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.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


I may have been a bit unfair to Gregory in my last post. Sure, I think he takes his GPS lust to a bit of an extreme, and his utter reliance on the thing is totally baffling to me (“Dude, Tom lives in Atlantis!, on the other side of the canal from Casa New Jersey! There are only two ways into and out of Atlantis! What do you mean, how do I get there?”) but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't being totally hypocritical—I was absolutely crazy without Internet. It was frightening just how dependent I was on the thing. The fact that I couldn't look stuff up on a whim, say, rotary wankle engine, or even what is a closure, meant I was at a complete loss when I couldn't do that.

So Gregory, I understand, even as I kid you on your GPS addiction—we all have monkeys on our backs.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Food. At a restaurant.

Spring, Wlofie and I spent the evening having dinner with Mark Hamzy, who I knew in college and probably haven't seen in a dozen years (since IBM moved him to the Republic of Texas and has yet to relieve him of his employment). We ate dinner at Havana in West Palm Beach. The food was quite good there.

Fortunately, we managed to avoid the whole process of selecting a restaurant that we used to employ when in college, which went something like this:

[Cast: Sean “Demigod” Williams (lead vocalist) , Bill “Giant Hogweed” Lefler (keyboards, guitar), Sean “Captain Napalm” Conner (electric clarinet) and Mark “You're a member of our group, damn it, whether you want to be or not” Hamzy (evil eye and set prop). Setting: Bill's room, any given Friday or Saturday.]

Sean (Williams)
So, what do we want to eat?
Sigh. What type of food?
Okay, where do we want to eat.
A restaurant.

And so on, for about an hour. The thing was, we each had an unconditional veto for any restaurant suggestion, except for Mark, who had two (well, rather, he had the one we all have, plus an additional “permanent veto” on all food related to oeans, streams, lakes or rivers). The entire process would take something on the order of two or three hours and there were plenty of times when we got into Bill's car without the slightest clue where we were going to eat and just randomly drove around town until we ran out of vetoes, or we had at least two votes for a single restaurant.

Fun times, but of a different time, and a different place.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The dreaded “Early Morning Call”

Ah, nothing like getting a call at the ungodly hour of 10:30 to fix a munged firewall. For reasons I'm still trying to figure out it apparently crashed last night and the fix was a power cycle.

But in looking over the log files, I kept seeing:

Jul  2 08:48:07 localhost kernel: SPOOF-SRC-172 IN=eth0 OUT=eth1
	PREC=0x00 TTL=238 ID=0 DF PROTO=TCP SPT=11100 DPT=1516 

I had programmed the firewall to reject any private IP address (since you're not supposed to see private IP addresses on the Internet at large) yet here I was, seeing a private, albeit a less known private, IP address. Only the source address kept changing for each packet logged, but always within the block.

This meant that the address was originating somewhere on our network, but where?

Pinging one of the private IP addresses from the router directly connected to the firewall didn't show anything. It seems that the ping packets were sent to the main core router, which just dumps private IP addresses to the bit bucket.

But why was that router throwing anything from to the firewall?

Now, the rule I have for filtering these packets in iptables looks like:

iptables --table filter --append FORWARD --source
	--jump LOG --log-prefix "SPOOF-SRC-172 "

iptables --table filter --append FORWARD  --source
	--jump REJECT

iptables --table filter --append FORWARD --destination
	--jump LOG --log-prefix "SPOOF-DST-172 "

iptables --table filter --append FORWARD --destination
	--jump REJECT

which doesn't record the MAC address (which uniquely identifies an Ethernet interface on a network). However, by adding:

iptables --table mangle --append PREROUTING --source 
	--jump LOG --log-prefix "WHAT "

the MAC address is logged.


Jul  3 17:48:24 localhost kernel: WHAT IN=eth0 
	TOS=0x00 PREC=0x00 TTL=239 ID=0 DF PROTO=TCP 
	SPT=11112 DPT=3716 WINDOW=0 RES=0x00 RST URGP=0  

What's recorded is the MAC address of the interface (the first six octets), followed by the MAC address the packet came from (the next six octets) followed by the protocol (the final two octets, and in this case, it's an IP packet).

Now, the first three octets of a MAC address are the vendor code—who makes that particular Ethernet device. Easy enough to look up and—

A Riverstone?

It's the router?

There's nothing on our network that uses the private IP space. And yet, here's one of our routers, sprewing forth garbage packets.


Time to get with Dan the Network Engineer on this …

Update on Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Between Dan the Network Engineer and I, the problem was solved.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Blowing things up with alien technology

Ah yes, the Fourth of July. The time of year when all Americans go outside and blow stuff up. It looked unlikely that anything would be blown up this year, as it was storming all day, but apparently, it cleared up enough for a few fireworks shows I can now hear going off in the distance.

Besides, there are more things one can do to celebrate the Fourth of July than simply to blow things up, such as indulging in a perennial favorite topic of mine—government conspiracies about aliens and their technology!

PACL was located in Palo Alto, but unlike XPARC, it wasn't at the end of a long road in the middle of a big complex surrounded by rolling hills and trees. PACL was hidden in an office complex owned entirely by the military but made to look like an unassuming tech company. From the street, all you could see was what appeared to be a normal parking lot with a gate and a guard booth, and a 1-story building inside with a fictitious name and logo. What wasn't visible from the street was that behind the very first set of doors was enough armed guards to invade Poland, and 5 additional underground stories. They wanted to be as close as possible to the kinds of people they were looking to hire and be able to bring them in with a minimum of fuss.

One downside to CARET was that it wasn't as well-connected as other operations undoubtedly were. I never got to see any actual extra- terrestrials (not even photos), and in fact never even saw one of their compete vehicles. 99% of what I saw was related to the work at hand, all of which was conducted within a very narrow context on individual artifacts only. The remaining 1% came from people I met through the program, many of which working more closely with “the good stuff” or had in the past.

My Experience with the CARET Program and Extra-terrestrial Technology

Of course, it's well known that AT&T developed the transistor based upon alien technology and that Intel has managed to reverse engineer alien technology to build their latest chips.

