Saturday, October 29, 2005

What a Week!

I barely even scratched the blogosphere this week. Shoot, I barely even kept up with the news! I managed to win a book over at realgem, but that may have been last week, now that I think about it. Now, what would I want to read from the UK? Hmmm, something about "squatting", I think.

If I get the gist of it, "sqatting" is loosely like being homeless. I can relate, at least a little. I lived in a roadside park on the Angelina River for several months. I had a job at the time, just not a place to live. I would pull into the park after dark, and listen to the old black men drinking wine, playing guitars and blues harps, and singing blues. It was an introspective time. Lazy may just have to write the book I want to read, but that would be cool. How 'bout it?

Speaking of the UK, where is Dave Bones? His blog is a blank slate at the moment. His last post had something to do with Nazis in Utah picking on ravers. That kind of stuff really ticks me off. There's no excuse for it. But then, Dave disappears? I hope his interviews with terrorists didn't get him in trouble.

I spent three days of my life last week disinfecting a friend's computer. I got a chord of oak firewood for my trouble. He had a variant of the VX2 malware infection. What a pain! I got it dead, though.

I used a combination of several products to kill this little nasty. Adaware, of course, is always on top of the list. And I always scan the computer with Avg Free to get rid of actual virus infections. But neither product effectively removed the VX2 infection on their own. I had to use Hijack This extensively to remove the infections totally. But the VX2 infection would return immediately after removal. I also used several of the products from Sysinternals to analyze the system as it was running. I find Process Explorer, Autoruns, and TCP View especially helpful in the analysis process. One caveat however, if you don't know what you are doing leave these products alone as you can destroy your system with them (especially Hijack This).

Maybe I should write a book or something. I'd have to pay attention to what I do, because I've disinfected so many systems I do it almost without thinking. Well, sort of. Actually, you have to think pretty intensely to accomplish the task. I've just not done a step-by-step of what it is that I do.

There was a lot of news last week that I totally didn't comment on. I'll comment on one thing right now: Harriet Miers. I predicted over on Golden Eagle's blog that Ms. Miers was a "sacrifical lamb" intended to stir controversy so that the real nominee would get through the appointment process easier. It appears that it was a good call. She has withdrawn her nomination because the whitehouse cannot divulge the documents requested. I thought she would go to a committee vote, but this works as well. Be prepared for a very conservative nomination next.

Well that's it for now. Sorry about the stream of conscieness post. It was, as I said, a long week. Perhaps I'll be more coherent later.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

All Those Years Ago ...

I wanna hold your hand ...

I was reading in a Reader's Digest that we were given a gift subscription to, a story about the formation of the Beatles. Wow, so long ago, and, if I close my eyes, yesterday.

I was nine. My youngest brother was now nine days old. Number nine, number nine ....

My mom was freshly home from the hospital. They kept the ladies longer in those days, and it had been a difficult delivery. Children were not allowed in the room, so I had written her every day in my third grade vernacular. I remember that my mom was reading the notes that I had written, and laughing at my spelling.

Ever looking for opportunities to give my mom a hard time, I sitting at her feet, clasping her left knee, looked up wistfully and asked

"Mom, where do babies come from?"

My mom, being the honest and forthright woman that she was, did what any good parent would do: she panicked. "Here, Greggy, look, oh my goodness! The Ed Sullivan show is on, we don't want to miss that!" She turned on the old black and white, to this:

We sat in stunned awe as we "met" the Beatles for the first time.

I was never the same.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Song Snippet

I started a song a few weeks ago, inspired, no doubt by the road. It's about sitting in a truck stop, over a cold cup of coffee and an inattentive waitress. The sounds of the big rigs outside slowly moving to and fro accompany the sometimes acrid smell of truckstop cooking. Watching the years pass.

...And the truckers outside my window rolling by
...they seem so unconcerned.
...And the travlers with their glassy eyes
...searchin' for the better life for which they've always yearned;
...And the temptation of my soul is this ask the Lord is this all there is ...

Had to Put This Up!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Legos and Instant Messaging

This last weekend was pretty nice. As usual, I spent Saturday with my daughter. I took her to the toy store to play for at least an hour and a half. Now this is tough for me, because I'm not crazy about being in crowds, but it was fun watching her play. Then, we went next door to the big department store and bought her a Kelly doll and some more Legos (hey, better prices, you know?). Finally, it was off to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone.

We played Legos for quite a while once we got home. Those things are amazing! You can build anything your little heart desires with them. My daughter is really quite creative in building cars, trucks, and houses with them. Engineer material? C'mon, do your Daddy a good turn and be a doctor, lawyer, or country music star. That way you can take care of him when he's too old and crotchety to take care of himself.

