Terminally Incoherent

Utterly random, incoherent and disjointed rants and ramblings...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

This is why I love gmail

Tracking Numbers in Gmail
I got a shipment notification about some ebay order today and my gmail was smart enough to recognize the UPS tracking number, and provide a clickable link to UPS tracking website on the sidebar. Awesome! I don't know about you, but little things like that make me happy :P

Of course this also means that Google now knows what I buy on ebay, where I live and when will my order be shipped. Somewhere out there, Google is building a really detailed profile of me. Over several years they can really create a neat little index representing my preferences, interests, hell - even political views. After all this very blog is hosted on a Google owned servers :P It's scary to think what would happen if they would subpoena google for information on you.

It's scary to think about this. But then again, unless you run your own host, and send everything encrypted with pgp you can't have any expectations about privacy. At least google is indexing info about you openly, and promises not to misuse it. This is actually more than can be said about our government at the moment :P

When I really want privacy I use pgp. For normal day to day stuff, gmail is just convenient. Especially with a nifty plugin for Firefox that let's me know when my mail is ready :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Still Life 2 would be better as non-talkie

Old School to the Core
Still Life 2 is yet another game I procured lately. School is out so I'm living it up, so to speak :P I don't have that much time to play during the school year.

I'm a big fan of adventure games (it's a pity that there are precious few of them coming out these days) and SL2 can be classified as an old school, point and click adventure. Which is kinda good and bad. It's good, because point and click adventures were really cool back in the day. It's bad, because you would expect a little more innovation from a fairly recent product. SL2 is old school to the core - complete with maddening pixel hunting puzzles.

The controls are a little clunky. LMB takes you to the inventory, and RMB is used for interaction. The mouse pointer changes shape when you hover over an "active" region, but you can only use items when you stand in specific place. When you use an item you need to open the full screen inventory, press on an item, and then hit use. The item will be used with the active region you are standing on. Funny thing is, that the developers didn't bother to animate the "use" actions from different angles. So if you are off the mark by a fraction of an inch or facing the wrong direction, your character will magically "jump" into the "correct" position when you exit the inventory. Very crude. :(

The dialogs are equally clunky. You essentially have two choices LMB and RMB. LMB usually produces to-the-point questions, and RMB results in some personal remarks, or light-heated wise cracking. You usually must click through all the LMB options, but you can skip the RMB ones completely. In result he conversations are absolutely linear. Your only option is to skip the comedy and concentrate on the case. :(

Once you go through the important conversation, the characters revert to some standard dialog sequence in which they essentially tell you to get lost. These range from very short, to fairly long exchanges that are impossible to skip. This is fairly annoying, especially when you are stuck. Sometimes you want to check if a character has something new to say, and you get stuck listening to a 2 minute dialog that you already heard 7 times before. Agh...

SL2 tries to be funny really hard. I would say, too hard. For a murder mystery game, the main character is cracking to many weak jokes. Sometimes I wish she would stop, because the silly remarks completely do not fit the general mood of the game. The scenery looks like something taken out of a Resident Evil game, but the dialogs sound like a poor imitation of Monkey Island humor. Geez... Pick one or the other.

Speaking about the dialogs... The voice acting is horrid. The voice inflictions change randomly throughout each conversation, ranging from upbeat to grim, and brooding. The game sounds as if someone wrote down all the lines, on index cards, then shuffled them, and then taped them in random order. This is especially evident when reading the jokes and wise cracks. More often than not, the actors completely misinterpret the line (most likely reading it out of context).

I could understand these shortcomings if the game had a really dynamic dialog system. You can't really help the slight variations when you mix the lines in semi-random order. But since all the conversations in the game are almost painfully linear they could have at least made sure that the voice acting is consistent. Besides, Fahrenheit had very dynamic dialogs and yet the voice acting was top notch.

I seriously thing this game would actually be better if it was a no-talkie. Perhaps I should play it with the sound off?

All in all, I'm not terribly impressed with this game. The story seems somewhat intriguing, so I'll keep playing for a while more. I'm not sure if I can stand the shitty dialog and voice acting all the way till the end :P

Update Sun, January 01 2006, 04:49 PM

Nope, I can't finish it. The game pisses me off. It's boring, and annoying. Don't buy this crap! I totally gave up on it and uninstalled it to make space for Fable and Brothers in Arms :P

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Squad Based Combat

Squad Based Combad in BIA
Ark got me Brothers in Arms for Christmas. Unfortunately the game has a little tag saying GeForce MX not supported. :( So until my new graphics card arrives I can't really play it. Of course the game runs perfectly on his computer and he was nice enough to let me play with it over the weekend.

I must say that the game is neat. I really like the concept of squad based combat. Its lot's of fun to be able to position your men behind the cover, then tell them to suppress the enemy position while you sneak behind with a grenade and a machine gun :P

I had to redefine the default keys though. BIA uses the RMB for commanding your squad and the MMB for the "aim down the barrel" mode. This is completely backwards, considering that all the games I have played lately (Call of Duty, Farcry etc...) use RMB for aiming mode. I kept messing up until I switched the two around - and now I'm fine :)

It is significantly harder to kill enemies in this game, than in COD. I kinda miss the easy head shots. Here you sometimes need to hit the guy 3-4 times till he kicks the bucket. Even when you shoot point blank, you usually need two shots.

