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Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Serenity

I just don’t go to the movies anymore.

This statement has just got to kill my brother, who works in Hollywood, but it’s true, and maybe if I lay out my reason he can forgive me (by the way bro, thanks for adding me to your friends list.)

It’s not the pain of laying down the eleven bucks, or multiples thereof if I take the family. It’s not the fact that the type of movies that I like just wouldn’t interest anyone else in my household. It’s more rooted in the blockbuster mentality that has taken over the industry. You see, since I got taller than my Dad (circa 1981), I’ve never wanted to go see a movie in the first month after it was released, let alone the opening weekend, because back in the 80s movie theaters still only had slight slopes (and no cup holders), and I was rather particular about where I sat. I wanted the very middle of the theater, and I wanted nobody sitting in the two rows behind me, and I wasn’t very good at getting there way early to get my preferred choice. Back in those days, a 195cm (6’5″) tall person could make a significant impact on the view of somebody else, and I always felt guilt about that. So I would wait a bit for the audiences to thin out, and then I could stroll in and get what I wanted.

But you can’t get that anymore. Nowadays, a month after release, plus a week or four because I don’t keep track of these things very well, and the movie is gone. I missed it.

Since I took my underage daughter to see Underworld as a treat (now that’s a story in itself – she loves vampires and werewolves, and for treating her, I was rewarded with two hours of Beckinsale in that leather suit), it has crept into my mind that theaters have changed – but it’s too late. I have been conditioned. And I have lost out by it, because I don’t have 16:9 hidef widescreen at home, and I actually love movies; but still, I often don’t see a good one until it has hit the pay channels, and since I don’t schedule my life around tv, I often miss those. And since I’m too little interested in appeasing my own desires (reference above over-consideration for other moviegoers), I don’t go rent them, either.

So it’s not surprising that I missed Josh Whedon‘s Serenity. I know I’m going to incur the wrath of the Browncoats by admitting this, but I missed the original series, heard the buzz last year before the film and recognized that it was something that I would probably like – a lot – also missed the SciFi channel revival (I tried, but Fridays nights are really bad for watching tv at home), actually watched the RTam Sessions online, and still missed catching the film in theater. Which puts me square on the Browncoats’ hit list – I was an intended target audience, but I didn’t contribute in any way to bringing the show back.

But I happened to notice that Serenity was on Cinemax this month, and instead of my usual dawdling, when I got the chance, I went to the OnDemand and watched it. Three times in the last two days. That hasn’t happened since I discovered Twelve Monkeys (another long story, invoking How I Might Have Been Able to Prevent a Suicide, but Missed the Chance Due to My Ineptitude at Reading Other People’s Emotions.)

Of course, I loved it. Was fascinated by it. This from a guy who kept a picture of Clint Eastwood in his locker while he was in the Army (don’t kid yourselves, it’s all the same theme as a spaghetti western), thrived on Roger Zelazny (the hero who actually overcomes his tragic flaw), was exposed to Tolkien in the fourth grade, and was a huge fan of Blake’s Seven in the late seventies as a preteen. Of course I loved it.

For all of you out there that feel the pain of only having eleven episodes of FireFly (fourteen if you bought the DVD), be jealous of me, because I have yet to see them. But take comfort, because I’m going to ran out and get that DVD, and in short order, I’m going to be joining your ranks – the desperate, the deprived – and will be doing what I can to bring it all back.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 00:31 PST

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Sunday, July 23rd, 2006

My New Computer – Chock Full with Big-Brotherware

I’ve been trying to be real good with my new work computer – I got it on 07 June, and there’s all kinds of things that I haven’t installed on it that I used to consider basic necessities. Hell, I haven’t even installed Mozilla yet; but this restraint has given me the chance to try out Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2, which I don’t loathe nearly as much as I expected to.

