"Geekery" Archives

September 01, 2008

Sometime in the past couple of days this site got hacked. My archives are a bit hosed, with spam hyperlinks installed on the pages. It looks llike it happened sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon.

I'm working on cleaning it up.

More to the point, I've finally been spending time working on the MT4 upgrade, and I think I finally have a grip on the templating issues. I may, however, make the switch first, then worry about templates, styles, and designs.

So don't be surprised if the look here changes suddenly, without (further) warning.

UPDATE: what do you think of this as a general look? I'm kind of liking where it's heading. It does pretty much require a screen width of 1024 or more... is there anyone still using 800x600 or smaller?

Posted by Russ at 05:01 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 22, 2008
Moving on

I haven't said anything about it, but as of a week ago, I have a new job.

Well, OK, it's the same job I've been doing for the last three years. The "new" part of it is that I've been converted from "contractor" status to "regular" at Major Telecommunications Company Which Shall Remain Nameless.

Technically, I'm a manager now, and not even an first-level manager, but my duties are essentially the same. They can assign subordinates to me now, I guess, but I can't imagine why they'd need to do so. I'm pretty sure I'd rather manage networks than people, anyway.

My first day as a regular was Friday the 15th, so in the mail today — for the first time in over 10 years — I received an actual physical paycheck... for one day's work. The 15th was the last day of the MTCWSRN pay period.

I've done direct deposit for so long, I'm not sure I remember what to do with one of these things.

Posted by Russ at 01:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
August 09, 2008
Ah, that's better

It's amazing what a decent night's sleep does for both mind and body... even if your "night" goes until noon, or sometimes even later.

Yesterday was a challenge from start to finish; it may have been the busiest day I've had in two years — the first half physically, the second half mentally.

From the moment I rolled out of the rack, it was go-go-go. Shower, dress, feed the cats. Because of an upcoming change in my employment situation (more about that later) I had to dash out to get some paperwork notarized. Then a run to the pet store for a load of kitty litter. That stuff is heavy; good thing I have a full-size pickup truck.

I'd seen my regular doctor on Thursday, and he finally decided that my peripheral neuropathy was worthy of being treated, so he wrote a scrip for Neurontin. So, a stop at the pharmacy, to drop off the new prescription.

But I wasn't done running around yet. Next was physical therapy. I was still sore from Wednesday's labors, but along with the usual strength-building exercises, I managed a sans-cane walk of 900 feet, at a speed of .91 miles/hour.

Someone please inform the media.

My walking is getting better, but it isn't really getting to be good. Small objects are big obstacles, and while what I do could be, in the broadest sense, considered "walking," it often bears more than a passing resemblance to waddling. As significant to me as the distance and speed is my increasing ability to avoid disaster with what might be termed "fancy footwork" — I'm getting better at recovering from nearly falling over, though as I get a bit bolder with my walking, the tendency to tip over is a bit more frequent.

I must remember the rule.

Thoroughly exhausted after an hour of abuse at the hands of the therapist, I headed... not home, but to run more errands. First to the vet; more about that later. Then it was back to the pharmacy to pick up my new prescription. Only then did I get to go home.

I got home, crawled up the stairs, took my new meds, and logged on just in time to begin my shift at work... and that's when my day really began.

When you do tech support for an installed base of 30,000+ routers, there are going to be bad days, and mine began immediately — a routing problem landed on my desk precisely 21 seconds after the start of my shift. I don't really mind routing problems, but some are annoying rather than interesting to investigate. And I can count myself fortunate that there are not usually problems stacked up waiting for my arrival.

I've never said and I probably never will say for whom I work, other than the obvious "big telecommunications & networking company," but I will say this: my teammates really are among the best engineers in the networking business. We generally try to take care of each other and not drop junk on the next shift to come online.

The first annoyance of the day was quickly dealt with, and I was readying myself for the next broken router to drop on my desk when I was pinged by my manager. It seems one of our largest customers — I won't (and will never) say who, but I guarantee you know who they are — is doing a migration from one service we offer to a new service, and they're doing it at hundreds of their retail locations. New routers, new T1 and ATM lines, new voice-over-IP setups... egads. So, I got to spend my evening watching for dead routers and making sure that any incidents were properly followed-up upon. There were dozens. I lost count.

Oh, and another customer had a funky T1 problem that had gone on for so long that they were seeing red and needed their hand held all night long by senior engineering staff (i.e., my teammates and I) particularly as our senior management was watching the progress of the issue.

I should also note that my new meds can cause drowsiness. Staying alert would have been a challenge, but between my regular workload, the "high touch customer" hand-holding, and the migrations, I was researching, thinking hard, typing and/or talking every minute of the night, often on more than one issue simultaneously. I barely had time for bathroom and cat-feeding breaks.

By the end of my shift at midnight, I was toast. Burnt toast. I fed the cats and went to bed.

It was, all in all, a very productive day, and I slept like a log. Kismet woke me up this morning with his usual "I'm grooming daddy's head!" behaviour. There are worse ways to wake up.

Posted by Russ at 03:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 02, 2008

Yesterday, users of Internet Explorer version 7 were probably unable to view this site, or many other blogs, due to a bug in IE7 triggered by the Sitemeter code many blogs have embedded on their pages.

Information on the problem here, with specifics about the IE7 bug here.

Sitemeter appears to have resolved the problem on their end for the time being.

But... why are you still using IE7? Get Firefox.

Posted by Russ at 01:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
July 03, 2008
A wee bit late

As a geek, it would be remiss of me not to point this out: World's First Computer Is Finally Built. It's stunning, a real mechanical work of art.

(You have to sit through a 30-second ad, but it is so worth the wait.)

(Via Hot Air headlines.)

Posted by Russ at 03:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 15, 2008
This explains a lot

The find of the day: An Engineer's Guide to Cats.

"If you have one cat, you're just a guy who has a cat. If you have two cats, well, the cats are friends, so they can keep each other company. When you have three cats, you start to get to be that guy who has all those cats."

There's a good chance that, by this time next week, I'll be "that guy who has all those cats."

It's good to be an engineer.

Mycah's aspect ratio: 1.79.

(Found via Maggie.)

Posted by Russ at 05:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
March 20, 2008
Development under way

I've installed the new software — MT4.1 (the open source variety) and have begun working on the template redesign.

You can see the current state of affairs here.

This is a lot more complicated than the older MT template system. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. It might be a while before I get even the basic functionality I need ready to roll out.

Posted by Russ at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
February 07, 2008
Positive Trend

In what may be a sign of things to come, I made a trip to the office yesterday to get my new laptop configured with all the standard corporate software. The folks there at the office were rather surprised to see me — the last time I was there was a brief stop in June.

In what may be a further sign, the configuration appointment was cancelled by our helpdesk people, and I came home unconfigured to work my shift at my usual desk here.

So I have this nice shiny new laptop that is as yet unuseable for work purposes... and I'm not particularly interested in using it for anything else, either. It occurred to me today that I spend virtually every waking minute in front of a computer... and to be honest, it's getting pretty old.

It'll happen in due course, but I'd kill to be able to go out to the garage and do a little woodworking.

The config appointment is now rescheduled for tomorrow. Driving isn't hard at all, but it's still rather a difficult chore to get cleaned up, dressed up and packed up to go to the office, and will continue to be for a while, but the key thing is that it's getting easier.

Posted by Russ at 06:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 04, 2008
"This is the Call That Never Ends..."

Weekend afternoons/evenings at work, we're perpetually in a state of being short-handed. There are typically only two or three of us on duty until our Singapore office comes online, but they go the minimal-staffing route on weekends, too. So at best, there are only four or five of us on duty at night to handle 30,000 managed routers and switches.

Usually, this isn't a problem. Routers are, on the whole, pretty reliable beasts — certainly as compared to PCs. I have personally seen routers with "up" times in excess of five years — running for over five years without crashing, without failing.