But like all great conspiracy theories (and I love these because they're so entertaining) they leave a few things unanswered. In the case of AT&T (or more specifically, Bell Labs), did they even have the technology to reverse something as complex as a microchip? Send back even an old Pentium to Bell Labs in even 1940 (a full seven years before they invented the transistor)—could they even figure out what it was? (I'm assuming they could get the actual chip out of the ceramic casing) Could they even detect a single transistor?

Besides, a transistor is nothing more than two back-to-back diodes in a single package, and diodes have been around since the 1880s.

I received a link to the CARET page from a mailing list I'm on, and as one member of the list commented:

How do you build a “secret” 5 story underground facility in Palo Alto with and

  1. have the right number of cars in the parking lot and
  2. not hit the water table. The industrial parts of PA are either in the flats next to 101 and the SF Bay or are near Foothill Expressway where almost all of the industrial parks are owned by Stanford.

Besides, how do you advertise jobs for such a place?

Oh, and the Intel Pentium being based upon alien technology? That, I can actually buy. I mean, have you ever tried programming that thing? Something that convoluted can only be the result of humans partially reverse engineering alien technology …

“Houston, we have a problem … ”

London, 4th July 2007. Steorn, an Irish technology development company, will publicly demonstrate a real-life application of its Orbo free energy technology for the first time. The demonstration will take place in the Kinetica Museum gallery, London UK on Wednesday 4th July. People around the world will be able to watch the exhibit via a live web stream.

Update 4/7/07 23:30

Due to slight technical difficulties we will now be publishing the live stream as of Thursday 5th July.

Via flutterby, Steorn demonstrates free energy technology in public forum

In keeping with the woo-woo technology, I present you with Steorn, a company premoting free energy, only they seem to be having difficulties …

Hmmmmm ….

Update on Thursday, July 5th, 2007

We are experiencing some technical difficulties with the demo unit in London. Our initial assessment indicates that this is probably due to the intense heat from the camera lighting. We have commenced a technical assessment and will provide an update later today. As a consequence, Kinetica will not be open to the public today (5th July). We apologise for this delay and appreciate your patience.

Steorn Orbo—World First Free-Energy Demonstration


Update on Friday, July 6th, 2007

Further to Steorn's announcement yesterday (5th July) regarding the technical difficulties experienced during the installation of its “Orbo” technology at the Kinentica Museum in London, Steorn has decided to postpone the demonstration until further notice.

Sean McCarthy CEO stated that “technical problems arose during the installation of the demonstration unit in the display case on Wednesday evening. These problems were primarily due to excessive heat from the lighting in the main display area. Attempts to replace those parts affected by the heat led to further failures and as a result we have to postpone the public demonstration until a future date.”

He continued that “we apologise for the inconvenience caused to all the people who had made arrangements to visit the demonstration or were planning on viewing the demonstration online.”

Over the next few weeks the company will explore alternative dates for the public demonstration.

Steorn announcement: Kinetica Demonstration

Why doesn't that surprise me?

“I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free, living under a system of Law, without systemic corruption and I can blow stuff up for fun, not for survival.”

Such a uniquely backfiring setup was responsible for the world's worst library. A few days after I arrived in Cameroon, I visited one of the country's most prestigious private schools—Cameroon's equivalent of Eton. The school boasted two separate library buildings, but the librarian was very unhappy. I soon understood why.

At first glance the new library was impressive. With the exception of the principal's palatial house, it was the only two-story structure on campus. Its design was adventurous: a poor man's Sydney Opera House. The sloped roof, rather than running down from a ridge, soared up in a V from a central valley like the pages of an open book on a stand.

When you're standing in the blazing sunlight of the Cameroonian dry season, it's hard to see at first what the problem is with a roof that looks like a giant open book. But that's only if you forget, as the architect apparently did, that Cameroon also has a rainy season. When it rains in Cameroon, it rains for five solid months. It rains so hard that even the most massive storm ditches quickly overflow. When that kind of rain meets a roof that is, essentially, a gutter that drains onto a flat- roofed entrance hall, you know it's time to laminate the books. The only reason the school's books still existed was that they'd never been near the new building; the librarian had refused repeated requests from the principal to transfer them from the old library.

Via Flares Into Darkness, Why Poor Countries Are Poor

This is a long article, going into detail about the systemic corruption in your typical African nation, and how difficult it will be for Cameroon to pull itself out of its death spiral. It's well worth reading, and a reminder of just how good we have it here in the west, where we can blow stuff up without worry …

Thursday, July 05, 2007

There is a difference between routing and blocking …

One of these days, I'll get this networking stuff down.

I talked to Dan the Network Engineer about the Riverstone router and it's not the Riverstone that's losing its mind, it's me.

Just because I route outgoing traffic to to nowhere on our core router, doesn't mean that incoming traffic “from” from “The Outside” (and by “The Outside” I mean, “The Internet At Large”) gets routed to nowhere.

Nope, it gets routed to the destination, which is on the other side of the firewall, which is doing its job and dumping the garbage packets.

Notes on an overheard conversation between a customer of the Monopolistic Phone Company and Technical Support on an email issue

“Hello, this is Bob, The Monopolistic Telephone Company Technical Support Technician. How may I help you?”

“Bob, my emails to Earthlink aren't getting through, but I can still receive emails from Earthlink. Can you help me?”

“Well, my father lives way out in the country, and I don't know where or how the equipment is set up out there, but I think that the cows get in between the equipment and block the signal.”

Friday, July 06, 2007

“And together, they must save Elvis from the Illinois Nazis.”

It was a pretty crummy day today, both at work and at the weekly D&D game. To calm down, I spent a few hours updating The Quick And Dirty B-Movie Plot Generator. Besides the cosmetic change (and boy, did it ever need that) I also fixed the gender pronoun problem it had.

And hey, since it's one of the few pages that gets a few hundred hits a month, I decided to see if some advertising on that page might bring in a few more shekels.

