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Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

Birthday Celebration

Saturday was Chelsea’s sixteenth birthday. Our normal birthday celebration is to grab a friend or two and go to an amusement park – SeaWorld and Magic Mountain have been past year favorites. But she’s sixteen now, so socializing is more important than entertainment, and she opted to invite more friends and go to the smaller-scale Belmont Park in Mission Beach.

I suppose I could have just dropped her and her friends off and come back and picked them up later, but some of them were younger – at least one was fourteen – and I had several parents express gratitude that I was going, too. To be honest, it never even occurred to me not to go. So I went, taking Boo with me, and I spent the afternoon wandering around the place with Boo and frequently running into the teenagers. We did all get together for lunch – pizza, of course. Boo seemed to have fun, too. He was excited to be around so much bustle, but behaved himself pretty well. We rode on the carousel together, and he seemed a little nervous when he was on the ride, but later seemed fascinated as we passed by, so I think he liked it. I was finally able to get him to go down for a nap in his stroller by walking up and down the boardwalk. Chelsea appeared to be having a wonderful time.

We broke down and got her a cell phone for her birthday. Changing our plan around to accommodate her was a bit more expensive than I expected, but I opted to get lots of monthly minutes rather than try and squeeze in under the wire. I was thinking that she wasn’t like a regular sixteen year old girl, and that she probably wouldn’t use it much, but when she found out weekends were free, I didn’t see her for a couple of hours, and she must have had the thing glued to her ear the whole time. **Sigh!**

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends at 08:02 PST

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Friday, August 26th, 2005

Web is Online the Same Time as Me

Yeah, I saw you Web. You have an easy to remember IP. Refresh the users online link and see yourself!

LATER EDIT:
This morning at home I posted a quick comment to a very old posting. So later on when I saw another guest online, checked the IP and recognized it, I wasn’t surprised – it was Web. He’s the one other person that I know of you uses my comments RSS feed. I saw him navigate straight from my blog home to the post with the new comment, and he added one of his own.

My comment was that I wanted a cookie, and Web piped up, like a grinning, front-tooth-missing six year old, that he wanted one to. Well, he got one, but despite my hasty posting above, I don’t know that he hung around long enough to see the results.

You see, by default, WordPress places a couple of cookies on the computers of people who place comments on my website. My useronline plugin reads those cookies and takes the name that the commentator supplied and uses it to identify the visitor as a member when displaying the users online. Previously, I complained that the plugin didn’t recognize me at home, but it turns out that I have never commented on one of my own posts from home, and therefore did not have the cookie for the plugin to find.

The cookies are harmless and set to expire in a year, the WordPress default setting, and if you don’t allow persistent cookies even from the site visited, they won’t be there. If you only allow session cookies, the plugin will recognize you only for the session after you make a comment. I don’t do anything with the cookies except use them to display your name online when you come back. (Yet- if I build in additional functionality I’ll be sure to write about it.) If you don’t make any comments, I don’t think you get a cookie at all.

If you want to see my site’s cookies on you computer, it’s easy if you’re smart and use Mozilla – just click on Tools>Cookie Manager>Manage Stored Cookies and scroll down to the site www.gregrperry.com. You might be a little surprised to see what else is in there. I honestly have no clue how to do it in Internet Explorer and don’t care to know, but if you’re a Windows user, you should be able to find your cookies in the Cookies folder, which is in the Documents and Settings/(your name)/cookies if you’re using XP and something close if you’re using an older version; and it will look something like (login name)@gregrperry[1].txt. Hmmm – except I can’t see any cookie containing the comment_author info on my own computer – it must be somewhere else. Oh well – there’s another reason to use Mozilla!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, My Website at 08:47 PST

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Reference to Chelsea

Last weekend Chelsea proudly showed me a blog entry at the Laurell K. Hamilton site that referred to her. She’s the young lady who presented Laurell with a stuffed penguin, which she had sewn herself. I only saw the penguin just before the signing, and I was surprised and impressed at the quality of the work.

LKH is Chelsea’s favorite author; in fact, she’s the author that captured Chelsea’s interest and imagination in middle school and took her from a not-interested-in-reading student who was struggling with her skills to an avid reader with high comprehension scores. One could also point the finger and say that LKH is also responsible for the whole Goth/vampire thing, including the black lipstick smuggled out from home and applied on the walk to school, but I’m betting that that would have happened anyway. I know my daughter, and her mother, and it was a forgone conclusion. Besides, I was pretty comfortable with the Goth thing. I grew up with a lot of Goth or Goth-leaning friends, and I felt I knew and understood them, so when Chelsea choose this path for her pre-teen and teen rebellion, I was pretty relieved. Here was something I could “get” and tolerate (and get credit for tolerating, and I already liked the music!)