[One story, almost certainly apocryphal, is told in networking circles of a router that had been walled up in a disused closet, and for years no one ever realized it was there until they got curious about where some particular ethernet cables were leading.]

When these usually-reliable devices fail, though, they can do so quite catastrophically. Such was the case this weekend.

Saturday night I spent the entire night on one conference call to deal with a switch that had failed. When that switch failed, we lost access to scads of other devices — how many, exactly, I never learned.

The call started early that morning before my shift; a card in the switch was replaced, which was when the real problems began. I joined twenty other people on the call that evening and spent the night trying to troubleshoot by phone. No one had access to the switch except a technician on-site with a terminal, so I would tell him to type in a command and he would read the output back to me. This went on until the wee hours of the morning, and eventually I passed off the call to one of my graveyard-shift colleagues.

Sunday when I started work, I learned to my dismay that the conference call was still going on, and I was again needed on the call. I spent the entire night on the call. When I left, we were trying to get the hardware to replace the entire switch, not just the one card.

For all I know, that call is still going on. I have never been so glad that Monday is one of my days off.

Posted by Russ at 06:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 17, 2008
It... Lives...

The PC is back up and running again.

Now I have to come up with a new excuse for the paucity of posts here.

Posted by Russ at 04:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
January 13, 2008
Too Much?

At work, the customer problems we work on are tracked by a ticketing system. New "trouble tickets" are automagically assigned to on-duty engineers in a sort of round-robin system.

When a ticket is assigned, the system fires off an email to whatever address we engineers designate for ourselves. Mine goes to my regular work mail, and a copy to my cellphone, in case I'm away from my desk when the ticket hits.

When I get a "you've got a ticket" mail, my email client is set up to play a sound file from Battlestar Galactica.

I sometimes wonder if I take my job too seriously. Or not seriously enough.

Posted by Russ at 10:42 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 10, 2008
Still Not Computing

The PC is still dead-dead-dead, but now we know what specific part is dead; as I guessed, it's the motherboard.

Fortunately, a replacement can be had comparatively inexpensively, though I don't know how quickly. I could, in theory, be up and running again by Monday, but I'm not counting on it. More like Wednesday, I think.

I'm still limited to using the World's Slowest Laptop, which is only minimally functional for anything other than the apps I use for work... and even for those, it's a decrepit wreck. Nothing but the best for the employees, right?

I'll omit the separate rant about how a company might claim that we're the best network engineers in the world, but still treat us like wage slaves. Which I suppose we are.

Posted by Russ at 08:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
January 09, 2008
Too Much To Ask

I logged in to work today, only to discover that as of this week I have been tasked to support IP telephony on our 30,000-router network.

Once, just once in my career, I'd like to get training on something I'm supposed to support before I have to support it.

Because there's nothing that makes me feel like more of a schmuck than being being responsible for fixing things I don't know the first thing about, especially when it's urgent and important.

Posted by Russ at 04:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
It Does Not Compute

The old PC is still in the shop; due to the holidays, there was apparently a backlog of work for the diagnosticians.

I'm not too concerned. I've already decided to think of the box as dead-dead-dead, and have begun planning for a replacement. If anything can be salvaged from the old PC, well, that's gravy. But it is an older architecture — AGP rather than PCI type — so there won't be much that can be reused, apart from the hard drive and the memory (I think.)

Still, we're talking a minimum of three or four more business days — minimum.

Posted by Russ at 01:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
January 05, 2008
Dead PC

My PC went belly up this evening. It powers up, but never gets to the BIOS, never boots up. I suspect the motherboard is toast, but geek that I am, I'm a network geek, not a PC geek, so that's only a guess.

I guess maybe I should call the Geek Squad. I wonder how long (and how much cash) it'll take to get the PC back on its feet.

Until then, no mail, no casual browsing. Good thing I have my employer-issued laptop here - it's the World's Slowest Laptop, but at least it works enough to let me post this.

Posted by Russ at 08:57 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)
November 20, 2007
A Very Special Kind of Geek

I used to be an invenerate wargamer and collector of games, but those days are past, so I've lately been preparing a number of old and long-since disused wargames — most published in the 1970s and 1980s, of course — for sale on eBay. Part of the preparation process is a careful examination of each item I'm putting up for sale, and this evening I ran across something truly horrifying.

Anyone familiar with the name Avalon Hill will surely remember the game Kingmaker, which was a fairly lightweight and rather fun recreation of the English Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century. Originally published in '76, it remained a strong product and even made the transition into the PC game era, when many far more complex (and, I would argue, far better) games did not or could not.

Unfortunately for posterity, the box art shows some teens of the era enjoying the game, thus preserving a record of the fashions of the day.

Click for larger... if you dare face the horror.

Now, far be it for me to criticize the styles of the day. Lord knows, I was forced to wear a pale blue leisure suit at least once, and my prom tux shirts had more ruffles than Frito-Lay.

I have sincere doubts that very many board game geeks (or anyone dressed like those pictured) would ever be a political power player — a kingmaker — in real life. Sure, they probably went on to major in Poli-Sci in college (mine was History), but odds are that they spent the majority of their school years avoiding wedgies and building up a storehouse of tales to tell their therapists in the '90s.

Then again, have you ever seen those pictures of Hillary! in the '70s?

Saints preserve us.

Posted by Russ at 10:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
September 03, 2007
The Spammers Never Rest

Within minutes of reading this from Kevin at Wizbang!, I got one of the scam/spam (hereafter to be abbreviated "s[c|p]am") emails referred to.

Quechup: evil — read the above link for an explanation.

Posted by Russ at 10:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
July 30, 2007
The Shape of Things To Come

Via David Thompson: the coolest wind-powered sculptures you'll see all day... maybe all month:

If they were semi-intelligent robots, they would no doubt try to take over the world.

Fortunately, with turning radii of continental proportions, they are relatively easy to avoid.

Unless you walk like I do.

Posted by Russ at 07:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 15, 2007
Big Help

This week I took advantage of my days off (Monday and Tuesday) to rebuild my home network and multiple-PC setup, in part because it was a 5-year-old disaster area, and in part to accommodate my work laptop — to connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse on a semi-permanent basis, since a) I'm working from home until I am physically recovered, and b) I abhor my work laptop's keyboard and display.

Here can be seen a small portion of the disaster area — "Cable Hell."

So yes, maybe the re-org was a tad overdue.

Mycah, as usual, provided her usual high degree of assistance "supervision."

Fat lot of help she was. At least she didn't get in the way.

It's time for the Modulator's Friday Ark.

And the Carnival of the Cats this week is at StrangeRanger!

Posted by Russ at 04:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
February 21, 2007
Instant Message Excerpt: On Being a Network Engineer, 5

Discussing organizational "missteps":

Bob(22:38:53): it's as if have no clue how their decisions are affecting things
Bob(22:39:22): none at all, and if they took the time to ask around maybe they would find out
Russ(22:40:04): man, if I was king for a day
Russ(22:40:23): I'd go down in company history as Russ the Impaler

Note that I have never identified my employer, nor will I do so.

Posted by Russ at 11:51 PM
February 19, 2007
Tough Week

Finally, the work week is over. I spent an average of 6 hours a day on conference calls this week. If that wouldn't make you want to fling yourself off the top of a very tall building, you must have the patience of a saint.

Working, as I do, during the hours when many English-speaking customers have knocked off for the day and the Asia/Pacific sites have come online, I spend an inordinate amount of time listening to discussions I cannot understand.

A typical conference call usually runs along the lines of:

[random Chinese babble] traceroute [querying voices] router [something that sounds like Chinese but might be Martian for all I know] firewall [Chinese chit-chat, murmur, murmur] HA-HA-HA! [something that sounds like an argument] upgrade? upgrade? [cursing, sounds of a fistfight, maybe?] Oh, HA-HA-HA! [are they having a party in their network ops center?] Router! [questioning voices] protocol?