And yes, the entire thing is written in C. Nothing better to calm me down than writing a web-based program in a langauge totally ill-suited for writing web-based programs.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

How Ricky Bary Harbord can be a pregnant former First Lady

Bunny was cycling through various Quick and Dirty B-Movie Plots and was wondering how it worked, because she kept getting stuff like:

Ricky Bary Harbord is a beautiful pregnant former first lady with a song in his heart and a spring in his step. Valeri Barbara Bramlett is a cigar-chomping gun-slinging farmboy searching for her wife's true killer. And together, they must save Elvis from the Illinois Nazis.

“How does it work?” she asked. “How can Ricky be pregnant and the former First Lady? And how can Valeri be a cigar-chomping farmboy?”

“Well,” I said, “I know several women who like smoking cigars.”

“But Ricky as a former First Lady?”

“Sex change operation.”

“And pregnant?

“Okay, you got me there.”

How it works. Basically, it's a template:

<male-name> <male-name> <family-name> is <article> <adjective> <adjective> <occupation> <mission>. <female-name> <female-name> <family-name> is <article> <adjective> <adjective> <occupation> <mission>. And together, they must <joint-mission>.

You know, like all good generative text programs. But I have a single list of adjectives, occupations and missions that I pick from. And while I do adjust the gender specific pronouns, I don't adjust any other gender specific terms, partly because I'm lazy, and partly because it makes for some real amusing plots. Even though it does sound ludicrous that Ricky can be pregnant, if Hollywood can make Arnold Schwarzenegger pregnant, I'm sure they can find a way to make Ricky a pregnant former First Lady.

To save these plots, Bunny had to cut-n-paste them into another document. I then realized that it wouldn't be hard at all to add a bookmark feature to the Quick and Dirty B-Movie Plot Generator—all I had to do was save the random number generator seed and make it part of the URL. And lo' you can now bookmark specific plots that are generated, which is a feature I don't see at They Fight Crime.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Some thoughts on health care while my dislike of Michael Moore comes through, and a small tangent thought on cheap computers

“Anyone seen Sicko yet?” asked a friend. None of us, and by “us” I mean a group of friends and myself hanging out, had seen the new Michael Moore film. “Aw man,” he said, “it's a really good film.”

“Is there anything about that film that tells us something we don't already know?” I asked.

“There are over 40 million uninsured Americans in this country, getting XXXXXX over by greedy corporations,” he said.

“Um,” said one of the other friends, “Sean said ‘anything we didn't already know.’”

Touchy subject this is.

On the ride home, this friend and I continued in this conversation, agreeing more than disagreeing on what exactly is wrong, but we strongly disagreed on the weaknesses of “universal health care” in other industrialized countries. He was sure that it's not in as bad shape as I think it is overseas (or even across the border), but I found this (on a totally unrelated search) very interesting:

This may seem foolish at first, but despite being in the heart of South East Asia, in what is generally thought to be a developing country, the Thai medical system is unbelievably good. Not only is it the medical hub for [Irish] expatriates throughout the region, but tens of thousands fly here each year to have elective surgery, from laser eye treatments to boob jobs and face lifts. There are lots of reasons why they come to Bangkok but invariably quality of surgery and care comes top of the list. Simply put, medical care in Thailand is amongst the best in the word, available at a fraction of the cost.

Via Justin Mason, Surgery in Bankok

Irish going overseas for surgery. Okay, so this is elective surgery, which appears not to be covered, or it might be very long waiting lists to get it done. But I find it very telling that not only is there a market for elective surgery, but that greedy doctors in Thailand are exploiting the desire for elective surgery to get filthy rich by charging affordable prices—

Wait a second!

Something doesn't sound right there …

I think I know what it is—there's no good market for elective surgery in Ireland (or possibly the rest of Europe by extenstion). You can either wait months or even years for such a procedure, or pay through the nose for private care. Thai doctors, seeing the large amounts of money to be made in elective surgery, have entered the market, but given the lower cost of living in Thailand, prices that would surely be outrageous to fellow Thais are actually quite affordable to Westerners.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if certain elective procedures even here in the United States are cheaper than comparable, non-elective procedures since the cost is borne solely by the people, and if you want to tap into that market, you have to charge what the market will bear, and what the people will bear is way less than what the insurance companies can bear (when said insurance companies dare to actually bear).

And on a completely different tangent, it's amazing that $300 will get you a fully functional computer. I wonder how that came about?

Monday, July 09, 2007

“Ooh, look! A Monopolistic Phone Company Repair Van in its native habitat!”

Mark just sent me an email pointing out the book Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape:

We are surrounded by the hardware of the modern world, but how much of it do we even notice, much less understand? This unique and fascinating book covers the parts of the landscape that are often overlooked despite their ubiquity—objects such as utility poles, power lines, cell phone towers, highway overpasses, railroad tracks, factories, and other man-made mechanical marvels. And they are not just in urban areas, but include out of the way “ecosystems” such as mines, dams, wind farms, power plants, grain operators, steel mills, and oil refineries. In Infrastructure, Brian Hayes offers clear explanations of the systems that keep the modern world running, including agriculture, energy supplies, shipping, air transportation, and the various ingenious methods of recycling and managing the waste we generate.

Review of Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape

It certainly sounds like the type of book I would love to read. Thanks, Mark.

Cross-eyed and brain-fried

Spring asked me to go through my photos for the past four years (all are digital photos) looking for pictures that fit some criteria she gave me .

Four thousand, five hundred and fifty digital photos later, I found the twenty-one pictures that fit the criteria.

I'm looking forward to the day when I can instruct the computer “give me all photos with the following characteristics … ”

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

They certainly know how to time power outtages around here

Gotta love Lake Worthless Utilities.

Sometime this morning, I awoke to the squealing of a hungry UPS—it apparently had been squealing for sometime as it was both loud and frequent. I rolled out of bed and began the process of blindly shutting down my various computers. And if I do this in the wrong order, they might not shut down in time due to intercomputer dependencies (gotta love networked drives).

Five minutes after shutting everything down, the power is restored.


I then began the process of turning on my various computers …

There's a reason why a feature that takes five minutes to implement takes ten hours to code …

It seemed like an easy feature to add to the Quick and Dirty B-Movie Plot Generator. All I wanted was the ability to bookmark a particular plot.

