Sunday, June 30, 2013

What was the Civil War About?

A real hero of the Civil War that I should have learned about in school was Strong Vincent, a Union colonel who, it is said, turned the tide at the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg. He died during the battle, but was remembered long after death, at least in the North.

Back when I was a boy, textbooks, encyclopedias, teachers, and even my grandmother idealized the wrong man, Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederacy. He was intelligent, but wicked, because he served evil, a similar case as Rommel in WW2. How many Germans now idealize Rommel? Not many, I would think.

The Civil War was about the Southern elite defending their right to enslave other human beings. That was all the war was ever about, and yet people deny it throughout the former Confederacy because they have been indoctrinated to do so. The rich plantation owners of the 1860s were determined at all costs to do harm unto others that they regarded as "inferior" by murdering, raping, torturing, confining, forcing into labor and selling their slaves. Had the landowners ever shown the least resolve to stop committing these atrocities, there would have been no war.

The Southern elite have for hundreds of years set themselves above minorities they regard as inferior, preserving their privileged status and keeping minorities down through legislation and force. This attitude is still in evidence today. Among the Southern elite, there persists a desire to keep others down--anyone regarded as "inferior"--due to a belief that somehow the misery of others makes their own lot seem better, if only by comparison.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Victory through Nonviolence

Gays won on the legal, political, and cultural battleground because they spoke the most reasonable words with the most moderate voice. Their dialogue was one of human rights and dignity. Their opponents varied, but never made a good impression upon me. There was never a time I listened to a homophobe and thought, "Gee, he might have something there." Instead, I always wondered what variety of mental disease these haters suffered from. All too often, homophobes were exposed as closeted homosexuals, which was extremely damaging to the anti-gay lobby, rather like tossing a fragmentation grenade into the officer's tent. The Wiccan law applies: when one points a finger at others, three are pointing back. Too clear was the hypocrisy, meanness and ignorance of homophobes. As for the gay activists, why, they were for the most part non-violent, even in the face of outrageous injustice. There is value in taking blows when others must witness it, because those who watch will wonder when they will be struck next, because violence has a way of spreading, of engulfing communities, turning against minorities first, and then everyone. So when Matthew Shepard was martyred by the brutal murderers, that was one of the turning points in the battle, when people of conscience could no longer accept the injustice, hypocrisy and wickedness. That was the point when many good people said, Enough. Because there are things in life of more value than popularity, material or power. There is a spiritual and moral dimension that transcends the world we live in and life itself. Spiritual force can be overwhelming, as many a cynic has discovered at a late hour.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fixing a Broken Shutdown Shortcut

Kubuntu 13.04 offered some updates today that broke my shutdown shortcut. After a bit of poking around and trying various things, I found that this syntax fixes the problem:
sudo chmod u+s /sbin/shutdown
I don't notice any improvements from the updates. Devs, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And here's my corollary to that general rule: if you can't help yourself from fixin' what ain't broke, then don't break it.

At least I was able to fix their fix.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Historic Life-Changing Ruling by Supreme Court

The greatest ruling by the Supreme Court in my lifetime has come to pass today. This means the world for gay folks. Equal protection under the law is closer to becoming a reality in every state. The ruling means peace, it means liberty, it means justice.

I am proud of my country. Little I have read in the media the past few months has made me so proud as this. There used to be a time when gays were denied employment in the State Department, because it was thought they were vulnerable to blackmail. Now the case is just the opposite. In China and Russia, homophobia and discrimination are part of the law. Perhaps China and Russia have this vulnerability, but not the U.S.

I am surprised and pleased, but wish the ruling had been unanimous. States' rights, after all; why did the conservative jurists not defend their cherished ideal, states' rights? They do so in all the other cases, the ones where big money for corporations is at stake. The minute the question is individual liberty, suddenly states' rights doesn't matter to 'em. Not much effort is required to expose the motives of Scalia and company.

I think I'm going to have to cast about for a state where gay marriage is legal and relocate! My red state is going to remain decades behind the times on this issue, just like it did on civil rights for blacks. History repeats itself. I think a court order will be required for my red state to do what's right. Wikipedia has a good article listing the states where gay marriage is legal. I view it as a travel guide for gay couples.

I didn't expect to live to see this day, but I'm glad I did. There's a feeling of unreality, of living in a dream. I always chuckle to remember back when I was thirteen and thought I was the only gay in the world. Goodness, there must be a lot of gays out there besides me. And after all, gay is not threatening. By its very nature, gay is not threatening. The more the issue is discussed, the more truth that is brought out into the light of day, the more people realize that it is not any kind of threat. As my straight brother puts it, "If some guys don't want to do it with women, that just means more for me!"

I don't expect a surge of gay marriages. For one thing, many gays aren't couples. However, I feel that monogamy is a good thing, for many reasons, and I think that whatever serves to encourage monogamy (short of compulsion or force) is a good thing. Therefore gay marriage is a good thing both for gays and for society, of which gays are a part. I think over time, gay marriage will become more common.

However, I hope young and idealistic gays don't rush into marriage just to prove a point. I believe a couple--whether straight or gay or somewhere in between--should live together for at least three years prior to marrying. There are, of course, downsides to marriage, which individuals need to examine at their leisure with objectivity. Marriage has always been a problematic institution. However, for some couples, the happy ones, the long-term partners, marriage solves a great many legal and financial loose ends, such as hospital visitation, medical questions, custody of children, inheritance, immigration, federal and state benefits, insurance, and so on. I would advise gays to observe and learn from the experiences of their heterosexual peers however, because divorce can be unpleasant and unfair. I believe marriage and divorce could stand some reforms to keep pace with the evolving roles of men and women. But that is an issue for another blog post at another time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Brain is Sprained

On a consistent basis, I drop a word, usually a preposition, conjunction or noun. I have to read my blog posts over and over again, about five times on average, before I detect the missing word. I used to produce near-perfect copy. I think it is a sign of decay that will only get worse as time goes on. However, I find consolation in mainstream media sites, such as CNN and MSNBC, which display the same human frailty.