Then a lone voice in heavily-accented English, "So, what do you think?"

Repeat for six hours.

Sometimes it's Spanish. At least in Spanish I can follow along when they recite IP addresses. And sometimes I talk to folks in Australia. Our customers there are often a tough bunch to deal with, due to their serious expertise and the complexity of the networks we support there — we don't often get easy issues from Oz — but I can usually handle that, dialect differences notwithstanding. And those guys always seem to understand when I tell them it's past the end of my workday and I want a beer.

Well, as the song said, it's been a long, been a long, been a long, been a long day.

Posted by Russ at 03:33 AM
February 15, 2007
Instant Message Excerpt: On Being a Network Engineer, 4

After being unresponsive to IMs:

getu 21:57:01: Yo.
[Nine minute delay]
Russ 22:06:03: sorry, man - jumping through my butt here
getu 22:06:17: ok
getu 22:09:36: Did your doctor okay that?
Russ 22:10:23: no - but my physical therapist said to give it a try

Posted by Russ at 11:20 PM
February 07, 2007
Carbon Math

In a multiply-updated post, Glenn Reynolds talks global warming and the effect thereupon of congressional "private" air travel.

In the course of the post, Reynolds cites this statistic from Tourjet (which, as the name implies, is an aircraft chartering agency catering to celebrities):

The typical American is responsible for 10 tons of CO2 emissions annually through their direct energy use of home, cars and air travel, and about 24 tons of CO2 including their purchases, activities and the other services we all share throughout the economy.

By comparison, a Gulf Stream III business jet (10-12 passenger) from New York to Los Angeles will emit around 31 tons of CO2 during the 6 hour flight.

I'm no airplane expert (merely a well-informed hobbyist, you could say) but it seems to me that if a cross-country fight produces 31 tones of CO2, this means the aircraft would have to carry well over 31 tons of fuel, as not all the consumed fuel would be exhausted as CO2. I have a hard time believing that.

Turning to airliners.net we can see a bit of info on the weight of the Gulfstream III:

Empty 14,515kg (32,000lb), operating empty 17,235kg (38,000lb), max takeoff 31,615kg (69,700lb)

Quick math.... OK, so at the very most, the plane can carry 37,700 pounds (18.85 tons) of non-airplane weight.* That's passengers, luggage, cargo, and fuel. While that is a lot, it's not 31 tons, it's not all fuel weight, and not all of of the fuel would be used on a NY-LA flight, since the aircraft's range is something over 4,000 miles.

Unless, of course, there's more than one airplane called the Gulfstream III....**

It is hypocritical for "jet set" celebrities and politicians to blather about reducing greenhouse gas emissions while burning fuel by the ton, but accuracy counts, too. In this case, it's not quite as bad as it appears at first glance.

(So, I hope I got the numbers right....)

* It's just a guess on my part, but I think the difference between the "empty" weight and the "operating empty" weight might be the airplane plus a full fuel load, which would make the fuel capacity 6,000 pounds.

** Update: Errr... nevermind. I forgot all about the oxygen input into the chemical reaction, which would indeed boost the output CO2 mass to something rather higher than the carbon input into the equation. Good thing I don't make my living as a chemist.

Posted by Russ at 09:07 PM | Comments (2)
February 04, 2007
When It Rains, It Pours

Sundays are usually very quiet nights for those of us in the network support business. Super Bowl Sunday especially so.

So, I'm working from home, hoping to enjoy the game while I wait for the inevitable nothing to happen.

Then, ten minutes before kickoff — ten stinking minutes — something happens. Something big, for a big customer.

So now I'm on a 5-vendor, 25-person conference call trying to fix a problem in Spain. We're likely to go past midnight. No game for me.

I smell a European anti-fun conspiracy.

Posted by Russ at 08:22 PM | Comments (2)
January 31, 2007

I've been toiling away on site maintenance issues... but not here. Which I should be doing, but that's another story altogether. I really do want to get a new design going....

No, rather, I've been assisting Ith at Absinthe & Cookies. I still have some tweaking to do, but go ahead and visit.

Posted by Russ at 01:48 PM | Comments (1)
January 29, 2007
Down for Maintenance

More physical therapy coming up shortly. I promise not to cry like a little girl.

When I get home I'll be taking apart the PC for some much-needed maintenance — installing a new video card (the original just fried) and a major memory boost. The darn thing is pretty tightly wired into "the lab," so it'll be a nuisance to extract.

With luck, I'll be back online before midnight. That is, I will be if I don't have to crawl straight into bed after the PT.

In the meantime, go read this piece on multiculturalism from the always excellent (though occasionally surreal) Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom.

Update: Aaaaaand... we're back.

OK, I could in theory, be doing this from my linux box (as I did when originally posting this) or even from my work laptop, but you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Posted by Russ at 03:04 PM
January 02, 2007
Instant Message Excerpt: On Being a Network Engineer, 3

Sunday night, while I worked from my home office:

John (16:28:53): nothing like working on new years eve
Russ(16:29:11): nb gvbffffffffffffffffffffffffff
Russ(16:29:21): the cat is on my desk
John (16:29:39): lol
John (16:29:43): good stuff
John (16:29:53): nothing like making money with your cat typing for you
Russ(16:30:01): she wants treats, and won't stop pestering
Russ(16:30:04): me up[;------------po-0
Russ(16:30:17): me until I give her some
Russ(16:30:21): hjnyu
Russ(16:30:39): stupid cat

Posted by Russ at 05:07 PM | Comments (1)
December 07, 2006
A Little Slice of Hollywood

I arrived at work today to find a film unit, perhaps 20 crew and actors, occupying a largish portion of the office. They're filming a promotional spot of some sort, with a "24" theme involving our corporate aptitude at defeating virus threats.

Big whoop.

They'd better not point a camera at me. I can't afford to pay for a shattered lens. I wonder if their insurance covers that sort of thing?

Posted by Russ at 05:19 PM | Comments (1)
November 10, 2006
Forms of Address

Because of a recent merger, my employer is allowing all employees to select new email addresses. I'll probably go with the same pre-@ address I always used before I started working here.

But. . . I wonder if they'd mind terribly if I selected "WageSlave@[company].com?"

Perhaps "SplatterMonkey@. . ." would be more acceptable.

Posted by Russ at 04:59 PM
November 01, 2006
Instant Message Excerpt: On Being a Network Engineer, 2

While trying to learn a new set of commands for looking at a rare piece of Bay Networks gear:

Russ(19:28:23): I think I just blew a synapse.
Russ(19:29:44): I had an easier time with Korean than with this.
[colleague](19:30:09): that's because talking Bay won't get you a date.

Truer words were never spoken.

Posted by Russ at 07:39 PM | Comments (1)
October 23, 2006
Don't Look At Me Like That

Back in my days in the Silicon Valley, when I was an officer of the LUG out there, I used to have a passing acquaintance with a brilliant software developer named Hans. . .

. . .who I just learned was arrested a week or so ago on suspicion of murdering his wife.

Police: Books, Bloody Sleeping Bag Led To Reiser Arrest
Hans Reiser Charged With Murder

POSTED: 6:57 am PDT October 12, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Alameda County District Attorney's Office charged Hans Reiser with one count of murder Thursday, NBC11 News reported.

Reiser was handcuffed and wore a red jail jumpsuit during his 2 p.m. Thursday court appearance in Oakland. Well-known defense attorney Daniel Horowitz appeared with Reiser as did attorney Bill Dubois.


It was half a dozen years ago, and I didn't actually know the guy at all except to say "hi" to — on the geek continuum, he was as far above me as I am above my cat — but I'm still pretty sure I could have gone rather a long time without needing to hear news like this.

I don't know anything about the case other than what's been published in the papers, but for some reason, the notion of an Alpha Geek (which Hans unquestionably was and is) committing a violent crime against a spouse just doesn't seem real. I'm not saying he did or didn't do it — "don't know" means don't know — just that it's counter to every geek stereotype you care to name.