On the other hand, this is kindoff cool. The enemies act realistic, and run for cover when you shoot at them. When you pin them they stay down.

I like it. Can't wait till I get the new graphics card :P

How to talk to users?

I wrote a small app for my company, that let's them review and score Audit Reports via web based interface. The application is WIMP based, and fairly stable at this point.

Now my boss wants me to automate the procedure of receiving the reports from field Auditors, and tracking it's progress through the review and billing. Seems easy. I already scoped out the specs, and talked to the users. Their current procedure is a mess. It goes something like this:

  1. Person A Schedules exams using a Scheduling Spreadsheet

  2. Person B goes through the scheduling spreadsheet and generates another spreadsheet with the exams due each week/month/whatever

  3. Person A or B or C receives an email with attached exam from an Auditor, and stashes it on the network share (and possibly notifies person B)

  4. Person B updates her spreadsheet

  5. The file is then picked up by a reviewer D, and high level reviewer E (which is somewhat covered by my current app.

  6. The report is then sent out to the client, and person B moves it to the billing spreadsheet

The Scheduling document is un-parsable. It is essentially a grid. Horizontal axis represents a date, and the vertical axis lists auditors. The intersection gives you what given person is doing on a given day. Potential values are "Available" or the name of the scheduled assignment.

The report tracking spreadsheet is actually nice. It has well defined columns such as start date, end date, submission date ,review date and etc... How do you get these dates? You scroll around the scheduling document till you find the first and last cell of a given assignment. Essentially my Person B spends 2-3 hours every other day, simply flipping between these two documents, and copying and pasting data. It's a waste of time.

I could automate that, and link it up nicely with my reviewing system. I could track each report from the moment it is scheduled, through the review and evaluation process, down to billing. I already have the infrastructure in place. What is my problem then? Both person A and person B really like their spreadsheets. They hate maintaining them, but they can't imagine their life without them. So they would both like to use them and just have them automagically updated when the reports are in.

Now, generating the tracking document is a piece of pie. Since I could automate most of the stuff that happens to the actual files (and remove the necessity to email them around) I could easily eliminate all the work involved in maintaining that thing. But to do that, I need to have up-to-date scheduling data in the database. But I just don't see my user A happily switching to some web based, or non-excel driven interface.

I was actually asked "what is the difference of having the schedule in a database as opposed to a spreadsheet?" How do I explain data parsing to a non-technical user (preferably in one sentence or less)? Especially if in that user's mind database == arcane magic, and excel == easy? I have no clue how to do this without breaking into a lecture on data management, and database design principles.

Anyways, I decided to move forward with the design and do most of the stuff in PHP assuming that somehow I will get the scheduling data into the db. After I have the whole app working with a web based interface, I will try to figure out how to parse that damn schedule. There is some data in there, so if I bend over backwards, and stand on my head I should be able to extract something borderline useful :P

My Precious Blog

This blog recently became a big part of my life. I usually tend to post here every day, unless I have other stuff that get in the way. I got used to airing my thoughts here, and ranting about stupid stuff.

However, I just realized, that I'm hosting this blog on a free but proprietary platform, on a server that I don't own. Sure, Google is cool and all, but what if I violate some silly rule from their TOS that I never even read? What if at some point someone decides to nuke my blog to make space for premium members or something? It would really bum me out to loose all my posts.

So I decided to mirror the blog locally, so that I at least have backup. I should do that weekly or something. It appears that blogger likes to use absolute URL's for all the internal links so that wget --convert-links option does not work. If I ever loose the blog, and decide to restore from a backup at an alternative location, I will probably have to do some serious regexping to get all the links working correctly :P

I should probably invest into some remote hosting and relocate the blog. This of course would mean that I would potentially loose my page rank, and confuse the hell out of google blog search and technorati for a little while. I don't get that many hits, but I would hate to loose those precious few by moving around to much.

So I will stay here for now. But I will backup everything religiously from now on ;)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Finished Fahrenheit / Project Indigo

I just finished Fahrenheit / Project Indigo, the game that I posted about last monday. I think the game was awesome. I highly recommend it for the excellent story, and unconventional gameplay.

I actually enjoyed the quirky controls. The ddr button mashing sequences really keep you on your toes, without falling into a resident evil or fps shoot, duck, run, shoot routine. They seemed kinda refreshing in a way. Once in a while it is really nice to participate in some big action sequence without really worrying about mundane things like "do I jump now" or "how do you block in this game again?". Some people may hate this type of stuff, but I didn't mind it.

The tutorial covered most of the in game modes, but not all of them. There were few things left out. For example, in some sequences when Carla is scared you need to control her breathing. This is similar to the physical endurance feat, as it puts a little meter on the bottom of the screen which you control with the left-right movement buttons.

