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, August 01, 2005

I think I'm turning into jwz

So I have to download a customer's site from their old server, because the wget I did a few weeks ago missed some “private” files.

Why did I use wget a few weeks ago?

Because of FTP, that's why (and yes, I did forget that wget can do FTP—grrrr).

Now, I'm used to using FTP. Been using it since, oh, 1989 or there abouts. But the standard FTP client that comes with Unix doesn't handle directories very well, in that you can't just “get” a directory and have it download all the files in said directory—no, you have to change into each directory and grab the files.

Well, there is ncftp but I hate ncftp. I'd rather use a Windows FTP client like CuteFTP or WS-FTP than ncftp and that says something.

So I end up using ncftp.

Under Windows no less.


I don't have ncftp installed on my workstation, because apparently, it isn't installed by default with this Linux distribution (which is based off a RedHat distribution—funnily enough, my system at home, which started out as a RedHat 5.0 system, has ncftp installed, even though I never use it). And I'm not about to install it, given the oh so wonderful experiences I've had with package managers that fail to actually install the packages I want because I use the common name, like foobar instead of the more precise name like foobar-2.4.2-snap-dragon-on-speed.Beta-release.

So I figure I'd use Windows, since every Windows GUI FTP client can at least deal with recursively downloading files.

Only the GUI-based FTP clients we have installed on the Windows system are well past their “evaluation” period and is now in the “register now or we trash your system” period. And the default Windows FTP command line program is even more pathetic than the default Unix FTP command line program, so using that is out of the question.

But …

The Windows systems have Cygwin installed, which includes an install of ncftp.

So that's why I'm using ncftp under Windows.

But why do I hate ncftp?

Because it does things on my behalf that I don't want it doing. I'm used:

GenericUnixPrompt> ftp
Connected to
220 Foobar 2.4.2 Snap-Dragon-On-Speed Alpha Release
Name ( 
331 Password required for spc.
230 User spc logged in.

You know, the FTP program asking me for the userid and password.

ncftp? Oh, it tries to be “helpful” and unless otherwise stated on the command line, will automatically anonymously log me in. You know, to save me from having to type A N O N Y M O U S (or even F T P which became the other default anonymous user login because I guess, typing A N O N Y M O U S proved to be too difficult for most users).

That is not the behavior I expect from an FTP client—especially a command line FTP client, and I know I'm in the minority on this (since nearly every one of my friends seems to like, or at least, tolerate, ncftp as the current state of affairs, much like Medival peasants tolerated the Black Death as the current state of affairs).

Once past that problem, next was downloading the entire site. Started the recursive GET, only to have it time out on a particularly large file. Okay, try it again.

At least ncftp was smart enough to realize what it had already downloaded, but a few of the files apparently “changed” between the two attempts, and I was given the chance to “[O]verwrite” or “[!O]verwrite All.” My mistake here was assuming that “[!O]verwrite All” meant that any files that it would otherwise ask me about it would just overwrite.


No, selecting “[!O]verwrite All” really meant: “re-download every file and oh, crap out on the really large ones.”

A couple of hours of fighting this crap, I found out that what I really wanted was set auto-resume yes.

To really drive home the friendliness point—as I was trying to quit ncftp it noticed that I had not “bookmarked” the site. No, just quit—I don't need to be asked to “bookmark” it—if I want to “bookmark” it, I'll tell you.


God, I just love software that knows better than I about what I want done.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My life as a Chinese Fortune Cookie

Today was an interesting day, in the old Chinese way. I'm in my car, pulling out of the driveway and noticing a significant list to starboard and the steering is a bit wonky. I have my suspicions and it does indeed turn out correct: the passenger front tire is flat.

I'm already running a bit late to work, but hey, what's another hour or so? Jack up the car, remove the airless tire and slap on the rather pathetic excuse for a spare, causing my car to transcend the look of silliness into the realm of ridiculousness. Once the donut is secured to the wheelbase and the flat secured in the trunk, I head out in search of the nearest Tire Kingdom, a few miles away.

There, I am informed that it would take at least two hour for them to patch the tire. Not wanting to stick around in a waiting room with a blaring TV and decade old car trade magazines, I head back home. I inform The Office that I will be even later than expected.

My job at The Company can mostly be performed at home; even if a server needs to be rebooted I can call a partnering company with access to the datacenter and have a warm body go in and perform the necessary button pushing if it comes to that. Email and checking the trouble ticket system can be done from home. The only thing I can't do is answer The Office phone. For now (as one of the longer range goals of Smirk is to have The Office phone forwarded as needed).

