Recently in Rants Category

Dry Loop Musings

Last year I decided to port one of the land line numbers over to our telephony providers.  I saw no reason to continue paying for a land line that we no longer needed. So once the appropriate paperwork was provided to VoicePulse, it took roughly 1-2 weeks to port the number to our SIP trunk. This was the easy part of the whole evolution; however, getting AT&T to flawlessly execute the "Dry Loop" request was quite the adventure and certainly fraught with peril.

For the benefit of those of you who are not familiar with Dry Loop, DSL providers generally sell packages which couple Internet and POTS together. Apparently, through consumer pressure or some other vehicle AT&T now provides consumers with ability to decouple Internet from POTS.  Which works great for us, since we had already ported the PSTN over to VoicePulse. Well, I specifically requested that the we wanted to retain our static IP addresses and that we did not wish to have our Internet service interrupted during the Dry Loop conversion. So, as a precaution AT&T decided to setup the Dry Loop circuit in parallel to the existing DSL circuit, so that there would be no possibility of an outage. Obviously the downside to this is cost, but I was happy to pay for two accounts provided that there would be no interruption of service.  Our problems began when we authorized the interruption of the existing DSL.  For whatever reason, the static IP addresses that were linked to the existing DSL did not get transferred. Of course this was unacceptable and drew my ire, as this played havoc on our Asterisk box.  Our phone system is our lifeblood of our organization and it is essential that we not have outages. 

To my chagrin, immediately after the existing DSL circuit was disabled we experienced an outage which spanned the majority of the business day. None of the AT&T representatives could explain why they did not honor the request to retain the static IP address, particularly since my request was made nearly 4 weeks prior to the Dry Loop circuit activation.  Suffice to say that I was seething. I tried in vane to reclaim the static IP addresses, but eventually opted to punt and move on. Then there was another matter to irritate me. Apparently, after the initial mess got sorted out, charges were still accruing despite suspending the existing DSL service. I wasted no time telling the accounting folks that I did not intend to pay anything further on that account. Especially due to the fact that AT&T account representatives suggested that I not kill the DSL service until after the Dry Loop circuit had been established.  Well it took a couple of weeks appealing to them, but they eventually relented and removed the late charges and other fees associated with the additional DSL.  I have no idea why the communication was so poor with AT&T.  It almost appeared that the billing departments or 3rd level support simply did not communicate with engineering. In fact, I believe that 3rd level support was based in SouthEast Asia somewhere. I suppose this would explain the problems that I experienced.

Unfortunately, there really aren't many other DSL providers in our region, as most have disappeared due to the regional economy and the Internet bubble. Additionally, AT&T now has the most leverage due to their sheer size and capacity.  I am not looking forward to our next move, as AT&T will again be providing Internet resources.

Credit cards Français : Cartes de crédit Itali...

Credit cards Français : Cartes de crédit Italiano: Carte di credito ???????: ?????????? ????? Ti?ng Vi?t: Th? tín d?ng ??: ??? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a self-proclaimed autodidact; however, there are certain disciplines that mandate a bit more academics.  Somehow, I think banking is one of these skills, where simple seniority is not nearly enough. On occasion I actually have to go into the lobby to perform human banking transactions, such as credit card cash advances. Recently, I requested a cash advance and was denied. The rationale was, "Sir that is impossible, you could not have done that here", the individual appeared to be the most experienced person on the floor. In fact, the other staffers requested her by name. Obviously, I was annoyed by her flippant response to my request. Because, I knew that I could simply leave this banking institution and patronize another located just 10minutes away, my choice was not to _educate_ her on the spot. 
In truth, it took a great deal for me to hold back the urge to break the cycle of ignorance.

Obviously, this individual had issues with being wrong and did not wish to be challenged in front of her peers. AFAIK, all credit cards will honor cash advance. It is the responsibility of your banking institutions (ie credit union or bank)  to understand how to execute the request of the patron. Simply stating it is impossible and then having someone prove you wrong could be embarrassing. If you are going to work in the service industry, it would be prudent to eat humble pie and error on the side of caution.

Essentially, this individual was very comfortable to uphold status-quo within an industry that should be more flexible and has been plagued by hubris and unwillingness to change to support its diverse clientele.  If we happen to meet again, I am certain that I will be less forgiving.

Lame Marketing

I suppose that I should begin with the ubiquitous disclaimer - "The thoughts expressed here are mine and do not represent those of my employer"

Some weeks ago, I received an email from one of the internal marketing firms for my employer. What was most curious about the communication was it came a few days prior to office wide shutdown period. I would venture to guess that many of the desired recipients never received the information or simply deleted it upon returning to the office, along with the other 350 or so messages.  The only reason I gave it a second glance was that it contained the name of another colleague that I had worked with recently.  Another odd tidbit was that a 3rd party marketing firm was also cc'd. 

Perhaps most intriguing was the message alluded to some mystery forthcoming USBE magazine which highlighted myself and several other employees of color. I paraphrase the message to set the theme, "Were you aware that the you were being recognized in a forthcoming magazine article... Please be sure to list the STEM efforts that you are currently fostering?"  At this point I'm thinking that this smells rotten, but my curiosity was peeked so I do a bit of research to confirm my suspicions. I could find no such article. So I could only surmise that we have the classic bait and switch effort at work here.  What does an intelligent individual do at this point? Blow it off? 

Well the tone of the message clearly suggested that they really were not interested in the helping the employee shine. It was all about finding some individuals that are involved in STEM efforts and let the employer gain credit for the unsanctioned volunteer work of the employee.  I should state that this is the way of the world so to speak. Not uncommon, but in my humble opinion still disingenuous nonetheless.

I decided to cut to the chase and contact the 3rd party marketing firm that was curiously cc'd in the message. Maybe the 3rd party marketing firm added "validity" to the correspondence? 

Based upon the manner in which the message was orchestrated, I did not bother contacting the internal marketing firm that specialized in "African-American" matters.

After talking to the individual I told them I was unable to find the USBE article.  I also asked about the goal and intent of the marketing campaign. They basically stated that my company wanted to showcase its STEM efforts by highlighting the various African-American engineers who were engaged with such volunteer efforts. I explained the I was not currently active, but had supported such efforts in the past. He asked my name and said thank you. I suppose he crossed me off his list. C'est la vie.

Lame Marketing Lessons Learned:

  • It is never about showcasing the employee
  • If it sounds too good to be true...
  • My company is still struggling to leverage its African Ancestry talent
Lame indeed..

Apple for education is a misnomer

SAN FRANCISCO - FEBRUARY 01:  Apple Computer c...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I have always wondered how hardware companies get selected as the preferred vendor for academics.  Some years ago, I encountered an Apple IIc which was used in a Physics lab in a junior college where I was studying. How did this machine arrive at such a destination?
Perhaps there was an existing vendor contract with that particular  school. If you were to ask the average computer user circa 1980, Apple was considered a learning platform for children.

In fact, children often grabbed their parents and demanded that one be purchased for them. What are the criteria for robust academic computing? I would offer a few thoughts, as I'm certain that there are no standard well described guidelines.

Some Basic Academic Computing Tenets:

I cannot state with any certainty that Apple offered any of these tenets with its older computers.
One could argue that these concepts were in the minds of people like Wozniak. Perhaps they were, but I would assert that they are not at all tenets of the modern era Cupertino company.

If these are not the tenets of Apple; why do people constantly talk about using Apple products for assistive technology for special needs patients? I have also heard the same rhetoric in favor of using Apple products for elderly computer users.  What I find odd about this tendency is that the use case seems in direct contrast to these claims.

The current rage is the tablet and apparently the expectation is that tablets will soon render netbooks and desktop computers obsolete.  Before I get into the tablet phenomenon, I want to revisit the tenets.

Open Learning -
Intended to foster scholastic mastery through the use of application software (ie word processor, spreadsheets, etc).  The ability to save documents for posterity without the risk of vendor lock-in. Deprecated file formats are in direct contrast to the open learning principle.

Sharing Ideas -
When you open and free exchange of facts and data are expected. It is difficult to argue that Digital Rights Management (DRM) often makes sharing ideas difficult.  Apple is perhaps the most well known for its gestapo actions in the area of DRM. Their virtual marketplace iTunes is the prime example. If you wish to give your friends copies of music, lectures or whatever from their digital marketplace you do so with expectation that the files may not be readable by your friends. This seems odd considering you have already paid for the content. However, you really are not the owner, but merely leasing the content. I suppose the owner will always be the copyright holder.

Free and Open Source Software -
Although Apple has made a fair amount of cash using the Mach kernel which was basis for Darwin and of course OSX. Darwin's BSD lineage aside, there really isn't much free software in the wilds that has been fostered by the Cupertino company. If you look at the Darwin web site it would appear that there really is not active development on the project. Ironically, Apple boasts "200+ Open Source Projects ship with OSX".  I wonder how many of these upstream projects ever see contribution from Apple devs?  My guess would be not very many.

Standards Based or Open Hardware - 
In truth, I am very impressed with the appearance of most appliances produced by the Cupertino company.  They really are works of art and quite pleasing to the eye. Taking a more pragmatic approach to the utility of these devices is another matter.  Apple was perhaps the first company to release machines with IEEE 1394 (Firewire) standard, which is surely commendable.  In general, their devices are compliant and provide most of what is needed. I say most, as their first tablet offering did not include USB or Bluetooth support. Mind boggling for a company that released Firewire ports on their machines in the mid '90's. Heh, maybe not so mind boggling as no one knew much about Firewire in the '90's go figure ;-)
It really must be about the vendor lock-in strategy. Buy from our software stack or have nothing at all. The other alternative is to hack your very expensive piece of art and risk turning it into a door stop or paper weight.

Zero Barriers to Entry-
If we really want our students or elderly to use Apple products, we must forewarn them that it will be a very expensive proposition. Sure you can get PowerPC based machine and run Linux on it. However, I'm talking about more modern better supported hardware. Most of it is cost prohibitive.

Now let us get back to the idea that tablet computing will drastically revolutionize the way average people use computers. I emphasize average computer user since these use cases typically define mainstream computer usage. I would argue most tablet users are generally power users or computer hobbyists. Additionally, most tablets are feature based appliances. You can surf the Interweb, send email and other limited activities.  Multimedia seems to be the growing desire of most computer users. High definition video is something that an under powered ARM processor may not be able to handle.  Perhaps I've got it all wrong. I'm just not convinced that under powered tablet devices are going to unseat laptop and desktop machines.  I would think that smart phones are more attractive and pose a greater threat. Even smart phones do not have the feature rich applications and offer a limited computer experience. As the price of smart phones continue to drop, I would expect more mainstream computer users to adopt smart phones over tablets.

Academia and assistive technology computers require flexibility and they must provide superior value. High cost, closed silos are not the answer. 

Comcast DNS snafu

Image representing Comcast as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

I spent Sunday evening troubleshooting what amounted to a major DNS blowup, compliments of Comcast. What is disappointing (Frank Eliason) aside is that the Comcast is the largest ISP in the US. These types of outages are not supposed to occur. Moreover, there was no public announcement as to the cause of the failure.

No microblog apologies nada, zilch. Luckily for me, I limited the damage significantly simply by using public DNS option. GOOG , OpenDNS and several others offer DNS servers for public consumption.

The funny thing is that I had just finished listening to a VoIP Users Conference (VUC) netcast and recalled that a couple of listeners opined about the woes of Comcast and its fragile DNS offerings.

I do plan to demand reimbursement for lost revenues ;-)

Woes of Odeo

Image representing Odeo as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

I've known for at least 3 weeks that all of the .mp3 files which I have hosted on are no longer being served.  Apparently, is the latest so-called web2.0 company to have gone belly up. I have had problems with their services in the past and publicly blasted them on Twitter.  I only used their services because I wanted to conserve my disk space on the webserver that host my blog.  I have since increased the disk space and I also have a bit of redundancy on a BSD box.  So I essentially, no longer need to fool with Odeo. Being lazy will always bite you in the ass ;-)

Typically, the outages lasted only a couple weeks. The current outage has been ongoing for months. The problems are only exacerbated by the lack of communication.  Odeo seems not to be able to use any public medium (RSS feeds, Twitter, email, blog, etc) to convey technical challenges.