Blogger Fails in Firefox

I've been using Blogger since 2009. Starting around 2012, Google made ill-conceived changes to Blogger that have made me dread editing my template's html or css. I have given up on maintaining a custom template. The Template and Layout functions of Blogger are horrible. Blogger has crashed Firefox so many times that I've lost count. How does Blogspot set about crashing a computer? Constant and nonstop hits to web sites like twitter, facebook, and google's own. Continual processing for no apparent reason, endless loops just burning the cpu up until 100% of the processor is in use, accomplishing nothing whatsoever. Blogger crashes Firefox on both Linux and Windows systems, I might add. It doesn't matter what kind of computer I use or how much memory I have or how fast my Internet is or which operating system I choose. Blogger will crash Firefox in a heartbeat. It will also bring a computer system to a crawl and force a reboot.

Like most things, Blogger devolves rather than getting better. I suppose Windows doesn't set a good example in that regard. The only thing Google cares about is making money off AdSense, but I can't see running ads on a web site where I cannot even edit the html or css at all without the computer crashing. I certainly can't recommend Blogger to anyone who wants to start a blog, unless they like rebooting their computer every five minutes.

On the plus side, I do like the stock template. It's nice and dark and seems more pleasing to the eye, although I could ask for a bit more color. We have color monitors--shouldn't we use them? Black and white seems, well, a bit of a throwback to the 1970's, when I actually had a black and white television set. It's a sign of age if one can remember watching television in black and white.

I would have preferred the option of selecting and installing a new template rather than being pressured into doing so by a kludgey editor that crashed my computers. Nobody likes being forced to do things.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Classroom Dream

I dreamed that I was in a classroom with many students sitting on those old-fashioned wood and metal contraptions they used to use back in the day, with a hard wood writing surface and chair with steel legs and a steel compartment under the chair bottom to put books and papers inside. Those things could be broken, as some boys discovered after trying the better part of a school-year or multiple school-years, but not easily, and they could be repaired, too.

I was young again, I don't know how young, but at the age when sitting in such an old-fashioned desk would have been right, and reunited with my best friend at the time. We were aware of the passage of the time, so this was not a flashback to the past, but a reunion in Heaven. We realized we hadn't seen each other for--what is it now, twenty years? More, I think. Thirty? Of course we remembered the reasons for going our separate ways. Yet for whatever reason, we were back in the place where we first met all those years ago, doing mindless busy work we used to do in school. The teacher, who had no face, no name, and not a very memorable voice either, had assigned a score of questions to be answered by reading a chapter in our textbook. I don't know what the textbook was about. Something incorrect or inaccurate, no doubt, and not written very well, like most textbooks in school.

I was euphoric at being reunited with my old friend. The magnetism was strong, like magic, and I was curious. I had many questions, but these were left unasked. He was friendly and seemed to understand everything. He was serious about schoolwork as he always was and working on the assigned questions, which he finished before anyone else. I took his notebook--I had that privilege with him that I didn't need to ask--and began copying his answers into my notebook to save myself the effort, smiling all the while.

A few moments later, at the far left of the classroom, another student raised her voice and denounced the fellow sitting in front of her, who had copied her questions just as I had copied my friend's. The teacher reiterated that she expected us to do our own work. I looked at my friend's face and he had one of those expressions I was so familiar with, that look of rebuke. Blushing, I returned his notebook and began working on the questions myself.

Upon waking, the dream seemed less charming. Perhaps it is seldom that young friends part on amicable terms. He was the more popular one, the one that knew how to manipulate others. I was not adept at reading social signals, which is so important in our world. When he decided I was no longer useful and could be replaced by someone else, he played pranks on me that he found amusing, fooling me again and again. Back then, I was what you call stupid. Book-smart but not street-smart, which is often fatal. He was cold and adept at making cold decisions. I don't envy whoever he is with now, if anyone at all. If I had had a choice, I wouldn't have dreamed of him, either. He is not the sort of thing I like to dream about.

I think the dream was just an echo of the past. Memory is a funny thing. Facts are stored in memory, of course, but also feelings without regard to the alterations wrought by time. I used to feel a certain way about him, and that feeling is recorded somewhere, just like a fact would be, even though my current feelings are different. The unconscious mind revisited an old memory covered in dust somewhere in the attic. I wonder what the trigger was? Perhaps last night's watching of the first episode of season six of Mad Men. The accuracy of that retro 1960s show amazes me. Upon reflection, I think the antique fashion and style of that show certainly triggered a memory from my distant past, a past I'd perhaps be better off forgetting.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Confessions of a Blogger

The reality as I see it is that most blogs have no readers--or few, if any. The lion's share of traffic consists of bots. Bots with bad intentions, mostly--content scrapers and hackers angling for derivative traffic. ?!Buzzword?! What is "derivative traffic," igor? Well, pardon my jargon, but derivative traffic is traffic that derives from somebody else's labor--writing, photos, what-have-you. Capiche? There are sites on the Internet that have stolen my content, such as it is, despite what may be regarded as its uncertain value. There are many sites on the Internet that rate my site, analyze my site, give every manner of statistics, and give previews and archival history of my site. All of that comes from bot traffic, from unattended software programs hammering this site day after day collecting data.

On this blog, my best estimation is that 90% of the hits are non-human bots. Of the humans that do hit the blog, most are searching for answers to narrow technical questions, and most hit about a dozen different posts that are the most popular posts on my blog. That would include the Dungeon Crawl Cheat, although I don't know how many Dungeon Crawlers actually bother installing the batch file nowadays. Not many people know what batch files are anymore, and I reckon those that don't would be worried about a virus. The batch file is useful mainly for my own purposes. I can't imagine playing Dungeon Crawl without it. I like to have control over death. Isn't that a natural human desire?

Why so many bots? I get asked that question often, especially when I explain that ninety out of a hundred hits to any given web site are non-human. Well, hackers figured out a long time ago that they could exploit weaknesses in human nature and in search engine technology to drive traffic to their own web sites, where they make money off advertising, install malware, flog some worthless software, or just increase the value of an url that they plan to sell later.

