General Archives

April 13, 2007

A presence on the Net

Well, after much struggling and much fighting with my server, I finally have this "blog" thing working. There are still some kinks to work out, but it is definitely moving forward. This is my personal "beta" site for my "real" site, which will be a bit more focused.

For now, I will mainly post random bits, generally of a Geek nature. We'll see where things go. "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy! Let's go exploring!"

July 21, 2007

Quantum random bits...

...and one heck of a Captcha! The venerable Geek source Slashdot covered a story the other day about a true random bit generator service that went online. I thought it sounded interesting, but did not follow it up until a coworker pointed me to another blog about it.

I was given the Captcha to provide the least zero for the polynomial

    p(x) = (x + 3)(x + 3)(x + 2)

which any human can tell you is clearly -3. Now that I'm registered, I need to start a running bit stream of quantum data...

July 30, 2007

Connections to the Past

I was recently emailed, through a former employer, by a high school girlfriend. Through her blog, I've started "stalking" (of sorts) a couple of other people I went to high school with. I don't think they know that I'm watching them yet...

The funny thing is I had been wondering whatever happened to these two when Melissa writes to me and I go trolling through her blog(s) and flickr to find these guys lurking about. The Universe does tend to bring about what one puts energy in to.

August 9, 2007

What's in your iPod?

I am a computer geek. I'm also a bit of a music geek. I'm not obsessive. I just like to explore and find new things. Since getting an iPod, Lisa has given me a hard time about in being permanently attached to my arm. (I have a Nano with an arm-band. I do wear it just about all the time.) When you have a house with numerous parrots, it can get quite loud. Have you ever wondered what a cockatoo sounds like up close personal? I don't have to wonder. I have the pleasure of experiencing it several times a day. I wear earphones a lot at home because:

  1. I like to listen to music
  2. I like to hear the music that I am listening to
  3. I would not otherwise be able to hear over the din of parrots
  4. I would not have an uninterrupted listening experience as I move from one room to the other in my house

Therefore, I take my music with me and pump the sound directly into my ear canal, bypassing all of the other sounds that could pollute my listening experience.

As I said, I like to explore new things. That's why I listen to several of the podcast that I do. What do I listen to?

I recently subscribed to CBC Radio 3's podcast, but I am still trying to decide if I will keep it. It seems to be a combined feed of their Track of the Day and R3-30 podcasts. I like the Track of the Day, but the personalities on the R3-30 really turn me off. I'm listening to my iPod so I don't have to listen to annoying radio personalities banter about the most inane stuff. But I digress.

There are other podcasts that I listen to.

Additionally, I capture a stream of A Prairie Home Companion and create a privately hosted podcast for myself. I'm also trying to get a similar podcast for The Thistle & Shamrock but have had issues with timing and availability. I got two shows captured correctly, but then my server time changed and then the stream was unavailable and then I haven't gotten the proper timing for my new source.

At any rate, those are the podcasts that I listen to. I'd like to find other things to listen to. I'm open to suggestions.

August 24, 2007

If I knew this back then...

Slashdot brought two stories to my attention today. The first, and more technical, was of particular interest to me. It details the steps a system administrator took to track down the damage caused by a cracker and to trace his whereabouts on the net.

Shortly after I installed my first Linux distribution, I found that my computer had been compromised. I knew when I set the computer up that it was vulnerable, but I did not know anything about how to secure it. I asked a friend / acquaintance / co-worker to help me secure the system, but we did not move quickly enough to prevent intrusion.

