April 30, 2004

Somebody keep a watch on Dave Barry! A New Scientist article warns us about the danger of exploding eggs after they have been removed from the microwave. The first thing I thought of when reading the article was: Cool! I need to try that. And then the introspect within said, "That sounds like something Dave Barry might try!". A few years ago[1993 Miami Herald], Dave made famous the Strawberry Pop-Tart for its ability to burst into flames when left in a toaster for too long (*requires a broken or modified toaster). There were numerous incidents on the 'net with pictures and everything of duplications of the Dave Barry experiment. It might be fun to microwave eggs, and figure out the timing to explosion, coming up with the countdown for exploding eggs to see if they'd be viable as low-cost grenades. (*Don't try this at home - you could lose an eye - check the article!)
Forget butterfly wings - watch out for gerbils! The old adage about a butterlfly's wings in China creating a hurricane in America seeks to point out how small effects in nature can blossom and cause large-scale change. In New Scientist today, there is an article about how the gerbil population in Kazakhstan can predict the coming of plague outbreaks. Of course, the gerbil seems to be the main carrier of the disease, so the relationship is indeed sensible. The article is an interesting read, and show the importance of scientific research and data collection. In this particular situation, it looks like we should thank the Soviet scientists who provided the data that helped reach the conclusions in the article.
I haven't written in a few days. Tuesday and Wednesday I was down in Fort Worth, TX for business. I like Texas - it's very flat down there, and you can see for miles and miles. Tall buildings far into the distance show you which direction you're pointed in when you're miles out. The sky is humongous, and you almost have 180 degrees of view. One side of the sky can be clear as a bell, as you watch a storm pass to the East. It's gorgeous, strickly from an enormity of nature standpoint.

April 26, 2004

Found a virus (or a trojan) this morning on two web servers that had been put on servers over the weekend. This virus/trojan disabled the port 443 (SSL) web sites on these two boxes. It was listening on port 443 and another 1489 or somesuch port. I found it using fport.exe to be a file called ntoskrnl.exe. It had installed itself as a service called MS Windows Update, running as SYSTEM. So, I killed the process and moved off the file. Instead of 1660 KB, the file was 704KB, and it was in a different directory c:\winnt\system32\config. Once the service was disabled, IIS had no problem taking the port back.
These two servers had not had the patches that came from Microsoft last week (week before?), and I'm supposing that that was the entry point for this particular bug. I'm still looking through the bug to see what I can see, but it's an executable, so full analysis will be tough, and I probably don't have the time for it.

April 23, 2004

Information Should Be Free! No, I don't mean free like free beer. I mean free as in uncontrolled. The importance of history and accurate and full reporting of events is perhaps one of the most important freedoms that we have in this country. Free speech, free press, the basic ground rules of the U.S. Constitution, are being stepped upon. In The Washington Post this morning :Photos of Soldiers' Coffins Revive Controversy (washingtonpost.com). The article is not so much about the dead soldiers who are giving their lives, but the irony of the fact that the freedoms they are fighting for, the freedom from repression, is taking more and more hold here in their home country. As a veteran and a citizen, it just makes me sick when our well-meaning government places unnecessary controls on the dissemination of imagery and information that will help the American people make informed decisions. Death is a part of war, and placing restrictions on the dissemination of these images and facts is nothing short of criminal!

April 22, 2004

But is anybody listening? The World Wide Web is a huge library of information. Just today, a colleague and I were musing at the power of the Internet and how our filing cabinets were dinosaurs of a different age; an age that ended within the past decade. You used to print out or copy articles of interest, highlight information that might be important to you and then stick it in a filing drawer, to be pulled out years later when someone had a question. It was the difference between being a sage and just being an old employee, or perhaps the difference between being a pack rat or not.

The Internet makes us all librarians of our little corner of the Universe, whether something interesting is happening around us or not. Blogging is a dream situation that historians of the ancient worlds could only wish for. Looking at the massive amounts of information, both corporate and individually donated, the library of the Internet allows me to instantly transport to any corner of the globe to see what is happening. In Iraq, unknown citizens have created a running tally of the events of the day. Here in the United States, a few hundred more pundits rattle on about the events that they hear about, but the real question on my mind is: Does Anybody Listen?

And I don't mean are they reading the blogs and newspapers and websites. I mean, is anybody actually listening to what they have to say? During the initial Iraq bombing (the second round - when Junior invaded the land), I must admit to having checked on the Salam Pax blog several times per day, just to try to get an inkling of what was going on over there. I thirsted for real person, first-hand accounts of the situation. At the same time, even though I read his blog, I don't believe that any of his thoughts, his dreams, or his opinions really hit home with me. I logged into the web, looked up the information that I wanted to know (i.e. how the battle was going), and then logged off. The poor man shed his soul on his website almost daily when he could, yet I know that I never spent more than a fleeting moment reading what he had to say.

I see that people visit my blog. Occasionally, they'll click on the photo link, but more often than not, the page that they come into the site on is the same page they leave on. They don't click Home. They don't care what I have to say or want to know anything about me. They get their information, and they leave. Hell, I don't blame them. I do the same thing. But I wonder if the loss of the social interaction in these mindless computers is affecting us.

