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September 30, 2004

Kerry . . . You need to Look at the Camera

I'm no speech expert, but can someone send a message to John Kerry, he hasn't looked at the camera once during tonight's debate. Bush regularly looks straight into the camera (and the homes of TV audiences) when he speaks. In then end, regardless of the content of the speech, I'd guess Bush will get more credibility because he looks at the camera.

Posted by mike at 7:30 PM

September 29, 2004

Insane Amount of Weblog Comment Spam

I was feeling all good about having done some work and getting my email spam considerably down and no sooner did I feel good than I started to get hammered with weblog comment spam.

Part of the problem is that I like to leave comments on for my entire history of posts, I've gotten some interesting comments weeks after posting, but I've got to slow the spam down a bit so I added this to my nightly cron:

/usr/bin/mysql -e "update mt_entry set entry_allow_comments = 0 where to_days(entry_modified_on) < to_days(now()) - 30" mikeblog
In essence it turns off comments after 30 days. Will have to see how much that helps, I haven't even looked around to see what other folks are doing about spam in MT 3.0.

Posted by mike at 7:46 AM

September 26, 2004

HandBrake for DVD Backup

Pete and I got into this conversation last night about tools to copy DVD video. He was doing some interesting stuff with some of their DVDs where he'd clip off the advertising on the front, and credits at the end to produce a DVD that contained only the movie, not even a menu. Made it much easier for the kids to watch a movie, not having to wade through trailers and menus.

We also talked about how DVDs get trashed so easily (esp when kids are involved) and I got to thinking how many times we've re-purchased a favorite DVD because the original got damaged.

So I looked around a bit and found HandBrake, a simple GUI using a collection of GNU libraries for making an mp4 file from a DVD. It's pretty simplistic, allowing you to extract any video file to a .mp4, choosing a primary and secondary audio track to go along with it. Not only does it allow you to set the bitrate, you can also specify a total end file size and the extraction will change settings appropriately.

I also played with DVDBackup, which seems to be about removing or changing regional encoding, analog protection system and CSS, the extracted file is still .VOB. MacTheRipper seems along the same lines.

Posted by mike at 4:17 PM

September 21, 2004

Merging Authoring Tools into Sakai

We've been participating in the Sakai group for about 12 months now as a partner institution. This all comes up because I'm at a meeting with a dozen schools who are hammering on the content authoring pieces, and looking at how the dozens (maybe even hundreds?) of authoring tools could or should integrate into Sakai services.

If you're not familiar, Sakai is a collaboration effort between University of Michigan, Indiana University, MIT and the uPortal Consortium to build the ultimate Collaboration and Learning Environment (CLE). The Sakai Educational Partners Program (SEPP) allows other schools to join the effort, to observe and be a part of planning movement of other applications to interoperability with Sakai. The SEPP has a number of subgroups (content authoring, user support, cross language, ui etc) which focus on more specific efforts in utilizing Sakai core technologies.

What does this all mean? I don't know. Some schools are chomping at the bit to get Sakai up and running to replace their existing online learning environment. Other schools are just watching, waiting to see where it goes and are a partner to ensure that Sakai is aware of their needs.

I don't know that Tufts knows how it will use Sakai, but is for sure interested in keeping abreast and perhaps at some point will decide Sakai is the replacement for existing applications.

Posted by mike at 6:48 AM

September 19, 2004

Fitting Everything for a 3-day Trip into a Small Backpack

I'm in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) for three days. A few things led to deciding to try to fit everything for the trip into one small backpack:

It took some careful consideration to decide exactly what was worth bringing along. There were a few items that were in the bag, then out, then back in. As I'm getting ready to sleep on the first night I haven't had any "oh, I forgot to bring _____" moments, will see what happens over the next two days.

Posted by mike at 9:32 PM

September 15, 2004

Update to latest SpamAssassin and a spam learning mechanism

Some time ago, around the time SpamAssassin 2.5 was released, Pete installed it on our mail server and we did some configuring to reduce the spam getting through to the inbox, redirecting spam into a designated folder (in case we want to periodically review to make sure there's no "real" mail getting flagged as spam).

It didn't take long for spam to start getting through again, and I've dealt with deleting spam for some time. The number of spam getting into my inbox has risen gradually and I guess the other day I'd had enough because I took the time to upgrade.

I noticed there was still some spam getting through, so I decided to take one more proactive measure and create a semi-automatic learning mechanism.

I created a folder ThisIsSpam, and set up a cron to regularly use mail in that folder to "teach" SpamAssassin.

/usr/bin/sa-learn --mbox --spam /home/mike/mail/ThisIsSpam
I scheduled this to run regularly, so as spam does get into my inbox I move it to the folder for SpamAssassin to learn.

I don't know the details about how it learns but the output from sa-learn gives me confidence that it's doing something:

Learned from 10 message(s) (16 message(s) examined).
More importantly, in just the past two days of learning I've noticed a considerable improvement in the filtering.

Posted by mike at 7:21 AM

September 12, 2004

Shutterfly's Awesome Upload Tool

Tonight Heidi created a folder filled with 141 digital photos from recent trips that she wanted printed. Upon going to shutterfly and starting the normal upload process (browse for one photo at a time) I decided that somewhere, someone must have made a better tool for uploading photos. Lo and behold there's a link right on the shutterfly page to their upload utility, and they've even got one for Mac OS X.

