Saturday, September 17, 2011

[Geek] The Ubiquitous Computer Mouse

Xerox Alto Mouse (1973)
The computer mouse has been a basic part of computing for about 20 years now (25 if you were a Mac early-adopter, and even longer if you are a Xerox Alto power-user).  Up until recently, innovations with mouses have been about adding more buttons, and scroll wheels.  Now, with Smart-Phones becoming more and more popular, things like multi-touch and gestures are being added too.

So, Jen and I were in an Apple store a few weeks back browsing (well, playing with) the new laptops.  The touch-pads on these things are very sensitive, and accidentally letting a second finger graze the pad while trying to move the pointer does unexpected things.  Two fingers, and the app switches, three fingers, and you are thrown to another desktop.  I was thinking to myself that it would take a few hours with it to really get used to it.  Jen says that the care required to work it was more than she is willing to put in (paraphrased).

[Geek] Attack Vectors and Twitter

I wrote a script some time ago, that basically parsed the auth logs on my web server looking for IP addresses that try, and fail, to log in, multiple times.  Over the years, I've continued to expand what it does, and what it could do.

At first, it would note something, and send me an e-mail, and I'd get to it, and it would continue to e-mail me once every hour until I did.

Then, since it was really only dealing with sshd (a remote login program), I had it automatically add entries to a file that sshd cares about.

Well, then I got it in my head, that I should also be scanning the web logs for evil hits.  So I did that, and added about 150 common signatures.  But, web server doesn't care about file based deny statements.  So, then I brushed off my firewall documentation, and worked on setting these things automatically into the firewall.

Once all that was done, I wrote a script that would run this thing much, much more often.

So, now it will e-mail me, but what fun is that?  When I get the e-mail, there's nothing more to do.

A few times, I posted IP addresses that had been blocked on my Twitter account.  I got a complaint that also sounded like a challenge.  "I hope that isn't an automated script tweeting"

It took me a few weeks to really go into it, but now I've done that too.  I didn't use my primary Twitter account though.

I'm interested to see what happens to this program in the future.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

About Times Square

I've been working at the office on Times Square (xSq) for a little less than 2 months now.

Times Square is one of the street level places that is recognizable as obviously being in New York, and not some other city.  As such, people who come to visit New York, at least for the first few times, feel that they must visit this space.

To someone who needs to go through Times Square multiple times per day, tourists are painful, literally.  I've mostly figured out how to avoid it now, but every few days in my first few weeks, I would end up running into a tourist who stops, and suddenly takes a step backward to take a photo.

I get it, I do.  See something really neat, but you stepped past the angle you first saw.  However, it's a crowded place, look behind you before you back up.  Anyway, they are digital signs, they have probably changed in the half-second since you saw what you wanted to see.

Yet, when I stand in Times Square, I see advertisements, tourist shops, restaurants to attract tourist dollars, more advertisements, a set of red bleachers to allow tourists to sit while watching the advertisements.  Some commenting that the old statue is "in the way".

Which reminds me that Times Square has a century of history that, I think, the tourists getting pictures with costumes, Naked Cowgirl, or Karaoke Bride don't all appreciate.

The northern half of what people think of as Times Square, is Duffy Square.    The most interesting feature to me is the statue of Father Francis P. Duffy who is "in the way" of those bleachers.  Duffy was a priest, teacher and active chaplain during World War 1.  Chaplains don't often get statues, but this one did.  An American Hero, not just some priest.

Anyway, if you find yourself in Times Square with a camera, look before you reverse, have some respect for Father Duffy, and remember that the flashing lights and video screens are really just advertisements.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


New York City - Midtown

On Tuesday morning, Jen and I were both in the office and something seemed strange.

If you've ever been in the upper floors of a tall building during sustained winds, you can feel the building swaying. It felt just like that.  Jen says, "Is the building moving?"  "Yes," as I realize that I shouldn't feel wind movement from the third floor.  Still not really sure what's going on, I say, "I wonder how bad this feels on the upper floors?"

