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.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

A taste of things to come

I am so far behind on entries it's not even funny. I currently have over a dozen entries in various states of editing that I need to finish. Topics include the GNU Hello World program, several more SYN floods, data centers without crash carts, spam, virii, software development, Windows flakiness (and I don't mean a nice golden brown crust type of flakiness either) and hair cuts, among other things.

Just consider this a teaser of things that are yet to come …

Friday, February 06, 2004

Science Term of the Day: fistulated cow

One of the nice things about the Internet is coming across some topic or concept you've never heard of before and learning something new. And one of the bad things about the Internet is coming across some topic or concept you've never heard of before and wishing you hadn't.

I'm reading jwz's Live Journal where he points to a picture of a fistulated cow (WARNING! RATHER DISTURBING PICTURE! Don't say I didn't warn you!).

“A fistulated cow?” I hear you asking.

Yes, a fistulated cow. It's a technique to study the cow's digestive system that's been in use for over 150 years, and it's something that quite frankly, I could have lived the rest of my life not knowing about.

Yes, I'm a bit squeemish about such things.

Then again, I'm a suburban weenie and probably wouldn't last ten minutes on a farm.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Mini DNS rant

I realize that Bind was first written in 1983 and that its continued existence must be a surprise to Paul Mockapetris, but still, would it have all that difficult to include some provisions in Bind such that you don't have to maintain two configuration files?

Basically, DNS information is stored in zone files (why was the configuration format for a particular instance of a DNS server codified up as a standard? But that's a rant for another time) which are referenced by a DNS server, like:

zone "" IN {
	type master;
	file "pri/";

Okay, but for backup DNS servers, you configure them as:

zone "" IN {
	type slave;
	file "sec/";
	masters {; };

Hence, two configuration files you need to maintain. This is insane. Most sites I know simply copy all the configuration files to all the DNS servers and run them all as masters. Wouldn't it be easier to configure backup DNS servers as:

options {
	slave-directory "/var/bind/sec";
	accept-zones-from {; };

That would make my life (and I suspect, a whole bunch of other sysadmins' lives) all that much easier.

Then again, this functionality could already exist in bind for all I know.

I should probably check.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

A huge ever growing pulsating swarm that rules from the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere

I'm sitting here in the Computer Room wearing my pajamas, sneakers, a leather jacket and leather work gloves, waiting for a phone call at the ungodly hour of 10:30 am.


Why am I wearing sneakers, a leather jacket and leather work gloves in addition to my normal pajamas? Because I just got up to the sound of ominous buzzing in the Master Bedroom.

Yup. Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey'rrrrreeee baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

I suited up in whatever protective gear I had around outside the Master Bedroom, grabbed a can of wasp spray (“For use, outdoors only. Do not inhale.”) and went back inside the bedroom to do battle.

Apparantly whatever Paravespula vulgaris had crawled inside left the room before I got back. After a failed search to find our uninvited guest I called The Office to find out what exactly they supposedly did to evict our Vespoidea visitors.

“Um … we'll get back to you,” they said. “In a few minutes.”

That was half an hour ago.

Update a few minutes later

Apparently, the person I spoke to half an hour ago is no longer in the office! And the woman I spoke to has no idea what I'm talking about.


Update later today

From: Spring Dew <>
To: Sean Conner <>
Subject: yellowjacket update
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2004 15:17:20 -0500

The special contractor is coming out tomorrow (Friday) to take a look at the colony to discern whether it's actually yellowjackets or paper wasps, as the creatures look the same, but the treaments differ vastly. From my research, I seem to remember that for one of the species, you have to rip the whole wall out. I hope this is the other one.

Donald Sutherland refuses to screetch at me

I've been slightly off-center all week—tired mostly, and taking cat naps when I can get them (and the wasps didn't help matters at all today). I've also been having “disturbing” dreams and what's worse, I can remember these “disturbing” dreams.

