Enabling remote logging

I was experimenting with rsyslog to allow remote logging and within 20 minutes, I had two rogue log entries show up from random hosts.

Jan 17 05:00:23 64-181-24-18.unassigned.ntelos.net kernel: Configuring keys for mac:14:5a:05:ad:6b:cd, sc_hasclrkey is set
Jan 17 05:01:05 64-181-24-18.unassigned.ntelos.net kernel: Configuring keys for mac:14:5a:05:ad:6b:cd, sc_hasclrkey is set

So what is interesting about this? I’m on comcast in PA. The host that sent this is on ntelos.net, or Lumos in (most likely) West Virginia. For some reason, a system there is sending a log message to my IP address. I just now am accepting it.

Audible Thoughts

Recently, I’ve been working my way through the Ender’s Saga audio books. I had read Ender’s Game back in grade school, but I didn’t know there was a whole series. They’re a really good read.. or listen, as the case may be.

I’ve been listening to the Ender series in mp3 format. First, I had them on a thumb drive which was read by my car’s radio. I find it very convenient that a radio in my car can directly read a thumb drive’s file-system and play any audio files found on it. My wife has the same feature in her car and updates her thumb drive quite often with different music.

When I was listening to Ender’s Game, I noticed that sometimes when I turned off the car, it would forget my place in the current file and start from the beginning. With Ender’s Game, the book was split up into lots of small MP3s, several per chapter, so this wasn’t too big a deal. I soon determined that the trick was to make sure the track was playing before I shut the car off. If I had it paused for some reason (say a phone call) when I shut the car off, the file would restart when I started the car back off. If I just turned off the car while it was playing, it would resume perfectly.

However, after listening to the third book, “Xenocide” for around a week, somehow it went back to the beginning of the book. I did some fiddling with the and found I couldn’t find my place. After further examination, I discovered that this book is split into 3 MP3s, each over 6 hours long. My radio doesn’t have the ability to forward within each track. Not many MP3 players do.

I was able to resolve this by moving the book to my Android phone and setting up a Winamp playlist. Here, I can slide a little dot to any position in the file (and therefore the story) I want. I can also listen to the book outside of the car and keep my place. Rather nice.

I am still bit annoyed about the need to do this. To me, this represented a huge shortcoming in audio books. After reflecting on this, I realised it wasn’t a shortcoming in audio books, but rather in the particular format and players involved.

In my last vehicle, I had listened to some audio books on mp3 on cd. Here, it was one huge mp3 for the entire book. However, the cd player *always* resumed at the same place. I knew that if I took the CD out, I would go back to the beginning though. This was another shortcoming. The CD player considered each MP3 a track and couldn’t fastforward within a track itself, only from track to track.

Some of the original audio books were on tape. I suppose there might have been some on records, but the first format I’ve ever been familiar with was cassette tape. Tape players had no concept of tracks, everything was just a position on the tape. Ok, I know I had one tape player that would attempt to detect when one song ended and the other began, which would stop a fast forward when it reached a silent spot. But by and large, you navigated every second of the tape using fast forward and reverse. Tape was probably the best implementation of audio books.

Then came audio books on CD. Most CD players I knew back then, along with some modern ones we have in our house now works track by track. Discmans, home theatre stereos and vehicle cd players almost universally have this limitation. I know a few players that can fast forward within a track, but there isn’t that big of a market for this feature, so it gets left out. Audio books on CD were a step backwards from tape.

Today, we have audio books in a digital format such as mp3 or wav. These have a big advantage that they can be purchased online and downloaded. But unless you have a “smart” player such as a computer, ipod touch or smartphone, you have the same limitation as a CD. Even the non-touch ipods have ‘track by track, file by file’ controls.

I suppose this problem will correct itself as tablets, smartphones, and all manner of personal computing devices proliferate. For now though, a decent audio book experience is limited to tape or “smart players”. There is a wide range of inexpensive (and expensive) mp3 players that will most likely end up frustrating anyone getting into audio books.

Ten days in..