Gee, igor, that sounds like an easy way to make money! How come you don't do it? Ha-ha, I've thought about that and a lot of other easy ways to make money. I won't say I'm above temptation. But even though our government sets such a poor example, I still find some value in ethics. I don't want my legacy to consist of crap web sites and increased distortion and confusion on the Internet. I've always been on the other side of that war and have invested too much effort in fighting bots to change hats now. I suspect the government is behind some of these bots, using them in an effort to monitor and exert some degree of control over the flow of information.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I Like

Usually I blog about things I hate. Today, for variety, I blog about things I like.

I like to watch drag, dance, comedy, drama, and documentaries, not necessarily in that order.

I like to fool around with linux, even though I'm the only one I know that does.

I like to play weird, off-the-wall openings in Chess. The weirder, the better, in my book.

I like to cooperate with people and give them good advice. It may be that the only purpose in life is to spread a little bit of wisdom and sunshine here and there.

I like to get paid for doing work that I enjoy, rare enough though that is.

I like to have a lot of that sort of work.

I like to play some of the most difficult races in Dungeon Crawl, such as troll and mummy, just to see if I can win with one of these "impossible" races.

I like to fight crime by working on security for web sites.

I like to discover that strangers are actually good people with good intentions, rather than something else.

I like to avoid complications.

I like reading.

I like cats.

I prefer winter to summer, cold to hot, spicy to plain, and bitter to sweet.

I like zombie movies, and I've finally come around to liking Game of Thrones.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Bing Means to Me

I detest Yahoo and Bing. The acronym "Bing" stands for Bastion of Incompetence, Negligence and Gross impairment. Yahoo and Bing are one and the same as far as search results are concerned.

My strong feeling against these two search engines is in reaction to their stubborn insistence to index every last page on a web site, even those pages that the site owner has specifically disallowed in robots.txt. I discovered tonight that #2 in the Yahoo and Bing results for a search term for one of my web sites was the very bot-trap that I had disallowed in my robots.txt. The bot-trap should never, ever, under any circumstances be indexed by any search engine. The reason that Bing and Yahoo index it is because they are stupid, stubborn and ignorant. There is no other conceivable reason. I understand how the rules work in robots.txt. Google understands. Yahoo and Bing do not understand. I do not have time enough in my day to teach those corporations how to code their search engine. They are just going to have to teach themselves.

However, the incompetence of Yahoo and Bing caused a problem for me. I don't want innocent humans clicking on a search result in Bing and getting banned from my site. My first thought was to disallow Bing and Yahoo altogether and get de-indexed from those seach engines, which send so little traffic they are scarcely worth worrying about. However, some people don't know any better and get suckered into installing a toolbar that connects them to Yahoo or Bing.

My solution was simple and elegant. First, I renamed my bot-trap. The new name will not be disclosed anywhere. Yahoo and Bing won't be able to find it unless they stoop to dirty tricks and get banned. They might just do that. If the new bot-trap name shows up, then I may resort to banning Yahoo and Bing altogether, which was my first plan of action.

However, for the time being, the #2 search result that formerly led to my bot-trap now leads to a page that simply informs the user that Yahoo or Bing has caused an error, and they should use Google instead. A link to is thoughtfully provided.

My problem has now become Yahoo and Bing's problem. They lose face, rather than the other way around, and that's the way it should be.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Media's Ad Hominem

The right-wing media in this country do not attack Eric Snowden's message, instead attacking the man. That they hate him is obvious. But they haven't much of a hand if they must resort to ad hominem.

I am uninterested in the man. He looks ordinary and unremarkable. The only reason he made the news was his message. The message is what matters. Whether his message is true is the salient point. Snowden's biography is trivia for historians. I have not bothered reading the interviews with Snowden's girlfriend, father or mother. I don't care whether Snowden seems at times grandiose or whether he may have a martyr complex. He did not hire a media consultant, has never been famous before, and is probably making blunders. He should be expected to commit blunders. To do otherwise would be extraordinary. He has never been a politician. Cut to the chase. Is he speaking the truth?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Situational Ethics

I remember that the conservative Christian fundamentalists in my youth railed against a term I had never heard before: situational ethics, wherein certain deeds are not always wrong or always right. Instead, the verdict of right or wrong depends upon the situation. For instance, murder is wrong, but in war, killing may be right. Killing may be right to defend a loved one from immediate violence, or to punish and dispose of a convicted murderer, or to alleviate the pain of a dying person, or to abort an unwanted embryo. Some religionists reject situational ethics, and maintain that there are absolutes, such as this one, that killing is never right in any situation, which seems an extreme position, yet is one taken by several religious minorities throughout the ages. I'm afraid the roughness of our world prohibits nonviolence from gaining a majority footprint. Yet if every being were endowed with an inability to commit violence, then the world would be a better place, sure.

I believe situational ethics is right, because what is usually a right can also become a wrong, and vice versa. I believe in adaptable absolutes rather than unshakable dogmas. I believe the spirit of an ethical law is more important than the literal word. One would be too lawyerly to interpret rules as unbendable. It seems a failure to have a deeper and more meaningful understanding of ethics. But I think the explanation for absolute ethics is that some believe Scripture to be the literal word of God, infallible in every way, a hypothesis neither I nor any of my family ever accepted. I don't think many Christians believe the Bible is the literal word of God any longer.

However, a valid criticism of situational ethics is that many intelligent people subscribe to it, but use rationalizations to find exceptions for just about any conduct at all, such as spying on Americans. I am sure all those Congressmen and bureaucrats really believe that they are doing right by spying on everybody. They dismiss any concerns as paranoia. They point to various cases where spying helped improve the efficiency of this or that law enforcement agency. Well, you know, the Gestapo was a very efficient organization in its day, too. Sure, if you spy on everybody, you're going to catch some bad people. The trouble is, a lot of information gets uncovered by this spying, and that's a very tempting treasure trove of private and personal data. Sooner or later, it's going to be abused, and I think sooner rather than later.

I think all this spying is contrary to the spirit of our republic, that it is a relic of tyranny, and that a powerful tool has been placed into the hands of--who knows? Really, who knows who's tapping into all that data? Do tens of thousands of people have access? How many are psychopaths? How many are working for another government, for the mafia, or for a drug cartel?