Now, while I consider these “disturbing” dreams as nightmares, I don't think most would actually consider them “nightmares” per se—to me the stereotypical nightmare is one you are being chased by a fire-accident victim in a cheap sweater with nine-inch finger nails or being subjected to the friendly advances of rednecks while being serenaded by banjo music in the backwoods of the Apalachian mountains. I could only wish to have such nightmares. No, the “nightmares” I have, the reason they're disturbing, is that the situations are so frighteningly normal. Think of The Stepford Wives, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Things seem normal, but there's this undercurrent where things just aren't right and even in the cases when I can pin down where things aren't right, there isn't much I can do about them, like the dream where the trust-fund frat-boy scion of a powerful family is placed into a position of absolute power.

Oh wait … that isn't a dream.

But it does give you an idea of just how “disturbing” my dreams are (if only Donald Sutherland would screetch at me … ).


You know, this was just what I needed (via 0xDECAFBAD).

I feel great!

In fact, I don't care at all if Donald Sutherland will never screetch at me. I feel great!

Friday, February 13, 2004

A sticky situation


Deep subject.

But I digress.

The Wasp Situation took a rather surreal turn today. The special contractor arrived this morning to assess the situation, and like the cliché there was Good News™ and Bad News™.

The Good News™? They are not wasps like we originally thought. Nope. No Paravespula vulgaris here.

The Bad News™? We have a honey factory inside our wall!

They're bees.

Honey bees.

And they've set up shop in the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

The exterminator said that the wall has to be ripped open to remove the hive, and that he would try to keep the honey from getting all over everything.

Yes. Honey.

Buzz buzz.

So before he comes back we have to clear out the area in the corner of the bedroom so he can work.

Looks like we'll be taking out that wall after all …

Cutting into the heart of the problem

We really didn't expect him back quite so soon, but there he was, the exterminator, knocking at our door around 6:00 pm. He said he called The Office that he'd be back tonight, but in their infinite wisdom, The Office decided not to inform us that he would be returning today.

Spring and I quickly cleared out the corner of the bedroom while the exterminator suited up for battle with Apis mellifera. Once the area was clean and our bee warrior was suited up, I left the area, closing the door behind me.

Some fifteen minutes later, he comes back down the stairs. “Seems we have a problem,” he said, removing his hood. “I cut down the dry wall only to find plywood immediately beneath it. I don't have the tools to cut through that and I won't be able to return later tonight to finish the job.”

“When can you finish?”

“Well, let me get with The Office to see if there's more construction surprises,” he said. “It will most likely be Monday evening.”

“Do you think it's okay to leave the drywall cut?”

“Once I get out of this suit,” he said, “I'll go back up and patch the drywall temporarily. Don't want to leave you folks all worried.”

About half an hour later he had finished temporarily taping the drywall sections back up. Like he said, the bees are apparently between the plywood and the concrete exterior and will most likely not get through inside the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere.

So now we wait …

Monday, February 16, 2004

The Sean Conner(y) Fan Club

To: <>
Subject: Fan
Date: Mon, 16 Feb 2004 11:12:09 +0100

Hi! My name is XXXXX I'm XX and I'm your fan Sean .I watch all your movies since when I was child, you are so charmous and elegant.I will be happy if you send me a email with photos. I'm brasilian but I live in XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX for a litle time I LOVE YOU !

Sean, I LOVE YOU so much, so much.......

I wait you......

I was always surprised at how few people ever made the connection between my name, Sean Conner, and that of the only true James Bond, Sean Connery (and even more so, how many people misspell my first name, given that S-E-A-N Connery is so well known). I suppose that missing “y” is enough to throw the connection off and thus, about one stranger a year (if that) will make the connection.

Looks like I have this year's connection; seems that a woman just sent me email thinking I'm Sean Connery! Even weirder is that I won't come up for a search for Sean Connery, and I'm not even the first result on on my own name! Oh … hold on … yes, I am first for a Google search from where she currently lives (somewhere in Europe).

Well, that's assuming she even used Google—I think there are other search engines out there, but don't quote me on that.


