Archive for January, 2004

My useless hat

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Knoppix, and general meanderings

I’m going to be trying to work out what is wrong with someone’s cable modem or router or… something… basically, they can’t get on the net and they don’t know why. So, on the off-chance that it was their installed Windows ME that was causing the trouble (ME being rubbish? surely not) I downloaded and burnt a copy of the Knoppix bootable-Linux-from-CD distribution, and I’m trying it out right now on my own machine.

(It was a bit of a problem getting it from the various FTP mirrors, but I used BitTorrent instead. It took days for me to get Mandrake with BitTorrent, but this only took me about an hour.)

I’m really very impressed. It works perfectly, runs KDE 3.1 nicely and has loads of apps on it (OpenOffice, Mozilla, XMMS, the Gimp etc, apparently it decompresses them from the CD on the fly).

This would be a fantastic piece of penguin propaganda to casually leave at someone’s house. Thought you might want to know what this Linux thing I keep talking about looks like these days… no, you don’t have to install anything, just put it in the drive and boot up… see what you think… and before they know it they’ve been sucked in HAHAHAHAHA.

It’s also reminding me how good a browser Konqueror really is.

My optical wireless mouse seems have decided to stop working properly, though. I knew wireless mice were pointless.

That’s it, really. Yes, it is geeky. Didn’t I write something about that before? Oh, whatever. Who cares. I don’t.

I got a new hat from Old Navy after losing my old, nice, warm one, and it’s crap. It’s like a big yarmulka except probably not as warm.

I should really put some clothes on.

Oh, bloody hell, more comment spam…

IP Address: 80.133.213.92 Name: ratenkredit Email Address: theresno@-mail-.de URL: http://www.ratenkredit-kredit-sofortkredit.de

Comments:

Hi! You did a nice job on creating this website! Good stuff! Keep it up! See you! :) Peter

Right. I believe you are a real person, and that you yourself created a German credit rating page. I do believe in fairies, I do I do I do. Can the next variant of MyDoom go after blog spammers, please? I really need to install that MT-Blacklist plugin… I think I may give it another go shortly.

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What does it feel like to be one of them?

I promise, faithfully, that I will not meander geekishly for the whole next week, unless something really great happens.

I find it very easy to write geeky stuff and so I try to restrict myself. This is what happens when you grow up reading science fiction and then discover both real books, and the fact that girls at the time weren’t impressed when you started talking about quantum brains and monofilaments. Going to university was a slight improvement because you got to meet the few girls doing sciences – but infrequently, and you usually discovered that they were constantly surrounded by boys who liked nothing more than to talk about their last D&D game and invite them to LAN parties, so mentioning that article that you read in Wired last week was really not going to get you anywhere.

There’s a sense of shame and self-preservation that you develop that lasts a long time. I was never beaten up or anything for being a geek – I went to a pretty academically-orientated school, and more importantly I was six foot tall from the age of about twelve. But repeated exhortations to stop reading in your bedroom, go outside and not be so anti-social do have an impact, particularly when you can see the logic behind them. I still remember the experience of going to a creative writing course, innocently reading out passages that I thought were good from a Bruce Sterling book (it was one of his better pieces) and seeing the immediate switch-off reaction from the audience of cool teenagers what read smart literature and got all the chicks and/or blokes. “God, it’s science fiction. How sad. What’s this loser doing here embarrassing himself?”

It must be great these days for teenage geek boys, with far more girls around who like Buffy and PS2s. You could go a whole lifetime, be born, reproduce, die without ever having to abandon the enjoyment of watching three Star Wars films back to back (the first three, clearly). The well-documented fact that geeky teenagers make great boyfriends once they’re adults – intelligent, have jobs, have developed social skills and awareness of the existence of other people – doesn’t really mean much at the time.

