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Week of 25 August 2003

Latest Update : Friday, 29 August 2003 09:39 -0400


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Monday, 25 August 2003

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9:51 - We spent a couple hours in Steve Childers' driveway last night, looking at various deep-sky objects and Mars with our 10" Dobsonian telescope and Steve's 17.5" Dob. Barbara was able to log several of the objects she needs for her Urban Observing certificate.

The night was clear and under other circumstances we'd have made the drive up to Bullington. But it doesn't get fully dark until after 9:30 p.m., and Barbara and Steve both had to be up at 6:00 a.m. to get to work on time. From the time we start packing stuff away at Bullington until we get to bed requires about an hour, so we'd have had to leave Bullington by 10:00 p.m. or so to get Barbara in bed by 11:00. A half hour's viewing just isn't worth the time and trouble to drive up there, so we did our observing from Steve's driveway. Bonnie Richardson and Paul Jones also came, and one of Steve's neighbors came over for his first real view through a telescope.

I have a lot to get done this week, so updates here are likely to be sporadic and short.

12:01 - From the How-do-I-answer-this department:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Electric connections
Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2003 11:35:21 -0400
From: caldwell
To: webmaster@ttgnet.com

Hi,

I live in a duplex, my landlady occupies one side, I/ /the other. She is been having electrical work done so she can install a new refrigerator: In my basement (my side)/ /I have a Secondary fuse box that controls all the power in my kitchen. Ok, with that said, I discovered that the contractor connected a line to my secondary fuse box, I called him on it (I dont want to pay for somebody elses' electricity) specially a compressor in a refrigerator. The contractor tells me that is the neutral line and that is not affecting me .

I dont understand how could not?

Thank you for your ansswer.

Hilda

I'm sorry, but I'm not an electrician.

14:45 - There's simply no excuse for the ignorant statements being made in the mainstream media about Mars. For example, in this article, CNN says:

"Viewers with a telescope or binoculars should be able to pick out features on the surface of Mars."

That would have to be a hellacious binocular. Even the "giant binoculars" used by some astronomers magnify at most 20X to 25X, much too little to see surface details on Mars. Even at 250X or more, surface details may be very difficult to see, depending on atmospheric stability and other factors, including which part of Mars happens to be facing us at the time.

Other even more outrageous statements are making the rounds. One of them claims that later this week Mars will appear as large as the Full Moon. Wrong. At close approach, Mars will have an apparent size of just over 25 arcseconds. The Full Moon is half a degree, more or less, which comes to about 1,800 arcseconds. You would need a telescope using 72X magnification to make Mars the same apparent size as the Full Moon is naked eye.

And the Full Moon is a relatively small object, at least in terms of discerning detail. When I was young, my vision was about 20/10. I remember being able to see details that adults couldn't see without a binocular. But even then I wasn't able to see much detail without optical aid. The same is true of Mars at only 72X. In order to get a good view of surface detail, you need to be running at least 200X, and more is better.

And let's not even talk about some of the outrageous comments that have been going around about Mars colliding with Terra, causing disastrous high tides, and so on. None of it is true, and I'm surprised that anyone would believe such ridiculous statements. Quite a few people do, though.

If you want to see Mars, contact your local astronomy club or science museum. They'll be running public observation sessions. And don't worry too much about when exactly they're scheduled to take place. Someone posted a question on one of the astronomy mailing lists last week. He said that he knew Mars would be about 35 million miles away at closest approach, and wanted to know, to the nearest million miles, how close it would be at 11:00 p.m. EDT on each of the several days before and after the magic day. I told him that, to the closest million miles, it would be 35 million miles on each of those nights. In fact, over the entire time he specified, Mars was between 34.6 and 34.7 million miles away. Mars isn't going away any time soon. It'll still be visible at nearly its current size for weeks yet. You'd need instruments to measure the difference.

