Archives » August, 2003

August 31, 2003


Oy. What a day it was yesterday. The baby shower is in one week, and we’re having it at my grandmother-in-law’s house. Yesterday I had to go over there and scrub down the pool, and fill it with clean water. The workmen were just in the week before to replace some of the pipes, so we’re hoping the filter will actually be working next weekend. In any case, the aglae shouldn’t be growing after only a week. Then, having finished that, and sporting my brand new sunburn, I had to go inside and wield the Rug Doctor. All the carpets needed cleaning, so I was dragging that thing all over the house, up and down the halls, into the bedroom, and all over the living room. That sucked out the last little bit of my energy. I got home at 9pm, and flopped down to go to sleep.

I woke up this morning at 11am. If you do the math, you’ll find that’s 14 hours of sleep. I didn’t know the human body could sleep for 14 hours solid like that. Now, it wasn’t solid, since I was drifting in and out of sleep throughout the night. And I had to get up to use the John. But still. I thought you had some sort of a switch buried inside of you that, after a certain amount of sleep, would send out some kind of insomnia signals to the brain. “Okay, buddy. Ten hours is enough for you. You’re awake now.” But that didn’t happen. Either that or my switch is set for 14 hours. Or maybe that’s just how much sleep I needed.

After that I was off for a quick shower (with a sunburn. Eech! Ouch!) and then we were out shopping. And this is still the calm before the storm. On Thursday my mother comes into town, then two weeks after that it’s baby time. Maybe my body knows all of this, and it realized this was the last time I’d have 14 hours straight to use for sleep. So that was my body having pity on me. “Oh, he wants to sleep for fourteen hours? Let ‘im. Last chance he’ll get to sleep.”

August 28, 2003

AOL Journals

AOL Journals has now launched. Keyword: AOL Journals is finally live, with hints and tips and articles about what you can do with a blog. But from the point of view of a user, there is one thing still missing. I can’t find, anywhere, a list of all the journals I’ve created and their URLs. When you create a journal, you’re sent an email with the URL in it. But AOL deletes your emails after a couple of weeks, so you can’t go back and look if you forget the URL. There is a convoluted way to do it, which involves sending a post by AIM, and then the Journals bot responds with your URL. But there needs to be an easier way than that. Like on the main Journals screen, a list of all the journals you’ve created, and the option to add a post or make changes to any of them. This is a basic feature that’s built into Blogger and Moveable Type, and seems almost indispensible for anyone writing a journal from day to day. But AOL still doesn’t have it, at least not that I’ve found.

Oh wait, scratch that. I just found the list at the AOL Hometown page. It took about six clicks from the main Journals screen to get there. Now, why is that so hard to find?

Blacklist *.*

Just in case you needed another reason not to trust spam blacklists, here comes this item on Slashdot (and a ZDNet news story) about how one of the big ones has recently shut down and started marking everything as spam. A lot of system admins set up their mail servers to use these blacklists, because it makes the job of keeping spam out that much easier. But I’ve never liked them. The idea behind the blacklist is that certain organizations keep a centralized list of what ISPs and what IP addresses are sending out spam. This could be happening because there is a spammer actually located at that IP address, or it could be that there is an open relay that someone is exploiting. Whatever the cause, these blacklist providers see a stream of spam coming from somewhere, and they add that source to their list. Then, system admins subscribe to that list and load it onto their servers. Whenever their server encounters an email coming from one of the sources on the list, the email gets rejected automatically. No questions asked, no human intervention, just a flat out rejection. If you’re on the list, your emails will get bounced. It’s that simple.

There’s a lot of reasons to dislike such a system, the same problems that come from most zero tolerance systems. But the story was given a new wrinkle this week when one of the big blacklist providers, Osirusoft, decided to get out of the game. They had apparently been the victim of a several-week long denial of service attack, so they called it quits. And as a final parting blow, they set their blacklist to reject everything. Every email address, every IP address, every server, everything. What this meant was that any server that was using the Osirusoft blacklist suddenly started rejecting every email it received. No questions asked. You can imagine that this caused somewhat of a stir, as organizations that had never been responsible for a spam message ever were suddenly coming up as spammers, and as other organizations that were using Osirusoft’s blacklist suddenly weren’t getting any incoming messages at all. I’m sure a lot of sysadmins were scrambling trying to get their systems to stop using that particular blacklist and find others to switch over to. I’m sure a lot of emails were lost or had to be resent. And it’s all because there are so many people out there that rely on blacklists and trust them unconditionally.