Luckily, I have copies of every file which I had uploaded to their servers. I'll eventually get around to modifying the path of all of these files. If I could kill non-free mp3 all together I would. However, my wayward netcast "AG Speaks" listenership has dwindled to a precious few. This is due to the fact that I've not published a show in over 1yr ;-)  I have not killed the show, but it has been on hiatus. The show will be resurrected under a different name, but not sure what the name will be though.  I suppose I should be thankful for Odeo's poor communication, as it helped me identify a problem which existed on serving of my ogg files.
Funny how that stuff works. Someone pointed out that the mp3 files had stopped working, I quickly suggested that the free unencumbered ogg vorbis format should be used instead.
As my luck would have it, there was a mild Apache virtual server configuration. I'm happy to state that these problems have been resolved. The ogg files are available again.  If you are still interested in the old show files, please grab the ogg files. I plan to fix the mp3 audio links in the next few days.

Once again, I'm reminded of the frailties of using a third party data broker. Nothing is every truly free.
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Struggle Ends

After years of educating people about the virtues of FOSS. The numerous condemnations of proprietary software. Campaigns against Cupertino and Redmond, I have decided to retreat and no longer unfurl the banner of Open Source. In fact, I have decided to purchase an iPhone and have also placed iPad on lay away. Lastly, I have also thought it wise to begin studying the art of SEO. Soon I will toss my hat into the very crowded marketplace of social media consultants.
I am ready to embark on a new era!

Gaga on Social Media

The Twitter fail whale error message.

Image via Wikipedia

*Sigh* If I had a nickel for the number of people that have professed to be SEO or social media experts.. Heh, I'm sure that I would be able to retire in a couple years ;-) Don't misunderstand me. I do grasp the value of social media. POTUS overwhelmed a very established Clinton political machine with his clever use of social networks. You can create a very real personal brand leveraging social networks. What I don't quite get is the plethora of folks jumping into this endeavor hoping levitate above important technical underpinnings. More specifically, there are too many people interested in the user production and distribution aspect of social media than really understanding the underlying software. Of course the majority of social media is powered by Free and Open Source Software.

I suppose it is much easier to wrap your head around the "what", rather than the "how" of social media. IMHO, the conversation is very unbalanced and probably will not be sustainable over the long term. I compare it to the present state of HipHop. Lots of people sounding like everyone else, no lyrical structure or content. All Dirty South. Very different than when I came up KRS1, Kane, Freddie Foxxx, BigL, DITC, ATCQ, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, Kool G-Rap, BeatMinerz, Heltah Skeltah, GangStarr, Rakim, etc.. Real MCs and DJs.. I digress, but you get the picture.

For instance, when I first began using Twitter there were at least 6-10 followers which were social media consultants or SEO champions. When you visited the websites included in their profiles, there was no mention of any "building materials" associated with social media (ie Linux, MySQL, PHP, python, perl, etc). I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to be a code slinger or sys-admin. I certainly am not a code slinger. However, I would argue that if you are involved in social media, you will certainly encounter these building materials. Taking the point a little further, if these building materials are not part of your conversation you really are missing the bigger picture. This phenomenon called social media and social networking would not be possible without the F/OSS. Period.. I dare anyone to challenge me on this point. Moreover, if you spend time actually understanding how these properties are built (ie Facebook, Twitter, your "loot" will actually grow faster over the long run. At some point we will reach a critical mass and these social networks will actually become profitable. Once they are sold to the highest bidder and then become paid subscriber only property or eventually dismantled how will you then make your money? If you don't understand the foundation you'll always be running to catch the next idea.

I would rather rest easy at night knowing that if all this social media would change to a "pay to play" model, that I could still make money working on the bare metal stuff. Create my own social media platform. Producing value instead of regurgitating and consuming.

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How can we help our gov't?

Selling Obamacare - July 22, 2009

Image by Mark Sardella via Flickr

I was inspired by a recent post by my pseudo buddy Anil. He's right Apple doesn't give a shit about poor people. Moreover, its latest product (which is the 100lb gorilla) has seem to have zealots frothing at the mouth. That's all I will say about that Cupertino company in this entry.

What I found most interesting about the aforementioned post, is the cajoling or exhorting that Dash delivered. Yes, our gov't really needs the energy and passion of its citizens to help deliver solutions. This is particularly true since there are so many problems. Health Care(I have provided very precise solutions for the health care problem in previous entries), Wall Street, Home Land Security, Education. The list seems endless. Yet some are mesmerized by the most insignificant dust under our feet. Very sad indeed.

Sure, we can't boil the ocean. You can argue that our gov't is too big to get out of its own way. However, it would seem that most people do not realize that massive trade deficit and an inept domestic policy has forced the hand of the POTUS. While I do not agree with the method by which the banking industry has raped the American public, I can unequivocally state that Obama has not been asleep at the switch. You can berate the administration for being to ambitious, but the alternative of doing nothing would be far worse.

Now, I do recall the urging of the administration to help raise the level of innovation and creativity amongst its people. Because I am an engineer with a keen interest in computing, I would propose organizing guilds or training programs which seek to increase the number technically competent youth and young adults. Although, I do understand the America is rapidly becoming a service economy due to the dearth of engineers and scientists, I cannot lose hope that our children can help the greater collective return to prominence.

I say "collective" because while people can point to the GOOG, Social Network software, and cloud computing as shining examples of American innovation... These are still small victories in the huge landscape that is the fabric of the American people. What about the under represented people? If the forthcoming new majority will make a mark the technical acumen will certainly have to be increased two-fold. Graduation from consumers to producers and keen interest in innovation. I have spoken about this in this space many times previously. Yes, I truly believe embracing "knowledge worker" activities will help turn the tide in this country. If not us, then whom? If not now, when?

Free Publicity Who Do We Help?

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Foray into DOCSIS 3.0 - Weirdness of DNS Caching

A gigabit HP-ProCurve network switch in a nest...

Image via Wikipedia

I recently upgraded to a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem - Motorola Surfboard SB6120. After sharing the MAC address and product S/N, the unit was provisioned by Comcast. All of the LAN clients were able to ping out and resolve FQDNs without issue. However, I have one rogue winxp client that seems to be caching some weird Comcast maintenance site. It was the only box that was not using our local proxy (TOR/Privoxy). Once I setup the client to use our pseudo-local proxy the problem went away. However, this was not an elegant solution due to the decreased speed of sending traffic through TOR. Personally, I don't have a problem using TOR. Works well for me. I suppose that I could have offered foxyproxy to this particular user. However the owner of that winxp box isn't really interested in using proxies. Go figure :-)

Anyway the weird cached maintenance site can be seen here.

After a bit of head scratching I realized that I had a DNS problem. For whatever reason, none of the clients could resolve a FQDN.

Most of the time spent on the phone with Comcast help desk/support was useless. Some of the excuses were, "the cable modem was too new", "your router/firewall is the culprit".. The simple troubleshooting script for the average one-eyed droid was exhausted after I presented my problem. In fairness to Comcast, there was one tech who seemed interested. He shared all possible DNS server IPs, both public and Comcast specific. Nothing solved the issue. We even tried GOOGs public DNS servers (obviously not ideal), but did not solve the issue.

I spent a few days fooling around and eventually reverted back to my tried and true Linksys Cable modem BEFCMU010 (DOCSIS 1.0).

Some things I checked during my trouble shooting effort:

Rebooted both firewall (Smoothwall 2.0) and 1GB network switch
Rebooted with Ativa wireless G WAP
Rebooted Cable Modem
grepped through the squid access logs on Smoothwall

Below are snippets from my squid proxy access log. I use squid as a cheap caching server. Judging from the logs, it seems that the some sites are being re-directed others are being authorized. Not sure why. - - [07/Jan/2010:11:35:46 -0500] "GET HTTP/1.0" 200 473 TCP_MISS:DIRECT - - [07/Jan/2010:11:37:09 -0500] "GET HTTP/1.0" 200 473 TCP_MISS:DIRECT - - [07/Jan/2010:11:37:52 -0500] "GET HTTP/1.0" 200 473 TCP_MISS:DIRECT - - [03/Jan/2010:18:05:16 -0500] "GET
com/search? HTTP/1.1" 302 500 TCP_MISS:DIRECT - - [03/Jan/2010:18:05:39 -0500] "GET HTTP/1.1" 200 484 TCP_HIT:NONE - - [03/Jan/2010:18:06:37 -0500] "POST HTTP/1.1" 0 0 TCP_MISS:DIRECT - - [03/Jan/2010:18:08:13 -0500] "GET HTTP/1.1" 302 526 TCP_MISS:DIRECT

Here are some of the things I learned in this failed attempt:

  • Onion Routers are terrific - I was able to circumvent the Comcast caching issue using TOR and Privoxy
  • Never buy newly released modems without understanding how they work with various ISPs
  • Don't expect provisioning to be a simple evolution
  • DOCSIS 3.0 has some real potential once it becomes mainstream and all ISPs begin to use it.

Wonder if other people have had any success with these newer cable modems...
I will likely re-visit this experiment once I return the SB6120 back to "Worst Buy"..
Perhaps I will have a better experience next time.

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What ails us?

Pfizer, Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

It does not take much to notice the huge deluge of pharmaceutical related commercials. You can't watch any televised sporting event without receiving a pitch for some cholesterol medication or incontinence treatment. Was it always this way? Of course not..

Bill Moyers Journal provided clarity to this particular issue in a recent segment with guest panelist Melody Petersen. The premise of the discussion was that large pharmaceutical companies have an invested billions in marketing drugs to the American people. Often times the drugs are earmarked for ailments that do not yet exist. Anyone with a critical mind was suggest that this sort of behavior is criminal, but these drug companies typically escape judgment due to their very powerful lobbyist. When I reviewed the movie Sicko in an earlier post, I remarked about the pharm lobbyists which have always had the attention of politicians of various Congressional committee chairs.

You really don't need many historical references to understand the value of manipulation.
The phenomenon called Direct-to-Consumer advertising is art form that has been perfected by drug companies. I suppose one could argue that the tobacco and fast-food industries learned and deployed this strategy decades prior to the pharmaceutical industries. However, the difference is quite remarkable. The tobacco industry no longer does any marketing due to numerous health issues attributed to cigarette smoking and other tobacco products. More specifically clinical studies have directly linked lung and throat cancer to cigarette smoking. Huge litigation and bad press ultimately forced the tobacco industry to remove ads targeting children and young adults (see Marlboro Man). Fast food companies have also been put on notice. The FDA now requires McDonald's, Burger King and others to post the caloric intake of all fast-foods served to public. The film Super-Size Me is a very sobering reminder of the gullible nature of children and adults. People will by and consume almost anything when it is marketed directly to them. This is why the blitzkrieg marketing approach of pharmaceuticals is so effectively dangerous. For instance, nail fungus and male enhancement medicines are particularly interesting cases. Drug companies created an animated character/monster which it used to entice or captivate the interest of young viewers. The male enhancement commercials used affable characters from the '60's to describe the value of an energized male with enlarged genitalia. Penile dysfunction is a brisk business these days. No wonder spammers have a field day with this subject matter. The consumer buying potential is immense and if the marketing campaigns go unchecked, the profit margins will continue to be quite significant. Over the counter drugs are not really as profitable as the prescription meds.
The prescription meds are the focal points of the large pharm giants (ie Pfizer, Merck, etc),as consumer are more likely to ask their doctors about the use of the various meds. This is particularly true now that the so-called "Baby Boomer" population has reached retirement age.

As discussed earlier, the drug lobbyists are extremely influential.

With their hoards of cash, the companies have readily handed money to patient groups, hospitals, universities, medical schools, physician societies, government agencies, and just about any organization they want on their side. [...] The industry's cash-filled coffers have given it a stranglehold on medical science.

