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Week of 25 November 2002

Latest Update : Sunday, 01 December 2002 09:31 -0500


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Monday, 25 November 2002

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8:43 - This is going to be a slow week for posts. We have guests coming in tomorrow and staying through the weekend, and I have a lot to get done between now and their arrival.

I find that an increasing amount of my time is being spent dealing with spam. I've read various statistics that say that spam has increased dramatically during 2002, from perhaps 10% of all email messages to something as high as 50%. I can attest that for me that's probably an accurate estimate. This morning I had something like 200 new messages, of which perhaps 100 were spam, 80 were mailing list traffic, and 20 were real personal messages. During the day today I'll probably get 200 or 300 more emails, which will probably have about the same percentage breakdown.

SpamAssassin runs on my mail server. It flags messages it thinks are spam, and adds a header to that effect. Those messages are filtered automatically to my trash box. SpamAssassin catches probably 85% of the actual spams, but that still leaves 25 to 50 spams a day that make it to my inbox rather than my trash folder. That's too many by an order of magnitude.

There is something I can do, but I've hesitated to do it. SpamAssassin actually adds two header lines. The first is a simple yes/no flag. That flag is set to "yes" if the message characteristics earn a 5.0 or higher on SpamAssassin's evaluation. But SpamAssassin adds a second header, "X-Spam-Level:" that contains a row of asterisks. For example, a message that earns a 1.0 gets one asterisk, as does one that earns a 1.9. A message that earns a 5.2 gets five asterisks, and so on.

Right now, I'm filtering on the yes/no header, which means any message that earns less than 5.0 ends up in my inbox. What I may do is start filtering on the number of asterisks, telling Mozilla Mail that if that message header contains "***" to delete it. If that doesn't cut down sufficiently on the number of spams that make it to my inbox, I may change the filter to "**".

The only problem with doing that is that in addition to cutting down the number of false negatives it also increases the number of false positives. That is, more "real" email will end up being treated as spam. Even with the current settings, a real email gets trashed periodically. If I lower the bar for deleting probable spam, even more real messages will be lost. I'm at the point now where I simply empty my trash without looking at the messages. I'm sure I lose a few real messages that way, and if I reduce the trigger level I'll lose even more.

I may at some point start using one of those verification systems that allows only messages from known senders to pass and requests confirmation from unknown senders. Or I may just lower the bar until the spams go away. One thing is sure. I've had enough of spam.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2002

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8:53 - Greg Lincoln installed the new version of SpamAssassin yesterday afternoon, and mailed me to say that it should do a better job than the older version. This morning, when I checked my mail I found the following breakdown of messages:

  • 136 total messages
  • 12 real messages (8.8%)
  • 84 mailing list messages (61.8%)
  • 40 spam messages (29.4%)

Of those 40 spams, SpamAssassin flagged 37 (92.5%), with zero false positives. Even a PayPal notification got through without being flagged as spam, which they didn't always with the earlier version.

I've decided what to buy Buffy for a Saturnalia present.

point-o-matic.jpg (103573 bytes)

It's easy to mistake this for a pencil sharpener, but in fact this is the medium-size industrial model. That central hole is 2" in diameter. Just the thing to whip up a new Mr. Pointy or to refresh the tip on an older one after a hard night's staking. As is obvious from the image, this item has seen some hard use. I'm checking around the e-vendor sites to see if I can find a new one, but no luck so far. The small models are easy to find, but not many places carry these medium models. I think Panasonic makes a large model for sharpening telephone poles, but I've never seen one of them.

Is BYTE.com dead? I'm afraid it is. When they announced that they were moving to a subscription model, I figured that was the bell tolling. Other than porn sites and a few very tightly-focused specialty publications, I don't know of any on-line site that's been able to make it on subscriptions. Salon.com and a couple of others are hanging on by their fingernails, but even they are the exceptions.

BYTE.com is asking for a $12/year subscription. That means 1,000 subscribers earn them $12,000 revenue and even 10,000 subscribers earn them only $120,000. I don't know what their cost structure is, but I can't imagine they can make it on much less than 100,000 subscribers. Of course, they're going to increase the subscription price after the first of the year, so let's say they need only 50,000 subscribers. In order to entice that number of subscribers, they'll have to put up a lot more content than they have been posting.