In the real world, if someone came to you for information, you might stop, chat, ask about their family, share other meaningful dialogue, and then come to the point. Perhaps you might even follow up with the person to let them know that they were helpful to you. With the web, I don't even get an email (although I know some of you have come here with SPECIFIC problems that were solved by my posts) in response. The requestors are nothing but anonymous IP addresses, rather than possible acquaintences and potential friends. The web is a soul-less monster.

But why should I bother even writing about this? After all, no one is listening.

April 13, 2004

Taking Pictures Through Glass. I found a unique use for the red-eye feature of my digital camera. It allows me to take photos of things in glass enclosures. Perhaps that is one of its stated purposes, who knows, since I never read the manual. In any case, it was an interesting discovery, and allowed me to take clear pictures of Darth Vader and the Alien (from Alien) which were encased in plexiglass at Disney/MGM Studios. They were in the 'Villains' section of one of the exhibits, and the first time I took a shot, the flash bounced right off the plexiglass, giving a terrible spotlight shine. I retook the photos with the red-eye reduction feature on my digital camera, and the shots cleared right up. I'll definitely remember this little photography tip on my next museum visit where flash photography is permitted.

April 03, 2004

Looking for Free Partition Magic? I just finished resizing my NTFS boot partition. It was 6GB in size (the whole disk), but I wanted 3GB of it for a Linux distribution called Knoppix. Knoppix is a Linux distro designed to run from a CD. It has tons of utilities and other Linuxy stuff on it. It works just fine from the CD, but it can certainly run faster if it runs off your hard drive. Well, to install Linux, you have to have a partition to install it to. What's a guy to do? First, I downloaded the demo version of Partition Magic. Of course, it was stripped of all functionality, short of buying it outright. Scratch that. Then, I booted up Knoppix 3.3 from an ISO I found on the 'net. In it, there is a tool called qtparted. This is a free tool just like Partition Magic, except it's GNU licensed, doesn't cost anything and runs under Linux. qtparted is actually a front-end for a series of tools in Linux. One of these tools is ntfsresize. Unfortunately, qtparted couldn't resize my partition because operating systems don't neatly use space all at the beginning of a partition, but spread stuff all over the place. The ntfstools installation that came with Koppix 3.3 is not the newest, and does not support automatic moving of data to make room for the partition resize.
Well, a good geek doesn't stop when he is thwarted. No, he uses Knoppix to download the ntfstools, compiles the package into the RAMdisk/Desktop, unmounts the hard drive, and uses the newly compiled ntfsresize to automatically resize the partition for him. Then, he loads up qtparted again to automatically handle the fdisking of the partition so that he doesn't royally screw up his hard drive due to a fat fingering of the partition data.

Walla, rebooted into Windows 2000, where it ran the diskcheck, and everything was hunky-dory. Don't spend your money on Partition Magic - get yourself a nice free Linux distro and the latest ntfs tools. It was relatively painless, and it worked great.......on a laptop no less!
The Next Big Thing - Software AI Sifting Algorithms. I see a trend that's been forming for a long time, and I'm sure others will agree. With the advent of big disks, and bigger small disks, faster disks, and bigger permanent storage, we are beginning to accumulate massive amounts of data. Some of it is junk, some of it is just because we can, and some of it is vitality important.
Short example. When you first downloaded Morpheus, Kazaa, GNUTELLA and/or Napster, I'll bet you started downloading songs like there was no tomorrow. Maybe you downloaded 20 hours of music. When you were done with downloading all those songs, did you spend 20 hours going through the music to:

  • Ensure the song was complete by listening to the whole thing
  • Fix the MP3 ID3 tags with the proper artist, album and genre
  • Sort the files into separate directories by genre, or load them into another program for sorting
My guess is that you may have done this for some of what you downloaded, but you never got around to doing the whole collection. Face it, America is filled with people who love to collect stuff. Whether it be Pokemon cards, Magic cards, D&D source manuals, baseball/football/sports cards, knick-knacks, crystal, magazines, books, so on and so on..... we love to collect it. And sometimes we take the time to sort through it all. How do you sort through terabytes of data, though? How do you find the time to organize all of the digital pictures, digital music, digital videos and other material that you store on your computer?
There are numerous programs out there that will do this for you, but the software isn't keeping up with our needs. Sooner or later, we will find that the software just wasn't designed to do the work for us, and that our time involvement is just too resource intensive. What we're going to need in the future is software that is smart enough to sort through everything on its own. It will need to be able to handle terabyte sized databases, sort through more than one type of file (music, images, etc), and will have to be available for the common user. It will be able to analyze the content, tag it, make intelligent decisions and follow some simple rules that we give it (porn in this directory, heavy metal music in this directory, password protect this directory, etc.) Yet one more thing for me to spend my online time looking for. I'll bet there's a few projects already at SourceForge designed to do this very thing. If you find it first, let me know.

April 01, 2004

Not An April Fools Joke. As of this morning, shock jock Howard Stern is no longer on the radio. Is this a joke, an April Fool's joke? Apparently not, as he's been replaced by two candy-talking D.J.'s with the stupid 'bright' voices and the slogan, "Fun Without The Filth". I listened for a few moments, then immediately turned my radio to a news station. Unfortunately, Viacom won't care, because they own that news station too. Frankly, I'm sick of giving these conglomerates my valuable ear-time. I'm going work on my nightly custom news download to CD and listen to that in the car. Update - Well, of course it's an April Fools joke. God, he let it run long enough. I tried back for the second time - and he's back on now. He got me. I wonder how many listeners he lost in the shuffle?