I was in the grocery store yesterday and saw a depressing sight, the books and magazine section. There were hundreds of magazines, but not a single news magazine. Hundreds of magazines had to do with sports, handguns, rifles, machine guns, sex, celebrities, entertainment, or making money. The closest thing to a news magazine I could find was National Geographic. As for the books, they had bestsellers and faith-based inspirational books and that's all. At the check-out line, I did see one news magazine, TIME, as thin as a dime nowadays and consisting of charts, graphics and pictures, a mere shadow of what it used to be.

Visiting the grocery store gave me the impression that no one cares about what's going on in the world. But perhaps there is a feeling, which I think more likely, that ordinary people can do nothing about what's going on, that we are powerless, and so to read about world events is pointless and depressing. That, I think, is a consequence of what Noam Chomsky called the atomization of America, wherein people no longer are affiliated with large organizations that can indeed create political change. I remember that all the right-wingers out at work used to harshly criticize unions, as though unions were the enemy, preventing them from achieving what they wanted. I wonder how they like being without unions? I'm sure they must have a feeling of living in Paradise, that everything is roses and butterflies now.

My grandfather would be considered a right-winger today. He was conservative in every sense of the word save one, that he believed in education for women, which was fortunate for my mother. On the other hand, he was racist and anti-Semitic, which was usual and conforming for his people, place and time. I have no reason to suppose he would have been anything but homophobic as well. However, he was a union man throughout his entire working life. I don't know how it came to be that the right-wingers turned against the unions. There were bad unions, corruption, poor leadership in some cases, but I think the unions lost to free trade, which pitted Americans against low-paid workers overseas. Americans lost, of course, which was inevitable in hindsight.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Government Spying

CNET posted a very informative article regarding the government's spying on Americans. Really, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are the least of our worries. The government makes use of them, but they are not nearly as important as another intermediary. The easy way, the lazy way to hack every American all at once is to intercept all Internet traffic directly from the Internet Service Provider (ISP), and that's exactly what the government has done in the case of AT&T and Verizon and probably all the others as well. As I've always suspected, an ISP isn't going to blink an eye when asked for info by the government. Indeed it seems AT&T has been particularly cooperative, going above and beyond.

Can the government be trusted in its denials that this information was gathered, but not used except for anti-terrorism? No, because the government does not have a good track record in the honesty department. Our government not only punishes, but tortures those who reveal information, such as Bradley Manning, and it is likely that the rape charges against Wikileaks founder were paid for by the government as well.

Let's take the opposite view, and assume the government is always honest. The information gathered was used only for anti-terrorism. Okay. But it's still there, and it's still being gathered. Maybe one day, the information will be used for other purposes. Personally I think that day has long since arrived and passed us by. With such a goldmine of personal, private data, what man could resist the temptation of mining priceless nuggets of information that could win him reelection, defeat a rival for his woman's affections, allow him to make billions of dollars? It is completely naive, ludicrous to imagine that this goldmine is sitting in a government vault only being tapped to blow up terrorists. Who even knew of its existence? Who's watching the chickens? Where is the public oversight?

Even if the government were honest, simple negligence, incompetence and corruption ensures that at least some if not all of the information gathered will be siphoned off by other law enforcement agencies and other individuals outside of law enforcement. The government has proven itself negligent, incompetent and corrupt in all other instances before this, and there is no reason to believe that government's competence has magically improved in the case of spying on Americans.

As for the politicians who approved the program, I doubt they understand it. I do not have a high opinion of the technical competence of the old alcoholic millionaires in Congress. Many of them are good politicians, but how much do they know about computers? Technical knowledge is no kind of prerequisite for elected office. I doubt those millionaires can type more than ten words a minute. I don't think they know what Linux is. They probably have no idea how email gets from one computer to another or what a network is. How can they oversee a program they can't possibly understand? The answer is they can't. They are going to nod their heads at the explanation, calculate the political costs and make a decision based upon ignorance, just like they do everywhere else. Obama is no computer wiz, either, by the way. Those people pay people like me to do things for them. They don't know what's going on, don't suspect how easy it is for data to leak out.

Thus, by the year 2013, the Internet has become a tool of tyranny, a tool for monitoring the words, thoughts and actions of citizens. All of our doings online are recorded in a database somewhere. Any time a politician gets curious about someone, they need only ask for a record of all that person's online activity, which they and their henchmen can browse at their leisure, to learn all about that person's friends, family, personal problems, personal habits, career history, financial dealings, aspirations, fears and individual quirks. All of that is there on Facebook and other sites for a lot of people these days. If a politician is displeased by someone, all they have to do is pick up the phone and call the DEA and see whether that person will succumb to an undercover sting involving drugs, or perhaps some other type of sting involving a different law enforcement agency. That's power. That's using information and the legal system to get rid of people who say inconvenient truths.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Social Skills and Those That Lack Them

I admire those that have the knack for smooth social interaction, who can express themselves without resorting to crude and ugly phrases. I am rather less impressed by technical skills, perhaps because I have 'em. When I think about the people I like the most and the one I chose to spend my life with, it is clear that social skills are their foremost quality. Etiquette, sensitivity, insight, thoughtfulness--these qualities sometimes seem scarce in online discourse. Reading some people's messages, I wonder how they could possibly have good relations with anyone at all. My guess is that they probably don't.

I have been both moderator and admin and know what goes on and who goes into a forum. I do not envy moderators. Unless there is pay--adequate compensation--the better choice is to pass. The power, the glory? Eh, there's no glory, and power is only resented, whether used or not.

Nevertheless, online discourse has improved over the years. Back in the day, things were worse. Nowadays everybody has a computer of some kind. Computer use has become more democratized. Technical skills are not the filter, the prerequisite for participation in a forum. Thus, some forums, particularly those with wider appeal, are more representative of the human population, rather than being the exclusive province of geeks.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Copying Large Numbers of Files Over a Network in Linux

Linux and Window desktops are ill-suited to copying thousands or millions of files over a network. I don't know why. It's a weak spot in all desktop GUI's. I know that KDE's file manager, Dolphin, does nothing but spin its wheels when I try to copy much over a thousand files. I think KDE goes crazy just at the thought of so many files. You expect me to do all that work? For what you're paying me? Hmph! I have found that the easiest way to copy files over a network is to archive them into a single file and then copy that single file across.

