Browse Month: February 2008

02/27/2008

Ghaurav Khanna bought sixteen Sony Playstation 3 game systems, put them into a server rack, and connected them with a gigabit ethernet switch.

Then he installed Linux on them and turned them into a supercomputer so he can model the intense calculations involved in black hole collision mechanics. According to him:

A single PS3 performs better than the highest-end desktops available and compares to as many as 25 nodes of an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer.

Holy cow, that’s sweet.

02/27/2008

I’m part of a local Linux e-mail list, and occasionally we geek out about technical topics. Today was a good one– someone started a discussion with this:

I think this appropriate for the group, especially those that are email admin gurus.

All the major news sites are reporting the executive office’s loss of email. estimates as high as 1000 days.

Call me naive, but i imagine most every ISP i’ve ever sent / received email from has a record of that email.  I imagine every company i’ve ever worked for has access to my historical email.

Yet, I know that if I delete a mail from my mail spool on a unix system, it’s as good as gone.  Which leads me to believe that unless daily / weekly / monthly backups  are made of mail servers and then archived, it “might” be possible that there is no history of the emails.  

Before I criticize and label this as an obvious cover up by the executive branch, is there even any ounce of truth that there would be no foul play involved?

If there wasn’t any tampering and this actually “just” happened, anybody that has faith in the administration for the last 8 years has got be pretty disappointed knowing that the party that’s supposed to be tough on torror is completely and utterly technologically inept at even the most basic things as a nightly backup, no less in the highest levels of national office.  It’s a serious joke.  

I can’t help but think a group of 16 year old script kiddies would make our nat’l specialists look foolish.  Sad but true.

Although I should be slamming out PHP code for my clients, I figured I’d chime in with my own take on the matter. To wit:

Like you, I’ve watched this story for the past few months with a mix of suspicion and humor.

I run e-mail for a hundred or so domains, totaling maybe a thousand individual users.  That’s a lot of messages coming and going on a given day.  To make matters worse, as we all know only a fraction of what comes in is legitimate– the rest is spam that’s discarded via greylisting or scanning and filtering.

A nightly backup of the mail spool on a server would be largely useless.  It would save copies of any messages that arrived but weren’t downloaded, so if the backup runs at, say, midnight then it’ll catch stuff between the end of the business day and that time.  That’s assuming the people aren’t checking their mail in the evening.  Since people are downloading messages constantly (my own client checks my mail every 60 seconds), in many cases the content of the message is only on the server for a matter of minutes or perhaps hours.

Thus, in order to truly capture and backup every message, something needs to be done at the MTA level.  I happen to use qmail, and it has a mechanism to send a copy of every message– incoming and outgoing– to a place defined by the admin.  I’m sure other MTA’s have similar functionality.  In theory, then, I could save a copy of all of it in a directory not available to the users, and backup that directory.

I don’t do that.

First, I believe strongly in the privacy of my customers.  I have no reason to store messages that may contain personal information, private conversations, proprietary business data, etc.  If I was using an ISP for my own mail, I wouldn’t want them storing it, and I think I should treat others as I’d like to be treated.

Second, if I’m storing messages beyond the usual deliver-and-download process, I incur a liability to protect and manage that data.  What if someone managed to break into the server and find the directory with tens of thousands of archived messages?  Whee!  Witness the spectacle of MediaDefender.

Third, with the volume of e-mail that flies around these days, there are storage considerations.  Assuming an average business user sends 10 messages per day, and each message is 20kB, and I have a thousand users, I’m amassing 200MB of archived mail every day.  And everyone knows 10 x 20kB messages is on the low end. 🙂  Disks are cheap, but
that adds up.

And fourth, I defy the police state mentality that seems to pervade our country.  The government (and other agencies) seem to think it’s okay to swoop into an ISP and gather all sorts of data for their various witch hunts.  If someone comes to me and demands the last 30 days of e-mail from a customer account, I can honestly say I don’t have it.  It protects the customer, and it gives me plausible deniability.

That being said, I believe there are federal laws that *require* the government to archive all e-mail messages to elected officials.  They can’t really use any of the reasons I’ve mentioned here– they *must* implement mechanisms to copy all messages and archive them to backup media.  As a result, the whole White House debacle is at best an embarrassment to the IT clowns over there, and more probably a violation of law that should be investigated.

02/27/2008

Craig and I were discussing the wonderful merits of Internet Explorer and how it defies all attempts to build a reasonable web site without resorting to awful hacks, and after describing the latest hack he had to use, he wrote a real gem.

I had to take a shower afterwards because I felt so dirty and there is a permanent stain on my soul where all the good things live.  IE sucks bald dog.

I don’t know what “sucking bald dog” means, but if I had to sum up my feelings about IE that’s a good phrase for it.

02/27/2008

I can tell Laralee loves me because she just came home from the store with a box of Cadbury Creme Eggs, which are my once-a-year Easter treat. They’re basically chocolate-covered balls of sugar, which of course goes against everything that’s holy in her soul, but she buys them once a year for me anyway. What a sweet gal.

02/23/2008

“Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.”

— John Benfield

02/22/2008

Mmm… I finally got out on my bike today, after several months of it sitting in the garage getting rusty. The weather was pretty nice (50ish) and I had a dentist appointment across town, so I pumped up the tires, hopped on, and enjoyed the ride.

02/21/2008

Well, this is a new one for me. I’m building a web application that presents a form entirely in Japanese.

The funny thing is that I have no idea what these fields say, and I can only hope that the first Japanese guy to come to the site and use the form doesn’t laugh his head off or get offended because I messed up a verb tense or something and insulted his ancestors.

