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October 29, 2003

Mozilla 1.5 - Mail has Spell Check

Going to take a run at using Mozilla for awhile. Tufts advocates Netscape Mail for mail, which I've been using for some time. The only reason I hadn't moved my mail client to Mozilla was lack of a spell checker, I'm too lazy to pay attention to spelling and need some intervention before mail goes out.

Mozilla 1.5 includes a spell checker.

I'm not crazy about the Netscape browser either so have been using Safari. It's time for a break from Safari, am going to see how much mileage I can get out of using Mozilla for both browsing and mail.

For personal email I'd been using Apple's Mail, still considering if that's worth it. Hasn't been that long since I left pine.

As inconvenient as reinstalling everything is, having a clean slate gives me an opportunity to reconsider what apps to put on the laptop. So far the only thing I know I'm not putting on is Netscape and emacs.

Posted by mike at 4:47 PM

PowerBook is Back

Apple turned around my hosed PowerBook in an amazingly short time. Wednesday I called with the problem, Thursday a shipping box came to my house, Friday I shipped the PB off. Monday Apple got the laptop, fixed it, sent it back and it arrived at my house Tuesday morning.

I took a screenshot of the ticket status, primarily because I was impressed with the hours my machine was getting worked on. According to the repair detail the unit was received at 5:44am, repair was started at 6:44am and completed/shipped at 9:53pm. The PB was in my hands a little more than 24 hours after they received it. I think that's impressive considering I'm on the limited warrantee.

The bummer is all my data is gone (new hard drive), and when I synced up my iPod all the songs on the iPod were removed. Installing new applications and getting my environment set up is one thing, getting all that music ripped again will take a lot of time.

I wasn't aware that when buying music from the Apple store, once it's downloaded Apple consideres the transaction complete and is free of obligation. Out of luck if songs are deleted. I burned most of what I purchased from Apple to CD, but it seemed like I was being untrue in some way so the last two albums were only on my iPod . . . bummer. Of course, I will feel completely justified getting the songs from whatever free service is currently popular. If I would have only read kasia's Panther entry about copying songs off iPod.

Posted by mike at 10:10 AM

October 27, 2003

Battle with ipf

Over the past few months we've been fighting a battle with ipf (ip filter) on our production boxes. Every now and again ipf blocks packets which clearly have a rule to pass in the config file. Very confusing, and hard to pinpoint because we can't be fiddling with the firewall and turning on/off access to the machines when users are on the system.

I did some poking around on google and found some interesting information about ipf's state feature, which we use heavily. The idea behind "state" is that the first packet gets checked against the rules, and stuck in a state hash, which is checked on all packets. If you've created a state entry then the remaining packets in a request go through quickly because they get looked up in the state table.

Apparently there is a limit to the number of state entries, once you reach that limit state isn't kept and packets get refused (if there isn't an explicit rule to allow them through).

The current theory is that we might be exceeding the state limit, but in order to determine that we've got to bring ipf up, potentially blocking traffic. Must wait for an "off peak hour" to try it.

Posted by mike at 4:29 PM

October 22, 2003

Prophetic Dream

The strangest thing about today's experience is that last night I had a dream that my laptop had been taken away and someone had pulled the hard drive out, ending up with me on the phone to Apple ordering another laptop.

I should have spent some time first thing in the morning making an updated backup of my files.

Posted by mike at 8:17 PM

PowerBook Dies (Hard Drive Failure)

Was in the middle of work this afternoon when my Macintosh 12" PowerBook got hosed. The disk started clicking wildly and most applications froze up. The dock stopped working and Apple-Option-Esc would not produce the application manager.

I attempted reboot, the hard drive was going wild and the machine would sit at a blank screen for minute after minute while the hard drive seemed to flounder.

I booted from the install/restore DVD, which came up fine but both the disk utility and the install utility couldn't find the hard drive. I then booted from the "Apple Hardware Test" cd (which took 15+ minutes) and ran the available tests. The tool checked a number of items, one of which was "Mass Storage" which checked out OK, not sure exactly what that meant, so I rebooted one more time before calling Apple to confirm that the hard drive wasn't working.

My call to Apple was fairly straightforward with one dissapointment. In order to use my One Year Limited Warrantee I was required to put up $49, in case the problem wasn't hardware. I guess since I'm not on the extended warrantee plan, the phone conversation to determine if it's a hardware problem is not covered. My question to the Apple representative:

What's the point of a warranty if you have to pay to figure out if you can use the warrantee?
Seem like the problem "discovery" should be a part of the warantee.