One of the more important factors, though, is that the web has a buffer overflow of geeks, and geeks are didactic. This is something that you learn quite quickly and is very easy to exploit if you want free technical support. In general, geeks are very happy to tell you anything, whether you wanted to know it or not. Ask a simple question on a Linux board and you will be bombarded with irrelevant details of exactly how they recompiled their kernel to add badger support. Blogs are a natural extension of that – why not tell the world what you went through last night when you overclocked your toaster? It’s interesting, right? Hell, when I was first playing with Linux I briefly kept my own blog about it, self-coded, before I’d ever really heard about blogs, called “I Will Prevail Over Penguins“, which I’m shocked to discover is still there. This, dear reader, is why I run out of server space so regularly.

I like computers. I like coding something wicked cool in Perl that does things that would otherwise take weeks. I wrote my first documented program at the age of seven. I have no problem with this. But I also like cocktails, Shakespeare, bitching about politics, jump-up drum and bass, Milton, fetish talk, swearing, esoteric history, Jet Li, Ted Hughes and ten million other things that have somehow found their way through the ether and squatted in my brain. And the desire to let this out, combined with the lurking self-hatred, means I have an aversion to concentrating on the geeky aspect.

Christ. Perhaps I’ll make all my posts about computers.

Don’t worry, I’ll sort myself out at some point.

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Hacktivism?

Okay, this is unexpected. I knew there was a reason I subscribed to this site’s mostly dull email list. (And I make no apologies for two geeky posts in two days.)

A new variant of the “Mydoom” virus is blocking millions of infected computers worldwide from accessing ad servers managed by DoubleClick (Quote, Chart), FastClick, Atlas DMT and others.

The worm does not launch a denial-of-service attack on these servers. Rather, it prevents the infected computer from communicating with those servers by altering their IP addresses to a number that is unreadable by browsers.

You should of course have known that the original MyDoom was designed to launch a DoS attack on SCO. Uh, this is where I have to make the decision of how much detail to go into… okay. I’ll start fairly slowly. A DoS (Denial of Service) attack is an attempt to knock a server offline by flooding it with junk requests from many different computers. A virus is a great way of doing this because it will spread to an awful lot of different places and be very hard to block. Your machine is “infected” by the virus – this just means you’ve run the virus program and it’s made modifications and told your computer to keep running it – and, at a certain point, it will start sending out DoS requests, along with every other infected machine. The target will be so overwhelmed with computers asking it for information that it won’t be able to do what it normally does, which is send web pages to people. Thus you have taken that site down.

Who are SCO? Long story, but basically they’re a company that’s trying to use bullshit patent arguments to extort money from people using Unix and Linux code, including IBM. They have no case but they’re causing trouble and they’re widely hated in the *nix community. Which is why you had things like:

Reactions on Slashdot, arguably the largest discussion board for technophiles, displayed a cathartic wave of pleasure, “Finally a worthwhile virus!” exclaims one poster. While another adds, “So, uh where can I download a copy?”

There have been viruses before that targeted Microsoft amongst others, but I venture to speculate that SCO is actually even more hated, and in any case, targeting Microsoft’s update page is a logical move for a virus since it will prevent people from downloading patches, even if patching Windows is like trying to block up a fishing net with sugar cubes. The targeting of SCO was clearly ideologically motivated.

And now we have a variant that blocks access to ad servers. This isn’t the same thing, it’s not trying to shut them down (not directly), it’s just preventing infected machines from receiving their images, in other words banner ads and the contents of pop-ups (not the pop-up windows themselves, unfortunately). This isn’t actually damaging to your machine and in fact could be argued to increase its performance, since you don’t have to waste time downloading crap.

» Continue reading “Hacktivism?”

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Important newsflash!

I blogged it in the link bar, but I thought it was so important I’d alert you of it here too…

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An explanation

Some of you may remember my phonepics page which I used to update with my Nokia 3650, by uploading the pictures to my site via FTP. And, if you were reading my blog at the time, you’ll remember that I lost it. And there was much lamenting. Alas.

