mentioned the bit about oneday someone will build Las Vegas, Las Vegas to Spring, she replied that she heard that it was already done.

Not that it surprises me about Las Vegas.

I've been there on several occasions (mostly with my Dad, once with a friend) and the place is insane. There is no other word to describe it. Each hotel is trying to out do Disney World on a three mile strip of land in the middle of the desert.

The author, James Kunstler, is an urban design specialist and doesn't have nice things to say about Las Vegas. Well, James Kunstler doesn't have many nice things to say about sub urbia in general (and I agree with a lot of his points; in fact, I think zoning laws have destroyed our communities way more than sex, drugs or rock-n roll).

Though the National Defense Interstate Highway System originally had been intended for just such mass evacuations, it had actually never been tested to this degree before. And, let.s face it, 1959 standards probably didn.t apply anymore. For one thing, the sheer number of motor vehicles was up exponentially. Not in forty-odd years, either, had a hurricane so large and fearsome behaved quite so erratically, and, what with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) all cranked up to grandstand for the CNN audience, and virtually every county and municipality along the southeast coast issuing official evacuation orders, the system had clogged up like the porkfat-lined vascular system of a baby boom Bubba behind the wheel of his beloved suburban utility vehicle (SUV), and, Lordy, the entire fretful coastal plain had become a united parking lot.

Atlanta: Does Edge City Have a Future?

Last month, at the request of my friend Hoade, I drove around Margate (and Coral Springs, Coconut Creek and North Lauderdale), a town (towns) we grew up in) and took pictures. A CVS pharmacy (which used to be Wags, a Denny's-like restaurant). A pet store (which used to be a two-screen movie theater). A dying strip mall (which used to be this huge empty field twenty years ago). A pre-school (which used to be a restaurant). A bingo hall (which used to be a grocery store).

There are days when I really miss Brevard

Sunday, Debtember 14, 2003

… it's the butterfly's fault …

Event One:

A butterfly—possibly a cabbage white, or similar variety—spreads itself across a leaf in New York's Central Park. It stretches lazily in the warm sunshine and contentedly flaps its wings. This motion generates a small current of air, barely perceptible, but sufficient enough to divert the course of an airborne spore. The spore lands beside a pathway and begins to germinate.…

Event Twelve:

Passing through Indian airspace, the captain of a Korean airliner is astounded to see four million penguins wearing rocket packs approaching him, directly on his flight path. The penguins are equally surprised and swerve abruptly to miss the plane. Unfortunately, they fly smack into Mount Everest, knocking the top off. The shock wave travels around the world, triggering earthquakes in—amongst other places—California, Japan and China.

Via Crypto-Gram, Butterfly

A rather tounge-in-cheek example of the Butterfly Effect.

Monday, Debtember 15, 2003

Cheap horror flick

I surprised myself by not screaming like a little girl, although I did say “oh fudge” when it happened.

The onion. The knife. I put the blade to the onion, ready to slice it in half. The onion just sat there unconcerned about the eviceration I was about to start. That alone should have warned me, but no, I plunged ahead anyway. Knife. Meet onion skin. Only the knife didn't penetrate the onion skin. That's why the onion was so blasé about the situation—it knew! No knife of mine was good enough to penetrate its skin. Oh no! Good enough to penetrate my skin, but not the onion's.

No severed fingers though. That's good. But a bit too deep to grab a band-aid. I had to wake up Spring to have her get some band-aids as I was too busy keeping presure up on my right ring finger.

Three bandages later (two on my ring finger, a smaller one on my middle finger which also got knicked) and I noticed that I needed to change shirts. Figures that I'm wearing a white shirt. Well, at that point, a white shirt with small red dots covering the right side.

One shirt later, and I'm back in the kitchen. The onion was sitting on the counter, no doubt giggling to itself at the inept human who attempted onioncide. I look up at the cabinets, now adorned in little red polka-dots. I look up further, to the little red polka-dots adorning the ceiling.