I haven't actually tracked it, but I'd guess that BYTE.com in a year doesn't put up half the new content that the old paper magazine published every month. It used to be that Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor column was dessert (although a lot of readers ate dessert first). Now it's the franchise. That's not to minimize the contributions made by Moshe Bar, David Em, and others, but the simple fact is that if BYTE.com is to survive on the subscription model they're going to have to post a lot more fresh content a lot more often.

At a minimum, I think they need the equivalent of a new Pournelle column every day as a feature, with two or three times that much new content as supplemental material. That's not to say that they need 2,000 new words from Jerry every day, but if not new stuff from Jerry, the new daily material at least needs to be fresh and interesting.

The problem with that, of course, is that they need to pay the authors who will generate that all that new content every day. So it's a chicken/egg thing. They first need revenue to pay for the content, but they first need the content to generate the revenue. I'm afraid this is the beginning of a death spiral.

13:39 -I just read a Wired article about the midshipmen at the U. S. Naval Academy who are in trouble for having MP3 files on their hard drives. There's something I don't understand here. The possession of MP3 files is not illegal. I have MP3 files on my hard drive, and there's nothing illegal about them. For example, I just finished playing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3 from MP3 files on my hard drive. The original CDs are lying on my desk at the moment. I bought those CDs, and I am legally entitled to convert them to MP3 and store them on my hard drive.

It seems to me that these midshipmen are being presumed guilty, which flies in the face of everything the US is supposed to stand for. Who is to say that every MP3 file found on the midshipmen's' hard drives was not legally obtained? Perhaps every one of these midshipmen owns every CD from which the MP3 files originated. Even if that's not true, some file sharing is perfectly legal, at least if I'm reading the Home Recording Act correctly. I am not a lawyer, but if I buy a CD my understanding of my Fair Use Rights in that CD are that I can:

  • make a backup copy of the CD
  • make as many copies as I wish of the CD for personal use in my car or elsewhere
  • make as many copies as I wish of the audio on that CD to cassette tape, MP3 or other formats for my personal use
  • make as many CD, tape, or MP3 copies as I wish of the content for Barbara to use.
  • make as many copies as I wish of the CD in CD, tape, or MP3 format and give those copies to friends for their personal use.

Obviously, it's that last part that scares the hell out of the RIAA. If, say our friend Bonnie Richardson is visiting our home and we happen to be playing a CD that Bonnie likes, I'm pretty sure that Fair Use gives me the right to duplicate that CD and give Bonnie the copy. Bonnie can't then turn around and copy the copy to give to one of her friends, but the first generation copy is perfectly legal. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably admit that I don't think I've ever duplicated a CD and given it to a friend, or had a friend duplicate a CD and give it to me, so I'm not at any personal risk here if I'm wrong.)

If all of this is true, on what basis are the midshipmen being punished?

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Wednesday, 27 November 2002

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8:42 - Mozilla 1.2 is released and available for download at http://www.mozilla.org/releases/

I've grabbed the Win32 full installer and the Linux tarball, although I haven't installed either yet. If you want them, grab them now, while the grabbing is good.

My inbox this morning:

  • 161 total messages
  • 17 real messages (10.6%)
  • 112 mailing list messages (69.6%)
  • 32 spam messages (19.9%)

Of the 32 spams, SpamAssassin flagged 27, or 84.4%, with zero false positives. One thing that does surprise me is that SA fails to flag a fair number of Klez messages. I'd estimate that perhaps one in ten of those gets through. Not that it matters, since I'm running Mozilla Mail. A Klez message that arrives in my Mozilla Mail inbox starves to death. But surely it must be easy to filter for Klez.

Our friends Phil and Lee arrived around dinner time last night. Barbara had made a crockpot dinner of ground beef, sausage, and cheese. We spread that on tortillas. I don't speak Spanish and so wasn't aware until Lee told me that "tortilla" means "small, flat, round thing made out of corn". I learn something new every day. At any rate, the tortillas were good.

Lee and Barbara are off today on an excursion to do girl things. I think they're heading over to Replacements, Inc., which apparently carries replacements for every type of china dinnerware ever made. Women get excited about that stuff, for some reason. Of course, that's because women invented dinnerware, along with a lot of other stuff. If it weren't for women, men would still be leading a simple life. Consider the things that women invented (what men used in parentheses): dinnerware (hands); utensils (hands); cooking (raw meat); napkins (sleeves); handkerchiefs (sleeves); Kleenex (sleeves); toilet paper (we won't go there); bathing (eh?); laundering clothes (clothes?); language (grunts and pointing). In a very real sense, women invented civilization.