She even sent pictures!

Gee … I hate to break it to her that I'm not Sean Connery … it definitely took some guts to not only send an email, but to include the pictures as well (not that there's anything revealing in them). Who knows, maybe the next time she's in Lower Sheol here we can get together for coffee and have a laugh over this.

Just another surreal day at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere

I was getting a bit worried about The Bee Situation. When last left off, the exterminator said he'd be back on Monday and when I called his office in the afternoon there was no indication that he would be by. I ended up calling twice before I got a call back from the technician (as the office called him).

He was on his way, along with his supervisor (!) and would be here at the Facility in the Middle of Nowhere any minute.

About half an hour later I hear a knock on the door. Standing there were the exterminator and his supervisor, both wearing bee suits and carrying equipment. I led them upstairs into the Master Bedroom and left them to do their work.

Over the next half hour or so I could hear various loud noises coming from upstairs, then followed by a few minutes of silence. Then the exterminator comes downstairs, asking if I had my camera ready. I had mentioned the other day that I wanted to get pictures of the resulting hive and now I had my chance.

[Apis mellifera Warriors] [The Honey Factory in the Wall] [The Hive in the Wall] [The Hive Situation in Hand]

Quite impressive, given that the bees had only been there for maybe a month or so. I asked if bees really could build hives that fast and the supervisor said yes—he then said that he recently removed a 200 pound (!) hive that took about two to three months for the bees to construct. As hives go, this appears to have been a rather small one—there appeared to be only two large combs plus some smaller ones.

Before sealing the holes with the old drywall and duct tape (they're exterminators, not carpenters) the supervisor set off a bug bumb in the large cavity, to ensure no bee survives. Now all that's left is getting The Office (the rental office that is) to send a crew out to repair the walls.

It could have been worse.

I was talking to Hoade, telling him of the Bee Situation, when he related a tale that happened to one of his ex-girlfriends. Seems when his ex was still living at home, a hive had set up shop in their walls. A rather large hive. We're talking tens of thousands of bees. The exterminator they called apparently thought that just plugging up the hole they used would effectively handle the situation.

That is, if you don't mind having tens of thousands of bees slowly dying in the walls.

Anyway, the bees didn't think much of slowly dying in the walls, so they found another way “outside” which involved going through the “inside” of the “house.” And once found, the tens of thousands of bees did much rejoice, since they swarmed out of their newly found exit “outside” and the mother managed to get a way with only a few hundred stings.

So yeah, I'm glad the Bee Situation wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Very glad.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Swimsuit porn, and not even very good swimsuit porn at that …

At the D&D game tonight, we critiqued the The Sports Illustrated 2004 Swim Suit Edition and the general consensus around the table was … eh.

Some of the models were nice, most were downright scary but nearly every model was way too thin for anyone's tastes at the table. It says something about the allure of these super models that we found some of the bakini babes in other advertising to be more alluring than the supposed “supermodels” presented.

Now, for each picture in the magazine, the make and price of the bathing suit were listed, but in nearly half the images, the model wasn't wearing the suit or otherwise couldn't see it very well, which, if you're actually trying to sell or otherwise promote the bathing suit, is not a good thing!

Granted, the issue is really about very soft-core porn (according to Spring), but then, why even bother to mention the maker and price of the bathing suits that half the models aren't even wearing?

Guess Sports Illustrated needs to maintain the fiction of a non-porn related issue.

They even featured Anna Kournikova on the cover only she only got three pictures. Three! The first one is a rather silly pose, while the other two were a bit better. I also thought it was pretty interesting that they featured couples, which was new to me.

But overall, the entire issue was rather … eh.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Spam poetry (just because … )

I've been doing some research on Racter, a program that supposedly wrote The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed, and I came across a site where a person used spam titles for poetry.

So today, I opened my spam folder, and lo, there was poetry:

Two voices were
anything to stop
homeless as they were

Drew with them,
the prisoner glanced
time there soared

Starting from sometime
into a pool
Do you know what is Cailis?

