Archive for February, 2005

Ugh, Windows.

February 28, 2005

I’ve long been proud of Mac OS X’s lack of viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, and adware. Compared to Mac OS X, Windows is like the bad part of town that is covered in graffiti and has lots of broken windows. My friends would regale me with tales of reinstalling the OS and buying all manner of programs in an ever-elusive chimera of security and stability. Luckily, I never have really had to deal with it since the only tech support I generally have to do is for my mother-in-law and she uses a Mac. (The tech support, by the way, consists of setting up her email and that sort of task.)

Today I had the pleasure of getting knee deep with a nasty Windows trojan. I normally would shrug off such requests because I know how quickly they can overtake your free time, but I had to help this time since it looked like I may have caused the problem in the first place.

My Dad’s computer with Windows XP Home Edition was acting up: he would get on and surf for a bit until the computer unceremoniously stopped taking any requests for web sites. Once he was at that point, he would have to restart or log off to be able to use the Web. Since these intervals were only two to five minutes long, this was an unendurable issue. The reason why I was involved is because I installed a firmware upgrade for his Linksys WRT54G so that the power levels could be boosted. The problem came up shortly after I did that and so he thought that I might know what had happened (and, more importantly, how to fix it). Say it with me, Dad, correlation is not causation.

In trying to track down the problem, I discovered that the computer’s anti-virus definition tables were outdated. So I rebooted and installed the latest version. It found the trojan (and several other viruses) quickly after that and so I deleted it. A quick reboot and the problem remained. I scanned again and found the same file again. I suspected that this little bugger had inserted itself deep into Windows’ bowels.

After a few hours of wrestling, installing new programs, and researching, I finally found a description of the trojan that fit perfectly. The trojan payload was using a rootkit to repeatedly re-establish itself and spread its grip widely. I deleted the files, deleted the numerous registry entries, and turned on all of the services that the trojan had disabled, which included Automatic Update, the Windows Firewall, and the Security Center. Another reboot and the system was finally whole again.

I now have a heightened appreciation for the anguish that Windows users experience. Several times I was prepared to tell my Dad that I had had enough and that he would need to re-install. In the end, it might have been a quicker proposition. I recommended several things before I left: keep the anti-virus files up-to-date, use Firefox if you can, and seriously consider switching to a Mac.

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Park of Four Waters

February 27, 2005

Saturday I went to take a tour of the Park of Four Waters at the Pueblo Grande Museum. The site, located perhaps a half mile south of the museum, isn’t open to the public except for one guided tour on the last Saturday of the month when it’s cool. I’ve wanted to attend one of these tours for the last several months but something always came up. I’m glad that I finally went because it was quite a memorable experience.

I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to history: I can get really excited about very mundane things. For example, I’ve spent twenty minutes looking at and contemplating head of the Old Crosscut Canal that joins the Grand and Arizona Canals. I studied it from a variety of angles, took in the adjoining land, and imagined the people designing, building, and maintaining it. I then spent several hours researching this one particular canal. Water is such a vital part of Phoenix history that I bristle when people act like it’s unlimited or can’t appreciate the struggle that the early settlers went through to make the desert hospitable.

The Park of Four Waters is a small section of land where two ancient Hohokam canals are preserved. The Hohokam dug approximately 500 miles of canals. Their extensive canal system inspired Phoenix founder Jack Swilling to start his own canal project to irrigate the Salt River Valley. The canal he dug with his employees—known as the Swilling Ditch or the Town Ditch after he left Phoenix—is located not far from this place underneath one of Sky Harbor‘s runways. This, and the fact that many of Phoenix’s early canals were made from widening and deepening Hohokam ones, is a testament to the sagacity of that ancient people.

The two canals we saw were actually considered two channels of a single canal. One channel was cut like a V so that water would flow faster and farther; the other was cut like a semicircle, which kept the water moving rather slowly so that it wouldn’t decimate lateral canals. One wouldn’t be faulted for missing the significance of these two ditches since they looked like rolling hills. The fact that they have lasted for at least 600 years in much the same condition was awesome.

Near these two Hohokam canals was a modern canal of uncertain origin that looked to join the Grand at the point of the Old Crosscut. It was fairly wide and deep but entirely made out of concrete. It followed the same line as the Old Crosscut would have if you continued it down to the Salt River bank, but the Old Crosscut would never have followed that route since it strictly joined two canals. That’s why I’m not sure of when it was made, what it was called, or even who built it.