The upshot of all this was that I couldn’t update the phonepics any more from my new phone because I needed to have an FTP application actually on the phone, and you need a smartphone for that, at least at the moment. My new one, while not exactly dumb, does not come under the category of “smartphone” (read “far more computational power than is necessary for a phone” / “geek toy” / “for the Japanese”).

So I started Through The Mirrorball on Textamerica, which you can update by emailing images to and was quick and easy to set up, and I was fairly happy with it, though it’s all stored externally and was a bit tricky to customise. I checked back on that recently and was annoyed to discover that they’d added a whole bunch of new advertising to it. I mean, fair enough, it’s a free service, and it did the job, but I just don’t like ads on my blog, and not having the images on my server means I can’t do anything fancy with them.

» Continue reading “An explanation”

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Hand

my hand.jpg

Right. Testing it from the phone now. This had better work.

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Weapons of… no, I can’t say it

If there’s one phrase that is on my banned list and has been there for at least a year now, it’s Weap*ns of M*ss D*struction.

anthrax
Anthrax – banned

Two years ago, who ever used it? We’d talk about “doomsday weapons”, meaning nukes, basically, and chemical weapons, and biological weapons, but there wasn’t some Axis Of Evil of weaponry that was intrinsically worse than anything else. With good reason. Starving people to death by destroying their food supplies, burning villages, seeding areas with landmines or arming militias and paramilitaries and sending them into an area to torture and kill certain people and hey, whoever they feel like while they’re there – don’t tell me that these are less worthy of attention than gas bombs.

It is and always has been a media ploy. The idea is that you hijack the discussion by making them an “issue”, so whenever anyone talks about the subject at hand (Iraq in this case) you can say “but what about the WMDs?” and sidetrack them into having to address that – in the same way that the question suddenly arose “but what do we do about Saddam?” when the US government decided it wanted to take over Iraq. Before that, nobody was asking “what do we do about Saddam?” The answer to the question “what do we do about Saddam?” that had been coming from the administration for years was “nothing, keep fucking the country with sanctions and bombing it on a daily basis, that’ll do”. (Before that, of course, he was on the Good Dictator list, and the question was “what do we do about the Ayatollah?”)

This is why I have a bad feeling about any sort of gloating about the fact that, apparently, there are no WMDs in Iraq at all. Not that there was any indication that there were in the first place. But it doesn’t matter. The entire issue is one that was made up to justify the attack in the first place. By talking about it, even laughing about it, you are legitimising it. Getting sucked into debating the point is a mistake, just like talking about suicide bombers is a mistake (does it really fucking matter how a bomb is delivered?) and talking about capturing “Osama” or “Saddam” is a mistake (nice use of personalisation to avoid confronting real issues).

I’d like to think that the WMD thing will really bite the administration on the arse, and it may bite Blair on the arse, but I don’t think it will. They’ve already got away with it. While there’s a lot of tenacity in pursuing the issue much of it seems to miss the point, which is that it was just another fake threat made up to justify an invasion, and the invasion has already happened. It’s already worked. All that you can do now is continue to point out that there was no evidence for it at the time, to try to convince others that yes, actually, politicians do lie about things outright to get people to do what they want. This is a good message, sure, but concentrating on the WMD issue just allows them to sidestep and say “well, we had bad information, we just acted on what we had” when it’s increasingly obvious that the intention was to invade from right after 11 September.

“Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

So, to all the other commie terrorist-sympathisers out there, I would make this request: whenever you mention the anthrax and the uranium and the gas bombs and the other stuff that doesn’t exist, make sure you don’t leave it at that. I know how tempting it is to say “ha ha” in a Simpsons voice but please, put it context, in terms of why it matters in the first place, which was never why the Bush team said it mattered. Removal of context is one of most persistent propaganda tactics around. Don’t fall for it.

(I’ve been writing a lot of political stuff recently but I mostly post it on discussion boards. This blog is mostly for things about penguins and offices. You will now be returned to your regularly scheduled programming.)

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Must Purchase Now!

