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Joel Loudermilk

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Vacation pictures [08 Nov 2006|11:06pm]
Thanks to much hard work by Michele, our vacation pictures are all online here.

I would write more, but I'm posting this using my Blackberry while sitting in the airport. We're headed to Vegas for Susan's wedding. I'm sure there'll be plenty of pictures of that trip posted soon.
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Vacation pictures coming [01 Oct 2006|09:36pm]
Michele and I got back earlier this week from our latest vacation. We took another cruise, this time from Lisbon to Barcelona. We had a great time. The cruise stopped one day in Morocco, and we had never been to Africa before. I saw a guy charm a real cobra.

We took a ton of pictures, so it'll take me a while to organize and post them. I hope to have them up in another week or so.
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Fun with yard work [01 Oct 2006|09:15pm]
I set out yesterday morning about 9AM to do some work on my sprinkler system. There are some dry spots in the yard. Over the years, I've learned that having a sprinker system with a fancy timer and spray heads that pop up magically in the yard is far from a zero-maintenance system. The grass eventually grows over the heads and you have to dig the heads up from time to time, and sometimes dig them up completely and replace them.

As soon as I turned on the system to note which sprinklers needed work, I instead noticed that it didn't turn on at all. The fuse was blown, and luckily I had several spares. I eventually figured out that whenever I turned on zone 1 (of 5), it blew the fuse. This happened a few years back, and I remembered that I had to replace the solenoid (the switch that opens and closes the valve) for that zone. The fun part, I remembered, was finding the solenoid. They're buried underground, and I remembered that it was a son of a bitch to find them.

To my pleasant surprise, after less than half an hour I found the first one, which sadly wasn't zone 1. Right next to it were two more, which of course were also not zone 1. I then spent until, oh, 2PM digging and poking various parts of the front and back yard with a shovel and a pitchfork to try and find the plastic valve canister for zone 1 (or zone 5, for that matter).

Finally, pissed off and exhausted, I gave up looking. I disconnected the wire for zone 1, which runs part of the backyard which doesn't need much water anyway. As punishment for hiding its valve, it can dry up and die (that seemed like sound logic at the time, at least). So I moved on to trying to repair some sprinklers in the front yard, so that I could actually accomplish something at the end of the day.

Digging up the second or third sprinkler head, about an hour later, I uncovered what looked like a root. No, wait, that's a cable. Oh crap. It was in the area where the cable company's wire runs to the house. But there was still hope; over the years I've lived here, that cable has been re-run about three times, so there are probably four of them buried in the yard, only one of which is actually doing something. I ran into the house, and of course, I cut through the real one. It was buried all of two inches underground. I'm surprised someone didn't break it by walking on my grass.

The one upshot to all of this was when I called the cable company. I told them I cut through the cable and needed someone to come out and fix it. I figured they would say something like, "call before you dig, idiot. We'll be out at Thanksgiving to run a new one." Instead, they said someone would be out today (Sunday!) and that I didn't even need to be home. What's more, they didn't even call me an idiot (but they probably thought it). So now I'm back online, and my panic attack of missing the first episode of this season of Lost (Wednesday night) is over.

Through all this, I've learned a few things: call before you dig (or at least be really damn careful), bury cables deep (or maybe spring for some conduit with part of the $100+/month I pay for cable service), and now I know why some people like to live in condos.
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South Beach [04 Jul 2006|03:38pm]
Michele and I just got back this weekend from a week-long trip with friends to South Beach. We had a great time, although there's no way I could live there because I'd go broke. Drinks were $10-12 for a mixed drink, and about $15 for a martini. Parking at the hotel was $30 per day!

I can't get over how late everything stays open in South Beach. The bars are open until 5AM on weeknights, 7AM on weekends, and I'm told that there are some after-hours clubs you can go to after that if you're still conscious and thirsty. If you show up anywhere before, say, 11PM, there's hardly anyone there. One of the first restaurants we ate at was across the street from a 24-hour deli, complete with a full bar. Now that's service.

I took a relatively small number of pictures, and they're on my site.
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Radiohead [06 Jun 2006|09:39am]
I just got back yesterday from Boston, where I went with a few friends to see Radiohead in concert. They're only playing a handful of US cities on this tour and none of them are in the south, so we decided to spend the weekend in Boston so we could also hang out with Noah.