However, the way you control it is very different. The aim is to keep the "needle" in the middle of the bar. You need to alternate between buttons - each push is a breath. Each breath moves the needle to the left. When Carla is scared the needle gravitates to the right. So you need to compensate for that with breathing. If you breathe to much, and the needle hits the left edge you also freak out (hyperventilate?).

I found that it is usually best to do some fast breathing and put the needle way in the left field. This gives you more time to react once the needle starts moving again. Since the needle never moves left in it's own, you should be fine as long as you don't over breathe :)

Another sequence is tightrope walking, which uses the exact same type of the meter as Carla's breathing. This time however each button press makes the needle move in the direction that was pressed. Once you hit the edge, you fall off. When the needle is near the middle it moves slower. It picks up speed when at the edges. It also moves faster with each key press. So if you press left twice, you probably won't have time to mash right three times to compensate before you fall off. This was possibly the most annoying sequence of the game. I can't tell you how many times I fell of that stupid railing :P

What else... Let me talk about the story Spoilers may lurk below.

The game puzzles are easy, and usually suffer from the needle in the haystack syndrome. Whenever you need to walk around and look for an item, it is usually safe to assume that it is located in the least accessible area. And usually you don't get enough hints to pinpoint the item, so you pick one at random, go back, validate, pick another one, go back, validate and etc...

I really liked the story. The plot is really linear. I think there are few ways to branch of from the main storyline but again, this is more of an interactive movie, than a game :P I didn't mind the linear progression. The choices given to you make up for the linearity, and give an illusion of a very flexible story.

Only part that I don't liked was the timed conversations. There were several instances when I "wasted" a question on something I already knew, and missed out on potential info. For example, I really didn't learn anything about the second clan until the very end, because I asked Agatha some stupid questions before she transformed. I also still don't know how exactly was Lucas reanimated.

In some cases the timing requirement made perfect sense - for example, when Carla is interrogating Lucas. But when it comes to the crucial information, integral to the plot we should be allowed to grill the characters to our heart's content without some superimposed question limit, and timing. But that's just me...

I also felt that the love scene between Carla and Lucas was kinda gratuitous, and shoved down our throat. I mean, they didn't really get to know each other at all. Lucas just lost his girlfriend... And wasn't he kinda dead - Carla said his skin was ice cold... WTF?

I mean, I think it was great that they actually showed a sex scene with boobs and all. Fuck the US censors. But still...

It's a good game though. I really enjoyed it. Go play it :)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Adventures in Ebay

On the 19th I bought a new graphics card from this dude: COMstore168. I hardly ever use ebay. In fact I managed to avoid it for all these years because I'm paranoid about being screwed by some online scam. A friend convinced me that I can get a good deal on a decent card this way so I decided to finally give it a shot. I'm beginning to regret it now though...

The seller looked ok. He had 99.2% positive feedback, had a 45 day return policy and the item is supposed to be "brand new" and "factory sealed". It sounded good, but I still haven't heard anything from him. I don't know if this is the effect of the holiday season or if I'm being ripped off. I simply don't like the fact that I paid for an item, and I have no clue when it will be shipped. Should I be concerned?

Sigh... Next time I won't fork over the money before I get some kind of feedback from the seller.

Update: Mon, December 26 2005, 04:58 PM

I finally got in touch with the seller yesterday. The card is on it's way it seems. I guess it was just the holiday season.


In case you didn't know:

It is a widely-held theory that Christians in the fourth century assigned December 25th (the Winter Solstice on the Julian calendar) as Christ's birthday (and thus Christmas) because pagans already observed this day as a holiday. This would sidestep the problem of eliminating an already popular holiday while Christianizing the population. It is also possible to see it as early Christians replacing the Pagan celebration in an act of triumphalism. However, others claim that early Christians independently came up with the date of December 25th based on a Jewish tradition of the "integral age" of the Jewish prophets (the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception), and a miscalculation of the date of Jesus' death. It is even sometimes claimed that Aurelian moved the feast of Sol Invictus to December 25th to co-opt the Christian celebration.

The Romans also practiced many traditions similar to Christmas; specifically the "Christmas tree". The Romans often cut down evergreens and decorated them to pay homage to Saturn, the god of farming. This was to honor the fact that the evergreens remained alive during the harshness of winter. It was also traditional for Romans to exchange gifts during this holiday. These gifts were customarily made of silver, although nearly anything could be given as a gift for the occasion. Several epigrams by the poet Martial survive, seemingly crafted as riddling gift-tags for gifts of food. The medieval celebration of the Feast of Fools was another continuation of Saturnalia into the Christian era.

So Christmass is more or less a denominational holiday. :P

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday Wishes

Just to be pollitically correct, I give you the holiday wishes regexp:

/(Happy|Merry) ((Crhist|X)mas)|(C?hannukah)|(Kwanza)|

Alright, that should cover just about anyone :P

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I live again!

Here is your moment of Zen (click on the pic to see what is going on) [via boinboing]
The final(s) are done! All projects are finished! The only thing I have to do is to give and grade a final tomorrow, and submit the grades over the next week.

