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About 15 OCT 2012
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Flattery Will Get You . . ?

Even when you had no doubts about something, it’s always nice to have real evidence. Annoying as it is to consider, I always believed that the glowing comments I get on my postings were from automated spam-bots. The only people writing that I’m doing wonderful stuff aren’t really people at all.

I call them honey-spam. I’d probably be more vulnerable to them if I was actively looking for compliments. Akismet, my website plugin, is also not impressed by flowery flattery, and plops them into the spam queue. I normally review the spam queue on the very remote chance it contains a real comment. Last March, April, and May were the exceptions: this site was getting so slammed by spam-bots that I deleted everything in the queue without checking.

I found a more useful response when I noticed that Site5, my service provider provides a service known as the IP Ban Manager. Instead of constantly clearing things out, I could block them from from getting in and depositing their junk. I’ve set up routine for collecting spam source IP addresses and adding them to the ban list. I saw a WordPress forum posting that suggests this isn’t very effective, but it’s better than nothing. It requires a little work, but gets the desired results.

Based on traffic, this website is pretty obscure. But now, thanks to IP Ban Manager, I can say it’s very exclusive: Last month nearly eight thousand parties were denied entrance while under twelve hundred were permitted in.

The ability of spam-bot networks to reach as far as my website does generate some grudging admiration: it’s so extensive, it’s almost NSA-esque. But it’s nice to score a few points against the machine. In addition to maintaining my picket fence against the siege, today I witnessed a breakdown in the process. The automation flailed twice while trying to lay down a honey-spam nugget. Instead of a comment, it posted the complete template. Here’s a partial listing

{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet
I never found any interesting article like yours. {It’s|It is} pretty worth enough for me.
{In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site
owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made good content
as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more}
useful than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting.

{Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to
find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
Do {you have|you’ve} any? {Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me {realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe.

To whom/whatever is behind the spam-bots running at IP addresses 192 dot 3 dot 55 dot 208 and 192 dot 249 dot 61 dot 198: you’ll have to use different addresses. It probably won’t stop you, but it may slow you down.

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What am I Doing Here?

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happeneth to them all”
Ecclesiastes 9:11

People arrive at their careers though many modes.

Some are literally born to do it. From the time he was three years old, my cousin’s son regularly attempted to cook meals. His mother actively tried to discourage him: stoves and ovens aren’t safe for small children to operate. He not only survived these impulses to cook, he grew up to satisfy them.

Others are born into their careers. When I met Martin in the summer of 1968, his future in the family business was all laid out. As a member of an English upper class family, he didn’t have much input into the process, but it didn’t conflict with any deep passions. By training and temperament he was an amiable fellow amused by the vicissitudes of life and willing enjoy what he found, so he would call his future good.

For the rest of us, many get to what we’re doing through planning, preparation, and accident. We get there through determination and dumb luck. When people ask me “How did you get into programming?” my answer is “the Creative Writing class was full.” That’s the truth, but not the whole story.

Kathie’s employer offered a tuition reimbursement, so she decided to take a course at Mt SAC, the local community college. Just for something to do, I thought I’d take a course too. We drove there to register, and I thought the Creative Writing course might be interesting. The evening sessions were full, so I looked for something else. There was space in the Introduction to Data Processing class, so I signed up.

The class was moderately interesting. No early “wow” or “ah-ha” moments. As an introductory survey course, it didn’t seek to provide fresh challenges, just background material. Part of the DP lore it covered was an explanation of the Hollerith code for punch cards. Decoding a card that had been punched without printing the characters on the card was one of the assignments. I didn’t feel the mastery of the Hollerith code was something that would be a useful skill, so I just duplicated it on the keypunch machine.

Another student had a more extreme position on instruction and skills mastery. The woman teaching the course felt that some items were important for us to know and would help with further work or studies, so she made it point to emphasize them. When she did that, this one guy always wanted to know “Is that gonna to be on the test?” In his view, the point to taking a class was to get a passing grade or better. Any benefit beyond that was not in his scope of concern. The repeated clash of values annoyed the instructor. She got so fed up that one time, she cut him short. She followed up the point she was making with “And you can bet that will be on the test, sucker.”

A few weeks later, I sat in class, and during a lull, looked around the class and sized up how everyone was doing. Mr test question was still there, so was most of the class. As I sized things up, it occurred to me, “I could do this. I could be good at this. I could do this for a living.” I finally had the career “ah-ha” moment. I followed up by taking programming and analysis courses to build on the math and science courses I’d already taken.

I was now launched on the course of my career. Actually landing the first job is yet another story.