What I didn't realize was that the method I used, saving the random number seed, was completely and utterly the wrong thing to do, and that the feature isn't quite as easy to implement as I first thought.

Easy to implement features, aren't.

My first clue? I “bookmarked” a particular plot on my development server:

Sheffie Les Mastenbrook is a mute world-famous card sharp from a doomed world. Susette Marie-Jeanne Sanford-Wright is a virginal green-skinned werewolf with nothing left to lose. And together, they must defuse a bomb in less than a day that's a thousand miles away.

(the bold parts? I'll get to that—and by the way, this is plot #1134)

Later on, I decided to check on the “bookmarked” plot on my deployment server, and got:

Sheffie Les Mastenbrook is a fast talking hunchbacked ad-exec on the run. Susette Marie-Jeanne Sanford-Wright is an orphaned short-sighted boxer with the power to bend men's minds. And together, they must fight crime.

Oops. (Bold text denotes differences between the two versions)

It seems that the random number generator between the two servers isn't quite the same; enough to get the names the same (which are the first things to be generated) but diverge right after that. So, if I wish to keep the URLs valid, I can't change servers, or even update the current server!

From this, I realized another problem—I can't change the data files the program uses! This stems from how I use the random numbers I get, and for this, I need a slight digression.

In C (which is what the program is written in), I call rand() to get a random number. rand() takes no parameters, and returns an integer between 0 and some upper bound RAND_MAX (which is a system and compiler dependant value). The man page (on my development server, which is an older Linux distribution) has this to say on using rand() (sad to say, but the man page on current Linux distributions excludes this excellent bit of advice):

The versions of rand() and srand() in the Linux C Library use the same random number generator as random() and srandom(), so the lower-order bits should be as random as the higher-order bits. However, on older rand() implementations, the lower-order bits are much less random than the higher-order bits.

In Numerical Recipes in C: The Art of Scientific Computing (William H. Press, Brian P. Flannery, Saul A. Teukolsky, William T. Vetterling; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990 (1st ed, p. 207)), the following comments are made:

If you want to generate a random integer between 1 and 10, you should always do it by

j=1+(int) (10.0*rand()/(RAND_MAX+1.0));

and never by anything resembling

j=1+((int) (1000000.0*rand()) % 10);

(which uses lower-order bits).

Random-number generation is a complex topic. The Numerical Recipes in C book (see reference above) provides an excellent discussion of practical random-number generation issues in Chapter 7 (Random Numbers).

For a more theoretical discussion which also covers many practical issues in depth, please see Chapter 3 (Random Numbers) in Donald E. Knuth's The Art of Computer Programming, volume 2 (Seminumerical Algorithms), 2nd ed.; Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1981.

Since I'm picking a random entry from N items, I basically do

n = (int)(((double)rand() / (double)RAND_MAX) * (double)N);

The upshot?

I add an element to the list, the value of N changes, and for a given output of rand() you get a diffent answer than with the previous, smaller N.

And it doesn't matter where I add an item. Add a new occupation for our characters at the end of the list (on the development server) and for plot #1134 you now get:

Sheffie Les Mastenbrook is a mute world-famous inventor from a doomed world. Susette Marie-Jeanne Sanford-Wright is a virginal green-skinned vampire hunter with nothing left to lose. And together, they must defuse a bomb in less than a day that's a thousand miles away.

This “easy feature” is turning out not to be so easy. And this on a simple program. It's stuff like this that makes programming take longer than expected.

The proper solution is to record the fifteen random numbers generated and make that part of the URL, and make sure that additions to the various lists appear at the end, but we finally get “bookmarkable” plots.

Oh, I just realized—only to lose the “bookmarked plots” if the template (and thus, the number of random numbers selected) changes.

Oh, bother.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

But it will still save on electricity

Even for the crazy world of quantum mechanics, this one is twisted. A quantum computer program has produced an answer without actually running.

This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. “A non-running computer produces fewer errors,” says Hosten. That sentiment should have technophobes nodding enthusiastically.

Via Flares into Darkness, Quantum computer works best switched off

While it's true that a computer turned off produces vast amounts of nothing really fast, so does a burned out light bulb. And the very fact that there's still a program means there are bugs (proof? “Every program has at least one bug and can be shortened by at least one instruction—from which, by induction, one can deduce that every program can be reduced to one instruction which doesn't work.” Q.E.D.”) so it's still far from evident that a non-running quantum computer will have fewer errors than a running quantum computer.

I guess these guys haven't heard of Heisenbugs.

Then again, no two people on any given airplane paid the same amount.

Airplane Tickets

When to Buy: Wednesday morning.
Why: “Most airfare sales are thrown out there on the weekend,” says travel expert Peter Greenberg, a.k.a. The Travel Detective. Other airlines then jump into the game, discounting their own fares and prompting further changes by the first airline. The fares reach their lowest prices late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Via Flares into Darkness, The Cheapest Days to Buy Certain Items

I know quite a few people who could benefit from this.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


In Idiocracy, Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute (Maya Rudolph) are part of a secret military project that goes awry and they find themselves 500 years in the future, where the United States of America has been so dumbed down that Joe (with an IQ of 100 in our time) is literally the smartest man in the world.

Past the fart jokes, it's a rather biting satire on our current culture, one of mass marketing, post-literacy and monster truck rallyesque rehabilitation centers. As one reviewer put it:

And if the guffaws don't seem as plentiful as in Judge's previous works, it isn't due to poor quality but rather because each laugh is tempered with the unsettling realization that his vision of mankind's future might not be too far off the mark.

And if you stick around past the credits, there's a small scene that resolves a small, but recurring plot point.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I came across a blurb about a new type of battery that may be used in the national power grid. And I hope it works out (and I'm bearish on this), because power generation is not a trivial thing, as Steven Den Beste lays out in a series of articles he wrote a few years ago (and are well worth reading to get a sense of the immense scale of power generation here in the States):

As Steve says:

If any proposed energy source can't be scaled up to generate 10 gigawatts average (1% of that), it won't be large enough to make any significant difference in the grand scheme of things even if it works and is really, really cool and clever and innovative and nifty.