Just after the swaying stops; Mark, sitting nearby, gets a phone call, "It's an earthquake... My son heard it on Twitter."  I hit Google's news service, and nothing yet.  Then I hit Twitter myself.  Yep, lots of buzz about an earthquake.  Someone posted a link to the USGS page for the event, 5.8-Preliminary in Virginia.  I posted a few tweets myself.  Back at Google, and I see the news stories posting.  At about 15 minutes later, the security coordinator comes on the building PA, saying that everything was fine (I think most people had assumed that).

Jen said it felt like the swaying of a boat on water.  I sent a text to Anil in St. Paul, that the weather is so nice that the Earth was trying to rock us to sleep.

All that said, I hope everybody in Virginia, near where the quake was centered, made it through O.K.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Google+ or Not

Thanks for the invites.  I have a small collection now.

I can't use Google+, and here's why.

I use Google Apps for Domains.  This allows me to do all sorts of things with  However, Google hasn't opened Google+ up for domains accounts yet.

I /could/ use a Google account that isn't already associated with my domains account.  However, with a domains account, Google tracks my login across the browser, which means to use a different Google account, I either have to use a different browser for the other account, or I would have to log out of all Google services first.

Which is great, I could totally do that.  Until, one unexpected day, Google allows plus into the domain accounts.  At that point, I would end up having to transition all of my circles, and re-introduce myself to people who already had me in a circle.  I still have people e-mailing me at my old e-mail address(six years later), so I doubt I would actually be updated in the right circles.

So, thanks for the invites.  I'm sure it's great there, but Google doesn't want me on that service right now.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Government Bail Out vs. Shut Down

It looks like we're going to have a Newt Gingrich style government shut-down this weekend.  A friend of mine, who will be affected by this if it happens, mentioned that it seems like this is fall-out for the bail-outs.

I've heard various things about the Government bail-outs of banks, auto makers and mortgages.  So, I did a quick search, and found a really great article over at ProPublica.  This is a list of who still has money, and who paid money back already.

To me, I find it cool that it combines the 700 billion dollar "TARP" Bank Bailout bill, the 400 billion dollar "Housing and Economic Recovery" Mortgage bail-out and the 82 billion dollar "Automotive Industry Financing Program".

Bottom line, for all that promised money, the Government actually spent 619 billion dollars, and after so much talk of it being paid back, the US Government is still waiting for 305 billion dollars (specifically $305,505,533,784).

But what does 305 billion dollars have to do with the current Government Shut-down?  Well, from the best I can tell, nothing.  The current shutdown is about the Tea Party holding Republican senator's feet to the fire, and Democrats not understanding how serious the new majority party is about cutting spending. CBS News is reporting today that last night, Democrats had agreed to cut 35 billion in spending, but that the Republicans are not yet satisfied.

To me, I think that it's likely that a deal will happen today.  Spending cuts can be reported, so the Republicans will be able to tell their constituents that they got something done, and Obama and other Democrats will be able to pat themselves on the back about how they reached across the aisle to include the concerns of their Republican friends.

Maybe one of those spending cuts will include my friend's job.  All the talk about government workers, and government spending, usually forgets that this is directly screwing with people's lives.

Go Read Joe

Joe Klein is usually liberal, and always hopes to find the best in people, and frankly, I think we could all learn from people like him. Last night, I read an article in Time Magazine by him called, Palestinian People Power (annoyingly, Time changes the article titles on-line).

It talks about how a small, and steadily growing group of young activists in the Palestinian (Isreali Occupied) regions of Isreal are working towards political goals by using peaceful protests, sit-in vigils, and demonstrations. Riding on the similar protest successes throughout what is being called the Arab Spring, these youth leaders are hoping to display Isreali injustice through peaceful means.

The article is hopeful, and is refreshingly not anti-Muslim.  I like that.

Anyway, go read the article.,8599,2062308,00.html

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The World vs America: Why the USA is Easy to Hate

Because of the places I've worked, and the jobs I have had while at those places, I've been able to travel to other countries.  While in these places, I've had countless hours of conversations with people from those places, most of whom have never traveled outside of their own countries.  These conversations, frequently, are about America.