The 30 Days of Soup is turning into 30 Days of Mostly Soup.   That is to say, I’ve been sneaking in other foods here and there.  For example, on Tuesday I made some Waffles.  The problem is that I love waffles.  Four waffles and a tablespoon of syrup is 458 calories, whereas one of my soup meals is 420 calories.  Then today, I had 4 tacos.  That is 840 calories, which is quite a lot.

At the very least, I’m holding to my personal goal of ~1500 calories per day.  On my “transistion day” last week, I blew way over with 2473 calories, but the other days have been fairly close.  I gathered up my calorie counts for the last 10 days below.

>>> print (1450 + 825 + 2473 + 1220 + 1190 + 1980 + 1910 + 1630 + 1338 + 1260)/10
1527

On the other hand, I have not been to reddit at all this month, and I’ve only been on Facebook for a bit on Saturday.  I sometimes find myself sitting at the computer staring at the address bar, trying to think of something to type in to amuse myself.  I am checking my email more often, but since I don’t get too many important emails each day, that only distracts me for a short period.  Instead, I have actually been filling my spare computer time with learning Python and working on some web applications for a customer. 

So despite not completely sticking to my 30 Days of Only Soup goal, I have been sticking with the spirit of the goals fairly well.  I’ll do another weigh in this weekend to see how my weight loss is coming along.  Essentially, I’m moving towards a more reasonable diet, which is what I planned to do in February.  Once I approach my desired weight and start looking at maintaining (which I am very good at doing), I shouldn’t have much problem shifting back closer to a 2000 calorie diet. 

Eating out of house and home

More and more, I find myself posting small updates on facebook rather than long updates on here.

Here’s a summary of what’s been going on:

  • Got a cat (Silver) and a dog (Buster)
  • Bought a really awesome house in Bedford
  • Took a vacation to St. Marten, not impressed
  • Have been fixing up the old house in Everett to turn it into a rental.  The windows won’t arrive until mid-December.

Anyways, I often have to pick up breakfast at one of the fast food joints.  I have, however, been interested in trying Safeway for food.  They have a deli-like section with chicken, soup, salad bar, and various sides as well as some tables and chairs setup.  So today I figured I’d go get some of their soup and maybe some sides.

It turns out that the only soup they had at the soup bar was an Italian Wedding Soup, which is ok, but not what I wanted.  Now that I was taking a closer look at what they had, I realized it wasn’t much.  The IGA in Everett has more selection (but they don’t have an eating area setup).  Anyways, I got the two chicken strip deal – 2 pieces of chicken, 2 sides, and  a fountain drink for $3.99.  The price was pretty good.  The food was not.  I did like the Mac-n-Cheese, and I managed one piece of chicken, but it was fairly dry.  By this point, I was highly disappointed  with Safeway as an eating establishment.

Then I fired up my laptop.  There was “safewaywifi”, but once you got connected, it required a username and password, and does not appear to be for public use.  I thought it would be since there is a small Starbucks stand inside.   At this point, I saw nothing of value in being there and tossed the rest of my food before heading out.

Health Care Reform

I agree we need health care reform, but not necessarily a single payer system. In fact, health care reform doesn’t need to come from the Federal Government — health care is heavily regulated at the state level. These regulations effect price.
http://www.heritage.org/research/healthcare/cda05-07.cfm
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/13/health/webmd/main2923760.shtml
http://www.smartmoney.com/breaking-news/?story=20041207014549
So, if we look at the states with the “best/cheapest” health care (The CBS article says Hawaii provides the “best” while eHealthinsurance.com/smartmoney show MO having the “cheapest”), then we can pressure our local state legislators to make insurance work for your state. It can probably be done faster and easier than any sort of reform at the federal level.
I really don’t know why the choice is either “single payer” or “our current screwed up system”. The system is screwed up at the state level because no one looks at the state level anymore. People immediately look to the executive branch of the Federal government, which really has little to do with the issue.

