Recently in computing Category

Fuckheads block my mail to my dad

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My dad, a retired professor of musicology, is a DSL customer of the Ontario and Trumansburg Telephone Companies. We have carried on email correspondence for years, peppering our prose with F-bombs whenever the urge arises. One fine day he stopped receiving mail from my gmail account, so I suggested he contact his ISP to see if I was being blocked. It turns out that his provider had begun applying "decency filters" to his incoming mail without his knowledge or consent, and my messages had been quarantined. When he demanded that they stop inspecting his mail for "decency," they replied with boilerplate instructions on how to whitelist my address. He got on the phone and explained that what he wanted was not to whitelist his correspondents one by one, but to have the decency filter disabled outright. The drone with whom he spoke appeared not to understand. He is escalating his case up to the telco's CEO Paul Griswold, and copying his correspondence to the New York ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Grouchy old bastard that he is, my dad has little patience with mindlessness and stubborn stupidity of this sort. So in his latest round of correspondence, he busted their balls thus:

One of your people called me a short time ago, and astonished (and, I must admit) infuriated me by his real (or feigned) inability to understand what I was trying to say to him. So let me try to get at it in writing.

There is a world of difference between filtering spam as such and filtering for what you mistakenly take to be "decency." The first is allowable; the second is abominable. And to do either or both without telling the subscriber what you are doing is detestable. If your technology is so crude that it cannot distinguish between spam and four letter words, you need new technology. But be that as it may, your minds should be capable of grasping the point.

So got it? It is really very simple.

Now, I am an old professor, so let me read you a lecture; please hold still for a few moments. The US Constitution of course has nothing directly to do with our dispute. It does, however, bear on it indirectly in a most profound way. The Constitution is not merely the legal basis of our country, it also has determined our ethos.

Now read it. You will see that it is profoundly mistrustful of the political judgments of what its authors thought of as "the mob," a group to which you and I probably would have been thought to belong. That is why the Senate was originally elected by state legislatures; that is why even today with direct election, it remains profoundly unrepresentative. On the other hand, The Constitution in its first final form -- that is with the Bill of Rights added to the original document -- is deeply concerned about individual liberties. It is accordingly at once quite libertarian and somewhat undemocratic.

To leap to our little situation: not only are you not my censor, but your attempt to assume this dreadful role really does violate America's basic ethos and is accordingly deeply offensive to people like me. Despite everything, we still believe in each citizen's basic responsibility for himself. We refuse to turn this responsibility over to others. You have no right to take it away from for me on your own initiative. And in truth, I have no right to turn it over to you so long as I am sentient.

That your definition of "indecency" is idiotic and contrary to sound morality is another matter and could be explained to you only in the context of another little lecture. I fear you have had enough for now.

Please actually read and understand what I have written you. Do not reply with some canned nonsense from corporate headquarters or anything of that silly sort. There's no point in that. If you cannot engage me in reasonable and intelligent discourse, do not engage me at all. But do turn off that thrice damned decency filter.

What do you make of that? What are the odds that anyone will understand what he's saying and respond appropriately?

Ah, the Department of State

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You spend numerous minutes filling out a multi-page "wizard" for your passport renewal application. You notice that when you click a checkbox somewhere, the whole page pointlessly reloads with the data in the same state. It's annoying, but you carry on.

You notice that when your textfield input exceeds the maximum number of characters allowed, instead of just refusing to accept more characters, this form has some Javascript that erases all your input in that field, so you have to start over. Very annoying, but you carry on.

You notice an error in your input, but when you put your mouse cursor in the field to edit it, all the input disappears, so you have to start over.

By now you'd like to have a talk with the people who coded this application -- even more so, with the people who tested it and declared it production-ready. But you sigh and carry on until the final page, and then...

Server Error in '/' Application. Index was outside the bounds of the array. Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Exception Details: System.IndexOutOfRangeException: Index was outside the bounds of the array.

Source Error:

An unhandled exception was generated during the execution of the current web request. Information regarding the origin and location of the exception can be identified using the exception stack trace below.