I’ve taken Chelsea to a couple of LKH and other book signings at Mysterious Galaxy. It was just dumb luck that we found the place a couple of years ago. I had promised to buy her some books, and not having stepped in to a bookstore myself in years (outside of picking up a specific computer book or grabbing something for the flight at the airport newsstand), I was at a loss for finding a good one. I had taken her to the nearest major chain store-slash-coffeeshop and was looking for another stop, so I pulled out the yellow pages and picked something that had the sole benefit of being close to my office, which was another stop on my errand run that day. What a wondrous place! Turns out that this independent store was a mix of science fiction (my bag), mystery, and that witches/werewolves/vampires teenage girl genre. It was perfect for the both of us just based on content. But there was more – as we were leaving, quite content, I glanced back at the storefront and noticed that one of the posters was advertising LKH. I stopped to read it, and saw that it was a book signing announcement for the upcoming weekend! I’d never been to a book signing before, but I ended up taking Chelsea to this one and she was so thrilled I got to feel like the Greatest Dad Ever. So while the mob of enthralled fans, mostly women, some cute, were crowding the store, I picked up a flyer and read down through the upcoming events and saw Neal Stephenson, author of Crytonomicon. A couple of months later I was at my second book signing and getting my brand-new copy of Quicksilver, plus my older copy of Cryptonomicon, signed by the author. Bliss!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends at 08:08 PST

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Sunday, August 21st, 2005

Plugin Programming Quest

Is there anything so frustrating as using someone else’s code, finding mistakes, and trying to edit it to your satisfaction?

I spent some time trying to clean up the useronline plugin and managed to modify it so that the modifications to the wp-settings.php file were no longer required and was working on removing the requirement to install other files outside of the file in the plugins folder. I also moved the display from the header to the sidebar, where I think it belongs. I’m still stuck with one file in the root directory of the WordPress installation, and got fed up with tracing the program steps (it would be easier if I had complete familiarity with PHP and the WordPress loop, but that is still developing.) So I checked to see if there was another online users plugin and found wp-infos. I installed this plugin for comparison (and to milk the code for examples,) and was dismayed to see just as many errors. Hell, the damned thing isn’t even XHMTL strict compliant – I got quite a few errors when I did a check using the W3C validator.

What I really want is a sidebar section that displays visitors and a little technical information, such as IP address and useragent. I like the useronline division into members, guests and bots, but find fault with its implementation. The author has stated in his forum that the plugin works off ip addresses, and that would explain why I am recognized as a member when accessing from work but not from home, which is unsatisfactory; and his system of identifying bots is clearly inadequate. Of course, if I want visitors to register as users, I have to offer something worth registering for, and don’t have anything yet. I’d settle for a pattern recognition system that identified repeat visitors, which would hopefully allow me to identify friends and family as they dropped in, but pattern recognition is really cutting-edge programming.

I suppose I could use cookies to identify repeat visitors, but that relies on users that are insensitive to cookie storage issues, and I’d have to learn cookie manipulation. Actually, that’s not a bad way to go, and I think I’ll pursue it. By rights I should also develop and publish a privacy policy, but since I don’t have any commercial interest, that shouldn’t be hard.

I was looking for a replacement project for my Google Fame plugin, but this just doesn’t feel as original and attractive. It does have some core learning skills involved, though, so it may well do.

Posted by Greg as My Website, Programming at 05:31 PST

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Friday, August 19th, 2005

Upgrade Problems Resolved

I managed to resolve my “Write Post” problem through the WordPress Support Forums – thanks to oriecat for putting me on track. Turns out I had an FTP upload error and the subfile that held my advanced editor was zero bytes long. Everything seems to be fine now.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 09:04 PST

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Thursday, August 18th, 2005

WordPress Upgrade 1.5.2

The other night I upgraded my copy of WordPress to 1.5.2. I took me hours, mostly because I have customized some of my administrative and system files, and I’m using that useronline plugin that breaks the rules and installs stuff in the wrong places. (I’m not entirely happy with that plugin, and there are mods that I want to the functionality, so if I find a better plugin I’ll use that.)