16:05 - Each time I think I have plumbed the depths of sleaziness to which telemarketers will stoop, I am proven wrong. Today I was rendered literally speechless by a telemarketing call I received. The telemarketer said that she'd learned of the death of my mother and wanted to talk to me about buying a headstone. For the life of me, I don't understand how any human being could spend her days calling recently bereaved people and attempting to sell them headstones. There must be a special place in Hell for such people.

I was so completely stunned that when I recovered my voice after listening to part of her pitch, I actually spoke civilly to her. I found myself wondering how they decided when to call. Do they note the date of death and wait a couple weeks? Is that how long it usually takes someone to start looking for a headstone. I am appalled.

 

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Tuesday, 26 August 2003

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12:27 - Eric S. Raymond is understandably upset by SCO's unsupported allegation that he is in the pay of IBM. Instead of just getting angry, though, ESR has taken the time to rebut, point by point, the amended SCO complaint against IBM filed on 16 June 2003. I just read it, word by word, the whole thing. It took me a couple of hours to finish reading, but if you want to understand what's going on here, I don't know of a better source. (Note that the web page is munged, leaving a huge amount of open space between the bottom of the first section and the top of the second section.) Raymond has destroyed SCO's case in detail, in every sense of that word. The best advice I can give SCO executives Darl McBride and Blake Stowell is to withdraw all of their actions, apologize profusely to everyone involved, and hope to avoid jail time. In the past, McBride and Stowell would have been tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, which actually would be appropriate even nowadays.

No one who understands the issues can possibly side with SCO in this matter. The only allies SCO has managed to gain are Microsoft and Sun, both of whom are cynically supporting SCO for reasons of their own. I have yet to hear any unbiased source say anything favorable about SCO's actions, or indeed their prospects. SCO may think they have allies, but other than Microsoft, Sun, and a few SCO resellers, no one but no one is behind them. I expect SCO to crash and burn horribly. Microsoft and Sun, of course, will just stand by as that happens. They've already gotten what they want in exchange for their lip support for SCO.

12:56 - Here's very bad news for AMD. You have to read between the lines, but what this article tells me is that AMD's flagship Athlon64 processor may be a failure before it's even out of the starting gate. Although the phrase is over-used, AMD really has bet the company on the success of the Athlon64. AMD has been drowning in red ink for a long time now, and if published projections are correct, they must be very close to running out of money. AMD has to sell the Athlon64 in large numbers to pay the bills.

It's pretty clear that AMD originally intended to follow the same course Intel did in killing off their sixth generation processors quickly in favor of their follow-on products. Intel accomplished that in a matter of months, but AMD is now apparently forced to revive the Athlon XP, which was on its last legs, as a stop-gap until they can bring the Ahtlon64 to market in reasonable numbers. Hell, they've revived the Duron, which they themselves drove a stake through. Those actions smell to me like desperation.

It wouldn't surprise me at all to see AMD announce Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the near future, possibly before the end of the year. They're very short of money, their cash flow is way down, and they can't field a product to compete with Intel's current products, let alone the forthcoming Prescott-core Pentiums. To make matters worse, the PC market, although it is recovering somewhat, is nowhere near robust enough to carry them in the absence of a competitive flagship processor. From what I'm seeing, AMD is again going to be exiled to the no-margin "economy" CPU market. This really isn't good. I'm very much afraid that AMD has gambled and lost.

13:46 - Here is a chilling article. Thanks to the RIAA and a bought or stupid judge, none of us have any privacy on the Internet. If you read this site, I can get force your ISP to divulge your name, home address, and phone number to me. All I need to do is fill out a one-page form. The article also mentions that those who visit porn websites may be subjected to thinly-disguised blackmail via the same mechanism. Pay up, or the website owner will make your name public. Jesus.

15:46 - Another one from the How-do-I-answer-this department. This time, I got an email from a wannabe script-kiddie. It's obvious he's young, because his message was rife with misspellings and his prose is fractured in the peculiar ways that poorly educated teenagers and twenty-somethings seem to think passes for literate English.

