TechnoMagician's Weblog
(aka Tim Aiello)
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Paypal Security Measures Scam Email

I received an email today that appeared to be from PayPal and appeared to be very legit. However, I was a little suspicious that my SPAM filter picked it up as a low probability of spam. It had the subject "security measures" and was addressed not to the actual email address I signed up with PayPal but to an email address that appears one of my websites along with a PayPal banner.

When I looked at the source it indeed still looked pretty legit. All images and style sheets were actually legitimate PayPal references in the HTML except for one thing - the link the email pointed out to click. The displayed URL was fine but the actual underlying target was some other bogus site. I entered the displayed URL manually in a browser and there is no such page on the PayPal website. So I deleted the email and thanked my excellent spam filter for catching that.

So be aware out there especially if you clicked on the link and entered your userid/password.

9:59:53 AM    

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Google AdSense charity ads

The AdSense FAQ mentions that until Google AdSense crawls your site to enable it to determine what ads to display they may serve public service ads. I've seen the exact same charity and political ads on my sites when I initially put the AdSense code up but within a few hours that changed:

Self knowledge. Aaron Swartz has published a cool toy on the Google Weblog that lets you preview the ads you'd have published on your site if you signed up for AdSense. Unfortunately, mine totally suck, they're all for weblogging tools. I find that odd considering how little time I spend going meta. Talking Points Memo gets all ads for charity, and Rebecca Blood gets political and current events ads. I'm disappointed ... what does Google know that I don't? [ Daily]
12:02:42 PM    

Monday, June 23, 2003

I've been playing around with Google AdSense ads on some of my websites. I'm a little dissappointed that they only offer banner size ads. One is the regular 468x60 traditional banner and the other is the 120x600 Skyscrapper. I know they are not really image banners and appear textish but they still look like and feel like a banner. Very un-googlish if you ask me.

I am kind of pleased that they automatically show ads based on the content of the site they are displayed on. Worked very well for the couple I tested. Not sure how they will work on this blog but interesting to try out anyway.

A regular banner should show up here:

Update: I've since removed the banner as I have a banner running down the left side now and this banner was interferring with my current experiment.

12:22:50 PM    

Sunday, June 22, 2003
Sympatico Open SMTP Servers

This article verifies what I just found earlier this week. That is that Sympatico had open SMTP servers and that they were on some black lists as detected by my spam filter.

Since I was expected email from a friend using Sympatico earlier this week, he called saying that he was having trouble sending mail. Said he was getting a strange error saying that the mail server was too busy and couldn't except his outgoing email through SMTP. I said, I'd take a look at it and didn't think that I probably shouldn't be able to reach the SMTP server from outside of Sympatico. But I could telnet to it and received the same error message from the SMTP server. Seems maybe they were disallowing any SMTP usage while they solved the problem or they were really busy as can be spewing out spam. Either way, I checked a few days later and couldn't reach the SMTP server from outside Sympatico and email has started flowing from this person without being detected as spam.

12:22:58 AM    

Saturday, June 21, 2003
Rogers Cable Internet Update #9

Ok, from now on I'm only going to make these Rogers Cable Internet Update posts to the Roger Cable Outages category here so as not to annoy regular readers with this constant babble.

It seems they MAY have fixed the problem sometime last night as the connection was stable from late last evening to around 4am this morning. And then things were intermittent from then till 6am and then nothing until about 1pm. I called around 10:13am and spoke to Pam (Rep #B650) to check on the status of ticket WSR01143572. She said it had been closed and I said really, I'm still not working. She wanted to go through the normal crap of checking my PC etc. but I just said forget it. Now at about 1pm the connection is back up. Probably not for long because they probably haven't actually fixed anything but rather looked at it during the night and determined incorrectly that there was actually no problem.

1:17:25 PM    

Friday, June 20, 2003
Rogers Cable Internet Update #8

As I predicted in my earlier Rogers Cable Update the net has pretty much gone to crap. Net was down again from 5pm-6pm while I was trying to finish up some work for the day. I figured I might as well call Rogers and let them know and hope that others from the area have called in. Of course the first rep I got on the line was Daren (Rep #E206) and he was able to see my modem however I couldn't get on the net. He suggested I power cycle the modem but I had to get off the phone with him so I did it shortly after that. Of course the modem wouldn't get reconnected so I was hosed.

The second time I called back I got Raheem (Rep #E590) and of course as soon as we got through the introductory crap the modem came online. I told him about the intermittency but of course everything looked fine to him. I said I still couldn't reach anything on the net so we tried some things and in the course of trying the usual stuff he detected intermittent problems in the area. Finally a rep who seems to know what he was doing however it was mostly because he was patient enough to monitor things as we were fumbling around trying other stuff. Of course usually I try to get off the phone quicker as I know its a problem out on the street that they just can't detect. This time at least he was convinced it was a problem out on the street so raised a ticket to the network engineers (ticket num: WSR01143572). Now it is just a matter of time waiting for some bozo to go flip and switch and reset something. At least that is usually what happens.