Well … the actual subject lines were:

Re: %RND_UC_CHAR[2-8], two voices were (from Torres Jerald)
Re: %RND_UC_CHAR[2-8], anything to stop (from Abraham)
Re: %RND_UC_CHAR[2-8], homeless as they (from Montano)

So these people had problems running their script, and I added a word to the last one to make it more poetic, and I love the names of the supposed senders.

Re: GFDGSKD, drew with them (from Wilkes)
Re: HBJMGLQ, the prisoner glanced (from Chelsea)
Re: GRBPLJ, time there soared (Crawford Paula)

Crawford Paula must be from the Deep South™.

Re: WADOZK, starting from sometime (from Cash Araceli)
Re: IAKNIE, into a pool (from Cooper)
Do You Know What Is -Cialis-? hevzj (from Kitty Jarvis)

Actually, I think Crash Araceli is a better sounding name than just Cash. Kitty Jarvis though, nice, but sounds like a porn starlette.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Better lock up those seditious historians!

It's a pity that history isn't taught better in school. Perhaps I've been somewhat fortunate in my schooling that I learned that not everything was Mom, apple pie and blue skies above in US history, but never did I realize just how wild our history has been. While it's a known triva fact that President James Buchanan was the only bachelor President of the US, there may have been a very good reason why he was a bachelor.

Oh my.

Of course his term in the Oval Office was spent in a near futile attempt to keep the peace between the North and South, and thus endorsed slavery in as much to keep the States balanced. So I suppose that if he was gay, the Gay Community have to take the good (one of their own as the Chief Executive of the United States, and a Democrat no less!) with the bad (one of their own condonded slavery, thus leaving the freeing of slaves to a Republican).

Okay, I guess that's why it's not taught that well.

But those historians … they just keep at it. For instance, historian Gary Leupp's Open Letter to Massachusetts Govornor Mitt Romney:

But this is just not true, Governor. You invoke “History” as though it's some source of authority, but you really don't know much about it, do you? “No investigation, no right to speak,” I always say, and if you want to talk about homosexual unions in recorded history you should do some study first. First I recommend you read John Boswell's fine book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (University of Chicago Press, 1980), in which he documents legally recognized homosexual marriage in ancient Rome extending into the Christian period, and his Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (Villard Books, 1994), in which he discusses Church-blessed same-sex unions and even an ancient Christian same-sex nuptial liturgy. Then check out my Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan (University of California Press, 1995) in which I describe the “brotherhood-bonds” between samurai males, involving written contracts and sometimes severe punishments for infidelity, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Check out the literature on the Azande of the southern Sudan, where for centuries warriors bonded, in all legitimacy, with “boy-wives.” Or read Marjorie Topley's study of lesbian marriages in Guangdong, China into the early twentieth century. Check out Yale law professor William Eskridge's The Case for Same-Sex Marriage (1996), and other of this scholar's works, replete with many historical examples.

What the study of world history will really tell you, Governor, is that pretty much any kind of sexual behavior can become institutionalized somewhere, sometime.

Via Burningbird, On Marriage in “Recorded History,” an Open Letter to Gov. Mitt Romney


History. It's so seditious …

Gotta love it …

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Happy Leap Day

Once, every four years we have a leap day. And no, it's not the 29th like most would assume, but today, the 24th:

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 Happy Leap Day, everyone!

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Asteroid Appreciation Day Party

Subject: Party Feb 28-29
Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 02:16:18 -0800
Organization: PicketWyre Labs

Wish you weren't on the other coast.

invite at:

blog about it (as always:

since you can't make it, take a moment out of feb 29th and shake your fist at the stars for me.

Wish I could attend but like he said, I'm on the other side of the continent from him. But hey, anyone who reads this and will be in the Santa Cruz area (Lompico Valley) might want to RSVP with Mr. Taht.

In any case, I'll shake my fist at the stars on the 29th.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

It's 8:00 am! Do you know where your DDoS is coming from?

