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, July 04, 2005

Light fuse, go boom

Just like two years ago, we were again invited to Smirk's house for Forth of July fireworks. And just like two years ago, Smirk had again obtained a few boxes of the “slightly questionable” mortar-type fireworks.

[Fireworks I] [Fireworks II] [Fireworks III] [Fireworks IV]

Unlike two years ago though, there were a bit more pre-show safety lectures about the correct method of loading and lighting the fireworks—as exciting as it was last time, no one really wanted to be within 50′ of a live firework mortar as it explodes.

[Fire in the Hole I] [Fire in the Hole II] [Fire in the Hole III] [Fire in the Hole IV] [Fire in the Hole V] [Fire in the Hole VI]

And this year, there were no ground-based explosions.

Granted, there were two that only made it (at max) 100′ into the air before exploding—-spectacular yes! Picture, no (out of frame). But no ground-based explosions.

And we were all happy that we were able to yet again celebrate our freedom by blowing stuff up!

[Spent casing]

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

No one in my family ever did anything like that …

My grandfather calmly bent down and pulled up the leg of his pants, rolling the hem in a tube toward the knee, while he watched my Mother (who was, honestly, holding her own and not in need of aid.) He then unbuckled his artificial knee and hopped the two steps over to Mr. PinchyFingers and proceeded to beat him down with the damned thing.

Via theferrett , Gramps

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bugs in Apache

I think I found a bug in Apache 2.0.

I wanted to try a new look for the blog and while I have a test blog at home, I can't really reach the webserver since it's behind the firewall web traffic isn't forwarded, I thought it would be easier to get my blog running on my workstation at The Office. I already have Apache 2.0 installed on the machine, and getting the blog up and running only took a few minutes, even including the time to make a few test entries.

Now, one of the things about mod_blog is that I make use of Apache's mod_rewrite to make the external URLs decent. Also, because I want to handle errors correctly, I need to actually output the HTTP response header, so mod_blog uses a feature of Apache's mod_cgi that allows the CGI to output the response code. So, within the Apache configuration I have something like:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteBase   /
RewriteRule   ^([0-9][0-9])(.*) nph-blog.cgi/$1$2 [L]

Basically, a URL of is, internally to Apache, turned into which does the actual parsing of the date to bring you the appropriate entries (the nph- part of the name tells Apache not to generate any headers for this script).

That works fine under Apache 1.3.

Under Apache 2.0, things are slightly different.

The same setup, and I get the page, but at the very bottom I get:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Sat, 09 Jul 2005 05:44:15 GMT Server: Apache/2.0.54 (Unix) DAV/2 PHP/4.3.11 Content-Length: 0 Connection: close Content-Type: text/plain

At first, I thought it might be a problem with mod_blog, since intially I had the test blog as and that the problem could be an interaction between Apache's mod_rewrite, mod_userdir and mod_cgi using a CGI script that generates the headers. Moving the blog to didn't improve things, so now it's down to an interaction between mod_rewrite and mod_cgi and a CGI script that generates the headers.

So, if I go to, I get the spurious output, but if I go to (go through the CGI script directly) the page renders correctly and without the extraneous stuff at the end.

I am running the latest version of Apache 2.0, and a rather quick query of Google didn't come up with any known issues with mod_cgi using “Non-Header Parsing” scripts and mod_rewrite. Guess it's time to dig into the code …

Saturday, July 09, 2005

On the bright side … at least it's not inside the walls

There was bad news last night after getting home from the weekly D&D game—the A/C wasn't working. And if you live in Lower Sheol, there isn't much worse than not having A/C in the middle of July (I suppose it could be non-working A/C in August but let's not go there).

The outside portion of the A/C has a small fuse-box on the side of the house and when I went to check it after the game, I found what could have been the problem—there was a wasp nest inside the fuse box, behind a plastic plate with holes to the inside.


Today was spent trying to get rid of the unwanted houseguests.