Just to get you started: how many übergeeks have wives?

Posted by Russ at 08:45 PM
September 18, 2006

Just a test... nothing to see here.

Posted by Russ at 03:03 PM | Comments (1)
August 17, 2006
Bad Math

I am an idiot.

My brother has been waiting years for me to make that admission.

This afternoon, not half an hour ago, I was logged into a customer's router. They couldn't get from the US to their router in the UK. I was wondering why the UK router wasn't advertising the host route for its Loopback via BGP.

If that doesn't mean anything to you, never fear. I'll not be long with this.

I had added a configuration command, so the router had to be advertising the address, and yet it wasn't.

Now, here's where the idiocy comes in.

"" and "" — do those numbers look even slightly close to being the same? You don't exactly have to be a computer geek to spot the difference, and yet I had used one instead of the other when configuring the router. Fortunately, after only five minutes of head-scratching, my error was easily spotted and corrected. But still... duh.

I'm just glad I didn't take down the customer's network when I made that particular goof. Maybe, just to maximise my idiocy, I can log in after hours and shut down their trans-Atlantic frame-relay connection.

Or better yet, in the middle of the business day.

Posted by Russ at 05:40 PM | Comments (2)
June 30, 2006
Mr. Know-it-all

In a technical workplace, it can sometimes be problematic to the only person who knows a particular technology particularly well — once you help one person fix their problem, they tell everyone, and soon everyone wants a piece of your time — but there are occasions when it can be good to be the go-to guy, in my case for ISDN and PPP.*

The class I was in over the past couple of weeks covered a wide array of networking technologies, and for most of the topics, one or two of the people in the class were already genuine experts, while the rest of us were only passingly familiar with the technology (I am pretty weak on switching, for instance.) For other subjects, most of us were well-experienced, but we paid attention to the presentations because there might always be something we might not have known. For ISDN & PPP, though, it happened that I was the only genuine expert in the class.†

On the day we covered ISDN & PPP, as the instructors (two of them) meandered through the presentation, I noticed some of my colleagues looking towards me, as if they were expecting me to nitpick the presentation. I did, after all, write the book on the subject.‡ At one point, one of the guys across the room IMed me (we all had our laptops), asking "is that right?" I looked over at him, caught his eye, and slowly nodded.

As the class progressed, I realized that more people were looking to me to confirm what was being presented. After the instructors made a statement, my colleagues would look at me quizzically... I would subtly nod.

Then one of the instructors noticed that every time she said something, people were looking towards me. Thereafter, every time a point was made in the presentation, she would look at me, with a metaphorical question mark on her face. I would nod, just a bit....

At the end, my fellow students all looked as though they were watching a ping-pong match.

Only later did it occur to me that I might possibly have been the first ISDN/PPP expert that instructor had ever encountered. At least she didn't try to drag me up in front of the class to finish the presentation.

* What ISDN and PPP do isn't important enough to explain if you don't already know what they are, but if you are using dialup, there's a 99.44% chance that your computer is using one of them to connect to the internet.

Or indeed, throughout the entire department. Which is a shame, really, because I work for a big telecommunications company.

OK, only two chapters (1, 2) of the book. But I did write them.

Posted by Russ at 10:06 PM
June 04, 2006
Target: Russ

So, it seems that spammers once again have made a nuisance of themselves, using whatever bots they use to hammer an mt-comments.cgi script I'd left laying around unsecured. My hosting company, the excellent LiquidWeb, did the smart thing and killed the account for a couple hours until the problem was resolved.

So now I'm back.

The Carnival of the Cats, which is usually a Sunday evening sort of thing, will be here Monday morning... because someone has to be the guy who works on Sunday evenings keeping the Internet running, and that guy happens to be me.

Posted by Russ at 02:09 PM
May 26, 2006

This is too cool. Keep clicking and zooming.

(Requires Shockwave plugin.)

Posted by Russ at 11:20 AM
May 18, 2006

Something is making the Movable Type comments script thrash the CPU on my web server. I presume it's %#^&@! spammers.

For the moment, I have disabled all comments. If you feel an absolute need to harangue me, there's an email link over there in the sidebar.

Update: It's good to be a professional troubleshooter - I may have solved my own problem. We'll see.

Posted by Russ at 10:57 PM
May 07, 2006
Night of the P.O.'ed Engineer

It's 2am, I'm still at work. Stupid customers.

This has been the kind of night that makes me wish the range was open 24/7.

Posted by Russ at 01:56 AM
March 18, 2006
Instant Message Excerpt: On Being a Network Engineer

russemerson: I'm trying to get a router to work properly
[friend]: ah
[friend]: fun
russemerson: it can be interesting.
russemerson: it's like being a detective, without the dead hookers.

Posted by Russ at 06:22 PM
February 17, 2006

At work today, after I solved in a matter of minutes a fairly sticky technical problem that had occupied two of my colleagues for the better part of the afternoon, one of them IMed me:

You are the 10th degree black belt of ISDN - Grand Master!!

I can live with that.

It's better, I think, to be the Chuck Norris of a dinosaur technology than the PeeWee Herman of the latest-and-greatest.

Not that one couldn't be both, of course.

(Sorry, Chuck.)

Posted by Russ at 05:26 PM
December 23, 2005
Quote of the Day - Technology Department

Truth, from Scrappleface:

A spokesman for Microsoft said it would phase out of the television news venture [MSNBC] in order to focus on its core business of providing free security patches for its popular Windows software.

[Emphasis mine.]

Posted by Russ at 03:47 PM | Comments (1)
November 27, 2005
Note to 1st and 2nd Level Network Engineers

To: Technical Underlings
From: Your Escalation Engineer

1) The proper greeting when I walk in the door at the start of my duty shift is "Hi, Russ" or some similarly generic greeting. It is not "I have an escalation for you" or, despite the evident faith and confidence you place in my abilities, "Man, am I glad to see you." It bodes not well for my day if the first thing I hear is someone begging for help. You can wait at least 10 minutes while my ancient laptop boots up.

2) If I tell you there are four people ahead of you in line to get a piece of my time, it means I think their issues are more urgent than yours. If I deem your problem to be more critical you will be moved to the head of the line, so stop pestering me.

3) Contrary to popular office myth, I have tasks to perform that do not involve you or your problems. Just because I am not working on your problem does not mean I'm not working.

4) No, I will not do your job for you just this one time simply because the problem is so unusual. You have peers who likely have seen the situation before. Ask them first. You might learn something.

5) If you haven't done your basic troubleshooting before bringing a problem to me, I will not help you... unless the reason you are coming to me is that you are on the edge of death at that very moment and therefore cannot help the customer. If, however, you actually want to be on the edge of death, go ahead and bring me your problems all willy-nilly — I'll be happy to oblige.

6) No, I haven't memorized the passwords for every network device we support. That's what the databases are for.

7) If you presume to schedule my time for me, please be sure to tell me in advance of the scheduled time. Otherwise I might get testy.

8) Do not presume to schedule my time for me. Ever.


Posted by Russ at 10:08 PM | Comments (2)
October 25, 2005

A few nights ago, half a dozen of us worked several hours and finally resolved a very tricky and obscure network problem that kept our customer's entire operation offline and non-functional. They were thrilled when we restored their service and they were able to communicate to the rest of the world.

The customer we saved was a telemarketing company.

So on the one hand, we were indeed able to resolve a problem that this customer had. It could have been any customer, it just happened to be this one. On the other hand, maybe the world was a little bit better (or at least quieter) before the problem was resolved.

My colleagues and I are very good at what we do. So are many prostitutes.

I don't know whether to feel proud or ashamed.

Posted by Russ at 04:31 PM
September 27, 2005
Die. Just Die.

Is it just me, or have the comment and trackback spammers been particularly active over the past few days?

