How not to do business.

I just got spammed by someone using LinkedIn. I’m really getting tired of these things. I don’t like LinkedIn or any of the other ‘contact management’ sites. I have no idea who this guy is, or what his business is, so I visited his site (which I sussed out of his email address – the automated spam from LinkedIn had no contextual information, like, oh, who this idjit was).
His site was one big flash animation with music. That was the last straw. So I wrote him back. Thought I’d share this with the general populace. If you use LinkedIn or other websites that force me to log in to it to give you my contact information – don’t spam me with requests for me to update it for you.

First of all, who -are- you?
And while I’m replying, a few comments…
Your webpage is incredibly annoying. Flash animation and music on a
home page is a mark of someone fairly out of touch with technology and
actual implementation. By making Flash your default page view, you’ve
immediately alienated many users who may go to your site curious about
who are are and what you do. It certainly dissuaded me from doing any
further navigation on your site. When that music started blaring in on
my desktop speakers, I simply closed the window.
If you’d like to show off your prowess in website technologies, design a
site that is portable, well laid out, and useful. Do not play music. I
didn’t come to your site to dance a jig to your catchy little tune. I
came for information, not entertainment.
Furthermore, Linkedin is simply a mechanism for collecting email
addresses in someone elses database. If you have interest in doing
business with me, then ask me. Don’t ask some automated service to spam
me with a request to log into their site and give -them- my information
so you can update your address book.

I don’t expect this guy to Get It, but heck, at least I tried.
Update, an hour later
I got a reply back, arguing that LinkedIn is not a spammer (I don’t know how how else to define a service that sends me commercial email asking me to log into it and give it personal information, even though I did not ask for said services. The fact that someone else asked for it to do this makes it even worse). But the tone was pleasant, and they did include a vCard… which was linked to Plaxo. Another personal-information-archiving website.

Sysadmin tidbit for the day

While setting up the new host for Homeport, I’m doing a completely new installation of Debian Linux. My preferred mail system is Postfix, which uses the standard pile of configuration files and the like.
One of my beefs with Postfix is it requires all files to be owned by root. I also like having my config files all controlled via RCS so I can revert changes and see who changed what. The problem has been that RCS does not preserve file ownership, so a change to a file changes the ownership of that file to the person who made the change.
Easy, right? Just use ‘sudo’ to make the change. Ah, but this also changes the log message generated when checking the file back into RCS – they always say ‘root’. Hard to keep track of what users are doing when that happens.
Ah, but there’s a little known codicil in the Fabe… I mean sudoers(5) man page. Putting:
Defaults: !set_logname
in the sudoers file means that LOGNAME gets set to the person doing the sudo command, and in thigns like RCS, the log entry shows the actual user, not ‘root’ in the history.

Geeky stuff I didn’t know.

I’m in the process of deploying a new host for all of Homeport’s services (all the shell accounts, mail, etc etc), since we’re moving in a month. This means setting up a brand new machine in a colo location from scratch.
I’ve chosen the Debian ‘Sarge’ release for my platform, seeing as I run it on my laptop and a few other machines hereabout.
One challenge with this is learning a new directory structure. Under FreeBSD (the OS I’ve been using for most of Homeport’s services), configuration files tend to reside in /usr/local/etc/{service}/{various config files}. /etc/ is only for baseline system configuration files, not add-on apps, etc etc. Debian does things differently, and I found out recently there’s a reason.
Debian adheres to the FHS – the Filesystem Hierarchy Structure, a standards document that defines what directories go where on a specific Unix (or in this case Unix-Like) installation.
I had no idea this document existed, but I’m pleased as punch to see it applied to what many consider the more chaotic of the Linux distributions – Debian. I wonder who else has taken up this standard?

The weekend in review.

“Believe me, my young friend (said the water rat, solemnly), there is nothing -absolutely nothing-half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing about. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away or whether you don’t, whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular.” (The Wind in the Willows)

Boy ain’t that the truth.

No greater damnation…

… than a man’s own words.
These are the words of Karl Rove, at a New York Conservative Party get-together. There’s nothing that makes me more nauseous, or underlines the horror that the conservative party represents in our government, than this man’s characterization of Liberalism vs Conservatism.

Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don’t. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a “culture of life”; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.
But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to… submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be” to “use moderation and restraint in responding to the… terrorist attacks against the United States.”
I don’t know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.
Moderation and restraint is not what I felt – and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will – and to brandish steel.
MoveOn.Org, Michael Moore and Howard Dean may not have agreed with this, but the American people did. Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see … Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia.
Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot – three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?
Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America’s men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.

Sometimes, you can go home.

One of the advantages of working in New Jersey is being able to visit places I used to call home. On the last visit, I went back to the farm I lived on between 1969 and 1981, or the place I refer to as “where I grew up”.
The farm is located in Ringoes, NJ, about 20 miles west of Princeton. It’s still extremely rural, and many of the farms I remember are still there, including ‘ours’. The current owners were nice enough to let me look around the property and take lots of pictures. I’ve assembled them into a photo album with comments.
This was a hard visit for me in many ways. Many old memories, some things changed that were hard to see, but also many things the same. I kept noticing small bits everywhere. The lamp fixture on the porch – my mom selected that. The combination lock on the kitchen is still there (I wondered if it still had the same combination). The thermometer outside the dining room window (plastic) . All still there from almost 25 years ago.

When Volunteer Organizations Go Bad

I’ve been following, with some level of nausea, the unfolding saga that is going on in the Texas VHF-FM Ham Society. This is a reasonably long-lived non-profit organization of ham enthusiasts that has, unfortunately, degenerated into a pissing match between members that has gone as far as bringing in lawyers and restraining orders.
In my book, if a volunteer organization goes this far down the road of distrust, antipathy, and downright hostility, it’s time to either split or disband and start over.
The ‘legitimate’ board has one website:
The ‘dissenters’ (primarily led by Jay Maynard) have another:
The accusations, pedantics, and general doo-doo-flinging going on on both sides is both entertaining and saddening.

XM Radio – One Week In – a quick review

My current work has me heading down to New Jersey every few weeks to work with my client on our various projects. After the first 2 drives (4 1/2 hours or so), I decided that I needed some way to keep myself sane on the drive. The first trip involved cabling up my laptop to the stereo so I could listen to the MP3 collection on it while driving. This proved… less than optimal, and I began considering XM Satellite Radio. Last week I marched into Best Buy and picked up a SkyFi2 receiver.

The Service
XM Radio is a satellite-based radio service that provides about 250 channels of ‘digital radio’ to a special receiver. It is a subscription service, requiring a monthly charge and activation. There are no ‘levels’ of subscription, such as in cable television – once you’re subscribed, you have access to everything. The channels vary widely in content, from Major League Baseball through classical music. The service is activated based on your receiver ID. Receivers can be moved from vehicle to vehicle (or in the case of the ‘MyFi’ receiver, carried around with you like an iPod). You can activate multiple receivers, but there’s a (smaller) charge per additional unit. Many of the units are mobile, and can simply ‘undock’ from one car, and ‘dock’ in another (or into an at-home unit).

The Equipment
As mentioned, I have the SkyFi2 receiver, which is sort of middle of the road as far as receivers go. It has has a ‘dock’ arrangement that lets you remove the receiver or hide it when parking, which is a win. The receiver has a clear easy to read display (both in daylight and at night), and is easy go use to navigate stations and presets. Mine has a very stiff ‘wheel’ on it, which I may bring in to get serviced (it should turn smoothly), but other than that it works fine. The unit comes with an external ‘magnetic mount’ antenna, a ‘cassette-style’ hookup for stereos (it also can transmit on several FM bands, but I found as I was driving I’d drift in and out of range of various FM stations, which would conflict with the FM transmitter), so I opted for the slightly more cluttery arrangement with the cable, but didn’t have problems with interference. This will definately require a more permanent installation though, since the receiver now has 3 wires coming out of it (power, antenna, and audio).

The receiver does provide some excellent functions over traditional radios. The biggest is having a realtime display of the current channel, track and artist. You can add other things to the display (stock tickers, etc), though I can’t imagine that would be safe for a driver :). Another big win is the ability to ‘pause’ music or shows – for instance to go through a toll booth, or get food from a drivein, or whatever. The receiver ‘spools’ the show up (and shows how far behind realtime you are), and lets you play and catch up when you’re ready. Up to half an hour of paused music can be stored.

Last but not least is the ability to ‘tag’ certain music or artists, so that if another station starts playing an artist you want to hear (or a show, or whatever), the unit will alert you that something is starting elsewhere. I haven’t done this yet, but if there were certain shows I didn’t want to miss, that would be handy.