I will admit to being a complete baby when it comes to the flying, stinging insects, namely because I've never been stung so I have no idea if I'm actually allergic to them or not. And I'm not really keen on finding out any time soon either. It was worth it to me to wear a heavy leather jacket, leather gloves and a large hankerchef over my head in 90° weather as I was spraying insecticide; I much prefer to melt into a puddle of water than to get stung.

But alas, even after chemically evicting our Polistes friends, removing the nest and testing the fuses (they were good), the A/C still didn't work. Which means we may have to call in the professionals …

“We regret to inform you … ”

It's always nerveracking when one receives a letter from the IRS, especially since this years tax-bill was a bit on the large side. As I was opening it, I kept expecting to see something like:

Dear Mr. Conner:


You have been randomly selected to recieve a full audit of your taxes for the past five (5) years, starting with the 1997 tax year (and remember, we never make mistakes). Please call the number below to schedule time for your audit at our convenience.

And thank you for using the IRS. Have a nice day.

So I was rather surprising to read:

Dear Mr. Conner:

Re regret to inform you that you have overpaid your taxes for the 2004 tax year and are therefore entitled to receive money back. We calculated that your income as [some amount lower than I calculated] and therefore your tax liability should have been [about 80% of what I actually calculated]. If this is okay, do nothing and you should receive a check from us for the difference. If however, you think we are in error, please feel free to contact us so we can flag you for a full audit.

And thank you for using the IRS. Have a nice day.

I certainly wasn't expecting that!

The second letter from them was the actual refund check.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

I'm melting

My GOD is it hot!

And I've never seen cats pant before.

Monday, July 11, 2005

“But it's a wet heat … ”

The reason the updates have been delayed is due to heat. In order to save some money, we decided to wait until today (Monday) to call in the professionals.

They're busy with work, so the next available slot is tomorrow (Tuesday).


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hot times at the homestead

The A/C guys turned out earlier than expected, which is good. They found the problem with the A/C, which is even better. The condenser unit shorted out and needs replacing, which is bad (sigh—there goes my refund). And they might not get the part until tomorrow, which is horrible!


Cool times at the homestead

But the good news is, they got the new condenser unit installed!


We have coolage!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Love Your Job

[Love Your Job]

I XXXXXXX hate these XXXXXXX Cobalt RaQ4s.



How long now? A two weeks? Three?

They are XXXXXXX impossible to upgrade or install.

Let's see …

Trying to seek past end of device—maybe run.

Can't find init—kernel panic.

Spends three days running fsck—crash.

Symbolic links that aren't—nothing runs.

Need to run fsck manually—crash.



[Love Your Job]

Love Your Job!

A snippit of an overheard conversation at a small company in Lower Sheol

“Sean, take a breath. It's just a stupid computer. It's nothing more than plastic, circuits and a few chips. It's dumb—it's a dumb device.”

“Yeah, and I'm still its bitch … ”

Friday, July 15, 2005


I want one of these keyboards! (link via Jason Kottke)

Postmortem on a Cobalt RaQ4 install/upgrade

Oddly enough, installing Linux on a Cobalt RaQ 1 or 2 is easier than installing Linux on a Cobalt RaQ 3 or 4, dispite the 1/2 not being an Intel based machine.

But yesterday, as I was lying face down on my bloodied keyboard, I suddenly realized that Smirk was telling me something. “Sean,” he said. “you don't have to get Apache running on the firewall.”

I had gotten close yesterday—with Wlofie's help the night before, we were able to recover one of the RaQ4s with it's initial distribution, and I had gotten a Linux 2.4 kernel and iptables installed and running. It was only getting Apache running that I did a horrible mistake: I mounted the working drive in my workstation! That right there was a monumental mistake.