Today's blog started with me reading something that someone in the UK posted online after a rock concert.  'The band mentioned that they'd just returned from a 7 week tour of the USA. That was met will a wall of boos, and shouts of "fuck the USA" and "America sucks".' 

Since I've discussed these opinions so often with people who have never been here, and I thought it would be something that would make a good blog post.  So, sorry for the long setup.  Here goes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

From Top Down to Agility

I am a Technical Team Leader.  I have some developers reporting to me.  So let me say this; Regulated, Regimented development.  That's what I try to use most of the time.  Yes, really.  It is extremely important to start a project with good specifications.  First, this means that I have had several conversations with my customers about what they are expecting to get out of the project, and how they expect to interact with it before anybody starts coding.

Requirements specifications make their way to Functional specifications.  This is where I admit that these are often done incorrectly, but they are still done.  Let me explain that.  The requirements are the high level things that management wants to accomplish.  The functional specs are supposed to be the things that define how the customer will interface with the product to meet the requirements.  However, more often, most of the interface decisions are stuffed into Requirements leaving the functional specification to double as a technical roadmap to how the project will be completed.

As long as all of the necessary information is there, it doesn't really bother me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Spreading the Word For Simon

Please help make 2011 Simon's year.

You know all those e-mails that get sent around with some heart-felt story about some child who is in dire need, and if you just forward the e-mail, you could help save that child's life?  Well, the overwhelming majority of those e-mails don't actually have a link that they want you to send along with that e-mail.  A link where people who actually have the means can drop a dollar, or twenty.  A link like this one here.

Like this, those e-mails usually talk about some heart-wrenching case where the doctors spent years trying to figure out exactly what was wrong.  In and out of hospitals.  Parents work vacation time gone by mid-February, every year.  Precious time was wasted, and meanwhile, that child's ability to just be a kid is not really complete.

Simon D is a real kid.  His parents are not rich and not terribly poor.  His father has a decent job.  Simon lives in a regular home with two loving parents.  It's just that he's sick, and the very real costs of needing a bone marrow transplant are overwhelming.  Sadly, there are not very many doctors and hospitals capable of performing this surgery on children.  So, Simon will have to go out of Florida, where he lives.  And his family will have to go too, because you can't just send a child alone on such a scary journey.  The loss of income, the hotels, the travel expenses, the eating at hospital cafeterias. The inevitable follow-up visits with the surgeons.  The estimated costs of this is 75,000 dollars (that's US money).

That is not an exaggeration, and honestly, deeply, even if this goal is made, it's still possible that it wouldn't be enough.  Chances are, this goal will not be reached and Simon's parents will be in debt for the rest of their lives.  Yes, this story is sad, and heart-breaking, but it's also very real.

Please help.  Please send this like you have seen forwarded e-mails like I talked about above.  Am I asking you to give money?  Yes, yes I am, I won't deny that.  I am ALSO asking you to forward this story to others.  The COTA page doesn't tell a story.  It's just a sentence, a picture and a donate button.  Forward this story, and maybe some people will listen and be able to help a little bit.

In case you were wondering, COTA is a Federally registered non-profit.  Donations are tax deductible in the US.  Also, for tax reasons, parents in this situation are NOT allowed to solicit donations themselves.  They must rely on others to do this for them.  Can you be someone who helps?


I have known Simon's father for over 19 years.  He is, in my opinion, good people.  I am just doing what I can.  Seriously, please... help me spread the word for Simon.

Thank you,
Gary Allen

Monday, January 3, 2011

Apple Admits iPhone Can't Compete, Targets Android with Patent Suits

Admitting that the iPhone can no longer feature compete with the fast moving open source platform, Android, Apple Inc dusts off some patents that could be stretched to cover some Android features and starts filing lawsuits.

Gone are the days when Apple could just tell people to use their phone and the difference in quality would be obvious.  These days, even the new Windows phones are better than iPhones, so to try to save it's market share, Apple has decided to sue instead of compete.