Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Punishment for Kindness

A short while ago I had the opportunity to (re) watch the movie Ronin (1998). This movie is quite good and most well known for the intense chase scenes which set the standard for many movies that have followed. However, the part that stays with me after the movie is over is a simple line of dialog spoken by the sage who tells the story of the 40 Ronin:

In the end, we are likely to be punished for our kindnesses.

As far as the movie is concerned, this is merely a bridge in the conversation between two characters. However hidden in there is a pithy summary of the effect that random acts of kindness (not selflessness) have.

This statement asserts that the most likley outcome for ourselves of any kindness on our part is a negative one. Should you find youself in a situation doing some act of kindness, the universe will notice (in as much as the universe notes anything) and it will return upon you some sort of retribution for having interfered with the natural order of things.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Greylisting, Some Good, Some Bad

Greylisting has had much said about it over the past year or two and it seems to be a valid concept at reducing spam. This is my experience implementing it using Qmail, SPP, Debian and Ubuntu. The idea is that since most spammers do not use proper mail queues to handle their SMTP transfers, they will not ever retry a delivery if you at first refuse it. A greylisting daemon therefore examines the originating IP address, sender and recipient and for any unique combination, it declines the first attempted delivery requiring the sender to retry.

A year ago I passed on implementing greylisting because since I use qmail it would require me to recompile my server with SPP support. However, when a friend I trust recommended it as having reduced his spam load, I felt it was worth the time to build a new qmail package and manually apply all the patch sets I use including the qmail-spp patch (which given my over-patched qmail install, I had to deal with multiple failed hunks).

The mail server cluster I manage handles 89,000 emails each week which can be broken down into roughly 3 categories. 75,000 completely bogus spam sent to never-existent email addresses, 7,500 spam and 7,500 legitimate. The 75,000 bogus messages are all sent to the same collection of 3,000 addresses which never existed but for some reason appear in some spammer's database. My guess is that a hard-up spammer simply generated bogus addresses to put on one of those email address collections for sale to other spammers. Since this list of 3,000 addresses never changes and was discovered by looking at my log of undeliverable bounces, I long ago established a list of invalid RCPT-TOs and have for about 8 months repelled those weekly 75K emails.

Friday, July 8, 2005

acdctl Controls YourApple Display Brightness

Having that software itch again I just had to get my display brightness turned down on my Apple Cinema Display. It's a wonderful piece of equipment, but it has no external controls to manipulate brightness. Just a soft-key that when touched flashes. When connected to a mac this key launches their display config tool so you can tweak the brightness, but on Windows and Linux, it does nothing.

Therefore, I wrote a little tool called acdctl which stands for Apple Cinema Display Control (or controller). It enables me to manipulate the brightness of the display via the command-line. Sure there's no fancy slider, but it's all I really need to push things down a little. I learned a bit more about programming with libusb and otherwise had a good time writing it. Even though USB is a crap protocol for bulk storage (imho), it's excellent for these sorts of light data, high diversity applications. Now that I have it, I wish I could use something like it on my CRT displays.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Terror of Tiny Town - Just Another Bad Western

Box cover of the Terror of Tiny Town
After being on my to-buy list for over a year, I ran across a copy of The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) while out shopping with a friend and I'm sad to say it's just another bad western. I watched through the whole thing (about an hour) and aside from the obvious schtick of a few midgets and a few short jokes.

The plot is more or less a range war between two families caused by an evil bandit who has designs on taking over all the cattle in the valley. Through some basic trickery each of the families think the other is rustling their cattle. Of course, there's the usual love story between the hero son of one family and the damsel in the other family, all ending in a suspense filled fistfight between the protagonist and antagonist.

It's sad that after so long of waiting to see this movie it turns out to be a perfectly ordinary western just played by midgets. There are so many better midget movies out there I'm sad I paid a whole $8 for this dvd. While certainly an oddity, it doesn't qualify as a so-bad-it's-good movie.

Other reviews of this movie:
TV Guide Online Movie Database *
Film Threat, Phil Hall ***

Somebody Explain Terrorism Please

London: People trapped in tube (by Adam Stacey)Someone needs to explain the whole concept of terrorist bombings to me. From what I've seen, the logic of the terrorists is as follows.