Obscure Energy Sources

Even though these were written about five years ago, it's still nuclear power that has the best chance of weaning us off expensive carbon-based fuels as a power source.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Spring, Wlofie and I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I don't really have much to say about the film—I found it good, so did Wlofie; Spring didn't care for it much, saying the filmmakers had cut a bunch of good bits from the book, and left in a bunch of bad bits from the book. In other words, mixed reviews.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

An analog clock

I've seen several Nixie tube based clocks this past year, but none quite like this Nixie tube clock, which uses only capacitors, resistors, diodes and lamps for the timing circuits.

So I guess you could call this an analog Nixie tube clock.

You know, Mussolini did make the trains run on time …

I INTERVIEWED Michael Moore recently for an upcoming “20/20” special on health care. It's refreshing to interview a leftist who proudly admits he's a leftist. He told me that government should provide “food care” as well as health care and that big government would work if only the right people were in charge.

Via No Looking Backwards, Freedom, benevolence go together

I think what scares me most about this Michael Moore quote is the “would work if only the right people were in charge” bit. I guess only trained professionals know what's right for our lives, and leaving the decision in our hands is right out of the question.

A moving experience, that's for sure

John Deere is helping us steer
Around tight corners in a higher gear
The heavy load of the Church Tower
Just won't move without tractor power

Here it comes!
    (Here it comes! Here it comes!)
Here it comes!
    (Here it comes! Here it comes!)

Via Gates of Vienna, How to move a 100 year old church

It's impressive seeing a church move, but it's the music that makes this video …

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hidden in the books

For only $350, you too can build a secret doorway out of a bookshelf (link via Antarctica Starts Here). Makes me wish I had the space for something like that.

Software wise, we're still in the mid-1980s it seems

Intel first disclosed it had built a prototype 80-core processor during last fall's Intel Developer Forum, when CEO Paul Otellini promised to deliver the chip within five years. The company's researchers have several hurdles to overcome before PCs and servers come with 80-core processors—such as how to connect the chip to memory and how to teach software developers to write programs for it—but the research chip is an important step, Rattner said.

Intel shows off 80-core processor

CPUs capped out a few years ago, leaving companies like Intel and AMD with little recourse but to start stuffing boxes with multiple CPUs. Dual and qual-core systems are common now, even for home computers; how long until the monster above hits the streets?

And it's not just the high end processors that are getting the multicore treatment—even embedded processors are going multicore (link via flutterby).

Progress keeps marching on, but software development hasn't, sadly. Very few languages have parallelizing features, much less automatic parallelization, and multi-threaded programming is still very problematic, with very few languages having it built in.

So, where do we go from here? Well, for a start, some radical ideas about programming languages for one thing …

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Busy day

Been busy with meetings and research. The meetings I won't bore you with, but the research is interesting.

We have quite a few routers and the number is expected to increase over the next year or so. There was also an incident two weeks ago where I got horribly confused over two T1s and it took a few hours to unravel exactly what addresses got assigned to which T1.

The problem: while I have copies of all the router configurations, I don't have said configurations under revision control, which means I only have a copy of the latest versions. Last week at a meeting, it was brought up that maybe, just maybe, we might want to consider keeping older versions of the configuration files.

There are a number of revision control systems to choose from—CVS, Subversion, darcs, GNU arch, git. Yes, they're primarily used for source code, but any textual data can be historically saved using these systems. So there's no real problem with revision control of the configuration files.

It's also easy to get the configurations off the routers. All our routers support TFTP. It was pretty straightforward to set up a TFTP server on our network to collect all the configurations and to secure it against any unwanted traffic (TFTP is a rather insecure protocol).

The real problem comes in marrying the TFTP server with a revision control system. What I'd like is for the TFTP server to accept the configuration from a router, and immediately dump it into the revision control system. I already have the habit of issuing both write and copy running-config tftp: on the router. I don't really want to have to log into the TFTP server to run revision-control-system-du-jour commit, regardless of how simple it is.

Especially since we're allowing another company to use our TFTP server to backup their routers (it's a partnership thang), and these other people are hard-core Windows users (not that there's anything wrong with that)—I'm sure the last thing they want to think about is logging into a Unix system to issue revision-control-system-du-jour commit.

So I'm looking into modifying an existing TFTP server. You would think that TFTP, a protocol so simple that it takes TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume I: The Protocols, a 576 page behemoth of a book, only five pages to cover, would be a simple program. Even in C. Nope. It's a horribly written maze of #ifdefs and gotos.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

“Energy problem? What energy problem?”

The state of Georgia just granted Range Fuels a permit to create the first cellulosic ethanol plant in America. HECK YES! This is very exciting … why?

Cellulosic ethanol can contain up to 16 times more energy than is required to create it! If that doesn't sound ridiculously impressive, consider that gasoline contains only 5 times more energy than was required to create it and corn ethanol is totally lame, containing only 1.3 times the energy required to create it.

Via Instapundit, Our First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant!!!

It's discoveries and work like this that makes me worry less about “Peak Oil” than most. We're a clever species, we'll work around this problem.

Stupid Twitter Tricks

An off-site meeting was canceled, although I didn't find out about it until I got off-site. Afterwards, I slacked off a bit.

Okay, quite a bit.

I came across this post on one of the blogs I follow, and I was mesmerized. Not by the the actual post but by the often times totally irrellevent picture John Wiseman adds to his posts. And in this case, it's a portion of a screen capture of a Twitter-based site, and John's comment about said picture: “Jenny Holzer is the only person who should be allowed to use Twitter.” Jenny's site reads like surreal fortune cookies, much like the monster quote file I have (over 2,600 quotes).

I've seen Twitter once or twice; enough to get the point of it—it's LiveJournal on crank, but something about Jenny's site reminding me of my own monster quote file inspired me to do a “Stupid Twitter Trick™”—sending out my quote file via Twitter.