The show was great. It was in a little smaller venue than the 2003 show I saw in West Palm Beach, and I had much better seats. Greenplastic.com already has the setlist and some reviews. This tour they're playing several songs off the upcoming album, but it's good to hear the old ones too. I was very pleased to hear "Street Spirit," my favorite song from the Bends.
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More anti-spam measures [14 May 2006|11:14am]
Now that I'm running Sendmail 8.13 (thanks to Solaris 10), I'm able to add a new anti-spam feature called greet_pause.

This feature delays the initial SMTP greeting your mail server issues by a configurable amount (I'm using five seconds). If a client says anything before the greeting, the mail server doesn't accept any of its commands, and logs a message like this:

May 14 11:02:30 mailman sendmail[3896]: [ID 801593 mail.info] k4EF2PNm003896: rejecting commands from [218.62.77.50] [218.62.77.50] due to pre-greeting traffic

Like greylisting, this relies on the fact that lots of spammers aren't using well-behaved SMTP servers. Many of them are using simple programs that just blast all their SMTP commands at your mail server immediately, without trying to have an actual SMTP conversation. The greet_pause feature will reject mail from clients like those. And since those clients probably don't even check for failures, they won't even retry.
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Solaris 10 [13 May 2006|11:32pm]
Since we've been upgrading some systems at work to Solaris 10, I decided to upgrade my home system to Solaris 10 as well (from Solaris 9). One of the very cool features of Solaris is live upgrade. If you have a spare disk in your system, you can clone the boot disk, upgrade that copy while the system continues to run, then boot from the upgraded copy whenever is best for you. And if you don't like it, you can back out by booting off the other disk. We used this method at work (breaking the boot disk's mirror to get a spare disk) to save on downtime, so I decided to use it at home too, not that downtime is critical.

One thing that made my upgrade a whole lot easier is that I use the built-in Solaris Volume Manager, whereas at work we use Veritas Volume Manager (VxVM). VxVM is super-cool, but one of the downsides is the lack of integration into Solaris. Live upgrade can't handle VxVM-encapsulated disks, so with VxVM the upgrade procedure gets bloated by a lot of "undo this, undo that, undo the other" at the start and "redo this, redo that, redo the other" at the finish. After doing that several times at work, it was refreshing to watch live upgrade "just work" with my home system's volume manager configuration.

On a related note, the second edition of the Solaris Internals book comes out, which is updated for Solaris 10. I have the first edition, which is getting a little dated (it's based on Solaris 7, which came out in 1998). I am definitely going to need to get a copy of this book.
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Greylisting [13 May 2006|11:20pm]
In the neverending fight against spam, I'm testing out greylisting on my mail server at home. If you have not heard of greylisting, it's a technique that keeps a list of your mail server's "recently-seen" combinations of recipient address, sender address, and remote mailer IP. If your server hasn't seen that combination before, it returns a temporary failure to the remote server, which should cause the remote mail server to try the message again later (the temporary failure is an SMTP 4xx response). Your server adds this combination to the list, and when the remote system tries again, the message is accepted and this combination of addresses and IP moves from the greylist to the whitelist.

This stops spam because most spammers aren't using a real mail server. They're using software that blasts as many messages as they can at mail servers, and won't queue or retry or bounce if the remote server doesn't take the message on the first try.

I've been running this for about half a week now, and it's drastically cut down on the amount of spam I get. The downside, though, is that if I forget my password at some web site and have it mail the password to me, I won't get the message for 30-60 minutes, depending on how frequently their mail server retries. We'll see if greylisting is worth that price.

There are lots of greylisting implementations available. I'm using milter-greylist for Sendmail, on Solaris.
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Electrical problems solved (?) [13 Dec 2005|08:47pm]
Not that anyone probably cares, but I figure maybe Phil or John might find this mildly amusing.

For a long time (starting a couple of years ago, and getting markedly worse in the last few months), I have had a problem at my house where if I turn on things that use a fair amount of electricity -- the microwave, a hair dryer -- the lights kind of dim a bit. Recently, it got so bad that the UPS would go to battery any time the microwave was on.

I got out a meter and checked the voltage. I was surprised to find that sometimes when I turned on a load the voltage would go down, but sometimes it would go up. Maybe my microwave has the ability to create electricity.

Anyway, after several visits from both the electrician and the power company, I think we've finally fixed the problem. It turned out to be a bad neutral connection to the house from the electric company. This is, of course, not the electric company's problem (I have learned that pretty much everything that can break with your electrical service is your responsibility and not theirs), and my electrician came out this morning and installed some jumper wires to make a better connection.