You see, the Cobalt RaQ firmware (which is responsible for loading Linux off the disk) only supports an ext2 revision 0 file system and the fact of my just mounting said drive (for write access no less) “fixed” it so that it was no longer a revision 0 file system. In fact, I'm not sure what exactly happened, but the upshot of mounting a filesystem formatted under Linux 2.2 onto a Linux 2.6 system munged every symbolic link on the file system. Move the drive back to the Cobalt RaQ, and attempt to load Apache, I kept getting stuff like: Apache: not found. I then check to see what's up:

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 120184 Mar 28 2000  libfoo.a
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root     11 Jul 14 14:44
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 120528 Mar 28 2000

Well, is there, but it should look like:

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 120184 Mar 28 2000  libfoo.a
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root     11 Jul 14 14:44 ->
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 120528 Mar 28 2000

And it wasn't just one or two symbolic links, but (at least in /usr/lib) every symbolic link was borked in this manner.

What I did next only made things worse (resulted in the “kernel panic: counldn't find init” error) so I won't bother going into detail about that.

No, what eventually worked was the following:

  1. Hook NULL serial cable between Cobalt RaQ and PC B
  2. Start serial software on PC B and configure serial port to 115,200bps 8n1
  3. Hook Cobalt RaQ up to switch using network cable.
  4. Turn on Cobalt RaQ, and make sure it will use the serial console (you may have to shove a paper clip into the small hole next to the LCD screen as you power up to enable the serial console).
  5. Log into the Cobalt RaQ as root.
  6. Configure the network to something usable (ifconfig, route, etc).
  7. Download the latest version of the firmware (2.10 works fine in both RaQ3s and RaQ4s).
  8. Install new firmware.
  9. Shutdown Cobalt RaQ.
  10. Hook up PC A to network.
  11. Install rescue CD into CD-ROM.
  12. Reboot PC A from rescue CD.
  13. Accept license agreement.
  14. Turn on Cobalt RaQ holding down the “S” button, select “boot net” option.
  15. Play Solitare, Tetris, or eat lunch for the next half hour or so.
  16. Power cycle Cobalt RaQ.
  17. Power cycle Cobalt RaQ when it asks.
  18. Log into Cobalt RaQ as root.
  19. Run passwd and install a root password.
  20. Download special Linux 2.4 kernel for Cobalt RaQ.
  21. Install Linux 2.4 kernel and kernel modules.
  22. Reboot.
  23. Reconfigure as required.

That last step, “reconfigure as required” may take a while. It may include stuff like downloading the source for such packages as ssh, Apache, MySQL, extracting the files, and doing the magical incantation:

make install

a few times over the next few days (since I had already done this step before a few months ago, I could just copy the existing binaries).

Friday, July 22, 2005

Viva Lost Wages

Sorry for the lack of posts this past week, but I've been out in Las Vegas, all 115°F of heat, hanging out with Hoade as he did research for his new novel. We were lead to believe that the Hôtel San Rémo had free wireless, but as we found out, nothing in Las Vagas is free, and the Hôtel San Rémo was no exception; it also didn't have wireless but ethernet so I was out of luck in using my laptop (which only has wireless).

It'll be a few days before I work through the 350 plus photos and get the write-up written. It's got chills (“Man, this hotel room is cold!”) and spills (“Ouch! Oof! Umph! Ow! Yikes!”). It's got action (“Come on—baby needs a new pair of shoes!” “This is a slot machine, not craps, and you don't even have a baby!”) and romance (“So … how much you got? For five hundred I can give you an excellent time.”). Intrigue (“What are you taking pictures of?”) and conspriacy (“Bob Lazar was forced to move to Mexico because of his exposé of Area 51.”). And the unexpected (“Dude, the power just went out!” “Watch out for the slot zombies!”).

But first, I have to finish reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Bubbles in Florida

Land that could be bought for $800,000 could, within a year, be resold for 4 million before crashing back down to pre-boom levels. The prices were so inflated that to buy a condo-style property in XXXX, you would've had to pay the same as you would now have to pay for a luxury home in the guard-gated communities in Miami ($4,500,000)—without adjusting for inflation!

Via Florida Real Estate Bubble from The Mess That Greenspan Made: Money Magazine on “Cashing Out”, The Florida Real Estate Craze

This is not a speculative article “written” from the perspective of say, 2011, but is instead about a real estate bubble that actually happened in the state of Florida a while ago.