My new graphics card is on it's way right now (let's hope it gets here before christmas). Now I can catch up on movies, games and all the other stuff that I was putting away to do actual work :P

Life is good :)

Oh, and yeah - check out the pacman vid! LOL

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fahrenheit (Project Indigo)

Mopping up the blood...
I got my paws on the uncensored version of Atari's Project Indigo. It's an adventure/mystery game which was released in Europe under the name Fahrenheit. From what I heard it has been cut to pieces by US censors so much that it only vaguely resembles the original game. They actually even changed the name.

I can't stand censorship. But in the light of Hot Coffee, it is unlikely that anything is going to change on this front. If anything, we will see the games butchered even more. So I decided to bypass the thought police and go straight to the source. The original game is about 2GB heavier than the American release, but that's probably because it contains voice tracks in French, German and Italian.

The story is actually really interesting. Your initial character manages to kill a guy in a bathroom of a small diner in some kind of zombie-like trance. Once the guy is dead, he regains consciousness and freaks out. Now you have a dead guy on the floor, and a cop drinking coffee at the counter. What do you do? I started by hiding the knife, dragging the body into a stool and wiping blood from the floor. When I was leaving the bathroom I passed the cop in the door! So I ended up running out of the diner like a madman without paying the bill (which resulted in the waitress remembering my face).

However I'm pretty sure I could skip the cleanup, leave the bathroom, pay at the counter and leave the diner in the same amount of time. I'm not sure if this would change anything, but it is really cool to have that degree of freedom in a game :)

In fact there are some other really cool ideas in this game. For example, in act 2 you take control of the detective who was sent to investigate the crime scene in the diner. So you get to play as characters on both sides - which makes the game a little like watching a movie.

Furthermore they have a mental well being counter which drops whenever you encounter some scary or depressing shit, and goes up when you do cool stuff (like find clues pertaining to the case, drink coffee or have sex with your girlfriend). I'm not sure what happens when that counter falls all the way down, because I didn't get there yet.

One thing that I don't like about this game are the controls - they are funky. Most of actions are implemented via mouse gestures. So to open the door you have to walk up to the door, press lmb and then shake the mouse up and down. For the most part this is ok, but if you need to do something really quick it is easy to mess up.

All the dialogs in the game are timed, so you only have limited time to pick what do you want to say. When you are pressed for time, the difference between up-down gesture and down-up gesture is so small that you can easily mess up and say the wrong thing by mistake. That happened to me when I was talking to a bum in the alley. I made the wrong gesture and instead of sweet talking him to give me a clue, Ms. inspector gave the guy some patronizing speech. So I potentially missed out on a vital clue.

That's not the worst thing though. The worst are the danger sequences, when you have to do Dance Dance Revolution style moves to avoid some threat. They actually expect you to press something like up-down-right-down using both the arrow keys, and the numpad simultaneously. I actually failed every single danger sequence in the game so far. I just know that at some point I will get stuck on one of them, and spend days trying to get the stupid sequence just right...

All, in all it's a cool game. I wish the controls were less funky, but hopefully this will not turn into major annoyance. I like the story so far... Sigh... I wish I didn't have a final on Wednesday. I probably won't be able to play the game that much until I'm done with that...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Secret Santa Sux

What is up with that secret santa bullshit? Who came up with this? I hate these things. Sure, you can always ask to be excluded but when you don't participate, you look like an ass. When you do, you end up having to buy some stupid gift for a person that you don't really know that well. What do you buy? Somehow I think booze is not an acceptable gift here, but that's the only thing I can think off at the moment.

Seriously, have you ever got anything cool from a co-worker in a randomized secret santa thing? You usually get shit. I have no clue what to get...

I'm thinking to go with the ultimate lame-ass gift - a gift certificate. But where from? I need to do some intelligence work at the workplace and scope out some store she likes or something like that.

I hate secret santa bullshit. Why can't we just wish each other happy holidays, and go home? Sigh... Christmas cheer pisses me off :P

Friday, December 16, 2005

Outlook Auto Complete

Why do users depend on silly, flimsy and unreliable features such as email auto completion in Outlook. The auto completion works by cashing the typed email addresses in NK2 and NICK files. By design these files are temporary. They are not backed up or archived and Outlook can delete them on a whim without a working. Relying on a cashing scheme rather than on the built in address book is usually not the best idea.

Especially since the cache files can get corrupted. I'm not sure how Outlook maintains this index, but my wild guess is that they use a hash file. The file grows very slowly so I'm betting that that they simply maintain the hash in the memory, and dump it into the file once Outlook shuts down. If you get only a partial dump, Outlook will try to pick up the pieces and recreate the cache. If your file gets totally fuxed, it will nuke it and start from scratch.

I think the problem happens when you fall right in between a minor write error, and a grand clusterfuck. You get outlook constantly trying to recreate a file that is broken enough not to read properly on the next startup, but not enough to warrant a complete wipe. Manually deleting the NK2 file seems to solve this issue.