The Stations

What is a radio service without content? XM provides 250 or so channels of programming with a wide variety of content. After scanning through the listing several times, and listening a bit to each one, I’m slowly settling down into a dozen or so I enjoy. Many of the stations have live DJ’s that introduce and comment on the pieces being played (though the receiver includes the feature of showing the channel, artist, and track being played – and it’s updated in realtime), but it’s nice to hear a real person on occasion. My only beef with the station programming is they have commercials. This is a pay-for service, the last thing I want to do is listen to an add for Viagra in the middle of a Blues concert. I find this incredibly annoying, and would even consider paying a slightly higher premium to avoid the commercials

As far as generic programming, the stations are good. Some are excellent (in my opinion), and some are just boring. I would have liked to see less channel space used up by specialty or limited audience bits that are repeated elsewhere. (For instance, there are 40 some odd ‘local’ stations. If I’m in Boston, chances are I don’t need to hear traffic conditions in Chicago, but I have both a Chicago and a Boston channel on my receiver). Also, there are 5-6 major league baseball channels, and 4 Nascar channels. If there is a limited number of channels in the XM system, they should work on a subscription mechanism that lets you tune what channels you receive. I’m never going to be listening to MLB or Nascar programming, why is a third of my channel selection used up by them?

The good, the bad, and the ugly
So now I’ve been using the system for a week, and have some pretty detailed impressions of it. So here’s the basic rundown as I see it. I spend anywhere from an hour and a half a day to several hours (for the road trips), so I’m probably a fairly typical user:

    The Good

  • Very good selection of stations and programming.
  • A lack of DJ chatter or other annoyances
  • Very capable technical offering on the receiver
  • Activation and maintenance painless (took about 15 minutes from my car)
  • Availability of all programming over the net via their website
  • Ubiquitous access to stations, no matter what your location. The same channels are available in Boston that are available in NJ.
  • Simple installation and easy to use.

    The Bad

  • Many channels used up by narrow-focus audiences, but still occupy many channels at once.
  • Reception can be sketchy. Audio cuts out as the signal drops down reasonably often. Not enough to be a real problem, but far more often than I expected.
  • Audio quality is less than ideal. It sounds similar to a 64k MP3 streaming audio feed. It is NOT as high quality as CD or even broadcast radio, but is acceptable.

    The Ugly

  • No way to skip or avoid commercials
  • No Radio Paradise!

For $11 a month for the service, I think it’s worth it, particularly for people who do regular road trips or even longer commutes. The inclusion of not necessarily ‘mainstream’ content makes all the difference (things such as NPR, Folk radio, etc). Some more flexibility would be nice, and higher quality audio would be a huge win, but for now, I think I’ll stick with it.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder.

While reading my favorite weekly column by James Randi, I happened upon a discussion where certain individuals were taking some of the Mars orbital photographs, magnifying them past all levels of sanity, washing them through photoshop several times so that all the JPG compression anomalies stood out bright and shiny, and then pointing to these anomalies and going “LOOK! BUILDINGS! IT’S A COVERUP!”

Now, this -must- be a characterization out of line of what these people were saying. Right? Mustn’t it?

Sadly, no, it isn’t.

I direct you, for your own entertainment, to the… comments of one Joseph P. Skipper, of Mister Skipper goes on for many many pages about how there is this vast coverup by scientists about existing advanced civilizations right here in our solar system.

Now, sure, give a guy some slack. The tin-hat folks can say “But, how do we KNOW? They’re feeding us bad information!”

But, for argument, let me present Skipper’s commentary on banding on the moon as presented by the Deep Space Program Science Experiment, aka Clementine. Skipper comments on this ‘banding’…

Note that these poorly seen rows of artificial structures of some kind do not give the impression of buildings so much as of giant solid, sectional, possibly contoured, appearing reinforced alternating clamping system structures. Note how precisely horizontally distance separated one vertical row is from the other forming a clear definitive rigidly uniform south/north north/south orientation and precisely spaced apart pattern. So, not only does each of the individual bands speak clearly of artificiality, so to does the over all pattern of the many bands. It is very difficult to regard this as anything less than conclusive definitive proof of massive scale artificiality present on the Moon and on a colossal scale.

Now, it’s quite easy to dismiss this fellows rantings as the standard woo-woo “The aliens are there!” twaddle, and that “the public is simply being deceived about the reality” and other bits, but Skipper tries to back up his rantings with ‘facts’ pulled from known sources.