How long ago?

The $4,500,000 price, adjusted for inflation, would be $494,500,000—nearly half a billion dollars today.

Too bad for the gentleman that actually spent $4,500,000 dollars back in 1926 for the property.

How much service can you get for $700?

Speaking of inflation, when Mom and I moved here to South Florida, no longer could my Grandma (Dad's mom) drive drive and pick me up for a summer spent in the suburbs of Detroit. So starting in 1980, I would fly north for the summer. This was before Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers and the airline industry was still heavily regulated; because the prices were fixed, the various airlines had to compete with the only weapon they had left: service.

I remember flights as a kid being not that all unpleasant. Granted, I was much smaller then so I could easily fit in the seats. And they still fed us meals. And I remember that between my Mom and grandparents, they paid around $300 for a round trip ticket.

Adjusted for inflation, $300 1980 dollars equals $708 2005 dollars.

And yes, for $700 dollars you could probably get wonderful service from the airline industry, unlike the cattle car mentality you get now (“be grateful you even get water you ingrates!”).

Fun with Zip+4

Hmm … I could have sworn I wrote about this before, but since I can't find an entry about it, I guess not. Anyway … a few months ago I was playing around with zip codes, and I found out that the zip+4 code for Casa New Jersey only has one address—ours! Sure, it's meant for houses within a certain address range on our side of the street, but as far as I can tell, we're the only house within that range on our side of the street.

I made a comment about this to a few people (Hoade among them) and wanted to do an experiement where I addressed I postcard to:

Florida, 33461-XXXX

And see if it gets to us.

Well, when I was in Las Vegas last week, I did just that.

I sent four postcards, addressed as:

  1. Occupant
    Florida, 33461-XXXX

  2. To the Happy Family That Lives There
    Lake Worth, Florida 33461-XXXX

  3. Spring Dew Conner Stenbock Schmidt
    [street address] 33461-XXXX

  4. Frau Dew
    [street address]
    Lake Worth, Florida 33461-XXXX

#2 and #4 were mailed from Rachel, Nevada. #1 and #3 from the Hôtel San Rémo.

So far, two have arrived, #3 and #4.

Sadly, the one mailed from Rachel came with a Las Vegas postmark (Rachel doesn't have a postoffice, unless you count a blue US Postal Service mailbox a “postoffice”). And the one mailed from Las Vegas came with two postmarks—one from Las Vegas on the 18th, and one from West Palm Beach on the 23rd.

We are still expecting two more.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Mayer and Sinai's study also identified the real culprit: the deliberate overscheduling of flights at peak periods by major airlines trying to increase the amount of connecting traffic at their hub airports. Major airlines like United, Delta, and American use a hub-and-spoke model as a way to offer consumers more flight choices and to save money by centralizing operations. Most of the traffic they send through a hub is on the way to somewhere else. (Low-cost carriers, on the other hand, typically carry passengers from one point to another without offering many connections.)

Via Jason Kottke, Tragedy of the Airport: Why you get stuck for hours at O'Hare

Hoade and I flew Northwest Airlines to Las Vegas, with a conection in Detroit—Detroit being a major (if not the major) hub for Northwestern, and the terminal is huge—so huge that it has light rail running from one end of the terminal to the other.

THOUGHT: Airlines will always fly you through a connection flight.

notes taken during the trip

I'm convinced that had I decided to fly Northwestern to Detroit, I would have a connecting flight through Atlanta. Airlines seem incapable of flying one directly to a destination.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Reminds me of Google

B o s t o n
D i a r i e s

Google Logo Maker (via Amygdala).

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Contact Info

Obligatory Feeds

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site:, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

You may also note subtle shading of the links and that's intentional: the “closer” the link is (relative to the page) the “brighter” it appears. It's an experiment in using color shading to denote the distance a link is from here. If you don't notice it, don't worry; it's not all that important.

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