Outlook sucks!

Aeon Flux = Lame

Charlize Climbs Like Spider Man
I haven't watched the animated version of Aeon Flux, but I heard good things about it. I actually think I need to watch it. It's plot can't possibly be as contrived, as the new remake. How did they get Charlize Theron to work on this is beyond me.

The action sequences in this movie are so over the top, that they just don't seem believable. Aeon climbs the walls like spiderman, jumps like cat woman, and fights better than Neo on crack. She basically can take on an a whole legion of angry guards armed with just two semi-automatics. And no one ever bothers to explain why is she so bad-ass good. Did she train allot? Is she somehow enhanced, like her partner who got opposable thumbs installed her feet? We don't know...

When her partner (whom she trained herself) tries to sneak up on her from behind, Aeon knows about her without even looking back. Yet, 10 minutes later she gets knocked out by a blow from behind that she never saw coming. Where did her super senses go?

The whole movie seems disjointed and rushed. Some parts have absolutely no transition or continuity whatsoever. People seem to just appear in various scenes at just the right moment without any explanation or logic. Many trivial, yet quite important things remain unexplained. For example, how does Aeon get off the floating ship the first time around?

The plot itself is lame. You want to tell me that a society that perfected cloning technique, can't figure out how to deal with infertility? Let me get this straight - they perfectly can recycle the DNA, but they can't mix it up to introduce new genetic lines? Why are some women not sterile? What causes the sterility?

Little things like that are left out of the movie completely. I really wouldn't mind sacrificing some of the ridiculous fight sequences to talk about the science. After all, this is the integral part of the story. The general message of this movie seems to be: "Cloning is bad, mmmmmkey. Go look at some flashy fight sequence - nothing more to see here."

When Frank Herbert introduced the bullshit concept of genetic memory, I was willing to suspend my disbelief. But Herbert used the Spice as a convenient excuse. Without the spice, you could not unlock it. But in Aeon flux, ordinary people seem to carry genetic memories of their past lives. And for some reason, each time they get cloned their minds deteriorate some more... Why? I don't know. No one knows. Cloning is bad, mmmmkey.

I'm really trying my best to buy your shit here, but trow me a bone for God's sake. Why is cloning so fucking horrible? Why does Aeon think that "living like this is a torture"? I should really get the animated version to try make some sense out of this.

The main kicker - the turning point of the story, falls somewhere in the middle of the movie. There is a little mystery at the beginning but the big revelation comes way to soon to build up any suspense. And from that point on, the rest of the movie seems like a filler.

The whole picture can be summarized as follows:
  1. Charlize Looks Cute
  2. Charlize Kicks Ass
  3. Charlize has no chemistry with the leading man
  4. Lots of people die
  5. Everyone is a clone
  6. Fuck continuity
  7. Fuck details
  8. Did I mention lots of people die?
  9. Charlize Looks Cute
That's about all there is to it. Don't waste your money on this crap.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gaim Issue

My Gaim has been crashing on startup on my windows box for few days now. I haven't really noticed it because I have been screwing around with AIM Triton. But today I wanted to use Jabber and I could not get Gaim up.

After mucking around for about an hour, getting a headache, and reinstalling gtk and gaim several times I finally found the issue:

TCL Loader Plugin + Cygwin = WinGaim crash - Starting with 0.75, Win Gaim comes with a tcl plugin loader. The loader plugin is dependant on tcl84.dll and will use the first one found in the dll search path. If you have a cygwin installation (with tcl 8.4), and have added its bin directory to your PATH, then WinGaim will crash on startup. The solution is to remove cygwin's bin directory from your path. Introducing cygwin dlls into the native win32 environment is a very bad idea, and is likely to cause problems with other programs.

I recently set up an ssh server on my windows box, and this required me to add cygwin binaries to my windows path. I also noticed that Gimp also wigs out on startup now. I wonder how many other things did I break. Welcome to dll hell. This is stupid!

Once the cygwin entry was removed from the path, Gaim started working again. The sshd service is still running. I hope it won't have problems starting again because of the path. In the worst case I will need to manually get it moving after each reboot (which usually works out to be 2-3 times a month with my windows box). I should be able to manage that...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Violet Plugin for Eclipse

Last week I made an offhand remark about my issues with the violet plugin. Today got an email from the author of the violet plugin for eclipse:

I read on your blog that you encountered problems when installing the Violet
Plugin for Eclipse. I am the author of this plugin and I am looking for
feedbacks. Could you be more precise on the bug, send me the Eclipse log (zip
it from your workspace directory/.metadata), your OS version, your JVM version
and your Eclipse version?
This is very important for me to improve it.

Awesome! This is what I like. A developer, who actually really cares about his app. This is what I call excellent support :P

Anyways, since I publicly trashed his app last week I just wanted to go on the record here, and say that it is not all bad. I was able to install the plugin on my Linux box running Kubuntu (Horray) with java 1.5.0_04 and eclipse 3.1.0. Once you drop the jar file to /opt/eclipse/plugins you are done, and everything works fine. So the plugin works.