Sunday at church was strange. Most Sundays, like 99% of them, I DO something during the service and/or Sunday school. But this weekend there were so many absent from the second service band that the first service band played in the second service and I sat out. Kind of a bummer, actually. I like leading worship, I really do. Not only that, I wasn't teaching, preaching, leading communion, not nuthin'. Felt strange. At least 80% of those that attend church never do any of these things and miss the whole friggin' thing. Sad.

After church I did the obligatory listen of the Dallas Cowboy game. It was pretty exciting, really. I can't pick it up on the television, so I listen on the radio. I've gotten used to the condition ... I'm going to listen to the radio anyway because I WANT biased announcers. Cowboys won! They are now in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. We'll see if it holds.

Then I went to my doctors office clients for the rest of the day. They're closed on Sunday, of course, which is why I go then. My objective: Instant Messaging behind a firewall.

Now let me say first off that I know (or knew, to be precise) almost nothing about Instant Messaging (IM). I'm not dissing it or anything, just never had a call to use it. I tried out IRC (Internet Relay Chat) chat rooms back in '95 to my ... chagrin? I was chatting with these girls, when one of 'em says "you seem like a nice, straight guy, so what are you doing in a lesbian chat room?" I left the chat room and IRC.

I've never seen IM as terribly useful, but I use it occasionally in my video networking tech gig and it comes in pretty handy. Probably the ability to quickly and easily exchange files is the most useful feature.

Now my doctors wanted it for a business reason: they want the receptionists at the front desk to be able to contact the girls in the back to tell them they have a patient waiting without having to use the phone. The IM should sound a tone or something to give audible feedback in case they are not looking at their computer when the message arrives.

I looked at Yahoo Messenger, AIM, ICQ, and all of those at first for a solution. The problem is that they use a server somewhere out on the internet to host the user ID's and such. I wasn't crazy about business information being shuffled around outside my network, and besides that, these protocols are crazy vulnerable to attack. I want to keep everything that happens inside the firewall on the doctor's intranet, so these just weren't going to cut it.

When I first started looking into it, I thought that IM happened peer to peer and was serverless. Kind of like some kind of fancy NET SEND, I guess. That's dumb if you think about it. I have NET SEND disabled (as you should as well) on every workstation for security reasons, so that just isn't going to cut it either.

The answer is to run an IM server behind the firewall and have a client installed on each workstation that uses ONLY that server. After looking around for quite a while, I settled on a server called Jive Messenger. This server uses a protocol called XMPP (otherwise known as Jabber). It is an XML on top of HTTP kind of a solution. It allows me to disallow connection to outside servers and to predefine the users (managed environment). Best of all, it is open source, written in Java, allows plug-ins, and is free!

I know Java, so choosing Java based server/clients is a no brainer for me. The server source can be downloaded, so I can make any changes I need, or use the plug in API to extend the capabilities. I downloaded it Friday, and configured it on my own network. It is exactly what I want. In fact, the only two things I could think of that I needed that it didn't have were available via plug-ins, so I'm liking this.

Now I've got the server, what about the client? That's where things got a bit dicey. There are a gazillion IM clients out there ... which one to pick? Obviously, the client must be able to talk XMPP/Jabber protocol, be open source, and of course, free. It should also be written in Java if possible. The product I originally suggested to the doctors, Trillian is probably the premium open source IM client out there. However, I discovered that it is serverless ... you must be registered with one of the big boys to use it. Trillian Pro ($25) can talk the XMPP/Jabber protocol, but not the free version. From what I've seen, the $25 would be worth it, but not when multiplied by a couple dozen workstations.

After playing with several clients that just didn't do it for me, I tried out one called Jeti/2 which I guess is Dutch or German. It's the one that I settled on, at least for now, even though the instructions are in Dutch/German. It wasn't so straight forward to get to work, but once I did get it to work, it worked like a charm! It allows tabbed chats, emoticons, and sounds! It's still not up to version 1, but it's free, and it works!

Although it is written in Java, I'm not sure if the source is available or not (although, being in Java, I can probably get at it). The website is in Dutch/German, so who friggin' knows if the source is available or not! Maybe I can translate the manual into English in trade for "keys to the sourcecode kingdom" or something. It doesn't need to do much more than it already does, but it would be nice to be able to make any necessary changes to it myself.

Jeti/2 doesn't seem to manage logging on very well, but if you set it up to automatically log on when the program starts, it works like a dream. The sounds can be any sound file, although I haven't tried it out yet. Setting it up was kinda weird ... it would be nice to set up who can do what entirely through the admin console of Jive Messenger and have Jeti/2 just use the configuration, but that may be a bit much to ask since the two development groups aren't at all the same. Jive Software has an API out called Smack (?), but I would have to write the entire client and I'm not sure I have time or the doctors have the money for that.