At any rate, this young person wants to write a virus/worm of his own, but didn't really know where to start. He wanted me to send him the source code for the Sobig.F worm. Duh. I suppose it's remotely possible that he is the one Internet-connected person on the planet who did not receive at least one copy of Sobig.F, but it seems unlikely. I predict that he will have a short and unsuccessful career as a virus/worm author. In fact, I predict he'll have a short and unsuccessful career, full stop.

 

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Wednesday, 27 August 2003

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9:21 - I knew something was wrong when I checked my mail this morning. I had only about 170 messages overnight, which is about half the normal number. Then I read this message:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Mail bounces - relays.osirisoft.com
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 2003 07:03:51 -0400
From: Greg Lincoln
To: Brian Bilbrey, Robert Bruce Thompson, Jerry Pournelle

Sometime late yesterday evening, one of the spam blacklists we use to block mail sent from open relays and known spam sources decided to start blocking all mail instead.

I'm not sure if this was a malicious attack, or a mistake, but in effect, anyone using this list has been blocking nearly all mail. Many ISPs and government agencies (including the FTC) were affected by this, as the list was pretty popular. We were as well.

Many messages delivered overnight were bounced with this message:
554 Service unavailable; [IP HERE] blocked using relays.osirusoft.com, reason: Please stop using relays.osirusoft.com;

Only one of the 5 or so servers in the relays.osirusoft.com round-robin DNS list was doing this, so some mail wasn't affected. Any mail sent that was bounced with the above message will need to be resent.

We are deeply sorry that this occured, and it is corrected now. I'm not sure how it could have been prevented, but Brian and I are looking into alternatives to keep this from ever happening again.

Best wishes,
--
Greg Lincoln
Muse Root
http://www.linuxmuse.com

The "Please stop using relays.osirusoft.com" part of the message makes me think this was an attack by one of those people who dislikes blackhole lists. I've never understood their reasoning. If I run a mailserver, surely it's my right to decide who I will or will not accept mail from. If I decide to subscribe to one or more blackhole lists and use those lists to protect my server against spam, why should anyone attempt to deny me that right and attempt to force me to accept mail I don't want to accept?

Still, it's possible to overdue this. AOL is a good example. It blocks all mail from SMTP servers that use dynamic IP addresses, whether or not those servers are spam hosts. Basically, if a reverse lookup fails, AOL won't accept mail from that server. In effect, that means I can't run an SMTP server on my home system, at least if I want to be able to send mail to AOL addresses.

When I first learned of this, my inclination was to ignore it. If people with AOL addresses couldn't receive mail from me, well that's not my problem. In fact, I considered retaliating by blocking AOL addresses. The problem with all that, of course, is that I have subscribers and friends who use AOL addresses. The upshot is that I shut down the SMTP server on my home network and started using rocket, my domain hosting server, as my SMTP server.

Still, it's very annoying to be blocked merely because I have a dynamic IP address, and I may at some point switch back. I'll simply have to tell people, "I'm sorry, but if you insist on using AOL, I'll no longer be able to send mail to you or receive mail from you." Note that I don't have any problem with AOL blocking my IP address if spam is originating from it or if the SMTP server is configured as an open relay. That's justifiable. What's not justifiable is blocking my IP address when I haven't done anything wrong.

 

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Thursday, 28 August 2003

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10:32 - Message traffic was back up to normal overnight: 410 total messages, of which 149 were spam. SpamAssassin caught 144 of those.

The SPEWS situation turned out differently than I expected. I thought someone had cracked one of their servers, but as it turns out SPEWS has been shut down completely. The message "Please stop using relays.osirusoft.com" was apparently posted by Joe Jared of SPEWS. What a way to stop providing the service, though. Jared apparently simply listed *.*.*.* as spam sources, telling those who used the service that email from any IP address was spam.

My friend Paul Robichaux comments:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: SPEWS bounce saga
Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2003 06:20:38 -0400
From: Paul Robichaux
To: Bob Thompson

You (and Greg) probably know by now what happened to SPEWS. It's a tough problem; if you outsource your spam filtering, you may not know when it goes amiss, which in my book is an argument for keeping it in-house. I wrote a slightly more detailed article at http://www.e2ksecurity.com/archives/000450.html.