Phil and I will probably just lie around drinking Coke and talking about computers and politics and stuff. And grunting.

 

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Thursday, 28 November 2002

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 No post.

 

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Friday, 29 November 2002

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8:46 - I was too busy yesterday to post. Phil and I did the morning Mom visit, and then came back to start watching the Buffy marathon on FX Network, which ran from noon until 2:00 a.m. this morning.

Phil had connected his notebook computer to my internal network on Wednesday, and when he did that my hub died. Well, not died, exactly. It went from having all the station LEDs lit to having only a couple of error LEDs lit. Jiggling the hub a couple times made it start working again. Over the last day, that hub has periodically stopped working for no apparent reason. A quick tap or two or moving it slightly starts it working again, but obviously there's some intermittent problem.

This might not be worthy of comment except that it's the second hub that's done exactly the same thing. Both of them have been Intel InBusiness hubs. I have a new 16-port Intel InBusiness hub around here somewhere, so once I find it I'll install it. Perhaps the third time will be a charm, but I no longer trust the Intel hubs. Their network interface cards are great, but two hub failures over the last couple of years seems a very high attrition rate.

At any rate, Phil was connecting to my hub with his notebook so that he could work remotely with his main Linux box. When he first connected, he found that he couldn't connect to anything. Not surprising, because he thought I was running a NAT. In fact, I'm running the WinGate proxy server on the NT4 Workstation box that serves as my gateway to RoadRunner. By default, everything except Port 80 and a few other commonly-used ports is blocked. Phil needed SSH access to his remote Linux box, which meant we had to do a port mapping on the proxy server.

The only problem with doing that was that I had no idea how to do it. WinGate is the ultimate "set and forget" application. I told Phil that it just works. It'd probably been literally two or three years since I'd last touched the WinGate management utility. In that time I'd forgotten everything about it, including the password. I certainly had no idea how to configure port mapping with it. So I told Phil to go ahead and start playing with it, because he knew as much as I did about it, which is to say nothing.

He did get it working to his satisfaction, but thinking about it we started talking about replacing the WinGate box with a Linux box. I fished around and finally found a box adequate for the job. It's an AMD Duron/750 system with (I think) 128 MB of RAM. It looked fine as is to do the job, except that it had only one NIC. I dug around my spares stack and pulled the first Ethernet NIC I found, which was a 3Com 3C905. We'll probably build that system today.

Barbara and Lee are off to the crafts show in Greensboro. If the past is any indication, they'll probably be over there all day. Phil is still sleeping. We sat up until midnight watching the Buffy Marathon.

Oh, yeah. Yesterday was exciting for another reason. Malcolm has been very growly, what with all the excitement and people around. Yesterday afternoon, Barbara, her parents, Lee, Phil, and I were all in the den with all three of our dogs and their dog. Malcolm was growly/fangy. Phil and I had been doing the snarl/lick thing, where when Malcolm is showing his fangs and acting Cujo-like, we put our faces right up to his and he sticks his tongue between his fangs and licks our face while still snarling.

Apparently, Malcolm was more upset than I realized. I stuck my face right up to his fangy-face, expecting him to lick my nose. Instead, he bit it. I was bleeding all over the place, mostly because when he snapped at me he also rammed his snout into my nose, which was a lot like being punched in the nose.

Barbara wanted me to go to the emergency room, but there was no way I was doing that for a little snout bite. Instead, I held ice on it for a while. Barbara said I needed to at least go to the emergency room and get a tetanus shot, but I had one of those 35 or 40 years ago so I figured it'd still be good. I did spread neosporin salve all over my nose. It was bleeding pretty freely, so I'm not too worried about anaerobic bacteria. Just for prophylaxis, I took 1,500 mg of amoxycillin. I'll repeat that dose tid for a day or two.

This morning, Phil and I will head on over to visit my mother. Later today, we'll clean up the Duron system, install the second NIC, load Linux on it, and turn it into my gateway box. There's plenty of food, so after we get the box working we'll pig out on leftovers and then sit around. And grunt.

 

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Saturday, 30 November 2002

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9:40 - No post now. Maybe later... 