But here’s where it gets fun. The images that Skipper posts are pulled directly from the Clementine Lunar Image Browser, an online database of all the images from the survey. Skipper himself says how to retrieve the images, and he states that you should set the query to “1 pixel = 1 kilometer”. His sample images are 768 pixels wide, which would make the pictures he’s viewing 476 miles across. The moon has a diameter of 3,476 miles, so the pictures he’s looking at would be about 1/7th of the diameter as we see it here from earth (not taking into account parallax errors due to curvature, etc). So, given those numbers, don’t you think we could see those bands just standing out in a field and looking?

No? Lets go closer. A $100 pair of binoculars would give you a 10x resolution. Heck, lets go nuts – spend that $99 and get a 420x resolution telescope, and take a look at the moon. At that resolution, you should be able to discern objects down to something about 100′ across. According to Skippers page, there is apparently a building that, according to his scale, is about 40km across. Should be pretty easy to see it, don’t you think?

Alas, Skipper spends no time even considering the inanity of his arguments, and continues with the ‘obvious cover-up’ chatter and the declaration of deliberate obfuscation by the government.

Because the entire Clementine Moon imaging is visually a sea of a great many different types and levels of image tampering applications and obfuscation techniques covering and hiding evidence and creating false illusions as to terrain detail in the process and essentially covering and obscuring most of the Moon’s entire surface as well as these bands.

It’s amazing how people will persist in their delusions when all they have to do is walk outside and look up to see that what they’re proposing is so ludicrous it defies explanation.

By the way, the ‘banding’ that Skipper goes on about was due to the fact that the Clementine probe was inserted into a polar orbit around the moon. When you take interlocked pictures of a globe while orbiting it, and piece them together to attempt to display them on a flat surface, there is interference where they overlap. That, combined with the fact that the CLIB database consists of JPEG images – compressed versions of the original imagery, which introduces ‘square’ and ‘noisy’ artifacts into an image, resulted in the ‘bands’ and ‘buildings’ that Skipper latches onto with such tenacity.

Some slightly good news

From the ACLU :

Late Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives took perhaps the most significant vote in the nearly four year debate over the USA PATRIOT Act. They voted 238 to 187 to amend the CJS spending bill by exempting libraries and bookstores from the scope of foreign intelligence records demands under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

A small step forward.

National Academies Sets up pro-evolution website

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The National Academies, the flagship of U.S. science, said on Friday it had set up a Web site to battle attempts to portray evolution as mere speculation about how life developed on Earth.
The Web site, http:/, carries links to various reports on evolution, which some U.S. religious groups want to be taught in schools only if their own views of a divine creator get equal credence.
(Via Reuters, thanks to Keyne).

It amazes me…

… how so many people who…

  • did not sit on the 14 weeks of evidence presentation…
  • have never met, seen, talked to, or interviewed the parties involved…
  • have never had one day of legal schooling…
  • were not in the jury…
  • in fact, have not seen anything of the evidence other than what has been filtered through chat boards, CNN, and the rest of the ‘media’

…can decide, point blank, the guilt or innocence of a man in a court case.
Is it so hard for people to say “I do not have enough information to be able to say one way or the other. I wasn’t there.”?
Because, for 99.9% of the people shouting at the top of their lungs about miscarriages of justice, or whatever, that’s exactly the situation they’re in.

Java JBoss Geek Trick du jour

I’m doing a lot of work in JBoss, and one of the bugs I’ve run into is that if an applications initial deployment fails, JBoss refuses to un-deploy it. It throws this error when you try to redeploy the app (in this case, the app is called ‘app1’ and is deployed as an EAR file) :

23:19:23,054 ERROR [MainDeployer] Could not initialise deployment: file:/home/dbs/jboss/jboss-4.0.1sp1/server/default/deploy/app1.ear
org.jboss.deployment.DeploymentException: Error in accessing application metadata: ; - nested throwable: ( jboss.j2ee:service=EARDeployment,url='app1.ear' already registered.)

Sometimes restarting JBoss appserver from scratch will fix it, but only if you’ve remembered to delete the .ear file before restart.
JBoss comes with a great little tool called ‘twiddle’. It sends commands via JMX right into the appserver. You can force an app to unregister right from the command line: unregister jboss.j2ee:service=EARDeployment,url='app1.ear'

Voila 🙂