The way it all finally ended up is that each person is individually locked to her workstation, which is what I was trying to achieve, but not exactly the optimum. Still, I find the whole experience a very interesting blending of a great many technologies into a single solution. Quite fun, at least, for a geek.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

"Mountain" Climbing

I was thinking back on this weekend and decided I needed to blog it into my memory.

Saturday is "daddy / daughter" day at my house. That means mom goes off to work and dad stays home with daughter. Except on this day, I had a church leadership meeting at 8 AM. So, mom stayed home with daughter and I did the hour and a half up at the church. Some meetings can be contentious but this one was quite encouraging. So I came home refreshed.

When I got home, my little girl was standing in the doorway. She had long pants, a shirt, jacket, and tennis shoes on. None of it matched. It was sooo cute! She also had a "purse" (a walmart sack) with a stuffed bunny in it. "Are you going somewhere", I asked. "Yes, we're going for a walk, Daddy" she exclaimed, sure of herself. She seemed pretty certain about it all, so I said "Ok, where are we walking to?" "Up the mountain, Daddy!" Cool.

Now we live in a set of hills called the Callahan Divide. They not super tall (they're tall enough and big enough to put wind turbines on, but that would be another post), but they're mountains to a five year old. The one across the street from our house is fairly steep and has two caves at the top that makes the whole thing look like a scull. I assumed that was what we were going to climb - yep, it was.

Now, fall in West Texas is a wonderful thing. On this day, it was deliciously cool. Cool in West Texas means that you cannot cook food on the sidewalk by 9 AM. Saturday morning it was still in the low 70's, so a walk is just what the doctor ordered. I had so much to do, and who cares!

My daughter, myself, and a stuffed bunny-in-a-bag set out for a morning of mountain climbing. We wrote our names in the sand at the base. As usual, I admonished her to look out for broken glass, cactus's, and rattle snakes. We played for a while, then began to climb.

Now my little one is a natural born climber. She did so good! When it got steep, she would say "how do we get up this, Daddy?" and turn and climb it before I could get the answer out. And we went all the way to the top where the caves are. So very cool.

I hushed her so that we could hear the sound of the wild turkeys clucking in the distance. We could see a hawk slowly circling above. The West Texas sky was big and blue with just a whisper of wind soft as a lover's touch. It was fantastic.

Part way up, I had to hold the bunny. And I folded the walmart bag in my back pocket. When we finally went down, I picked up the broken beer bottles strewn by unthinking hooligan tourists as we descended and put the trash in the walmart bag. We walked home hand in hand happy as two peas in a pod.

What a wonderful morning.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Intelligent Design?

A number of years ago, I'm going to put it in the 1994-1995 time frame, I was looking into fractals. I think I was using a program (free) called fractint, which basically produced fractal images using integer arithmetic (for speed I would imagine).

On the day I'm thinking about, I was looking into a special sub-system of fractal math called L-Systems. L-Systems were first introduced by a guy named Lindenmayer in a book named The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants. In any case, I was running this one particular fractal algorithm over and over and over. It produced a visual similar to the following classic L-Systems fractal:

As I recall, you could single step the algorithm, run it to its conclusion, give it the number of iterations that you wanted to see "built", etc. I did all of the options. For whatever reason, I ran the above simulation over and over for several hours. Why? Maybe I was bored. I think I couldn't believe that you could run an algorithm that would create a virtual plant built out of vectors. Whatever my reason (and no, I was not high), that's what I did.

The next day I went with some friends to a ranch about an hour South of me (in Texas, we measure distance in hours, not miles or kilometers), to go dove hunting. Now dove hunting is a national pastime in Texas, one that usually involves lots of friends, family, shotguns, and of course, beer. Now if the beer comes before the hunt, you won't have much to eat because you won't hit any dove, so on this day about 10 sober Texans were waiting to gang up on a bunch of innocent dovies around the proverbial West Texas tank (a man-made pond for those of you unlucky enough to live outside Texas).

Dove tend to fly into water starting about an hour to 30 minutes before dusk, so you have to be in place before that or they will see you and fly somewhere else. While you are waiting for the dove to fly in, there's not much to do except look at the sky and the trees and enjoy nature, which is what I started doing. Specifically, I got interested in looking at some "broom weed". I have no idea what the plant's genus and species is because I call any of several plants indigenous to my area "broom weed", but anyway, I got really interested in the weeds closest to me.

I looked and looked at the pattern of the branches. Each branch branched off exactly in the same way. The buds on the ends of the branches had exactly the same pattern as the branches. And where had I seen that pattern before? Suddenly I gasped: it was the same pattern that I had been running over and over the day before.

I had a religious experience. Suddenly I realized in a real and personal sort of way that God had "invented" math. We were merely "discovering" its existence. Tears were rolling down my cheeks as I slowly turned that weed around and around in my hands.

