Lars Wirzenius: December, 2003


Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Random thought: Six months of logging

Today is exactly six months after I started keeping a public log. I have added to the log on 106 days out of the 214 that spans the period, giving an average of 0.495 entries per day. Including this entry, I have written 34952 words (not including HTML markup), an average of 329.7 words per day with entries. Printed out with html2ps the whole thing is almost 90 pages long, depending on margins and such.

Hit statistics

Visits to the front page of my log. Search engines and other robots excluded to the best of my ability. Only one hit per IP number per day is counted to get a better idea of the number of people visiting.

Random hacks: New web page colors

I got a sudden inspiration to play with colors for my web pages and abandon the black-on-white look. I blame Janka for this, since she was playing with hers a few days ago. In the process I unified my CSS stylesheets so that most pages now use the same one. The exceptions are mostly web galleries of photographs and such, which are generated by Lodju and aren't supposed to follow the look of the rest of my pages.

I'm not sure I'll the new look when I wake up, but we'll see.

I also set the line-height attribute for most text to be 1.3, instead of the default 1, so that lines are a bit less tightly packed. I hope this improves readability.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Personal life: Worn out, getting better

I was rather worn out before Christmas. For the past almost two weeks, I haven't done anything except rested and relaxed. I had planned to hack on personal projects during last week, but it was not to be. Except for two small things I did on Christmas day to prevent boredom, I haven't done any hacking at all, work or hobby.

I'm now feeling much better, and have actually fixed a few small bugs in Lodju today, and will hopefully be able to get into hack mode on it tomorrow.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Photography: Teaching friends, shooting Sanna

Sanna's feet

Gave a short tutorial to two friends, Teemu and Sanna. Afterwards we had a shooting session with Sanna, a dance addict. We'd been planning this for quite some time, but never managed to get our schedules in sync before.

Again I have taken many frames with bad exposures, bad focus, or other problems. On the other hand, there were a few that weren't half bad, and Sanna herself seems to be satisfied enough.

Rant: Explosions

It is that time of the year again: kids are being armed with explosives and can't wait until New Year's eve. This is an unnecessary, pointless ordeal we have to go through every year. Not only is the noise an annoyance and the risk of mishaps a worry, you also have to worry about the more malevolent kids throwing fireworks at you on purpose. If not at people, then at dogs.

People aren't allowed to shoot guns at will. There's no point in allowing them to play with explosives, either. Owning and handling fireworks should require a license, just like with guns. People should pool their money to hire fireworks professionals instead of wasting them on stuff they don't know how to use properly. Blah.

Perhaps I should just move some into the middle of a forest, far away from everyone, at least during this time of the year.

Random thought: No more games or news

I've uninstalled all games and news readers from my computer. I found that it had became a frequent habit of spending time in front of the computer by merely playing GNOME Iagno or looking for silly flames in news. I could easily spend hours doing either or both. I don't have to be productive all that time, but at least I could do something that has a point, such as watching good movies over and over.

The games are gone since before Christmas, and slrn is gone since yesterday. I'm feeling some withdrawal symptoms: every few moments I switch to a gnome-terminal an type slrn before I remember. Ah well, this will pass soon enough.

On a related note, I've set my mailer to fetch my personal mail only every 60 minutes in the hopes that this will let me process mail the way it is supposed to be processed: whenever you have time for it and not whenever it arrives. Perhaps I should even stop the mailer from fetching mail automatically and only fetch it when I order it manually. (Work mail is of a higher priority, so that one is still fetched every few minutes.)

I'm not, however, giving up IRC. It is much too useful for real-time communication and it requires that I am "on IRC" all the time. I've long ago developed the habit of ignoring what happens on IRC when I have other things to do, unless someone is speaking to me (message tabs for private conversations and highlighting help a lot here).

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Random thought: Bookmarks and link pages

When I first started using the web, a decade ago or so, I quickly ran into the problem of keeping track of interesting pages. Even the earliest browsers had a bookmark feature, which was fairly nice. The problem with bookmarks, for me, was that they were tied to one browser on one machine, and I was constantly using at least two browsers (lynx and Mosaic) on several computers (at home and at the university, for example).