Two aspects of this little hack (and that's what it is, a gross hack if you ask me) were time consuming. First, cleaning up my monster quote file. Twitter limits you to 160-character messages (with a preference of 140 characters). Three custom programs for this—one to pull out quotes 160 characters or less (and to mark the 140th character). The second one to trim unwanted spaces. And the third to go through converting the quote character from the unappealing " to the much more typographically nice “” pair. Extensive use of sed to make some other typographical substitutions (such as converting “--” (two dashes) into “—” (a proper em-dash)) and a visual once-over to make sure I didn't muck things up, and an hour or so later, I have almost 2,000 quotes ready for Twitter.

The second time-consuming bit was writing this bit of code, which took about an hour:

use strict;
use Net::Twitter;

my $later   = `./later`;
my $message = `./quote -n`;
my $twit    = Net::Twitter->new(
	username => 'siwisdom' , 
	password => 'XXXXXXXXXXXX');
my $result  = $twit->update($message);

`at -f ./at-jobs $later`;

exit 0;

And no, it didn't take an hour because I'm a slow typist. It took an hour because to install Net::Twitter I needed to install JSON::Any, and in the process of installing that I apparently activated the CPAN module that wanted to install and update itself, and that took an hour (I swear, it seemed to download the entire CPAN archive—sigh).

The later program picks a random amount of time between three and nine hours, which is given to the at command. at is like cron, in that you can schedule a program to run at a particular time, but unlike cron, which runs the program on a set schedule, at is a one-shot deal. I use at because I don't want a set schedule to post quotes to Twitter—I want it randomized a bit. quote is a program I wrote ages ago to pull quotes out of a quote file sequentially.

Like I said, a quick hack for a stupid Twitter trick.

Oh, and the name? “siwisdom”?

It's short for “silicon wisdom,” as a pun on Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom, if you will.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Speaking of Bruce Willis films, Hudson Hawk wasn't a bad film either

Chris Tucker should have ended his acting career after The Fifth Element. And not because his other movies suck (though they do), and not because he would prove himself to be an insufferable douchebag (which he has), but rather due to the fact that Ruby Rhod, an intergalactic superstar radio host, was literally the role of Chris Tucker's career.

Via Les Orchard, Real Men Love the Fifth Element

What he said.

And you could do worse than watch The Fifth Element—it's a great film that's fun to watch.

I hate it when I have to troubleshoot the tools required to troubleshoot the actual problem …

I wouldn't call today bad, but it certainly wasn't in the good category either. I had to go troubleshoot a customer network, which was something I wasn't in the mood for. That alone put me in a rather sour mood, and it didn't help things that neither I nor the customer had critical information about the network switches. It took about two hours (and that abomination of a program Microsoft provides called Hyperterminal—and in looking up that link, I find that Microsoft didn't even write that abomination) to secure the information that we should have had (and thus, made me angrier, more at myself than at anything else). Two hours wasted getting to a point where I could actually troubleshoot the original problem.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Email woes

Bunny signed up for my Obligatory Email Notification, and she reported that some of the notifications haven't gotten through. I check, and lo', there are some bounced emails sitting in my inbox:

From (Mail Delivery System)
Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender
Fri, 20 Jul 2007 01:59:42 -0400 (EDT)

This is the Postfix program at host

I'm sorry to have to inform you that your message could not be delivered to one or more recipients. It's attached below.

For further assistance, please send mail to <postmaster>

If you do so, please include this problem report. You can delete your own text from the attached returned message.

The Postfix program

<>: host[] 
    said: 550 [PERMFAIL] requires valid sender 
    domain {need mx} (in reply to RCPT TO command)

Hmmm … what's this? More bounced emails? To someone else who uses The Monopolistic Phone Company?

<>: host[] 
    said: 550 [PERMFAIL] requires valid sender 
    domain {need mx} (in reply to RCPT TO command)

Hmmm … same host. Let's see what I get when I toss that host into Google:

Re: RR Notification Bounce

I think RR sent you an email notification (not a member). is having issues with reading RR's DNS. I do not know how to contact them. Maybe you could try. Their error message is shown below. No other ISP is having this problem with RR.

RR sent you an email notification. Bellsouth replied back with the following:

<>: host[] 
    said: 550 [PERMFAIL] requires valid sender 
    domain {need mx} (in reply to RCPT TO command)

Bellsouth had this same kind of problem a while back with Yahoo mail accounts. It took them a while to find and correct the problem but they finally did. It had something to do with a change made to the mail header by Bellsouth's server. If you are a Bellsouth customer, call and make a complaint. Until customers start complaining, they are not likely to work on the problem. bounced RR e-mail

Well … how about that? I'm not the only one having problems with The Monopolistic Phone Company.

But on the other hand, wouldn't Snape also know she's a Death Eater?

So, here's the THEORY: Minerva McGonagall is an amazing actress, but she's also deeply and passionately a Death Eater—probably even one of Voldemort's most trusted and loyal followers. As such, she sometimes shows her true colors. Considering her age, she could have known Voldemort during their school days. As a spy for the Death Eaters, it is her job to suck up to Dumbledore. But—unlike Snape—she is highly unwilling to do anything to help the Order. Perhaps she's bidding her time; perhaps she's foiling them more than we know.

So, let's get down to it. Let's painstakingly go through the books and watch McGonagall very carefully.

Minerva McGonagall is Evil: The Ultimate Essay

Having read all the books except the last one (which is just now coming out), I've never given Professor McGonagall much thought in the entire series, but this essay does lay out some good arguments for her being on the side of evil.

It's something to keep in mind …

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Six Words For The Day

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Eight Words For The Day

Talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Class notes from the School of Hard Knocks

I'm still working on the issue from last Thursday, and I'll note some things I need to remember for next time:

  1. Even if the fault lies at The Customer site, we're still to blame.
  2. Do not close out the trouble ticket with the Monopolistic Phone Company (for they could not find any fault) until the situation is fully resolved, for The Customer (and they will find out) may not understand such actions.
  3. Do not taunt the Happy Fun Dan.

And the way things are going, it looks like I may be working on this issue all week.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I never did handle stress well

It pretty much took all week.

Well, at least until Thursday o'dark-thirty.