Two and a half hours later, I call back to Tire Kingdom and yes, my tire has been patched and ready to pick up. An hour later, after finishing up with a hysterical client that's having email problems and can't get anyone at the office (well, no wonder—Smirk having jury duty, P studying for exams and I with a donut for a tire) I retrieve the now patched tire. Since it is so late by this time I figured it's of no use to actually go into the office and instead just go back home and swap the patched tire for the donut.

On the way home, I pass a gentleman riding an adult tricycle whose tire fell off in a most comical way, and I am reminded that it could have been worse.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lost opportunities

What's sad is that at one time, I had enough monitors to make an arch, and I could have probably sold it on eBay, as art, for quite a bit of money.


Monday, August 08, 2005

The Hunt for 928

Something that occurred to me goes back to one of the original stupid reasons for chasing after this. There are any number of stories out there of crashed UFOs. If you buy all of them, then the damn things must be falling out of the sky everywhere. Something that's always been in the back of my mind (and probably many others) is “Wouldn't it be fun to try and track down one of these things?” Well, after investing all this effort into searching for a terrestrial (although very spacey looking) craft, I'm pretty skeptical that any remnants of an actual saucer crash (assuming one really occurred) could be found. I was dealing here with an event I knew had occurred, which had a reasonable amount of documentation, was in favorable, open terrain, and proved nearly impossible to find. If a saucer ever did plop down somewhere, I suspect not a trace would remain. Still, it would be more fun than hunting snipe …

The Hunt for 928

Quite a long article about trying to find a crashed A-12, the precursor to the SR-71 (it's a bit shorter, only room for a single pilot and a smaller flight range, but faster and can fly higher than the SR-71).

Briefly, Tom Mahood heard about the A-12 crash, and decided to test Merlin's Laws:

  1. There is always something left (Applies to UFO crashes only if there's a real crash!)
  2. There is almost always a road to the crash site.
  3. Newspaper information is not to be trusted.

If he could find evidence of a top-secret CIA spy plane (even if it did crash some 35 years previously to his searching for it) then it might be possible to find an actual UFO crash site. But given that he spent not only two years but:

The chances of finding a possible UFO crash are very slim indeed.

And the article is well worth reading (even if it is a bit on the long side).

It's about time!


Smirk came in, saying that once again, a website on a shared IP address needed its own separate address. And since the website in question is under the Insipid control panel, that means moving the site to a new server under a different plan because Insipid is too stupid to readdress a site.

That is, it was too stupid.

Seems that since the last time, Insipid was hit with a big ol' clue-by-four and now you can easily change the IP address of a site.

Simply amazing.

Nice try, but that's an abandoned site

One reason for my journal is to document some pretty arcane technical information, like … oh … surviving a DDoS attack. Good thing too, because one of the servers I manage—the ones that typically get hacked and attacked, was under attack today.

Annoying, but nothing that I couldn't handle.

After blocking some 3,100 IP addresses, I was of the opinion that the source addresses were forged. While it's possible that some hacker or hackers had control of thousands of zombie boxes, it was curious as to why they were attacking the particular sites—just small marketing sites that, as it turned out, were no longer used.

Once I found out the sites under attack (all under the same IP address) were no longer needed, it was a simple matter to take down the IP address under attack.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Why do people insist on using PHP? Why?

You just have to love informative error messages.

One of our clients is getting the following error on a PHP (of course) driven website:

Warning: file_exists(): open_basedir restriction in effect. File(XXXX) is not within the allowed path(s): (XXXX/htdocs:/tmp) in XXXX on line 531

Okay, I read that as “file not found” but according to the customer, if the file really didn't exist, she would get “file not found” instead of “File … is not within the allowed path(s).” Which is frustrating because the file in question does not exist!


So okay, humor the customer. Go ahead, try to do a search on “PHP File is not within the allowed path” … go ahead … I'll wait …

See the problem?

A lot of sites seem to have that problem.

Searching the PHP site doesn't seem to be helping any either.

Does anyone have a clue? It appears that PHP is refusing to search for files past a certain depth, but I can't say for sure that is the problem, nor even what to look for to see if this is the problem.



“How was your day?” asked Spring.


“Oh … ”

“But in the grand scheme of things,” I said, “it wasn't that bad, and it could have been worse. I could have been a guard during a prison riot.”