All this because I wanted to start out on a new slate with corporate IT. My old computer probably had too many applications loaded up on it for their liking, but I enjoyed some benefit from grandfathering – I’m sure they considered it their predecessors’ mess. Of course, also, none of it was malware – I was scrupulous about keeping it clean. But this time I was determined to try and follow all the rules, and I’m sure a lot of my obstinacy was aimed at making a point about how stupid I thought some of the rules were – but I’ve come to realize that the rules are not going to be changed any time soon, because everyone is either totally ignoring them already, or no one is installing additional software on their work machines.

But I can’t get too much on a soap box about all this – I’ve actually started to develop some friendly relationships with several of the IT support people, and even if it isn’t them that are dropping in on my blog every now and again through company servers, I feel I have enough of a relationship with them now that if I have something critical to say, I should be saying it to their faces. There is also a delicate balance to be maintained just because our IT got outsourced – so the people I deal with actually have two masters, and I can’t get too ornery without sounding unappreciative of their support.

But I have come to realize that there are some profound philosophical differences between not only our current crew and me, but with my old IT friends. Apparently, it’s gospel to IT departments that users are somewhat akin to sixteen-year-olds that have just been entrusted with the keys to the family car – there is an obvious need to compel them to allow us to use this equipment, but they know we’re just so hopelessly inept that it’s a miracle any day we don’t break something. Which brings me face to face with that great indignity, big-brotherware.

I suppose a lot of users aren’t even aware of the AssetMetrix agents that are lurking on their computers, but they probably notice little things they can’t do because of Group Policy. I’ve studied both with some interest, but today I learned something new. I was working at home, trying to troubleshoot what has gotten to be very intricate VBA code, when every few minutes my computer would lock up for 30 seconds because something was trying to open up Outlook (which doesn’t work too well when it can’t contact the Exchange Server), presumably to send out an email. I wondered whether I has making coding errors that were somehow issuing OLE calls; I scanned for spyware, even though I doubted I could have picked any up with my habits; and I sat and watched the activity of the processes though Task Manager, but I couldn’t see what was happening. So I broke down and warmed up Sysinternal’s Process Explorer, and found the culprit – it was one of the agents of the Windows Management Interface, wmiprvse.exe.

Now I have no clue what the WMI thought I was doing that merited a call home on a Sunday afternoon – I deleted the wbem logs after they showed up in SpyBot. Hell, I had never heard of WMI, but its description – “a common interface and object model to access management information about operating system, devices, applications and services” – and it’s deployability – through scripted events, or by directly interrogating the client machine remotely – is just chilling to me. I mean, what do they need to know so bad? I see in my router logs that the computer contacted my local office server through ports 2967 and 38293, and then it LDAP’ed every server in the network. Was it squealing on me because I didn’t like the Group Policy and gave myself an extra ten seconds of reaction time after my screen saver kicks in to avoid having to retype in my password? No, I suspect it was just a pervasive climate of constant monitoring. I don’t know what they can do with all those reports – surely there isn’t someone sitting around scanning for the yahoo who thought that he really needed that emoticon toolbar that came packaged with VX2. But I’m supposed to write up a request to justify installing say, the Gimp, on my computer. Why, you ask? Because it’s free, and I can use it! And it’s open source and clean, and it isn’t going to connect to some media server whenever I open it it up, checking for “updates” (see my Update or Die semi-rant), but mostly to download advertising to my desktop.

I would have been using my home computer, but it was tied up a lot today as Partition Magic was shuffling things around to generally make space, and I was setting up a TrueCrypt strong encryption volume – not that I really have anything that private, but it would be fun to watch the forensics people sweat it out if they ever did want to get in.

Posted by Greg as Networking, Software at 23:51 PST

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Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Google Images Name Search

Last week I noticed that my website had crept up in Google’s Image Search, but last night, when I was showing my wife, I was shocked to see that I am now the number 2 result when using image search for greg perry. I’m also there as the number 17 result. Your results may very, because Google makes extensive use of customized results through cookies. Maybe it is, as a coworker called it, “ego-googling”, but I have tried hard to learn something about website optimization and implement it, so I’m quite pleased with the result.