I solved this problem by moving all my bookmarks to a link page, which I've been maintaining ever since. I do use bookmarks: whenever I encounter a page I want to read later, I make a bookmark. A bookmark is easy to make. However, once I have read it, if I find it I want to remember it, I add it to my link page.

I maintain my link page with a plain text editor and write the HTML by hand. This is the teeniest bit tedious, and would be simpler with a suitable tool such as a good HTML editor. I don't want to use one: I want there to be just a little bit of a threshold for adding a link to the page. This makes it easier to maintain a high quality of the links I save, and also keeps the number of links down. If the link page grows too large, it becomes difficult to find things in it.

Rant: Too many passwords

I have recently been invited by various people to register at various web sites (these have partly been related to Christmas gifts). So far, I've resisted them without much difficulty. Registering is a bother: I have to come up with a username and password and remember them. Then, if I start using the site, I need to change the password periodically: I am, after all, responsible for things done using that password, so I am obliged to take good care of it. The more passwords I have to keep track of, the less pleasant my life is. It is easier to just not register at all.

Running a service as a web site usually inherently requires people to register and to log in, since not everything can be run as an open Wiki. For the few web sites that provide a service which I value (such as LWN or Freshmeat), I do register, and log in, but I find that my threshold is fairly high.

Some sites require registration even just to browse, such as a Finnish photography web site's discussion forums. Such sites are best ignored, in my opinion, unless there is a good reason to assume they are useful.

The multiplying password problem is not limited to web sites, of course. I find myself subjected to requirements to keep track of ever increasing numbers of authentication things everywhere. Having to administer many computers means having to remember many passwords. Bank and credit cards have PIN codes. Mobile phones have PIN codes (several, in fact). Some doors have electronic locks with PIN codes, sometimes in addition to a physical key. Mailing list subscriptions and unsubscriptions may require passwords. Even some IRC channels have passwords.

I've been resisting new passwords for a while, now. I think it's time to actually start reducing them. This may have the side benefit that my life in general becomes simpler: if I don't administer quite as many services on quite as many different machines, my life will almost certainly not suffer.

Life should be simple.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Rant: Needless dot files

I've just cleaned some dot files from my home directory. It is quite annoying that there were a couple of dozen unnecessary ones, all from programs I've started to see what they look like but never actually used. It is a stupid trend that a program should create a dot file with it settings unless those settings have actually been changed. What's worse, it seems that some libraries have started doing that as well: one of the removed files was called libgda. Blah!

Random thought: Google's logo


Every now and then Google replaces its normal logo with a charming variation relevant to the day. For example, today they have snow and snow men. (Image blatantly stolen from their site.) So far, all the ones I've seen have been with surprisingly good taste. On the other hand, Google in general seems to have surprisingly good taste: the first thing I noticed, when they were new, was that their front page had only the essentials, and wasn't cluttered by a dozen ads and other distractions from the actual search engine. If I were looking for a job abroad, such a company image would be quite inviting.

(If Google is evil, please don't tell me. I'd like to keep some illusions.)

Random thought: Someone should study IRC scientifically

In a conversation with Hanna the idea arose again that IRC would be an interesting object of various kinds of studies. For example, there is a theory that people who use IRC a lot to communicate with friends have a larger active circle of friends with whom they are in closer contact than is usual. The language used on IRC is probably also different from both spoken language, formal written language, and other kinds of informal written languages. The way information spreads between IRC channels, and how quickly, is also interesting. "Urban folk lore", such as the kinds of urban myths and stories, is related to that: how does the information change as it spreads from channel to channel?

I don't know anyone to suggest these kinds of topics, and I'm not really sure if any funding for the research can be found, anyway. Alas.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Random thought: Winter solstice

The days are about to become longer again. Joy and happiness!

Random thought: Blood

I learned tonight that stabbing yourself in the thumb with a sharp kitchen knife is a good way to make interesting patterns in blood all over your apartment. This would be the start of an avant garde art movement, except it's a bit wasteful on the digits.

Random thought: Exercise the creativity muscle

At least a couple of friends (Katja Kivilahti and Lauri Alanko) have commented on creativity recently, and the problem of where it comes from. Since this has occupied my own thoughts as well, I'll write down my opinion.

