At about 8:30 AM on Thursday October 30th, the hard drive failed. It was reporting itself on the bus, but with a garbage manufacturer string and a size of 0; not terribly useful.

Fortunately, I had a backup; I use rsync to keep a copy of the server filesystems on a machine at home. I even had to restart the backup by hand on Wednesday morning, so we only lost about 24 hours worth of stuff (the Thursday morning backup was still in its early stages when the disk crashed).

Unfortunately, I lost all of my MySQL databases. Most of them are replaceable, but it’s still annoying. It seems that @mysqlhotcopy@ “knows” that a list of tables fetched from the database is not quoted, so it does quoting itself. Unfortunately, a newer version of MySQL (or @DBD::mysql@) appears to be quoting table names. Net result:

bq. DBD::mysql::db do failed: You have an error in your SQL syntax near ‘` READ, `apachelogs`.“access_blog_org“ READ, `apachelogs`.“access_fywss_com“’ at line 1 at /usr/bin/mysqlhotcopy line 438

So, no MySQL backups… *sigh.

Anyway, 40Gb drives were on sale at ICCT, so I ran out last night and picked one up, restored the backup, and replaced it in the server this morning. The old drive is about 15 months old and is still under warranty; Maxtor is sending me a replacement even as we speak, so I’ll end up with a spare drive at the end of this whole mess.

Moral: keep good backups :-)

*Update*: There’s some evidence that the last complete backup was actually on the 26th of October. I’ll have to investigate, because I know it’s been _running_ every day since then…

posted at 2:07 pm on Friday, October 31, 2003 in Site News | Comments Off on Crash!


I’ve messed up my shoulder a bit, probably by “sweeping”: improperly. So I’ve been cutting down on the computer use a bit to give the shoulder and arm a rest. Unanswered e-mails are building up on schedule…

posted at 12:35 pm on Wednesday, October 29, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on Ouch

Time Lapse

A pair of time-lapse photography movies from “[daily dose of imagery]:; one looking west and the other looking southwest from (near) Bay and Gerrard in downtown Toronto. (They’re probably from the condo towers in College Park, but I can’t tell for sure.)

* “toronto western sky timelapsed”:
* “CN Tower timelapsed”:

Cool. Now I want to go make one of the view from my office building, either looking south down York street towards the lake and the island, or looking down into the TD Centre courtyard. I’ll need a webcam or an external power supply for my camera, though…

[ via “GTA bloggers”: ]

posted at 11:03 am on Sunday, October 26, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Time Lapse

The Complete Far Side

<drool> Books: The Complete Far Side: 1980-1994 (or “”:

19 pounds. 2 hardcover books, in a box set. 1250 pages. Over 4000 cartoons.

I suppose it would be less appealing if you already had all of the Far Side books. Which I don’t…

posted at 10:12 am on Sunday, October 26, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on The Complete Far Side


So I patched my MovableType and set up the cron job to use “mt-publish-on”: It runs, and switches the state on my articles from “Future” to “Publish”, but never actually publishes them (the content pages remain unchanged). I haven’t done much debugging yet, other than to figure out that mt-publish-on really does call the same MovableType functions that are used internally to publish new pages… *sigh.

posted at 10:08 am on Sunday, October 26, 2003 in Site News | Comments Off on mt-publish-on

Automotive Blackboxes

Well, it’s happened. According to a CBC news article, a Montreal driver has been convicted of dangerous driving. While there were no witnesses, the car computer recorded his speed at 131 km/h at the time of the crash.

The problem I see is simple: these computers are not designed to record evidence; they’re designed to operate the car airbag system. They’re connected to the vehicle’s sensor network, which can return false or misleading data, and I’m sure the computer is trivial to tamper with, before or after an incident. (In fact, the /. crowd is already discussing the challenge :-). Will the positive uses balance out the potential abuse?

In _this_ case, the blackbox was only used to settle a “he said, she said” type of case. The defendant claimed that the _other_ car was speeding; there were no witnesses and no skid marks on the road. It’s interesting to note that he was cleared of the more serious charge of “criminal negligence causing death”; hopefully the courts/jury decided that computer testimony wasn’t enough for the more serious charge?

The OPP has been using blackbox evidence for a while now, apparently, as have insurance companies. Something to keep on the radar…

posted at 9:41 am on Sunday, October 26, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Automotive Blackboxes

Methane Bubbles Sink Ships

Wired News: It Came From Beneath the Sea

Apparently blocks of sold methane can break off the bottom of the ocean floor, turn into large gas bubbles as they rise, and can sink ships that happen to be above them.

Of course, nobody has ever _seen_ one. Sinister…

posted at 8:12 pm on Friday, October 24, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Methane Bubbles Sink Ships

Is ISS really unsafe?

New Scientist

bq. Minutes of a meeting held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on 10 September, obtained by the The Washington Post, reveal that two NASA medical experts refused to sign flight certificates authorising the current mission to the ISS.