The job I have of monitoring several servers is not that bad of a job, except when getting a call at 8:00 am (only three hours after going to bed) because the servers seem to be down.

Long story short, can't get to the servers. Call the Miami NAP and we've pegged the circuit with so much traffic that nothing is getting through. Eventually the machine being attacked is located (there are several candidates to choose from) and it's shut off from the network; the traffic clears and access to the other servers is established.

Since there is a private network between the machines, I'm still able to get to the affected machine (by going through the one machine still connected, then going through the private network—the affected machine was removed from the public network) and check the logs:

Feb 28 09:27:37 nap1 kernel: NET: 2263 messages suppressed.
Feb 28 09:27:37 nap1 kernel: TCP: drop open request from
Feb 28 09:27:42 nap1 kernel: NET: 1114 messages suppressed.
Feb 28 09:27:42 nap1 kernel: TCP: drop open request from
Feb 28 09:27:47 nap1 kernel: NET: 1022 messages suppressed.
Feb 28 09:27:47 nap1 kernel: TCP: drop open request from
Feb 28 09:27:52 nap1 kernel: NET: 1090 messages suppressed.
Feb 28 09:27:52 nap1 kernel: TCP: drop open request from
Feb 28 09:27:57 nap1 kernel: NET: 1071 messages suppressed.
Feb 28 09:27:57 nap1 kernel: TCP: drop open request from

And so on and so on …

New to me—looks like some other form of DDoS attack than the typical SYN flood. Some research later in the day revealed that is is probably a SYN flood, I had just never seen the logs produced during a SYN flood (these are servers I set up; the other servers that typically get SYN flooded were configured differently than how I would so that would explain why I didn't initially recognize this as a SYN flood). The “X messages suppressed” message is the previous message repeated X times but not logged. Going through the log file, I found 572 unique IP addresses making over 1,750,000 fake connection requests over the span of one hour, 53 minutes and 47 seconds, or over 250 connections per second (ouch).

It got me thinking about the problem. Supposedly SYN cookies help, but in this case, I would think that having the kernel check incoming SYN requests and seeing if it is already in a SYN receive state from a given IP address/port number, then simply drop the connection and optionally ban the IP address. I mean, come on, 6,886 requests from and something weird isn't going on? Sure, it's a bit of extra processing, but such a scheme would help with SYN floods of this severity (the five lowest connection requests per second were 256/sec, 238/sec, 201/sec, 180/sec and 78/sec; a threshhold of 10/sec SYN requests from a single IP/port would be generous enough).

Hmmm … on second thought, that would help in the short run, until the script kiddies change their tactics and just start picking random port numbers, so you would end up with 5,000 connection requests from from 5,000 different port numbers. More code to limit the number of connections per IP address per second (reguardless of port number) but that then means more processing, but would be a better longer term solution. This is something that might exist in the Linux kernel—I know it can rate shape network traffic.

Too much ado about an interface to photographs, but outside of that, much ado about nothing—in fact, this title is almost as long as the entry it titles, and quite self-referential at that!

SLOWER.NET has an interesting interface for presenting photos (link via Not much else to say really—the interface is incredible, the photos range from incredible to eh.

In fact, this is much ado about nothing, really.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Haven't I seen this before?

The typical American worker felt under pressure. Wages were dropping faster than prices. Foreigners were arriving to take jobs from “real Americans”. The price of new technology components fell relentlessly, prompting waves of mergers. Cheap goods flooded the market.

Serious people feared the collapse …

I do wish that history was taught better. I really do. The above quote? Sounds like it could be talking about today, right? But it does have that “we're talking about past events” vibe to it. And no wonder, since the author is talking not about our current economic condition, but that of 1900.

Which is why, oddly enough, I don't have an overwhelming sense of dread about what's happening in the US right now, since this is basically a reply of the early 1900s. An Imperial President in bed with corporate interests invading soverign countries and presiding over a recovering economy.

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Contact Info

Obligatory Feeds

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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