Lauri writes:

The last time Neil Gaiman visited Finland, he was, once again, asked the standard question: "Where do you get your inspiration?" His answer was: "Boredom. Excrutiating boredom." According to Neil, when you watch a school play (something by Henrik Ibsen) with very bad acting, and you just can't leave in the middle of the play, then your brain will attempt to escape the horror of it by starting to generate fantasy diversions. Hence, creativity.

I find this to be somewhat different from my experience. My brain also comes up with ideas whenever it isn't otherwise occupied: while I'm walking, sitting in a bus, shaving, or taking care of the other necessary parts of life that don't require my full attention. However, when my brain is occupied, by, say, reading or in a meeting or while writing code that was supposed to be ready yesterday, parts of it still keep coming up with new ideas. It can be quite a bother sometimes: there I am, happily trying to get on with things, when inspiration strikes and a new though interrupts everything. It is often a thought that is completely unrelated to whatever I'm supposed to be doing.

I am quite certain that the situations that are most inducive for new ideas differ between people. What works for me is unlikely to work for you. That is fine, everyone just needs to find out what works for them. (Stabbing my thumb didn't work for me, so it might work for you.)

I am also quite sure that inspiration, generating new ideas, being creative, is something that gets easier the more you do it. The more ideas you have, the easier it gets. The brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised.

More important that the way to get new ideas is, I think, what you do with them. It is not enough to have an idea, you have to do the work as well. I learned a few years ago that starting a new project every time I had a new idea meant that I never finished anything. That was quite frustrating and I'm happy to say that my resolve not to start a new project before I finish an old one works well.

As an aside, the other thing to watch out for is trying to perfect something. Nothing will ever be perfect. Nothing will especially be perfect without being implemented. Something that works is better in all its flaws than an ideal design that exists only as a concept. After you have something that works, you can start fixing its flaws. After it is good enough, you let it be and take up the next project. This is the way you get things done. (That probably means that I am in the "Worse is better" camp.)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Linux: On the Lindows trademark

It seems that Lindows is having trouble with its trademark. Again. I'm not surprised: the words Lindows and Windows differ in exactly one letter and as far as I can see, Lindows's name is a clear attempt to be similar to Microsoft's offering. Since the space of possible names is so huge, I see no point in toeing the line. Lindows is simply wrong in this case, even if they are Linux-friendly.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Random thought: I need a new editor

I was not feeling very well yesterday, so it was a good day to look at potential new editors. As I've told before, my primary editor, Simple editor for X (or SeX for short) is becoming old and does not, for example, understand UTF-8. I wish to have a new one.

I searched for new editors packaged in the Debian unstable distribution with apt-cache search text editor. Since I use GNOME 2.4 as my desktop and want my editor to mesh in well, I further restricted the search to those using the Gtk+ version 2 libraries, except that I included GNU Emacs and XEmacs (both version 21) since they are so popular and powerful.

Unfortunately, none of the editors I tried was fully satisfactory. Many were toylike, or had usability problems, such as being radically different from the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines. It's not enough to use Gtk+, the editor also has to follow other user interface conventions on my desktop. Except for the Emacsen: they're old enough and powerful enough that I can forgive them being different.

After trying out several editors, the candidates were narrowed down to GNU Emacs, XEmacs, and GEdit. GEdit is the default text editor for the GNOME desktop and the one that clearly follows the GNOME HIG best. It is simple, which I like, and would mostly be what I'm looking for, except for a few crucial problems: it changes indentation size by changing the tab size, which is inexcusable; it does not have a "format paragraph" command (similar to Meta-Q in Emacsen), which is awkward; and it does not seem to have a way to have several windows showing the same file, which is too limiting. These would certainly be possible for me to add to GEdit, though it would mean hacking on other people's C code, which is always icky. I suspect there may be other stuff lurking, I did not make a thorough test. GEdit also takes about two seconds to start, where SeX takes half a second (both times with the editor already loaded into the buffer cache). When starting both editors on a typical project - all the Python files in Lodju, which is quite typical for how I work - the times were about 10 seconds versus 0.8 seconds. Even though starting editors is not the primary thing I do, having to wait even occasionally so long times is quite irritating.