According to Petersen, the rewards have been large. America has become the top consumer of prescription drugs in the world, with nearly 65% of the population on physician-prescribed medication. In 2005, Americans spent $250 billion dollars on such drugs. This consumption made pharmaceuticals the most profitable business sector in America from 1995-2002.

So, what is a consumer to do? With this aggressive marketing campaign one might think that they cannot withstand the onslaught from large pharm companies. One obvious solution would be to simply ignore the ads by using a PVR which skips ads (ie mythTV). The other alternative is simply use your critical mind to mitigate wasteful spending on these miracle drugs. If you have aging relatives, arm them with information. Discourage them from purchasing anything that is advertised on television. You can mitigate the FUD, by sharing truthful and timely information. Once people, are educated they are not easily scared or fearful.

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The Widget Dilemma

I am often fascinated when I have conversations with professionals in other industries as they try to make sense out of the engineering profession. Particularly when I mention that engineering skills are transferable to other industries. Inevitably, I am then told that engineers build 'widgets', "How can this be relevant to Health Care"? It boggles to mind that people do not understand that problem solving is not monolithic talent that avails itself to only manufacturing or product development. Disciplined thought is clearly advantageous and would be beneficial to any activity. Why would you limit this sort of critical thinking to an industrial environment?

It would appear that most of this misinformation is propagated by the mass media. I would assert that simply aren't enough engineers in our population who are willing to educate people about the truth. If I may digress for a moment, I do know there are many people calling themselves engineers, much like folks who call themselves web developers but only design web sites using content management tools or blog publishing engines. Classical engineers are people that studied thermodynamics, statics, basic circuits theory, linear algebra, etc. Of course this list is not exhaustive. The basic premise is that engineers are taught problem solving and critical thinking skills. Obviously, there are many engineers that push paper for a living, but that was the subject of an earlier blog entry :-)

Now why is this issue so 'widget dilemma' so intriguing? The so-called widget builder is generally understood to be someone that is a monolithic thinker who only functions within well-defined framework. Often widget building becomes a pejorative term when used to describe engineers, as it suggest that we are robots. You can always throw that exaggerated over-bite into the description for good measure too. Obviously, these perceptions are totally inaccurate. To their credit widget building is quite complicated. Think of the number and precise nature of the widgets used to build a jetliner or automobile? It is clear that any sort of malpractice or improper judgment can cost hundreds of lives.

It is not uncommon to find engineers in business, law or medical fields. So clearly, we are not just widget builders. It does irk me when when people believe stereotypes and misinformation as the gospel. There are some good examples of engineers helping to improve the level of quality provided primary care physicians.

Well, I suppose the rant is complete. I'll provide more examples of engineers providing value outside of the proverbial 'widget' factory as time progresses.

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Wild Cowboys on the IRC


Image via Wikipedia

Now that I've nearly completed my Asterisk setup on the shiny new OpenBSD box. I must discuss the journey. Part of the reason of dismantling my previous Trixbox setup was to take full advantage of a installing Asterisk without the aid or hindrance of a GUI. After peeling the onion, I discovered that Trixbox generates a ton of configuration files and it creates many superfluous macros. I also learned that you cannot simply restore a Trixbox config file to a new Asterisk install, as there will be a fair amount of tweaking required.

Over the years, I have learned that when you're working with Free Software, you must be willing to read, read, read and read even further. There really is no substitute for this type of learning. I always refer to it as a floor exercise, strengthen your skills by repetition, fatigue and humiliation. This has been the way, learn by doing and not watching. However, there are times when you simply have to ask someone for help. Yeah, even the more experienced headz ask for help. The sad truth is that I often get into tasks which not many people in my close network of friends really understand, so you cannot ask them for help.

So you find substitutes, sometimes GOOG, othertimes IRC. In this particular case, #asterisk was a logical choice for me. I spent a great deal of time watching the type of questions placed on the channel. Many ranged from nOOb to medium level of difficulty. I would say that I'm in that nOOb to medium level of understanding. My struggle was primarily with dialplan(extensions.conf), though I also needed to make a some modifications to my sip.conf
file. There must be thousands of sites which describe the various incantations of dialplans and strategies. It should also be noted that many of these sites are laden with errors. You simply cannot cut and paste, you need to understand well defined contexts within both sip.conf and extensions.con. Perhaps most importantly you should really make an intelligible flow chart to help organize your thoughts which will also mitigate many errors.

Well as I stated earlier, I spent a substantial amount of time chatting on the IRC and getting constructive and not so constructive feedback from #asterisk channel. There was one admin who really seemed rather agitated. In his defense, I suppose that he is a grizzled veteran who simply loathes questions from people who really have not bothered to read any docs. Secondly, it is very difficult to diagnose technical problems from nOObs who cannot articulate the issue very well. While pastebin is a very helpful tool, sometimes a very active channel makes it quite challenging to get your message to the appropriate person.

What annoyed me was the tone from this guy. He assumed that I didn't understand networking 101. He insisted that I didn't know the difference between two clients and an asterisk server behind a Nat'd router vs setup which did not require a nat'd router configuration. There are not many SOHO based setups that do not make use of NAT (Network Address Translation). I'm not interested in paying for a static, publicly routed IP address. Despite my explanation and fairly descriptive summaries I couldn't convince him that I wasn't an idiot. I began to believe that he was in fact the idiot. To make matters worse, I often believe that people take many liberties that would not normally be afforded to them because they have ultimate comfort and safety of the keyboard, nondescript alias and possibly spoofed FQDN/IP address. I wonder if they would be so snarky and rude if we were in the same room having an adult conversation? Methinks if you're going to be a channel admin of a very popular software project you ought to realize that people using the software make your existence on the channel necessary. Whether you are getting paid or not (I would imagine the latter is more true), be a good sport and answer the questions as they are posed. Do not assume that you are omnipotent and everyone else are unworthy subjects who are begging for your mercy ;-)
If you do not like serving in this volunteer capacity, quit and give the responsibility to someone else.

Nonetheless, I was able to get my dialplan functional(it at least rings the extensions now), just need to configure the IVR and customize the voicemail features. Actually, I am rather proud of myself considering that I just started playing with Asterisk one year ago.
I still have a fair amount of work left, but the journey has been satisfying and I am sure that I'll never use Trixbox again.

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Twitter Experiment Ends (Revisited)

Image representing as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

Well my account was restored about 3 weeks ago, but I've not posted anything new. This is due in large part to my discovery of Actually, there is only a lone post under my profile there too. Go figure. Anyway, I thought it would be humorous and perhaps helpful to explain what occurred and ultimately why I will not be using twitter very much anymore.

Below is an excerpt from the Twitter help desk with their rationale for suspending my account.

Hi there,

Your account was suspended because it posted updates that indicated that your account was in actuality compromised. Updates may have been indicative of the Koobface virus ( or indicative of you giving your username and password out to a 3rd party website that promised "more followers fast!" Unfortunately, the vast majority of these third party sites are actually fronts for phishing and have already been implicated in the selling of usernames and passwords. As a result, we are taking precautionary measures and notifying you that you've been sending out updates that you may not have wanted to sent out. Some of these sites also have downloaded Koobface onto users' computers.

Your account should now be unsuspended; please only reopen this ticket if you encounter further issues. It is, however, extremely important that you take the following actions:

a. Scan your computers for viruses / malware, especially if
unauthorized tweets continue to be posted in your accounts even after
you've changed the password.

b. Use a password that you don't use anywhere else and never use the
former password on a compromised account. Create a new and difficult
password unique to Twitter that consists of both letters and numbers

c. Check the Connections page at and revoke the access
privileges of any third party applications that you do not recognize.

d. Avoid providing your username and/or e-mail and password to
untrusted third-party sites.

e. Remove any updates that you did not post personally; leaving these
updates can result in your account being re-suspended.

I did not bother to reply to the help desk. After reading this I immediately gathered that the help staffers are part-time folks, likely working from home. I received identical replies from different admins. The reply is a classical scripted response. The admins made the mortal mistake in that they assumed I was using M$ windows. Secondly, they assumed that my machine had been compromised and assimilated into a some weird bot net.

All wrong assumptions. I have been using Linux since '96. None of my machines have ever been 0wned or have I ever seen any malware on my LAN.

Now that Twitter has been poking in the dark with assumptions. I'll tell you what likely happened. I utilize a proxy which kills ads and also helps mask browser client information. Pairing this software with TOR, my network traffic is scrubbed and fairly sanitized.
Apparently, Twitter spends its cycles tracking client IP addresses and will suspend an account that appears to be using different IP addresses in real time. So, once they observed this behavior they _assumed_ that my computer was part of a malicious botnet.
Hilarious, but quite annoying. Anyway, I have discovered and the alpha geeks live there :-)

Like other social networks, once they become mainstream they become crap. If Oprah is using it, I probably shouldn't be there.

You can follow me at my new account.

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Fiduciary Responsibility

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 06:  House Financial Ser...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The effect of the Recession or Depression depending upon which region of the US that you reside has been well documented. Many of my friends and colleagues have been directly impacted by job loss and an imploding housing market. The sad reality is that many people have lost 30-50% of the value on their homes. No fault of their own, they followed the so-called American dream. As responsible homeowners, they paid their mortgages dutifully and made sure that they did not purchase more home than they could afford. That is the unspoken rule that your monthly mortgage should be no more than 1/3rd of monthly income.

After doing what was correct, many folks are conflicted.

Some have resorted to just walking away from their mortgages, after all these loans are secured instruments which use only the property as collateral. Moreover, some folks believe that due to a failing economy, lenders will later 'overlook' their indiscretions. Perhaps the conversation would go, "So you're claiming bankruptcy and you've foreclosed on your home?" , the reply , "Yes I have. " The credit lender would reply, "Oh yeah 2009 CY, everybody was doing that then. Special circumstances, we'll forgive you." How likely is that scenario? Heh, don't believe the hype. That sort of stuff never works out the way you might envision it. Particularly for people of color. Unfortunately, in a Capitalist society, good credit is your only saving grace. Business deals are best done leveraging other folks money in a strategic and smart fashion.

There are a few ways to combat the depressed housing market. I might add that these strategies are not full proof, but they are options. If you own a Fannie Mac property, you can take advantage of the gov't led program. You can also request that your mortgage be modified; particularly if you have been paying on time.

One more word on some of these programs which help people avoid foreclosure.
The Obama campaign has created the making homeAffordable effort. While is quite noble and probably helpful, I have learned that it may not be totally enforceable. As an investor, it does appear that the banks appraising properties that they suspect do not meet the 125% Loan-to-Value. This is a very foul policy as it defeats the spirit of the Obama program. So once again, the banks win? Well, maybe not. My approach is to be aggressive and empower myself with knowledge. Lastly, I will continue to live a frugal lifestyle and live below my means whenever possible. Coupons and receipt reconciliations are my favorite past times.

Hold your head up and be encouraged.

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Twitter experiment ends

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Some of you have alerted me to the fact that my twitter account has been suspended. Actually, I learned of this last week. Apparently, the twitter admins erroneously labeled my account as a spam generator. It appears that all of my followers and subsequent content has been expunged.
The truth is that after I'd reached the 1,000 tweet milestone, I was ready to close the account anyway. I seem to get more value out of IRC than twitter. The sole purpose of the experiment was to engage with other like minded folks interested in F/OSS and also spread my personal brand. BKAEG..

Obviously, I'm annoyed but not surprised, as I am in essence leasing space on their servers. One of the biggest problems I have with these social networks is that you really don't own any of the content you generate. At any given time you can be victimized without probable cause.

So, I have submitted a complaint through the appropriate channels and I will have to wait. However, this experience has prompted me to open and account, which essentially is an "open" variant of twitter. I'll see how that goes.

More on this at a later date.

