Testing…One two…One two…Testing…One…One two…

  on August 31st, 2006

So, this is the blog thingy is it, hmm?

One writes one’s thoughts down, eh?

Ok, I’m bloody knackered! I need to do more laundry. Are those my feet? What the hell am I gonna do in the next Bibblethruster Noise Show – avalible to stream Mondays and Thursdays at 19.30 uk time and 0001 on Wednesdays from:

and to download once the last show of the week has been broadcast from:

I just don’t know.

For those folk who are perplexed by our Chief Scientist’s remarks about seemingly wasting time, I’d like to give you all a gentle reminder that Bank Holidays, time off etc is for relaxing. Watching dvds. Playing MMORPG thingies. Generaly being a slob. (And before anybody says’ what about DIY?’, don’t. Just don’t. I won’t be held responsible for the language I use, ok?


Now, where was I?

Oh yes…

I really must get the cat’s teeth looked at. Why do teeth itch? Why is a mouse when it spins? Are those really my feet? How do I switch this thing off…?




The end of the extra long weekend

  on August 30th, 2006

It was back to work today, after a four day weekend (thanks to a Bank Holiday Monday and a day’s leave on Tuesday).

Looking back at the weekend, what did I achieve? There’s my problem right there. It’s meant to be a holiday, a time to relax, but instead I find myself worrying about wasting the precious time off! That’s why I don’t tend to take holidays. Weekends are okay, Bank Holidays not too bad. Days I’ve actually taken off work though – they are the tough ones. I’m spending that rare resource, those irreplaceable days when my colleagues are at work but I’m not. Those days can’t be wasted! I will, normally, be sitting at home looking at the clock, watching that time slip away. It’s midday! What have I done with my time?! Woke up late, maybe caught up on a DVD or some TV. Waste! I’ll make up for it this afternoon. 3PM. Only a couple of hours or so until I would be leaving work! What have I done with my time?! Surfed the Internet a bit? Looked at my latest pet project but made no real progress? Waste! 5PM. That’s it, I’ve wasted that day off! That kind of self imposed stress I can do without – that’s why I don’t take holidays!

What did I actually do in this instance over my extended weekend? I caught up with a couple of DVDs rented from Screenselect (A Few Good Men and Jonathan Creek, if you must know – both excellent!) I also bought (rare these days) the DVD set of American Gothic, an excellent 1995/6 TV series that I’ve had my eye on for some time, just waiting for the price to drop to an acceptable amount. £22.99 was good enough for me! Obviously it wasn’t all DVDs this weekend, or my head would have exploded at my extravagant wasting of holiday…

Before most of those DVDs was a Saturday/Sunday mostly concentrating on the recent Staggering Stories Update. In fact it was thanks to all that hard work that I allowed myself to spend most of the Monday in front of the TV. I deserved it! That concentrated hard work was my own fault – I fail to observe my own deadlines for Staggering Stories… Tuesday last week I had finished about half of my Doctor Who Series Two (as in the second Doctor Who television series), Season Two (as in the second season of this new series). Then I had people over on Wednesday, pulled a day and a half working day on Thursday and had people over again on Friday. Yep, I was out of time! Apologies for the rushed feel of the article in question, now you know why it is like that! So, after finishing that and pulling together the largest update this year it was about 1AM Monday morning and time for bed!

Then on Tuesday (after the previously mentioned DVD session on Monday) it was time to do something productive – this was my officially booked off day from work, after all! Zip down the town at about 09:30, after the morning rush hour with an odd hankering for Trivial Pursuit. Huh? Trivial Pursuit?! You know you are getting old when you actually want to play a trivia game. Not that I actually had anyone to play it with. I really wanted it as a PC game, failing that a decently priced board game. I failed to find either. No sign of the PC game and £30 for a board game is a bit excessive, especially for an inexplicable urge (I’m not even any good with trivia!) The DVD editions sounded good but at £36 I thought I’d rather check online prices, especially as I’m likely to lose interest in the idea by the time I got home. In the end it became a possible new pet project: TriviaML – an existing Open Standard for trivia questions and answers that might just be perfect to base our own online quiz on for Staggering Stories! Yes, new interactive content for the web site. Maybe!