“Yes, when you put it that way … ”

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Clickity click

Sure, it was easy enough to stop the SYN attack on Monday by just turning off the IP address under attack. But the owner of the sites on that IP address want to know which site was the one being attacked.

So, how do you determine which of fifty-plus sites was the victim of a SYN attack?

By giving each of the fifty-plus sites their own IP address and seeing which one gets SYN attacked, that's how.

Clickity clickity clickity clickity clickity

Apparently, not all the sites were abandoned alas …

Clickity clickity clickity clickity clickity

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Random quote spewed forth from my computer

Whom computers would destroy, they must first drive mad.

Oh, so they were used after all

So apparently the sites where in actual use, hence the query for which site was under attack. Also, it turned out that the traffic spike I saw might not have been an actual SYN attack, but instead legitimate traffic.

It seems that the company that owns the sites have a domain that has nothing but advertising banners for gambling sites (since that's what they do) for which they bought advertising space on a bunch of porn sites (I'm sure on the theory of “in for a penny, in for a pound” but in this case, “in for a vice, in for a whole slew of vices”) and it caught our server unaware.

It's not like the server can't handle the load, but that Apache wasn't configured for such a spike in traffic. Now that I've tweaked the operating system (Linux):

sysctl -w net.ipv4.tcp_syncookies=1
sysctl -w net.ipv4.tcp_max_syn_backlog=2048
sysctl -w net.ipv4.tcp_syn_retries=2

But also tweaked KeepAliveTimeout, MinSpareServers, MaxSpareServers, StartServers and MaxClients in the Apache configuration (doubled each except for KeepAliveTimeout which I decreased) the server is having no problem keeping up with the traffice (I also copied the site to the second server and round-robinning requests between the two).

Friday, August 12, 2005

Scenes from a fast food drivethough

“Chzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzbrzzzzzzzzzelp you?”

“Yes, I'd like a number one—”


“Number one!”


“Yes, with a Coke.”

“Crzzzzuperduper size it?”

“No, I'll just take it the regular ludicrous size.”

“Bzzzzzzzour fourty-seven. Drive around please.”

“Thank you.”

I drove to the first window and hand over a $10 bill. The cashier makes change, and hands it and the receipt over. I scan the receipt and notice that it's not for the number one I order, but a number seven, megaduper humongous size. “I'm sorry, but this isn't my order,” I said, handing back the change and recept. The cashier looked puzzled. “I ordered a number one, regular ludicrous size.”

“Oh,” she said. She called over another worker, and both started talking in a patrois that I did not understand. The second one then started slamming on the cash register and by the tone of her voice, I could only assume that she was swearing in whatever langauge she natively spoke. She then called over a manager.

He walked up, and between all three of them, in somewhat hushed tones and slightly broken English, an explanation of what happened transpired. The cars were backing up behind me. The manager furiously punched buttons on the formerly abused cash register, recounted out my change, and handed it to me. “Next window please,” he said.

At the next window, the fast-food worker held a bag towards me. “Number one, regular ludicrous size with a Coke?”

“Yes, that's my order,” I said, taking the bag and Coke from her.

At least I didn't end up with a hamless ham and cheese without the cheese sandwich.

The server platform that can not run unattended

A customer calls up, and asks if we can reboot his colocated server because he can't “PCAnywhere in.” Windows box. Of course. “It's, in a tall tower case,” he said.

“So all I need to do is hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and shutdown then, right?” I wanted to make sure here.


So I go into the server room, and hook up the crashcart to the system in question. The few mice I try don't work, but the keyboard does, so at least I have that much going for me. The screen is, for the most part, blank, and the task bar at the bottom looks like it has an outbreak of the Chicken Pox. I hit Ctrl-Alt-Del, a few windows flash, then the infamous “I can't stop this task” message box comes up.

By now, I can see that there are at least a few dozen message boxes from some application complaining that it can't send email and to try again. And it's this application that Windows is having difficulty killing, since the message boxes are apparently keeping the program alive until I click Okay to dismiss it.

And each message box is backed up with its own process.

Which is filling up the task bar with so many programs, making it look like the aformentioned Chicken Pox.

So for a solid five minutes I'm there alternating between killing tasks from the task-killing message box (which doesn't seem to go away) and hitting Okay on the “I can't send email” message boxes, and I swear the number of tasks is not decreasing. I'd like to shut down this server cleanly because, well … it's Windows (turns out it's Windows NT 4.0 release 1381—circa 1996 I believe).