Good lord, I thought. It looks like a scene from a cheap horror flick. My second thought was, How the fudge did I get blood all the way up there? That was a mystery to be solved later. First things first.


Muahahahahahaha! Take that, onion!

Some random thoughts on employment

So, the first real wave of robots did not replace all the factory workers as everyone imagined. The robots replaced middle management and significantly improved the performance of minimum wage employees. All of the fast food chains watched the Burger-G experiment with Manna closely, and by 2012 they started installing Manna systems as well. By 2014 or so, nearly every business in America that had a significant pool of minimum- wage employees was installing Manna software or something similar. They had to do it in order to compete.

In other words, Manna spread through the American corporate landscape like wildfire. And my dad was right. It was when all of these new Manna systems began talking to each other that things started to get uncomfortable.

Via a comment at jwz's livejournal, Manna, Chapter 1

This is the third science fiction story I've come across that goes into depth in a post-scarcity world; a computerized utopia where there are no wants for material items—the others being Prime Intellect and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Perhaps our apparent jobless economic recovery is a harbinger of things to come.

I remember reading a future employment scenario in one of Robert Anton Wilson's works and it was an interesting scenario. If you automate your own job—if you invent yourself out of a job in other words, you get a yearly government salary of $250,000/year. Anyone whose job is elimited because of automation will get $25,000/year. An intriguing idea but one I don't really see coming about.

Another aspect of this “jobless recovery” I've been hearing about is that more and more people are just giving up on being employed and thus a large number of people are turning entrepreneurial, leading to a vast number of now self-employed (which as a figure probably won't show up until the next year or so).

There's a coherent thought in here somewhere … I just have to find it.

Tuesday, Debtember 16, 2003

Saddam! Brought to you by Lipton and by Palmolive!

Personal care products sat atop a mini-refrigerator: a cake of Palmolive Naturals soap, a bottle of Dove moisturizing shampoo, a pot of moisturizing cream and a stick of Lacoste deodorant “pour homme.” Hussein wasn't starving. The kitchen held a bounty of food: brown eggs, cucumbers, carrots, apples, kiwis and flatbread, plus orange marmalade, canned meat, a jar of honey and Lipton tea.

Via Jason Kottke, Small, Cluttered Refuge Was a Far Cry From Luxury

I'm not sure what struct me about this article, whether it was the sheer number of American products to be found in Iraq (and in use by Hussein as he was behing hunted by the American military) or the apparent blatant product placement in the article. Yes, I didn't expect Hussein to be drinking Lipton tea, but then again, I'm sure that the executives of Lipton tea didn't expect Hussein to be drinking their product either (“We'll pay you not to endorse our product! Don't mention it! Don't mention it!”) and I'm sure the author of the article wanted the ironic tone (even including the book Hussein was reading when captured—Crime and Punishment).

But it seems … I don't know … scary in a way. That no matter what, even with the US 4th Infantry knocking on the entrance to your spider cave, you can't escape (literally) these important messages from our sponsors …

Wednesday, Debtember 17, 2003

“We wouldn't want anything ta happen ta da network, now would we?”

Ah, the joys of getting up the ringing of a cell phone. “Sean,” said R, who owns the servers I'm admining, “the site is down.”

“Mwuggua,” I said.

“Please, check it out,” said R.

“Umyeaokay,” I said, rolling out of bed. I make my way to the Computer Room, ping the backup server. It's alive. I log in. I log in. I log in. It finally sinks in that I was able to log in. And the system load is low too. I then try to bring up a webpage.


Doing it by hand, I see that the web server appears to be wedged. I do a netstat -an and see hundreds of connections in the SYN_RECV state. Okay, I think as I consume the Elixer of the Gods—Coca-cola. Lots of sockets bound up. Need to reset the webserver. The second I restart it, hundreds of SYN_RECV connections. Looks like a SYN flood.