Both Emacsen are ugly. GNU Emacs managed to do the UTF-8 thing out of the box, but XEmacs did not. Neither obeyed my mouse scroll wheel without configuration. I used GNU Emacs as my primary editor for a year or two before writing SeX and it seems that things have not changed much: Emacs (regardless of flavor) has all the ingredients of a good editor, but requires you to configure, adjust, tweak, and assemble it yourself. I'm not very happy about that. If I need to write a large .emacs file to be happy with Emacs, then I'm going to have to copy that file to every computer I use. I would prefer to have an editor that is usable everywhere. (This is also why I keep my .bashrc and .bash_profile minimal.)

A friend urged me to try Gvim today. It is much prettier than the Emacsen, and uses Gtk+ 2, but not really anywhere near the GNOME HIG. It's vi, and I don't think vi and GUI mesh well. Obviously the vim developers disagree; they may be right in the general case, but as far as I'm concerned, I feel icky and confused. Too bad.

If I don't find a new one, I may have to succumb to NIH again, and rewrite SeX in Python and PyGTK. Fifteen minutes of testing proved that to be feasible and fairly simple: I could use the GtkTextView widget and Python's Unicode support, which together take care of most of the functionality I'd need. Add a little user interface stuff, and voila. The biggest problem would seem to be that GtkTreeView doesn't support rectangular selections. Neither do most editors I've tested, however.

Linux: Bogofilter

Bogofilter started acting in a peculiar manner, which resulted in it refusing to learn from new messages or even classifying old ones. Then, suddenly, it stopped failing. Not very nice. For the day or so it was acting up, I did not have spam filtering at all, and as a result my inbox was becoming hostile. Not good.

Review: Paladin of souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

I've been thinking about whether I should write fewer reviews, given that I tend to prefer not to read other people's reviews. I have decided to continue to write reviews whenever I feel like it. If nothing else, it means that there will be more reviews in the world with which I agree.

Paladin of souls by Lois McMaster Bujold is an independent sequel to Curse of Chalion. Bujold is best known for her science fiction space operas about the Vorkosigan family, particularly Miles Vorkosigan, but these two books are pure high fantasy. There's magic, there's royalty, the fate of the world is at stake. The genre is completely different and my impression is that so is the writing. Bujold's fantasy is a bit less hectic and there is less humor. Other than that, the writing and storytelling is superb. The characters remain perhaps a bit thin, but they still become dear. Excellent entertainment.

Review: Frasier

The TV series Frasier is a fairly typical US sitcom: lots of jokes and things to laugh at, not much diving into the more serious and sad parts of life. Exactly right, therefore, when you need to escape your life for a moment. Episodes are about 20 minutes each, which makes them perfect for brief relaxation.

Apart from a typical concept, Frasier is very well made. The jokes are actually funny, and acted and otherwise delivered well. Their pacing is quite perfect: much faster and I would be overloaded; much slower and I would be bored.

I've only seen the first season, having bought it on DVD. I've seen stray episodes on Finnish TV, however, and based on that, later seasons are as good, so I'm likely to buy more. (The best way to watch a TV series is, after all, not one episode per week, but as many as you can in as few sittings as you can.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Photography: Fine art photography is...?

A Google search for "fine art photography" gives interesting results: five of the top ten hits are to sites about nudes. Nothing wrong with nudes, of course, but I wouldn't have thought it to be such a large part of fine art photography.

Review: Bellweather by Connie Willies

Connie Willis' Bellwether is a very nice book. The plot is perhaps a bit simplistic and predictable, but since it is not the point of the book, it doesn't matter. The point of the book is the depiction of the silly things people do under stress. It felt similar to my own life and my own feelings, to the extent that I wanted to adopt the feelings and desires of the main character. I now have a vague feeling that I really should try to become a scientist after all. (I won't, since I failed academically already, and am not a researcher by nature anyway.)