I wasn’t even bothered when, as a counter to my demonstration, my wife googled her maiden name and was the first and second hit. But then, her name is pretty distinct, whereas mine is a combination of two relatively common names.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 05:53 PST

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Monday, July 17th, 2006

Reading “The Jesus Myth”

Over the last two weekends, I had picked up what turned out to be a very interesting book – The Jesus Myth by George A. Wells. It was my first real exposure to the position of mythologists. It’s an impressively scholarly work, but as I picked my way through it (sometimes I had to jump ahead to his conclusions before I could follow where he was going on certain points), one thing that stood out to me was the way he countered the arguments of Christian apologists. It would be unfair of me to analyze his technique off the top of my head, but what struck me was the way he could be so dismissive of the arguments of some of his opponents, when his own arguments where often founded on very tenuous interpretations. I don’t have the scholarly expertise to judge the validity of his positions, but it did cause me to do a little online research into early Christian history, and the lack of contemporary records was quite striking. It must have been very difficult for the leaders of the early Christian church in the second and third centuries to assemble the canon that became the New Testament.

That limited research was enough to confirm a previously held belief on my part – that those who insist on interpreting the Bible, particularly the New Testament, as the literal word of God, not the work of men, have hobbled themselves. I think it’s an excellent guide, but only that.

This book was apparently one of Wells’ later ones, and I understand from researching the man that he has softened his position from his earlier works. As I expected, for as much as the mythologist view has been expounded, there has been just as much effort, if not more, put into countering the arguments upon which it is based.

I’m not trying to stake out a particular religious view with this post. I just read an interesting book and thought it was worth mentioning.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me, Society at 06:41 PST

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Friday, July 14th, 2006

Recent Comments

I’ve added the Recent Comments plugin from MtDewVirus to my left sidebar. It took a little tweaking to add the code to my template (especially so that it doesn’t automatically break if I turn the plugin off), to my css file (formatting), and to the plugin itself (turned out the formatting was embedded.)

It includes, of course, the comments generated by WordPress as pingbacks when I link between my posts. This is getting more and more annoying. I think I had a decent idea about separating out self-pingbacks from other comments, but the response I got from the WordPress Support forums when I proposed it was not what I wanted to hear:

angsuman – “I often found hard-problems are not answered in this forum.”
You are welcome to assist…………

Which tells me “interesting idea, why don’t you write the code for it?” Another tempting, but time-wise, impossible, opportunity. It looks like the subject of self-pingbacks has been bandied about on the wp-hackers mailing list, but the idea of doing something about it has been shelved with a note that code is needed.

UPDATE:
With a little code tweaking, I was able to remove the WordPress pingbacks (the “comments” that WordPress puts in automatically when I link to a previous posts) from the listing of recent comments. I just added another criterion to the database search. The ease with which I did this makes it seem entirely feasible to write a plugin to handle the self-pingbacks, but where do I find the time?

Posted by Greg as My Website at 16:45 PST

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Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Unusual Corrpro Traffic

While I was sick, I managed to check into my site once or twice a day and check for new comments and traffic. So I noticed a very unusual spike in the traffic that was coming here for information about Corrpro Companies, Inc. on the 4th and 5th, probably an extra twenty hits or more on both days.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite together enough to save the records from any of my traffic analysis sites, and since I only use the free version for each, those records have slipped away. I have some information from my logs, but they’re not as complete – no browser, OS or resolution information, and it’s much more of a pain to go through them. *Sigh*. If I had the time… I would write my own php script for logging my visitors.

But the unusual traffic picked up again, and I have noticed it on Monday, Tuesday and today. This time I’ve taken some snapshots of it, and if I ever get any time I’ll go through it and take a closer look. As to unusual – try three or four visitors in a row (excluding spiders and bots), ten seconds or less apart, using the same referring url (a straight redirect from Google?!?), but each one reporting a different ip address, resolving to a different ISP (and sometimes from different countries), and each one distinctly different as far as browser, OS and screen resolution. It looks to me like someone is visiting the site and poking around, but trying very hard to hide that it’s one person.