Hanging's too good for them. But it'll have to do.

Posted by Russ at 10:53 AM
September 17, 2005
Wolf, My Ass

You know how sometimes a space shuttle launch will be scrubbed, the crew severely peeved, the ground crews work overtime to find and fix the problem, and then it turns out to have been nothing more than a faulty indicator?

And then at the next launch it happens again, and the entire find/fix process has to be done all over, even though it's most probably just another faulty indicator?

And then it happens yet again, and they know it's a bad indicator, but there's no way the troubleshooting process can be bypassed, because this time it might not be just a bad indicator?

That's how my day is shaping up to be. A long series of bogus "network down" alerts, but each must be investigated fully.

I am beginning to develop a great deal of sympathy for the angry townsfolk in the story of the boy who cried wolf.

Posted by Russ at 07:04 PM
September 09, 2005
More Nets Down


As the days add up since Katrina's passage through the Gulf Coast, more of my customers are able to check on their stores. More of them are discovering nothing but a concrete slab, a pile of rubble, a flooded-out ruin.

And I end up with more disconnects to handle.

I can't help but think of the hundred or more jobs lost at each one of those sites... and so far, I've cleared five this afternoon and evening.

Recovering the economy of the Gulf Coast will likely be a far bigger task than cleaning up the physical wreckage.

Posted by Russ at 06:32 PM
September 06, 2005

Apparently, something was pounding my comments script hard enough to wedge the server on which this domain resides. The webhost (LiquidWeb – good outfit, been with 'em for years and years, though they are a bit pricey – but their service is top-notch) did the responsible thing and suspended this domain's account for a few hours.

Now, if it had been me, I'd have killed the out-of-control process and chmoded the offending script to be non-executable, but hey, it's all of a piece. Problem resolved.

I just wish their "this account suspended" boilerplate didn't make me look like either a deadbeat or a warez d00d.

So, I'm back. Did you miss me?

Posted by Russ at 12:15 AM | Comments (2)
September 05, 2005
Net Down

The company at which I work provides network management services to a variety of companies here in the US and around the world. Our system here periodically checks the routers and switches that we manage. We can tell that a network interface has flapped, we can spot a T1 problem, we can tell that a router has crashed – usually before our customer knows about it. The system alerts us, we let the customer know about it, and then we fix it.

Sometimes, we get a special kind of alert due to a "disconnect." It's not an operational problem, it's just a case of the customer permanently shutting down a piece of equipment, usually to replace it with something bigger and better. We then have to remove said equipment from our monitoring system. Doing so is a fairly specialized piece of database jiggery-pokery, so it's bumped upstairs to my level, where we senior-ish folks handle it.

Usually, it's a good idea to verify that the equipment we're about to stop monitoring is really no longer in service — it'd be a bad idea to stop keeping an eye on hardware that's still in operation. So we look in the customer log file to verify that a Service Request to turn off our connection has been properly filed.

Since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, it's been a bit difficult to verify some disconnects. In far too many cases, there have been no Service Requests at all; rather, there will be brief notes in the logs:

"Customer evacuated."

"Store flooded; will be permanently closed."

"Site no longer exists."

No longer exists. I've seen too many of those in the last week.

They're just routers, just networks... but every one of them represents jobs, aspirations, and lives ruined or destroyed.

Posted by Russ at 02:48 PM
August 17, 2005
Jargon Overload

Today was Day Three at The New Job.

It again struck me, as I closely observed my new colleagues dealing with the effects of the Zotob virus that struck yesterday, this truly is Geek Heaven.

What I found particularly striking was the sheer number of three- and four-letter acronyms being tossed about with reckless abandon, almost gleefully, and with a blissful unawareness of the inability of the new folks to follow along. How is that supposed to be helpful?

I figure a guy could make a mint by publishing a glossary. Coincidence or not, I think that's going to be one of my assignments.

Posted by Russ at 09:21 PM
August 15, 2005
Geek Heaven

Day One at the new employer... wow. If first appearances are any indication, this is going to be quite exciting, with a lot of hands-on work with advanced technologies in important environments.

I do believe I have entered Nerdvana.

Posted by Russ at 06:52 PM | Comments (1)
August 02, 2005
Dangerous Emissions

Blogosphere, heck... beware the pootosphere.

Posted by Russ at 04:09 PM
July 26, 2005
As If You Didn't Already Know

Because we all know that internet-based quizzes are the root of self esteem:

My computer geek score is greater than 93% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

I'm disappointed with myself just for taking the quiz in the first place.

[Found via Llama Butchers]

Posted by Russ at 03:42 PM | Comments (1)
July 22, 2005

For the last 8 years I've had a 21" Sony Trinitron Multiscan 500PS monitor that I've used for all my desktop computing. It's been a real trooper. I run multiple PCs for Windows and Linux, but rather than use multiple monitors, I've used a KVM switch for the last 6 years or so.

Tonight we had a thunderstorm warning, so I powered everything down, including the monitor, and went downstairs to enjoy my dinner and watch a video (Sharpe's Battle.) When I came back and powered everything back up, I noticed that the monitor would suddenly go out of focus for a few seconds, then pop back into focus. It did this a number of times in succession. It's not doing it now, but I have no reason to believe the problem, whatever it is, isn't just going to go away.

I suspect this particular bit of hardware is about to bite the dust. Fortunately, I have a spare monitor handy, just in case. It's only a 19", but I guess I can live with that. For a while.

If and/or when the monitor dies, I'll be taking the opportunity to tear down and rebuild my home office setup, a task that could take me offline for a while, as there will be furniture modification involved. I suppose I could boot up my ancient laptop if the need arises, but since the wireless LAN here is going to be disabled, there's probably not much point.

So if I happen to suddenly disappear for a couple of days, well, now you know why.

Posted by Russ at 10:10 PM | Comments (1)
July 20, 2005
James Doohan, 1920-2005

A major inspiration for a generation of engineers – yours truly included – has passed.

Scotty of 'Star Trek' Dead at 85

James Doohan, the burly chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise in the original "Star Trek" TV series and motion pictures who responded to the command "Beam me up, Scotty," died early Wednesday. He was 85.

On the anniversary of the first Moon landing... it's fitting, somehow.

Less well known about Mr. Doohan is that he was a WW2 veteran:

At 19, James escaped the turmoil at home by joining the Canadian army, becoming a lieutenant in artillery. He was among the Canadian forces that landed on Juno Beach on D-Day. "The sea was rough," he recalled. "We were more afraid of drowning than the Germans."

The Canadians crossed a minefield laid for tanks; the soldiers weren't heavy enough to detonate the bombs. At 11:30 that night, he was machine-gunned, taking six hits: one that took off his middle right finger (he managed to hide the missing finger on the screen), four in his leg and one in the chest. Fortunately the chest bullet was stopped by his silver cigarette case.


My favorite Scotty-ism: "Keyboard. How quaint."

So long, Scotty.

Posted by Russ at 12:36 PM
May 28, 2005
I'm Beat

It's 5 a.m., and I just got home.

I can think of better ways I could have spent my Friday night than moving a data center — 12 racks of servers, routers, switches, battery backups [those suckers are heavy] and cables — from one site to another site five miles down the road.

On the other hand, given the state of my social life, no, I can't think of a better way to have spent my night.

I'm going to have to do something about that.

Posted by Russ at 05:19 AM | Comments (1)
April 28, 2005

After a brief power drop here, I restarted my computers and — heart attack! — my Linux machine (on which I read all my e-mail) failed to come up on the network. The ethernet card appeared to have disappeared from the system configuration. "Device not found" messages, and so on.

OK, this sort of thing I don't need. What I do need is my mail, delivered to my local machine; I really don't want to have to go to the server and read it there (which I can do from my Windows machine.)

I have UPS battery backups for my PCs, and the Windows machine will do a "graceful shutdown" when told to do so by the UPS. Apparently, however, instead of a graceful shutdown, my Linux box was simply deprived of power and switched off, as if there had been no UPS there at all. Not good.

