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Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Nostalgia Attack

I was singing Boo to sleep tonight and “Two Little Boys” by Rolf Harris was what sprang to my lips. Rolf didn’t write it – the first recording of that song was in 1903 – but his rendition is what I grew up with, and the reason I know the song.

I was drawing a blank at a couple of lines, so after Boo dropped off I searched for the lyrics and found the official Rolf Harris website. I got into the lyrics section and experienced a major nostalgia attack. There were songs there that are deeply rooted in my childhood: “Jake the Peg,” “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” and “The Court of King Caractacus.” Then I found “Botany Bay” and got a little weepy. I guess deep down we Australians are a maudlin lot. It comes with the legacy of suffering and the forced stoicism that comes from enduring hardship.

Not that I can complain – my parents worked hard for me and my brother and sister and the only suffering we endured was the envy of those who had more. I would have to guess that there was a part of the culture that I was susceptible to soaking up. When I first returned to Australia after having been gone away for so long, there were only two places other than my childhood homes that I had to go back to see – the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and Phillip Island. I’m not qualified to express the significance of the Shrine – just take my word that it’s huge. Phillip Island was where we used to vacation – a happy, very relaxing place. Interestingly, though, it’s also the place that I remember Dad giving me a copy of The Lord of the Flies, the book I consider to be the most influential in my life.

Interesting how we can look back and see influences that have shaped who we are, or at least who we consider ourselves to be. If only we could also extrapolate from that and figure out how we got into this mess and what we need to get out of it.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, People, Posts About Me at 23:36 PST

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Comment Spam Manifesto

I was looking to see if there was anything worthwhile to do about tracking down and harassing the person/company/slime who tried posting the earlier comment spam, but it’s a complex process, possibly even more so than when tracking down phishing perpetrators. I did find a great manifesto by Adam Kalsey. It’s a worthwhile read and I’m totally supporting it.

I want to send a trackback to it, which the author is encouraging as a way of signing his manifesto, but then I’m still shaky on this whole trackback thing. My last attempt failed because it was on a site that didn’t accept trackbacks. I also somehow sent a trackback to myself when I last linked to a previous post, and that appeared as a comment on the original post, which is sort of silly, and has discouraged my from putting in links to previous posts. Maybe I can blacklist myself! I read the trackback info at the WordPress codex, so I’ll give it a try again.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 15:28 PST

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Categories Reorganized

In my June 28th post I talked about instituting a filtering system so that readers could decide to just look at personal or technical subjects, and I think I’ve come up with a reasonable solution.

In case you didn’t realize, in the left sidebar there’s a “Categories” heading. It lists all the category tags I’ve applied to my posts. If you click on a Category link in the sidebar, it will list all the posts that are in the category from last to first. I’ve added categories as I’ve started writing about new subjects, and late in the game I went back into my category management tool and made all the technical categories into subcategories under a new category called “All Technical” and everything else under “All Personal.” It worked great in my writing interface, but WordPress still just listed all the categories in the sidebar in the order in which they were created. Also, since no posts were flagged as “Personal” or “Technical”, those categories didn’t appear on the list.

It seemed like a problem that others would have previously encountered, so I went over to the WordPress Forum (which isn’t organized like any other forum I’ve every encountered.) Yep – a quick search led me to threads where others had complained about it, and there was a link to someone’s solution – a plugin that sorts the way the categories are listed. Phew! I had thought about renumbering the categories in the MySQL database table – what a mess I would have made of that!

I downloaded the plugin, read the very brief documentation, entered in my preferred listing, uploaded it to my website, and activated it. It has a neat way of organizing a hierarchy, which isn’t native to WordPress. It seems to work well. I noticed that the “All Personal” and “All Technical” categories don’t appear unless there is at least one post in each category, but once it appeared, you can click on that category and all the posts in the subcategories would appear as well, which was exactly what I wanted. So this post will make those links appear. Good thing – it’s a very slow process to go back and edit each post just to add a new category for it – I thought I was going to add the major category to each one. That also resends the entire post back out on my RSS feed – Poor Web! As my only known RSS feed subscriber, he would have seen every post I every wrote sent back out again! So thanks to pericat for writing that plugin.