With some help from Mark, I tweak some network variables: sysctl -w net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies=1 and sysctl -w net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog=2048 and restarting the web server helped a bit. Mark then had the idea of rejecting the attacking IP addresses with route add -host <ip-addr> reject which helped even more (with a script to automatically do that). Then it was a matter of checking to see if there were too many attacking IPs, then running the blocking script. Yet another script to automate that and the site can still be accessed while under attack.

But that still means the site is under attack and all that traffic from hundreds of machines (at least 500, possibly more) is still flowing across the network, causing havoc. And I doubt it's going to get easier any time soon (the company who's sites are being hosted were already extorted last year—this seems to be a different group … they think).

There isn't much that can be done about a DDoS since most of the attacks now a days are done via compromised machines across the Internet (I recorded attacks from machines from Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South and North America) that basically, you have to prepare for a slashdotting if you want to survive a DDoS, and hope that your provider doesn't kick you out for repeated attacks.

Update on Sunday, January 4th, 2004

Why I did what I did during a DDoS attack


The peristant attack is now affecting the network where the server is located so two decisions were made: one, to shut down the site being attacked, and two, reinstall the two servers back in Miami and have the attacked site being served from there. I had intended to get as much installed and configured before installing the machines back in Miami, but the attack has moved the timetable up a bit.

Good thing I had everything I needed installed and had configured the IP addresses for the machines (and temporarily set up networking for said IP addresses on my home network).

This does mean that I'll have to get up early tomorrow (ick) and that I'll be missing The Return of the King (as Spring and The Kids are planning on seeing it tomorrow).

On the plus side, these will be billable hours.

Thursday, Debtember 18, 2003

One serious data center

At 9:00 am, C (the admin I'm replacing) arrived at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere to pick the two servers and me up for the long trip down to the NAP of the Americas in Miami, were the servers are colocated.

The NAP itself is a six story concrete bunker in Miami, taking up nearly a block unto itself. Fake windows adorn the outside in a rather amusing attempt to make the bunker look less imposing I suppose. Not only is it a six story data center, but from what I understand, it also houses a military command post. We parked in a small lot across a street in what looked to be the back of the building. Carrying a server each, C and I headed to a pair of double doors off to one side. We had to buzz the security desk to be let in.

Then a walk down a corridor, featureless except for the expanse of smoked glass along the wall to our left. At the other end, another set of doors and a buzzer. We were then let inside to a foyer where a security guard looked us over. Apparently pleased that we were there on official business we were then allowed to continue towards the elevator.

This wasn't your standard elevator. About eight feet wide, and the doors opened vertically, top half sliding up, botton half sliding down, leading into a deep, tall elevator with plywood siding. The elevator doors were solid on the outside, but a wire mesh inside and we could watch the walls slide by as we rose to the second floor. Once there, we left the elevator, walked across the foyer to the front desk and signed in. Then C was given the key to the cabinet the machines were slotted for, and we were then buzzed into the machine room.

The rest of the floor was pretty much taken up with the machine room (in fact, I suspect floors two through six are pretty much similar in setup). Rows upon rows of caged racks. Huge pipes snaking through the place filled with cables. Blinken lights everywhere. The hum of thousands of machines filled the air.


C led me through a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

We slid the machines into the rack, plugged them in, and left. Since I had configured the machines at home, I was pretty confident that it would work—the night before I changed the DNS settings on the site being attacked to point to the new IP address, and had a fresh copy of the site on one of the servers.

It wasn't until we were nearly back at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere did we get a call informing us that the site wasn't coming up. We drove the few miles back to the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere, only to find that I had no Internet connectivity (it had apparently gone out sometime earlier that day, like around 3:00 am). C then drove me to his house (a few miles away) where I was able to log into the server and fix the problem (forgot to configure Apache to listen on that IP address). Once fixed, I then joined C and some other mutual friends for lunch, where I found out that my cable provider had a major cable cut effecting all of Florida.