Since I knew very little about Linux administration, I figured the install was a total loss so I formatted and reinstalled. This time I knew a little bit more and took steps to try to lock down the system a bit more than the first time. I also installed some intrusion detection software. I monitored logs and email to watch for any obvious malicious activity. I also started dating Lisa. I started spending more time with her at her apartment and less time with my computer at my apartment. Some, myself included, would consider this a Good Thing™. I found myself unemployed as a victim of the first Dot-Com Bubble. (Yes, I said "first". I have great concern that the "Web 2.0" phenomena is really just Dot-Com Bubble 2.0.) In my free time, while not finding any work because there were very few jobs, I wrote a script that, as a current coworker referred to it, was like an RSS aggregator before RSS existed. It was basically a script that would go out to a dozen or more web pages, scrape the content, build an HTML page using their source, then email the page to me. I could then get all of my daily readings in one email. It saved me copious amounts of waiting for bookmarks to load in the days before FireFox tabbed browsing and "Open in Tabs" for bookmarks.

Well, long story short, one day, just after finally getting a job, I stopped receiving these emails. It took me a day or two to actually realize that I was not receiving them, new job and all. I ssh'd in to my machine and started poking around and came across some things that seemed very similar to what lars describes in his post: basic utilities did not respond like they should. I had seen the same thing when my computer had be previously compromised, so I knew I was "hacked". I did the only thing I could at the time: shutdown -h now

It took me a couple of days before I could actually get to my apartment where the machine was physically located to pull the network cable, boot it up, and take a look at things. Yes, the computer was compromised. They came in through an RPC call. There was a RootKit. I had a list of what system files had changed, thanks to tripwire, but no time to really deal with it. I wasn't sure how to restore the system and pretty much just shelved it.

It sat on the shelf for close to a year. During that year, I had to use Lisa's Win98 computer, which I did not like. She claims that she never had problems with her computer until I started touching it. I finally decide I was going to format the old hard drive and install a new Linux and start over. First, though, I wanted to get my old home directory off the hard drive so I did not loose all of my collected data. Fortunately, the drive that I intended to copy the data to was bad, so I was unable to save the data and, therefore, could not format the hard drive.

Fortunately? Yes. The following week, two guys in suits come knocking on the door in the evening before I get home from work. Lisa isn't answering the door. They aren't leaving. They just keep pounding on the door. Finally, she goes out the other door and demands to know who they are and what they want. They're FBI and they want me. It turns out that when my computer had be compromised, the perpetrator used it as a jumping point to attack some servers on the east coast (security or defense or banking servers in Virginia, or some such) and the FBI had pages of server logs with my IP address trying to access the system. I guessed as to the dates when this happened, explained that my computer had been compromised, and that I had shut it down as soon as I found out. They asked for proof. If I had wiped the hard drive, I would have had none. As it was, I had the hard drive with all of the data in-tact. They asked to image the thing. Of course, I agreed. After getting the hard drive back, I never heard from them again.

Finally, a couple of months ago (this was all years ago), I thought, I'm going to try to get that data off this hard drive and wipe it so I can set up a second machine to use as a server / sandbox. It seems that the hard drive is in tact, but my data is not. I wonder what ever happened to it. Now I wish I had know what to do to track the scumbag that broke in to my computer. I wish I still had the data on the hard drive to track his actions. I wish I knew what had happened so I could make sure that what he did does not affect anything that I have elsewhere. If I only knew then what I know now....

Self-important Marketing Crap

As I mentioned earlier, Slashdot posted a couple of stories today that caught my attention. The second story irked me, raised my ire, and generally made me feel like Jonathan Schwartz does not even pay attention to what he himself is saying.

To summarize: Sun has several great success stories and is very well respected in the tech industry. Their servers and operating system have powered major businesses for decades. They have made tremendous progress in the desktop productivity software market, directly competing with Microsoft, with StarOffice and the open source relative OpenOffice. They have signed a deal wit Google to distribute StarOffice as part of the Google Pack. And, in case you did not know, they invented Java.

Java is everywhere. Many very high-profile web properties are powered by Java. Java is on your computer. Java is probably on your phone, too. If you touch technology in any way, you probably have interacted with Java, whether you know it or not. Now, if you happen to be Sun and you know that your product is on so many pieces of hardware and works on so many different platforms, that's got to feel pretty good.