How much of this was due to a genuine safety concern, and how much was paranoia over lawsuits and the current blame culture surrounding NASA? For example:

bq. Cintron and Langdoc were especially concerned that sensors used to monitor the space station’s air supply for dangerous trace elements is currently broken.

As opposed to the normal, everyday air on earth, which is chock full of “dangerous trace elements”? This strikes _me_ as CYA activity…

posted at 7:34 pm on Friday, October 24, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Is ISS really unsafe?

Geek Jackets

“SCOTTeVEST”:” now has version 3.0 of their jacket/vest. It has 42 pockets (many hidden) to stash all of your gear, including pens, PDAs, earbuds, and so on. The pockets and jacket are designed to allow routing of cables (e.g. headphones) as needed. The ultimate geektech accessory?

posted at 7:07 pm on Friday, October 24, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Geek Jackets

Cod Stocks Depleted

Plastic: The Tragedy Of Common Cod

It’s nice to see that the Europeans have finally figured out that over-fishing cod tends to destroy the population. They’ve been ignoring Canada’s desire to protect our cod stocks, and have kept fishing (just outside our territorial limit) even after we asked them to stop, contributing to the destruction of our cod.

To be fair, the _fisherman_ apparently still don’t believe it. Fools.

Scientists are beginning to thing that the population will _never_ recover, even with a complete moratorium on fishing; the remaining population is simply too small…

posted at 6:08 pm on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 in Current Events | Comments (1)
  1. David Brake says:

    To be fair too – it isn’t just the Europeans who are to blame here. Newfoundland fishermen also want to keep fishing…


bq. It is impossible to make anything foolproof, because fools are so ingenious. (Roger Berg)

Mark made me laugh again today. From Foolproof [dive into mark]:

bq. [using the timer] is generally beyond my capabilities, since it involves doing math in my head, but I cheated and used my wireless-Internet-enabled laptop to do the calculation in the Google calculator, thus utilizing over $3000 dollars worth of hardware and software locally and God-only-knows how much hardware remotely in order to compensate for my inability to count to 8 without wandering off and logging on to IRC.

posted at 6:15 pm on Monday, October 20, 2003 in Humour | Comments (1)
  1. joy says:

    I had read that and was humored by it too.

Sleep, After Kids

I found a comment on Train of thought [dive into mark] that struck me (no, I didn’t strike it back):

bq. You may not have a normal night’s sleep, maybe for the next 5 years, by which time, you may not remember how to sleep for 8 hours in a row.

How true! Well, ok, I usually manage uninterrupted sleep, but I’ve forgotten how to sleep _in_. Left to my own devices, I’m up by 8:30 at the latest on most weekends. (Of course, now that winter has returned we’re back to 7AM breakfast for 8AM hockey games :-)

I have vague memories of sleeping in past noon on Saturdays and Sundays, but I’m beginning to wonder if they’re real…

posted at 9:48 pm on Sunday, October 19, 2003 in Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Sleep, After Kids

Polaroid Photography

Ok, this is _cool_.

Mark-Steffen Göwecke has taken a series of polaroid pictures separated in space and time (he started in France in 1996). Each photograph contains the previously shot polaroid image.


posted at 11:31 am on Sunday, October 19, 2003 in Links | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    My photos are *already* in the order taken in my explorer window by default. Oddly, even negatives come that way if you toss ’em in a box.

    Alas, after many years of photography as a hobby, I must say the key to being a good photographer is throwing the bad photos out! Long live digital cameras!


If you can read this, It means two things. First, that my Movable Type setup can cut ‘n’ paste UTF-8 strings, and second that your reader works with my UTF-8 blog.

# Ħäřáŀđ Ķòċĥ (eight-bit, upper code page)
# Наяаλδ Κόςн (multi-byte)

Inspired by “Ned Batchelder”:

posted at 4:05 pm on Friday, October 17, 2003 in Site News | Comments (1)
  1. joy says:

    It works in Safari.


Young girls? Sex? Multiple partners? great, here comes another Google-sourced firehose of traffic :-)

posted at 6:44 pm on Thursday, October 16, 2003 in Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Oops!

Low brow TV

I took my car into the shop this morning for routine maintenance. While I’m waiting for the courtesy shuttle (that’ll take me to take me to the subway), I was forced (yes, strapped to a chair and forced!) to watch a day-time “shock” talk show.

Today’s story was about five 14-year old girls who are having lots of (unprotected) sex because they want to have babies. Some of these girls were having sex up to 12 times a day, with multiple partners.

I’m not going to comment on the serious issues here; there are many of them, and they should be obvious. But three things occurred to me while I was sitting in the waiting room:

# You _reduce_ your odds of getting pregnant by having sex with the same partner more often than once every two days; it takes him that long to generate new sperm.
# You _reduce_ your odds of getting pregnant by having sex with multiple partners; male sperm will compete with each other, blocking each other or killing each other off.
# You _reduce_ your odds of getting pregnant by contracting STDs; many of those STDs (especially if left untreated) cause infertility. For cetain, if you’re having sex that often with multiple partners, you’re going to catch one.