I could be wrong. I don’t think I’m just being paranoid because, if my hypothesis is correct, I’m more amused and impressed that some one is going to such lengths than I am afraid. I could clean up the records and post them here to show what I’m talking about, but I don’t think I get many drive-by traffic analysts. I guess all I want is to be able to say “Aha! I knew it!” if the lurker chooses to reveal himself.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 15:40 PST

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Monday, July 10th, 2006

Back to Work

Back to work today, after missing the entire last week, although only the last three days were taken as sick, and I was able to do enough programming work at home on the weekends to cover one of those days. I have been feeling pretty crappy still, coughing up some lovely gunk, and my sinuses are still aslosh. This has been the worst cold I’ve had in at least 20 years. People asked me how I was feeling, and I came up with a standard that seems pretty descriptive. Four days ago my body felt like a truck had hit me; today, I feel like a truck hit me four days ago. I was washing my hands a lot and wearing a mask when I stepped out of my office, because I don’t want to pass this thing around to my coworkers.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 22:28 PST

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Friday, July 7th, 2006

Killer Cold

I’ve been sick, sick, sick.

Starting Monday evening, I was feeling a little under the weather, and on the 4th of July we canceled our plans to have a few friends over for a barbecue. But on Wednesday and Thursday I felt like a truck had hit me, and all the pills and syrups that I usually take on such occasions were just laughed at by the germs in my body. My wife, who had this thing last week and probably was the one to share it with me, each night was quite ready to inform me how shitty I was going to feel the next day. I don’t know whether it was from sympathy or the satisfaction of seeing someone else go through it.

I’m feeling a lot stronger this morning, but still congested and coughing and weak.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 09:13 PST

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Monday, July 3rd, 2006

Personal Update

There’s been a few blog-worthy events in my personal life the last week or two, but I haven’t had much of a chance to post, and I’ve squandered what little time I’ve had on privacy/technology/political/medical issues. So I may as well try to blurt out as much of it as I can in one post.

Item:
After finishing up a reread in May of one of my favorite books ever, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, I decided to retackle his intimidating three volume set, The Baroque Cycle. I had started the first volume after Stephenson signed the copy that I had waited outside the bookstore for on the first day of release, at (purchase and signing) that great independent bookstore in San Diego, Mysterious Galaxy. However, I wasn’t able to complete it because of a Significant Event in my life around Thanksgiving 2003; and the book went up on the shelf, to be later joined by signed first editions of The Confusion and The System of the World. Normally I’m a fast reader, and up to that point in my life I routinely read a novel a week, and found additional time to keep up with Newsweek, Discover, and the odd nonfiction book. But Stephenson’s works are something to be savored, lest you miss some clue to the Great Secrets that are hinted at. I just finished the last tome, and looking back, I was amazed to see that it had taken me two months. All this time it has been a real chore when writing to avoid Capitalizing Important Words to convey Emphasis, in the seventeenth century style that he mimicked, but for the occasion I’ll let a few slip through. The story was engrossing, and although it didn’t reveal as much as I had hoped it would, it has really piqued my interest in that period of history. I can only hope for many more from Neal, but the obviously intense amount of preparation and effort that must have gone in to his last efforts leads me to believe that I will have to be patient. Meanwhile, while going through my usual stocking of pertinent and helpful links for this post, I stumbled across the postcyberpunk article at Wikipedia, and see there a treasure trove of similar books that I can seek out. (As usual, I think the literary analysis is overreaching, but then, English majors have to have something to do.)

Item:
Last weekend, I took Chelsea and Boo up to my brother’s place in LA to catch my mother in town, visiting from Massachusetts, and because June is the big birthday month at their house. On Saturday we caught the tail end of my nephew’s second birthday party, and on Sunday we all went out the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park. Boo was in heaven. Not only was he playing with other little boys (our neighbors only seem to have produced little girls), but he got to see an impressive model railroad set, climbed up on real steam locomotives, and rode the miniature train. My brother and sister-in-law are just experts at getting out of the house and finding someplace to go that is genuinely enjoyable, more often than not educational, and never a crass, touristy commercial venture. I don’t know how they do it, but kudos to them.