My problem happened on a WinXP Home box with the same java version, but eclipse 3.0.1. I guess it's time to upgrade. Let's see if I get any response :)

Update 12/13/05 12:42 pm

This is what we call, express support. I got a reply:

Thanks for your reply. The plugin only supports Eclipse 3.1 and I haven't
implemented the version control yet. Thus, it explains that didn't start on
your XP.

There you go - it was PEBKC. I should have read system requirements on the plugin page :P

MSU Bloggers

I find it fascinating to read blogs of Billy Gay and Adam Copeland. These guys are part of the MSU IT legion, and they frequently blog about their current project.

It is nice to see that there is some actual work done deep in the bowels of IT lair in the remote land of College Hall. To bad we the students and faculty rarely get to see any of that work :P I find that these blogs are a good place to get an idea what exactly is going on with our systems and networking people.

I also find these blogs are fascinating because their authors tend to blurt out things that average montclair network dweller does not always know. For example I saw them mention names of network servers mentioned along with the info about the OS and services they are running. Who needs nmap when you can just read the blogs. hehe I wonder if MSU has any rules about blogging about things like that. This could be considered a minor security risk... A cluefull person with some knowledge of msu network, should be able to extract useful info from their rantings.

But on the other hand, this is kindoff like watching a behind-the-scenes special on MSU IT work. I hope they won't crack down on bloggers to much in the future because their stuff is interesting to read. Especially when they blurt out the juicy bits without realizing it :)

Monday, December 12, 2005

Security Project Done!

I am officially done with my part of the security project. I implemented bunch of shit, and I wrote 18 page paper, and made a powerpoint out of it. I'm spent. Now I just need Mike to write 2-3 pages about GUI implementation, and text formating and we are done.

Watch this space - that's where all this garbage is going to get unloaded once I get the rest of the paper.

Now I can finally go to sleep.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Gigi Edgley

As you may know I'm a big fan of the little known Australian Actress Gigi Edgley. I had a pleasure to meet her in person at a Farscape con one time, and get her autograph. She has an amazing personality - very bubbly, energetic and joyful. We were joking at some point that they should put her picture next to the word exuberant in a dictionary. Seems to be the kind of person you definitely want to go partying with :P

Anyways, someone pointed out that Getty Images has archived some shots of Gigi that haven't really circulated among the post-scapers. Unfortunately it is one of those sites that charge you for access to the high quality versions. But they do have decent sized preview pics that actually do not require a magnifying glass to view.

Some of these never really surfaced in the wild. These are mostly shots from various public events Gigi attended. They have few shots of her in that very exposing fishnet dress that made people go apeshit few years back. That's actually an image that I would like to have in high resolution.

Some other things that I figured out while browsing their pictures (they have 5 pages of Gigi): Gigi is way hotter than her sister and she is dating a gay version of Strider. Seriously, this is how Aragorn would look if he was a full blown, out of closet, flaming homosexual. :P

Anyways, check out the pics. They are cool. I wish they offered larger images.

Snow Sux

I got stuck in the middle of a snowstorm today. Apparently some vans are not supposed to drive in knee deep snow because the belt can fall of and screw up your day. Great advice, but it does not work when you need to get to work in the morning and the streets are not plowed. The snow plows actually came 15 minutes after the engine overheated and we needed to pull into a side street.

Yes, they did plow us in.

Yes, I called AAA but due to the weather conditions the service time sucked. It took the tow guy 3 and a half hours to get to me. Meanwhile I had to sit in the car and try not to think about how much I need to take a leak.

I actually wouldn't mind getting stuck on a highway, or in the middle of nowhere. At least there you can always find some tree, bush you can urinate on without anyone calling the police on you. But when you are stuck on a residential road in West Caldwell there is not much you can do. Where are you going to go? On the left there are kids doing snow angels. On the right you have an 80 year old guy fighting with his snow blower. And all of them look at you as if you were some sex predator invading their neighborhood to kidnap their kids or something. Maybe I would have asked someone to let me use their restroom if it wasn't for these evil glances they shot at me. Sigh...

Oh, and did I mention that my cell died in the car?

So this is how my day was.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I just found a totally awesome UML tool for KDE. It is called Umbrello and it is possibly one of the nicest design tools I have seen on linux. I just started using it, and I found it intuitive, and very easy on the eye. And the fact that it is a KDE app really makes it even cooler. I really like when all my applications seamlessly integrate with the windowing system. I also love to be able to fish or sftp from a file open dialog.

I must admit that it did crash once when I was screwing around with it, but that might have been a one time glitch. Somemetimes KDE is temperamental like that.

I keep hearing good things about the violet plugin for eclipse (which is my IDE of choice). It would be very neat to be able to draw class diagrams right from the IDE, but for the life of me I cannot get that dumb plugin working. Eclipse seems to detect it in the Help=>About->Plugins dialog, but nothing else is happening.

Oh well, Umbrello is going to do it for me for now :)

MSU Security

I poped into the CS lab in Richardson today and I was hanging out with our undergrads who were working on their Software Engineering project.