While the problem was going on (and I was getting progressively more pissed off because I could not solve the problem yet was paying money to have things repaired), I started collecting data from my UPS (an APC SmartUPS, which has a serial port where I can read the line voltage it sees from my house) every five seconds.

Here's the "before" picture. This is an hour one morning while I'd be getting ready for work, and some hair dryers would be used:


I showed this picture to some folks at work, and the general reaction was "how is all your electronic equipment not broken?" The red lines are the boundaries of what the UPS will accept. Outside that, it goes to battery. So at least the computers are protected from the 145V surge.

And here's an hour this evening, which looks promising:


Let's hope it's finally fixed this time.
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Nigerian eBay scam [10 Dec 2005|07:54pm]
For the last week, I have been trying to sell my old laptop on eBay. I'm on my third auction so far, and I'll explain why.

I listed my laptop last Saturday, and when I got up Sunday morning I saw that the auction had ended because someone paid the "Buy it now" price. I thought that was great -- I could get my money and ship the laptop and be done with the auction without waiting the full seven days. I noticed that the winning bidder had just registered his eBay account that day, which concerned me a little.

The guy wrote me an email, and in it he said he lived in the UK (my auction said I would ship internationally), but that the laptop was purchased as a gift for someone in Nigeria. Now whenever I hear the word "Nigeria" I think "scam." But he went on to say he'd pay with Western Union Bidpay in advance of my shipment, and wanted to know the shipping charge.

I went to FedEx's web site and spent half an hour reading the instructions for international shipping. I had never shipped internationally before, and found that it is, oh, about a hundred times more complicated than shipping in the US. And depending on the destination country and what you're shipping, it's perhaps two hundred times more complicated. On their site they mentioned that you may need an export license, and FedEx isn't going to be responsible for telling you if you do, but they gave a link to some US gonvernment web site where, if are very patient, you can figure that out. I figured out (I think) that if I want to send a computer to Nigeria I need an export license. I wouldn't need one to send to, say, the UK, but I do for Nigeria (if I'm reading it correctly).

So I write back to the buyer and explain this. I tell him that I can't ship to Nigeria, and gave him two options: either he provides a UK address I can ship to instead, or we can mutually agree to end the transaction. But I can't ship the computer to Nigeria. His response was another plea to ship to Nigeria, and a complicated explanation of his situation and why the computer has to go to Nigeria. So I wrote him back a "bitch I told you!" email and decided to re-list.

I relisted the laptop again on Tuesday, and this time I specified that I would only ship to the US. The next day, eBay is telling me the auction is over because someone purchased it with "Buy it now." Great, I thought. Only, the new buyer has zero feedback and has just created his eBay account. Sure enough, when I check my email, I've got another story about how this laptop is being purchased for someone in Nigera. So I told this idiot that I put in my auction listing that I won't ship internationally, and that he should screw off.

Today, I relisted again, and this time I found that I could make eBay require that bidders have a PayPal account and not be registered in any foreign country. Maybe that will help, I figured. It has so far -- the auction has been open all day and no one has bid yet (which, strangely, is a good thing in my case).

What was killing me was that I knew this send-the-laptop-to-Nigeria thing was some kind of scam, but how? How does this guy benefit by paying me and having me ship to Nigeria instead of somewhere else?

Well I did a little Googling (which I should have done initially) and found this page called Beware of Fraud: eBay purchase for Nigeria using Bidpay (Western Union). Had I continued with this buyer, the scam would have been to send me a fake email from Western Union saying that the money had been given to them, but that they wouldn't release it to me until I gave them the tracking number of the item (meaning I had to ship it before receiving my money). This, of course, would only work if I was a moron, because the fake Western Union emails it says come from free webmail addresses.

The best part of the page was reading about this guy who got a bidder just like me who wanted to ship to Nigeria. Only, in this guy's case, the bidder sent him a prepaid FedEx shipping label to send the item to Nigeria. Then the guy discovers it's a scam, and decides to use that label to send the scammer a box full of concrete pavers, cat litter, dog shit, and a dead squirrel. Pure genius. And he tool pictures of the box before sealing it up. I should have pressed my buyer for a prepaid shipping label and done the same.
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Bucs game [06 Nov 2005|07:01pm]
Michele, Mark, and I went to today's Bucs game in Tampa against the Panthers. Unfortunately, the Bucs lost. Badly. But, we had pretty decent seats. I had bought the tickets the day all the home games went on sale months ago, and I knew we were in one of the upper-bowl sections. The tickets said row "WC" on them, so I figured that was way up there. When we got to the stadium today, it turns out that row "WC" is the wheelchair section -- the front row of the upper bowl, so there's no one sitting in front of you (or behind you, either -- there's a walkway there). So we were able to get a great view of the game.