I was 99% sure it was my hard drive failing so I coughed up the CC to get the process moving. The Apple person went through several steps:


  1. Boot up the computer with option pressed to get into some startup mode, insert the CD

  2. Click on CD to boot

  3. Once machine has booted into installer open up Disk Utility and see if hard drive is in drive list (it wasn't)

  4. Shut down machine

  5. Remove battery and power supply

  6. Reset the Power Management Unit by pressing Shift-Control-Option-power for 5 seconds

  7. Put battery and power supply back

  8. Reset pram and nvram by pressing Command-Option-P-R keys while powering on, let the machine chime four times and then release keys and hold C to boot from DVD

  9. Once the machine is up check the Disk Utility for hard drive, still not there

  10. Process ticket for return of machine for replacement of hard drive

I put up another $50 for data transfer in the case they can save my data on the hard drive.

So if you're having to call Apple because you think your hard drive is failing, run through the above steps for some extra assurance that you've got it right.

One lingering question . . . what happens to all my iTunes purchased music? I'm hoping when I sync my iPod up with the new hard drive that the music will go down to the machine . . . I'm going to be ticked if the handful of albums I've purchased are gone (or require some series of phone calls).

Oh, and Apple Repair Center . . . please put Panther on the PowerBook while you've got it. Thanks.

Posted by mike at 5:46 PM

October 21, 2003

iPod Update - Music Quiz

The latest iPod update from Apple includes a new game, Music Quiz. It's pretty cool, for those moments when there is just nothing else to do. It plays a song from your collection while displaying the titles of 5 songs on your list. You have 10 seconds to scroll and select the song that is playing.

I currently have 1,432 songs on my iPod, and am amazed at how many I can identify in 10 seconds.

Posted by mike at 3:28 PM

Health Code Inspection Log for Boston

I work not too far from Chinatown in Boston, and many people in the office hit a variety of places for lunch (myself included). The food is cheap, and pretty good.

Recently, one of the regular destinations suddenly closed it's doors. "For cleaning" is the story we heard for a few days until finally an inside source told us that it had been shut down by health inspectors. Now it seems like there is a wave across Chinatown of places being closed.

I was pointed to the City of Boston's Inspection Services site, where you can search through neighborhoods for inspection records of restaurants. It will be a long time until I eat at some of these places again. A few samples from places we eat:

Tableware encrusted with dried food.
Restaurant operating without hot water.
No soap or drying device at hand wash sink.
Chemicals stored on shelf above food prep area.
Floor under cooking line equipment is encrusted with grease.
Dry food storage shelves have build-up of soil.
Evidence of rodents or insects throughout the establishment.

Yea, it can be pretty nasty. I wonder what the inspection reports from processed food plants (Nabisco, Pepsi, General Mills etc) look like, I'd guess they'd be just as disgusting. Did a quick search on Amazon to see if there is anything published on the topic, came up with a number of meat-packing books but not much else.

Posted by mike at 2:27 PM

October 14, 2003

Prevent Spam with Disposable Email Addresses

Just stumbled into spamgourmet (used by someone to post a comment), an interesting email service. You sign up for an account and get an email address, which is set to forward on to your regular email. Sounds pretty normal, right.

The value of the service is how you use that address. When you need to leave an address somewhere in the open you prepend two things onto the address to get:
<self-made identifier>.<number of emails to recieve>.<username>@spamgourmet.com

So for this example:
mikesblog.5.mike@spamgourmet.com

I would get email messages forwarded with the identifier mikesblog until 5 email messages had come from that address, after which that email address would no loger be valid.

I haven't actually tried the service so I can't say much about how it actually works, but the idea seems good. I wonder how hard that would be to set up something like that on kruckenberg, and if spamming tools are already smart enought to figure it out.

I also wonder if it would get in the way of future, valuable messages not getting through (after the number has been met). What if down the road someone wants to get in touch but can't get through because all they've got is this expired account? Is that even likely?

Posted by mike at 3:04 PM

October 12, 2003

This Site is 21% Evil

According to the Gematriculator, my weblog (as of before this entry) is 21% evil (making the majority of it good). I did not realize this, but there is an actual algorithm for determining evilness.

Posted by mike at 11:11 PM

First Blog Spam

Got my first taste of blog spam over the weekend. It was bound to happen at some point, glad I've avoided for this long.

I agree that it's annoying to have to go in and delete the comments, not that I've experienced any significant volume of spam (14 messages in two days).

Not sure exactly how I plan to attack the problem, Jeremy had a post wich generated a fair amount of discussion about different ideas. One I liked quite a bit was from John Moore, proposing the notification mail from MT include a link for deleting the message. For the amounts of spam I'm experiencing it would be easy to click on the link, if the volume increases probably want it blocked up front.

The first of these messages read:

here is a free tip:
if you don't know what you are talking about don't post online.
I'm sorry I don't buy this, but this is how I feel.
I was confused by this until reading an entry (and comments) from David Raynes where MrG comments:
I don't see the value except for one thing: As a marker. I have heard that spammers who find open comment blogs will leave a marker that can be found with a subsequent search (Feester?)
So I deleted the marker, will be interesting to see what shows up in the next few days.