Stack Trace:

[IndexOutOfRangeException: Index was outside the bounds of the array.] WizardManagerForNewForms.processControls(Control control, String FormType) +31109 WizardManagerForNewForms.processControls(Control control, String FormType) +31063 WizardManagerForNewForms.processControls(Control control, String FormType) +31063 WizardManagerForNewForms.UpdateApplicantData(StateBag activeViewState, ControlCollection activeControls, String ApplicantSSN, String ApplicantFirstName, String FormType) +313

Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:2.0.50727.832; ASP.NET Version:2.0.50727.832

Lovely, isn't it? For you non-geeks out there, this type of verbose technical information is often useful to the developers of a program in the course of debugging -- although usually only a couple lines of the strack trace are actually relevant to your problem (the function that dumps the stack trace doesn't know that, so it gives you the whole thing). But you the end user do not know or understand any of this, nor should you. What you should see, if the application pukes, is a polite and vague error message apologizing for the inconvenience, while behind the scenes the technical stuff is saved in a log file or other storage. The geek-speak is just annoying and confusing mumbo-jumbo.

Displaying all the error output is not just bad form. It also leaks internal information that might be useful to a potential attacker. It should be none of our business that State is running Microsoft .NET Framework Version:2.0.50727.832 and ASP.NET Version:2.0.50727.832 and that it bombs when it tries access an array element that does not exist.

Whether it's a .NET issue, or an application-level bug, I gotta go. I have a paper passport renewal application to fill out.

Speakeasy now sucks

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Once upon a time I was a satisfied customer of Speakeasy DSL, Internet service provider. The static-IP service was expensive but it worked. On the rare occasions when it did not, you could call them. When you called, a human would answer. And that human who answered would have a clue about computers and networks, and the problem would be addressed promptly. This level of service costs money and I was glad to pay.

Then I moved to a place two blocks from where I had lived hitherto. Speakeasy's website said "Moving? Not a problem" and represented that you could get your existing service transferred to a new location. It turns out that was false. When I tried to move the service they said I had to enter into a brand new 12-month contract and go through the horror of installation. I agreed to this because it was take it or leave it. Installation proved to be a textbook study in ass-rape. With third parties like Verizon and Covad involved, making you take off work to wait for hours for their techs who then stand you up, or cannot complete the work and make you schedule another appointment, you know we are talking major ass-fucking. Another cute trick Covad pulled was sending a tech unannounced and calling me in the middle of the work day and saying "where are you? We can't get in because you aren't here."

I grant you, Speakeasy is not Covad. But when I moved again a year later, I said no more Speakeasy. It's expensive and the installation is a nightmare for which I simply do not have the time, let alone the patience.

I drew in a deep breath and signed up for Comcast's TV/VOIP/Internet bundle, despite Comcast's notoriously poor reputation for service. (By the way, the Comcast tech came punctually when they said he would, and did what they said he would, and the service has been perfectly fine so far.) I called Speakeasy on September 12 to cancel. They said I could not cancel without incurring a termination fee because the contract did not expire until the 22nd. I said, you coerced me into this contract in the first place after first saying I could move without extending it. And we are talking a mere ten days so what's the big deal. Too bad, said the unctuous prick in so many words, call back and cancel on the 22nd or eat the fee. I called back on the 22nd and guess what. They said call back on the 23rd. Overnight, I got another invoice for $125 plus another $90 detailed simply as "service charges."

So I called back on the 23rd and warned the guy who answered that I had been given the runaround and excuse me if I sound annoyed. He made it all right, and made the $90 go away -- or so he says, we will see if Speakeasy comes after me for it.

They used to be a decent bunch -- there was professionalism mixed with genuine human warmth and intelligence. It seems to me that since the Best Buy acquisition they have turned into just another shithead corporation determined to make the consumer navigate and endless voicemail maze, only to get fucked with and jerked around once they reach a human.

Linux distros, religious wars

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A Beginner' s Guide to Linux Distros provides an illuminating comparision of several of the most widely used Linux distributions. The problem, for typical non-technical windoze users looking for relief, is that their eyes will glaze over upon reading this, and they will likely be intimidated and confused by all the geek jargon.

I've been there, having started trying Linuxes in 1996. I have been through half a dozen different Linuxes with successively greater degrees of success (as they installs and hardware support improved). I think it's now reached the point where there is really no reason why an average windoze user can't learn to use a distro like Ubuntu. I don't know if many would have the cojones to install it, but if you give them a machine with Ubuntu already on it, I can't help but think they could be happy, or learn to be happy. Yes, Gnucash is different from Quicken, OpenOffice is different from Miscrosloth Office, and so on. Users have to want to leave the abusive relationship with windoze enough to put up with some migration pains.