We're thinking about maybe going back later in the season for another home game. I think the demand for scalped tickets is low this year, so you can get a good deal. On the way in, we heard someone offering 50 yard line tickets for $20 each (my tickets had a face value of $71 each). So maybe we'll show up on game day and if there's a good deal to be had, we'll see another game.
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Death Cab for Cutie [30 Oct 2005|11:55pm]
Michele and I saw Death Cab for Cutie tonight at Hard Rock Live at Universal. It was a great show, and has been sold out for a while. Luckily, a friend had some extra tickets I was able to buy. I've only heard Transatlanticism and the newest album (Plans), but most of the songs they played were off one of those two albums.

It turns out that they scheduled another show here for tomorrow night as well. They were supposed to play at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida tomorrow, but that place still has no electricity because of Hurricane Wilma last week.
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Europe pictures online [24 Oct 2005|04:49pm]
This seemed to take forever, but the pictures from our European cruise are finally online. It was a two-week trip over Labor Day. We were actually just trying to take a one-week cruise from Rome to Barcelona, but when you try and cash in frequeny flier miles for free tickets, you have to be flexible on the dates. So we ended up with three days in Rome before the cruise and one day in Barcelona after the cruise.

We cruised on Windstar Cruises. I highly recommend it. Their boats are actually sailboats (okay, sail yachts) that are smaller than typical huge cruise liners -- the boat we were on held at most 500 passengers, compared to a couple of thousand you'd find on, say, a Carnival cruise. And there were no screaming kids. Actually, there were no kids at all -- I think they won't even let anyone under 16 on the ship. Everything on their ships is very fancy. And surprisingly, the drinks are reasonably priced. In fact, they charge the same price for a mixed drink no matter what brand of liquor you ask them to put in it. You gotta love that.

Being on a smaller ship, I thought we'd be the smallest boat at every port. But it was quite the reverse -- the ship went to ports that big ships can't, so we were the largest ship at most of the ports. Plus, they let you go onto the bridge (if they're not docked somewhere) and talk to the crew. That was way cool. I tried doing that on an airplane once and got arrested.

One of the stops we made (the only overnight stop, actually) was at Monte Carlo. I had always wanted to go to Monte Carlo. Turns out, it looks like Disney World. They make so much money from tourism and the casinos there that none of the residents pay income taxes. We went to the Grand Casino just to say that we had done it, and it was a bit of a let-down. Picture an American casino, but everyone is wearing a coat and tie, no one is talking, charge a fee to enter the casino, everyone is absolutely silent and there are no craps tables (they call it "Le Craps," but it doesn't really matter because you can't play it there). It would be better to picture a library with a roulette table and a cover charge. But hey, at least I can say I've been there.
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My email is stuck in 1997 [28 Apr 2005|08:45pm]
My email is stuck in the past. Ever since about 1997, I've been using nmh to read my mail on a UNIX command-line window. It's great -- I can read and compose email from anywhere I can get a terminal. Procmail is automatically sorting incoming mail into folders based on. The down side is that my mail shows up on a terminal. If you send me a MIME email that's composed in HTML, my email program fires up a text-mode web browser to view it. If you send me an attachment, I can detach it to the filesystem, but odds are I can't do anything with it without transferring it to a Windows system. The ironic thing about it is that many times, I'm at a Windows system reading my mail, just through PuTTY talking to my home system.

I think the ultimate solution would be an IMAP server that could work with the MH filestore on the backend. Ideally, I would be able to sometimes use the nmh command line utilities to read mail, and sometimes fire up a cutesy IMAP GUI to read the mail, and I'd be reading out of the same folders. It's looking like this is a hopeless search -- there are a few IMAP servers that can use the MH mail format, but they don't update the MH configuration files in your home directory, so mail that's read with an IMAP client won't show up as read with the command line client, and vice versa.

