Spaghetti Wiring

When you work in a software development shop, spaghetti code is most certainly frowned upon. What about spaghetti wiring?

[Spaghetti wiring]

So this was the remains of the small electrical fire that occurred 15 minutes before I arrived at the office today… the charged main circuit to the room that houses most of our developers, their computers, and the all-important Ice Box.

Do you think this is enough to convince the building management that the building’s wiring needs professional help? No, unfortunately, I think we’ll still have to fight them to get adequate electrical capacity and safety. 🙁


Stop using backup email spooling

Here’s a great opinion piece from the blog of my DNS provider entitled: Want to reduce email spam to your mail server? Stop using backup spooling.

It is with regret that we have come to the following conclusion, but here it is: Offsite backup SMTP spoolers and backup mail exchangers have become worse than useless.

The problem is spam and the software that delivers it exploiting the weak authentication schemes inherent in the SMTP protocol itself. It used to be an annoyance, then it became a concern, it is now an epidemic and has resulted in the death of the offsite backup MX handler.

The author then goes on to explain what the problem is and why you won’t really miss your backup spooling. It’s a very interesting point of view (in a good way) that’s worth considering.

FreeBSD Sysadmin


[bsdtalk logo]I just discovered yesterday that there’s a BSD podcast out there. Awesome! It’s called bsdtalk, and has the tagline: “Talking about the BSD family of free operating systems.”

I’ve been using Linux for over a year and a half now, and I’m starting to miss my BSD. This might push me back…

FreeBSD Linux Sysadmin

A Hacker’s Vacation

[Head in the clouds]I took this week off work to enjoy a Hacker’s Vacation. That is, I’m planning to spend a lot of time hacking on my computer.

It’s more than that, actually. I desperately need some time to put my life back in order and catch up on things that I’ve been neglecting, such as housework, email, this website, hard drive spring cleaning, my Tchou Tchou’s website, the Swing website, a new server, and various little projects I have going on. Slowly, I’m getting parts of it all done. I’ll have to carry on some of the tasks later, but at least this week will give me a good foundation to work with.

The biggest thing I want to hack on is my brain. As I mentioned above, I’ve got a new server and I need to spend some time learning how it works. I’m intimately familiar with FreeBSD, but since it’s a virtual hosting solution, I’m constrained at this point to use Debian GNU/Linux on the new server. Since I’ve been using Ubuntu (which is based on Debian) on my desktop for over a year, it is fairly easy to manage. But there are lots of server-related configurations and tasks that I need to nail down for good security and management.

For general Linux information goodness, I’m following a set of tutorials from the IBM Developer Network entitled the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) exam prep, described as a “series of tutorials to help you learn Linux fundamentals and prepare for system administrator certification”. I’m not intending to write the exams—just learn the material. I’m finding that the tutorials give very good background information, covering things in enough detail to explain the process. I can then, of course, delve into the man pages and other documentation to learn more.

I’m enjoying it so far.

China Tech

Entering Chinese Characters into a Computer

Here’s an interesting article on how Chinese computer users enter characters into their computers. I’m guessing that some of you may wonder how it’s done.

Linux Sysadmin

vnStat Network Traffic Monitor

I just discovered vnStat, a network traffic monitor for Linux. Here’s a blurb from the website:

vnStat is a network traffic monitor for Linux that keeps a log of daily network traffic for the selected interface(s). vnStat isn’t a packet sniffer. The traffic information is analyzed from the /proc -filesystem, so vnStat can be used without root permissions.

It will tell you how much inbound and outbound bandwidth that your Linux machine is using—hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. That’s handy.

By inspection, I’ve been able to tell that it runs like so: it installs itself as a cron job that runs every five minutes to update its internal database. Then you can type vnstat on the command line to give you the stats.

I’d post some sample output, but since I’ve just started running it, there’s nothing to show. I’m glad to have found it, though.

Rant Tech

More Word Processor Bashing

As you may know, I really hate word processors and how they work. I much prefer document formatters or text processors. Anyway, on this forum thread, second post, I read something that made me nod and laugh. Thanks Gomer_X:

I get so frustrated with Word type wordprocessors (OO Writer included), that I resort to writing stuff in HTML. At least then I get what I want. Every time I have to deal with Word’s helpful attempts at doing bulleting/numbering for me, I want to slit my wrists. I mean it can’t be that hard. It’s certainly not intuitive.

