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Friday, January 18th, 2008

Classmates Guestbook

I joined Classmates years ago as a way of hooking up with old friends, and the site enticed me to do so by offering free benefits. But lately I’m come to suspect their motives and business practices. They don’t seem to be advertising-supported (of course, how would I know? I use Adblock), so they must rely on paid memberships to derive their revenue. So far, I’ve resisted their attempts to recruit me into a membership. I sometimes got contact information that included an email from visitors that might have known me, and used that to contact them directly (which never seemed to work), but who knows the ambivalence of a casual web-surfer?

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of notices that someone has signed my guestbook. On most websites, that means someone who wants you to notice that he or she has seen your information and is interested in saying “hi” to you. But on Classmates, you have to pay to see who did this. So I tried to hack the system, and posted a photo (viewable by all) that included my email superimposed on the image. I keep getting the guestbook signing notices, but nobody emails me directly.

Is Classmates using an automated system to post guestbook notices just to get me to sign up for paid membership? Or am I getting guestbook signings from people too oblivious to notice the email or too lazy to contact me directly?

In either case, I’m willing to withhold the US$39 from Classmates to find out. So if you see me there, send me an email. Otherwise, I’m not interested.

Posted by Greg as Networking, Posts About Me at 18:12 PST


Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Astronomy Therapy

A couple of nights ago I had an awful lot on my mind, and despite thinking that I really needed to go to bed and get some sleep, I went outside and looked up.

It was a cold, clear night, and viewing by the naked eye was probably as best as it could get (unless you happen to be driving across the middle of nowhere in New Mexico.) Even so, I grabbed a pair of low power binoculars and was rewarded with huge new perspectives.

I’ve been trying hard over the last year to finally learn something about the stars at night. I’ve always been interested in space, but never bothered to learn any astronomy. When I first started playing with Linux I encountered KStars and loved it, then I found Stellarium, which is even better, and I could load a copy on my Windows machine. I started in the summer and learned the basics – the Summer Triangle (Vega, Deneb, Altair), Rasalhague, Polaris, Cassiopeia, The Big Dipper, Arcturus, and Spica. Jupiter was in Scorpio, near Antares, and as the season progressed (or if I stayed up really late), Andromeda crept up. I knew there was a galaxy there but couldn’t find it. When I went to Diego Garcia I got up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go out for a sighting of the Southern Cross. Unfortunately, there was no way I could see Alpha Centauri again that time of year.

But I longed to see Orion again, and to really try to learn about the northern winter stars. So this night was the time to really delve, and I was rewarded.

I saw Orion, with Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph. And I saw the Winter Hexagon, with Rigel, Sirius, Procyon (which I learned to pronounce), Castor and Pollux, Capella and Aldebaran. I watched Regulus in Leo come up, and saw Saturn. Mars was just underneath Alnath. And I pulled those laughable little binoculars out. I couldn’t see Saturn’s rings, but I saw the little fuzzes of the Great Nebulae in Orion and Andromeda. I located my own Zodiac sign – Cancer – and also discovered the cluster Praesepe without knowing to look for it. I finally found out why the Pleiades were so cool (although I don’t know why they’re called the Seven Sisters – I count six, and several possible contenders for the seventh.)

With the help of the binoculars, and my laptop with Stellarium (and Wikipedia to answer questions, and a couple of tequilas to keep me warm) I was able to actually see constellations. I saw Leo and Canis Major. I saw Hydra’s head (I used it to find Cancer), and Gemini, Auriga, Taurus and Perseus. I don’t know why Andromeda is a woman’s shape, but I saw where the stars were. I even lucked out and saw a meteor go across half the sky, and two satellites plod away. I recognized the motion from seeing Skylab before it fell in 1979, just before I left for America. I want to know why Cancer is listed as “small and dim” on Wikipedia when Pisces is even dimmer – what is that, “large and even dimmer”? I want to know why I’m considered to be a Cancer when the Sun was actually in Gemini when I was born. No, wait. I read about the difference between tropical and sidereal zodiacs – it just makes my head hurt, and astrology is all a bunch of BS anyway.

I went to bed when I realized that I had watched Procyon rise and now Arcturus had been up for a while – Spica was about to be visible again. Amazingly, considering the amount of warming I had turned out to have required, the next night I still was able to reel off a bunch of these names that I had learned.

If you want to lose yourself for a while, go outside at night with binoculars and Stellarium and Wikipedia. Take a friend if you want – maybe José or Jim or Johnny.

Posted by Greg as General Science, Posts About Me at 22:02 PST

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Friday, December 7th, 2007

Killed Plugin

I got a report of extremely slow load times for my blog, something to do with scripting, that locked up the browser. At first I thought it was Internet Explorer, but when I checked it myself, it was even worse on SeaMonkey (the latest in the Netscape Navigator – Mozilla evolution, and my preferred browser.) Even though I was wrong about the browser, I was right about the culprit – my Inline Google Maps v2.1 plugin. I’ve noticed problems with it before.

When it came out, IGM was a spiffy tool that allowed you pull a customized map from Google and include it on your web page. You had to use your own Google Maps API key, but I already had one of those because I had been thinking of trying to write something along the same lines. But I guess lots of people had that idea, and Google noticed the traffic; so they wrote their own solution. (Or they just had the same idea, I don’t know.) Now, when you click on the “Link to this page” option in Google Maps, instead of just getting the url with the form data set, you also are presented with preconfigured HTML code that you can just cut and paste onto your site.