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Un-natural Selection

Everyone will eventually be given an opportunity to perform jury duty. Actually, I never had never served until recently, as I typically was exempt due to active military. Nonetheless, the past two years I have been sent notices twice. Perhaps this is because of the dwindling population in Detroit? Who knows. My first experience was a more pleasant one since I was dismissed, the first set of jurors seated were interested in serving and the defense and prosecution were happy to have them.

My more recent encounter was much less enjoyable. There were approximately 42 prospective jurors, and I witnessed some poor but hysterical excuses people used to get themselves excused or disqualified from service. Some faked mental illness others simply said that they didn't care to participate. I suppose that I should have behaved in a belligerent fashion, jammed some gold fronts in my grill or bopped to my juror seat. Some people were even threatened with contempt of court, but it did not matter to them. They just wanted out. Perhaps the more interesting development was watching the gamesmanship of the prosecution and defense attorneys.

Both of them tried their best to stack the jury in a way which was most favorable to their clients. So while there were nearly four sets of 14 prospective jurors, at least four were dismissed by the defense or prosecution. In fact, after the dust had settled no alternates were available in the gallery. So, they agreed to seat just 13 jurors. Interesting indeed.

Judging from the first days of the trial, we may very well have 12 angry jurors. Appears to be too much teaching going on. Scarcely, have gone through all of the witnesses.

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Promise NS4300N - Inexpensive NAS

I do not typically crack under peer pressure, but I was talking to friend last Summer. He and I were lamenting on our inability to store the ever growing digital content in our private lives. Why the sheer size of the video files that you store from your favorite bittorrent client can be enormous. Not to mention the frightening prospect of hard disk failure. Though, the cost of modest hard drive is roughly $0.10 - $0.50 cents per GB, the cost of NAS is still not available at commodity pricing.

He mentioned that he'd purchased a device from Fry's at a price point of $299. Yes, the price was tempting enough, but what sold me on the NS4300N was the fact that it ran a customized Linux kernel under the hood. The heavy lifting is handled by open or well understood protocols NFS, FTP, SMB, and rsync. Additionally it is capable of RAID 1, 5 and 10. Regardless of the temptation, I was really torn between building my own Linux RAID box and deploying software RAID and taking the lazy route (ie turn-key) and purchasing a box like the NS4300N.

I spent time perusing the local LUG mailing list and most folks warned me against a pure hardware RAID solution, as you become beholden to a hardware OEM. I suppose their warnings fell upon deaf ears because I decided that saving a few hours was more valuable than freedom. Geez, did I just say thought? RMS and Eben Moglen would not be happy ;) Strike One.

So, I did a few hustles and saved up enough loot to purchase four 1TB Samsung SATA drives.
Once I finally got time to setup the box, I discovered two critical gotchas.

As trivial as it sounds the plastic carrier trays should have directional arrows on them. Took me about 5 - 10min to figure out how the HD should be installed in the orange carrier trays.
Secondly, the most annoying gotcha is the fact that Promise forces you to use Windows to setup the NS4300N. Huh? Maybe I missed something, I thought it was running a Linux kernel under a thin layer open protocols? Why on Earth would you force me to use a proprietary OS to run an install program? Surely, there must be simple install scripts that you could place on CD.

This is the age old problem that I have I ranted about here in previous entries. Because the GPL v2 is fairly liberal (certainly not as liberal as BSD licenses), companies have been able to skate by and essentially disregard Linux desktop users. The irony is that the device would be virtually useless and certainly much more expensive if they were not using Linux kernel under the hood. Some folks would call this Tivoization.

I suppose this is the price you pay if you want turn-key. Promise offers no "official" means of accessing the root account on the box, nor do they really want you to open the device. After taking a look on back panel, I noticed it had some weird torque style fasteners. However, I have done more extensive digging and discovered that many folks have been hacking this device and adding greater value to the NS4300N. Methinks, Promise could learn a lesson from Linksys and begin to embrace the idea that people are going to create value where it didn't exist previously.

Rants aside, I was able to setup the appliance fairly easily. Although the setting up RAID 5 seemed take the better part of 1hr, to set it up and install latest firmware

After scanning the box, I discovered the following services

21/tcp open ftp
80/tcp open http
111/tcp open rpcbind
139/tcp open netbios-ssn
443/tcp open https
445/tcp open microsoft-ds
515/tcp open printer
657/tcp open unknown
658/tcp open unknown
670/tcp open unknown
1026/tcp open LSA-or-nterm
2049/tcp open nfs
MAC Address: xxxxxxx (Promise Technology)

So, you can see NFS, Samba, and https services running just to name a few. The device is also capable of serving as a print server. I understand that Promise provided telnet in earlier firmware revisions, which folks reverse engineered to access the root account. Probably the reason that service was removed in the latest firmware release. You'll also note that ssh does not appear to be running either. However, I think Promise is running a bit of obfuscation, I believe the service is probably running on a obscure port. It will eventually be discovered.

While the box is fairly capable of behaving as a backup device for my network, I will give it a thumbs down until I have sufficiently hacked it.

NFS doesn't seem to work as advertised. If I can't ssh into the box and access the CLI, then it is useless to me. IMHO, Samba is only marginally useful for an exclusive Linux environment. I don't own any windows machines. The office loaner notebook computer doesn't count. I will never understand why companies decide to dumb down technology for ease of use. I understand that Promise was responsible for many advances in RAID technology. I'm sure that some that knowledge found its way into the Linux community, but I have no idea they would be so protective of this NS4300N. The price point is excellent and quite competitive. Only problem is the execution and delivery. They've crippled the device for the sake of intellectual property which they partially own. I simply wanted a back-up device and means to gain much needed redundancy for the data on my network. I report back as I peel the onion.

Last Straw - Time for Freedom

Richard Stallman giving a speech at WSIS-2005
Richard Stallman giving a speech at WSIS-2005

I will soon convert my pop's machine from XP to Linux. Typically every 2yrs he runs into a problem which renders his computer unusable. At this point I have stopped remembering each incident, suffice to say that myself or someone else gets tasked with formatting the disk and re-installing the OS. When dealing with a M$ system this inevitably means that you must hunt for drivers and anti-virus / anti-adware programs. I often thought about storing a disk image on his network, so when the system became corrupted an image could simply be restored. Unfortunately, I never got around to it.

The latest episode was driven on by the nebulous and spurious "Genuine Microsoft" message that appeared routinely during system reboot. In truth, so many hands have touched that machine it is very likely that a so-called non-certified copy of WinXP Pro ended up on his hard drive. So what is a law abiding citizen to do? Heh, apparently he was spooked by the messages and more importantly his box was left out off the patch Tuesday fan fest..

So he decided to download WinXP SP2 from Redmond. Now the fun begins. For whatever reason the existing SP2 was improperly installed or installed twice. He also installed SP2 via CD as he ordered it via USPS. What a cluster... I have no idea how you could be 'allowed' to install the same Service Pack twice on the same Registry. Obviously, this corrupted the Registry and sent the machine into an endless loop, that prevented the machine from booting. Intelligent design at its best.

Eventually, he reformatted his drive and lost everything on the hard disk. Of course, if I were home, I would have booted the machine with a Knoppix Live-CD and mounted NTFS partition and restored the essential files from ...\My Documents\ etc... I then would have blasted away the OS and installed a Linux distribution.. Most likely I will give him Ubuntu 8.04 Hearty Heron. It would probably be the most windoze-like environment for him.

Bottom-Line: I never want Pops to be told he is a criminal by some software company.

Krusell Chronicles - Final Chapter ?


More Krusell Chronicles

Originally uploaded by AG_

It has been awhile since I shared status of my Krusell case. You may recall that I included a discussion of this case as part of my "Intelligent Design" segment. The Krusell has been used to protect my beloved Treo650.

Unfortunately, the case has failed yet again. As discussed previously, the multi-adapt molding has sharp edges, which create stress risers. Consequently, these corners induce cracks and failure is inevitable.

Additionally, the swivel kit is also prone to similar failures due to its sharp edges. As the image shows, the swivel will shear in half. I will post better photos of the failure modes. I'm not sure that I will take the time to circle the stress risers _again_.

Supposedly, the Krusell case I received in January 08 was an upgrade to the previous generation cases. The only difference that I could detect was snap feature changed to a magnetic style snap/closing feature. Actually, I do like the utility of these cases. They protect my smartphone from accidental drops or lense scratches.

The problem I have with Krusell is that their multi-adapt and swivel kit plastic design schemes are very poor. It really does not appear that the Krusell product design team is interested in making their multi-adapt supplier provide a more robust part. Either rid yourself of the sharp edges or use a more robust material. Perhaps rubber or stainless steel. Of course that would drive down their profit margins. Polypropylene is so much cheaper to manufacture than most materials.

Yes, there is a lifetime warranty on the case. Nonetheless, I'm debating if I should send the case back and allow Krusell to send me yet another case with a built in obsolescence of 3-months. They have refused to let me communicate with their manufacturing director or anyone on their product development team. I do know that their main manufacturing facility is located in Thailand, so I would imagine organized labor does not add cost to their product. One can only assume that this quality problem does not interest anyone in their organization. Perhaps I will contact Ulf Sandberg directly. I wonder if he is aware of this quality concern?

Samsung provides no printer parts


My absolute worst customer support experience is
There appears to be no connection between the Japanese and U.S parts depot. The support scenario reminds of the TV repair shop of the 1970's. The company insists upon contracting out its the responsibility of stocking and shipping parts to the customer.

Previously, the only Samsung hardware that I have ever owned were commodity based cellphones. The very inexpensive SCH models. Typically these phones become obsolete before they fail. Luckily I never had any hardware issues with three previous models.

Well, roughly 1-yr ago, I decided to replace an aging Brother laser printer. The device was given to me at a LUG meeting and all I purchased for it was a toner cartridge. The PPM rate was deathly slow, so I knew it was time to upgrade. Enter the Samsung ML-2010. I copped this model for roughly $65 US. Not a bad deal. I was able to get it working with CUPS fairly easily.

Why Stroke everyone with same brush?


Recently triumphed over a nasty virus. Had me laid out for a couple of days. So last week I paid a visit to my primary physician. This dude is very opinionated, but I tolerate him because he is competent and convenient. Anyway, he begins to talk about Detroit mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick and his transgressions. Doc began to spew all kinds of negativity. Thug was mentioned and the common, "every black man should be ashamed." What is odd about all of this is that Doc is from the Middle East. So, the criticism is a bit hard to swallow. Basically, I resort to nodding and half-patronizing. Finally, I uttered, "You know I voted for the guy." The diatribe continued.
He then said, even the guy running for President is going to have a hard time. I'm thinking damn. Kwame fucked it up for everybody. Hell, I can't even walked the streets anymore without someone, saying another Kwame. Is it really that bad? Are black men truly a monolithic culture? I think not, but it is sad to see people trying to cram us into one bag like shake-n-bake.

Intelligent Design (Krusell Case)


Well, I received my new case before the close of 2007. Though I was happy to receive the new case, it does take at least 2-3 weeks for packages to arrive from Sweden. There must be a better way for Krusell to deal with product returns. Perhaps, it would best to create some sort of relationship with UPS, where they could act as a depot/proxy stateside. This would assure faster shipment to the US market.

Although, the case is handsome I could not easily detect any discernible differences in the quality of the mold in the multadapt. I
did not see any sort of fillet or rounding of the areas which were susceptible to stress risers.

Nonetheless, I have not seen any signs of fatigue cracks or wear since I have received it.
On the other hand the slide swivelkit has already failed. I will post pics of that particular failure mode at a later date. Luckily, since I am on my third or fourth Krusell case, I had one additional spare swivel kit, so I was irritated but not extremely angry. One can only hope that the swivel kit has several months of useful life.

I'll keep you posted.

Aggressive Bots


These past couple of weeks I've been bombarded with a very pesky spider which appeared seemed to make requests for every single entry in my blog. The weird aspect of this inquiry was the bot seemed to disregard 'robots.txt', that is it never bothered to read the file before running roughshod through my site. Because the IP addresses were from the same octet block, I realized that I had a chance to defend myself. The user-agent appeared to originate from some Linux/Mozilla combination. Before I decided to ban the IP from my site, I figured that some investigative work would be necessary.