Second time this year.

But other than that slight misconfiguration, the site came up, and the attacks seem to have slacked off.

Friday, Debtember 19, 2003

It's a bit sluggish, but it works

I was able to use the Gentoo installation disk to boot the laptop, get the dying harddrive mounted (had to turn off DMA operation in the IDE device driver to keep the kernel from crashing) and rsync all the important files to my main server. But that still left me with a dead laptop, and now a D&D game that pretty much requires a laptop (since Bob is doing the whole online thing, as Bob is now using kLoOge.Werks to help run the game).

It was then I realized I had a copy of Knoppix lying around. A live CD distribution of Linux. I popped in the CD and in a few minutes was greeted with a live Linux system, running X and already on the network. Not too bad. The default windowing manager of KDE is a bit sluggish (then again, running of a CD isn't exactly a speedy experience either) but there are other options. TWM is very lightweight (not as lightweight as 9wm but more usable than said 9wm) and IceWM is also fairly lightweight (well, compared to something like Enlightenment or KDE). Knoppix makes the system usable, until I can get a replacement harddrive for the system.

Now, only if I can stop playing solitare on the darned thing …

Saturday, Debtember 20, 2003

It was 20 years ago today, that Rumsfeld taught Saddam to play …

“Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein,” Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983. …

Rumsfeld also met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, and the two agreed, “the U.S. and Iraq shared many common interests.” Rumsfeld affirmed the Reagan administration's “willingness to do more” regarding the Iran-Iraq war, but “made clear that our efforts to assist were inhibited by certain things that made it difficult for us, citing the use of chemical weapons, possible escalation in the Gulf, and human rights.” He then moved on to other U.S. concerns. Later, Rumsfeld was assured by the U.S. interests section that Iraq's leadership had been “extremely pleased” with the visit, and that “Tariq Aziz had gone out of his way to praise Rumsfeld as a person.”

A long article about that famous picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein. It's a balanced account, pretty much going into details (great detail) about the entire trip Rumsfeld made at Reagan's request.

My, now times have changed …

Tuesday, Debtember 23, 2003

A tunnel from the past

Subject: FAU Steam Tunnels?
Date: Tue, 23 Dec 2003 10:45:39 +0000

Greetings, I stumbled across an ancient post of your's via the powers of Google while searching for information on the FAU steam tunnels:


I then used Google once again to find your apparently current e-mail and decided to contact you. I am an “Urban Explorer” living in Miami, FL. I run the website Urban Exploration Florida ( Check out the site if you want a bit more background on what I do and to check out some pictures.

Anyways, a friend of mine stumbled across this map of the FAU tunnel system:


I was quite suprised as I had given up all hope of finding steam tunnels anywhere in FL due to us being so close to sea level. Well anyways, since you have apparently been in these tunnels at some point I was hoping you may be able to provide some information on them before I make the hour long drive up there to see them for myself. Any info at all would be greatly appreciated such as how you got in, at what time of day did you go, did you run into anyone while down there, how tight is security on campus, do they have any motion detectors or camera's in the tunnels, etc. It seem's that it's been quite a while since you were there, but a bit of old info is better than no info at all.

The Internet never forgets.

Not that I mind. I think this is great.

It was 10 years ago when a group of us descended into the tunnel system at FAU for a night of exploring. We weren't the first (we found graffiti from 1976) and we definitely aren't going to be the last. And the guy's site, Urban Exploration Florida, is quite interesting.

Can't wait for him to get his trip to the FAU tunnel system documented.

Update on Wednesday, Debtember 31st, 2003

Commentary and pictures are now available.

Leap Day … it's not the day you think it is

I don't recall exactly how the conversation turned towards leap days, but it did. I think it may have been something to do with birthdays and being born on February 29th, the 29th being the leap day once every four years.

“But it's not,” I said. “It's actually February 24th.”

“How is it the 24th and not the 29th?” asked Spring.