I recently replaced my aging Red Hat 9 on my home desktop with Ubuntu, and it runs faster than the old Red Hat, everything works, it's pretty, and there's just nothing not to like. In the endless religious debate over distros I now take the side of Ubuntu for beginners and even intermediate users who want something that just works.

Changing OSes is no trifling matter for ordinary mortals. The author of the Tipmonkies piece describes himself as having been a "distro whore" trying new Linux distributions all the damn time. Who has spare computers and enough spare hours to squander fucking with those computers? I procrastinated for months before upgrading this box of mine for fear that hair-pulling and struggling with problems would eat up too much time. (Fortunately, Ubuntu is good and I was not unlucky.) But if I had that kind of time, I think I might try to catch up on the hundreds of books and movies I need to read and see, improve my French, learn to scuba dive...

Email rots the brain worse than weed does

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| Email Worse Than Marijuana For Intelligence?                       |
|   from the as-an-evergreen-state-graduate-i'm-unqualified-to-commen|
|   posted by Zonk on Friday April 22, @20:35 (The Internet)         |
|              |
wallykeyster writes "The Guardian is reporting that a recent study at
King's College indicates that the [0]average IQ loss of email users was
10 points (or six points more than cannabis users). Details on [1]The
Register as well. The Register has a related story about how [2]computers
make kids dumb and an apparent "problem-solving deficit disorder"
observed in children who use computers. I thought it was television that
rotted your brain?"
Discuss this story at:

I suppose it's not ironic that I picked up this priceless Slashdot tidbit via email, and that I am now wasting my time with this pointless blog entry.

Why I Don't Use Microsoft Windows

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I got my very own first personal computer from Gateway in 1991. It came with Windows 2.0. Then Windows 3.0 came out and I upgraded. Woohoo!

Years rolled by, my computers morphed into different animals as I replaced and upgraded parts, and eventually I upgraded to... Windows 95! Woohoo!

Like a million other consumers I must have assumed that blue screens of death and other mysterious problems were just part of life. People would write funny haikus and stuff, remember?

Around 1996 I started getting interested in making HTML pages. Then I got interested in writing CGI scripts. Then I got interested in web/database programming. I had a shared web hosting account on a Unixoid system and wanted to simulate that environment, more or less, on my development machine and learn more about all that stuff. Over time, I tried several Linux distros and FreeBSD 4.something. Each time I got a little closer to a fully functioning system, but were problems too difficult for me to surmount, and I gave up and stayed with Windows.

Once upon a time, around 2000, I was doing PHP/MySQL development on the computer I had bought from the now-defunct Quantex Systems. It was running the OS that it came with: Windows 98. I was trying to run a reasonable code editor, a browser or two, a MySQL (database) server and Apache (web server). I had a lot of physical memory, but things just kept crashing, and I naively wondered what was wrong.

There is undoubtedly some precise technical explanation of what was wrong, but the high-level, plain English explanation is simple: Windows 98 was a piece of shit junk consumer operating system that was never intended for serious work of the sort I was attempting. I vowed that someday I would leave this abusive relationship and never go back.

I finally did it about three years ago: got a fully functional Linux running. I don't do Windows anymore, I extremely rarely crash, I can do everything I need to do, and my wife -- who is not technically inclined -- can sit down in front of it, browse the web, process words, etc., without knowing or caring whether it's Linux or Windows or something else.

I am never ever going to buy another PC with Windows on it because there is no reason why I should pay for that crap, and neither should you. I have friends and family who struggle with Windows spyware and viruses and I tell them they don't have to put up with that if they really don't want to. Nobody is obligated to put up with Windows anymore. You can get a Mac, or a PC with Linux pre-installed from somebody like Monarch Computer, or even <gasp!/> install it yourself and be happy. I'm serious.

MoveableType goes commercial


I was disappointed to discover just now that MT is now requiring paid licenses for all but its miserly, stripped-down free edition, and calling it a "publishing platform."
Good luck guys.

Time to think about migration to another blogware.

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