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December 2004 Archives

December 1, 2004

Really stupid spammers

I got over 50 spam posts to my blog yesterday. The thing is, 95% of them were from a really stupid spammer. It looks like someone is using a bot network to post to MT blogs (because I get hit with the same message from lots of different IPs), but the message doesn’t advertise anything, and doesn’t contain any URLs. It looks like the spammer left the default / template blog post message and forgot to fill in a targeted message to advertise whatever they are trying to scam / sell. Here’s the message that is being posted over and over in my blog comments:

You are invited to visit the sites about… Thanks!!

It’s amusing to think that someone is actually paying for this (i.e., spammers typically hire bot networks for this kind of thing, so the spammer is paying for this, but isn’t getting any advertising at all), but it’s also sad to think that the stuff is so easy these days that any idiot can do it.

December 3, 2004

"I'm lazy and stupid"

It’s not infrequent that we get “I don’t want to to my homework” e-mails to the LAM/MPI mailing lists. For example, students ask if anyone has parallel solutions to the N-queens problem, or if anyone has code they can share to solve sparse matrices in parallel, etc. Dead giveaways in these kinds of mails are the fact that they come from Yahoo! e-mail addresses (or other free e-mail sites such as hotmail), the timing is usually around the end of the Fall or Spring semester (i.e., it’s a “final project”), and asking for solutions to common or computer-science-specific kinds of problems.

Today, my boss got one of these e-mails sent directly to him. It’s unique in its audacity:

From: ...withheld for privacy... <aaaaaaaa@iitg.ernet.in>
Date: December 3, 2004 7:55:17 AM EST
Subject: need your help in C++ programming

Respected Sir,
            I am an undergraduate of dept. of mechanical engineering at
IIT Guwahati, INDIA.I passed through your site and tried to programmed a
program but could not succeed and that's why I need your help in C++
programming. The program i have to write is:

Please write a sparse matrix C++ class template. It should have the
usual accessors and  mutators and overloaded operators. Ideally, the
internal storage would be as condensed arraybut you are welcome to use STL
containers as well. Please write a unit test for your implementation
as well which I will be able to run to assess your code. Make sure that
your code compiles with the standard ISO/ANSI C++ compiler settings

       I request you to write this program for me.

While this is somewhat comical, it’s truly sad that:

  • The guy clearly has no sense of ethics
  • The guy is so stupid to ask a professor at a different university to write his homework for him

My boss forwarded this e-mail on to his department. Hopefully, he’ll learn the consequences of such actions.

December 6, 2004


In talking to one of my friends the other day about the current coaching “situation” (ahem) at Notre Dame, she asked me the following question:

Do you have the “out” clause for Notre Dame in your contract?  It’s in mine and I’m padding the resume with lies while I’m waiting for them to call me…

An excellent point! While my friend is currently researching medical solutions for AIDS and other nasty diseases, I think she’d make an excellent first female coach of the ND men’s football team.

December 8, 2004

Here's to you, Johnney

More and more stories of e-voting problems from this past election are now emerging. One North Carolina county is going to have a second election because so many votes were lost. Slashdot just carried a story about a programmer who wrote (or modified?) a touch-screen voting system that could silently alter votes.

This stuff scares the bejesus out of me. The only people who want e-voting with no possibility of definitive records being kept are:

  • vendors who produce the e-voting systems
  • policy-makers who have fielded such systems

I won’t speculate here on their rationale why they feel that a computer does not need stringent and verifiable record keeping, but I will say that the entire computer science community (as well as many others) has just about unamimously said that this is a Bad Idea.

In other news, Branden (whose dancing name is “Ginger”) just started a blog. Woot! Welcome to the wonderous world of MoveableType.

Mmm… blogging yummyness.