It’s time for sweeping generalizations. There are people who love these blacklists. They are unapologetic about automatically blocking mail because, they reason, if you’re on the list you must have done something to get there. You therefore deserve what you get, and you’re not worthy of sending email. This is the same sort of elitist pigheadishness you see from a lot of tech people. I don’t know what it is about computers that attracts this personality type, but in this industry, more than any other, you’ll find these know-it-alls who think that their word is gospel, and when they speak the ground trembles. This is the same sort of person you usually see posting on Slashdot. For them, the world is binary. On or off. Black or white. Right or wrong. And, of course, their way of thinking is right, and everyone else’s is wrong. They can always formulate a rebuttal to any argument you put forth, usually a specious one, and they cannot be swayed from their path. It is these people I avoid. It is these people that make me hesitant to mention that a simple Bayesian filter can be much more effective than a blacklist, because they’ll come after me with a hundred arguments why I’m wrong. And maybe I am. But if I am, I’ll acknowledge it. And there’s the difference.

All I know is that since I installed a Bayesian filter for Outlook, I haven’t seen very much spam in my Inbox. And none of my friends’ emails have been blocked because my computer couldn’t realize a blacklist had been turned off.

XP Tip

Here’s a Windows XP tip that I never knew about until I saw it in a TechRepublic newsletter I got today.

While the Details view is a great way to look at your data files, Windows XP offers another view that, in many circumstances, can make it even easier to manage your collection of data files: the Show In Groups view.

To enable the Show In Groups view, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Windows Explorer.
  2. Go to View | Arrange Icons By | Show In Groups.

This view setting divides Windows Explorer’s displays into sections with headers that correspond to the sort option that you’ve selected. For example, if you’ve sorted files by Name, XP will group them alphabetically by letter. If you’ve sorted files by Date Modified, XP will group them by time, such as Yesterday, Earlier This Week, Last Week, etc. You can easily change the group sort order by clicking a different column header.

It’s just another one of those little-used features that gives XP a smooth, polished feel.


Edward Tufte, in Wired magazine, doesn’t beat around the bush. “PowerPoint Is Evil,” he says. And as his subtitle? “Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.”

August 27, 2003

Crazytown, Nevada, USA

California shares most of its border with Nevada. And when two neighbors are in such constant close contact, it’s easy for one to contract the same diseases as the other. That has to be the explanation for this story that a group of Nevadans are getting together a petition to recall our governor. They even have a website. My, where would they ever get such an idea from? And it gets even wackier. The governor is a Rebublican. The people sending around the recall petition are Republicans. The people likely to sign and vote in the recall election are Republicans. And it’s all over taxes.

You see, Nevada is kind of a low tax state. There is no personal income tax. Business taxes are pretty low. Sales taxes and gasoline taxes are about average. This is all because we have a huge tourism industry, fueled by the casinos, that pays our taxes for us. And people are always shouting that the casinos aren’t being taxed enough. So, back in 1998, when the governor’s seat was finally vacated after the ten-year term of Bob Miller, Republicans saw their chance. The casinos hand-picked a candidate, Kenny Guinn, who was opposed to raising the gaming tax. And they basically made sure he got elected. The media called him “The Anointed One”, because his election had been virtually guaranteed by big business and gaming.

Skip ahead four years. Kenny is reelected with 70% of the votes, because there is nobody to oppose him. The one person who runs against him isn’t even endorsed by the Democratic party. The legislature convenes in early 2003, and right away there are budget troubles. The budget is too big, there isn’t anything to cut, and there isn’t enough money to pay for it all. The governor calls a meeting, saying there’s only one solution: higher taxes. True to his word, Kenny leaves the casinos alone, and instead taxes everybody else. He even pulls out the old Democratic idea of “sin taxes”, and raises cigarette and alcohol taxes through the roof. [Here’s a funny sidenote: Through an accidental loophole, all the brothels in the state are exempt from the new “sin” taxes.] Now, the Republicans are furious. They had hand-picked Kenny and anointed him governor because he wasn’t going to raise taxes. This new plan felt like a betrayal. Republican lawmakers were outraged, and vowed to vote against any budget that included taxes they didn’t approve of. Without their votes, there wouldn’t be a 2/3 majority. The Legislature was deadlocked for months. Special sessions were called. The Supreme Court got involved, which just made things messier. You could almost smell the smoke drifting through the capitol. And now that a tax plan is finally signed and things have settled down a little, the recall petition has sprung up. The people circulating this are the same people who can’t believe that schools actually need tax money to operate. And they can’t believe that their governor has bought into the heresy. Ten months ago he was their chosen son. Now he’s a backstabbing turncoat.

And you wonder why I don’t get involved in politics.

The recall isn’t going to go anywhere in Nevada. First of all, the number of signatures they need is too high. They have to get 25% of the people who voted in last year’s election to sign it. That’s not going to happen. And even though I voted against Kenny, twice, I’d probably haul my butt down to vote “no” on the recall. It takes a certain level of offense to warrant removal from office. Raising taxes isn’t bad enough. I think most people in the state realize that.

California is a different story. I don’t even know what Gray Davis did, but it couldn’t have been bad enough to warrant a recall. I think it’s just that people with a lot of money are bitter that the man they voted for lost, and once the media picked up on the idea it snowballed. But at least that motive makes a little sense. Over here in Nevada, the same people who voted the governor in now want him out. That’s the kind of logic I can’t get my head around.