I don't think there's any solution for spam, at least in the usual sense. Laws are useless. Various technological fixes have been suggested, but all of them I've seen are unworkable for one reason or another. All of those that would in theory work assume a complete overhaul of the existing SMTP infrastructure, which just isn't in the cards. Those that could use the existing SMTP infrastructure assume behavioral changes that simply aren't realistic. Some, like whitelists, apparently work but in reality simply shift the burden of dealing with spam to others, so they're not a real solution either.

I think the only real solution to spam is the vigilante approach. The overwhelming majority of spam messages are produced by just a few major spammers. I've seen various estimates, but certainly the top 200 spammers are responsible for at least 80% and probably 95% of the spam generated world-wide. The only effective way I can see to kill the spam is to kill the spammers, or at least enough of them that the others take notice and stop their behavior.

Imagine the effect if tomorrow morning CNN reported that a major spammer had been found shot to death, with a "No Spam" postcard pinned to his chest. Then, a couple mornings later, CNN reports that another notorious spammer had been shot and killed from ambush. Then, a week later, another spammer dies when his home burns to the ground. From the spammers' point of view, one is unfortunate, two may be a coincidence, but three starts to look like a plan.

No doubt, many of the major spammers, who make good money, will by this time have hired bodyguards and so on. That won't make any difference. If someone wants to get you, he'll get you. I wonder how many spammers would have to be killed before the others decided to abandon spamming. Quite a few, probably, but even if it had to be all 200, that would be no great loss.

And whoever was doing this would be unlikely to be caught. Most killers who are caught are caught because they have connections to their victims. Where would the police and FBI begin? With spammers sending out billions of spams a day, the potential suspects are legion, and none of them have any direct connection to the victims. That's the reason any serial killer is so hard to catch, and so-called organized serial killers are nearly impossible to catch other than by pure chance. They don't make any serious mistakes, and our imaginary spammer assassin is even less likely to make a serious mistake than is a typical organized serial killer.

I'm not suggesting that anyone run out and do this, but I am saying that short of this happening I don't see any real solution to the spam problem. It certainly wouldn't break my heart if it did happen, though.

We're hoping to get some observing in this weekend, but the forecast doesn't look good. Barbara checked her logs the other day. Since our Messier Marathon on the night of 1/2 April, we've been up to Bullington exactly three times, once in May and twice in June. We weren't up at all in July, and the one time we went in August we ended up sitting in a thunderstorm. We've had a few driveway sessions, but that's been it. We're really hoping for clear skies this fall and winter.

With Barbara having to get up at 6:00 a.m. to go to work, we've been limited this spring and summer to Friday and Saturday nights. As it begins getting darker earlier and we go back to standard time, that'll change. In the late fall and winter, we'll be able to go up weekdays after an early dinner, get two or three hours of observing in, and get home in time to get to bed by 10:00 p.m. That will be nice.

 

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Friday, 29 August 2003

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9:39 - Overnight message traffic remains normal. When I downloaded my mail this morning, I had 440 total messages, of which 133 were spam. SpamAssassin caught 128 of those. All this month, I've noticed that SpamAssassin is not doing quite as well flagging spam. This month, it's catching just over 96% of spams. In the past, it had been in the 97.5% to 99% range. The blocklists have been under DoS attack for a while now, so that may have something to do with the lower success rate. With SPEWS disappearing the other day, I was expecting SpamAssassin's success rate to fall dramatically, but it seems to be holding its own.

Yesterday was the day from hell. It started soon after Barbara left for work. I was sitting in the den using the computer when I heard a thump and a scream from the foyer. Kerry, our nearly 16-year-old Border Collie had fallen. That's nothing unusual. He falls dozens of times a day, but usually he just plops down and doesn't hurt himself. This time, it sounded like he'd hurt himself badly.