6:56:16 PM    

Rogers Cable Internet Update #7

Since the major problems in April and May, June has been relatively smooth sailing. I say relatively because for the most part the connection has been up with only small minute or two outages here and there. However I've noticed over the last couple of days that there have been more outages and for slightly longer periods of time. For example, yesterday June 19th, there were intermittent outages between 1:30pm-2:00pm, 9:45pm-10pm (almost completely out). Today there were outages between 6:30am-7:00am, 12:15pm-2:15pm (almost entirely down). Good thing it was solid from 10am-noon when I was in an online Webex meeting. And now it is intermittent again while I'm writing this around 2:45pm. This is no doubt a sign that I'll be having problems over the weekend.

There isn't much sense in calling Rogers about this as I won't be able to convince them to watch the line for a while as they don't understand what intermittent means and even if they do see something they'll just want to send someone to check the cable modem instead of checking the router where the problem is no doubt showing itself for something like the 20th time in the past year.

2:50:42 PM    

Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Poker Computer Program That Bluffs - Trivial

I could be wrong but writing a poker computer program that bluffs seems like a trivial task to me.

A Poker Computer Program That Bluffs. Roland Piquepaille writes "In "Poker playing computer will take on the best," the Edmonton Journal says that there's a new poker player in town "that never sweats, never gets tired, never tips a hand and can still bluff with the best of them. University of Alberta artificial intelligence researchers bet their new poker computer program will be the best player in the world, perhaps within a year." And why will it the best player? Because it bluffs. "You have to bluff," says Jonathan Schaeffer, who heads up the university's Games Research Group and who already has a world-champion checkers computer program under his belt. "If you do not bluff, you're predictable. If you're predictable, you can be exploited." This kind of program could be used whenever you have to deal with imperfect information, like buying a new car. You'll find more details and references in this summary. " [Techdirt]
11:39:54 PM    

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Just some interesting stuff from Jon Udell (as per usual):

The WASTE affair. waste Once upon a time (1998) I prototyped a P2P system based on two simple ideas:

  1. A local webserver implemented in a scripting language. ... [Jon's Radio]
1:12:58 PM    

Friday, June 06, 2003
MathJournal is certainly slick. We were looking for something like this 3 years ago for QuikkTUTOR. I hope they haven't fallen into the trap however in thinking that this kind of thing is only useful on a Tablet PC on WindowsXP like a lot of other similar programs seem to do. I have a perfectly good Graphire tablet that works perfectly fine on a number of OS's (including XP) so why don't we just make this stuff generic and not specific to a Tablet PC.
11:06:03 AM    

Thursday, June 05, 2003

It is amazing how many sniping programs and services there are available for bidding on auctions at the very last second. Brent mentioned his friend Dave's called OmegaBid.

I don't see why eBay and other auction sites don't put in measures to deal with type of bidding. Its pretty simple, just make the end time a bit fuzzy. That is, instead of ending the auction at a specific time have it end randomly say within a 15-20 minute period. I think it would make bidding and the use of all these online auctions much more enjoyable to the average user. Not to mention make these sniping programs and services useless. Sorry Dave.

4:01:19 PM    

Joel has a good post and raves about VMWare. Here is a short snippet of what he wrote:

Last Friday afternoon, you may have noticed that this site was down for 10 minutes or so while we rebooted the server a few dozen times to apply the latest Microsoft patches, flash the bios, reseat some memory, etc. It occurred to me: what if, instead of running a conventional server, you ran your server in a VM? So everything my server does would actually be running in a virtual machine on the server. That has five interesting implications:

  1. I could make a snapshot of the complete machine state. If anyone hacks into the machine, installing trapdoors or defacing the website, a single click gets us back to a known-good condition. The catch: you can't keep any frequently-changing state on the server. Easy fix: run another VM as a file server for your frequently-changing state (like web log files, mailboxes, etc.).
  2. You can split up functions among different VMs without buying more hardware. Isolate your mail server from your web server from your DNS server, all on one machine.
  3. When I need to install an OS patch or even an entirely new operating system, rather than rebooting, I would simply apply the patch to a new, identical copy of the virtual machine running on my desktop computer. I could copy the new VM up to the server, stop the old VM and start the new VM at the same time. Net effect: you can replace the whole operating system on a live server with only seconds of down time, zero risk that the new OS won't come up, and only one physical box.
  4. If anything goes wrong and you need to swap in different hardware, all you need is some kind of box that will run VMWare. Solutions like Ghost won't quite work because the ghosted image may not have the right device drivers for the replacement hardware.
  5. Everything runs emulated, so you're paying for all this convenience with a lot of CPU cycles.