In short, these poor kids can’t even get “getting pregnant” right… *sigh.

posted at 6:40 pm on Thursday, October 16, 2003 in Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Low brow TV

French Press Coffee?

Something to add to my list of things to try: “French Press Coffee”: (described here by “Mike Rohde”: The thought of coffee that “tastes like fresh ground coffee smells” is intriguing, although it may get my wife drinking more coffee…

posted at 1:33 pm on Wednesday, October 15, 2003 in Miscellaneous | Comments (1)
  1. joy says:

    Yes! Yes! French press coffee. It’s great. (I broke the glass carafe of mine a few weeks ago and I’ve been missing it.)

    Two things though to note about French press coffee.

    It’s the type of coffee that you drink on a sunday morning while leisurely reading the paper since after you pour the coffee, you really can’t wait and do a refill from the same carafe. It’s not like a regular drip coffeemaker.

    Also, you need to use high quality french roasted coffee. I’ve tried other types of coffee, but french roasted is the best to use.

It’s begining to feel a lot like…

Damn, “Stephen blabbed”: I guess we’ll have to exile him; I hope the “ice weasels”: don’t get him.

posted at 7:48 pm on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 in Humour | Comments Off on It’s begining to feel a lot like…

Comments SPAM interlock

So another comment spammer took down my server this weekend. It seems that it takes Movable Type over 8 seconds to rebuild the pages after a comment has been posted (the category pages are large, and get re-written to update the comment count in the summary). If a spammer tries POSTing to several comments pages at the same time, or does so over a relatively short period of time, I get a whole bunch of mt-comments.cgi scripts running simultaneously.

At 8Mb (of working memory) each, it doesn’t take long for them to max out the memory on my wimpy 128Mb box, at which point paging starts, slowing everything down and making the problem worse. As more HTTP requests show up, and cron scripts run, the box starts thrashing (i.e. spending all of its resources moving pages in and out instead of accomplishing useful work). I couldn’t even SSH into the box; the SSH negotiation was timing out after a few minutes.

Usually I have to ask my host to physically reset the server, but this time it was a long weekend. Fortunately I had a remote shell lying around. But it took two _days_ to run su, type my password, and kill off the offending httpd and mt-comments.cgi processes. In the meantime, many other important daemons had been killed due to out-of-memory, and the box was completely ignoring web requests and e-mail sessions; in short, the machine was a mess.

MT-Blacklist is due out today, and I intend to install it, but it won’t help this problem; by the time mt-comments.cgi is being exec()ed, it’s already too late.

So instead I wrote a simple locking wrapper for mt-comments.cgi. It’s in C, so it’s tiny (working memory is 306Kb instead of 8Mb; still way too large, but much better). It grabs a lock file before running mt-comments.cgi, so that only one instance is running at a given time. I’m hoping this will prevent the box from falling off the ‘net the _next_ time a comment spammer shows up.

I’ve also dropped the value of MaxClients in my Apache config, to prevent too many simultanous Apache processes from starting up (since this will also eat the virtual memory system for breakfast).

I wish there was a better way to do load shedding in this context, but I can’t think of one off-hand…

posted at 12:24 pm on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 in Site News | Comments (2)
  1. joy says:

    Sorry to hear about the comment spammer… I was wondering what happened to the box though.

    About MT Blacklist, it appears to work before the mt.cgi is executed in that it checks material in the posting before the posting occurrs. It also halts the posting if there are hyperlinks to dubious sounding Web pages.

  2. Ginger says:

    I was wondering what happened to you. You weren’t here when I checked in Monday.

    I dread the same thing happening to whiterose. You’ll have to keep us posted on how well your spam-combatting measures are working.

Technology, Unintended consequences, and security

[ Catching up on old news. ]

So over in Detroit, “officials are worried”: about a new gadget for sale that can change traffic lights from red to green.

It makes sense to create green lights for emergency vehicles, because they respond faster when they don’t get stuck in traffic. Right? So, a long time back, several cities (including Detroit) installed sensors on traffic lights, and transmitters on emergency vehicles, that would allow the emergency vehicles to change red lights to green.

Now consumer versions of the transmitters are available for sale, so legislators are scrambling for a solution.

It occurs to me that this is a common theme. New technology arrives, available to a restricted few (however necessary that restriction may be). Then someone comes along and breaks into a system, or clones a new technology, or whatever, and now it’s available to all (with undesirable consequences).

The light changers work with infra-red transmissions, and are apparently quite simple. In my opinion, it would have been only slightly harder to install a lower-cost version of military IFF gear instead of an expensive version of a TV remote control.

But security is too expensive to install up front, and we don’t really need it anyway, right?

I’m not being completely fair here; I’ve done my fair share of cutting corners over time. But the point here is that, in our modern, unrestricted marketplace, it really does only take _one_ person to figure out a loophole and exploit it…

posted at 8:22 pm on Saturday, October 11, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Technology, Unintended consequences, and security
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