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Month: November 2004

Brief theory

Come to think of it, what I’d like to see in comment spam detection next is this algorithm: whenever three comments are submitted within an hour, and all three contain the same URL, add the full hostname in the URL to the spam filter list and notify me.

Yeah, it’s open to denial of service, but it’s a weak DoS in that anyone who’s denied service can get around it easily by not posting URLs with that hostname. And there are significantly more spammers than there are people carrying out DoS attacks on my comments.


The talk on the Dean campaign wasn’t all that interesting — Keri Carpenter talked about how the Dean campaign was shaped by the people, and Tom Limoncelli talked about how it was a great experience and touched on the technology some. Nothing deep. Keri Carpenter did say, at the end, that clearly great netroots wasn’t enough but she didn’t really volunteer any ideas on what would have helped.

Tom Limoncelli said he thought Dean lost because he was anointed the front-runner early and everyone teamed up to bring him down. That latter seems kind of self-defeating to me, since netroots takes some time to build. You wouldn’t want to use a strategy that puts you ahead early if being the front-runner leads to failure.

Me, I think Dean just failed to bring together the strong netroots with a strong traditional game. Give him someone who’s good at ground politics, and maybe he wins. A lot of people are talking about Kerry in 2008, and I think Kerry will likely run, but Dean’s just as likely to take a shot at it if he wants to be President. And he won’t be the guy who gets blamed for anything bad happening between now and then.

Technical tidbits: the Dean campaign was very Tivo-heavy, with one Tivo per major network. They used them for transcription a lot. It didn’t sound like they had a database of video clips, which seems to me like an obvious area for technology. If Curt Schilling can digitize every pitch he throws into a database, I bet a campaign can do the same — it’d make it easier to get attack and defense footage out there. But maybe the speakers just weren’t aware of it.

They got, at peak, over 70K emails per day. Limoncelli mentioned RT3, and I was really interested in finding out how well RT handled that volume, but it turned out that they were planning on rolling out RT the week after Iowa. Ooops.

Drinky bits

Sideways is a good movie, but not exactly transcendent. Touching and human and delicate, yes, definitely. But I couldn’t avoid a certain detachment from the characters. Or, no, that’s not right. I couldn’t avoid a certain detachment from the world they inhabit.

The characters themselves are sympathetic and interesting, even Thomas Church Hayden’s womanizer, Jack. He is not a particularly good person, but he’s our not particularly good person, and Paul Giamatti is a skilled enough actor to show us why his Miles might be fond of such a man. Even better: when something bad occurs, consequences exist and are not softened. And that makes the characters more believable and brings me closer to them.

But it’s a movie as much about wine as it is about relationships, insofar as wine is the metaphor used for people throughout. Which is also fine; I don’t know much about wine but I respect obsessions, and the movie doesn’t assume that the audience is made up on oenophiles.

What got to me, I suppose — no, that’s not it. I just spent half an hour writing a riff about how everyone in the movie loves wine and that separates the movie from reality, but really that’s not true. Then I tried to write something about how Miles is so much the loser that it’s hard to take wine loving seriously, but really, that’s not it either. If nothing else, the beautiful scene with him and Virginia Madsen on the porch kills off that theory, because wow, the way they use wine as a metaphor for themselves? That’s great.

And then it’s a whole contrast thing between the way Miles hides behind his wine obsession, while Maya — Virginia Madsen’s character — freed herself by way of wine, and that’s really cool. I thought through all that while I was trying to explain why I didn’t wholeheartedly love the movie. Go figure.

So what got to me? I’m not sure. I know that I didn’t feel wholly engaged at, really, any point excepting just possibly the very last shot. Maybe I felt, unfairly, that Alexander Payne wanted me to identify with the characters despite the fact that I had few points of contact with them. Maybe I just didn’t sympathize enough; maybe Miles and Jack were dislikable enough, in the shadows of Maya and her friend Stephanie, that I couldn’t feel warmth towards them. Hard to say.

I hear Alexander Payne selected the wine list himself. Maybe I just don’t drink enough wine.

I am funny (yellow)

So here’s the thing. I’m sitting in a talk about spam, and the guy giving the talk is running over various HTML tricks spammers use to get spam past mail filters. A guy stands up and says “So obviously the trick is to block all email with HTML in it!”

That’s just stupid. First off, it ignores reality. I don’t live in a world in which I can block all HTML email for all my users; neither do most sysadmins. Second, this is very clearly a talk for people who live in that world. If the context of the talk allowed for blocking all HTML email, then there would be an obvious solution and the talk would take about five minutes.