I'll have to keep my eyes open for more books by Connie Willis. I've now read three. The first one, Uncharted territory, left no permanent memory trace, but also no bad feelings. To say nothing of the dog I read recently, and would probably have liked it better if it hadn't be hyped to me beforehand. Bellwether I like quite a bit. Let's hope the trend keeps. I could do with a few more new authors I like.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Random thought: News killed my n key

I read too much news. My N key on the keyboard is worn out much more than any other key.

My keyboard

Laptop keyboard after seven months of use.

Lodju: 2.1

Released version 2.1, after hacking on it most of the day. I have the feeling that things are again progressing nicely. The current code base is good enough, even if certainly not pretty, and I can concentrate on hacking new stuff rather than rewriting everything.

Also, the new customizable gallery support hopefully means I don't have to worry about HTML code again for Lodju.

Photography: Bright light not bright enough

I tried to use my bright light ("kirkasvalolamppu") as a soft box when photographing Yoe yesterday. It proved to be too weak unless it was very close. I'll have to experiment with it some more, though.

Random thought: Emotional phases

Sami Nikander and some other once came up with a way to describe the emotional phases before and after an event, specifically a LARP, though it is applicable to other events as well. A shortened version is this:

Early high
The joy you feel when you've decided to participate.
Early low
The stress you have when you realize you actually have to do things.
The stress you have when you're desperately preparing at the last minute. You're convinced everything will go wrong.
The stress has been converted to adrenaline and expectation. You notice you can't do any more preparation.
Event high
The adrenaline boost during the event itself and immediately after. Almost exstatic.
The sudden crash from the event high, when everything is over. Adrenaline deprivation. You realize all the things you did wrong or could have done better.
Late low
Further depression when you repeatedly go over all the problems. Can continue for days or weeks.
Late high
After the depression you forget the problems and are just happy about the good stuff.

I find myself following much of this pattern as far as my photography session are concerned. I'm chronically bad at preparing for things in time, and so my pre-low tends to be rather bad. For photography I have luckily now got enough routine that I don't have much preparation to do, and this reduces my pre-low to almost nothing.

My post-low depression, however, is still bad. I look at every photograph and find almost only imperfections. Every out of focus frame causes almost physical pain. Every boring composition, every botched exposure, every other problem pricks my pride like a needle under a nail. Luckily, I have learned not to delete pictures during this phase.

Even more luckily, occasionally I manage to take a picture that makes my late high be quite high indeed. That's the reason why I do photography.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Photography: Shot Yoe

Took some pictures of Yoe, who is smart, beautiful, and going to Japan. At the moment, a few hours after taking the pictures, I am quite unhappy about them. There way too many off-focus shots, lighting problems, or other mishaps. I've been doing this for almost three years now, and I've shot over ten thousand frames, I should know how to do this by now. Blah.

However, I often feel like this soon after a shoot, and it usually passes. I'll forget about the pictures for a few days, and then I'll be somewhat less sensitive to my shortcomings and can, perhaps, see the good stuff as well.

Quote: Leeloo has a multipass now

Yoe as Leeloo

Yoe as Leeloo, Ropecon 2001.

Yoe's blog entry for December 1, 2003, is the best log entry I've seen so far, though admittedly it might not work in isolation and may require some background knowledge. In it she announces that she has just successfully defended her doctorate thesis and, except for bureaucratic stuff, is a PhD: Crash bang boom - big bada boom! Leeloo has a multipass now.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Photography: Mutual criticism

A few friends and I met tonight to discuss each others photographs. It was quite useful. Usually, when I show my work to people, they go "ooh! such good pictures!". Tonight, since all of us were photographers of one sort or another, we were able to say negative things as well, instead of just praise. We'll have to do this again.

If this becomes a habit, it will probably even inspire me to shoot more, since it would be embarrassing to keep showing two year old pictures.

Getting feedback from random strangers over the net is even worse than getting feedback from random relatives. My relatives seem to like any pictures I show them. With random strangers I have no way to evaluate the feedback: is it from the world's greatest art critic or a fugitive from a lunatic asylum? Are they saying my picture sucks because it does, or because they don't happen to like Finnish people?

Photography: Found my sword maiden pictures

I found my edited sword maiden pictures! They were in my archive directory, just in a directory named somewhat illogically. This saves me from spending several evenings with the Gimp.