December 13, 2004

Technology gives us free time

Wow — how’s this for suckage? Another volunteer was installing a pair of DSL modems at my church to connect the LAN in the main building to a building about 800+ feet away (i.e., one modem at the main building and another at the end of a dormant twisted pair that was laid out to the remote building several years ago):

One thing that was driving me nuts with the DSL installation was the fact that the head DSL modem would not work when the EH end was plugged directly into the Dell switch with a straight through CAT-5 cable. I got it to work by plugging the cable from the Dell switch into a small hub I brought along then pluging the DSL modem into this hub. I thought it strange that I was getting a connection from the Dell switch to my hub using a straight-thru cable. Usually one uses either a crossover cable or the “stscking” connection on the hub to connect a switch to a downstream hub. Unless, thought I, that the Dell Switch is auto-sensing and reverses the input & output connections to accomodate either a straight-thru or a crossover cable.

A trip to the Dell website confirmed that auto-sensing is a “feature” of this switch.

I called Black Box, who made the DSL modems and talked to a tech about this. He said that the modem is auto-sensing, too, so two auto-sensing devices are fighting each other and never figure out which polarity is which. Inserting my “stupid” hub in line, settled the issue in that both the Dell switch and the DSL modem saw a regular hub connection.

The KISS solution is to simply leave a hub in the line.

I’m glad it wasn’t me!

December 16, 2004

So you're not supposed to fry the hats?

Dad gave me an early Christmas present — two more 6’ bookshelves in my office. I needed them badly — I only had one before, and it was massively overful. Now with a total of three bookshelves, they’re over half full. Here’s some interesting stats:

  • 51 IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Processing
  • 10 ACM Disributed Computing
  • 15 ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology
  • 19 Linux Journals
  • 48 IEEE Computer magazines
  • 33 IEEE Spectrum magazines
  • 12 IEEE Potentials magazines
  • 12 Cluster World magazines
  • 8 Robert Ludlum books
  • 14 Dale Brown books
  • 17 Clive Cussler books
  • 18 Jon Sanford books
  • 12 Orson Scott Card books
  • 11 Frank Herbert books (including some written by his son, Frank Jr.)
  • 7 Lee Child books
  • 10 Tom Clancy books
  • 6 phone books

Sprint finally processed my slamming claim. I got a measley $30 back from them (there was well over $100 in charges).

Thanks for nothing, Sprint. You guys slammed me and then took my money. Slimy, slimy, slimy.

I was doing some routine computer maintenance work at the church where I volunteer yesterday and one of the other volunteers (a 91 year old woman) gave me two Christmas stockings for the girls that she had knitted herself. They are the coolest things I have ever seen — they have the girls’ names on them and “2004” (the year that they were born, obviously).

Awesome stuff!

December 27, 2004

The eyes are the windows to the skull, my friend.

I installed a new version of MoveableType (finally) to combat a not-so-huge problem for WOPR (having to slimy slimevertisers), but it needed to be fixed. Kudos to the MT people for resopnding quickly as soon as they discovered the problem and releasing a new version to fix it.

Tracy’s family was here for Christmas (mom, dad, brother-n-sister-in-law, and [great-]gramma. Because of the massive snowstorm that hit Indiana, it was quite the 4 day ordeal for Harold to drive to pick up [great-]gramma from Illinois (it should have been a 2 day trip), but they got here in the end, so it all worked out.

It was nice having everyone around, and the munchkins got to meet a bunch more of their family. They made out like bandits with presents (not that they are aware of it) — lots and lots and lots of toys and clothes and things (woo hoo! Less for us to buy {;)}).

We finally hired a nanny. She lives here in Louisville and will be coming in M-F to take care of the munchkins during the day. She’s been coming in on and off during the holidays so that the kids don’t forget who she is. She didn’t work for us enough in 2004 to worry about taxes and things (i.e., we didn’t come anywhere close to the required federal/state minimums), but we’re working on all the Paperwork and Stuff for 2005.

Turns out that there is a veritable boatload of forms, identification numbers, and other miscellaneous filings that you have to do when you formally pay for domestic help. I had to file for 3 different federal and state identification numbers this morning, for example. Since she’ll formally be our employee, we have to pay medicare, social security, etc. I have to get a W-4, I-9, K-4, direct deposit authorization, and W-9 from her. I also get to issue a W-2 at the end of next year.

Sidenote: Can anyone identify what those forms are without looking them up? I’m frightened that I’m now conversant with all of these (and many more).