Since I've been running the current version of VMWare in a similar type of configuration for the last year or so I thought I would comment on these 5 items.

  1. I've been doing this with the current version of VMWare.  If you have enough disk space (which shouldn't be a problem these days with the cost of disk), you can make a copy of the VM image and keep it around for safe keeping as your own snapshot.
  2. This is one very good reason I started using VMWare years ago. A word of warning however if you are running a Windows network and domains. Make sure you have a domain controller outside the VM environment otherwise there are just too many headaches with the domain not being available when your playing around with the machine hosting your VM's.
  3. I haven't tried that and I suspect that you'd run into a bunch of things conflicting depending on what the boxes are doing etc. Instead what I've done in the past is change the virtual disk mode to "undoable" so that if the upgrade or whatever goes wrong you can just back out to the previous state. If all goes right then you can save the changes and continue on your way. This doesn't allow you to leave the original system up and operating and then make the 10 second switch but it does allow you to upgrade without worrying at all about frying the machine.
  4. Another reason I thought of VMWare originally although I haven't tried proving this just yet. I suspect it will work fine but still needs testing. Pretty easy to test though. Just load up another box with VMWare and copy a VM image over and boot up and see what happens.
  5. Most definitely. I've been able to seriously overload a box with 4-5 VM OS's running. Mind you things are slow but depending on what services they're serving up it doesn't matter much.

VMWare is also great for any developer that needs to test their stuff on a number of different OS's with different setups. Its just way easier than doing the Ghost image restore every other minute.

12:56:37 AM    

I can tell you by direct experience that there is absolutely no value in ValueClick clickthroughs. They are kings at sending absolutely NoValue clicks through to ones website. I'm pretty sure they were about a thousand times worse than banner ads when banner ads were practically useless in the good old days.

ValueClick buys Web search marketer [CNET]
12:13:50 AM    

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
2000 lb Monster - AOL

I guess Justin Frankel was very naive in thinking this wouldn't happen while being controlled by a 2,000 lb monster named AOL:

Nullsoft founder says he's had it with AOL. Winamp and Gnutella author Justin Frankel says corporate control is killing his freedom of expression after AOL Time Warner pulls his latest program from the Web. [CNET]

It just struck me that .plan files have been used in a weblog sort of way well before weblogs existed. Unless of course someone would like to correct me on that. The most popular .plan I know of is John Carmack of id software (Quake fame). Looks like these days it is nicely rolled up here.

And you can be assured that anyone still using a .plan file instead of an actual weblog is a real geek!!!

6:55:52 PM    

Monday, June 02, 2003

There is absolutely no surprise here. I'm still convinced that this guy had nothing to do with any success of Oracle.

Ellison's Second Network Computing Company To Shut Down. Back in October of 1999, I was confused when Larry Ellison announced plans to launch a company called New Internet Computing (NIC) to sell "internet terminal" computers. Besides the fact that many other such attempts at selling people web terminals with no hard drive had failed miserably, Ellison had already started another company, similarly named Network Computing Inc (NCI) that morphed its way into Liberate. Lots of people then expressed surprise when Ellison named a journalist with no business experience to run the new company. Well, three and a half years later (and under new management), the company has admitted that they never got anywhere near their expected sales volume and are shutting down. While it's easy to point out flaws in retrospect, many of these were pretty obvious at the time the company launched. Most people don't want a device that limits their options - and many don't feel comfortable knowing their data is "out there". Also, without widespread always-on internet connections, it's important for people to have local access to applications and data. The response to this was always that widespread always-on connectivity was just around the corner. However, if the people could predict that, they should also have been able to predict the fact that computer components were going to get increasingly cheaper, to the point where it would be possible to offer a fully functional computer (with a hard drive) for about the same price as this company wanted to sell machines without a hard drive. [Techdirt]
6:40:59 PM    

For the first time, based on Joel's comments, I might be inclined to give Mozilla a try. I also got a kick out of what he says about Netscape/AOL. A couple snippets from his write-up follow:

Where it gets interesting, is, approximately, today, because, for the first time, the Mozilla Firebird browser has finally caught up with Internet Explorer. After downloading virtually every Mozilla release over the last three years, this is the first browser I'm actually going to make my default web browser.What about AOL?


My highest priority would be to implement Mozilla as a COM control that supports the same embedding interfaces as IE, so that the AOL programmers can switch to Gecko. Oh, look! There is one Netscape employee, Adam Lock, working on this! And he says, “be advised that these ActiveX related projects are my own personal efforts and have absolutely nothing to do with my employer. I work on them when and if I have the time.” Yo, Netscape employees! This poor sod Adam Lock is working in his spare time to save all your jobs. Wake up.

[source: Joel on Software]
10:13:59 AM    

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