Random hacks: GdkPixbuf rotation

There's been some action on Gnome bug 95865, which I opened a year ago, regarding getting a function to rotate a GdkPixbuf into Gtk+. When I first reported the bug, I only provided code to do the simple things (rotations in multiples of 90 degrees), but have since written code to do arbitrary rotations. Perhaps it will go in some day.

I wrote the simple rotation for Lodju, and Lodju is happy with the simple stuff, so I haven't been maintaining the arbitrary rotation code. Hopefully it still works.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Random thought: Too many UI layers

I notice that I'm now occasionally using several virtual terminals, one of which has an X session, with virtual desktops, which contain instances of gnome-terminal, each with several open terminals inside tabs, and some of those running screen sessions with further sessions. I notice this because I find myself making errors with the key combinations for switching to a new place. I might hit control-left-arrow instead of control-pageup or control-alt-f1 instead of control-a-control-a. This beginning to be confusing enough that I need to simplify things.

I even occasionally confuse myself with the tabs in Galeon. I suspect that this many-things-within-one approach has been taken too far. I don't know what a good fix would be, however, and I don't know if anyone does.

Review: Once upon a time in Mexico

I saw Once upon a time in Mexico with a friend, in a movie theater. The place is significant: I now visit a movie theater so seldom that the movies I do see there tend to get a positive boost. The immersion and visual and aural effectiveness are much higher than when watching things at home.

Nevertheless, I must admit to being surprisingly little enthusiastic about this movie. Visually, it was nice, but not great. The story was somewhat confusing. The acting did not leave a big impressio, though the actors were pretty. I rate the predecessor, Desperado, very highly, and it may be that I was just expecting something equally stunning and my being unimpressed is a consequence of my disappointment.

Still, it is not a bad movie. I will probably not buy it on DVD, but I wouldn't object to watching it again, if someone lent it to me on DVD.

Monday, December 8, 2003

Photography: Lost my sword maiden pictures

Blah. I seem to have misplaced the manipulated versions and the Epson files for the swordmaiden pictures I took in the summer. I have the originals, so nothing much is lost, except some re-editing time. I need to re-think my backup and filing approach, and decide whether this was something more than just a mistake or whether there's something wrong with the system.

Personal life: Less tired

Still tired, but perhaps a bit less so. Moved the bright light closer, so that I can do with only one hour of basking each day.

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Lodju: Exports originals

Lodju can now export the original image files to a directory. I was somewhat tired today and not up to hacking more. I think I'm in need of a bit of vacationing.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

Lodju: 2.0

I have today released Lodju 2.0

After the release, I hacked a bit on it. I didn't want to add the new features into the release, in case I broke something. Two new features: it is now possible to edit the attributes of several photos at once, and if there is only one photo selected, it is drawn from the original file (as soon as it has been loaded in the background) rather than the thumbnail. I've also fixed a few bugs, so I'll have to make a new release soonish, though it can wait a week or two.

Next I will probably implement additional exports and a way to choose gallery styles for the web export. If all goes well, I should be able to finish at least some of these tomorrow.

Personal life: A bit better

Feeling a bit better today, as far as the suspected flu is concerned. Not as tired as in the past few days. Even managed to sleep fairly well. No noticeable effects from the bright light yet. Of course, any changes are likely to be so gradual, I can't easily notice them. There is no good way to objectively measure, say, irritability or depression.

Friday, December 5, 2003

Personal life: Bad mood

Further bad mood and bad sleeping. Muscle aches. Blah. Slept most of the day. Went to have a shower, but there was no hot water: a pipe had broken outside the building. Almost missed going to the food store, and tomorrow's Finland's independence day and all stores are closed.

But feeling better now.

Photography: Bright light as soft box?

I've begun to suspect that my bright light would work as a (small) soft box for photographic purposes. It makes nice shadows on my fist, at least.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Personal life: Bright light, day 2

Second day of using the bright light lamp. Still very tired, and having a headache and other aches. These symptoms probably not due to SAD, but yet another flu, or something. Also extremely pissed off at everything.