12:22 - My NT4 Workstation WinGate Internet gateway box, meepmeep, is no more. Instead, we now have a new meepmeep, a Duron/750 box running Mandrake Linux 9.0.

This all started when Phil was trying to use his Linux notebook to SSH to his home system. WinGate is a proxy server, and we didn't have the necessary port mappings in place. We solved that temporarily by creating the port mappings, but the more we talked about it the more it seemed to make sense to make the break.

So yesterday we disconnected old meepmeep and moved it out from under my desk. We installed a second Ethernet adapter in the Duron/750 box, which used to be my den system, and moved it into my office to take the place of old meepmeep. Then the excitement began.

We started by booting Red Hat Linux 8.0. After installing it, we tried to configure it to run iptables. It recognized both Ethernet adapters--the 10BaseT/HPNA card that was originally installed plus the 3Com 3C905 that I'd pulled from my spares stack--but we simply couldn't get anything going on the 3Com interface. At that point, we decided to blow away Red Hat and install Debian. That didn't go well at all. So we pulled out the Mandrake 9.0 discs and installed it. Everything appeared to work properly at first, but we finally decided that it was just "almost working". At that point, we decided that the LinkSys 10BaseT/HPNA card was the problem, so I pulled an Intel 10/100 card off the spares stack and installed it in place of the LinkSys card. Once we de-configured the old card and configured the new one, everything started working normally. Kind of.

Phil had to do quite a bit of configuring, re-configuring, and re-re-configuring, but eventually the new meepmeep was working as our new Internet gateway. Of course, we now have a NAT rather than a proxy server, so I had to reconfigure all the client systems to access the network directly rather than via a proxy server. It was easy enough to get that done for the web browsers and email clients, and they worked normally after the change.

The one problem was with FrontPage. In the past, I'd always published directly from the WinGate machine, because FrontPage doesn't understand how to use a proxy server. With the change to NAT, FrontPage thinks it's directly connected to the Internet from any machine we run it on. Or it should think that. In fact, we had some problems with the ftp connection needed to publish pages. Phil finally determined that there was a problem with the firewall configuration. He fixed that, and we're now able to publish our FrontPage webs from any machine in the house.

We may not want to do that, though. FrontPage is semi-braindead. When I published my web this morning from my den system, FrontPage insisted on publishing every file in the web, even though only a couple had changed. That was kind of expected, because every time one publishes a web from a "new" machine (that is, one that hadn't been used previously to publish that web) FrontPage seems to want to publish all files, even if you choose the "publish only changed files option."

So I'm going to try publishing this update from the den system once again. This time, it should publish only this page. The big question is what happens later. When I publish from my main office system, FP will of course insist on publishing the entire web site, because I've never published from that machine before. What I'm not sure of is once I've done that what will happen when I again try to publish from my den system. I'm hoping it'll still publish only changed files, but it may insist on publishing the entire web because I'd updated and published the web site from another system since publishing it from the den system. We'll see.

13:07 - Okay, the incremental publish function works from thoth (the den system). I've published both this web site and Barbara's fritchman.com site twice from that system so far today. In the first iteration, FP published the entire site for each. In the second iteration, it published only changed files. Now I'm working on messier (my main office system). I'm going to publish this site, which of course will result in FP publishing every file in the web (because I've never published from this system before). The interesting thing will be to come back later and try to publish from thoth to see if it will do an incremental publish or insist on publishing the entire web.

13:11 - And in a truly unexpected example of FrontPage doing what it should do instead of what it normally does, FP running on messier published only the changed page. Very strange. I'll publish this, and then I suppose the next step is to try making a change from thoth and publishing from there to see what happens.

18:18 - I'm writing this on thoth (the den system) so it will be interesting to see what happens when I publish. I'm hoping that it'll publish just this changed page, but with FrontPage one never knows.

Now it can be told. Phil and Lee are of course Brian and Marcia Bilbrey. They and Sally left this morning to return home, where they should be arriving shortly if they haven't already. We and the dogs greatly enjoyed their visit and look forward to the next one.

Before they came down, I emailed Phil Brian to let him know that there was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon on FX Network Thanksgiving Day from noon until 2:00 a.m. the following morning. Our exchange continued as follows:

Brian P. Bilbrey wrote:

Yah. I heard. You mean I might actually see an episode of that show finally?