Luckily, there are services for helping with such things — there are a myrriad of laws, rules, and regulations that we (the employers) have to follow, and there’s simply no way that we would know what to do properly without them. Plus, they can do the whole direct deposit thing. So we’re paying for a payroll service to handle most of this stuff for us (it’s an internet-based thingy expressly designed to be and outsourced payroll shop, and is therefore pretty cheap).

December 29, 2004

The Ballad of Sir Camcorder

Tracy and I got ourselves a camcorder for Christmas because we felt that, as responsible capitolistic American parents, we needed to spend too much and get one (all the other parents have one — shouldn’t we?). So without doing nearly enough web research, we went to Best Buy and bought a middle-of-the-road-but-still-quite-expensive digital camcorder (the Best Buy sales girl was actually quite knowledgeable and helpful).

Still, there were endless debates about what model to buy, what camcorder tapes we needed to get, what to do with the video after it was recorded, etc. It turns out that we don’t already own a DVD recorder (not even in my Mac — I didn’t get a SuperDrive; I only have a regular CDRW drive), so what kind of DVD writer did we need? And what software would we need to mix/make movies and record on DVDs?

We ended up loading up on all kinds of stuff: a camera, some extra tapes, Pinnacle [Windoze] software, and an external DVD burner. The rationale here was that Mac assumedly had good movie editing software, so it would be nice to work on either the Mac or the PC.

Can you say; “Best Buy target audience”?

Well, it ended up sucking. ☹

The camcorder is fine — as advertised, it’s a middle-of-the-road camera, and all the reviews that I found for it on the net are fairly positivie (good, but no one’s trying to make production-quality movies with it). It’s the external DVD writer that I ended up with in a battle of wills.

Note to self: Refrain from entering a battle of wills with inanimate objects; you’ll lose.

I should mention that I made a fatal flaw common to Mac owners — I assumed that the stuff would “just work” and didn’t try the DVD burner until after I had spent all day mixing the video, still photos, music, etc., into a movie and was ready to burn it onto a DVD. Doh. I should have realized that the burner was not Apple hardware, and that assumption did not apply. ☹

I should also mention that the Mac software iMovie is pretty nice. I know nothing about video editing, but after messing around with it all day and reading its online help, I made a decent movie for a first-timer. Its companion package for creating and writing DVDs, iDVD, however, seems a bit less mature than iMovie and has some rough edges (and was actually the source of several of my problems, it turned out). Hopefully, the next version of OS X will have an improved version.

The first burner I got simply didn’t work with Macs at all (despite what the guy told me at Best Buy). So I returned it. Best Buy was very cool about it; it was their mistake, so they swapped it with no hassle whatsoever. I got one that supposedly did work with Macs — a Plextor 716UA. But after I plugged it in, I couldn’t get any DVD ROMs to be recognized by OS X. Hrm.

Needing a break, I starting going through all the rebate paperwork from Best Buy (we got somewhere around 37 receipts and rebate forms for all the various gear that we bought). Lo and behold, for buying the camcorder, we were supposed to get a free copy of the Pinnacle software that I just bought! So I returned the software and filed for the free copy (hypothetically, we’ll see it in about 8 weeks).

Returning to the fight-the-DVD-burner project, I finally found small print on apple.com that says that iDVD (and OS X) only works with Apple SuperDrives; it doesn’t write to any other DVD writers. Arrgh!

In the depths of my despair, Andy pointed me to a web page about making iDVD burn to 3rd party DVD writers. Woo hoo! Salvation in sight!

Unfortunately not. Even with the excellent Patchburn utility, I was still unable to get iDVD to write to my Plextor. It would go through all the motions and even write a little data, but then it would fail with one of a few different errors (this would even happen if I simulated writing to the DVD!). I’ve written to the Patchburn author to see if he’s interested in fixing it; we’ll see where this goes. I can successfully burn DVDs from my PC, so I know that the burner is ok. It’s something wrong in OS X / iDVD / astral alignments.

I may end up returning this DVD burner and getting a [cheaper] internal one to put in our Windoze PC (i.e., so much for using the nice iMovie software).


About December 2004

This page contains all entries posted to JeffJournal in December 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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