Even with my documentation of my mods, I had to carefully sort out the new versions of the files I modified, make the same mods, and redo the documentation. I stashed my old versions away in case the upgrade didn’t take. I wish I could have done every thing on one of my offsite backups first and just uploaded everything, but you have to upload all the new files and run the upgrade first, so after I redid the mods and documentation offsite, I had to match it all up with the online stuff as well. What a pain in the ass. I need to automate the process, but I have spent so much time doing my programming in script languages, I’m a little rusty with free standing code, and I never really got the hang of Windows apps. I don’t even have a compiler installed.

Then I found that my “Write Post” function wasn’t working at all. What a bitch! Did I need to go back and start over? And I couldn’t even post my bitching about it! I looked into setting up my post by email – actually, I still need to set that up – but finally figured out that if I switched over to the standard editor instead of the advanced, the interface showed up in the “Write Post” section, so I’ll use that for now.

I want to post this problem on the WordPress support forums, but etiquette dictates I search the previous posts to see if anyone has experienced a similar problem first. What I really need to do is go to the codex and learn how WordPress works, including stuff like The Loop, so I can do my own troubleshooting, and it would give me a lot better understanding for writing plugins.

Posted by Greg as My Website, Programming at 10:56 PST

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Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

Beach Photo

John Dionne asked me for a recent photo of Boo, and I came up with this one that my brother sent down after our beach visit last month.

Greg Perry and Boo at the beach, July 2005

My brother also got me thinking about photos, public blogging and personal family security. He was absolutely right that I should put some thought into it before posting away. For instance, I was going to also put up a photo of Chelsea, taken on the same day, when I realized that she was wearing a tshirt with the name of her high school prominently displayed.

Rodd has to be concerned about this stuff because he’s a published cartoonist – Brevity appears in 75 newspapers (maybe more now) – and he’s on his way to becoming famous, and its corollary, rich. He says that he’s concerned because his writer partner, Guy Endore-Kaiser, has a sense of humor that is… (how do I put it tactfully? Rodd did when he explained it to me, but I don’t recall his exact words) sometimes out of the mainstream, and I guess he wants to make sure that his kids aren’t exposed to any ridicule. But you have to think that there are more awful possibilities in the back of his mind.

I don’t have to worry about becoming rich or famous, but we don’t talk to my father-in-law any more and he has demonstrated some predatory and less-than-rational behavior in the past, including hanging outside Chelsea’s school. So I have my own reasons for being cautious. Also, Chelsea’s old enough now that I should really ask her permission before posting any photos of her.

You might notice that I’ve been losing a little weight. I’ve dropped down below 260 pounds (118 k), and am currently hovering between 255-260. Still, I need to get down below 252 for my BMI to get below 30, which is the government’s current definition of obesity. I think that’s ridiculous, because obesity should be defined on the basis of percent body fat. When I was my company’s reenlistment NCO in Korea, I would assist the First Sergeant in using Army Regulation 600-9 to make the determination of whether a person was overweight, which had a relatively easy way of computing percent body fat. At that time, I used the procedure on myself and come out with 7%! Of course, I was lean and mean then – I came to Korea just after I broke my leg in SFAS, which was probably the biggest disappointment in my life, because I had done really well up to that point.

Hrmmmph. I tried the AR 600-9 procedure on myself and came up with 26.15% body fat. That’s certainly nothing to boast about, and the cut-off in AR 600-9 for my age, 40, is 26%, although that fraction would indicate I could squeak by if I just lost a few more pounds. Still, 25% is considered obese for men, with “normal” being 18-23%. Guess I need to eat a few more salads.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 09:36 PST

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Sunday, August 14th, 2005

National Security and Google Maps

I’m putting in a little overtime today, writing a report for some work I’ve done recently at the fuel supply facilities for a US Navy submarine base, and I was having trouble recalling where some of the test points were from my notes and what they might have been connected to. So I call up Google Maps and selected the hybrid map-satellite view. I was impressed that the maps included the names of the streets on base – most maps don’t include that – but was also interested to note that the image included a picture of a 688 class nuclear submarine tied up at one of the docks.

I have to wonder about the implications on national security on such offerings. True, without date information on the images, operational security is probably not being compromised; and the resolution is not good enough to make out any ongoing sensitive operations. But what about other sites and other possible images? Has Google caught an image of some super-secret test platform sitting out at say, China Lake? I suppose that sensitive defense operations still practice satellite security – conducting vulnerable operations only when known reconnaissance satellites aren’t overhead. But what about vulnerable infrastructure? Could terrorists gain enough information about a refinery or chemical processing plant to penetrate and cause something like the 1984 Bhopal disaster? What about water treatment plants?