Why Game of Thrones Repels

I watched the first two episodes of the first season of "Game of Thrones" again to understand why I hate it. The problem is the ugly spectacle of outrageous injustice, and good people that do wicked things merely to obey. When the good King's Hand murders, in cold blood, his son's loyal and beloved pet dog, which was innocent of all wrongdoing, that's when I turned against the show forever. Whoever wrote "Game of Thrones" did so while sitting on the throne and found inspiration from what he had dropped below. It is repulsive, cheap, gory drama for the sake of drama with no redeeming literary or cultural value whatsoever. The villains are pasty, weak cowards without a scrap of redeeming value, which is unrealistic, because how on earth could such specimens retain their position of power? They could not. Villains should be portrayed in a realistic light, not as the bucket into which all human evil and frailty are poured. I suppose I must now view Game of Thrones in the proper light, as well-done, big-budget soft-core porn and nothing else, because it is nothing else.

I will tell you a good show: Vikings. It is ten times better by any measure one would care to apply, and it is realistic and historically accurate--extremely so by film standards, regardless of the quibbles of academics. Another great show is Tudors, which I have watched twice and intend to watch again one day.

Working Dreams

I dreamed I was in a classroom, sitting at a desk, which was true for about twenty years of my life. Behind me sat my new boss, an older man, although this didn't make sense because there's no boss in a classroom setting, but there he was, a superior officer in our organization. He asked for the cards that I had brought from home. These, he said, must be kept for safekeeping. I was set against that, but he insisted. I gave them to him only with the greatest reluctance. I felt sadness, then anger. Then I reflected that the cards I brought from home could not possibly matter to him at all. He was only doing this to press my buttons. He was trying to provoke me, to see what I would do, to test me. Someone had spoken against me, someone had put him up to this. This revelation, this insight into the truth of the matter, filled me with calmness. I could not be angry or sad, because negative emotions were what the enemy wanted me to feel. I must be strong, superior to them. I said, "You think that I'm arrogant. If I were arrogant, I'd be suffering. But I'm not." And it was true. He studied me for a moment, nodded and said, "You may have the cards back." They were in a safe by his desk, which I opened to retrieve my cards. What was on the cards? I don't know. All of this is abstract. I don't know who the boss was--didn't recognize him. Don't know what company I was working for or why I was in a classroom. The dream seemed to revolve around arrogance and whether it will defeat me, whether it has defeated me before.

My second dream, I was invited back to my old company to work on something. I can't remember whether I have done that before. I will have to ask my partner. I have had many dreams where my old company invites me back to work on something just for a week or two as a temporary employee. I do my work, earn about a grand or two and then leave again. I had this scrap of paper in my hand with scrawled handwriting telling me what I needed to get done. I thought I understood it--simple enough, same stuff I used to work on back in the day. When I walked in, some people were surprised to see me, and I spent the morning in introductions and hellos and chit-chat of no very great consequence, such as I had observed many a time. My old working buddy came up to have me work on something she needed. I miss her. She was pleased, amazed to find that I remembered so much and could do some of the things that I used to do before. But then a qualm upset me. I felt that I may not have read the note in its entirety. I decided to review its contents once more. My suspicion was confirmed. On the back, which I had neglected to read, it said to call this number immediately and talk with so-and-so.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wordpress Security Vs. Wordpress Search Ranking

Wordpress security is sometimes at loggerheads with a site's search ranking. There are many tricks and tips recommended by security wonks that will actually decrease a site search ranking, such as banning all hits to xmlrpc.php, or disallowing various paths in robots.txt. I've experimented over the last several days and learned what works and what is counter-productive. I do not believe it is wise to ban hits to xmlrpc.php, and I do not think web admins should second-guess Google when it comes to directing robots. Google knows what it is doing, for the most part, and additional rules make Google angry, in a manner of speaking. I watched my site plummet from #2 in search rankings for a particular term to #5 after adding a lot of rules to robots.txt. Needless to say, I yanked those rules right out!

There is such a thing as having enough or even too much security. With regular backups of the database and the files, I am not inclined to follow all of the recommendations set forth by Perishable Press, one of the few sites I regularly follow. I view Perishable's advice in the way of guidelines and educational material. The author has a knack for explaining technical issues without resorting to jargon, with a humorous style reminiscent of Stephen King--the American vernacular, gotta love it--and he offers excellent examples on .htaccess. He is my "go-to" site when I am confused about arcane .htaccess syntax, which is often, because .htaccess syntax is unintuitive. I use some of his security tips, but not all, because some cause problems. I am also concerned that perhaps other problems may be created that I cannot detect, problems that may become evident in the future after I add a new plug-in or there's a new update to Wordpress.

Perishable's .htaccess code is sometimes compressed in a way that makes it difficult to debug or understand what is being done. Perhaps that is a form of showing off or maybe the intention is for the code to execute faster, but I'd prefer to sacrifice efficiency for readability and ease of maintenance.

I am no stranger to compressing code. I won a little contest back in the '80s, getting my name and program published in a national magazine. The challenge was to code a BASIC program that did something cool in only one line. Each BASIC statement could be separated by a colon (:), and GOTO 0 was allowed. But was this a useful or helpful skill? Maybe. This sort of experience may have helped me become a better maintainer of other people's spaghetti-code programs, which comprised a large portion of my career. I rarely had difficulty finding and fixing bugs.

I think Apache wrote the language for .htaccess back when every byte mattered, and in order to save a couple bytes, they made the language cryptic and anti-human. I much prefer languages such as COBOL, batch/script, or BASIC for their sheer readability. I never was a fan of C++, even if it is twice as fast. In my opinion, buy a faster computer, if you need speed. When programming languages are easier to understand and to code, then greater deeds may be wrought by human minds and with far fewer bugs. That's my philosophy about programming. I have indeed worked with extremely cryptic computer programming languages--assembler, no less. I am merely stating my own preference as a programmer and user. It's nice to be able to look at source code and figure out what is going on in just a few moments. Maybe my opinion does not dovetail with job security for those programmers already entrenched in cryptic languages, but it seems rather obvious to me.