The block seemed to be connected to Limelight Networks LLC. Hmm, I thought it odd that Limelight would be interested in crawling my site. Doug Kaye and all of the IT Conversations folks didn't need any of my content, as they have one of the largest CDNs in thenation. So, after performing the ubiquitous GOOG search I discovered that others in the blogosphere were having similar issues with these bots.

Grepping through my access and error logs proves that I have successfully blocked the IP.

[Fri Feb 8 06:20:12 2008] [error] [client] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/blog/archives/000632.html[Fri Feb 8 04:01:42 2008] [error] [client] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/blog/archives/000522.html
[Fri Feb 8 04:01:43 2008] [error] [client] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/favicon.ico
[Fri Feb 8 04:11:20 2008] [error] [client] client denied by server configuration: /home/bkaeg/public_html/blog/archives/000053.html

Because I am of the inquisitive nature, I decided to take it a step further. A simple traceroute and stealth nmap revealed that it was not LimeLight Networks at all. It was actually Kavam, a company out of Tempe, AZ. When I say these bots were aggressive, I am not exaggerating. It was not uncommon to see 3-4 hits from the same bot within an hour.
I discovered the CEO of Kavam was Randy Adams. So, I called Mr. Adams and chatted with him and he confirmed my suspicions and also the story that I had read about from other bloggers.

Apparently, Kavam is working with same venture capitalists that funded LimeLight, LLC. Kavam, is taking snapshots of every website on the Internet. God Bless em. They wish to challenge the GOOG. The brute force method of getting content is admirable but quite annoying. I suppose it would not have been so bad if they would have simply told people of their intent. Perhaps if it had gone of for just a couple of days... This barrage went on for two weeks.
I have been blogging for roughly five years, so there is quite a bit of content to be archived. I wonder why Fooky never took this gestapo approach to collecting metadata? Anyway, I did ask Mr. Adams to be a guest on AG Speaks, hopefully he will chat with me before the company launches its killer application.

Why hasn't Active X withered on the vine ?


It seems that occasionally I am faced with the prospect of working with sites which defiantly use Active X objects to interact with a web browser. In this case the guilty party would be the niche audience of Vector Vest market timing algorithm. I would venture to guess they may only get < 10,000 page views per day. Of course these sites beg and implore end-users to use M$ IE. I like millions of other people do not use IE. Why would developers deliberately build a platform which only works with one web browser?

Well, the flippant remark would be ignorance. Perhaps they get kickbacks directly from the Redmond Woolly mammoth? Who knows. The more likely scenario is laziness. I would venture to guess, that writing objects using the Gecko rendering engine is no more difficult than writing ActiveX objects.

I am not a web developer, so I welcome feedback from those of you who are adept in writing these applications. If I am not mistaken Active X was the answer to JavaScript. The goal for Java and JavaScript was "write once" platform agnostic. Does anyone know the goal of ActiveX ? One can only guess.

Well, I suppose I could run Xen or some other emulator and run an instance of Windows. Clearly overkill for one application that I'm only likely to use for another few weeks. I could run a makeshift box and install XP. Nope don't want to do that either.

It seems that Active X has been an Achilles Heel in the Linux Community for quite awhile. Judging from the aforementioned link, KDE and GNOME (specifically Mono) developers have been sniping at each other over the broken and general disrepair of ActiveX.

More updates to follow.

Intelligent Design - Redux


Durable holding cases are a precious commodity. Anyone who uses smartphones (ie Treo, Blackberry, etc) can attest to the fact that a scratched display lense spells doom. It is quite costly to replace the crystal. The glass surface is especially important on a Treo, as it deploys a touch surface for command execution. Yet another reason to love a Treo ;) Perhaps the one detractor for most smartphones is the mass of the device or its footprint.

Well, Swedish company Krusell provides a very popular case to protect your trusty Treo and other smartphone models. In fact, I have purchased at least three of their cases in the last couple of years. Unitl recently, I had been pleased with their lifetime warranty. What has caught my ire is their MultiAdapt feature. It essentially is a piece of injection molding riveted/stamped to the vinyl case. It appears that Multiadapt is a separate company which leases this feature to various OEMs. The problem with the Multiadapt are numerous. The plastic molding has very sharp corners as shown in the inset pic above. You do not really need an engineering degree to understand the two sharp corners will likely propagate cracks under high stress.

The high stress is exacerbated by the weight of the smartphone and the constant insertion/removal of the smartphone device. These Krusell cases become useless once the multiadapt feature fails. The failure mode is quite repeatable. I have gone through two cases.
While I appreciate Krusell standing behind its products and offering the lifetime warranty.. Who really wants to ship their case to Sweden, each time it fails? Time is money, so nothing is free.

Why not force your supplier (ie Multiadapt) to make a more robust design? Surely, the investment in a new injection molding would be simply the cost of fabricating new tooling. At the volume these guys are fortunate to be experiencing the investment hurdle (ROR) probably would be minimal. Just a guess.

Hopefully, I can help improve their product. I will contact their CEO and Sales & Marketing VP.

Convenience of Ignorance

Now that I have fixed my firewall and asterisk box, I have a bit more time to share a few thoughts. Yes, baseball season is over and I must suffer through yet another miserable off-season. More on this in future entries.

As some of you know, I recently did some recruiting at my alma-mater, Florida A&M University. Though, I do not visit Tallahassee often, it is refreshing to walk down memory-lane and talk with the engineering students and some of my old professors.
Having your company send you on such trips is priceless. Actually, my previous trip to the Florida panhandle was in 2005 for my cousin's graduation. Prior to that I had not stepped foot on campus in nearly seven years.

During this trip, I spent the majority of my time at the College of Engineering. Our college is unique, in that we have a joint program with Florida State University. Both schools supply professors, equipment and research dollars. I do not believe that there are other programs with a similar setup. The students seemed to very interested in the automotive industry, which seemed a bit peculiar considering the current state of the North American auto industry. Perhaps it was the fairly strong brand of my current employer, who knows.. I'll share more thoughts on this too.

During my brief stay at the College of Engineering, I quickly began to see that much had changed in the way that engineering students view computers. Granted I was only in the lab for a short while, but it has become obvious that UNIX is marginalized.

Gone are the days of the beloved pizza boxen (ie SUN Sparcs). There was always a sense of discovery which was part of the learning. Many of us spent countless hours in the lab building a web presence using GNU editing tools (vi, pico, emacs). In the midst of learning about building painfully simple web sites, we taught ourselves how to navigate the Solaris OS. Learning by doing was the word of the day. A fellow student once, showed me how to write a C program which could grep the apache access logs and report useful information about who was viewing my resume. None of us were Comp Sci students. We were just curious engineers with a keen fetish for problem solving. There was simply no interest in the convenience of ignorance.

The trend certainly has changed. The students which I observed did not seem to be enthusiastic about learning anything outside their chosen field of interest. Moreover, the curiosity is stifled by an administration that is beholden to proprietary computing solutions. How can the students discover anything when it's provided on a silver platter ;) Additionally, proprietary solutions simply discourages the type of exploration that was so prevalent during my undergrad experience. Yes, I know that Sun-OS was not free nor open, but it provided a nice framework for exploration.

Where else could you export your workstation graphics display upon some unsuspecting student? What about concatenating audio files to a different computer across the room? Sophomoric indeed, but quite fun and it was learning. You cannot do that easily on a Windows box. You find any of this in some GUI. I really have to tip my cap to the former director of computing Dave Kuncicky. He really encouraged students and faculty to experiment and tinker. During his tenure('95-98'), he helped build out the UNIX infrastructure and set a very high precedent. In fact, I'm sure that some of the older Solaris NIS/YP authenticating boxes are still running at the College.

I suppose the engineering students' behavior reflects the vast majority of computer users. The average user simply wants to use the computer as a tool to accomplish a task, not as a learning mechanism. Heh, who has time to learn. Heck, you really don't have to learn anything as Google has already indexed it for you.

So, what is a technical mind to do? You look for opportunities to capitalize on the ignorance. Create value and teach when it is appropriate. There will always be money to be made, while this blissful ignorance exists.

The problem of not following standards


As stated previously, I have begun to track personal finances via GnuCash. It really has been very empowering, since I typically use a spreadsheet to reconcile my budget against monthly receipts. Using the old method it was not possible to capture the cost of utilities, mortgage, and the other bills paid electronically. Despite the fact that I P-Cash application installed on my Treo650, I am unable to sync the data to my desktop financial software application. Sigh, perhaps one day this will become very simple to accomplish. I digress..

Now to the point.. I have noticed that .qif files have document headers which describe the intent of the bank transaction. For instance, if you're downloading data from subsequent debit card or check card you should see !Type:CCard in the header.

The problem arises when your bank delivers files which do _not_ have the required header file. GnuCash is unable to read files that do not include the required QIF header. While I'm very happy that GnuCash adheres to the QIF standard, the only workaround is to manipulate the file. What a royal PITA. After grabbing nearly ten files, I noticed this problem.
Sure I could contact the bank and complain about the issue. The reality is they probably would be clueless. Moreover, the script that they use to generate these .qif files is likely broken, and they will have to get the developer to fix the script. Perhaps costly, dunno.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I found a decent Perl script which inserts the a desired header after reading in a flat text file. I would prefer to use Python, but of course, I'm still learning. I would have thought that this sort of text manipulation would be a prime candidate for awk or sed.. I'll keep digging, simple shell scripting problem for sure.
Clearly I am not interested in manually changing each file, I am much too lazy ;)

Useless Meetings

If there is one thing that will annoy me.. Worthless teleconferences. Regardless if the request is work related or whatever.
In this instance, the effort was a noble one. Organize volunteers to support mentorship program for returning Summer interns. Not a very difficult proposition, the main challenges are :

  • Delivering meeting cadence throughout the Summer

  • Connecting mentors with mentees

  • Establishing information flow through appropriate intern committee members

  • Distribution of new organizational chart

  • Release activity schedule

Not entirely sure why these items could not have been handled via simple website or even a wiki.
Most of the mentors are repeatedly asked for the same documents each Summer (ie name, location, department, etc). Duplicity irritates me tremendously. We have all of these modern innovations, yet people fail to use them. In previous years, I have made recommendations, but they have fallen upon deaf ears. So instead, we are asked to support a late Friday afternoon teleconference.

Never let children use windows


One of the problems of serving as the resident geek, is that people routinely bring computers running windows which are totally overrun with trojans, virii and other assorted adware. It does seem that the majority of the work, I have been getting of late is related to restoring WinXP machines to working order.
*Sigh*, if I could just educate and convince parents not to let kids use that crap..

I have already explained my reasons for not teaching children to use any variant of M$ software. People complain that children barely can clean and organize their rooms, how the hell can they be responsible enough to vigilantly monitor and thwart trojans, virii, and adware on their computers running windows operating system? Does not seem logical.

Recently, I was asked to rescue a machine running WinXP Home. The machine had 373 variants of adware which had corrupted the system registry. The machine was still running SP1, as the trojans prevented the software updates.

So, as customary, I grabbed Spy-Bot Search and Destroy, and began to methodically remove the crap from the system registry. I also ran the Windows Update, so that I could upgrade the machine to SP2. Bare in mind that had the system not been so-called M$ genuine, the service updates and patches would not be available for install through conventional means. Yet another reason, that I strongly discourage the use of this software. Because the machine was a shrinked wrapped variety, I also grabbed the 3rd party virus and adware protection package. It seems that M$ acquired a company to help it better manage adware attacks on its system registry.

Receiving these updates took nearly 4.5 hrs (constant reboots), I then removed the very annoying Norton Anti-virus software and replaced it with Clam-Win a GPL'd anti-virus software package for win32 platform.