Fortunately, after I finished panicking, a complete shutdown and reboot solved the network problem.

Perhaps it might behoove me to re-read the Linux UPS How-To.

Posted by Russ at 06:46 PM
February 16, 2005
Mail Down

My Gmail account, to which all my blog-related mail goes, appears to be partially hosed this evening. I can send mail, but not receive. So if you sent anything to me today, I haven't received it.

Any other Gmail users out there having similar problems?

UPDATE, 2/17/05: Mail came rolling in sometime after I went to bed late last night, but I've no idea if the mail I got was all the mail that might have been sent to me.

Sometimes, I think I truly understand what motivates the Luddites.

Posted by Russ at 11:42 PM | Comments (5)
February 14, 2005
Desperation Tactics

Sometimes when debating, even when you're right about something, you have trouble mustering the necessary argument required in order to sway your opponent. It happens to all of us, including those of us who are geeks technologists.

What, then, to do when your rhetorical back is against the wall?

Make stuff up, of course. Lie like Bill Clinton in a... well, pretty much anywhere.

The secret to lying is that it has to sound plausible, of course. With that in mind, the folks at Pigdog Journal have offered this handy list for geeks technologists on the losing end of an argument:

Things to Say When You're Losing a Technical Argument

11. Yes, well, that's just not the way things work in the real world.

. . .

17. Yes, I believe that's the approach Windows NT is taking.
[Particularly effective when debating with a Linux aficionado.]

. . .

22. Yeah, or we could all just plink away on Amigas or something.
[Saith the old Amiga owner, "Ouch!"]

. . .

48. Let's table this for now, and we'll talk about it one-on-one off-line.

The number of these I've heard used (and used myself) is alternately frightening and amusing.

When you go read, beware: tech jargon abounds.

Posted by Russ at 10:07 PM
January 26, 2005
Top-Notch Customer Service

A few years ago, I used to do telephone tech support for a Major Silicon Valley Technology Company. We strove to provide the best service any customer could have the right to expect, and in my ever-so-humble opinion (and that of, oh, just about every rating organization in the country) we succeeded.

Our products were more expensive then the competition, the software had more than its share of problems, but the after-sale support we provided was second to none, and it brought customers back to us over and over again.

Having been "the guy on the phone" for literally thousands of customers calling with broken networks over the years, I really began to take notice of high quality technical support when I was on the "caller" end of a support situation. Good support is rare enough that it deserves recognition.

With that in mind, I'm here to praise the folks at Epson.

Just under a year ago, I bought an Epson all-in-one printer/copier/scanner. I used to prefer having multiple stand-alone devices, but my old devices were, well, old, and I didn't have a copier... so an inexpensive (very inexpensive) replacement for them seemed just the thing.

Last week, with less than a month remaining on the warranty, the printer ceased printing. No, that's not quite right. It printed colors just fine; it merely stopped printing anything black. And before you ask, yes, there was a fresh ink cartridge in it.

After doing all the testing and diagnosing I could think to do, I was up against a wall. I could neither resolve the problem nor even determine what the problem actually was. At that point I called Epson's customer support.

The guy on the phone was fantastic. Once I explained that I had been a professional tech troubleshooter, we got through his mandatory "have you tried this?" spiel in less than two minutes, and he recommended replacement of the whole unit with a new one. I wasn't about to argue or complain.

Today, the new one arrived via UPS. But it wasn't the same model — it was the new model. Apparently the old one had been discontinued, so rather than shipping me a returned-and-repaired machine, I was the beneficiary of a free upgrade. New features (the printing from memory card capability looks pretty darn cool — I hope it's the same card my camera uses), better performance — hard to beat.

In the past, when I had to arrange a hardware replacement for a customer with a problem, it was not at all unusual to give the customer, at no cost, a newer piece of equipment that had the same or better capabilities. But after the tech business went through the shakeup of 2000/2001, such free replacement practices have become fairly rare.

I'm very pleased with Epson. Their exemplary service has earned them my future business.

[And yes, I know that the printers themselves are not the "profit center" of the industry; the ink cartridges are. Which makes the fact that Epson shipped me new cartridges just that much more praiseworthy.]

Posted by Russ at 08:42 PM
January 14, 2005
Hang 'em High
Big Spam Bust, Texas Style

Texas became the latest state or federal entity to take a swipe at spammers Thursday when it sued a University of Texas student and a California resident over what spam watchdog SpamHaus calls the world's fourth largest illegal e-mail operation.

Sued? Sued???

I was under the impression that such spammery was a crime... you know, with things like strip-searches and prison sentences pertaining thereto.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called Ryan Samuel Pitylak of Austin and Mark Stephen Trotter of Encinitas, Calif., two of the nation's "most prolific spammers" in an Austin press conference detailing the multi-million dollar civil action.

I'd rather see the state take a little "uncivil" action towards the reprobates.

I'd really rather handle it myself, perhaps with a mob group of my fellow 'net afficionados, in a somewhat more convincing manner and with a more lasting deterrent effect than mere civil penalties are likely to provide.

Abbott said Pitylak and Trotter engaged in "reaching out and harassing hundreds of thousands of people across the United States" in a fraudulent e-mail scheme involving misleading subject lines.

The lawsuit contends the two were pitching mortgage refinancing services, although neither Pitylak nor Trotter are licensed in Texas to provide such services. According to Abbott, consumers, after being assured in the e-mail their privacy would be protected, provided personal information which Pitylak and Trotter then sold to other companies for as much as $28 per lead.

Given the number of idiots on the 'net these days (there's a sucker coming online every millisecond) there's some real money to be made in that business. And I'm sure that line of work is a good deal safer than, say, dealing crack on a street corner.

"Hey, kids! Want a career in a low-risk high-potential work-from-home career?"

"We want to make clear that these defendants we are suing today and any other spammers in the State of Texas can't hide behind a computer screen any longer," Abbott said at the press conference. "Sending spam with misleading subject lines violate both federal and state law and there is a very heavy price to pay for that illegal spamming."

That price ought to include a good old-fashioned western-style necktie party. Considering this case is being raised in Texas, I'm surprised at the lack of prosecutorial ferocity.

Posted by Russ at 03:33 PM
December 21, 2004
The Truth Will Out

Via Beth, an insight into the deepest darkest corners of my soul...

You are 72% geek
You are a geek. Good for you! Considering the endless complexity of the universe, as well as whatever discipline you happen to be most interested in, you'll never be bored as long as you have a good book store, a net connection, and thousands of dollars worth of expensive equipment. Assuming you're a technical geek, you'll be able to afford it, too. If you're not a technical geek, you're geek enough to mate with a technical geek and thereby get the needed dough. Dating tip: Don't date a geek of the same persuasion as you. You'll constantly try to out-geek the other.

[Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com]

Ya. It was pretty much a given.

Posted by Russ at 07:35 PM
Putting the "Ass" in "Assessment"

Being humiliated by a computer may be a common experience for some people, but it's pretty rare for me. Today, though, I had to take an online "skill & knowledge assessment" test of my network engineering abilities.

Now, I will grant, written tests of practical, hands-on skills are usually unable to fully capture the essence of the skill being tested. But to make up for that, the test writers seem to have gone off the deep end as far as the difficulty level goes. I haven't sweated so much over a test since I took the CCIE lab test back in '98.

I blew some really easy questions:

The access list command access-list 100 deny ip blocks traffic from which source addresses?

and scored on some of the more difficult ones:

What is the default metric of an EIGRP route redistributed into OSPF without a defined metric?

OK, that wasn't really difficult, but I'm pretty rusty on my Routing Protocols kung-fu — I had to guess. I wish they'd asked me at least one question about ISDN or T1s or 802.11b.

After it was done, the online proctor told me I did OK, but I still feel like an idiot.