But there's no way I'm going to play button-monkey to Windows, and I hit the Big Red Switch.

It's a server! I shouldn't have to hit Okay on a message box to get it to continue. It should run unattended.

Bloody Windows.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Apples to Oranges

G, a consultant that we do business with (he was the one that got us involved in Project White Elephant, which is actually going quite well now that the servers are configured correctly) dropped off a Mac mini (at a price just a bit lower than the going street price) with the idea that we might be able to use it as a low-cost server platform. it's small, low power (although not as low as a Cobalt RaQ) and underneath the Mac exterior is BSD Unix.

I have the unit at home right now, playing around with it, and I must say, the software is slick and the GUI is nice (although I've already come across one quirk, and the fact that you have to drag the CD to the trash to eject is a bit … disconcerting to one not used to it).

The dock (the Apple equivilent of Window's Task Bar) is better behaved when hidden—there's a crucial half-second or so pause before it will pop up, unlike the Window's Task Bar which will pop up if you get anywhere near it. Although having to look for the little arrow at the bottom of the dock icon to see which programs are running is a pain. Small price I guess.

And the keyboard sucks! I have an actual, honest-to-God Mac keyboard for the thing, and what I wouldn't give to use an actual, honest-to-God IBM keyboard on this thing—the stupid Mac keyboard lies flat!


In fact, as I was typing this up (using this XXXXXXXX XXXXXXX Mac keyboard) Spring was admiring (or rather, drooling over) the Mac mini—



(Forgive me—I'm not used to Macs as you might be able to tell). Pressing F9 shrinks all the windows on the desktop, giving you a thumbnail view of everything, F10 shrinks the windows of the current application in focus, and F11 hides all the open windows on the desk top.

Okay, I'm beginning to drool over this thing now.

Get a decent keyboard for this thing, and a development system, and I just might keep this thing for myself …

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just here to remind me

Ask and ye shall receive.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Punks from middle Asia

This post is dedicated to my ex-roommate Rob, who like punk music, and to Spring, who likes international music. I give you: Yat-Kha, a Tuvan throat-singing punk band (link via Marginal Revolution).

Friday, August 26, 2005

I had a decent title for this when I thought of making the post, but I've lost the thought since then …

Well, Hurricane Katrina was certainly anti-climatic. I first heard about it ealier this week, but unlike the past few hurricanes, it was still a tropical storm and would only become a hurricane just prior to landfall. I was expecting some bad weather very late Thursday and throughout Friday, but the timing was a bit off.

The worst came throughout late Thursday, and given that Hurricane Katrina hit land just south of Ft. Lauderdale, a good fourty miles to the south, we just got some stiff breezes and some light rain here at Casa New Jersey. That's the good news.

The bad news—I was hoping to get Friday off from work, but seeing how Hurricane Katrina was already offshore by the time I got up, workbound I was.

Fortunately, the office is very quiet today and it appears that most people have today off anyway. Now it's just a regular muggy Auguest afternoon in South Florida.

In looking over the satellite loops of Hurricane Katrina, I'm struck by the fact that as a hurricane, it was a rather poorly defined one (at least, as it went over South Florida)—no real eye developed and except for possibly some hurricane force winds (sustained 74 mph) between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, it was nothing more than a really bad storm. I do wonder if conditions in the mid-Atlantic are less favorable to hurricane formation now. We're almost half-way through the season and Katrina is the 11th storm so far. Is there still enough energy in the mid-Atlantic to sustain more hurricanes this season? (for comparrison, back in 1992, the first storm of the season, Hurricane Andrew, formed in mid-August).

It takes quite a bit of energy to feed a hurricane, and while there's another storm that might get named in the mid-Atlantic, it's been that way for a few days now (with the National Hurricane Center labelling it a “possibility in 36 hours” for the past three days) and I have to wonder if there's anything left in the mid-Atlantic to give, energy wise.

Then again, I'm not a meterologist …

Google is acting like a female dog, and I don't mean that in a good way either

Google is being annoying today.

I'm used to doing a search (like, for Miami, Florida) and being able to copy a link directly from the results page. Occasionally Google will link to the result through itself, like:

Annoying when it happens, but if I do the search over again, the results page will have the links going directly to the results, as in:

But not today.