I noticed that all the windows boxen downstairs are running with user privileges (as they should), and access to some system settings is blocked. In particular, the IT squad blocked the access to the Control Panel. This is fine and dandy for a office machine that only has to run Word and Outlook but our lab is supposed to be used by students learning programming. For example some students may want to use Windows ODBC to set up their db connection. Unfortunately the odbc config app is usually accessible from the control panel. Good job IT!

So the poor undergrads were sitting there trying to figure out what to do next. Of course, as I suspected no one bothered to lock access to the system32 folder :P As you may know, system32 is the windows equivalent of /bin - which essentially means that all essential system applications should be there. So I zoomed through the files there and located the odbc executable. I was able to open it and use it without any restrictions.

So my question is - why even bother locking the control panel? If any user can dig through the system32 folder and access any functionality offered on the panel, what is the point? Is it even possible to restrict user access to some of these files? And why would you want that anyway? Redmond thinks that even the lowliest user should be able to access the controls contained in the Control Panel, so why does IT thing otherwise?

Out of the Crunch Phase

I am officially out of the crunch phase of the security project. All that is left now is to finish the writeup, documentation and prepare a presentation. I hope Mike doesn't drop the ball on the GUI cause my code is not fully functional either. Not sure why, but I don't think I have time to mess with it right now. Maybe once the paper is done I can fiddle, but not now.

Isn't it interesting how every project starts with a good, whole hearted attempt to actually follow some software eng. principles, but it immediately turns into shit on wheels whenever some deadline draws near? I just realized that I overloaded the method "readHeader" 4 times in one class for absolutely no reason. These methods are not even remotely related, or even similar. What the hell was I thinking? I hate myself!

If you find yourself writing a comment "ugly hack below" over 5 times in the same class (or even method) it is probably a good indication that this piece of code should be rewritten at some later date :P

But screw that. I'm done! Now I just have to finish typing documentation and we are in business. Worst part that I will have to do it in Word/OO.org because we will have to merge the docs at some point. Yuck! I wish I could do this in latex :(

XFN Icons

I have been using XFN for a while now, and I was trying to figure out how to make it more transparent to the average user. So I decided to make some icons that can be appended to links to signify XFN relationships. Here are some of them:

friend met
friend crush
acquaintance met
contact met

You can see them scattered all over the webpage on various links. If you like any of them, feel free to use them. All the icons are under Creative Commons Attribute-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Lately I get strange hits from They are usually TCP packets directed at port 2053, 2088 or something else in the 20xx range. WTF?

That host does not respond to pings. I tried hitting it on various ports in the 2k+ range with netcat, but the machine simply does not seem to exist. It's either a spoffed IP or a very well cloaked system.

This is what I get from a whois query:

Szaman2@grendel ~
$ whois

OrgName: Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
Address: 4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330
City: Marina del Rey
StateProv: CA
PostalCode: 90292-6695
Country: US

NetRange: -
NetHandle: NET-169-254-0-0-1
Parent: NET-169-0-0-0-0
NetType: IANA Special Use
Comment: Please see RFC 3330 for additional
RegDate: 1998-01-27
Updated: 2002-10-14

OrgAbuseHandle: IANA-IP-ARIN
OrgAbuseName: Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Number
OrgAbusePhone: +1-310-301-5820
OrgAbuseEmail: abuse@iana.org

OrgTechHandle: IANA-IP-ARIN
OrgTechName: Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Number
OrgTechPhone: +1-310-301-5820
OrgTechEmail: abuse@iana.org

# ARIN WHOIS database, last updated 2005-12-06 19:10
# Enter ? for additional hints on searching ARIN's
# WHOIS database.

Any clue why I get these hits 2-3 times a day?

Further investigation gave me this:

From RFC 3330 - This is the "link local" block. It is allocated for
communication between hosts on a single link. Hosts obtain these
addresses by auto-configuration, such as when a DHCP server may not
be found.

So a lost node that can't obtain IP from a DHCP will get assigned a 169.254.x.x address. Question is, why do I get packets from that address bouncing against my firewall? Misconfigured node on the network maybe? Very strange.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Google Is not Broken

Googling in Lynx
Eyequeue recently commented on one of my older posts. Eyequeue seems to have some issue with google working in lynx. Let me be the first to say that google was always good for the lynxen of all shapes and sizes. I never had an uissue googling in lynx. I have two boxes with lynx I can test it on. The screenshot here was made on a Kubuntu box with Lynx Version 2.8.5rel.1 (04 Feb 2004). I also tested it on Lynx Version 2.3.7 BETA running under Sun Spark 5.8. Both work correctly.

I'm not sure what is going on with your Lynx eyequeue, but mine is working :) Maybe it's misconfigured or something. Good luck fixing that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005 11:37 PM Update

This seems to be an issue with the lynx_2.8.5-2ubuntu0.5.10.1_i386.deb package on Brezzy. It is possible that the glitch occured in debian package tree, and then slipped by ubuntu testers. From eyequeue:

There was a bit of a discussion on #ubuntu earlier and it appears to be happening to others as well, but not consistently to all.