Rant: I hate phone calles

I'm beginning to be annoyed at my new phone. I rarely heard my old phone, since due to various reasons I always kept it in "silent beep" mode. The new one plays a melody instead, which means that I actually notice when someone is calling me. This means that I get interrupted at annoying moments seemingly constantly.

One of the more ingenious phone conversations of today was when a customer responds to my mail with a mail telling me to call him so that he can spend 8 minutes and 16 seconds (according to my phone's log) telling me that what I suggested in my original mail is fine.

I'm seriously considering dclearing my phone off limits for work stuff.

Review: Clamav

For a few weeks now I have been running Clamav as packaged by Debian, including some background tool for updating the virus database regularly. I used the virus scanning in a filtering rule in Evolution to recognize viruses before bogofilter. Viruses would be moved to their own folder, which I could clean out more easily than the spam folder. Eventually I would have had Evolution delete the mails automatically.

Unfortunately, it didn't work very well. Clamav only recognized about a quarter or a third of the viruses. While this is much better than nothing, in the end it wasn't worth the hassle and risk of running multiple filters and having a background process.

Note that I'm not saying Clamav is a bad program, just that it doesn't fit my needs and desires.

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Personal life: SAD self-diagnosis

I suspect I suffer from a (probably mild) seasonal affective disorder ("kaamosmasennus"). The popular theory seems to be that light will help, so I bought a Philips Bright light device. I used it for two hours this morning and have spent much of today sleeping, so I guess it does something, even if it doesn't make me bouncy.

Hedgehog Lisp: Common errors

Lately, I've made two types of errors repeatedly: either I use the wrong index into an index data structure (an AVL tree, roughly corresponding to a hash map in Perl or a dictionary in Python), or I update the data structure but return the old value. This is becoming common enough for me that it annoys me. I'll have to figure out things that can be done about this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Personal life: Hectic work, flu

Work has been hectic for the past couple of weeks, with visits to other cities and nights of little sleep. With a nice flu and a high fever thrown in, I've only barely been capable of operating at all, and inessential things such as updating this log have lagged.

Rant: __semihosting_swi_guard

One of the bugs I've hunted these past two weeks caused the following compile time error:

Error: L6200E: Symbol __semihosting_swi_guard multiply defined (by use_semi.o and use_no_semi.o).

It took me a while to figure it out, but luckily I remembered having fixed it once already, last year. Then it took me a full day, though. What caused the error was trying to use a function from stdio.h that isn't defined for the embedded platform we use. Some functions are OK to use, but others are not and, of course, there is no documentation which ones are. When trying to use a forbidden function, the error messages are as clear as the one quoted above. Not fun at all to figure out, especially if you are in a hurry.

Random hacks: URL escaping does not protect from spam

Six months ago, on June 3, several people claimed that hiding e-mail addresses on web pages would be as easy as encoding, say, the at sign ('@') using URL escape codes ('%40'). I decided to conduct an experiment, and added two addresses to my home page. Neither address had ever existed before. I obfuscated one in the manner suggested, and not the other. I also put in a filter to put all mails to either address to a special folder, which I've kept since.

I first reported on the results on June 14, eleven days later. Both addresses got their first spam then. Since then, I've received a total of 58 spams. All of them have been sent to at least the obfuscated address.

Anyway, the whole URL encoding idea is ridiculous to anyone with half a brain. Since the encoding is well standardized and easily undone, even a spammer with the IQ of George W. Bush will figure it out.

The original claim arose in the context of public web archives of mailing lists. To many people (including myself) it is more important that valid communication reaches us than that spam is prevented. Removing addresses from archives, or obfuscating them in ways that are tricky to undo, means that some valid communication fails to reach us. On the other hand, keeping addresses in cleartext does increase the amount of spam. Neither option is very good, at the moment, and the choice between them is difficult. It would be nice if a simple obfuscation such as URL encoding would work, but it doesn't.

Photography: Bux

While I was cleaning out my hard disk to make room for a really huge Lodju database with all my photos, I found an old gallery I made with pictures of Bux, the toy duck Richard Braakman gave me and which became the inofficial mascot of the Kannel team at Wapit. They're more pleasant than I remembered, though probably too silly for anyone else to appreciate.