At the end of this entire ordeal, there was still one very pesky adware program that was embedded in the registry. Even booting in safe mode and running Spy-Bot from DOS shell did not remove it. The job was actually a freebie, so I left it there. Simply did not wish to waste further time. It is clear that the cost to maintain a windows box is extremely high considering the constant effort to thwart attacks on the system registry. My expectation is that I'll see the machine again in 6mths - 1yr.

The Redmond woolly mammoth claims that the registry will be restricted from 3rd party software. We'll see. Until then keep your children away from this software, instead introduce then to FOSS programs.

'Maildir' annoyances

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Aargh, I've have spent entirely too much time cleaning up after some faceless and nameless admins. For whatever reason, there was a decision to install courierimap, which by default creates 'maildir' style mailbox folders. The previous imap server ran fine for me. I actually liked the 'mbox' style folders. It was very easy to locate the explicit path to your inbox. Once you understand the location of the inbox, writing procmail recipies are a breeze.

Now that the mbox format has been replaced in favor of the allegedly improved 'maildir' (there is supposed to be some speed improvement for very large files), which has the cur/, new/, and tmp/ subdirectories. All of the mail is spread all over the place. What a mess.

It seems that the average user on the virtual domain which I lease do not use procmail, so the admins don't really seem to care that they screw everything up each time there is an attempt to upgrade imap servers.

After spending a couple hrs reading, I modified my .procmailrc and added '.' and '/' to each of my folders. It seems that maildir style boxes adds a '.' to the beginning and a '/' to the end of your folder. So your procmail script must also contain these attributes. The $DEFAULT variable must also look something like this - $DEFAULT=$HOME/Maildir/ The trailing '/' is significant, as it explicity tells procmail that you are using 'maildir' style mailboxes and not the ubiquitous 'mbox' format.

Yes, I sort everything which touches my inbox, so it really isn't cool for procmail not to work as desired. More on this debacle later.

Making the switch

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Making the switch from Sprint to Cingular.. Well, I thought it would be a painless process.
Damn was I wrong. My new Treo650 smartphone is GSM/GPRS goodness, so I decided to use Cingular, as they are largest GSM carrier in the US. The only problem was that I was under contract with Sprint until 4th Qtr 07. Breaking your contract with Sprint means shelling out $150.

Not an option. So I opted to create a new Cingular # and maintain the Sprint account until its expiration. Unfortunately, the Cingular mishandled two critical aspects of the transaction:

1) Improper SIM Card
2) Transferred old Sprint number, thus nullifying Sprint account

I wouldn't have been too miffed with #2, had the SIM card been allocated correctly. For those who are unfamiliar, GSM phones will not work as designed (ie no outgoing/incoming calls, phonebook, bluetooth database, etc) without an active SIM. Basically, makes the device useless.

My expectation is that I'll have all of this corrected in a couple hours.. So if you need to get at me, drop an email or IM.

Update: Cingular has agreed to credit my account with the difference of the Sprint contract cancellation penalty. I'm still going to go after Sprint to resolve the matter.

Last days of free text (Revisited)

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Well after contacting Sprint it seems that I misunderstood their text package. I suppose it wouldn't be the first time that I've gone after a vendor for mistreatment.

As it turns out the new handling of SMS text msgs only applies to customers who do not have an existing text package. How I got a text messaging package escapes me b/c I never asked for one ;)

I imagine that Sprint looks at the age of your account and also the account behavior, then makes a judgment call to determines how to bill the account. Seems weird to me, but I'm not complaining since text msgs will forever be free for me, provided I stay with Sprint/Nextel. Actually, I would be happy to stay with Sprint as I've been a pseudo-loyal customer since 2001. Nonetheless, they decided to abandon the GSM/GPRS spectrum and solely use CDMA (like many of the North American carriers), so my existing phone is a very sophisticated paper weight in Europe and other areas overseas..

Speaking of smart phones, I will soon retire my trusty Treo600. I'll be upgrading to an unlocked Treo650 (w/all the GSM/GPRS and native Bluetooth goodness).. More later.

Last days of free text

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Well I should've known that it wouldn't last. It seems that Sprint/Nextel will begin charging its customers for the use of SMS or text messaging. Yeah, I know that some of you have already been paying for this service, and your hearts probably bleed for me.

I noticed the following on my monthly statement:

Effective Oct. 1, 2006, Sprint will charge $0.15 per message for casual domestic and international text messages sent or received. Sprint will charge $0.03/KB for casual data usage.

Per their own terms and conditions:

If we change a material term of the Agreement and that change has a material adverse effect on you, you may terminate the Agreement without an early termination fee by calling 1-888-211-4727 within 30 days afterthe invoice date of the first invoice you receive after the changes go into effect.

So, I suppose that I could opt out and terminate my contract, as they have clearly violated their own terms.

Nonetheless, it's ridiculous to charge for a service that costs the provider very little to deliver. I would imagine that the text msg servers use the existing hardware infrastructure and via Economies of Scale, the service could continue to be offered for free. It seems that it is basically greed rearing its ugly head. They probably believe that they are somehow losing out by not monetizing a popular communication medium. I also find it hard to believe that SMS would consume an inordinate amount of bandwidth.

I'm surprised that they opted to charge a per-instance fee, and not their standard $5.00/month added feature cost. Time to execute the power of the consumer.

Pardon the Interruption

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The site was down for roughly 50hrs, due to an attack on my trackback system. I have since disabled this feature. Once I've upgraded my MT publishing engine, I will again activate this feature.

// Begin Rant:

While we're on the subject of site management, I have not had very many outages, nonetheless, they are very frustrating. I suppose the rub is the idea of zero notification of an issue.. As it often said, communication is paramount. It would be nice if the datacenter admins would communicate directly with the patron or at least alert the third-party reseller of a potential server load issue before simply suspending an account.

After the twenty-four hours, and chasing down a third-party below is the rationale for account suspension. While I know that when you manage several accounts on a disk whose server hosts several virtual domains, you can ill-afford a rogue process consuming precious resources. Obviously, it could bring the server to its knees. All I would ask is a courtesy msg, to empower the user to take the appropriate action to resolve the matter.

End Rant //

At the time of suspension our servers load average was a very unstable: 20.0. After suspending the account the servers load average dropped quickly to its normal, stable range of 1.0-4.0.

Please work with the script providers and/or website developers to make the scripts more shared-resource server friendly. Until then the site will continue to have its web access disabled.

Processes snippet:

31375 x 16 0 17976 14m 1912 D 99.9 0.4 0:01.57 /usr/bin/perl -w mt-tb.cgi
31376 x 18 0 17032 13m 1780 R 99.9 0.3 0:01.58 /usr/bin/perl -w mt-tb.cgi
31377 x 18 0 17700 13m 1812 R 99.9 0.3 0:01.56 /usr/bin/perl -w mt-tb.cgi

Intelligent Design - Revisited

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Were it not for the random or as of late, infrequent clients who ask for desktop support for M$ stuff... I would be very happy to become functionally windoze illiterate ;)
A couple weeks ago, I spent many cycles repairing corrupted registries on two notebook computers.
Both machines were running XP Pro SP1 and were overcome with adware . Well, actually I was only able to to access one of the hard drives by conventional means. That is utilizing the Repair console, and copying the appropriate files to repair the hive.

After restoring the appropriate files to c:\windows\system32\.. I then had to go through the laborious task of installing the required updates and SpyBot S&D to prevent further registry corruption. The entire process took roughly and 2.5 hrs. Now, as I discussed earlier the second notebook could not be repaired by this method due to an unexplained error. I didn't really want to find out why the BSOD kernel HEX kernel errors kept interrupting the boot process.

Though, I don't profess to be operating systems architect, I've never understood why M$ decided to make their kernel and userspace one entity. When you're talking about intelligent design, that would be very haphazard at best. More on this later.

Another feel good story

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Just far better than posting pics of BSOD ;)
Gotta chuckle at this one. Will they ever learn?

Colin DiPonio - Tech Consultant » Blog Archive » A Comedy Microsoft Story - Steve Ballmer and Spyware

Wikipedia and news 2.0

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I'm not sure if mainstream media will ever fully understand that news is evolving to a citizens based, contributory style journalism. The Internet community has helped reshape the way news is distributed and will eventually end the glory days of the media oligopoly.

Say what you will about Wikipedia, but it really does an excellent job with its wikinews. Is it perfect, no it is not. However, I would assert that mainstream media has had a fair amount of black eyes, and there are far fewer eyeballs checking for bugs in their processes.

GPS Woes

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It may actually be time to upgrade to a Treo650, I'm preparing for a trip to Montreal (more on this later) and it really would've been great to have GPS capability. It appears that I'm caught in a catch-22 situation. There are GPS solutions for the 600, (ie SDIO, serial cable, etc). If you occupy the SD slot for the NMEA antenna, then you can't store the map data. Unlike headsets, they simply don't make a bluetooth adapter that would provide the GPS functionality, that is communicate with the GPS satellites to provide real-time navigation data. The resolution on the 600 would also make it difficult to use some of the more sophisticated graphical programs.

I thought about hacking into the E911, triangulation service, but the accuracy is very poor. Updates would be nearly impossible. Oh well, I do have all of the tub maps, and the ubiquitous currency converter. Though I won't be doing any driving, it would be cool to have turn-by-turn street map at my finger tips. Sigh... On a brighter note, I splurged on a pair of Scott-E-Vest cargo shorts. Mad cool.

Vista - So what?

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Interestingly it still seems that people are expecting huge returns from Vista.. Sure XP is more stable than the abomination that was ME or 9x, but it is still plagued by trojans, adware and virii. It is very likely that by the time Longhorn err I mean Vista is launched 1st Qtr '07, there will be yet another service pack for XP. Wasn't there six service packs for NT?
Perhaps the funniest aspect of this discussion is the thought that Open Source and Web2.0 applications must take advantage of the tardiness of the upcoming M$ release. I think not.
Here is why.. People seem to think marketing campaigns are indicative tremendous activity and intelligent design. Absolutely a farce. The Redmond wooly mammoth and Apple have always used slick campaigns to paint a picture, and the results have not always been favorable.

Social Networks - Revisited

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It seems that people have begun to use Friendster, Ringo, and other social networking vehicles to develop secure communities. I'm not sure that I am really convinced that these really work very well. What I believe happens most often is that you rely on a smaller subset of people to share and collaborate. More often than not, you discover that people who you invite, have no clue as to how this sharing should take place. Although, I used Linked-In, it is very rare that I happen to meet new people through that particular professional social network.

I have found that simply using Web2.0 tools (ie tagging, flickr, blogging, etc), I am more apt to create some semblance of a community (albeit loosely bound).

Splogs and bots

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There seems to be no end to the constant barrage of blogspot spam blogs or 'splogs' as described by Mark Cuban. It seems that I must modify the rules within my .htaccess file almost daily. These splogs play havoc on your bandwidth. Ain't know free lunch here. Yet another reason why I despise blogspot and consider it to be the scum of the earth. If I could simply get the datacenter to drop blogspot traffic from their router I would be very happy. The only problem is that there is that 1% of legitimate traffic (I happen to correspond with a couple of those blogspot types). Google really needs to tighten the reigns on the proliferation of these ghost accounts.

DRM - destructive FUD

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Now that I've had my monthly massage, I can unwind and actually objectively compose this rant of epic proportions.
Recently, I have embarked on a quest to digitize my analog mix-tapes. The idea here is to archive them for posterity and obviously share them with my friends. Those of you who know me well, understand that my mix-tape stacks are quite immense, and they are authentic circa 1980, hip-hop and house cuts. Unfortunately, due to large file size and bandwidth considerations, it simply wouldn't be practical to hosts the archives on my server. So, I sought out perhaps the most readily known media archiving site, the internet archive. I chose the archive because I have always admired the work of Brewster Kahle, and the whole idea of the wayward machine. Moreover, the archive has one of the most aggressive bots, Alexa's ia_archiver bot, so I was sure to have my content indexed.

*Aside* BTW: If you haven't checked out NerdTV, make sure that you peep the shows they really are quite good. Very informative.