I did decide to break down my technical categories a little better, and that’s going to mean editing a few posts, but it’s not too many.

One other problem is when I’ve got combined technical and personal notes in the same post. I’m not going to go back and split them up, but I’ll try and keep future posts in separate topics.

Posted by Greg as All Personal, All Technical, My Website, Posts About Me at 11:25 PST

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First Comment Spam

Wow, this makes me feel important! (Not!)

I just got my first comment spam. I checked my mail this morning and WordPress had sent an email to me saying that there was a comment awaiting my approval. Here’s the edited email:

A new comment on the post #19 “Googlebot at last!” is waiting for your approval
(link to post)

Author : Dedicated Server (IP: 203.122.61.30 , netcache.spectranet.com)
E-mail : pervez@rediffmail.com
URL : (unassociated website)
Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=203.122.61.30
Comment:

<a HREF=”http://www.invalid.com” rel=”nofollow”>ChallengeHost</a> offers Cheap Web Hosting, domain names, web site hosting and dedicated Servers. Our affordable hosting solution makes us the best place to host your business website or personal web site. We are your web host for everything from <a HREF=”http://www.invalid.com” rel=”nofollow”>web design</a>, domain names, <a HREF=”http://www.invalid.com” rel=”nofollow”>web hosting</a> and powerful <a HREF=”http://www.invalid.com” rel=”nofollow”>dedicated servers</a>.

To approve this comment, visit:
(admin link)
To delete this comment, visit:
(admin link)
Currently 1 comments are waiting for approval. Please visit the moderation panel:
(admin link)

I took out the administrative links that WordPress sent me and substituted invalid links for the ones the spammer provided.

I feel good that WordPress caught this and decided that it needed my approval before posting. Yes, I would have seen the comment had it not been screened- I include my own blog and my blog comments in my RSS reader, which I check nearly every day, but this didn’t even post, so it got no Internet exposure whatsoever. I’ll have to look into the criteria WordPress uses for screening comments – I suspect the number of external links is what got this one flagged. Other people have entered comments here without WordPress holding them up for approval. I think I even get an email notice when someone’s entered a comment. I can’t remember for sure – it’s been so long since anyone commented!

Posted by Greg as My Website at 09:27 PST

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Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

Rats!

The last couple of days I have been keeping an eye on the domain name “dreamtime.com.” It has been owned by a cybersquatter who would have wanted a pretty penny for it. I noticed that the registration was due to expire 28 June 2005 and marked it on my calendar. So, starting just after midnight in the timezone of the registrar, I have been trying to register it myself. I kept it up without success through the 29th and now it’s finally the 30th. Each time I tried, I was told that the name was taken and active, even though the whois databases indicated that the record expired on the 28th.

The registrar just updated its database to reflect that the record had been extended another year, and is still in possession of the cybersquatter. Rats! I guess he had some automatic renewal system set up and I never had a chance, which is what I should have expected. The only thing that was stringing me along was that non-updated date in the whois record.

Why would I want the domain name dreamtime.com? Well, one of my online handles, and the one I favor now, is altjira, an Australian aboriginal god who created the world and then just sort of left everyone to their own devices. Shows a little hubris, eh? I especially like the non-interference policy on the part of a creator deity. I usually leave it uncapitalized, which is both in keeping with Linux styling and a protest against the use of capitalization for deities even when referred to by pronouns, i.e “Him”.

I use it as my username wherever I can. I was especially happy to get it as my slashdot id and as a gmail account (which is declining in use since I realized how Big Brother gmail is, and besides, I now have email with my website.) I just thought that “altjira@dreamtime.com” would be an ultra-cute email to have. For those in the know, it would be saying “you’re getting email from god in heaven.”