But you know. He got his cheap laughs, har har har.

Dungeon Majesty: Static Spot

MUSIC: “3 AM, I’m awakened by a sweet summer rain
Distant howling of a passing southbound coal train…”


It is very late at night. It is raining, mildly, not enough to make a statement. The headquarters is in a strip mall plaza, with a big plate glass window opening onto the nearly empty parking lot. Inside, lights are going out one by one.

MUSIC: “Was I dreaming or was there someone just lying here beside me in this bed?
Am I hearing things? Or in the next room, did a long forgotten music box just start playing?”

The camera starts high and swoops down gracefully, focusing in on a television set through the front window. A perky newscaster is giving us the election results for the benefit of those who can’t read them as they scroll up the right side of the screen. Roger Parker lost.

Alvin Wassermann (William Macy) turns away from the screen. One of his co-workers mouths inaudible words of sympathy, gestures that next time it’ll be different. Alvin shrugs and leaves by the front door, gets into his Honda Civic, sits for a moment before driving off.

MUSIC: “And I know it’s a sin putting words in the mouths of the dead.
And I know it’s a crime to weave your wishes into what they said.”

Flashback to a montage of political advertisements for candidates we’ve never heard of. Voiceovers from the advertisements: “In the tradition of John F. Kennedy…” “As the great Franklin Delano Roosevelt said…” “If we do not recall the course charted by Jimmy Carter…”

MUSIC: “And I know only fools venture where them spirits tread.
‘Cause I know every word, every sound bouncing ‘round my head.
Is just static on the radio.
Everything I think I know is just static on the radio.”

Alvin arrives at his apartment: small, cramped, suburban. The walls are papered with political signs and flyers. He settles down at his kitchen table and opens his briefcase: pulls out his folders and starts trying to figure out where it all went wrong this time. There’s no answer there.

MUSIC: “Everything I think I know is just static on the radio.”

At the bottom of the briefcase is a dice bag. He hefts it in his hand once, then sighs, and picks up the phone.

ALVIN: “Hey… no. No, it’s Alvin. No, I know, it’s late… you were up watching? That’s really kind of you. Well, thank you… no, no. Just — well, if I’d paid more attention to the game. It’s all in there.”

MUSIC: “Just static on the radio…”

ALVIN: “So we’re playing this week, right?”

MUSIC: “Static on the radio.”

BLACK. Dungeon Majesty logo fades in.

Tinker toy

cfengine is cool. I dug it. The tutorial was introductory and I was pretty sold on the concepts. If you already know about cfengine there is nothing useful for you in this post.

Cheap summary: a host is classified into a number of groups. Lots of classifications are automatic; there’s a linux group (any machine running linux), there’s a 129_120_10 group (any host on the 129.120.10 subnet), there’s a Hr02 group (any host running cfengine between the hours of 2 AM and 3 AM), etc. Why would you want that last? Maybe you only want to do some checks during that hour. Yes, this is yet another way to schedule periodic jobs in a manner that future sysadmins will be unable to find… but I digress.

You then can specify actions that should take place if a host is in a specific group. Some of the action classes are very generic — running shell commands, deleting files, checking permissions and owners of files, copying files from a central server, etc. Some are pretty specific — there’s a class that allows you to tweak the nameservers in /etc/resolv.conf. This will not work out so well if your nameserver resolver file lives somewhere else, of course. There’s a class that’s tuned for defining the NFS server from which a host mounts its mailspool. Cool but not necessarily of general use. However, there’s a class for editing files which is pretty featureful, so you can roll your own stuff as needed.

It kinda runs under Windows if you have cygwin installed. Hm.

It reminds me of the system we used at AltaVista, but it is substantially more featureful.

Talk talk

Our VoIP/Asterisk tutorial is going much more quickly than the presenter expected. This is not unusual for first-time presenters. Asterisk is pretty interesting, but shows signs of being an open source project. Hm — OK, some sample configuration file stuff:

exten => s,73,Playback(thank-you-for-calling)
exten => s,74,GotoIfTime(6:01-18:00|mon-sun|*|*?s,76)
exten => s,75,Goto(s,78)
exten => s,76,Playback(have-a-great-day-goodbye)

In theory, the template is something like exten => <exten>,<priority>,<application>(<args>), but it’s been brutally extended into something that looks alarmingly like BASIC. See the line numbers masquerading as priorities? It looks like it was originally just a simple method of specifying extensions, but grew like kudzu. Soon there’ll be m4 macros for building these scripts which masquerade as configuration files.