These days it’s pretty rare to see any actual innovation come out of the Walt Disney Company. The new DisneySea park in Tokyo is one exception, and that’s only because Disney didn’t foot the bill for that one. They were only hired to build it. But the stateside parks are in decline. They never build anything new, and when they do, it’s always a pale imitation of something that’s come before. I think most of this is because Michael Eisner is more concerned about staying safe, keeping costs down, and growing his bonuses than actually moving the company forward. Disney is an aging dinosaur that’s going to become extinct if it doesn’t get some fresh blood.

How fitting, then, that the single innovation they’ve come up with recently is also a dinosaur. An actual dinosaur, or at least a robotic simulation of one. For forty years now, Disney has been at the forefront of using robots for entertainment. But their audio animatronics have always been bolted firmly to the ground, on display from their pedestals. Not anymore. Now they can walk among us. Last week they unveiled their latest generation of audio animatronic, an eight-foot-tall, free roaming dinosaur named Lucky. Lucky can be found walking around California Adventure with his wrangler. And I actually mean walking. Most free roaming robots you’ve seen before have been on wheels, and roll themselves all over the place. Lucky has two feet, and he uses them just like a real person (or dinosaur) would. They solved the tricky problem of balance by giving him a flower cart to lean on. So while other bipedal robots like the Honda Asimo have to step around very carefully so they don’t tip over, Lucky is able to have an actual stride like a real creature would. His head bobs, his tail swings back and forth. He has speakers in his feet that make it sound like the ground is trembling when he steps. And the design is as flawless as any other Disney animatronic. While most other robots look like robots (Asimo, for example, looks like Gary Coleman in a moon suit), Lucky looks like a dinosaur. A slightly cartoonish dinosaur, perhaps, but realistic nevertheless.

It’s things like this that make me realize there is still talent buried deep in Disney. It’s just being crushed by the penny pinchers. When you compare DisneySea with California Adventure, and you remember that they were built by the same people, you realize that the only problem is at the top. And when you see a dinosaur like Lucky walking down the street, you can only imagine what they could build if the budgets weren’t squeezed so tight.

August 25, 2003

Oh yeah. The bathroom.

With everything else that’s been going on around the house (baby stuff, ripping up the carpets, rearranging furniture, etc), it’s been easy to forget that we’re right in the middle of remodeling the master bathroom. After a couple of weeks of neglect, we got back on the job yesterday.

It was time for the shower walls to be put up, so out came the sand paper and the Liquid Nails. We’re using plastic tub surrounds, and gluing them directly to the drywall. It’s less expensive than tile, and also lower maintenance. These bathrooms used to have tile walls, but one little crack would form in the grout, and it would just suck in the water. The drywall was basically mush when we finally got around to tearing everything out. These surrounds are nice units that come in five pieces, and you just glue them to the walls. The only places you have to watch out for water is in the joints where two pieces meet, but a little bit of caulk solves that problem. A one-piece fiberglass unit would probably be the most maintenance-free, but we didn’t want the hassle of trying to install one of those in a room that’s not only in the middle of a finished house, but that also has the plumbing fixtures already installed. So tub surrounds it is. Now there’s only about fifteen more steps before we have a functional bathroom.

Sometimes it seems like these projects are never going to end, like the house is going to be in this state of disarray forever, and that the pile of tools and trash and materials is just going to migrate from one room to the next. But we’re getting close. The only rooms that still need work are the baby nursery (which sort of has a deadline), the master bedroom and the master bath. Those three are nasty. Everything else has been cleaned, organized, polished, and is ready to show the world.

Slowly. Surely. Hopefully.

Busy weekend

Everything at the office is back to normal now. The worm has been stamped out and we’re back online. But Sobig is as big as ever. Usually when a virus outbreak hits, I’ll see three or four copies of it pass across my inbox. This morning when I came in, I found 344 copies of Sobig sitting in my junk mail folder! That might be a little disproportionate to what most people are seeing, since they were all addressed to the webmaster address at my company’s website. But still. No wonder they’re calling this the most prolific worm ever.

The strange thing, though, is that none of them had the actual virus attachment on them. So they’re all harmless, and I didn’t have to worry about my anti-virus software popping up three hundred warning messages. I’m not sure where the attachment got stripped out, though. We have our own Exchange Server running here, and mail comes directly into it. I sure haven’t applied any kind of filters lately. It might be our ISP or someone above them stripping it out, but how does that work if there aren’t any other mail servers it passes through?

Hominids will not share source code

Primate Programming, Inc.

What about software testing?

Great apes (hominids) do not have tails, while monkeys do. Research indicates that great apes are very productive in the areas of software maintenance and report writing, while most monkeys will struggle. Monkeys however are great at software testing. So the rule of thumb is, if you don’t have a tail, you can probably program.

We train our baboons specifically for software testing, using various industry-standard testing tools.