Posted by Greg as My Website, Posts About Me at 16:53 PST

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Google Fame New Start

UPDATE: Although it might be interesting from a technical point of view, I had to abandon the programming effort I describe herein because I found out that it violates the Google Terms of Service.

Well, as I discussed earlier, I have explored using php to generate Google searches and parsing the resultant html files to find the information I want. Parsing refers to taking a big chunk of data and analyzing it to extract needed information. In the case of my Google Fame plugin, I want to send search requests to Google and search through the results to find any links that go to my website. I also want to note Google’s estimate of how many results there are, and how far down the list the first reference to my website is.

Normally you would use a browser to connect to Google. Once connected, you can enter your search terms, maybe adjust a few parameters (like requesting only pages that are in English, for example) and search. The Google homepage is actually a form that you enter data into first, or you might use the Google Toolbar in Internet Explorer or the Googlebar extension in Mozilla or Firefox to pre-enter the form information and skip the Google front page. Either way, you’re sending a formatted request to the Google site, and Google analyzes that request, finds what you want, and sends the information back to you formatted as html code that your browser converts into a webpage.

I’m writing code that skips all the interactive, user-visible steps. I’m going to set up my own interface to determine what the search terms and parameters should be and converting that into a call to Google. For example, if I want to search using the terms “greg perry” and “san diego”, and I want 100 results each time, I could send the string

http://www.google.com/search?num=100&q=%22greg+perry%22+%22san+diego%22

to Google and it would send me the results back. There are actually many more variables I can put into the request I send to Google, but I’ll keep it simple here.

But I don’t want to look at the results, I want my program to look at them for me and find want I want. So instead of letting my browser display the results, I capture the information that Google returns and put it into a string. It’s a long string – about 100,000 characters, or 100 KB – but nowadays that’s not a problem. Then I use other commands to search through the long string to find the information I want. At this point in time, Google will only give me up to 100 results per search, so if my website isn’t in the first try, I have to generate another call asking for the next 100, and so on, until I find my site, or reach the end of the list and determine that my site didn’t make it.

The commands in php use a complex technique of wildcards, originally developed in the programming language PERL, called “regular expressions” or regex. I found regex to be pretty difficult to understand at first, but using tutorials and samples I found on the web, I was able to cobble together some workable code. It may not be elegant, and it might give errors if unexpected results are encountered, but it’s enough for now.

Now, the Google API is designed to allow programmers to do this sort of thing without parsing the html files. You make program calls to the API and get preformatted results back from Google. The trouble that I found is that the results are wrong – sometimes seriously different from what you get if you go to Google in your browser and send in the same information. You also have to register with Google when you download the API and get a key that you have to include with your API calls – the key allows Google to associate those API calls with you, and the number of calls you can make in a day is limited. So for me, the API isn’t worth the programming steps that it saves.

What’s an API, you might ask? Here’s a good definition from Arizona State University:

Short for Application Program Interface, API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. A good API makes it easier to develop a program by providing all the building blocks. A programmer puts the blocks together. Most operating environments, such as MS-Windows, provide an API so that programmers can write applications consistent with the operating environment. Although APIs are designed for programmers, they are ultimately good for users because they guarantee that all programs using a common API will have similar interfaces. This makes it easier for users to learn new programs.

So far, I’ve created a program that uses a simple form to set up the Google search and go through the results. The program is set up to spit a lot of info back, including the contents of various variables I use so I can check that my code is functioning properly, and the complete listing of all the websites that Google found that match my search request. My program counts and numbers the matches and sets a flag when my site is found in the results. It stops sending calls to Google when it finds a reference to my site, or if I hit the limit of how many results Google is willing to provide. (While playing around with this, I found that Google doesn’t seem to give you more than 1000 results, even if it tells you that there are a lot more.) Then it tells me my website ranked X out of XX results (zero if I didn’t appear at all) which is all I’m really looking to know. You can play with my program so far if you want.