Posted by mike at 10:59 PM

October 8, 2003

Being Nice To Users (anti)

Awhile ago I wrote about being nice to users, found a collection of nice ideas for how to ensure users are treated as poorly as possible. The Bastard Operator from Hell seems to know how to meet or exceed expectations.

Posted by mike at 12:17 AM

October 7, 2003

Why Can't OS Differences be Tolerated?

I'm sick of the OS vs OS (operating system) debates. It's pointless, unproductive and doing no good. It's certainly not worth tainting otherwise good friendships. Our office has a mix of Windows, Solaris, Gentoo, Redhat and OS X, which can generate a bit of jabbing back an forth. It drains my energy, I'd rather be getting something done. Of course, I've done a bit of this myself.

I've never heard of an OS debate where after laying out the arguments the other party says "Oh, you're right, I have been misled and agree OS xxx is a better choice." No, I haven't.

I choose my OS because I like it, and I think it does a good job at what I need. Shouldn't I (or we) allow others to do the same. I shouldn't need to belittle another OS to make mine the right choice.

Is it possible to say "I no longer participate in OS debates?" I don't want to shut up about what I like, just don't want to spend my time proving it's value by focusing on failures of another OS. Am I living in reality? Development of our Linux plan will be excellent testing ground for this.

Posted by mike at 11:54 PM

October 6, 2003

Apache is Awesome (Exploring Directives)

Have been doing a bit with Apache recently on several different sites.

It started with a desire to move a site away from page-based URLs (ie switching /product/product1.php to /product/1). I've heard of this URL paradigm referred to as user-friendly or resource-based, but that's besides the point. It's a good thing to do and Apache helped me to do it. I used an AliasMatch directive, which was the simplest because it involved no changing on the pages (which are pregenerated):

AliasMatch ^/product/(.+) /home/www/products/product$1.php
Adding this directive enables us to use the new URLs while still supporting the old. In time, once internal and search indexes point to the new URLs we'll be free to undergo a code rewrite/refactoring project that may change all the underlying pages, but not the resource-based URLs.

A few days later I was setting up a resource machine which does a slew of things, including hosting a bug tracking system, grabbing and crunching Apache logs from production servers, serving collection of static pages. Decided to make a common navigation across 4 virtual domains, using PHPs auto_prepend_file in the php.ini config file. Easy way to get same nav across the top of every page, even across virtual domains. Cool stuff.

But wait, our bug tracking system, Anthill, is frame-based with it's own nav and looks quite odd with the prepended navigation. Makes sense when logged in to Anthill to not have the prepend. Piece of cake. In the virtual host directive I can use a php_var directive which allows me to set auto_prepend_file none, so for this virtual domain the prepend is ignored. Awesome.

Also, a number of the domains have changed (with our recent name change), stick in a few RewriteRule directives and everyone is getting to the right place.

Apache core directives, although well-documented and fairly simple to implement, deserve more attention.

Posted by mike at 11:17 PM

October 3, 2003

Cable Modem Speed Jumping to 3 Megabits

Am excited to learn that Comcast is doubling download speeds for cable modem users, should happen sometime in the next month. Wish they were giving me a boost on upload speeds as well, but who am I to complain.

FYI - current test on dslreports indicates 1625 kbps download and 283 kbps up.

Posted by mike at 9:16 AM

October 2, 2003

Apple Does Design Right

I started to make a comment on kasia's entry about Apple packaging but it got pretty long . . .

Back in June 1976, two months after Apple Computer Corporation was formed and one month after production of the Apple I began, Steve Jobs worked some magic and convinced Regis McKenna to take on Apple as a client. Regis McKenna was expensive, but known for sparing no expense to create the best advertising/marketing/packaging of the day.

That philosophy still carries on today in Apple. Everything about Apple's marketing, down to the smallest details, is done right. Each time I purchase from Apple, unwrapping the delivered goods confirms commitment to the purchase, and future purchases.


Posted by mike at 11:39 AM

Single, Common Resume Format

Jeremy references XMLResume, a shot at an XML resume format for rendering in many ways. This is something I've been hoping for. I was particularly frustrated during my last job search (2 years ago) when after spending a great deal of time writing and formatting my resume that each different job listing/application/board required my resume in some other format. The most annoying was Monster, which required breaking the resume into chunks and entering it into a series of web forms.

It's about time someone made it possible to have one core resume format that can be rendered in a variety of ways. Next time I look for a job maybe they'll accept my resume in this XML format.

Posted by mike at 9:53 AM

Up Late with the Red Sox

Stayed up until 3:00am last night to see the Sox go 12 innings against the A's, only to loose to a bunt. Was worth it, if they would have pulled it off and won I wouldn't have wanted to miss it. A lot of glassy-eyed folks on the subway this morning. Today will most likely call for a MD. Oh, and maybe some orange chicken with vegetable lo mein. Mmmmmmmm . . . orange chicken.

Posted by mike at 9:38 AM