Posted by Russ at 12:28 PM | Comments (1)
October 21, 2004
Kosh Says...

Kosh says: Once the avalanche begins, it will be too late for the pebbles to vote.  Be part of the avalanche.  Vote Bush/Cheney in '04.

[Click image for full size.]

John Kerry claims to have foreign leaders on his side. Ha! Who needs France and the U.N. when you can have a Vorlon?

[This message brought to you by the Heroes for Bush project.]

[Also see Sergeant Saunders' endorsement.]

[Update: And don't miss the Heroes for Bush roundup.]

Posted by Russ at 02:04 PM | Comments (1)
October 20, 2004
Craptastic Software

People ask me why I use and recommend the Mozilla browsers, rather than Microsoft's Internet Explorer (or, as I am wont to call it, Internet Exploder.)

I'm a network and internetwork geek. It's been my living for the past 8 years or so. I've been working on the infrastructure of the internet since before 90% of Americans ever even heard of the "information superhighway."

As a professional network geek, I have long despised any Microsoft product that touches the network. They are unreliable, and in most cases are actually dangerous to the stability and security of the network.

All those viruses circulating out there? Zombies, trojan horses, browser hijackers...? Virtually all of them target specific problems in Windows, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, or any combination thereof.

Part of this is simply because the evil SOBs who create the virii know that 90+% of people on the 'net are using Windows; it's what you might call a target-rich environment.

I think the main reason that Windows is exploited is because it's so damned easy. The fact that MS is slow to acknowledge problems and provide fixes doesn't help matters any.

I regularly receive advisories in my e-mail from CERT — the Computer Emergency Readiness Team. Advisories like Technical Cyber Security Alert TA04-293A, the headers of which I reproduce here:

Multiple Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Internet Explorer
Original release date: October 19, 2004
Last revised: --
Source: US-CERT

Systems Affected

Microsoft Windows systems running

  • Internet Explorer versions 5.01 and later; previous, unsupported versions of Internet Explorer may also be affected
  • Programs that use the WebBrowser ActiveX control (WebOC) or MSHTML rendering engine


Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) contains multiple vulnerabilities, the most severe of which could allow a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the user running IE.

And so on.

That is why I run (and recommend) Mozilla on my PCs, and why I use Linux, except for one Windows machine.

Hey — a guy has to have his IL 2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles.

Posted by Russ at 12:27 AM | Comments (5)
October 11, 2004
Up For Grabs

I have six Gmail invitations to pass out. If, like me, you like to use separate e-mail accounts for separate duties, you might like to have one of these.

If you want one, leave a comment. First come, first served.

Posted by Russ at 11:30 AM | Comments (3)
July 16, 2004
I'm a Linux Bigot

Yes, I know Microsoft is an amazing success for the capitalist system. I love capitalism. Hooray for capitalism!

But I suspect their effective monopoly has made them sloppy.

One of my favorite sayings is that "Outlook Express is a security hole with some added e-mail capability." Similar things might be (and have been) said about many of their products.

I'm pretty sure that MS's success is not because of the quality of their products, but rather in spite of the quality. The security problems built into so many MS products are serious enough that I do none of my critical computing work on Windows machines unless there is no alternative. The product of those things I have to do on Windows machines is always stored on a Linux box, or on a detachable external hard drive.

This Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) advisory is just the latest example of why I usually disdain Microsoft products:

Multiple Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows Components and Outlook Express

Read and enjoy. And then update your PC.

Posted by Russ at 09:56 AM | Comments (5)
June 17, 2004
You want it, you got it

It was only a matter of time, I suppose:

     Hackers unleash mobile phones virus

I see no fundamental difference between this behavior, and that of terrorists who blow up oil pipelines.

There's a great deal of irony in the fact that the people who take the most delight in technological vandalism and destruction are themselves most dependent on the various technologies they attack. [Can you picture those losers earning a living by the sweat of their brows? No, neither can I.]

It's as if they are engaging in endless nihilistic bouts of "suicide by proxy."

Let's remove that "by proxy" from the equation. "Shoot on sight" would seem to be the most reasonable policy for dealing with these vermin. It seems to be what they want.

Posted by Russ at 12:36 PM
May 27, 2004
Speaking of Justice...

I hope the previous post made it clear: I am all in favor of extremely harsh sentencing for "cyber criminals," by which I mean "those who would damage or destroy our information infrastructure, and those who would use it to cause harm to people or organizations" (not "androids sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor.")

At long last, via James Joyner, we find a plan that makes sense:

If we execute murderers, why don't we execute the people who write computer worms? It would probably be a better investment.
Hear, hear.

Write a virus, maliciously crack a server, defraud people via e-mail, initiate a denial-of-service attack, spam thousands or millions of mailboxes... it's all the same to me.

I'd take a big tall tree and a short piece of rope
I'd hang 'em up high and let 'em swing 'til the sun goes down
(Charlie Daniels, "Simple Man")

Once upon a time, hanging was a reasonable and prudent punishment for all manner of crimes. We've become more lenient over the years; I don't see how it's helped.

Posted by Russ at 11:07 PM | Comments (3)
Not Enough Justice

The Justice system can work - though not as efficiently or as effectively as we might hope:

BUFFALO, N.Y. - A man who sent 850 million junk e-mails through accounts he opened with stolen identities was sentenced to up to seven years in prison on Thursday.

Atlanta-based Internet service provider Earthlink Inc. said it hoped the sentence and an earlier $16.4 million civil judgment against Howard Carmack will deter other spammers.

"Before spammers send one more spam e-mail, we think they should remember that what happened to Howard Carmack can happen to them," said Karen Casion, Earthlink's assistant general counsel.

Unfortunately, this was mere human Justice.

Had it been a true act of Cosmic Justice, Carmack would have been flattened by a Hormel truck on his way to the courthouse.

Posted by Russ at 10:17 PM | Comments (1)
May 24, 2004
We're #1!

I appear, for the moment, to be #1 on Google for the term "War is Heck."

I also remain at #1 for "Thomas Friedman idiot." Sigh. Maybe I never should have fisked him.

[This Geek Moment has been brought to you by... well, OK, I have no sponsors.]

Posted by Russ at 06:45 PM
February 16, 2004
Wireless Printing

Glenn Reynolds asks:

SO DOES ANYBODY HAVE EXPERIENCE with this wireless printer from HP? I'd like to set up wireless printing, but from what I've heard it's not really ready for primetime, and the reviews on this thing's Amazon page are, um, mixed.

What I'd like is a printer that will simply print from any wi-fi computer in range without any networking setup at all. I don't think that such a beast exists. Am I wrong?

Having spent the bulk of the last 4 years working on wireless networking, maybe I can provide something like an answer.

Printing is typically done one of two ways. The classic way to do it is to use a directly connected printer on your parallel port. This can be awkward if you have more than one computer from which to print, unless you buy an automatic switchbox.

The more modern way is to send your print job across the network to a print server which then feeds the print job to the printer. Modern network printers eliminate the separate server (it's built in, like on this one) and accept the print job directly.

But that's neither here nor there. The question is, can a network printer be used without any networking setup?


Specifically, to use a wireless printer like the HP referred to in Glenn's post, you must have the same networking configuration you would have if you were on a wired Local Area Network. Wireless networking itself requires some additional configuration, but only because you're using radio to replace the copper wire, and radio can be notoriously fickle.

[Aside: an old joke from my Electronic Warfare days:

Newbie: "How does radio work?"
Old-timer: "You've heard of AM and FM, right? Well, radio works because of FM."
Newbie: "FM?"
Old-timer: "F***ing Magic."]


So once you have a wireless network established, it should act like any wired LAN. Printing configuration is then layered on top of that, just like any other network application -- browser, e-mail, instant messaging -- you name it. Every such app requires some degree of configuration; it can be hidden (like with most browsers) but there's no escaping it completely.