So now I’ve pretty much caught up to where I was when I started getting disgruntled with the Google API. Next, I want to expand the code I’ve written to interact with my online database so that it retrieves preset search terms from one place, gets the results, and stores them in another place in the database. Then I have to create the interfaces. I need two – one in my WordPress Administrator area (also called the “backend”) that allows me to put the search terms into the database; and one in my blog (the “frontend”) – I point again to the the space I marked out in my right sidebar – so that people can see the results. Somewhere I have to have a way of telling my program when to run. My choices are to have it run once a day all by itself; to launch it from my backend; or to make my frontend interface figure out when it’s me looking at it, and offer me a way to run it while I’m there, without bothering to go into the backend.

The next step after that is to package up the various programs as a plugin and make them available to other WordPress users so that they can use it, too. This might be the hardest part – I also have to write programs to install the plugin and set up the required elements (such as the database tables I use) that I just manually set up on my own website. I also need to register the project with WordPress and create an area in my website to make the download available to the public. This area will probably have to include documentation of the plugin and a forum for users. I’ll have to offer technical support for people who have trouble getting it to install and work properly, and respond to feature requests from people that want it to do something else or do it differently. How much work that will require depends on how well I program it in the first place, how popular it gets, and how close I am to anticipating what other people want.

It could end up being a lot of work. So why bother? Here’s what I anticipate getting out of it:

I just spent a significant chunk of time that I could have used programming to document my efforts. Well, that’s ok, too. I also enjoy writing as well.

Posted by Greg as My Website, Programming at 12:41 PST

1 Comment »

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Breaking News – Brevity

***BREAKING NEWS***

I just got an email from comics.com that announced, among other things, that there is now an online store for buying Brevity merchandise! Way to go, Rodd (& Guy)!! It’s the desk calendars and coffee mugs where the real money’s at!

Aww crap – I just realized the implication. My Archive is doomed. I haven’t updated it in a month, anyway – the front page was getting entirely too unwieldy (it must take forever to load in dial-up), and I was thinking about trying to set up a current-month-only page of thumbs instead. But I was really hoping to get a cease and desist letter from Rodd. I guess turning to a lawyer is just too darn expensive for a family joke. I would have settled for a Dewie, Cheatum & Howe letter (hint, hint) as long as it was forged by the real, official authors. Perhaps I ought to get around to sending him his birthday present (which has been sitting here in my office for about eight months) before I can expect any favors.

Almost forgot – I have to include the term “comic” so that this post surfaces in Guy’s constant Google searches. I’m expecting the ‘bot to come by here again in two days. Well, I’m off to the store!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends at 14:40 PST

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Blog Direction

I’ve been sort of wondering about the direction I’m heading with this blog. Family and friends have expressed interest in it – my Dad evidently finds it very self-revealing – but it started as a technical journal, and technical items are far easier to write about because they don’t demand the same level of self reflection. My last post was about query hits concerning a technical item that gave me a lot of satisfaction solving, and getting the search engine hits was also very gratifying.

So where do I go from here? When my family tells me that they like reading my blog but skip over the technical stuff, the need-to-please part of me says to cut down the technical stuff and, essentially, start bearing your soul. But the technical stuff is more relaxing to me. I like writing about stuff that I have learned or need to learn, without worrying about whether I am (or need to be) talking down to an audience, or whether I sound like a complete loser to the “l33t.”

I found the answer while reading Wil Weaton’s excellent interview on slashdot:

The short answer to your question is: Create something, and release it yourself. You don’t need anyone’s permission, and the traditional rules about distribution just don’t apply anymore.

The long answer to you question is: First, create something for yourself. You asked about acting, but this applies to a book, a ‘zine, a website, a web-comic, a short film . . . whatever. Don’t wait for someone else to give you something to do, or give you permission to do it. Just create something that you are passionate about.