A few weeks ago, I thought the solution to this would be to write a program that acted as an IMAP server, but didn't manipulate the mail files directly and instead just called the nmh command line utilities to do the dirty work. In essence, only the nmh programs would be reading mail, and the IMAP client would work exactly like the command line. It was a great idea until I read RFC 3501 and all the things an IMAP server has to do to be considered a functioning IMAP server. Making a POP server that did this on the backend would be easy, making an IMAP server is more difficult.

At this point, you might be asking why I can't just switch mailbox formats and start fresh. (And if you're not asking that, then you're obviously not interested in this discussion at all, and you should have stopped reading long ago.) Over the years, I've amassed about 30,000 emails in lots of folders, and I'm not exactly excited about attempting to beat that into some new format, to then see if I like it. Maybe it's finally time to change, though. But until then, I'll be reading mail in an 80x24 terminal window and composing mail in vi.
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HDTV DVR [29 Jan 2005|05:56pm]
Finally, after waiting over a year since I got HDTV, my cable company has a DVR (digital video recorder) available for hi-def customers. It's been kinda lame not being able to record anything in high definition, but now I'm no longer a slave to TV schedules.

On a related note, in July of this year we'll all be at the mercy of the broadcast flag, which lets broadcasters control exactly what you can and can't record. If you thought that you could do whatever you want with programs broadcast over the air into your home, you're wrong (or, at least the FCC thinks you're wrong). But I'm sure this is just the FCC protecting me from something awful, like they do with nipples on TV and naughty words on the radio.
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Back to Gainesville [03 Nov 2004|10:46pm]
Michele and I went back to Gainesville this past weekend to see John, Veronica, and the whole G-ville bunch. John was kind enough to give us a tour of the campus. Lots of things have changed -- there's no Taco Bell in the Hub any more! If you're interested, I took some pictures.
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Boss' 50th birthday [04 Oct 2004|05:41pm]
My boss Ken turned 50 over the weekend, so we decided to have a little fun with him at the office. He's out until tomorrow, so today we filled up his office with black balloons. It took a team of us a good couple of hours, with two shop-vacs that we were using to quickly fill the balloons. It was totally worth it.

Here's a picture about half of the way through. When it got too full, we had to close the door to the office, take out some ceiling tiles, and toss the balloons over the ceiling from outside the office. In the end, we stuffed over 900 balloons in the office, and we still had room for maybe 100-200 more. But I think he'll get the point tomorrow morning, assuming he can open the door to his office.
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Hawaii Pictures [02 Oct 2004|07:33pm]

We got back from Hawaii a month ago, but with the hurricanes and all, it's taken this long to get the pictures online. But after much hard work by Michele, they're finally available. Part of the problem was that we took so many pictures (even after removing the ones we didn't want, there were well over 400 left). But hey, we probably won't be back soon, and digital pictures are free.

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Two down, one to go? [09 Sep 2004|09:04pm]


Here are a couple of pictures of my house, all boarded up for Frances this past weekend. That's our second hurricane in central Florida in two weeks, and it looks like we might get another one (a nasty one, perhaps) early next week. So I'm leaving the boards up. In fact, I bought more wood so that maybe I can cover some more windows.



This is getting out of hand. I've lived in Florida all my life and I've never seen anything like this. Last week, they had police in some of the Home Depot stores to keep things from getting out of hand. Sure enough, on Thursday a fight broke out at the one on Alafaya and they had to close the store until the cops could get things taken care of.

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Another hurricane! [03 Sep 2004|12:46pm]
I just got back from vacation in Hawaii late Wednesday night, and there's another damn hurricane coming for Orlando. Michele and I were completely unaware until I saw the front page of USA Today in the Salt Lake City airport Wednesday morning. There was a satellite picture of the storm with some headline like "Florida gets screwed again!"

So now I've been to Home Depot about 300 times in the last two days. All you can hear outside is saws and drills. This one is supposed to be nastier than Charley, and I think people are getting serious this time. There are long waits for plywood, and Home Depot has a sign outside listing what they're out of (there's no duct tape to be had in this town). Yesterday, I heard that a fight broke out in one of the Home Depots (on Alafaya), so bad that they had to close the store while the cops got there. People are on edge, and they want that damn duct tape.

Luckily, we got enough wood to cover all the first-story windows, and the one on the second story where the computers are. I'll have to take some pictures, but probably won't be posting them until after the storm. They're saying we're going to get sustained 80-100 MPH winds here, which is a little stronger than we got with Charley (my area got like 70). Also, Charley blew through in just an hour or two, but they're saying this one will last many, many hours.

See you on the other side.
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