I download, install, restart my browser and when I go to upload photos I get this awesome plugin which lets me select all 141 photos in one action and it gives me a thumbnail, image name, size and progress bar for each one in the plugin. Looks like the plugin throttles the upload to four photos at a time, keeping the other photos on a "pending" queue.

Way better than any other web-based upload utility I've used.

Posted by mike at 7:34 PM

September 9, 2004

Configuring Exim to Relay Mail

Finally got around to digging into exim tonight to give our webserver machine the ability to send mail. A few months back we moved the web traffic to a new machine, leaving the old machine to just handle mail. Since then any mail from web-based applications has been failing.

The sad thing? The work to get mail sent from the webserver to route through our mail server required a change in two lines in /etc/exim/exim.conf:

domainlist local_domains = localhost : mandan.kruckenberg.com
domainlist relay_to_domains = *.kruckenberg.com

We don't have a ton of mail coming from the webserver, but will be nice to once again get notifications of comments/trackback on the weblog.

Posted by mike at 8:40 PM

Upgrade to MovableType 3.11

Again, without issue upgraded to a new version of MovableType, 3.11. It has some new features, not sure if I'll use any of them just yet. The dynamic generation of archive pages might come in handy.

Primary reason to upgrade? Pete had the upgrade in a place that was easy for me to grab. Running the mt-upgrade31.cgi brought all my tables up to date.

I thought I read somewhere when 3.1 was announced that there would be some cross-blog interaction capabilities added. Don't see that in the upgrade notes.

Posted by mike at 6:52 AM

September 8, 2004

$422-Billion Deficit Projected

I have almost no economic training, but I just can't imagine a $422 billion deficit is good for anything or anyone.

I guess it's fitting for a country full of people who live beyond their means for the government running the country to do the same. This can't go on forever, someday it's going to hurt when we're forced to deal with the situation.

Posted by mike at 1:58 PM

Sharing iTunes in the Med School Library

My office is in a library. Until a few weeks ago the wireless coverage didn't include our end of the building, but an access point has been added on our end of the floor. I'm starting to notice med students in the library doing research are popping up in iTunes.

Every time I poke around at someone else's iTunes I feel strange, like I'm somewhere I shouldn't be. I wonder if people are aware they are being "listened to." There is a way to get a general idea of if and what people are listening to.

Yet another distraction . . .

Posted by mike at 1:36 PM

ConceptDraw: The Data Model Tool that Couldn't

For a few months now (and arguably for several years) I've needed to create a diagram, particularly for table definitions and relationships that are being changed in our application.

Some would say Visio is the tool, but I was sure there must be an alternative I can use on my PowerBook (without having VirtualPC). Pete pointed me to ConceptDraw, which is used by Mac folks in his office who think it's better than Visio.

I downloaded the 30-day evaluation copy and started working. It's easy to get up and running, has a similar feel to Visio. In no time I had a diagram with the tables and relationships.

The stinky part about it is at 8 tables, with about as many relationship pointers, ConceptDraw slowed to a crawl. There's a two second wait to just select a table in the diagram, and typing text into the fields is extremely slow. When I type in "offering" the word doesn't appear until after I'm done typing and I'm waiting between 1-2 seconds for each letter to appear.

I'm on a PowerBook 867MHz G4 with 640 Mb ram, which isn't the latest, but it seems to perform well with any other application. Maybe there's something about ConceptDraw that I'm missing. I launched my process monitor to make sure all my CPU and memory was available to the program but no change after cleaning up running applications.

Next step is to try working on the same file in Visio. I used the online converter but guess something went wrong because 4 days seems like plenty of time to convert and get it back to me in email. Will have to try again.

Some other thoughts on ConceptDraw.

Posted by mike at 7:37 AM

September 5, 2004

Go Red Sox, Go

The Red Sox are making a nice run toward the playoffs. Best case scenario is to continue winning and pass the Yankees (currently 2.5 games back), more realistic is to not give up the 4 game lead in the wild-card race.

We become bigger Sox fans each year. After last year's 7th game loss to the Yankees in the ALCS this season couldn't have come soon enough. Althought we haven't watched every game, have certainly watched a good number of them, listened to another good chunk and kept up with online feeds for the others.

Along with every other Sox fan can only hope that the series of games over the next month will set us up nicely for the playoffs. Hopefully, once in the playoffs we'll have what it takes to make it into the World Series, and perhaps win it.

Posted by mike at 8:59 PM

September 3, 2004

Sir, Don't Kick the Train . . . for Your Safety

I heard this announcement over the train PA riding home tonight: sir, don't kick the train . . . for your safety.

At first I imagined the situation which would cause a person to kick a subway car. Easy, person makes a mad dash to get on the train and the doors close just before he/she can get on. Kick the train to express frustration annoyance. I doubt a person could damage one of those cars, but I can understand the conductor (or MBTA in general) not wanting people to kick the trains.

But give me a break with the "for your safety" bit. That is annoying in so many ways. First, I can't imagine how it's a hazard to the kicker (broken toe?). Second, it sounds like if the kicking were only a bit more safe the MBTA would allow it. Third, my mom said something like that to me when I was in the 3rd grade ("it's for your own good").

Is it so bad to say "Sir, Please don't kick the train" and leave it at that?

Posted by mike at 5:58 PM