Item:
I got a letter in the mail this week from Chelsea’s school. She was hoping it was her semester grades (should I be suspicious about how anxiously she’s waiting for those to show up?), but it was a report on how she did on her first attempt at taking the CAHSEE, the California High School Exit Examination. There’s been a lot of controversy here in California of late: after many legal battles since this graduation requirement became law in 1999, the Class of 2006 finally became the first to have the requirement enforced. Some 47,000 seniors did not get their high school diplomas last month because they didn’t pass the test.

Chelsea, as a sophomore, on her first try, passed both portions of the test – English and Mathematics. I am so proud of her. Did you get that? I Am So Proud Of Her. Are you sure? I AM SO PROUD OF HER.

Item:
After what has seemed like years of waiting, I got a new computer at work. True, I gave up my slot six months ago with a strategic decision that I was getting by on available resources, and by deferring my gratification I would probably get a better machine. But in the beginning of June I received a Dell Latitude D610 laptop with docking station. It’s certainly not cutting edge, and I could have gotten far greater performance by opting for a desktop, but portability is a significant factor – I’m tired of not having my normal tools while I’m traveling. It sports a 1.73 GHz Pentium M, 40 GB hard drive, DVD/CDRW, and, of course integrated stuff that people take for granted nowadays, like a stronger wireless link than any plug in card that I’ve ever tried; and Windows XP Pro. The only performance bump that I asked my old friends at IT for, and received, was a full gig of 795 MHz RAM instead of the standard 512K. I joyously unpacked it, plugged it all in, took a look at it, took another look at it, took a real good look at it, and left it to sit on my desk for a couple of weeks.

I don’t think I’ve been the recipient of a new computer since my TRS-80 Model 100 back in 1983. Since then, at home and at work, I’ve received hand-me-downs, or built my own out of whatever parts were laying around. Later, at home, I was able to spurn used components, and assembled machines after calculated performance vs. cost appraisals of each piece and patiently waiting for the right sale. So it was a bit of a shock to see what comes pre-installed in a new computer nowadays, plus the applications deemed essential by the IT Department. I started off, when I got the time, by assiduously documenting the details that I considered important (because I was going to change them) – the processes and their starting states, and a list of all the start-at-boot applications. I also set up tables to document the changes I was going to be making in the environment variables, registry edits, and applications I was going to install. But the rest of this story belongs in a separate, technical post. For now, it is sufficient to note that after an hour or four of tweaking, I took the (to me) plodding little minivan and turned it into a somewhat respectable sports car.

Item:
Thanks to Google Adsense, I’ve started making money from my blog! In May, I earned 14 cents, less than the amount Google transferred into my checking account just to test the direct deposit. In June, I earned a whopping $3.12! Thanks to whoever clicked on the Get Firefox link! Hmmm – I don’t know that I’m ready to give up my day job yet.

Item:
Yesterday was my twelfth wedding anniversary.

Item:
Today is my 41st birthday. I don’t feel older than I did at turning 40. I took the day off (most other people at work also used their floating holiday to turn this into a four day weekend), and got a surprise breakfast in bed from Chelsea (semantics, but I don’t sleep in a bed), but otherwise limited my celebration to not really doing much, and not feeling guilty about it.

Well, that’s going to have to do it for this post. I feel better for getting a few things off my chest, and I’m sure I will remember later some more absolutely essential things that I should have written about, but that’s what you get when you put things off.

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends, Posts About Me at 23:18 PST

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Sunday, July 2nd, 2006

Update or Die

Unnecessary software updates are bad. If it’s not a security fix, leave it for the next major release. But aside from feature bloat, the Powers That Be have been steadily incorporating such nasties as DRM into “our” computers (see “Who Owns Your Computer“) through the update process, and have realized that such methods give the potential to exert an unprecedented level of control over all our personal information, which is steadily approaching greater significance than our physical selves.