To print without any networking setup at all (well, minimal setup) would depend on the existence of a wireless link from the computers' parallel ports to the printer in question. Those computers would have to link to a wireless equivalent of something like an automatic switchbox.

Is it possible? Sure. It could be done right now - and for all I know, it's already been done.

Is it cost effective? Probably not. In addition to the cost of the printer (already a given, of course), you would need to buy the peripherals: the switchbox, and a parallel-port wireless "dongle" for each computer that would be originating any print jobs. And then you would still have to do a bit of configuration on the parallel wireless connection -- you'd have to set the radio frequency, for instance. If it were to operate in one of the existing bands (such as the 2.4GHz range, where 802.11b hangs out) you'd have to worry about interference issues.

In sum, there's no easy way to do it.

When I buy my next printer (I think it's time to make the leap to a laser printer) I'll probably just set up a linux box to do print serving for the rest of the network. Adding wireless into the mix is an extra layer of complexity that, for me, isn't really necessary.

Oh, and... I'm not keen on "all in one" boxes like the HP Glenn point to. Call me a stodgy old traditionalist, but I like a scanner to scan, a fax machine to fax, and a printer to print. I've always had a deep suspicion that a "jack of all trades" box would be master of none. The cliché could be wrong, but that's not the way to bet.

UPDATE: There are likely to be many possible alternative methods. One occurred to me just five minutes after I posted this. Why not have a wireless-capable printer simply sniff the airwaves for anything that looks like a print job? I can think of one main reason why not; it's that nasty cost factor again. You'd have to, in essense, build an Access Point into the printer, and add the software to do the sniffing. Manufacturers would balk, I think, because there'd be no profit margin on adding that capability. But that's just a guess.

Posted by Russ at 04:08 PM | Comments (3)
January 22, 2004
Quote of the Day

With regard to computers:

Interfaces are ok for newcomers, but people who actually know what they're doing use a magnetised needle and a steady hand.
Mike MacCana, on the linux-elitists mailing list

Posted by Russ at 08:18 AM
November 26, 2003
Odd Spam

I have, over the past couple days, received the oddest spam.

There is no HTML or other code in the mail - just ordinary plain old text. (I read my mail, both personal and work, with mutt, which is a plain-text mail reader for Unix/Linux - hidden or obfuscated code in mail is readily apparent, and harmless to me.) (Yes, HTML mail is evil. Stop using it.)

There is no actual advertising in the mail. There's not a sales pitch of any sort whatsoever in it. Here is a verbatim copy of the latest:

Page 39
again. But there are other things besides burglars that are discovered in empty houses where lights are seen moving."

"You mean coiners," said Oswald at once. "I wonder what the reward is for setting the police on their track?"

Dicky thought it ought to be something fat, because coiners are always a desperate gang; and the machinery they make the coins with is so heavy and handy for knocking down detectives.

Then it was tea-time, and we went in; and Dora and H.O. had clubbed their money together and bought a melon; quite a big one, and only a little bit squashy at one end. It was very good, and then we washed the seeds and made things with them and with pins and cotton. And nobody said any more about watching the house next door.

Like I said, rather odd. I'm guessing that the body of the mail is an attempt to get past Bayesian filters. But no sales pitch? Weird.

The strangest bit, though, is that the "Subject" line of the mail contains my last name and one of my previous mailing addresses, followed by the only thing that indicates a spammish nature, the phrase "Preemptive Loan Statement."

I did a whois lookup on the sender's domain. Yep -- big-time spammers.

These spammers are getting to be pretty bizarre. I wonder if I'm paranoid enough. What I'd really like to know is: who sold them my e-mail and snail-mail addresses?

Death's too good for them all... but I'll settle for dismemberment if I have to.

Posted by Russ at 08:24 AM | Comments (1)
September 17, 2003
Engineering Question

I have two uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) for my home PCs and network.

Now, with Isabel on it's way, the odds the power will be knocked out are good enough to bet on. A near certainty, if history is any guide. Hence, everyone's rush to the stores for batteries.

So, not being an electrical engineer... I wonder how long a fully-charged UPS would power a radio? A table lamp?

More importantly, how long would it be before the UPS's alarm beeping would drive me insane?

Posted by Russ at 08:22 PM | Comments (1)
September 12, 2003
Who's [Still] Your [Internet] Daddy?

And now, a brief interruption for some shameless self-congratulation:

Yes, I passed that re-cert test I mentioned yesterday.

There are currently 97 "Service Provider" CCIEs walking the face of the planet. I'm the sixth of that group.

All your modem are belong to us.

Posted by Russ at 05:30 PM | Comments (6)
September 09, 2003
Tech Support

I am, by profession, a customer support engineer. Not just a "Hi, how can we help you" phone answerer, but one of the guys who digs into the heart of a technical matter and finds an answer when your network falls on its butt. [I used to do this by phone; now I do it via the web. I mainly write about technical problems and solutions, and help develop web-based tools for customer use.]

Along the way, I've learned a thing or two about what constitutes good service and tech support, and I really appreciate it when I get it on those [rare] occasions when I need it.

Today was one such day. My site has been moved to a new server, apparently, and suddenly I could not view comments, or even log in to the site to do updates, maintenance, anything. A particular Perl module had not been installed.

I sent an e-mail to my hosting company's support address. Within minutes, the module had been installed, functionality restored, and the tech courteously replied by mail and informed me that the problem had been resolved. Not 45 minutes, not 30, or even 15. Within 3 or 4 minutes.

So, like I said, I appreciate good support when I get it. Kudos and thanks to Michael at LiquidWeb. These folks have had my business for almost five years, and with a track record of service like this, they'll be keeping it.

Posted by Russ at 02:50 PM
August 29, 2003

This is the face of tech evil?


This dirtbag, Jeffrey Lee Parson, arrested in connection with the recent virus-ish attack on computers worldwide, looks like the kind of guy who should have been out playing football. But no, he had to go and vandalize other peoples' property. I wonder what the maximum prison term for such a crime would be?

I don't know what the law actually says, but I recommend a speedy trial followed by an equally speedy execution... pour encourager les autres.

What? You think that's a bit too harsh?

Look, I work in tech support - I see the havoc human debris like this can cause, the damage they do, and the lengths to which businesses and other users must go to protect themselves.

These modern vandals often claim that they're just doing it to point out vulnerabilities in computers and networks, all to "make our systems more secure."

My, my - how philanthropic of them.

OK, fine - if that's the case, then they can go to work for Symantec or McAfee, or perhaps start their own consulting companies. They could deal with the producers of the systems they target, and make a pile of cash in the process, all nice and legal.

But that's not their purpose. They do it to gain status with their fellow vandals - no more, no less.

Hanging's too good for them.

Posted by Russ at 05:25 PM | Comments (1)
May 23, 2003
He almost gets it

Today while dissecting the various StarTrek offerings over the past 30-odd years, the indispensible James Lileks bleats:

In the last few years [Deep Space 9] just got better and better - a four-year story arc, complex politics, exceptionally acted secondary characters & villains. I still think it’s the gold standard for Star Trek shows.
Well, of course it was. DS9 was a shameless ripoff of Babylon 5.

Posted by Russ at 08:56 AM
May 18, 2003
A death in the family

Thursday, my laptop computer died a horrendous death. The hard drive self-destructed. Absolute total loss. Not even slightly recoverable (without spending oodles of cash.)

I say "my", but it really belongs to my employer, and was issued to me for work use.

That's not to say I can't use it for non-work things in my copious free time (there are restrictions - no file sharing software permitted, for instance), but it is mainly what I spend all my salaried time staring at. It's also my principle blogging platform, since it's rather difficult to relax in my recliner in the evenings with a desktop computer in my lap.

I only had a few files I hadn't backed up recently - a few pictures, my bookmarks file, a spreadsheet I was working on. The latter sucks - I've been trying to recreate three days worth of lost work. No fun.


Posted by Russ at 09:48 AM