Its origin is suspect because it was likely built by the Salt River Project though it would have gone right through the Tovrea stockyards and could have been a private canal. This, of course, merits further research. I will also post a gallery of the hundred or so pictures I took since the Web is a veritable desert when it comes to the Park of Four Waters.

Blahcasting

February 26, 2005

There’s a subculture of the blogging world that’s gaining some traction called podcasting. In a nutshell, bloggers (and it’s only bloggers at this point) record mp3 files that are basically audio versions of a blog entry, which their readers/listeners download and play. The term comes from the iPod that people often use to play these files on. It’s different from radio because it is delivered over the Internet and it’s different from Internet radio because the listener must download the entire file—in other words, there’s no streaming.

Astute readers might note that there aren’t any mp3 files from me on this site, even though there are several blogs and a variety of other content available. I did this because I respect my readers: I have a very nasal voice that doesn’t record well. I am a much better writer than I am a speaker and I don’t want to waste both our time.

Unfortunately, the majority of podcasters don’t have my reluctance. They produce their verbal vomit in bulk. Lacking any professional broadcasting skills, they don’t prepare adequately, overuse verbal crutches, and speak in an untrained voice. Sitting through one of their recordings is an exercise in patience: I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to an entire entry (episode?).

The Internet is an excellent tool for broadcasting: it’s cheap and the quality is comparable to radio. When a program is produced professionally, the value can be incredible. Take IT Conversations for example. It consists of well-done interviews with important—and interesting—people in information technology. The interviewer is competent and the editing is crisp. It could easily be played on regular radio if there was an audience for it: there certainly wouldn’t be one in a local market, but globally there’s a massive niche.

Podcasting suffers from the same problems that blogging does: any amateur medium generally yields amateur results. Put another way: there’s a reason why radio personalities and journalists earn a salary.

The Revolution’s Soundtrack

February 25, 2005

Royal We 1984: awesome video parody of the original 1984 ad from Apple where the instrument of brainwashing isn’t the corporate monoculture, it’s the iPod. Very well done. {via}

Ant Skis

February 25, 2005

Skiing Game in Ant: if you can believe it, someone created a skiing game that runs in the build tool Ant. That is freakin’ cool! I can’t wait to try it out in NAnt. {via}

Forget Welcome

February 24, 2005

Sorry about the lack of updates. I’ve been working feverishly on migrating this beast to TextPattern and watching Law and Order. (Last night, Sandi had enough after two and a half episodes: she said that they’re all the same. I know, I don’t understand her either sometimes.) I’ll post something tonight or tomorrow about the change from using WordPress and the decision involved.

I’m breaking radio silence because of this “There’s No Place Like 127.0.0.1” door mat. How cool is that!

Googlebar

February 17, 2005

Google’s got a new toolbar version out and it’s got a lot of nice features. Of course, I’m a Mac guy at home so I can’t use any of them and a Firefox user at work so I can’t use it there either. It’s still nice because it gives some of my friends and co-workers the chance to do stuff that I can do in Firefox with some small effort (keywords and such) which aren’t really possible with Internet Explorer.

Of course, the Google haters are out in force. They blithely drop any context in an effort to smear Google. For example, Microsoft’s SmartTag was to be an OS-wide feature that was present unless a user turned it off or the site developer included a special tag in his page to disable it. Google’s AutoLink isn’t automatically on by default and can be turned off by clicking on the AutoLink button. A user has to actually download the toolbar and then they have to click on the AutoLink button to create the links to Google properties.

That makes a lot of difference in my mind since it’s akin to downloading a Firefox extension that manipulates site content. The user has to make quite a few decisions before it does its thing. Microsoft’s feature required quite a few decisions to make it stop.

[UPDATE (2/27/05): Winer’s kept up a pretty steady pace of complaining this week. Thankfully, someone’s posted an excellent entry defending Google and a similarly excellent reply to his response.]

[UPDATE (2/28/05): Someone went ahead and crafted a Javascript bookmarklet to transform content on Scripting.com in an absolutely hilarious manner. Bing!]

[UPDATE (3/4/05): Finally, some well-reasoned and moderate comment on the controversy over at Kuro5hin.]

Bell Road Toyota

February 16, 2005

I wanted to skewer Bell Road Toyota for a recent experience I had there. I’ve already left the same review at Dealer Rater, but it’s worth it to leave it here as well. Hopefully, I can steer someone else away from their bait-and-switch tactics.