From what we can tell, there was a lightning strike at or near the customer site, which took out all four of their T1s (two data, which terminate at our Data Center, and two voice, which I suppose terminate somewhere within the bowels of The Monopolistic Phone Company). The Monopolistic Phone Company did eventually come out and replace all four smart jacks at the customer location (as well as the container box). Then I spent a few days playing Musical Equipment trying to get everything back up and running (let's see, we replaced nearly all the cables, one CSU/DSU, a router and a firewall).

It was a very frustrating week, let me tell you.

Lessons learned this time:

  1. The problem is not what you think it is.
  2. It never hurts to double check what you think is correct.
  3. It ain't over until the fat server hums.
  4. Thank God I wasn't drunk.

I then called in sick yesterday and spent the entire day sleeping.

Our customer wasn't the only thing down this week …

Now, about that last lesson

I don't get drunk, but I do tend to get rather agitated when under pressure [that statement alone should win “Understatement of the Year” Award. —Editor], and I'm surprised there wasn't more collateral damage [where ever you got those racks from, Smirk, keep them. They take a lot of abuse. —Editor].

There's also no real evidence that was a drunk employee took down 1/3 of the Internet earlier this week. Apparently, it was major power outtage in San Fransciso coupled with a massive backup generator failure that took out 1/3 of the Internet earlier this week (link via Flutterby).

Coca Cola and jam butties

Londoner Luke Bream, 33, sporting a pink and white jersey, is attacking a punishing mountain leg of the world's most famous cycle race, the Tour de France. It is clearly hard going.

At least he is well in front of the 152 remaining riders (189 set off from London) in the three-week long Tour. In fact, he is 24 hours ahead as he has been along the entire route so far.

And amid the backdrop of accusations of cheating among official Tour de France riders, [his mother] assures the Guardian Luke is on nothing but his own adrenaline.

“Oh no, Luke doesn't take drugs at the best of times, not even an aspirin if he has a headache. He does take some cod liver oil tablets, but apart from that he's doing this largely on Coca Cola and jam butties.”

Via Flutterby, The Englishman who is leading the Tour de France

For Wlofie, who might get a kick out of this …

Update on Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The Englishman won (link via Flutterby).

Life at Casa New Jersey via snippits of email

news and stuff
Fri, 27 Jul 2007 12:11:18 -0400

Electrical repairs this weekend whenever we can coordinate to have the machines down. On the list:

I think that's it. Questions, ideas, comments, complaints?

Sean Conner <>
Re: news and stuff
Fri, 27 Jul 2007 17:16:58 -0400

I think that's it. Questions, ideas, comments, complaints?

  1. Why is the sky blue?
  2. How about we feed mayonnaise to tuna fish?
  3. I have a red pencil.
  4. I hate our customers.
Re: news and stuff
Fri, 27 Jul 2007 17:23:35 -0400
  1. Refraction.
  2. It won't help. It'll just become mayo-poop in the bottom of the ocean.
  3. Congratulations.
  4. Me too.

Email woes II

Bunny spent the past few days berating The Monopolistic Phone Company about their little email problem. It seems to be cleared up for the most part, except for the occasional:

5.0.0 (permanent failure)
smtp; 5.1.0 - Unknown address error 502-'Command not implemented' (delivery attempts: 0)

And in checking the MX record for The Monopolistic Phone Company, I have a 1 in 3 chance of hitting the bad server there.


Why yes, I am making up for lost entries this week. Why do you ask?

I just came across two computers, one rather silly, and one rather cool.

My Life, not with the Thrill Kill Kult, but with the Monopolistic Phone Company


Wlofie reported that some thing (animal or mechanical) knocked the phone cable leading to Casa New Jersey right down, and that the Monopolistic Phone Company said it may be as late as Monday before the new shipments of round toits come in.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

With a large enough hammer, anything will fit!

It's been a busy day.

I dropped Bunny off at the airport (she's flying out to Seattle to visit family) and by the time I got back to Casa New Jersey, Spring had all the supplies for all the electrical work that needs done about the house.

The light switches (there were two being replaced) went quickly. The back porch light fixture replacement was fairly straightforward, and thankfully, the wasp nest inside had long been abandoned.

[These bastards didn't even have the courtesy to pay rent!]

I can't say the same about the bathroom fan.

The fan unit itself came right out. So did the fan unit outlet. The fan unit housing, on the other hand, required the application of a few screw drivers (one mangled beyond use), a large hammer, a crowbar, and some cringe-worthy damage along the ceiling before it was finally extracted whereupon we found the second wasp nest of the day:

[Another colony of freeloaders]

And much like the other one, this one had (thank God!) been abandoned as well.

It was much to our disappointment that the replacement fan was ¼″ too large to fit.


Meanwhile, The Monopolistic Phone Company found some round toits and managed to roll a truck out our way. Bob, The Monopolistic Phone Company Technician got right to work on restoring our phone service. By the time Spring and I realized the bathroom fan unit we had wouldn't fit, Bob had finished connecting up our phone system and was going nuts trying to figure out why the DSL wasn't working. We told Bob that the DSL was off, since we flipped all the breakers.

But we did test the phone at least, and it was working. So the DSL should (there's that word again) come up when we restored power. Bob left.

We also left. Spring and I headed over to Home Depot to see if we could get a bathroom fan that would fit.

We got there only to find out we were screwed. All the units were the same size, meaning they were ¼″ too large. Actually, it was the fan unit housing that was ¼″ too large—the fan unit itself would (just barely) fit. After spending some time thinking about it, we decided to keep the unit we had, and using some tin snips (which we purchased), cut the housing to fit.

And by God we got that fan unit to fit. I cut a quater inch off the fan housing (basically, we removed one whole side), shove it into the space, then with the application of a large hammer, somewhat forced the fan unit itself into place (it was a very tight fit).

And by God if it didn't work too!


And we have Intarwebs again!