I doubt it was the IGM plugin’s fault – after all, it worked fine before – so the Google Maps API must have changed. Maybe they did it to deliberately screw with all those other guys’ solutions. My only option was to shut down the plugin, and now I’ll have to go back through previous posts, use the existing url that had all the map settings in it, go to Google Maps, and get new HTML code to overwrite what I had before. What a pain in the butt.

But I do love my little maps.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 11:57 PST

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Saturday, July 7th, 2007

Having a Little Fun

Going through my page requests, I noticed some 1,700+ from a website called “What the hell is this?” I wondered. Well, it appears to be some lame-ass hacker website in Arabic, located in Saudi Arabia. All those page requests? Some drongo script kiddie forum user had found my revolving skull and crossbones gif and was using it as his personal avatar. He is going by the handle BAD HACKER. He lists his occupation as a “Profissinal HaXoR”.

Normally, it wouldn’t bother me if somebody took an image from my website and used it for his own purposes, but this guy didn’t bother to copy it – he just created a link to my site, so whenever somebody looks at a page that he has posted on, the site comes over to mine and downloads it. That’s taking my bandwidth, so I had to retort.

Now, if someone visits securedeath and sees this guy, instead of having this cool avatar:

Red Skull

they see this:

I Stole

It’s a very simple hack to get around – let’s see how long it takes him to fix it.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 12:33 PST


Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

Ending the Subdomain Experiment

After three months, I reassessed my decision to move my blog to a subdomain on my website. It had turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. I’ve moved to change everything back, but I never kept track of all the little changes I made to try and adapt to the subdomain difference, so errors might pop up again and again.

I made this decision after reviewing literature on the implications of search engine optimization on the subdomain/folder choice. The vague generalizations that I encountered had new meaning after my experience of the last three months. I would now have to say that, for a personal website, subdomains present more problems than benefits. I had thought that the subdomains were more technically savvy; but I found that the general public and search engines (which cater to the general public) do not appreciate the difference.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 16:04 PST

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Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Home for a Few Days

I got done in Killeen, Texas on Tuesday. I got really lucky – the storms have been hanging around, but I just managed to get my work in without having to spend more time. I drove from Texas to Missouri on Wednesday and had a few days to try to catch up with everything – I had planned on having the whole week, and figured I could get at least two reports done. Tomorrow I’m going to Anchorage, Alaska, for two weeks. I guess I’ll be writing on the plane!

I finally figured out some very elementary things that had, until now, escaped my notice. Many people come to my blog from a search engine result that uses my old format, and some come from links that I had previously seeded in technical message boards. They’ve all been getting an error page! No wonder my traffic is down. I have thrown up a hasty explanation and workaround on my standard error page, but I should really write something smarter – a PHP page that takes the sought link and rewrites it to the format and then uses a redirect. But it’s been a long time since I’ve done any coding, and just writing has been tough to keep up with.

I knew that some of my images weren’t showing because I had hard-coded the source of the images instead of using relative ones, but what I didn’t realize is just how extensively my own internal links, referencing other posts, are nearly all screwed up. Well, a smart error page might fix that problem for now, too. Still, it’s going to take a lot of work to make everything right. *Sigh*

Posted by Greg as My Website, Travel at 10:22 PST

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Saturday, April 14th, 2007

Revenge of the Search Engines

I knew there were going to be problems by changing my site from to And they have come to be evident. Google thinks that these are two entirely different websites, and I have all but disappeared from the search engine results using terms that I had ranked very highly in before.

Oh well.

If anything, this will give me time to go back and make the changes that I want. It will help to be below the radar for a bit. I’m pretty confident that I can climb my way back up again.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 12:55 PST


Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Blog Moved to Subdomain

I’m trying something new again that might mess a bunch of things up. I set up the subdomain for this blog. It’s one of my first tries with subdomains.

All the files are still actually located in, so I guess it’s some sort of redirect. The first thing I noticed is the pop up saying that my Google Maps API key was for a different site – is different than I got a new API key, so now everyone else who comes in through the old way will be seeing the pop up.

I’m also guessing this is going to screw up my search results in Google and other search engines, and probably screw up my PageRank. The redirect is also botching things when I try to log into other sites using OpenID.

I’ll have to chalk all this up to learning experiences.

Posted by Greg as My Website at 12:11 PST

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Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Funny APoD

I had to laugh at today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, NASA’s daily picture and “brief explanation written by a professional astronomer”, usually chock full of links. The picture was the famous 1972 pic of the Earth, as taken from Apollo 17. The write-up concludes:

… Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

“Potentially intelligent?” I’ve been trying to think of some snarky comment about that, but the more I thought about it, the more I tend to agree.

Posted by Greg as General Science, Society at 00:49 PST

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Tuesday, March 20th, 2007


A couple of weeks back I was poking through whois and discovered that was available, so I picked it up. I might actually be able to do something with this, set up an instructional/reference site, and finally put my forum software to use. Or I could just use it to blather about all things corrosion engineering. I’ll have to find some more generic content management system software that doesn’t run as achingly slow as the ones I’ve already tried. Right now, I’ve just pointed it to this blog.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, My Website at 08:47 PST

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