The question that was asked was in a different context, so I’ve not reproduced it here. If you’re really curious, you can click the link. But Wil’s advice seems pretty sound to me, so I’m going to take it. I’ll just continue to write about whatever pleases me at the moment. But I’ve already started working on filters so that my audience, small in number as they be, can pick the subject matter they want to see.

Posted by Greg as My Website, Posts About Me at 13:27 PST

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Monday, June 27th, 2005

Hawking HWP54G Under Linux

How I got my Hawking HWP54G PCI wireless card working with Linux, and links to drivers, instructions and forums so that you can do it too.

I have written a much better post on this subject that provides more details and tons of links. I had to finally edit this post because of the traffic I’ve been getting due to my prominent position when someone searches Google using the terms “hwp54g” and “linux”. Since I seem to keep adding details on this subject, this saved search will call up all my posts in reverse chronological order.

Here’s my original post that the search engines found:


It’s been a week since I posted – a very busy week and I got little sleep. Just got caught up.

I checked my stats page and saw a lot of hits from people looking for info on setting up the Hawking HWP54G wireless adapter under linux. If you need help, feel free to contact me at greg_at_gregrperry_dot_com. I searched my own site and only found vague references to it – I had gotten the job done just days before I started this blog, and wrote about it at SourceForge!

Here’s a reproduction of the thread (complete with typos,) which can be found here. I’m “altjira.”

By: altjira – altjira_
linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no joy
2005-04-19 18:03
Linux wannabe newbie but problems with connecting through wireless have kept me from freedom from ****ing Windoze. After a series of frustrating wireless experiences (RH9, Knoppix 3.1 – SpeedStream 1024, DLink DWL-520, Hawking HWP54G), I have been pushed to the point of (sob) asking for help.

I have a new self-built mono 3.2 GHz 800 FSB 160G hd with the Hawking. I feel insulted that the XP Pro I paid $120 for works just fine, but the FC3, SuSe 9.1, and Knoppix 3.7 fails to connect through my wireless network to the Internet. I’m trying to get everything up and running with FC3. I identified the rt2500 chip in the HWP54G, have searched your forums, downloaded 1.1.0 b2, found fstab and loaded my fat32 share partition (so I can access downloads), installed qt, made and installed the rt2500 module and RaConfig [kudos to serialmonkey and his “ifconfig ra0 up” advice ( hope you enjoyed your honeymoon)], and I am at the point where RaConfig runs, sees my AP and seems to connect, but leaves me with “www.xxx.x could not be found” when I try to run Mozilla. I thought maybe I was screwing up the 128 bit WEP encryption, but freeloading on my neighbor’s unsecured access gives me the same results.

HELP!!!!!

One thing I noticed using iwconfig is that the 128 bit key keeps changing whenever I use RaConfig, but this seems to be a side issue considering I cannot connect to the unsecured network.

Please save me from Bill Gates serfdom and tell me what to do next.

By: IvD – ivd
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-20 09:00
does the file /etc/resolv.conf
contain your IP addresses for the DNS servers…

By: altjira – altjira_
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-21 00:18
I see it but get an error message “Couldn’t display /etc/resolve.conf”, even when logged on as root. It is zero bytes in size, so it can’t contain anything.

By: IvD – ivd
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-21 02:02
Then that is your problem.
Put the following data in that file:

nameserver <ip address DNS 1></ip>
nameserver <ip address DNS 2></ip>

By: altjira – altjira_
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-21 17:14
I filled in resolve.conf but still no joy. I see darknight’s thread for installing to FC3, which is completely different than anything I ever tried, and I will attempt to follow it. First, 2 stupid questions, anyone:

1. When you download and make a module, where do you put it in the filesystem? I unzipped the tarball in my user home folder, but since I can’t tell when I need to be root or not, now I can’t even access anything as user without chown. Also, it just seems to be a dumb place to put files required for operating my hardware.

2. I have used command lines since before MSDOS existed, but there is perhaps a notational device I have noticed but don’t understand- when describing commands, there is frequenctly a “$” or “#” sign as the first character. Do you type that in or does it just indicate the required user status?