That wasn’t the real pet project on my mind right now, though. Oh no. That’s CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). It is long since time that Staggering Stories gets a make over (see earlier blog posts on the subject!) My first effort was to understand and edit the format of this blog. You may, or may not, have noticed that the width of this site has increased from about 800 pixels wide to 1000 pixels (and you may need to refresh the page a couple of times if it’s cached old graphics). Staggering Stories is already best viewed at 1024×768 or better, so it made sense for the blog to be the same. It wasn’t too hard. Next up is more experimentation with a complete rebuild of (including listing my latest blog posts there, as planned for all blog posts on the main Staggering Stories site eventually).

Much more to do, so when’s my next holiday booked?



Time doth fly

  on August 29th, 2006

I suppose I should write something about sci-fi or Doctor Who or other geeky things (and I probably will later) but my first entry in this blog is going to be a Virtual Moment Of Supressed Sobbing.

In two weeks’ time our Andrew is leaving home.

(Pause while I wail and rend my garments)

There are those among you who have known him since he wasn’t even born. You were there as I hurled my guts, you were there for that frightening Week In Hospital incident and you were there when he was born (some of you used large quantities of alcohol to keep his father sane and not gibbering – and for that I thank you). And now he’s going.

OK, he’s not going to the other side of the world, but he’s still going. Off to board at agricultural college for at least the next year.

Honestly, how would you feel if your first born opted to live with pigs and cows rather than at home. There again, if you saw the state of his bedroom…

So spare a thought over the next couple of weeks as we pack his stuff and try desperately to cram in those last few life lessons that may mean the difference between fresh, neat laundry and bright pink, shrunken shirts.

I can’t speak for Keith, but on the outside I’ll be all ‘well done son…proud of you…take care…’ while on the inside I’ll be curled up in a ball wondering where that cute little curly-haired chap went.
If anyone’s up for a stiff drink, give me a call.



Random Spam

  on August 25th, 2006

It never stops, does it? 07:45 to 20:45 at the office yesterday, then on my way home stop in to help someone install and setup a freeview box, then home and off to bed without supper! Not a typical day but nor does that sort of non-stop action seem too unusual either. Why is it there is always more to do than time to do it? Never time to get bored these days, that’s for sure.

What else has been occupying those few stolen moments recently, then? Spam. Damn spam. A.K.A Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (UCE, note the correct spelling of e-mail, not that I tend to use it, it’s email to me!) You see I’ve just managed, after several years, to enable the Staggering Stories emails. Yes, all those emails on the Contact Us page haven’t worked since day one. Whoops. I’ve been meaning to do something about that for quite a while but see the previous paragraph as to why it’s taken so long! For the first two or three years of Staggering Stories’ existence the email addresses were right there in plain ASCII text as part of the Contact Us page. Not surprisingly spammers quickly got the idea of harvesting email addresses from web sites and if Google can find our site to index it so can they. What must be a year or so back I decided that this wasn’t a great idea and now, if you look at the page source, you’ll notice that instead of hard coded email addresses there are script calls such as <script type=”text/javascript”>getaddress(“adam”);</script> Anyone with Javascript enabled in their browser (and that is just about everyone these days) will see the address as before but robots (also know as spiders, the programs that index the web) most likely don’t interpret the script. Or so I hope. It may be too late, though…