Flashblock 1.5.17 Eliminates Annoying Flash Autoplay

Ah. Peace and quiet again on my browser. Thank you, Flashblock 1.5.17, another fantastic Firefox add-on!

News sites like USA Today have gotten obnoxious, playing video the minute one clicks on an article. They must assume that their guests are lazy. Perhaps that may be so. When I visit, I don't want my reading interrupted by someone speaking to me. I can acquire more information reading than listening to someone read for me. I don't know what is wrong with the world that people don't want to read. I often find that when I search for things, Youtube videos are at the top of the search rankings. I want to know who has the time to wade through a ten or twenty minute video to learn a piece of information that could be found in thirty seconds in a well-written article?

I wonder if Google Chrome has such a feature as Flashblock? Probably not is my guess. There is so much Chrome cannot do. People claim it's faster playing their precious videos, so I guess that is what is important to them. For my part, I install an add-on to disable videos, because they are annoying.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spying on Americans

Snowden confirms what I've suspected for some time. Government is in the hands of the wrong people, those who think lying is a trifle and who don't give a fig for the Bill of Rights. The spies read our private email and monitor our telephone calls--that much is now known. What's next on their agenda? I suppose they also want to hack into our personal web sites, spy on us night and day with cameras (hidden or not), and fly drones over America from coast to coast searching for whatever it is they think is important. Orwell's 1984 gets closer to becoming the status quo in America with every passing year.

I would not put it past these spies to have already hacked our web sites or to have engineered trojan horses already and unleashed them upon America. I think it is very likely that U.S. agents are behind a lot of web site hacks, hacks of sites owned by Americans. After all, they're fightin' terrorism, dontcha know? They have to check up on you, make sure you're not a terrorist. Are you? Well, you can't be believed, anyway. You're probably lying. Everybody's a terrorist, or a potential terrorist, so everybody has to be spied upon, day and night preferably, with a web cam in the bedroom and the bathroom to be absolutely sure.

Terrorists--yeah, sure. A convenient excuse to keep spying and gathering data on Americans. I don't think these foreign wars, which never end, are worth sacrificing our freedom. I don't think they are worth turning government into a spy state. But I never had a high opinion of Mr. Bush's wars in the first place. I think people in government are the reason the economy is in such a poor state. They are more concerned with their foreign wars than they are with the U.S.

Some people wonder whether those drones in Pakistan are just beta versions being tested and refined for use here at home.

I can't remember another issue that irritated more than this revelation that confirms, once and for all, that ordinary Americans are being spied upon. I wasn't even that peeved by Obama's waffling over gay marriage and other gay issues. The reason must be that I have grown accustomed to politicians promising the moon and Stars to gay people, and then once in office turning the other way. I was not accustomed to the idea that secret agents are opening not just my own, but everybody's private mail and reading everybody's correspondence and using that information for unknown ends.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Carter was Ethical

I'm old enough to remember President Carter. He was our last President to really care about ethics. There are thorny questions one could pose to the other Presidents that would just dissolve any pretences they might have. I wonder about Obama sometimes, now that we know he approved spying on Americans. I don't believe anything that his spy chief says. They didn't want us to know about their spying. Now they are spending all their passion on vindictiveness, on their plans to punish whoever betrayed their secret. But it should not have been a secret in the first place. They spied on ordinary Americans on a massive scale. Now that they're caught, they say, "Oh, it's not so bad. See, we were doing because of, you know, terrorism and stuff." I just don't believe it. If they had been honest in the first place and told the country what they were doing, then that would be one thing, but they have their hand caught in the cookie jar and are just trying to deflect some heat.

When Reagan ran against Carter in '79, I switched my support to Reagan in alignment with my father, but we were wrong. Carter took the blame for a sour economy and the Iranian hostage crisis. That's why he lost the election. Reagan paid off Iran with weapons to get the hostages back and then spent his way out of the recession. All he did was spend, spend, spend. He paid off the Iranians and paid off private companies to build more bombs.

Carter was special in that he kept on working for the country even out of office. He was not afraid to state his opinions about world issues, even if these opinions sometimes made him unpopular with certain groups like the pro-Israel lobby. I am convinced he spoke from conscience more than any of these other Presidents we have had. I listen to these other Presidents speak and I read quotes from these guys and it seems to me they are calculating every word, even down to the punctuation they use, based upon political factors. They're good at politics, maybe better than Carter on politics, but not so good at ethics.

Is ethics without value? Many people think so, including those that are in positions of authority today. I think having ethics is what distinguishes a great leader from a mediocre one. People do respect ethics. Otherwise all our heroes would be villains, but they're not, are they? Our heroes are people who did what they thought was right. I think ethics bestows a generous reward on those that practice it, because ethics, more times than not, coincides with the wisest course of action. Intelligent, educated fools scoff at ethics and think they know better at their peril, because the world's complexity defeats even the most cunning. It is wise to walk in the way of righteousness and to refuse those opportunities to steal what seem to be trifling advantages.

Dreaming of My Enemy

I dreamed of my enemy last night. Why, I don't know. I haven't seen him in twenty years. Maybe he died, and his passing somehow touched my unconscious. Don't scoff at my supernatural hypothesis, reader. There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy. His father died early of a heart attack, and so perhaps now that he is reaching the same age as his father. . .

He isn't my enemy any longer, of course. Twenty years has a way of erasing such distinctions, at least for me, and for the relatively mild wrongs wrought by that nothing. I don't care enough about him to even search the Internet and find out what he is up to. I've tracked down others--old flames, friends, and acquaintances, out of curiosity in the past, but once my curiosity was sated, I always had the feeling of "so what?" It doesn't really matter what they are doing now, or whether they are not doing at all--whether they are dead. Once so many years pass by, then people are strangers, whatever they might have been before. Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder after all.