I was trying to find the most ludicrous product on the Home Shopping Network, but instead I found reference to this: the Steam Penguin.

steam penguin!

Oh. My. God. That is so going on my wishlist. Even though it doesn’t actually appear to work, based on the user reviews. Work? For god’s sake, people, you bought a penguin that spouts steam from its beak and expected it to be a really effective cleaning tool? Mary from Starkville writes “This doesn’t work like it did on HSN.” No shit, Mary. Also, Coors Lite does not make you attractive to the opposite sex and McDonalds is not the centerpiece of a healthy American family (unless you base your family around simultaneous obesity and malnutrition).

Two more features that make this irresistible:

  1. It comes with a squeegee handle with two interchangeable rubber blades for steam cleaning soapy residue off glass shower doors;
  2. It’s 50% off.

I was rather disappointed by HSN.com, actually. You’d think it would be full of obnoxious tat, but it’s no worse than your average aunt’s bookshelves. I looked all through the “Collectibles” section and couldn’t find anything more ludicrous than this, which I’ve already written about. My theory is that they reserve all the worst stuff for the actual channel itself, theorising that anyone who is capable of turning on a computer and using a browser is unlikely to be stupid enough to buy it. I suspect this is not a realistic assessment, given the existence of AOL.

It is, on the other hand, a great place to buy discounted Christmas decorations such as this delightful Holographic 42″ Gingerbread House Yard Decoration, which you can always save for next year. You Save: $91.00! It’s like getting free money! How can you turn down free money? Are you some sort of communist?

I bought a set of knives at the Mall on the weekend from a shop called “As Seen On TV”, which sells off remaindered crap from infomercials. Oh come on, it was a set of eight knives for $4.99, you can’t go wrong there. At least a couple are going to be usable. In the end, they were all very sharp, and will be extremely useful when dissecting my next hitchhiker. The one I think will cause the most domestic fun is the insanely sharp cleaver thing that has a leaf-thin blade that bends alarmingly, meaning that whenever you chop something you’re not entirely sure at what angle it will chop and, more importantly, whether it will emerge from whatever-it-is in some completely unexpected direction, like a bullet from a Kennedy. It is so sharp that I probably wouldn’t notice it going through my finger until it hit bone; I don’t think it would go through bone, though, for that I would use the heavyweight part-serrated knife with the curved edge, as endorsed by German cannibals.

I can type perfectly well without a few fingers, anyway. I don’t know why I bother keeping them. All they do is use up space in gloves and give me more options when picking my nose.

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Weather Trouble

PHILADELPHIA, PA – The East Coast of the USA was hit by waves of apathy overnight, causing almost no travel problems as people stayed away from work this morning, blaming the “unexpected” snow.

“I couldn’t believe it when I opened the curtains and saw all that white stuff,” said Pottstown resident Lance Hornbaker. “I can’t possibly make that drive to work now – it’s far too unsafe, and it might take me up to thirty minutes. Good thing I took some papers home with me on Friday, I can work from home now. Uh huh.” When asked why he had bought a three ton SUV if he wasn’t planning to use it in the snow, Mr Hornbaker excused himself, saying he had some important networking to do on Yahoo! Games.

an SUV
SUVs – formerly popular, currently losing out to watching Judge Judy

Some areas have reported up to eight inches of apathy, particularly in areas of Philadelphia where some have told us that they were barely able to get out of bed, and wouldn’t have bothered at all if they hadn’t had to check their email and go to the loo.

Dr. Saundra Dales of the Emotional Meteorology Department at Johns Hopkins University tells us that the apathy is expected to be short-lived – but that it may be on the increase. “Many Americans will be at home today, but we expect their motivation to increase dramatically by Tuesday or Wednesday morning, when the combined effects of boredom and having to take care of the kids all day really kick in. At that point, the office will be a much more attractive proposition.

“However, we should expect more and more apathy as 2004 progresses, peaking on 2 November, traditionally the most apathetic day of the year.”

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