In the midst of my religious experience I looked up to see one of my friends waving his arms and whispering expletives. I thought "now, what is up with him...". That's when I realized that a flock of about 10 dove were all around me having landed while I was musing over God and plants. I jumped for my shotgun and managed to gun down a couple of them as they flew off in all directions, evoking more expletives as bird shot fell around my compatriots.

That "aha" moment convinced me of the veracity of the first chapter of Genesis. Basically, the conclusion that I came to is

Where there is a program, there must be a programmer.

Friday, October 07, 2005

I've Been Reading ...

... instead of blogging. I was over at Sparkle's blog earlier in the week and just got totally bummed by one of the commentors (Tony, a troll?). I was reading and it's as if the words turned into acid in my eyeballs. He was so condescending, arrogant, and haughty that I turned off to politics for a bit.

I wandered over to the Quantum Blog to look at gadgets for a while. I love gadgets, but I can never afford the gadgets he posts.

I wandered around some more, stopping off at Golden Odyssey and Red State Rant, but as I say, politics didn't do it for me. Even evolution vs. Intelligent Design didn't charge me up. It may be called depression.

Then I ambled by Dave Bones' place. Now, saying Dave is a sensible kind of guy is probably insulting to him, but he seems more sensible than many of the I'm-right-and-you're-wrong-idiot commentors on Sparkle's and others blogs. I was trying to find out why he went to India. Still don't know. I've never been to India. I've never been to Spain, either. But I've been to Arizona.

Then, Lazy from realgem stops by and says in order to find out about India I'll have to stop by realgem and read the whole dang blog to find out. Not sure that I ever got it (until he later explained it), but I read the whole dang blog and ya know what? It was a pretty good read. Now true, a lot of it was drug-dazed and edgy, but the old boy can write, ya know? Made me really wonder if I'm tired of being "normal".

Now, I'm not gonna run out and do some heroin just to get a perspective on things, but it does make me think I need a little "color" in my life. I mean, I've poked around West Texas so that I practically know every rattle snake by name, ya know? I love it here, and I love the people, but God only put us on this earth a short time. Should we not absorb all that we can?

There have been times when I've wanted to just sell our house, take the profit and buy a motor home and hit the road. Just go where the wind blows and see what there is to see. Maybe go back East and see what makes those people so pathologically left-wing. Or up to Alaska where freedom is still something that you live, not just talk about. Or maybe we could buy a 35 foot sailboat and head out across the ocean. Go island hopping for a couple of years.

I don't know. Usually when I feel this way, I can hug my little girl and kiss my wife and everything is ok, but this week has just been one of those weeks.

It's my wife's birthday today. Happy Birthday love of my life!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Rita Reflections

My blogging has been light the last little while. I've had company at the house. Friends, actually he is an old friend and she is a new friend, that evacuated from Orange, Texas in front of Hurricane Rita.

Normally when friends visit, they stay a couple of days, cook out, consume some adult beverages, talk a little politics and a little shop, and just generally visit. And we did all of that. But there is a strange tension in the air when your visitors don't know the status of their belongings, their jobs, and their pets are boarded several hundred miles away. It's just, well, a little uncomfortable.

The news is fading about rescue and clean up efforts for Katrina and Rita. Everyone knows about New Orleans, but few realize there are still those displaced by Rita that have yet to go home. Power has not yet been fully restored to the areas between Beaumont and Lake Charles, LA. Talking about it made me wince a bit. It's where I was fifteen years ago.

I finally talked to my brother who is a detective in Houston. Wow, what a story. The Houston PD was ordered to stay during Rita. He sent the family, as I suspected, to Austin to "visit" her folks. The three hour drive took fourteen hours. She was lucky.

The detectives and swat teams were boarded at some fancy hotel in downtown Houston, so they were'nt too inconvenienced :-) My brother spent considerable time guarding and helping to evacuate Katrina folks. He said there were a lot of poor, but most were just plain working folks like anybody. He in essence gave the same stories as I posted below. He was able to re-unite a mother and son seperated in the frantic times of evacuation. He said that was pretty cool. What is sad, is yes, there were looters ... 99% of whom were from New Orleans, and are now in the Harris County jail.

My brother is now back at his normal job of determining who caused the early demise of various Houston residents, and family is back in place. The schools have re-opened.

I wish I could say that the more severely hit portions of Texas had as happy an ending. When I told him my house guests were from Orange, he just grunted "oh, man..." My friends are teachers (and liberals ...) at the high school there. Hopefully, classes will resume Oct 10. I'm not sure if they will be there or not; they were submitting resume's at a pretty good clip last week.

As you guys are madly reading and posting about the new SCOTUS nominee (a Texan, of course), say a little prayer for those still displaced, for those that still don't know what life is going to throw at them as soon as tomorrow.