He was hell on wheels back in the day, and I used to think of him as my archenemy, as indeed he was for a time, but then we got older and ceased to care. The last interaction I remember with him, he was standing by the side of the road. His car had a flat tire, and he did not know what to do. The fool hadn't carried a spare like I always have done. He probably did not know how to change tires. I said not a word, but kept on walking. He could read the look on my face well enough to gather that I wouldn't have lifted a finger to help him. That was what impressed me the most about him, that he could appreciate the consequences of his past actions.

What was my dream about? I don't recall. Maybe it was an erotic dream. He wasn't bad-looking, as enemies go. I don't remember him having a girlfriend, even though he trumpeted his homophobia to everyone, like a pathetic badge of honor. I thought for sure he was a closet case. He palled around with the best-looking guy in school, his very best friend, and didn't spend any time with girls at all. There always seemed something fake to me about his loud avowals of desire for females. I have known a lot of straight guys in my day, and they didn't feel the need to run down gays.

The night before, I think I dreamed about the upcoming phone interview on Friday. I remember a strong premonition that things would not go well. The tension caused a spasm in my left calf, which woke me up. The muscle was like a rock. It was bruised the next day from the long-lasting spasm. I detest spasms, but they do occur on rare occasion, the body turning on its owner.

I don't think much of that premonition, because almost all phone interviews go ill. Phone interviews are just a quick and cheap way of weeding people out, when somebody has a ton of applications. The odds are all against a phone interview. If somebody is serious, they will meet in person.

What use are premonitions if they foresee likely events? I want a premonition that will make me rich or give me an opportunity to work and earn money. That's the kind of premonition I desire. I don't trust poor psychics. And I don't see why psychics would need to sell their services. I don't want premonitions of unhappy events, either. No more damn spasms. I want premonitions of good things that could happen to me, if I do a, b, and c.

Friday, June 7, 2013

An Interview

I was told during a phone interview today that I lack administrative experience. This was not volunteered feedback. I extracted it from the interviewer with a direct question: "Do you feel that there is anything that would disqualify me from this position?" Is that a gambit? Perhaps it is. I find directness helpful, because it cuts through the crap. I want useful feedback. If I don't get the job, give me a clue why. Otherwise the interview is of limited value. I am direct in all my questions. All I care about is whether my resume, cover letter, and presentation are okay. The rest has no meaning, because I can research to find the answers to everything else.

Administrating programs and procedures and protocols? Surely I have done that in my life. What the remark suggests however is that there are applicants that are better known to the decision-maker, applicants with what is thought to be "administrative experience," possibly people that are already vouched for by someone known to the interviewer. The selection of that other will be justified by their "administrative experience."

My pride is wounded by applying for humble jobs with modest demands and being told I haven't the right experience for them. What, am I incapable of learning any new skill? Am I fossil already? Do my degrees and experience mean nothing? The answer is yes, my college degrees mean nothing, their value is zero or even less than zero. My experience means nothing either. No one thinks anything about computer programming, no one holds it in any special regard at all. All that matters is who one knows. What one knows is of less importance.

I was told there were hundreds of applicants just for this one little job paying twelve dollar an hour, and I was one of only fifteen called for a phone interview. Should I be flattered by that? Maybe. I'm not though. I'd really prefer not to have wasted my energy upon hoping for a better life. Oh, I had such eagerness--was almost giddy. I felt alert and aware. Yet it seemed that nothing I said impressed the listener, that she had heard it all before and was rather bored and disinterested. Never once did she offer any positive feedback. How I wish I knew someone that was close to her! That would have made all the difference, I'm sure. I could not get through the firewall. I had a strong suspicion she had already made up her mind to choose someone else, and I don't really know why she called in the first place. Perhaps she thought I was female and turned against me upon finding I was not. That seems to me a very likely scenario, because I know how clannish women can be. Many women strongly prefer to work with other women. So what she said was probably a convenient excuse, a white lie. There is really nothing I could have said or done to eliminate such a strong bias.

I am a good listener. I can read into choice of words and tone of voice pretty well, and I felt my chance was over and done. A black wave of despair passed over me the minute I put the phone down. It is times like this that I fear death not at all.

Writing about the experience helps. I feel better here at this last paragraph than I did at the first. Once one confesses to despair, that is the essential lever to lift the heavy burden from consciousness. Do not feed the despair. Do not drink. One must confess. Confession is good for the soul. "Yes, I have this wild feeling that things are hopeless, yes I feel like a drowning rat. Yes I feel that my talents are being wasted." With confession, the despair becomes an interesting unusual thing, like a sombrero, and one's curiosity is piqued. Why am I wearing this sombrero? I don't usually wear a sombrero. I will take it off. The hat fit me half an hour ago, but I think I'm over it now. I have such a good life. Yes, life is good. I do not need to wear the sombrero.

What fits me better is stoicism. We live, we die. That is all. As long as there are still good moments, free of pain, that is all one should expect.

Jonesin' for Wordpress 3.6

I eagerly await the overdue release of Wordpress 3.6 and moreover the twentythirteen theme. I haven't updated my Wordpress theme in ages, and I feel like now's the time, especially since I have time on my hands. The twentythirteen theme is supposed to offer superior support for mobile devices. I don't use one, but so many people do that of course I want to keep those people happy.

Yet another part of me wonders whether it is wise to join the other lemmings leaping into 3.6. Perhaps it is better to remain with the tried and true 3.5.1 and wait to see how 3.6 pans out in terms of security and stability. Perhaps I should give the hacking community time to find all the weaknesses in the next release. I don't know. I think if I backup on a regular basis, then I can deal with whatever may arise.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Our Government is on the Wrong Track

Some are cynical about everything to do with government. Being a Democrat, I am persuaded that sometimes the government is capable of doing good things and that it acts as a check and balance upon private power. But government's security apparatus certainly has proven itself capable of excess.

The Washington Post posted an article today about how the government has been spying on Americans through the Internet. The Guardian followed up with another article explaining how pervasive the government's spying is. I can't say I was surprised, as I have detected the shadows cast by agents on numerous occasions through the years. I rather suspected that widespread spying was going on, targeting ordinary Americans for a multitude of rationales which all boil down to keeping the poor in their place and bringing more power to those who already have it. Ah, those with power always want more! Is that not an accepted fact of human nature?