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The Stuff of Storage

As I wave good bye to the money leaving my checking account, I have three categories that track most of the exits: Bills, Shopping and Stuff. Bills are anything I pay monthly regardless of why: the mortgage and the electric bill are both Bills. Shopping covers things I'm going to use without concern about individual items: groceries, munchies and socks are Shopping. Stuff is stuff that I expect to keep around.

Stuff items are generally more expensive than Shopping items, but that's not how I tag them. If I expect to hang on to something for a while, I consider it Stuff. The past few months, I've been buying flash drives thinking they were Stuff, but replacing them like they were Shopping. It's annoying. Not all that expensive, but annoying. The harshest thing these drives have been subjected to is pocket lint. They don't get stepped on, but most of the failures have been because something's broken or worked loose.

Several months ago I read an article that explored the service life of flash drives. The author tackled the question: how much read/write activity can a flash drive be expected to support over its lifetime? His premise was that the internal actions of usage were the primary agent of flash drive demise. While Windows Ready Boost has scrambled the innards of a couple flash drives, that's not the usual case for me.

Something breaks, and they've been breaking more often. A few weeks back, I was in a hurry to catch my bus, and I yanked on my flash drive to unplug it. I crushed it. I'm no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I broke the slider just trying to get the drive loose.

To avoid repeating this problem, my next flash drive had a sliding cap instead of a sliding body. With only the cap sliding, the body was a solid piece.

After a few weeks, it was making intermittent disconnects and required frequent file system repairs. I hadn’t lost any data, but the flaky behavior bothered me. Unlike the previous flash drive, this one hadn’t experienced visible trauma. The cap stuck when it was being slid down to plug in the drive, occasionally at first and then more frequently. With the cap slid down, I noticed that, with very little effort, the plug was a bit loose and would wiggle. Time, again, for replacement.

Initial replacement was a hurried process. This was my key flash drive. It contains PortableApps programs and data that are important to my daily routine during work days. After spending most of a Saturday morning trying to find one that met my price, design, performance, and price criteria, I settled and bought the same model as the one I broke.

It was only a temporary stand-in, but the problem going back required more than just a new flash drive. Wear, tear, and failure of my flash drives is most likely due to the stress of insertion and removal. On a typical work day, my flash drive is inserted and removed 4 to 6 times. The drives are not the only ones the suffer. The main reason I replaced my Eee netbook was because its USB ports were beginning to fail.

When I use my netbook as I’m commuting, the flash drive hangs out the sides, and takes various tugs and bumps that effect both the drive and the cmoputer it’s attached to. I looked for a way to reduce amount of stress that occurs. I went on eBay and bought this:

At the end attached to the computer, the 90 degree plug provides a shorter profile and generates less torque each time it’s bumped or tugged. It’s also easier to insert and remove. At the other end, I leave the flash drive plugged in and do away with that stress for the flash drive. Having gone that far, I took one more step, and upgraded to a flash drive with no moving parts and a metal body. If you’re interested, I posted a review on the CustomUSB site:

USB flash drive review

Here’s the final setup:

Time will tell if it’s the right stuff.

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Just Asking

Just Asking

Why is the question that is above and beneath every other question, is the most persistent, and ultimately the most unanswerable. Why? not why this or that, but simply “why” is the toughest question and may have no answer.

“Why?” a small child asks. You offer an explanation, “Why?” again pops up, even when your explanation was accurate and well thought out. But, again, “Why” is that explanation true? It’s a valid question, and so is the next “why?” in response to your further explanation. It’s an infinitely recursive situation from which the only escape is “Because I said so!”

But “why” must be taken seriously. Richard Feynman was a physicist. His college roommate was an engineer. Once Feynman gave his roommate an explanation that concluded with a observation that things worked that way so that parity would be conserved. His roommate asked “Why does parity have to be conserved?”

Feynman could have responded by saying that only an engineer would ask such a stupid question. Parity was always conserved, every physicist knew that. Instead, he asked himself, “Yes, why? Does parity have to be conserved? What happens if it isn’t?” Those questions were a portal to his Nobel prize.

“Why” in it’s broadest use encompasses other questions. “Why did that happen?” can be another way of asking. “How did this come about?” or “What caused it?”

The earlier explanations of the Big Bang theory boiled down to “Because there was absolutely nothing before, nothing has no logical way to prevent something from happening, and that’s why The Universe is here.” Not all that inspiring, and not really an answer to “Why is it here?” but the answer to “how did it happen?” Current cosmology tied to string theory embraces membranes that collide, creating universes. Again, the answer for “How” not “Why?”

At its core, Why doesn’t seek explanation; Why demands justification. Something, anything, looks wrong, unfair. We ask “Why is it that way?” Answers come from What and How. They do not satisfy. Again, we ask “Why?”

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