Conversely, while everyone knows Java, very few know Sun. So, to capitalize on this Java "brand recognition" Sun is changing its stock trading symbol from SUNW, which clearly states who they are, to JAVA, which clearly states what they make.

To quote Mr. Schwartz directly:

JAVA is a technology whose value is near infinite to the internet, and a brand that's inseparably a part of Sun (and our profitability). And so next week, we're going to embrace that reality by changing our trading symbol, from SUNW to JAVA. This is a big change for us, capitalizing on the extraordinary affinity our teams have invested to build, introducing Sun to new investors, developers and consumers. Most know Java, few know Sun - we can bring the two one step closer.

To be very clear, this isn't about changing the company name or focus - we are Sun, we are a systems company, and we will always be a derivative of the students that created us, Stanford University Network is here to stay. But we are no longer simply a workstation company, nor a company whose products can be limited by one category - and Java does a better job of capturing exactly that sentiment than any other four letter symbol. Java means limitless opportunity - for our software, systems, storage, service and microelectronics businesses. And for the open source communities we shepherd. What a perfect ticker.

Here's where I start to take issue. Sure, Java is everywhere. I can't avoid it. I'd like to, but I can't. I think applications written in Java tend have lag issues. They can have a lot of features, but Java, for some reason, seems very memory and CPU intense. Mind you, this is opinion base on anecdotal experience, but it is my experience. I have seen it time and time again. Maybe a good Java developer can write an application that does not suffer intermittent slow-downs. If that is the case, then there must not be many good Java developers out there, because I have not seen these quick, responsive applications.

To continue my point, Mr. Schwartz says, "JAVA is a technology whose value is near infinite to the internet." I think this is greatly overstating Java's importance on the Internet. Java could go away tomorrow and a new technology would be there to fill the void in the market. On the other hand, let's just assume that this is true. I feel that it is taking credit where credit is not due. There are other technologies that underly Java and provide real processing and data base power to those applications written in Java. There are operating systems that depend on other technologies that make Java's presence possible. These are the giants upon whose shoulders Java must stand. Without them, Java would drop into the void.

The way Mr. Schwartz finishes his article is the real stumper. "[Sun is] no longer simply a workstation company ... whose products can be limited by one category - and Java does a better job of capturing exactly that sentiment than any other four letter symbol." To the first part of this statement, isn't changing your stock ticker (your "investor identity") to a product that you produce, in fact, identifying you by that one product? Isn't it actually limiting your identity to be one product? Microsoft™ used to be synonymous with Windows™. Today, Microsoft is known for its gaming platform, its office productivity suite, and its operating system, most of which are also synonymous with "virus". If Microsoft were to change their stock ticker to WNDW (or any other "windows" variant), it would be ignoring the other contributions they have made to the community (for good or evil).

As to the second part of that quote, I know that I am not alone in thinking that Sun could pick a better four-letter symbol, but it would not be appropriate for publication or trade on the stock market.

September 13, 2007

'Driving in Canada' || 'What is up with those damned flashing green lights?'

Driving in Canada is weird.

I'm not talking about the use of metric. I'm fine with that. Metric makes sense. It's simple. It's just foreign to most Americans. I'm talking about things like flashing green lights, no left turn lanes and no protected green arrows.

Let me back up a second. Lisa and I went to Vancouver, BC, yesterday to do some shopping. Everything was going relatively decently until we hit Vancouver. The freeway ended and we were on an arterial with traffic lights. We hit a red light almost immediately and waited for it to turn green. When it did, it was flashing. "That's different..." we thought. Everyone started to go, as did we, and I resigned myself to accept that flashing green just meant "go".

Then we had to cut across town to Main St. This is when we found out that there are no left turn lanes. And when you get to an intersection and want to make a left turn, you just have to sit out in the intersection, wait for a red light, wait for the oncoming traffic to clear, then 2 - 3 cars blow through the red light to make the left turn before the cross traffic starts. We did learn this from having to do it, so much as we learned it from being stuck behind someone else that needed to make a left. So with buses making frequent stops in the right lane and left turns (not) happening in the left lane, it became an excercise in quick lane changes to make it across town.