.b

Fourteen of them, actually. ;)

I'd be willing to make a bet. The first episode you watch, you'll be sitting there thinking to yourself that I'm nuts and you can't believe how bad it is. The second, you'll be thinking the same thing. By the third, you'll be thinking to yourself that perhaps there might be a glimmer of something there. If you stick it out, I'll bet you'll stop at the mall on your way home and pick up the boxed DVD sets so you can watch it all the way through from the beginning.

Pournelle finally convinced me to give it a try about four years ago. I went through the process of thinking "ugh" to concluding that Buffy is the best show on television (on a par with, say, Northern Exposure or Picket Fences at their best). Barbara thought the same thing. She watched it at first to make me happy, but now she looks forward to seeing it every week. Walder thought I was nuts, but he watched a few episodes just to humor me, and now he and Lynne buy the boxed sets of each season as they're released.

Trust me on this. It's consistently the best show on television, and has been for six years.

So, how did it work out? Marcia kind of watched part of one episode, and she still thinks I'm nuts. Brian actually started watching episodes sometime in the afternoon, and got sucked in. The two of us sat downstairs watching them, and later came upstairs to watch. I resolved to follow Brian's lead and not to try to convince him to watch any more than he wanted to. We sat up until midnight watching. The last episode we watched was the final episode of the year before last (the one that showed Buffy's tombstone and epitaph--"She Saved the World. A Lot." By that time we were both pretty whacked, so we bagged it.

Poor Marcia. I know she thinks I'm nuts, so it's not surprising she discounts my opinion. Then she turns to Barbara, who tells her that Buffy is a great show. Okay, Barbara is obviously either (a) lying with a straight face or (b) under my influence. Then Marcia turns to her husband to ask him, and he tells her that it really is a good show. I'd bet that Marcia thinks there's hypnotism involved somewhere. As a matter of fact, I pointed out to Marcia that she's the only one who hasn't watched while Drusilla does the the little finger-wavy thing and asks people to look into her eyes. Hmmm.

I wonder if Brian stopped on the way home to buy the boxed sets on DVD.

18:38 - FrontPage actually published normally. I'm surprised that it functions as I'd expect it to function, which says something about how strange I think FrontPage is. In this case, though, it published the changes from thoth without publishing anything other than the single page I'd changed. So apparently the only time that FP publishes the entire web after having been told to publish only changed pages is when one publishes from a new machine for the first time. I can deal with that.

It's really no wonder that Marcia doesn't know when to believe me. As we were all sitting at the kitchen table on Thanksgiving morning, the subject of cooking turkeys came up. I mentioned to Marcia that I'd included detailed instructions for cooking a turkey in PC Hardware in a Nutshell

It was pretty clear that she didn't believe me, so I assumed my earnest look and said, "No, really. I did cover turkey cooking in depth in PC Hardware in a Nutshell. Times and temperatures, everything." Despite my attempt to be earnest and convincing, she didn't believe me.

So I had to dig out a copy of the second edition and locate the instructions in question. (You'll find the turkey-cooking instructions in the chapter CD-R and CD-RW Drives, on page 345, starting about 2/3 of the way down the page. No, really.)

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Sunday, 1 December 2002

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9:20 - The new Linux gateway box appears to be operating normally, except that I'm having some problems with ftp. Publishing the sites with ftp works fine, but when I try to download files from my server nothing happens. I can get a directory listing, but when I select a file or files and tell my ftp client to download them, they get added to the queue but don't transfer. I've tried everything I can think of. I even tried using Mozilla and the command-line ftp client in Windows. No joy.

The reason I'm trying to download files from my server is that the Webalizer directory in each web gets updated the first of each month. Because those files are added to the public_html/<website-name>/webalizer directory for each web, FrontPage notices them. It then asks me if I want to delete those files because they're present on the server but not in the local web. There is no "No to All" button, which means I have to sit here clicking on No over and over again. In the past, I've solved that problem by downloading the new Webalizer files manually and then marking them as "Do Not Publish" in FrontPage. But if I can't download the files I can't do that.

Oh, well. I'll figure something out. 

9:31 - And I think I did figure something out. There are only four files in question, so I simply copied the four files from last month and renamed them to this month. That done, I told FP not to publish any of the files in that directory, which should solve the problem.

 

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