Public facing calendars

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I manage websites for two non-profit organizations as well as my own. It is customary for any relatively large organization to inform users and staff members of events via a calendaring system. As most of you know I am a fervent supporter of Open Source tools, especially the LAMP variety. However, I've not had very much success with obtaining a solution that is impervious to malicious bandits. Although, I fancy myself as a fairly competent sys-admin, I must trust that the developers of these useful scripts have taken every effort to close holes in their products. People have told me that I'll always have problems of this sort, if I continue to use open source tools. However, I disagree. I know that the community has and can do better. Hell, if an operating system kernel has thousands of lines of code (ie Linux), and does an excellent job of patching security vulnerabilities. I would imagine the same could be done with relatively simple calendar scripts. Perhaps there is a dearth of eyesballs on the code. Who knows?? Bottom line is we must do better.

M$ DRM debacle

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As many of you know, I'm a devout Yankee fan. So, I purchased the video from The Yanks vs Bosox (Sept 4)Yanks defeated Bosox 1-0 behind a stellar pitching performance by Randy Johnson. So, I promptly purchased the previously recorded game and downloaded for later viewing. Once I copied the windows media video file to the fileserver(Beast), I then fired up mplayer, and to my chagrin, I get bunch of pixels.

I immediately began cursing Gates, Balmer and MLB. What idiots, I thought. I paid for the damn video, and now you guys are telling me that I can only play in our shyty OS. How repulsive and criminal. Well, after I finished brooding, I did what every motivated engineer would do I decided to S.T.E.A.L. (Seek Technical Expertise and Learn).

Actually, I realized that many other people have been faced with same situation. Moreover, I remembered the much publicized DeCSScase. A young European student, was faced with a similar ridiculous circumstance while attempting to play an encrypted DVD media which he'd purchased on his Linux box. So, as I suspected there were many people who have reversed engineered the stupid DRM that M$ have sold to its licensing partners. I will never understand why people use technology to incumber people. IMHO, most end-users are honest, but they are forced to violate silly laws, because extremely aggressive vendors seek to dictate what is right and exact computer use. Hell, I own the bandwidth which comes into my home, I also own the hardware which plays this media. How dare you tell me how I must use the technology.

This is why Open Source is so important. It levels the playing field for people who are willing to cut the umbilical cord. I refuse to suck the nipples of the Redmond gorilla..

Why study engineering?

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I found the article below to be very insightful. Before I begin to dissect the article and apply my uniquely qualified opinion, allow me to digress for a moment.

It occured to me that there are not enough commercial entities which offer encouragement, much less romanticize the field of engineering. Instead, you're more likely to find shows which emphasize the high drama of the doctors or lawyers. Why is that?

Actually, some of you may recall the show called MacGyver, it depicted a guy who was a great problem solver. I have no idea if he was an engineer but he clearly was resourceful and inquisitive, both of which are attributes of many engineers. The show aired for about seven years and was pulled off the air. I don't believe it has received much syndication. In fact, it was the only show of its type. In contrast, there have been a never ending deluge of court, hospital and lately business shows. To reiterate my point, it was the only show which glamourized what I consider 'engineer-like' traits. Don't misunderstand, I do believe that law and medicine are admirable professions, and both require a certain amount of discipline, but it is clearly not engineering.

I suppose the stereotypical stigmas associated with engineering (ie. taped glasses, exaggerated overbite, etc) are partly responsible. Yeah, just like the popular sitcom Family MattersUrkel. I'm sure everyone remembers Animal House too. It has been said that most engineers are anti-social and lack essential communication skills. While I do know some that fit that description, I would argue that these are largely myths. The problem I have with all of these misguided perceptions, is that it has become a deterent to aspiring scientists and engineers. These days the term nerd or geek isn't nearly as offensive to some. However, a youngster may not understand and begin to develop self hatred and a disdain for fascinations that really describe their interests and ultimately define their personality. The sad truth is there aren't enough high schools that foster excellence. Fortunately, I attend BTHS, and it did have its share of very talented, err shall I say nerdy teenagers.

Actually, I had other material to share with you, but as I have been home enjoying myself. I have also taken a walk down memory lane too. More on this later. However, I am compelled to comment on the devastation, and what I classify as poor and despicable media coverage of the events in New Orleans. As most of you have already witnessed, there is a great deal of poverty in the rural sections of NO. What I find disturbing is the constant images of the looting and pillaging. Naturally, they paint the image of poor blacks on a rampage. What is NOT told is the story of destitude and hopelessness of a people with no way out. Personally, I would do whatever is necessary to feed my family. If I thought I could make money of a flat screen TV, it would be under my arm with a quickness. The reality here is that no calvary was on the way to help anyone in the rural communities or the inner-city.

Maddening cleansing

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Spent the weekend in Chi-town hanging out with an old friend and also checked a Yankee game. Although the Yanks came out on the losing end 6-2, we did take 2 of 3 from the team with the best record in the AL.
I was also asked to assist my friend with innoculating some school laptops, which were running winXP. Certainly not my idea of fun. Considering the fact that the machines were full of adware, spyware, and trojans, it was clear that this would be a huge undertaking.

I believe that there were a total of 25 machines. It took roughly 1.5hrs to disinfect each machine. We followed a very convoluted process, in an attempt to avoid restaging(formatting the hard drive) each laptop.

House Cmte - DRM

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I will never understand why non-technical people are placed in postitions where they must evaluate technical phenomenon. Last week C-Span aired a session where members of P2P United answered various Senators who were tasked with policing the P2P companies in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling on Grokster. It was pretty amusing to listen to politicians who were obviously not very imformed on P2P or the decision.

Essentially, they were acting as mouthpieces for the RIAA and MPAA. On average, each senator was roughly 55-60 years old. Most of the representatives have never used high speed internet, let alone P2P software. So what were they doing asking questions of a technical nature? It's beyond my comprehension.

Paraphrasing the conversation - Representative from California, "What are you guys doing to stop and monitor porn?" Response from P2P united chair, "Same thing we've always done. It's very difficult for us to monitor every node of our network and sniff each indiviidual packet, as we have millions of customers. Not a very cost effective solution."

Representative retort, "Surely you guys can filter your network, I find it hard to believe that it's not feasible. Our children are at risk. What are you doing about piracy?" Mr. Adam Eisgrau Executive Director, P2P United response, "I assure you that filtering isn't feasible. Regarding DRM, I propose that we adopt a model of creative commons licensing by which the artist willingly shares the material..."

Naturally this is concept fell upon deaf ears. The representative bared their teeth and threatened group to change their ways or there would be severe repercussions. It seems that the politicians believe that the parents shouldn't raise their own children. Why should technologists be saddled with this responsibility too. If you do not want your child to view porn keep monitor there online activities. Actually, there are dozens of ways to accomplish this(ie web proxies, and other third-party software tools.)

Senate to Examine MGM vs. Grokster Ramifications

Another article of note is shown below.

House Eyes DRM Interoperability

System architecting musings

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Well, I have to make up for lost time, I've busy as a Hebrew slave these several days. I have not had very much time to drop jewelz on your melon. Best news would be that Summer classes will be done next week. Couldn't come a day too soon. Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate the mental stimulation, but the program has been zapping all of my energy. In fact, this compressed Summer session really wasn't much fun at all. For instance, we were tasked with designing concept for a human powered dragster, the event is sponsored by Red Bull and others.

Forewards - OPE

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Are you down with OPE? Yeah, I know what the hell is he talking about now. Well let me do some explaining. Recently I scolded(albeit lightly) one of my friends regarding her use of 'Other Peoples E-mail'. I suppose one could go back to days when e-mail was a novelty (circa 1994) and people who weren't computer saavy still spent most of their time putting their thoughts on paper and writing letters. So, when non-technical folks, first discovered email, it was a medium for sending out chain letters and other trash that had very little use to anyone. Well fast foreward to the new millenium, and we still have people that would rather send out thoughts of others than their own. Not sure why this is so common. Perhaps its the relative ease at which you can click a button and send out the junk to sprawling mailing list of people. Maybe it's simply due to the fact it is so much easier to _not_ write any of your own thoughts and use that of others. Employing this strategy one could say, "I didn't write it, don't shoot me, shoot the messenger." I have often run into situations where someone was let's say compelled to respond to the entire list of people which originated from OPE.

Long time coming

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Why does it seem to take an inordinant amount of time for crazed whites to get justice? I already know the answer, it was merely a rheotorical question. When was the last time a 41 years to convict a suspected black male? I know some will say justice is blind, and they will use examples like OJ and MJ. I argue that these cases are unique and very rare indeed.

I can offer you Mumia Abu-Jamal and a host of others, who were jailed almost immediately after they were suspected of wrong doing.

Very nasty world we live indeed.

BBC NEWS | Americas | KKK verdict sees 'justice arrive'

Perceptions are evil

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Why is it that employee productivity is often measured against the time one arrives to the office?
Is this actually true measure of the worth of an individual? In my mind, there really is little correlation between the two.
It is mindboggling to run a business based upon your feelings or perceptions of others. If your staff is getting the job done and paying attention to detail, why be concerned that they all come into the office at the same time. Methinks that it is really ridiculous to walk the aisles checking to see who is at their desks and who is not. People have different working behaviours. It is what makes people unique. One of the problems with the culuture of some very old companies, is that they talk a great deal about work-life balance, but they simply do not walk the walk. The problem here is that the supervision walk around scared, and are then forced to police their subordinates. Not a very healthy atmosphere. Why not focus on the deliverables? Is this not reason that people are hired in the first place? I imagine it is very different for people that punch a timeclock, as they typically are not salaried workers. Hence, they are paid for every minute they work. Obviously, people make a personal choice when opting to punch a time clock. Not something that I'd ever want.

I would love to be able to work from home once a week. Quite frankly, there are meetings that are totally useless. The only reason we're asked to support them is to avoid getting additional assignments. Pretty silly, huh..
I suppose that self-employment has many benefits, specifically the idea of escaping ridiculous office politics.
Surely, it can not be any worse.

Justice or Just Us ?

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I am sure that by now many of you have heard the reports out of Florida, regarding the little girl who was handcuffed for poor behavior. I have seen the video and must say that I am baffled.
Clearly the child was misbehaving, but none of the five-year old's actions would indicate that she was a physical threat to the safety of the adult. I always thought that handcuffs were used to mitigate the ability of a dangerous criminal to do willful harm to another.

The teacher shown in the video, appears to be at least 200lbs. Why couldn't this adult female restrain a child that was one-tenth of her size? Judging from the video, it appears as though the woman was using the 'timeout' sign. Hell, I thought that only worked in basketball games.

I have no idea why the parents could not be reached, but I am sure that a lawsuit is justified.
How much force is too much? Florida residents, where is the outcry? Have you had enough of Jeb?

Marian's Blog: 3 Florida Police Handcuff A 5 Year Old [Black] Child- The Continued Criminalisation of Being Black

Berkeley db defeated

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I have finally conquered the dreaded db known as Berkeleydb. Most of my experiences with db have been fraught with peril and uncertainty. In the past, I had used db for Evolution, the drop in Open Source replacement for M$ Outlook. If my memory serves me well, I seem to recall that db isn't backwards compatible. So each time the db developers upgrade their software, the previous version simply do not work as designed. I distinctly remember being told by GNOME developers, that I was to use db-3.17 and _only_ that version, as all others would not work correctly,.

More recently, I seem to have corrupted my blog database. It seems that I ran out of space on my server, so the db could not be properly parsed by the MT publishing engine. I received a couple duplicate entries and many 'serialized' errors after rebuilding my entries.

So, I decided to simply migrate the default db to the more robust mySQL. I won't go into the gory details here, but I did find alot of help by using the ubiquitous 'google' search. It appears that many other MT users have also experienced problems with db. Immediately following the migration, I noticed a tremendous performance boost in the rebuild process. I no longer receive timeouts etc.. No more errors either.

The question I have for Ben Trott et al at Six Apart is "Why use such a fragile db?". If the db isn't robust to adverse conditions (file locking, mismatch parsing errors, etc), it should not be the default database for the publishing engine. Why not use mySQL as the default?