I’ve brooded over whether I’ve sounded too strident as anti-Microsoft before, but no longer. Thanks to Bruce Schneier for pointing me to Ed Bott’s chillingly understated concern that MS is incorporating a “kill switch” – an antipiracy tool designed to stop Windows from running if you don’t install every update that they deem necessary – meaning, those petty security fixes aside, Microsoft’s more-powerful antipiracy tools. Ed quotes some MS reps averring that the antipiracy tool will become mandatory, and updates his post with MS’s later PR denial of their program as unable to “turn off your computer.”

Microsoft is Ed’s beat, and it was clear to me from reading the article that he’s become jaded to the horrors that must be going on there on a daily basis. A comment in and of itself.

Much earlier today, I replaced the processor and motherboard on my primary home XP Pro box, and with much trepidation. I wasn’t afraid of messing it up; I was afraid of Microsoft shutting down my operating system. Sure enough, when I rebooted with my OEM cd in the drive and repaired the install, I was bombarded with alarms that I needed to reauthorize. Pity that one of the problems with the repair that I was having was with my wireless card – my only link to the Internet. (The driver disk for that was in the other dvd drive.) After multiple installs/uninstalls and reboots, and getting continuously harassed, starting with two separate pop ups before even logging on, I finally called a halt to my attempts to get Windows to see the card, and called the phone line for reauthorization. That turned out to be an unnecessarily long delay – my whole “conversation” was with a computer generated voice, and I had to report a 60-some digit code number using voice recognition. Anyone ever heard of using the touch-tone pad?

Oh-oh. I can see myself getting into a full-blown rant here, so I’ll try to cut it short, at the risk of losing out on getting on the record about the doom I see coming.

This is really, really bad for Microsoft customers; meaning, potentially, the vast majority of the world. To try and recoup the billions of dollars they’re losing to piracy, they’re willing to enslave the source of the trillions they’re getting or going to be getting from the rest of us, and they’re in principle aligned with more than a few major corporations that want to make sure that they’re getting their billions and trillions from us, too, and could make a few more bucks selling the technology to them. And so far, everything’s going their way.

The only bright side to this, putting aside <sarcasm> my favorite IT professional’s retort to my concern about MS dependency – “their stuff just works!” </sarcasm> – is that it is so brazen that there might actually be a row in the technical press about it, and maybe enough to translate into some significance in the mainstream press. People might realize that they’re giving up all their choice (and therefore their freedom) to the people that make the software that runs their lives. They might start migrating towards, dare I say it? open source. And if the general populace really puts some thought into it, maybe they’ll start questioning the entire legal construct of licensing that gives software and entertainment companies this sort of power.

Could you imagine it? Scared politicians, shaken by the complaints of the the voting faithful that if they pay for something, they own it, passing laws that prohibit the retention of ownership by software companies, and stripping the whole licensing construct down to conditions on resale? Would you be willing to give up tech support for a product that works, all the time and every time, in the first place? (I’m sure I’m missing more than a few implications on the legal and economics side of this issue, and alternatives that make more sense under by the traditional understanding of property / means of production / ownership / compensation aspect. Let me just posit that licensing a commodity, or the means to produce other commodities, seems to distinguish the dividing line between the Industrial Age and the Technology Age. But what do I know – this stuff is only the roots of paltry concepts such as capitalism, socialism, and communism – and what affect do they have on our daily lives?)

Yeah, imagine it. Just like John Lennon dared to do. Fat lot of good it did him. So I’m left with my original assertion – DOOM! Hey, it wasn’t so bad for Dark Ages serfs, right?

P.S. I saw the Windows Genuine Advantage update, because I review my updates before installing them, and I declined to install it. Later, out of conditional obedience, I went back to the WindowsUpdate site and tried to find it again, listed with other suggested updates that I had asked not be installed, and couldn’t even find that list any more. My guess is that it got installed anyway using Automatic Updates.

P.P.S. I didn’t seem to do a very good job avoiding a rant, eh? You don’t know the half of it.

Posted by Greg as Politics, Society, Software at 00:16 PST

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