I filled out an application on Bell Road Toyota‘s web site. I was pretty quickly called by Doreen from the Internet Sales Department. I explained my situation over the phone: my wife and I have twins and so would have to do our stuff separately. She said that that was fine and that I just needed to come down to start the ball rolling. She seemed very nice on the phone. Little did I know that my situation was just what she needed for a little bait-and-switch action.

When I got there we got down to business. I knew going in that my trade-in was going to be the problem so we tackled that pretty quickly. She said that it was going to be upside down but that it was doable. With that squared away, she pulled my credit. She said that my credit was good and that I qualified for a $520-525/month loan at 60 months for a 2005 Toyota Sienna with $3,000 down. This is almost exactly what I was hoping to get. She indicated that my wife would just need to come down, pick out a color, sign her part of the paper work, and then once I signed my part we could enjoy our new vehicle. I left quite pleased at the experience because it was quick, painless, and no pressure.

My wife got there and picked out the car she wanted. Then Doreen dropped the bomb: the loan was going to be $580/month at 60 months with $3,000 down. That was way out of line with what we had agreed on and I told my wife to decline the whole thing. My wife called me as soon as she got out of the dealership and told me the whole story. As I was preparing to let Doreen know about my displeasure and attempt to save the transaction, Doreen called me.

I asked what the heck had happened. She told me that the original estimation for my 2000 Dodge Durango didn’t include a $2,000 new car rebate from Dodge and that was responsible for the bump in payments. I thought that that sounded fishy so I suggested that I could put an additional $2,000 down to keep everything as it was before. She said that that would only bring the payments down to $560/month so I asked if we could bump the term to 72 months. She said that that would get it down to $540/month. I replied incredulously that this wasn’t adding up in my mind and that there was something she wasn’t telling me. She said she was sorry and she took full responsibility for this mix up–I think full responsibility to her meant that she admitted that there was a mix up.

Basically, Bell Road Toyota attempted to sucker me out of my money at every opportunity and did a classic bait-and-switch with verbal assurances to try and get me to pay more. I wouldn’t do any business with them and I would heartily recommend that people avoid this company.

If you want to help other people to avoid this awful dealership, please link to Bell Road Toyota with this blog entry as the href. They deserve it: I have never had a dealer so baldly lie to me and I’ve had some doozies in my time.

Personal Uptime Record

February 15, 2005

I had to restart today at work. I’m using Windows 2000 and I haven’t restarted once in the last 66 days, 7 hours, and 26 minutes—a personal best!

My second best uptime record was over 47 days on my PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.3. A power user running Mac OS X will rarely have an uptime over about 45 days because Apple releases OS and security updates that require a restart and you mustn’t pass those up. Microsoft rarely updates Windows 2000 and most security updates are related to Internet Explorer, so you can get much higher uptimes.

Pattern of Procrastination

February 15, 2005

Long-time readers will know that I am slowly moving my sites from UplinkEarth to DreamHost—way too slowly, in fact, since I am paying $29.90/month for one and $19.95/month for the other—and simultaneously trying to set up a CMS to handle everything.

I’ve flitted about between different systems, liking this feature of one but this feature of another one. Last year, I finally decided to go with TextPattern. TXP, as its called, is an excellent CMS that implements separation of content from presentation and a page model that sits well with me. When I decided on it back in October, I was floored by how much better of an implementation it was than anything else out there (and I evaluated at least a dozen CMSs and perhaps five seriously).

I really liked WordPress, but it didn’t meet my needs as a blogger and an essayist. There’s just so many different types of content at the Bill Brown Information Center that WordPress’s one-admin-per-blog and one-blog-per-directory limitations were too much. In fact, I ended up using it for Found on the Web and I couldn’t be happier with it.

We’re now halfway through February and TextPattern’s 1.0 release has been delayed repeatedly with the last announced release date being January 10th, 2005. I can’t wait forever for what could end up being a third release candidate bundled up as 1.0. In the meantime, WordPress released version 1.5 and the new version offers static pages, a major requirement of bbrown.info.

Do I remain in limbo waiting for a single developer in France to decide to finish up the 1.0 release and risk finding out that it’s the same as the 1.0rc2 that’s out there with a few bugfixes? Or do I prepare the migration of bbrown to WordPress with its several developers, active development, and vibrant community, hacking in what bits don’t fit?

The decision seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?