In the last 5 days I’ve had over 350 junk emails to a Staggering Stories address and that’s after some fairly aggressive anti-spam measures I’ve implemented in the last few days. My first effort was Greylisting, in the form of Postgrey. This works on the theory that most spam these days comes in from zombies. Yes, zombies are sending out most of the spam. Really! Of course, when I say ‘zombie‘ I don’t really mean the animated corpses who crave human brains. Instead they tend to be Windows machines that have been security compromised, almost certainly with the owner being completely ignorant of the fact, and are being backdoor controlled by a spammer. The spammers have thousands of such machines at their command which form what is known as a botnet. The botnet is then commanded to send out spam, using the bandwidth of the compromised systems. Suddenly the spammer have a huge resource of thousands of machines sending out thousands of spam emails an hour each – all for free. These botnets are also employed to take down Internet sites by focusing all that bandwidth power on one poor site in a big sustained assault. Of course to the owners of the individual zombie machines all they might notice is a slowdown of their computer and Internet link as their machines do the botnet’s bidding in the background. Generally zombie machines don’t use their ISP’s email servers to send the email and you will never see this spam appearing in your Outbox or Sent Items. Instead the machines connect directly to the destination email server (in Staggering Stories’ case my own Bytemark Virtual Machine), effectively pretending to be another email server that is passing the message on. This is where Greylisting comes in (and notice the odd use of the English spelling, as it should be, rather the more likely American English). A real email server works within well specified (in theory) protocol. If an email server isn’t able to handle an incoming message at that time it will tell the sending email server and the sender will queue it up to resend later. Zombie PCs don’t normally follow the protocol, they fire and forget – if it fails to get through first time they won’t queue and resend. Why bother when you’ve got a list of 50,000 email addresses to spam? Of course Greylisting does cause a delay in the email being received but once it has successfully had a resend from a machine it then allows future emails from that one through first time.

Did it work? Not noticeably, no. I’m not sure why yet. Perhaps zombie software has improved to do resends. Perhaps my Greylisting isn’t working at all. I’m not sure yet how to test those theories so it was on to another measure: Real-time Blackhole Listing.

A Real-time Blackhole List (also known as DNS-based Blackhole List) is the somewhat controversial idea of checking the IP of every machine connecting to your email server and outright banning them if they appear on the said list. So, we’ve got a list of bad IP addresses and we’re going to ignore email from any of those. Doesn’t sound too controversial. That is until you think how that list was built and maintained. There are at least a dozen such lists available, the majority free, and they vary greatly in how they obtain and maintain their lists. There are conservative lists and very aggressive lists. Some just use email honeypots, email addresses they seed on the web, newsgroups or elsewhere, that are never used for real emails, and any IP that sends an email to one of these is automatically banned (perhaps after a number of trangressions, perhaps only one). Then there are lists that contain known ‘dynamic IP addresses’ (almost, but not quite, exclusively used by home users). Many people take the not entirely unreasonable view that emails should never be coming directly from people’s home IP addresses, as legitimate users always relay it through their ISP. There are other schemes too, such as running email content analysis (much as your email client will do) to guess whether an email is spam – too many of those from your IP and you’re out too. Many lists combine such techniques. Some even allow you to appeal, though not all. That’s where it really gets nasty. If you find yourself on such a list, rightly or wrongly, it can be nearly impossible to get yourself removed from them. Some lists are very clandestine, in an attempt to avoid the wrath of the spammers (and let’s not kid about that, the spammers are increasingly linked with the Russian Mafia – there’s big money in spam). So, can I trust the quality of these lists? What the heck – I’ve got to try something! In the end I chose about a dozen different filter lists, based on nothing more than an Internet recommendation and crossed my fingers.

Did it work? Not noticeably, no. I’m not sure why yet. I am beginning to get the feeling my email server, Postfix, isn’t checking with any of these filter lists, let alone performing the Greylisting. More investigation is required…



The staggering bunch

  on August 18th, 2006

Yes! Finally the Staggering Stories domain has been moved. Space is no longer an issue (within reason) and hopefully reliability will increase. Any failures from here on in are much more likely to be my fault than anyone else’s. That’s how it should be. Nobody to blame but myself. If you want something done right… and other such sayings.

There are still things to do but those are mainly thanks to the new opportunities this move gives me. The old Staggering Stories should work exactly as it used to (reminder to self, I must change the links to the Forum to the final URL). In addition there is now this blog. Now there are three of them! Yes, the, and the irreplacable Our empire grows!

Once it has all settled down (and I’ve finally, after all these years, got the Staggering Stories emails working) I’ll take a look at a site redesign. The only problem: I’m no graphic designer. Looking at Staggering Stories you knew that already, of course! I’d like to, if I can, bring a summary of the latest forum and blog entries onto the Staggering Stories front page, alongside the regular update list. Unlike with PlusNet I can now run PHP (or python, ruby, perl, java, etc.) on the main site instead of having to segregate it off onto a different CGI platform. The opportunities are almost endless (unlike our time!)

As Shaw Taylor would say – Keep ’em peeled!