Don't you hate inconsistent problems? :-)

Oh, there seems to be something possibly related at

> Has anyone been having trouble with Lynx & Google? I am using Debian
> ppc (woody, I think).
> I get a 400 Bad Request error only with Google, only since the last
> week or so and only in Lynx.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

AIM Triton

Side by Side Comparison
I downloaded AIM Triton. I'm a gaim user but allot of people complain and whine about my choice of client. Mostly because direct connect, and other features are b0rked on the open source client. So I finally broke down and downloaded the official one.

My first impression? Holly shit - it looks just like Google Talk! I put the clients side by side just to see how far the similarity goes. They copied it down to the "remember the last few lines of the previous conversation" feature. But then again, I'm a geek. Maybe other people do not notice things like that. So, I showed it to Ark and he said the same thing. They are almost identical! And this is probably the first time he actually saw Google Talk running. So AOL, the current leader in the IM market is ripping off the design from the newcomer. I think they actually got scared when Talk came out or something.

Now, I'm actually glad they are copying the best - imitation is the highest form of flattery. But they should have went all the way. Image ads look nasty on such a pretty client. Google Talk does not have any of them!

Some people had major issues with this client but so far I haven't experienced anything out of ordinary. It seems to be working just fine. We'll see how it goes. Maybe it will stop by AIM buddies from whining :P

Speaking of AIM clients - it seems that AOL has finally released a client for Linux! I have no clue how long this stuff has been up, but it is nice. They even have it packaged for rpm based systems and debian. Nice! I need to try out the client on my laptop. It looks very basic though. I might stick with Gaim when I'm on Linux.

Then again, the ultimate aim client for linux is of course naim. I think I'm the only person I know who actually uses it. Why should I run a gui when I can chat from the console :)

MSU Flickr Group

It's a small world :) Matt recently created a MSU Flikr group. I found him via technorati, and I immediately joined and shared some of my crappy pictures. It seems that he found me the same way and he posted a comment on my blog :) This comment was actually what made me go browse technorati. :P

Anyways, if you have the misfortune of attending MSU, check out the group and join in. I don't know Matt personally, and I have nothing to do with the group itself. I just thing it's a neat idea...

Now can someone please explain to me why do I browse MSU related tags fror technorati at 3am?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dr. Edoh

The other day I met a guy that used to be in all my undergrad Com-Sci classes. He just came back to do his masters here. We suffered through many horrible Edoh classes together. I'm not sure if I ever mentioned the antihokes story here. But yes, that's a classic and Ed can tell it way better than me. Probably because he can do a flawless Edoh impersonation :)

On Thursday I popped into the CS Coffee Hour, and for some reason I ended up telling James that very story. Somehow we ended up googling him up to see if he ever ended up getting another job teaching messing up students at another university.

We ended up finding his hompage on pegasus. Apparently Joe Yun haven't deleted his account yet. Oh well... Note how shitty the website looks. But that's ok. None of our PHD's at MSU has a good looking homepage - and that's perfectly fine. Between research and teaching, I wouldn't expect them to spend that much time beautifying their pages.

Dr. Edoh, however was a clueless teacher, and a clueless web designer. Please take a look at this site. Now take a look at this. Edoh never figured out how to use chmod :P And yes, you can find source for 90% of his programs this way - including samples for assignments.

// Fahrenheit.java Author: Lewis and Loftus
// Demonstrates the use of GUI components.

Comments are for whimps. Edoh apparently didn't bother removing or updating any of them. Or maybe he didn't know how comments worked. I can't tell. He once convinced half of the class that java.util.Vector is 1-indexed instead of 0-indexed like everything else. So you never know...

Here is the password:


Oh, and btw - the applet takes you to this page. Page security == awesomecool!

Yes, this guy used to teach at MSU. I had him for CMPT 183, 184, Data Structures and Discrete Math. I used the class time to do homework for other classes, and catch up on the reading :)

Holly Shit! France is SOLJWF!

It seems that French people are SOLJWF! I thought that we Americans are excelling at taking it up the ass from the entertainment industry, but the French just proved that they can fuck themselves up way better than us. They are about to ban all software that can be used to transmit non-DRM'd media and they are planning to criminalize publishing freeware!

I am speechless. This just does not compute. No sane, civilized society could allow to pass this kind of legislation. The French IT sector is going to get fucked, and their economy is going down the toilet. If I was working in France I would be planning relocation of my company to a neighboring country in case this shit really becomes the law. Maybe move your servers to Principality of Sealand?

You know, I rant allot about how corrupted the US politicians and legislators are, but when I see things like that happening abroad I am truly happy that I live here. We might have shitload of problems, but at least the system works. We are still have free software, we still have free use, and entertainment industry has to spend shitload of bribe money each year just to keep the current legislation intact. Every once in a while EFF is able to make a dent in their plan, every other lawsuit goes our way. It's a fight that we can eventually win. God bless America!

What is going to happen to Mandriva? Wasn't Mandrake based in France?