Those who believe that their communications on Facebook, Google or other online services are respected as privileged and private are fools. Those who believe the government does not release viruses and spyware are also deluded. There are many undercover agents posing as ordinary people on Facebook, Amazon, Google and every other social media site. To lie is nothing to them--a mere trifle.

The rich and the powerful crapped their pants upon realizing the levelling potential of Internet technology. Now governments around the world, including the U.S., are doing everything they can to subvert the technology in order to enforce the age-old paradigm, wherein the less privileged remain so and the aristocracy hold all the cards.

The White House and Civil Liberties

The White House is defending a massive intrusion by the government on civil liberties for political reasons. Whatever the ethics, now that the cat is out of the bag I think that this tactic is of limited use, capable of ensnaring only the careless. Perhaps most criminals and terrorists are careless. Perhaps that is why they resort to criminality and terrorism. I think any intelligent individual could devise a way to disguise the source, destination, content, duration, and frequency of telephone calls. But how intelligent are terrorists, anyway? Not very, one would think.

At any rate, I don't think avoiding terrorism is worth giving the government a blank check on civil liberties, because once such liberty is sacrificed, when is it ever recovered? The government is inclined to take more and more. Where do all these seizures of privileged information end? I don't see any end, and I see rather increasing reliance on eavesdropping. Information makes those in power even more powerful, so it is always tempting to seize more and more information. Power is a drug.

I find the Obama administration just as bone-headed as the Bush administration was on civil liberty. Where is the difference? All of this fear and paranoia to justify the loss of liberty is unbecoming. I find that Obama is too right-wing and too willing to sacrifice individual liberties for what he deems "the good of that state." Perhaps Republicans would fault him for it if he were not so. Perhaps this is another case of Obama playing the politician rather than the great statesman he could have been.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Blexbot Content Scraper is Really Nielsen Media Research

I had great difficulty finding detailed information online about an IP address,, that appeared in my site log over ten thousand times. But now that IP address is cold busted. It belongs to Nielsen Media Research, a pack of content scrapers. They do not wish to be identified as such, and so they lie, and call themselves a random name like Blexbot. Tomorrow they will be clexbot, and the day after that, wmu-bot. What are Content Scrapers? They are greedy bots that attempt to grab every piece of data from a given site. Interesting bits of this data are then grouped together and sold to companies, governments, or individuals. In short, they grab content and try to profit from it. They do not send traffic. They should be banned by every site, no question about it.

Lookie what the scumbags are doing on a Wordpress site: - - [29/May/2013:06:21:13 -0800] "GET /password HTTP/1.1" 404 2438 "-" "BLEXBot" - - [29/May/2013:06:21:16 -0800] "GET /signup?context=webintent HTTP/1.1" 404 2438 "-" "BLEXBot" - - [29/May/2013:06:21:18 -0800] "GET /reg/join HTTP/1.1" 404 2401 "-" "BLEXBot" - - [29/May/2013:06:21:21 -0800] "GET /forgot_password HTTP/1.1" 404 2438 "-" "BLEXBot"

They're not just content scrapers, they're malicious hackers. Those 404's you see above? That code means they're making up links as they go along, running them up the flag pole to see if anybody salutes. Meanwhile, the web admin gets to have fun wondering what's wrong with his web site that all of these 404 errors are popping up. (There were many more than just the above examples.)

Subscribing by Email

My mail reader informs me of new messages instantly. Partly for that reason, I never subscribe to newsletters. I never want to receive email from any company unless I have had recent or ongoing business with that company. Amazon sends me email when I write a review, or when someone comments on my review, and that is all right as well. Email in response to recent action is all right. However, companies assume that someone wants a newsletter on the slightest pretext. I left a comment on ZDNET recently, and their morons concluded I wanted a newsletter subscription. ZAP! POW! WRONG! If I want to read something, I will visit a site or subscribe via RSS. Only important matters should be transmitted via email. Email is for friends and business contacts only. Has ZDNET never heard of RSS feeds? What dinosaurs! Actually, I don't use RSS either, but if I were of a mind to want a regular newsletter, then RSS is how I would go about it.

Some outfits require a user to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to unsubscribe. Many require typing in the email address. I don't bother with all of that. The maximum effort I'm willing to put forth to unsubscribe is two clicks. I am doing the sender a favor by actually being nice enough to unsubscribe. If a third click or any typing is required, then I won't unsubscribe. Instead, I'll mark the email as spam. The more people that mark such email as spam, the more likely that the email provider, such as Yahoo, will default all the sender's emails to the spam folder for all users, which is right, because newsletter-pushers are indeed spammers.

Bot-Net Attack? What Bot-Net Attack?

I read many articles today about the brute force attack targeting Wordpress sites. My site is secure, and I just laugh at the enormous waste of that stupid bot-net's bandwidth. Each hit taxes my site about 500 bytes, so those scumbags will have to hit my site 2,000,000 times in order to waste one of my gigabytes--but that calculation seems rather liberal to me. After all, my deflate instruction is near the top of my .htaccess file, so I would wager that instead of 500 bytes, the server actually transmits each bot closer to 300 bytes, maybe lower since old 403.html is, after all, mere text, which receives quite optimal compression rates from any compression algorithm worth its salt.

But igor's solution will never be the thing people click on in google. Packaging and appearance are the thing. That is all right, because it is enough for me that my client's site is perfectly impregnable. I want his site to be fast all the time, I want it to look right all the time, and I want black hat hackers and evil bots to fail in everything they attempt.

Upon reflection, I think the stupid brute force attack against wp-login is meant to promote the sales of some cybersecurity firm(s). Let us be clear, it is not a serious attack. It is a stupid and ineffectual waste of bandwidth. Some cunning CEO may have decided to hire a bot-net to launch a stupid, ineffectual attack against everybody, knowing that the ignorant and the easily frightened would shell out money to buy a quick fix, a little band-aid to put on their precious web site to lull them into a false sense of security. I just don't which company(ies) are behind the attack, which stand to gain. There are probably a thousand different suspects.
techlorebyigor is my personal journal for ideas & opinions