02/21/2008

I took a fun picture of my new Google lava lamp warming up:

02/21/2008

President Bush is now down to a 19% approval rating.

What’s most incredible about that is the fact that if I picked five random people on the street, one of them would actually think Bush is doing a good job!

02/20/2008

Behold the power of the internet… already there are hundreds of eclipse photos on Flickr. Here’s one that’s a bit fuzzy, but I liked the wispy icy clouds:

And here’s one that was actually taken last year but is an impressive shot:

It’s amazing how nature is so beautiful at times.

02/20/2008

Sadly, tonight’s lunar eclipse was marred by cloud cover. Around 8:30 the clouds cleared a bit, leaving some wispy ones floating around the moon, and I was able to take a few pictures.

It’s always cool to see the moon turn red (apparently a result of sunlight refracting through Earth’s atmosphere) and even cooler to see the curve of Earth’s shadow. The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but I enjoyed the sight anyway.

02/20/2008

I’m listening to Joga’s “Dam Dariram”, which is a song included on Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 2 and has a great beat. The lyrics aren’t too bad:

Now
I am walking around
In this side of the town
I just can’t hideaway
How can I look in your eyes
When I feel like to die
I have to runaway

But then you get to the refrain:

Daririram dariram dariram
Darirarirariram
Dariraram dam
Dariri
Ram dariram dariram
Darirarirariram
Dariraram dam
And I’m falling in love…

Whoa. I guess they couldn’t think of any words so they sort of threw together a bunch of syllables that sounded catchy.

02/19/2008

Mmm… today marked my return to ultimate for the year. I haven’t played since November (when the weather was amazing) due to weather, trips, work, illness, and general laziness. So I hit the field today, along with a dozen other guys who also haven’t played for three months, and we had a good time in the (relatively) warm weather.

Of course it reminded me how out of shape I’ve become during the course of the winter…

02/18/2008

Here’s a cool photo from our trip to Idaho a couple of weeks ago. There were some pretty serious blizzards in northern Utah, but on the day we drove through the area it was a beautiful (but cold) sunny day.

02/18/2008

Zack and Alex have been asking for months if we can play “that game with the little figures”. They’re talking about Axis and Allies, of course, which has a gazillion miniature tanks and fighters and battleships. So today, at long last, we pulled out the game and played it as sort of a birthday party for me.

I warned them that a full game of A&A takes about five or six hours, so most likely they would get bored pretty quickly. Also, it’s fairly complicated and probably not really intended for a six-year-old. But we pressed forward, spent about forty minutes sorting the pieces and setting up the board, and then started playing.

They lasted two turns and were ready to call it quits and go outside to jump on the trampoline. Honestly, that’s about one turn more than I expected.

So I guess we won’t be playing A&A any time soon, although one of these days they’ll be old enough (and patient enough) and we’ll have a good time.

02/18/2008

Today’s my birthday, of course, and I got some sweet goodies from my pal Rick. He works at Google and told me to pick out a couple of things from the Google Store. So I scored a really nice pullover, which I’m wearing around the office today.

Tony and Luke picked up everything from water bottles to LED crank flashlights to tote bags. Laralee got a nice jacket, and the kids got glow-in-the-dark yo-yos. Rick threw in four lava lamps (yes, lava lamps) which are awesome.

Thanks, Google!

02/15/2008

I’ve been watching the saga of the dying spy satellite with vast amusement. It seems that in the next few weeks a big (multi-ton) U.S. satellite is going to deorbit due to lack of fuel, and come crashing to earth. Somewhere.

The “somewhere” is the problem– it’s unlikely the entire satellite will burn up in the atmosphere, so some pieces of it are almost certain to hit ground. And at this point it’s virtually impossible to know where that will happen. Since it’s a spy satellite, it’s in an orbit that’s specifically intended to take it over land and populated areas as much as possible. I imagine the odds are still pretty good that it would land in ocean (since that’s 75% of earth’s surface) but apparently The Gov has decided to take no chances.

So they’re going to blast it out of the sky with a missile. The official story is that the government is concerned about the dangerous hydrazine fuel on board, and how terrible an effect it would have on people who find the crumpled remains of the satellite and– I don’t know– decide to drink the fuel or something.

This is the funny part to me. The whole reason the thing is coming down is because it has no fuel left. If it had fuel– even a little– they could use a deorbit burn to push it down and intentionally crash it into the ocean somewhere. Thus, the story about the toxic fuel causing problems for Auntie Em who finds it is almost completely unbelievable.

The truth, as anyone with the brains of cabbage could tell you, is that The Gov is worried the satellite will end up in China or somewhere that a handful of smart engineers could get the pieces, dissect them, and figure out some of our super duper spy technology. It has absolutely nothing to do with hydrazine, and everything to do with protecting secrets.

My question, I suppose, is why they don’t just come out and say that. Why not admit that they’re worried about technology falling into the wrong hands? Heck, Bush could even use the mysterious specter of The Terrorists and say he doesn’t want al-Qaeda to find the parts. But no. They concoct this incredible story about dangerous fuel, probably knowing full well that even a mildly retarded ferret could figure out the truth.

Laralee says the reason is that (and I quote) “They don’t even know how to tell the truth any more.” And in a way, I wonder if that’s true. The Gov is so accustomed to lying about its activities– clandestine or otherwise– that they can’t even come out with a true statement when everyone knows what’s going on.

Personally, I hope the thing plows into the White House or Pentagon in a spectacular fireworks show. That would be poetic justice.

02/13/2008

Laralee just came back from the store with a bunch of grapes (“bunch”– get it? hah!).

Our kitchen looks like a freaking winery.