Double woot!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

You know, if my Page Rank™ wasn't so high, I probably wouldn't have to do this. Ah, the price of fame …

I decided to scrap the Obligatory Email Notification here at The Boston Diaries. I modified the script a few months ago to record the nefarious abuses of that script, and now, I've decided that enough is enough. The only people who are using abusing the script (and there are currently 200 or so fake requests awaiting verification) are spammers (especially this past month—the crap I've seen being submitted makes me think it's related to a rather sophisticated spamming attack).

Now, I haven't scrapped the email notification entirely—all who are currently subscribed (all six of you) will still receive email notifications of updates here, but I'm not accepting any new signups.

And I've gone ahead and replaced the Obligatory Email Notification section of the sidebar with Obligatory Twitter Updates—updates from my stupid Twitter trick from a few days ago. Because, you know, you can never have too much extraneous crap cluttering up the blog.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Actually, I've gotten over the cravings and now wish to divest myself of these classic computers

Sean Conner, a collector and network administrator from Lake Worth, agrees that older computers are ideal to learn on.

“The older a computer is, the easier it is to understand,” he said. “You can crack open my first color computer [Jamie Malernee probably didn't know to capitalize Color Computer —Editor] and say, ‘Here is the CPU [Central Processing Unit], there's the memory— here's how it all works.’ On a modern system, they're just monsters.”

That isn't why he is a collector. Conner prefers older systems for their quirks and bold forays into the unknown. For instance, a computer called the Amiga, made by a now-defunct company named Commodore, had video and music editing capabilities in 1985, a full decade ahead of IBM's Personal Computer, he said. But demand for the computer died because it wasn't advertised enough and customers thought IBM computers were more practical for business needs, he said. “There are products from 10, 20 years ago that failed, but maybe it was because they were too early [for their time], or it wasn't marketed enough, or because it was bundled with other products that were a dead-end,” Conner said.

S. Fla. computer collectors crave vintage hardware

Back in April, a call for Classic Computer collectors who lived in South Florida went out on the Classic Computers Mailing List, and I was one (I think the only one) who responded. I was then given the contact information for Jamie Malernee, the reporter, and she interviewed me over the phone (a few times in fact).

As reporting goes, this is pretty fluffy, but the basic information is correct, if sparse.

A satirical look at satire. Or is it?

While at the grocery store, I mentioned to Wlofie that the Week ly World News was closing down (you know, the “newspaper” that reported about Bat Boy). We then got into a conversation about other satirical newspapers that were having problems these days, but is it any wonder why?

Do you know Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison?

If you do, don't approach them. Call 911 and order up a SWAT team. They're believed to be in the vicinity of McMinnville, Ore., where they're a clear and present danger to the community. Mashburn and Cornelison were recently charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse, and District Attorney Bradley Berry has pledged to have them registered for life as sex offenders.

Oh, by the way, the defendants are in the seventh grade.

Swat somebody's butt, and yours belongs to the the D.A.

Where can satire go after that?

I ask you? Is this satire? Or real?

What is a nerd? Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been working on the question for the last 12 years. She has gone to high schools and colleges, mainly in California, and asked students from different crowds to think about the idea of nerdiness and who among their peers should be considered a nerd; students have also “reported” themselves. Nerdiness, she has concluded, is largely a matter of racially tinged behavior. People who are considered nerds tend to act in ways that are, as she puts it, “hyperwhite.”

And what about this?

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

“You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration,” said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. “Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?”

I hate to say this, but the second quote, written in January of 2001, is supposedly satire while the first quote, written yesterday, is supposedly not.

How can The Onion compete with 12-year long studies on nerdom?

Okay, one more example, this time, about the Sultan of Brunei's private airplane:

What happened to his private, luxurious A-340 or B-777 (all decked out with gold poopers and seating for ten people)?

It's in the shop being remodeled. The poopers are now being replaced with swiveling models that can be turned to face away from Mecca when the plane is on certain routes. Until now the plane often had to change course during pooping, which led to trouble with the aviation authorities.

True, or false?

A few years ago, I would have said that's just plain silly. But now? What with Canad ians complaining about their health care system and English kids looking up to Hitler, reality is giving satire a really good run for its money.

And given how Muslims are touchy about their religion, I can easily see the Sultan installing swiveling toilets in his plane. But in reality, it's not clear if it's true or not.

Which, I guess, is the best that satire can do these days.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Going once … going twice …

After The Company meeting today, we ran into RW, a customer of ours. He mentioned in passing that a major domain name auction is happening tomorrow, and did we have any domains we might want to auction. Smirk had a few, and then I remembered one I have—

I had registered it years ago for a project that never materialized. Then a few years later I thought of another project it could be used for, but I took too long in getting it set up and the window of opportunity passed.

RW liked the name, and asked what I would like for it. I said $5,000. If I don't hear anything back in a few days, I'll assume the price was too high. Hey, it can't hurt to try, right?

Stupid CSS tricks

I thought of maybe trying to spruce up Pornfinity to maybe make it more attractive at auction (and no, I didn't spruce it up—I got distracted as you'll see) by adding some links or something.

I wanted to do a bit more than just present a simple list of sites. I mean, sure, I could do something like:

(And no, these aren't porn sites, these are blogs that I read. I'm using them for an example. If you want porn, you'll have to go on your own and find some)

A lot of sites now have a favicon so I thought it might be nice to include them with the links (yes, that's the extent of my “snazzing up” the list of porn sites). So, first off, is it possible to change the default glyph used for lists?

The answer: yes. By using the CSS attribute list-style-image, you can have custom bullet points.

Now, I have noticed that Firefox will store the favicon when you bookmark a site. Curious as to where that information was stored (if I already have the data (and yes, I do have one or several dozen porn sites bookmarked—ahem) why bother re-downloading it all again?), I found that Firefox stored the data in a rather curious looking URLthe data: scheme.

Hmmm … I wonder … would this work?

<li style="list-style-image: url(data:image/x-icon;base64,AAAB...A==);">
  <a href="">Flutterby!</a>

Well … what do you know? It works:

Well, probably not under Microsoft Internet Explorer, but I don't care about that browser.

Pretty neat trick, actually.

Well … I thought it was anyway.

Obligatory Picture

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

Obligatory Contact Info

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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.

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