I ran out to the foyer to check him. He didn't appear to be in any distress, but he didn't try to get up when I tried to lift him to his feet. I was afraid he'd fallen wrong and pinned one of his back legs in a painful position. He has great difficulty getting up normally, so I usually lift his back end for him. Ordinarily, he waits until I start to lift, and then gets to his feet. This time, he didn't show any inclination to stand up.

Since he didn't appear to be hurting, I decided to just leave him alone for a while. A bit later, Duncan and Malcolm were bugging me to go out, so I opened the front door. Ordinarily, when I open the front door, Kerry starts to try to stand up, but this time I didn't. I went over to lift his rear end, and this time he got to his feet, although he was having trouble staying up. When I finally got him out the front door, he was walking crab-like, with his rear end almost sideways. He fell a couple of times, and I lifted him each time. He didn't appear to be in any distress, simply unable to stand or walk very well.

At that point, I was thinking about taking him to the vet, but I decided to wait until Barbara got home to see what she thought. I was afraid that if I took him to the vet, we'd have to put him down, and I didn't want to do that with Barbara gone unless it was unavoidable. As the day went on, Kerry seemed to improve a bit, although he was still very unstable on his feet.

Then, about 1:40 p.m., the phone rang. Barbara had a dentist appointment at 2:00. She was on her way there when she had a minor accident. She was waiting to get on I-40 downtown, where the entrance ramps are short and tightly curved. It's usual for cars to come to a stop at the end of the ramp before being able to merge into traffic. The woman in front of Barbara was talking on her cell phone, stopped partway down the ramp. She started to accelerate down the ramp to merge into traffic, and Barbara did what any normal person does, glanced behind her to make sure there was a space and accelerated as she was doing that. When Barbara looked back ahead of her, the woman had jammed on her brakes for no apparent reason and come to a dead stop. Barbara bumped her slightly, probably at less than 2 MPH.

Barbara said there was no apparent damage to either vehicle. She wanted just to exchange names and insurance information, but the woman works for the Sheriff's Department and insisted on calling the police. So Barbara called me to have me cancel her dentist appointment, give the insurance agency a heads-up, and so on. That all occupied quite a bit of time.

When Barbara got home, I looked at her front bumper. I couldn't see any damage until I compared her Trooper's bumper to mine, when it became evident that her bumper was slightly pushed in. The damage was so minor that I literally couldn't tell there was any damage until I compared it with mine.

When she got home, we took Kerry outside. He was still walking crab-like, so we decided to take him over to the vet. We were both kind of expecting that we'd have to have him put down, but the vet said there was nothing broken or dislocated. Kerry simply has very bad hip dysplasia, which is similar to rheumatoid arthritis in humans. The hip joint is literally eaten away, until there's no support for the legs. Kerry also has bad heart problems. None of this is surprising in a dog that is almost 16 years old. In fact, Kerry already holds the all-time record for Border Collie lifespan in our family. I've had BCs for 45 years now, usually two or three at a time, and none of them have made it past 14 years old. Kerry is 15+ and still going.

The vet gave us several alternatives, but he said that if it were his dog, he'd go with the prednisone acetate injection, which offers the best chance of helping Kerry's hips. It doesn't fix the problem, but it ameliorates it. There are downsides and side effects, of course, but Kerry's at an age when fixing one thing breaks something else. The vet said that if the prednisone shot didn't work, nothing would. He said that it should take effect by today, and that if it didn't greatly reduce the problem the best thing would be to have Kerry put down. We're hoping for the best, of course, and the vet did say that if they worked we could give Kerry the prednisone shots ourselves. Each of them lasts about five days. Kerry seems a bit better this morning. He was able to go up and down the couple stairs on the front porch, and hasn't been falling over, so it appears he's gotten some relief.

Barbara and I are both taking it easy this holiday weekend, so neither of us will be posting until next Tuesday. Have a good holiday.

 

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Saturday, 30 August 2003

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Sunday, 31 August 2003

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