After a rather successful shopping trip, we had to head back the other way. This is when we learned of a different property of flashing green lights. Or maybe it's Canadian police right-of-way. A police officer that needs to cross a street that has a flashing green light evidently has the right-of-way without the need to have lights or sirens on. Four lanes of traffic stopped at a flashing green light to let a police car go on a cross street. What gives? Seriously.

I'll ask a Canadian coworker "aboot" it. Maybe the "tubes" can give me some info on it, as well. It just was not anything I was expecting, and therefore nothing I researched.

January 9, 2008

My new binary clock

I got tired of the binary clock dock app that I've been using: one column per digit displaying the hour:minute:second. Fortunately, it being open source and me being a programmer, I can look inside and modify it. It's a fairly simple C program using some X11 libraries. It uses localtime() from time.h and prints it to a string. It then parses that string to determine what the display should look like. The original code examined each char in the string and then used a case to compare the char to the digits 1-9 to set the "bits" to display (lame).

bin_clock.gif My new version gets the month (+1) and mday from the tm struct in addition to the time. It then examines the string two bytes at a time and does atoi() to get the actual numeric value, then checks the bits in the (now one) byte to store for display. I added one more row of "lights" and "rotated" the display 90 degrees to the right.

Can you tell what time it is in this .gif?

March 25, 2008

The Modern Linux Desktop

The company I work for (sorry, no free SEO for them) is currently evaluating two new platforms for their "enterprise" personal computer deployment. Like most companies, my employer relies on Microsoft products. Not necessarily because they are good, but because they are "industry standard." We all use (and hate) Outlook. We run an Exchange server. We all use MS Office. Those are the grim realities of doing business.

But for some people in the company (many, even), Windows is an evil that we endure most begrudgingly. Half or more of the developers, QA, and Ops folks use Linux as their primary workstation. For years, it was just whatever distribution an individual wanted. There was a mix of Fedora, SUSE, Mandrakeriva, and whatever else. People had varying degrees of success with administering their own boxes, but IT was out of the loop and unable to help administer any of the developer workstations. This also meant that IT had no control over the workstations and certain aspects of the corporate infrastructure had to remain "open" in order for the outliers (geeks) to do their jobs.

A great idea was floated that IT would install and configure a "corporate vetted" Linux distribution. Everyone would get new hardware (the same hardware) and everyone would get the same Linux installation. This seemed like a compromise situation for everyone, which it was. Developers gave up absolute control over their workstations; IT could establish procedures for Linux administration; new hires would not spend a couple of days installing and configuring their machines before being able to perform simple tasks. This was deployed and it went over like the Vasa. Shortly after deploying CentOS 4.5 (a server-oriented distribution) for our (desktop) workstations, we started having issues and requesting IT to help fix them. And we were given sudo and told "don't break anything or you get to fix it."

Finally after much complaining and requesting of newer (different) distributions, we are now doing limited testing on Ubuntu 7 (Gutsy Gibon) and Mac OS X. I'm currently in the Ubuntu test pool. This "new-fangled" Linux desktop is a bit foreign to me. I have spent the last eight years almost exclusively in a WindowMaker world. I find it simple, fast, and easy. It has just enough features to be useful and not too many as to get in the way. Now I'm using Gnome. I don't have a lot to say about it other than it has more eye candy. It certainly makes finding useful applications easier, because they are built into the menu system. At the same time, I know that WindowMaker has the ability to import menu items from external sources. So the theory would be that I just need to find the right configuration magic to bring in the Gnome or KDE menu and I could get access to all of the useful menu items at no extra charge. For now, I'm trying a "modern" window manager and desktop environment. So far, I don't hate it.