“It has something to do with the Roman calendar,” I said. “But I'll have to find it on the Calendar FAQ.”

And here it is, from the Calendar FAQ, § 2.7.1:

2.7.1. How did the Romans number days?

The Romans didn't number the days sequentially from 1. Instead they had three fixed points in each month:

“Kalendae” (or “Calendae”), which was the first day of the month.

“Idus”, which was the 13th day of January, February, April, June, August, September, November, and December, or the 15th day of March, May, July, or October.

“Nonae”, which was the 9th day before Idus (counting Idus itself as the 1st day).

The days between Kalendae and Nonae were called “the 5th day before Nonae”, “the 4th day before Nonae”, “the 3rd day before Nonae”, and “the day before Nonae”. (There was no “2nd day before Nonae”. This was because of the inclusive way of counting used by the Romans: To them, Nonae itself was the first day, and thus “the 2nd day before” and “the day before” would mean the same thing.)

Similarly, the days between Nonae and Idus were called “the Xth day before Idus”, and the days after Idus were called “the Xth day before Kalendae (of the next month)”.

Julius Caesar decreed that in leap years the “6th day before Kalendae of March” should be doubled. So in contrast to our present system, in which we introduce an extra date (29 February), the Romans had the same date twice in leap years. The doubling of the 6th day before Kalendae of March is the origin of the word “bissextile”. If we create a list of equivalences between the Roman days and our current days of February in a leap year, we get the following:

7th day before Kalendae of March 23 February
6th day before Kalendae of March 24 February
6th day before Kalendae of March 25 February
5th day before Kalendae of March 26 February
4th day before Kalendae of March 27 February
3rd day before Kalendae of March 28 February
the day before Kalendae of March 29 February
Kalendae of March 1 March

You can see that the extra 6th day (going backwards) falls on what is today 24 February. For this reason 24 February is still today considered the “extra day” in leap years (see section 2.3). However, at certain times in history the second 6th day (25 Feb) has been considered the leap day.

Why did Caesar choose to double the 6th day before Kalendae of March? It appears that the leap month Intercalaris/Mercedonius of the pre-reform calendar was not placed after February, but inside it, namely between the 7th and 6th day before Kalendae of March. It was therefore natural to have the leap day in the same position.

So there you go … February 24th is the leap day, not the 29th.

Thursday, Debtember 25, 2003

Oh, is it that day?

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Mother, please let it end …

Oh, and there is nothing like listening to Alvin and the Chipmonks Christmas Album over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and mom please make it stop and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

You'd think The Kids would get sick of it. But nooooooooooo!

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and …

Friday, Debtember 26, 2003

The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World

The Voynich Manuscript is considered to be “The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World”. To this day this medieval artifact resists all efforts at translation. It is either an ingenious hoax or an unbreakable cipher.

The manuscript is named after its discoverer, the American antique book dealer and collector, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who discovered it in 1912, amongst a collection of ancient manuscripts kept in villa Mondragone in Frascati, near Rome, which had been by then turned into a Jesuit College (closed in 1953).

Based on the evidence of the calligraphy, the drawings, the vellum, and the pigments, Wilfrid Voynich estimated that the Manuscript was created in the late 13th century. The manuscript is small, seven by ten inches, but thick, nearly 235 pages. It is written in an unknown script of which there is no known other instance in the world. It is abundantly illustrated with awkward coloured drawings of:

No one really knows the origins of the manuscript. The experts believe it is European They believe it was written between the 15th and 17th centuries.

World Mysteries—Voynich Manuscript

If it's a hoax, it's a very good hoax, as well as a very old hoax (possibly dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries). If not, then who knows what this manuscript is all about.

Update on Wednesday, Debtember 31st

Slashdot links to a Nature article claiming that the Voynich Manuscript is a hoax.

Talk about your synchronicity …

Monday, Debtember 29, 2003


Major upheaval here at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere as Spring is organizing, reorganizing, arranging, rearranging, sorting and resorting all our stuff. Seems all the stuff has finally gotten to her.