Becoming a MicroLender

Today I took my first forray into the world of micro-lending.  Otherwise known as peer-to-peer lending, micro-lending is the act of lending small amounts of money to an individual.  These micro-loans are combined together into one larger pool of money which is lent out. I am using lendingclub.com.  The way this works is that someone seeking money puts in a loan request.  They list how much they need and what they need it for.  Lendingclub pulls their credit history and assigns them their interest rate and repayment terms.  If the borrower accepts, the loan is placed on lendingclub.com for funding.  People like me search through the various loans until we find one we like and then we buy into it (we buy “notes).  Once the loan is funded, the money is sent to the borrower, and the game is in motion. Lendingclub processes payments from the borrower, subtracts 1%, and credits the noteholders (like me) based on how much they bought in.
The first loan, I put $50 into.  The total loan is for $16,500 to pay off a Prius loan, plus consolidate some other loans.  Repayments are for 3 years at 9.32%.  Assuming they pay it off, I should earn just over 8.32% on that $50.  The borrower has a credit score of between 714-749, no delinquencies and they claim that they are moving into an apartment that will save them $800/month.  Overall, this loan seems fairly solid.  The other loans are still solid, but in one, the borrower has a delinquency in the last 2 years.  The third loan has no delinquencies, but the borrower is using 94% of their credit line (which could be attributed to their mortgage).  On these loans, interest is over 13%.  I put $25 into each of them.
All of the loans are over 95% funded and I believe that they will be fully funded in the next 24 hours.  If they don’t get funded, the borrower can either lower their requested amount or cancel the loan.  If they cancel, that money gets returned to us.  Once the loan becomes active though, that money is “gone”.  Altogether, I have $100 spread between3 loans, averaging over 10% (after lendingclub fees).
The downside is that one has to wait about 3 years to truly see if the investment will pay off.  In that regard, it’s like a CD but without the bank guarantee.  Working through lendingclub seems to be a safer bet than dealing with stocks over a three year period, the drawback being that you can’t pull your money out like you can with stocks.  So, this will most likely be a very small part of my investing practice, but I can always be surprised.

AdWare author

So I was reading this article about a guy who used to write Adware.  As someone who made a decent amount of money removing adware for people, I always find it interesting to see the other side of the coin.  One of the things that is really interesting is when you consider how adware authors fight each other as well as the end-user.  So certain types of adware could actually make your infected computer run better.  Sort of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest kind of virtual ecosystem going on, with your computer playing host to the battleground:

S: Did you feel this was the gently sloping path to Hell?

M: Oh yeah! Absolutely. [ laughs ] I actually believe that if you sum up everything I did it comes out positive, if only because I kicked off an awful lot more adware than I installed.

I never personally came across a registry key I couldn’t delete, but I did find his description of creating “immutable” registry keys fascinating — something I’d like to try out at some point.

We did create unwritable registry keys and file names, by exploiting an “impedance mismatch” between the Win32 API and the NT API. Windows, ever since XP, is fundamentally built on top of the NT kernel. NT is fundamentally a Unicode system, so all the strings internally are 16-bit counter Unicode. The Win32 API is fundamentally Ascii. There are strings that you can express in 16-bit counted Unicode that you can’t express in ASCII. Most notably, you can have things with a Null in the middle of it. That meant that we could, for instance, write a Registry key that had a Null in the middle of it. Since the user interface is based on the Win32 API, people would be able to see the key, but they wouldn’t be able to interact with it because when they asked for the key by name, they would be asking for the Null-terminated one. Because of that, we were able to make registry keys that were invisible or immutable to anyone using the Win32 API. Interestingly enough, this was not only all civilians and pretty much all of our competitors, but even most of the antivirus people.

http://philosecurity.org/2009/01/12/interview-with-an-adware-author

Notebook linked

I finally decided to clean out the note pad section I had started playing with an eternity ago and link it into the site.  On the right hand side is a link to “My Notes” with some additional links under that.  This is my public notebook.  As I work on things, my plan is to add my notes and progress into that section.  So this will be about 99% computer technical, but I could always throw some more general stuff in there (like plumbing, carpentry, and general house repairs) as well.