By: DarkKnight – darkknight_9
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-22 00:19
ok .. the $ and the # tell you whether you are in normal user mode or root user mode. When you open up a shell, as a normal user, you get something like:

[darkknight@darkworld ~]$

notice the “$” for a regular user. Now when I become “root”

[darkknight@darkworld ~]$ su
Password:
[root@darkworld darkknight]#

The prompt changes to “#” to reflect that you are root! So, you don’t need to type in the “$” or the “#”, it’s just there to tell you when you need root privileges to run some command.

When you unzip the archive, it just unpacks the source files. You need to run “make” to make the module. Then the “make install-fedora” (as root) will take care of installing that module in the proper place for you. Once that’s done, you can even delete the source files if you want!

But from experience, once I manage to build a module that works for a particular kernel, I backup the “rt2500.ko” and the “Makefile” so that I can restore it at a later point if need be.

Of course, when you change the kernel, you will again have to get the sources, make, make install-fedora…

By: DarkKnight – darkknight_9
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-22 00:23
An additional comment: I also noticed that it kept changing the WEP Key from time to time .. this problem was solved after I removed the file in /etc/Wireless/ and used _only_ the fedora net configuration tool (system-config-network) to setup all the parameters.

By: altjira – altjira_
RE: linux newbie / hwp54g / connected? but no
2005-04-23 14:26
Joy!

Thanks for all the help. I am logged on for the first time through my home wifi using Linux.

Darknight’s advice was very helpful, but I could not make the latest cvs. Here’s how I did it:

I used tengel’s advice on cleaning out all my mistakes: http://sourceforge.net/forum/message.php?msg_id=2963289, but noted that rt2500 info was in eth1 files and deleted those too.

I made and installed the 1.1.0-b2 beta module. Wish I had have gone down to the bottom of the readme file before and found the FC3 instructions.

I used FC’s System Setting>Network and “New” to create a wireless connection. The first time I tried, I had “rt2500” to pick from. That didn’t work, but it was because wlan0 wasn’t up. I used
# /sbin/ifconfig wlan0 up
to get it going. Then, to make sure, I deleted the wlan0 wireless device in Network Configuration and added a new wireless device as wlan0. This time I had a full description-
RaLink Ralink RT2500 802.11 Cardbus Reference Card
I then double-clicked the wlan0 device to get the Wireless Device Configuration. Under the Wireless Settings tab, I set the BSSID, the channel and the key, but it still didn’t work until I changed the Mode from Auto to Managed.

Every time I boot up I hav to go root and type
ifconfig wlan0 up
but then I can use FC’c Network tool to active the wireless network. If I tell it to activate when compute starts, it fails.

This leaves out a lot of what I went through to get the card up and running. For other people with problems, I’d highly recommend going to the rt2X00 SourceForge project site and, if necessary, contacting SerialMonkey, the project admin.

I’ve got lots more to write about when I get the time, but noticing the ralink hits made me feel obligated to get this post in.

Posted by Greg as Hardware & Drivers, OS at 16:49 PST

2 Comments »

Sunday, June 19th, 2005

Midlife Crisis Update

So far no one has offered suggestions for my midlife crisis celebration event, which I solicited in my May 5th post. I did hear that my sister-in-law, who is older than me by a couple of weeks, came up with a good one. Apparently, she’s always wanted to learn how to surf, and after living in southern California for what, 14, 15 years, she decided to do something about it. As a fortieth birthday present to herself she’s going to a weekend surfing course.

Now that’s a direct, assertive course of action and I admire her for that. I just hope it isn’t a compromise – what if what she really wanted to do was buy a Harley with matching black leather riding togs and tattoo, and ride across America, starting fights in biker bars and scaring small children and old ladies along the way?

True, some people wouldn’t call that compromising – they would call it something paternalistic and boring, like “being realistic.” But how many times in your life do you turn forty?

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 10:23 PST

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