Also on the horizon is my turn in the Mac test group. IT is looking at our choice of a Mac Pro desktop or a MacBook Pro laptop. I know which I look forward to. I need to confirm that doing Office-related activities are still easy through the Mac. I have some experience with this as my wife has an iBook that she got for school with Office Student/Teacher installed. Thing mostly work with that. Mostly. For some reason, her classmates managed to always build PowerPoint presentations in Window that would kill PowerPoint for Mac. I could open them fine on a Window box, but the Mac always choked. I'm sure it has something to do with incompatibilities or bugs that Redmond never found. I find it ironic that the Mac version of Office always warns you to make sure that you check that your document will be compatible with other versions of Office. This never happens in Windows and I have yet to see an Office document authored on a Mac that repeatedly crashed Office on a Windows box. But I digress. Mac Good. Me want MacBook. MMMmm. MacBook Goood!

June 10, 2008

Inspired by Legos, Built on Linux

So, I'm watching Donny Deutsch tonight, and the guest is talking about his product Bug Labs. The short story is that it's a mini Linux platform with pluggable modules so you can "build" you own device and write your own applications for the device. It has a color touch screen module, a GPS module, a camera module, and motion sensor/accelerometer module.

The platform currently only "supports" Java (from the site: "At present, it is our strong recommendation that only Java programmers, or those familiar with developing Linux applications purchase the BUG."). They have more modules on the way. They have a pretty good library of user-submitted applications. I think the whole thing looks pretty sweet.

The inventor tells the story that he was playing with Legos with his son when he came up with the idea "Why can't this block be a GPS unit, this one be a digital camera and they snap together and it just works?"

Now my remaining question is "What distro is it built on?"

June 17, 2008

Firefox Fail

I've been using the Firefox 3 beta for a while. Today (June 17) is the big world record download day and they are having problems. They have been down. They have had to roll back to the "old" page. And now they have the new page touting Firefox3, but are linking to the old release. ff-fail.png Oops.

July 31, 2008

Facial Replacement for Privacy (or Perfect Photo Albums)

Some researchers at Columbia University's Computer Vision Labratory have developed software to automatically replace faces in batches of photos. Practical applications include protecting the identities of people in Google's Street View, coupling it with a digital camera's burst mode to create a perfect group photo, or protecting the identities of witnesses or law enforcement and military personnel. Other links to coverage include Boing Boing, American Public Media, and New Scientist.

August 2, 2008

Steampunk your computer the easy way


Thanks to Boing Boing, I came across the Steampunk Wallpaper site the other day. This inspired me to create my own. It's subtle. Also available in wide screen. Credits go to Apple for the basic image and to Curious Expeditions for the gears.

October 27, 2008

Zeppelins at the Gas Works

I've had this idea for a couple of days now. Just north of downtown Seattle is the Gas Works Park. It has a some really cool old industrial equipment. I've also been following the Steampunk Wallpaper blog. Combining these ideas, I thought the gas works park would make some pretty cool steampunk. All I needed was something to make it more interesting. The obvious choice was airships.

Enter Flickr. A couple of searches turned up a great photo of gas work park, and a couple of zeppelins. Some time spent with Gimp and I had something looking pretty decent. I still needed that antique paper look, though. This time Deviant Art turned up a great old paper I could overlay as a texture.

And the final image looks like this.

Update: I forgot to give credit to for the clouds.

Update #2: I thought the black border made this look a bit dark so I changed the border to white. Check it out here. I'm also working on full-screen versions (in black- and white-bordered). I'm not happy with the border yet. I'll be working on those on the bus this evening.

Update #3: Now in full-screen with your choice of white or black borders.

November 9, 2010

Lacuna Expanse

I've been playing an MMO lately called Lacuna Expanse. It's a resource management / interstellar cold war MMO. It's still very new and rather sparsely populated. The entire backend is written in Perl. It has a fully scriptable API. Currently, there's a web client and an iPhone app.

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