As a bonus, following a link to the Ubuntu documentation project later in the thread, I came across these two excellent resources for technical authors:

FreeBSD Linux Python

Ubuntu + Python + BitTorrent trouble

I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced trouble with the Python that comes installed with Ubuntu when trying to use the official Python BitTorrent client. (Note that Ubuntu comes with a Python BitTorrent client, but it’s completely different than the official one. Seems like a rewrite. I don’t know its origin.) Anyway, the official eventually hits some error that screws up the screen drawing, and eventually stops working and begins sucking up 100% of the CPU.

I’ve seen lots of discussion regarding different clients and different OSes with regard to the 100% CPU usage. But I don’t think this is related. Now my intuition told me that the fault lies with Ubuntu’s Python installation. The above problems occur under Hoary and Breezy, and I’m using Python 2.4.2 of the Ubuntu base installation and BitTorrent 4.0.4 downloaded from the BitTorrent website.

So in an experiment last night, I grabbed the sources from and compiled my own Python 2.4.2 from source. So far, the official BitTorrent client hasn’t cracked or croaked when running under this Python. So there is something weird about Ubuntu’s Python installation. I wonder what’s different about it.

Update: Well, I spoke too soon. After two days of running soundly, the client gave up the ghost just like before. So, now what? I guess I’ll go back to FreeBSD.

Copyright Tech

Stealing bandwidth through inline linking

I found out today that another blogger out there is using a photo that I took:

This, in itself isn’t completely a big deal, but the way that the image is being used means that I’m paying for the bandwidth to show my image on her page. This is called inline linking or hotlinking and is considered bandwidth theft.

I’m not sure how I feel about it though. The good thing is that when a reader of her blog mouses over the image, they will see the hyperlink pointing back to my site. I’m not sure this was intentional or not. I’m not sure of the intentions of this blogger at all, because the site’s not in English.

Any thoughts about what I should do? I know there are ways to restrict the serving of links to only users coming from my main site. I’ve considered serving up a different image with a nasty message to readers of her blog. I mean, when she made the inline link, she gave me the power to substitute any image I want, right?

Google Image searching is partly to blame for this. I’ve been seeing a lot of visitors come to my site via a search for “clock”. So this might only get worse in the future. But for now, I’m just chillin’ about it.

Update: Following the discussion in the comments, I’ve marked the photo with a copyright notice and my name. So at least my name gets out there.

Update again: Yikes!!! I took a serious look at my webserver logs tonight and found out some pretty interesting things besides this one blogger using my clock image.

  • In the past 8 days, I’ve served the image 1496 times for a total of 40 MB! (That’s 7.44% of the total hits on my site. In comparison, the header image of my blog has been served 1134 times, or 5.64% of the hits.)
  • It’s being used in about 37 different blogs and message forums. And someone has even incorporated it as the background image of a weblog theme (!).
  • It’s the last image on the first page of a Google Image search for “clock”.

This last item caused the previous two, especially since it’s the clearest-looking image of a whole analog clock presented on the results page. Check out this screenshot.

In other words, I got screwed big time. So, I’ve implemented the robots.txt filtering that Jim suggested. This won’t do anything until Google and others recrawl my site. So, to stop my leaking bandwidth, I’ve renamed the file so no one can find it. This will break all the webpages out there that inline-link to the image. This will also break my weblog entry about the clock. (I thought about fixing my code to point to the renamed file, but Google Images would show my page with the corrected image, so people could still grab it.) In about a month, after Google drops my image from its search results, I’ll fix my code and restore my page to normal. Hopefully, thereafter, the problem won’t return.

What surprised me most about all this is how prevalent this practice is: people on web forums and weblog hosting services use inline linking a lot to spice up their entries. This happens because they either have no hosting options, or it’s just too easy to copy and paste a link from Google Images. They probably have no idea that this behaviour makes them such bad neighbours on the Web.


A new FreeBSD logo has been announced

The new FreeBSD logo has been announced. Check it out:

[New FreeBSD Logo]