Frequently in my career I’ve worked in refineries, on transcontinental fuel pipelines, and chemical and water treatment plants. One summer in college I even worked security at a refinery. And of course, the US Army spent quite a bit of money training me as a Sapper Leader. So I’ve had a little practice seeing vulnerable facilities and how those vulnerabilities could be exploited. I have to say that I’ve seen a significant increase in awareness of security since 9-11, and better practices, especially in information security. None of these places is impervious to penetration; but then, nothing is. There’s a cost/benefit evaluation that needs to be employed, and until a major infrastructure strike occurs, most of these places are going to be overlooked or under secured. I’ve just noted that civilian operator awareness and concern has improved, and that’s a very good thing. Somebody who gave a damn about whether a door was supposed to be left open or not, or spoke up when he or she saw something unusual, could make the difference between success and failure of a terrorist operation.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me, Society at 15:23 PST

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Fun with Server Log Files

I found that importing server log files into a spreadsheet application is pretty easy (although tedious – will have to write a macro to handle that) and made the log files a little easier to sort and review. I found that my biggest traffic comes from search bots, myself, and as far as users go – people looking for information on how to set up their Hawking HWP54G PCI wireless access card in Linux. Still, I need to find some program that will take my downloaded logs and make them jump through the hoops I’m interested in – filtering out myself and any search bots, and taking the rest, seeing where they come from, the search terms they used to get here, whether they poke around or just read one post and go, and whether they come back.

There are a couple of internet probes looking for unsecure sites. One of the the glaring examples was one that keeps asking for my “sumthin” directory. It comes from lots of different IP addresses, so it must be a fairly well-distributed worm. Just to get the thing to drop off my error logs, I created a sumthin directory and put an index file there. Too bad it’s just a program, and will never be able to appreciate the message I left for it.

Speaking of error logs, the most often requested file that I don’t have was asking for my favicon. A favicon is the image that appears next to my listing if you save me as a favorite in IE or a bookmark in Mozilla, and also appears in the address line in your browser. So I made one up.

I was also starting to get a lot of errors logged from people (probably mostly myself) attempting to see the listing of users online by clicking the link in the header when they’re not at the blog homepage. That’s another error in the useronline plugin, and I fixed it finally. I was trying to fix it without using links specific to my website, but I’ve given up in assisting the plugin author in fixing his mistakes, and just did a quick-and-dirty fix that works for me.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 01:11 PST

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Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

User Statistics

I continued looking at the little quirks and bugs associated with the UsersOnline plugin and have to conclude that it’s an example of some sloppy coding. The author didn’t follow the WordPress plugin guidelines, and he didn’t consider how users customizing their blogs would affect his code. It’s a pity, because the basic concept looks good, and when I tweak his execution errors it seems to work well, although I am frequently listed as a “guest”, even though I am always logged in (so much so, that when I occasionally log off to test something, I have difficulty remembering my username and password. Last time, I had to log into my database and pull up the users table to find my username!)

Still, with so little time to diddle (I’ve been working in the field a lot, which takes away the midmorning, lunch and midafternoon breaks’ writing, tweaking and coding time), I can’t put in the effort that it takes to edit his code, although I find that I am perfectly capable of hunting down the little mistakes and finding the correct way of doing it. I have a new toy to play with – raw server log files!

I can’t recall how I noticed, but my website email had reached it’s 25 MB limit – sorry if you have tried writing me and got a “mailbox full” message. Looking at my provider’s plans, I realized that the 1 GB account was only $10 a year more – a much better deal! I upgraded, and while looking at the offerings, finally broke down and subscribed to the extended traffic monitoring service, which was only $3 a month.

I’ve skimmed through the reports that come with this package but the thing that really jumps out at you is the raw log files. After downloading my entire history in a fraction of a second (3.5 megabits per second at home!), I was able to run some quick searches and learned some very interesting things right away. Such as the fact that someone came to my website from a search of one of my company’s competitor’s names and found the NACE website I’m building (hmmm – maybe that should go in the robots.txt). This someone spent some time poking around in the NACE website, and then later, the NACE site was poked around again, in the evening, from a different IP address. Both IP’s are in my town. Was it the namesake competitor looking to see what I was up to?

Lots of potentially juicy stuff in there – hidden in among my own access and the bot crawlers. I need to set up my own server!! A linux box, Apache, PHP, MySQL – and whatever else I want. I’d have to check my ISP TOS, but I think non-commercial is fine. I’d also have to tweak my upload/dowload ratio and give up some of that juicey speed, but there seems to be plenty of it. hmmmm.

Posted by Greg as My Website, Programming at 21:02 PST

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