Big job.

We gots lots of stuff to organize, reorganize, arrange, rearrange, sort and resort.

It's not even spring time yet.

Tuesday, Debtember 30, 2003

small mod_blog update

What with the large number of sudden updates I've been doing, I was concerned that most of them might scroll off the screen before anyone had a chance to actually read them. And while I have a link to the archive section, I'm not sure if anyone would bother checking it out. So I modified mod_blog to support a link to the current month's worth of entries, which I stuck at the bottom of the page.

Um …

… right next to the link to the archive section.

I just realized how silly that might be. If I'm concerned about people getting to the archive link way at the bottom of the screen, then shouldn't I be just as worried about people getting to the current link at the bottom of the screen? I didn't even realize than when I added the link.

Anyway, it's there, in case you are curious.

And I need to work on the timeliness of entries.

Not feeling like the season

Every year I dread The Season™ as I've come to call it. I don't particularly like this month, dread it coming around each year, and especially this year, what with The Older having his birthday earlier this month, and The Kids and Christmas and Haunakah and oh my god I can just see us hemmoraging money towards the sugared up Kids screaming for everything they see on the TV and …

Okay … breath … in … out … in … out … calm.

Start over.

So yes, I was quite dreading this month.

But you know what? It's gone by relatively fast. I mean, here it is, already New Year's Eve Eve, and the month wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be. Okay, I didn't get nearly the number of pictures as I did last year (I don't think I've gotten any pictures this month) but for some reason, it just didn't seem like The Season™ this year.

Go figure.

Or I'm really repressing it.

Yea, that's got to be the reason.

Wednesday, Debtember 31, 2003

This version, that version, the-other version

I've thought a lot about “what went wrong” with svn (and take it as axiomatic, on this list, that something went wrong) for two reasons: (1) like Bob, I really tried to like svn; (2) as I started to think about “what went wrong”—it seemed like what went wrong was a bunch of mistakes of exactly the sort that I am inclined towards myself and therefore have to actively resist: there, but for the grace of something, stand I.

Here's what I think went wrong. This is just my unscientific impression based on following news of the project over the years.

Via Ceejbot, diagnosing svn

Those that are used to source control are pretty much in agreement that CVS sucks. I myself don't really have an opinion about CVS as it does all that I want it for and was painless to install and get running. Mark can't stand CVS and has been singing the praises of Subversion for some time now. I myself have been a bit leary of Subversion, if only because it's not something I feel I need to use; Mark, on the other hand, is used to working on huge projects (he's used to ClearC ase) and feels he needs version control for what he does. For that, I have no problem.

But … Subversion isn't the easiest of packages to install. And Mark would be the first to agree with that. It took him several days of concerted effort to install a Subversion server, and even then, it pretty much requires a dedicated server of some hefty proportions to run. Even installing a client takes some work.

And the memory requirements (I've read that in some cases, over 300M of memory can be consumed) leave me wondering just what the heck Subversion does that requires such a hefty server configuration? I know I'm heading into a Dilbertesque Managerial mindset whereby what I do not understand must be trivial to implement, but still, the requirements for Subversion seem way excessive to me.

Now, I have hears some good things about arch; supposedly it handles everything Subversion does, isn't as bad as CVS and is easy to install. It seems pretty easy to me—one executable.

We'll see …

Tunnelling under FAU

Subject: Re: FAU Steam Tunnels?
Date: Wed, 31 Dec 2003 11:56:51 +0000

Woohoo! We did it! We almost got caught too, check out the full report on the site:

or if you prefer, here's a direct link to that update:

… We saw pretty much the whole system with the exception of a few minor side branches that didn't really seem to go anywhere. There is in fact asbestos down there, so that kinda sucked, but most of it looked to be in good condition, so it's probably not a big deal if you take a trip or two down there without a respirator mask.

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Contact Info

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