Today, no matter how many times I restart my search, clear the cookies, click on the munged link or what have you, Google is insistent upon returning the annoying links that are useless to blogging. And to make matters worse, there's JavaScript in the results page to munge the status bar at the bottom of the browser (in Firefox, hoving over a link will show the URL in the status bar) so it's not readily apparent what's going on.

Come on Google, cut it out! You, of all companies, are supposed to be above such things …

Quiet time

Yes, I've been quiet for the past week or so. For two reasons:

  1. I have a new toy to play with.
  2. I've been cleaning up the code to mod_blog.

Both items have been sucking up vast amounts of time, but in a good way.

That's why I've been rather quiet here.

A little bit about a little Mac

Smirk misunderstood an entry I made last week, thinking that I wanted to keep the Mac mini I was testing for work. He went ahead and ordered the PS/2 to USB adaptor (and a few extras for the office) so I could use a real keyboard (along with DoubleCommand since the IBM keyboards I use don't have Windows keys).

At that point, I figured I was having so much fun with the Mac that I might as well keep it, seeing how it was below steet price to begin with.

But that wasn't my intent with the entry. At the time, I was cursing the keyboard I was using and wishing I could use an IBM PS/2 keyboard. It was then I decided to search Google for a “PS/2 to USB adaptor” and lo'—there it was.

So I really meant: “Ask Google, and ye shall receive.” Not “ask Smirk, and ye shall keep.”

But I kept the Mac mini anyway.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Thankful for satellite backed weather prediction

The Gulf of Mexico is hot; hot enough to to turn H urricane Katrina from a Catagory 1 to Catagory 5 in three days, just in time to wipe southern Louisiana off the map (although it was downgraded to a Catagory 4 just prior to landfall, understandable as hurricanes feed on water and Hurricane Katrina's northern edge is getting starved of fuel).

But you know, if this had happened in the 1920s? Nobody would have had a clue that this was on the way—there would have been no satellite tracking, no way of predicting which way the big wind would have shifted, and precious few ways of getting the word out ahead of the storm even if they had known. If Katrina turns out even half as bad as people say, it would have erupted out of nowhere to lay the smackdown with no warning whatsoever. A lot of people probably would have died.

theferrett: New Orleans, Yadda Yadda

My thoughts go out to those stuck in Louisiana and I hope that the death toll (last reported: three, but those happened during evacuation) does not rise at all. We do live in an incredible age where we are able to get significant warnings and save lives that might have otherwise been lost.

When all of this is over, the religious leaders will be calling everyone to thank God that everything is okay. No mention of the well-trained scientists and disaster experts who worked so tirelessly.

purplkat, in reply to theferrett

The mid-Atlantic running out of steam? I can only hope …

After I had written about the mid-Atlantic running out of steam for hurricanes, the National Hurricane Center started issuing reports for Tropical Depression Thirteen, which seemed to deflate my `mid-Atlantic running out of steam” theory. But I notice that Tropical Depression Thirteen is smaller than it was on Saturday when I last checked, so there may be something yet …

Then again, I'm not a meterologist.

Hmmmmmmmm …

Unless you have a REALLY high end sine wave UPS, get rid of it for all your audio gear, it doesn't have the balls to save you anyway. UPSs by thier nature inject all kinds of horrible hash onto the mains power. I mean get rid of ALL of them on the same phase as your audio gear. Don't even have'em plugged in in the same house if possible.

Repeat after me, as often as it takes,

One path to ground.
  One path to ground.
    One path to ground.
      One path to ground.
        One path to ground.

Mike Taht: One path to ground!!

Of the people that read me, Smirk and Wlofie may find this interesting. Mike Taht has a whole bunch of posts about power and audio systems.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

But I gotta wonder at the overdue fees …

For Wlofie: I didn't know you could check out people from the Malmö (Sweeden) City Library (link via Jason Kottke)! That's pretty cool.

Notes on a phone conversation as the dark clouds roll in

“What type of server is my site currently on? Because I need to use an Access database,” said the customer.

“Well, it's currently on our Unix server,” I replied, “so we'll need to—” KA-KRAAAAAAACK-BOOOM! “—oh holy sweet Mother of God we're all going to die! Aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” It's amazing the small amount of space an adult human can occupy under the desk when the proper motivation is applied.

“Sir,” said the customer, “are you okay?”

Slowly peek my head out. “Yes … just a lightning strike across the street.”

Coincidentally enough, the customer's domain has the word “lightning” in it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A fiendish plot

For Spring, a cute Flash cartoon.

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Contact Info

Obligatory Feeds

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

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