Anyway, I'll stop my mild 'rant' here. I've slayed db dragon, and I am better for it. Now, I can begin to post entries more frequently, and make up for any lost time.

I'm back on the block like Quincy Jones.

Some people take great pride in the belief that our country has made substantial improvements, in granting access to women and minorities, in the fields of science and engineering. We usually get a stark reminder in the form of an inappropriate comment or some weird revelation from an educational institution.

Recently, the former occured on the campus of Harvard University. Unfortunately, it serves as a clear reminder that we still have a long way to go. Achieving true equity for women and minorities in technical fields will take many generations. Today I had the occasion to read another indictment on the often under-represented group. The culprit was none other than Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard U. president.

The author of the article,
Larry's Taste complained about some the statements that Larry made during an equity symposium. After reading the aforementioned article, I believe the author focused on the wrong aspects of the talk. No doubt, there is much to dispute in Summers's talk, but instead it would have been better to challenge Summers to go out and hire the appropriate research team to validate his claims. Essentially, bring in the research team to find answers to his own questions. The transcript is rife with supposition and incongruent analogies. For instance, Summers wishes to have someone 'marshal' evidence to refute the idea that women generally opt to raise families and would rather not labor through an eighty-hour work week. He also challenged the audience to go out and measure the long-term success of marginal the candidates who were admitted under a quota preference. Although the talk is quite lengthy, it's really a worthwhile read.

See Harvard President's speech

Unfortunately, the talk smells very much like the infamous
Bell Curve text, co-authored by Charles Murray. Ironically, he too was a Harvard graduate. I only read half of this book, which was written nearly a decade ago. I was nauseated half-way through the text, hopefully you can stomach Summers dialogue.

Petrol Crisis

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Drastic times calls for drastic measures. I know my Tri-State area family are probably grinning now. Everybody in the wilderness of the Midwest are struggling with these ridiculous gas prices. It really is criminal. If I had a rifle, I'd go looking for Bush and his oil cronies. It appears gas prices will reach an apex of $3.50 this summer. I was too young to understand the impact of the 70's gas crisis, but I understand people got knocked over the head for petrol.

Could it happen again?? You'd better believe it. It really sucks not having access to mass transit. Nonetheless, I have decided to purchase a pedal bike this Spring. I will probably be the strongest brotha in MI. I refuse to be pimped at the pump. Came across a very interesting site, cannot substatiate its accuracy, but I will go out tomorrow and track down a few locations.

Brace for Summer, and watch your back, it is going to get very ugly out there.
Cars! Cars! Cars!: Cheap Gas and How To Find It

New Beginnings

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Just a few housekeeping items..

Some of you have been unable to post comments. I figured it would be wise to explain some of the changes I've implemented to counter the comment spam. When posting a comment, you must first select preview. After previewing, then select post. This strategy assures that your message won't be rejected or throttled. Hopefully this will clear up any confusion.
Please be advised that all first-time commenters will be moderated, after I review the comment for its authenticity and content, I will then publish it.

Still confused ? Send me a msg and we'll talk.

Now, onto the real news...

Bugme Not

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Hold your applause, but I have posted my monumental 100th blog entry. Well actually, I have posted a total 130 blog entries. 100 of those entries have been with my preferred MT Publishing Engine and the other 30 entries were done with the older Blogger service. I left Blogger awhile ago because it wasn't very extensible and suffered from security flaws. Basically, I was lazy and the old Blogger tool made publishing fairly thoughtless. Movable Type and Wordpress are the leaders in blogging tools.

Allow me to share another tidbit of helpful info with you. Have any of you ever visited a site only to be prompted to sign-in menu? In most cases these sites have public domain information (ie online magazines or newspapers). I find these sites to be major pain in the ass. I despise websites that require registration to view public domain content. The online edition of the New York Times is the latest to draw my ire.

Alas, there is a solution to this annoyance. It is called Bugme Not. Essentially, the script works directly with your web browser to allow safe passage past compulsory, meaningless website registrations.

Give it a try, I'm sure you'll love it.

Perils of Nerdism

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Technical book readers be very wary of the overly friendly fellow patron. On two occasions , albeit different establishments, I've received unwanted solicitation from members of a network marketing organization. It happened to me in NJ and MI.
Please be advised that I have tried several different strategies of earning supplemental income, with Network Marketing being one such method.
I suppose another common thread in both instances was the fact that they were East Indian patrons.

It is customary for me to seek out the computer related books in a Borders or Barnes and Noble. So, as I scanned through the O'Reilly DNS/BIND text, I spotted someone approaching with my peripheral vision.

So here is an excerpt from our dialogue, "Are you a software engineer ?", he asked. I replied, "No, I'm a closet System Administrator." "Oh really", he added with a grin. He went on to say that he worked with Solaris and HP-UX systems. I explained to him that I have been known to make spare change with Linux.

The hook: He said, "You know, I too have a business on the side. I'm involved with E-Commerce." He then asked, "What is your name ?"
Without the blink of an eye, I quickly added, "My name is Omar Blackman." I knew exactly where this conversation was headed. We shook hands.

Email Abuse

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Yes, this is a rant. I've become totally disgusted with people who continue to use these 'so-called' free email accounts (ie Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.).

I say 'so-called' because there is a cost associated with lost mail and the spam and virii that these accounts harvest. I have never used them and strongly discourage others from doing the same.

Generally, these people never take the time to filter or monitor there insanely small inboxes. As a result, if you send them a few lines of text, it will certainly bounce.

Well, there is a solution to this nuisance. I'm not sure if these guys are similar to Google's gmail, in that using their service, obligates the user to become a unsuspecting marketing participant. Nonetheless, it's worth investigating.

Technically Speaking » Hellacious Riders Offer 100GB Email Accounts

Home Improvement - The Sequel

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Thus far, home ownership has been a very educational experience. It seems that I learn something new each day. For instance, I learned a valuable lesson regarding insurance.

As you probably already know, everyone is required to purchase home owner's insurance. One of the benefits of this insurance, is that you can replace a failed appliance or other household items which are damaged or stolen.

In my case, I have a very old hot water tank. So, upon reading the insurance guidelines, and speaking to the insurance service agent, I decided to schedule an appointment to get the unit replaced. The selling point here, is that the plumber would come out and replace the unit for a service fee $75.00. Hell, I couldn't even install the unit myself for $75.00. Gosh what a deal ! This is why you pay all that loot for the insurance. Right ? Wrong.

The plumber came to my home and inspected my hot water tank. He immediately asked if I'd read the fine print in my contract. Something about "We're not responsible for bringing the unit up to code ." I said, "Why yes, I had read the entire document. ". He proceeded to show me the sentence, that he was referring to. Next, he began to show me the items that weren't up to code.

1) Vent Piping incorrect diameter.
2) Gas regulator
3) Ball valve needed to be replaced w/gate valve
4) Upgrade tank from 30gal to 40 gal
5) Galvanized pipe replacement w/copper
6) Disposal fee

After he was done with his list, the cost of the repairs rose from $75.00 to $575.00. You can imagine what I said to him. I cut him a check for $75.00 and said thanks, but no thanks.

Now that I'm involved with rehabbing depressed properties, it's actually cheaper for me to get one of my handymen to do the required work. Install and dispose of tank for $312.00 Amazing. Why even pay for the insurance ?

Vegas Flight

Yes, I know it has been quite awhile since I've dropped a scribe, but I have been busy with stuff. I was forced to head west on a business trip last week. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the trip was the flight to Vegas. I had the pleasure of being sandwiched between two obese women. To make matters worse, I was unable to get any legroom because I arrived a bit late for my 6.30a flight. So, after I arrived at the airport I could not change my seat assignment to a more suitable exit row seat.

The only seat available was a middle seat, with zero legroom. A 4.5hr flight with zero legroom, not a very good feeling. The lady to left of me took nearly half of my chair. She rolled to the left to let me squeeze in between she and another oversized woman. I really wish I had a camera on my cellphone so that I could capture this moment as it happened. I said very little on this flight, I watched a couple VCDs on my laptop and read my Linux Journal.
I was very happy to get off that plane to stretch my legs. With the exception of the Hoover Dam excursion, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. I'll post some photos of the National Landmark in my next scribe.

Traffic Court

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Yesterday, I made my first court appearance for a speeding ticket that I received in July. I was clocked at 47 in a 25mph zone.. The cop wrote the ticket for 1-5mph over..
Those of you who know me, recognize that I'm usually cheap as hell. I'm sorry I meant to say frugal. Basically, I'm not giving up any loot unless I can see a huge rate of return.
Traffic violations definitely do not factor into this equation. So, I set out to beat the violation like Malcolm - By Any Means Necessary.

Because, I had no priors and an impeccable driving record, I scheduled a formal hearing. If the officer who issued the citation doesn't appear, you beat the ticket.

The penal system is a straight up game. For instance, I arrived at 8.25a for 9.00a court appearance. Stood in a processing line for 15minutes, only to discover that I could have walked
upstairs, checked for my name and wait in front of the prosecutor's office. So, I sat outside the prosecutor's office for another 35 minutes. What pissed me off was that I watched a few attorneys and their clients attempt to walk past me to speak with the prosecutor. Of course, I got up and asked the prosecutor," Is there any order here, or can anyone just get up and walk
into your office ?" He responded, "I've got your file and will get to ASAP." Rule 1 - If you don't have a counsel present, you get shafted and have to wait forever. Those attorneys are on the clock, heaven forbid if they have to wait. I say screw them.

Once I finally sat down with the prosecutor, it was ~9.55a. He immediately stated the obvious. He said, "You have no driving record, citation 1-5mph over."
Rule 2 - The Deal He offered me reduced sentence, no points if I chose to plea impeding traffic $90.00($10.00 more than speeding tkt). Recognize that I'm still looking for the cop who wrote me up.
I don't see the guy, so I'm thinking play the card until the bitter end. I refuse the plea bargain, and decide to meet the judge. I figured, I had no record, no cop, throw it out.

All rise - It's now 10am, finally into the court room. Lots of derelicts around. Just waiting for my opportunity to say to the Judge, "You're out of order, this whole court system is out of order."
I restrained myself.. Judge hears four cases and goes into recess! Yes, I was heated.. It's now 10.30a

The Bailiff tells me my paperwork must still be with the Prosecutor. I walk out of courtroom, and I still do not see the cop who wrote me up. Prosecutor asks me to come into his office.
Guess what, the cop showed up! My day has gone from bad to worse. Prosecutor tells me that he misunderstood the citation, and that officer was kind enough to translate for him.

Basically, he pulled my freakin paperwork until the cop showed up. No justice. Now, I'm thinking that the impeding traffic plea looks awfully damn good right about now. So, I took it.
Did not even make eye contact with the cop. Again I was heated, and out of 90 bucks.

11.00a - Walked back into the courtroom. Judge heard two cases, and it was my turn to shine. I felt like Colin Ferguson, ready to tell the court my story. Actually, it was not very dramatic, as the previous defendant, who also had no counsel copped the same plea. I walked out, paid my fee and bounced. No driving record, no points.

Moral of the story. Hell, there is no moral. If I had simply paid the fine, I would've lost 2pts on my license. So you take your chances in the court of law. Total victory for me would have been $0 dollars out of pocket. What would you have done ?


Made a first attempt at cleaning key areas of my new home. Who would have thought the nice old lady would have left vegetables and hair in refridgerator ? Pretty disgusting huh.. I've spent countless hours cleaning and wondering when the next folicle will reveal itself. I'm very subsconscious about hair that doesn't belong to me. Obviously, the woman had a shedding problem. The hair is even sealed into the varnish on the wooden floor.

Nonetheless, the house is in good shape, but I'll need to do a fair amount of scrubbing before I'll feel comfortable moving in. 25 days remaining before I travel to Europe. Very excited, looking forward to the trip. I have never travelled to Western Europe, so I am pretty amped.

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