  1. We don't like something (in this case, apparently the war in Iraq)

  2. We cause death and destruction/pain to you in your home country

  3. You are thereby disuaded from continuing to do what we don't like

Where the whole thing breaks down for me, is that I don't see step three as ever following from step two. All I see is people getting angry and redoubling their efforts to find you and bring you to justice. This may be just an American (maybe Western) thing, but I can't imagine terrorist acts actually dissuading people from continuing a course of action.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Obviously Nobody Cares

There is much lament over the dearth of signups for the ONE letter to be delivered to the G8 conference despite a TV campaign asking people to simply go and sign up. All this says to me is that people really don't care. At least, people that aren't bleeding heart liberals with too much money and the guilt that comes along with it. Frankly when only 390,000 people sign up for something, you're obviously beating a horse that nobody cares about. I am intensely curious as to how much the domain name cost them. But that's entirely beside the point as you can't fault them for trying to market their message as effectively as possible.

Airport/3c905 Packet Loss Solved

Airport ExpressI was experience 30-60% packet loss on my Airport Extreme network, here's how I diagnosed and solved that problem by forcing the link speed to a slower rate.

After my firewall/gateway Linux box died due to a bad hard disk, I temporarily used my Airport Extreme as my primary network access point. When I finally fixed my firewall/gateway I had a problem, I was experiencing very high packet loss on the wireless lan. This was a major issue as my beautiful wife makes exclusive use of the wlan for her internet access. This made her problem, my problem.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Robots Get to Second Base

Breast examination robotIt's a fucked up world when there's not enough men around to grope a woman's breast, but that's appears to be the very problem that scientists are looking to deal with according to the new scientist. I would tend to agree with the analysis stating that delays make such devices of suspect utility, however I feel the real problem is that I don't believe we're close to the point where we can send (enough) of these sort of remote sensing devices. Consider the following:

Scenario A) trained medical technicians/clinicians are sent around the world to perform these same examinations rapidly and on a wide scale and then report their findings via traditional communication channels (electronic or otherwise) to any of a large body of capable doctors who analyze it. Even better, these technicians are also training locals to perform these same procedures so that as they leave regions a trained population remains behind.

Scenario B) a number of these devices are shipped around the world, along with the necessary technicians, high speed telecommunications equipment, etc. to care and feed them while a very small number of doctors trained in remote diagnosis use equally expensive devices to perform a very limited form of analysis. Meanwhile as these travelling marvels move from region to region, they leave behind a large number of 'referrals' and not much else.

Frankly, robotics are good for space exploration, undersea repairs and battling on comedy central. They are not good at, nor even the slightest approximation of the skill humans have for breast manipulation.

Hard Rock Zombies

When I went to the video store to look for new additions to my bad movie collection, I had no idea what I was in for. My friend ended up purchasing a little gem called Hard Rock Zombies. Don't let the IMDB review get you down, this movie is incredible. The back of the case advertises the fact that not only are there zombies, there's also hard rock (more on that later), big hair, Hitler and a love story. As for the hard rock, I'm not a major rock fan, but even I can tell that the rock is about as hard as gouda. Regardless, the box goes on to state that these zombies are actually back to fight against Hitler. That's something quite new, zombies on the side of good, not evil. Thus it was a must-see.

Needless to say, the movie is absolutely craptacular, but that's what a bad movie is all about. The most awesome gem in a series of cool hits was the fact that it not only had Hitler, brief but entirely gratuitous nudity, an homage to Hitchcock (Psycho), midgets AND Hitler as a zombie, it also had Cannibalistic-Mutant-Zombie-Midget-Nazis. Talk about getting your money's worth.

There's your usual compliment of completely inexplicable scenes, as well as a host of bad cuts and more than one montage--in fact, the 'big battle' scene between the good zombies and Hitler's forces of mutant evil is done as a montage. Not quite the way one expects things to go, but what the hey. This movie has everything one could want except for space aliens. It does try too hard, and breaks the fourth wall a few times in a way that is neither entertaining nor clever, but none of that should detract from your enjoyment of an otherwise fine awful movie.

Note: awful movies are always enjoyed best with your friends in a comfortable setting. If you're watching bad movies by yourself, you may have a problem.