starting-blast landlocked

Category: tech stuff

In which Bell Canada and a crappy modem team up to break my brain. Twice.

I have caffeine. And I have a bit of free time. That means geek entry. If technical things make your brain do melty things, there’s other stuff coming. Or, you can flip through some of what’s already posted. On the other hand, if brain damage is your thing, keep reading (Warning: long post is long). I don’t disappoint.


Folks who’ve been reading me for a while know this already. But for the new ones, or the ones who haven’t yet found the time to go wandering back through really wicked old entries, a background. I used to work for Dell, back when Dell used to be cool and actually wanna pay me. Naturally, that meant insane amounts of exposure to large doses of the kind of stupid that would be lethal without the proper equipment. Or an international border. whichever was more convenient. The kinds of breakage I had a front row seat to, and the wicked nifty cool shapes my brain had to fold itself into just to figure out 1: how in the 7 levels of hell $person actually ended up breaking their thinggy what I’m being paid to fix, and 2: how in the 7 levels of hell I was going to fix it without a small miracle, copious amounts of caffeine and an IV drip of vodka–only one of which was actually practical while sitting in a call center in the middle of freaking Kanata, made origami look like something your 2-year-old pulled off in his sleep last night–appologies to anyone who’s 2-year-old may or may not have just been mildly offended. I’ve even seen software–and some hardware–who’s manufacturers make an honest attempt to break things by default (see: standards, Microsoft’s lack of). Usually, that kind of is an out-of-the-box flop, though. And usually, I’m the shmuck that gets to appologise to the customer because there really is no way to fix that broken, short of replacing the defective–not something you want to tell someone after they’ve just plunked down $400 for that self same defective. Now, I’m that customer. And Bell Canada gets to play the part of Microsoft.

I do all manner of geeky–and sometimes freaky–things from behind this network. Including helping May with setting up and administering an FTP server. Sometimes, it involves extreme amounts of stress testing. And sometimes, it just involves a simple hey, can someone from outside this network access $service on $port, or do I need to smack me a modem? Up until a few days ago, that was a simple process if you were me. Or, hell, if you were May, who’d tell you herself she’s not quite as technical-minded as I am but she’s kind of busy catching up on posting to her site at the moment. All either May or Myself had to do was pull up a chair and connect. Well, more or less. From behind the network, we could still pull up the external hostname, bounce to it from inside the network, and have it route the connection back to the network on the appropriate port. So basicly, it’s like picking up the landline and dialing your own phone number rather than *98 (or whatever your US equivalent is), and seeing if your voicemail picks up. At some point last week, though, Bell decided to turn off that ability.

I have no idea what the hell they changed, but they apparently pushed an update to the modem we’re using–we’re using Bell’s “Connection Hub”, if you’re curious–that pretty much broke standard networking. Now, if I’m sitting at the machine I’m using right now, behind an otherwise fully functional network, and I try to pull up a service I know is working as expected, I get nowhere. Or, rather, I get somewhere–it still tries to connect to the external hostname. It just times out, as opposed to connecting. Going back to the comparison from earlier, it’s like calling your own phone number, knowing you should be hearing your voicemail, and instead the phone just keeps ringing.

Thinking the modem just developed amnesia–they do that sometimes, I go in and have a look. Sure enough, it ate the settings I’d whipped up to actually allow the public to access things from outside this network. I’d seen this once or twice so was actually kind of expecting a whole other set of issues–amnesia of that variety is usually asign you’ll be soon replacing your modem. So while reimplementing the settings that let things be visible to the greater internet, I was internally preparing to have that conversation with both my ISP and my girlfriend. And only really not looking forward to one of those conversations. so I reminded the modem that yes, in fact, this is a friendly thing, and please to be letting John Q User play with it thanks much. And then I hoped like hell the damn thing wouldn’t forget me 10 minutes after I left the room. I tried connecting externally again, same result. Then we lost internet briefly. Well hell. Here comes 2008 all over again, it looked like. Still, when we came up, I smacked the reboot option–just to cover my ass. And because, hey, if it was 2008 all over again, we’d already lost our settings so what was I hurting? Another reconnection later, and I figure okay, let’s play find the server. Again, dialing my own phone number, expecting to hear my own voicemail, and instead hearing ring ring. Not cool, network. And not the standard performance, either.

Still suspecting the modem might be on its way out, I check again. Nope, all of our settings are there. The modem’s just being a Microsoft product (*). What the blue? So fine. I have access to a server that’s well beyond this network–hint: WTN’s sitting on it. So let’s go see if the service is even visible. Connect to the server, fire up two different FTP clients. Connect from the server, back to the network, to May’s FTP server–the thing I couldn’t reach by the external hostname from the local machine. Doesn’t it work like there’s nothing wrong in the slightest. I can connect, do what I do, then bail. No problem. Alright, next test. C’mere, CanYouSeeMe. Do we exist, at this IP address, and on this port? We do? And you say that more than once? Awesome. So John Q User can play with the thing after all. We just can’t bounce off the hostname anymore. Cute. So why the hell not, and can we fix it?

As it turns out, I don’t actually have an answer for that first question–I’m guessing Bell pushed out an update, but as locked down as that modem is (hint: Google doesn’t turn up any super nifty administrative access levels, a la the modem we had at the old apartment through Rogers), that’s just a guess over here–though that would be the only reason for the modem’s temporary bout of amnesia, assuming it’s not trying to warn us it’s going to fail tomorrow. As to the second question? After about 15 minutes poking around in the thing, it looks as though that has potentially no written all over it. Actually, poking around inside this modem tells me you can’t actually fix, or turn off, much over here–enter breakage the second.

The modem they gave us when we signed up for internets is one of those router combos. Because of the speeds we’re getting and the fact it’s fiber, this is kind of the only modem we can get from Bell–and I’ve not found an equivalent outside of Bell that I can be reasonably confident won’t crap itself in 6 months just on account of the connection expecting too much from the hardware. But so far as router combos go, even the ones provided by the ISP, the thing’s crippled. Problem the first: no bridge mode. As in, at all. At least, not in the sense that you can tell the modem to just be a dumb modem and hook up your own damn router. You can turn off DHCP and wireless access, but that’s about as far as it goes. Why? Part of it’s because, stupidly in my honest, Bell uses this exact same modem for its TV service–not much use to us at the moment, but a trivia type thing I found while poking. So, truely bridge mode would break that in several interesting and not so fun ways. That also means I can’t bypass Bell’s breakage and go buy me a new router–too bad, too, as there are several that’d do the trick quite nicely. But the modem would still be handling the trafick from the router, and playing cop where necessary–or rather, where Bell thinks it necessary, thus defeating the entire purpose of a second, better, more stable router. And problem the second: What access Bell gives you to this modem is, well, basic at best. You can configure wireless network settings, open whatever ports you need (see above for situations wherein that might not be practical), and set up management for dynamic DNS in the event you don’t want to have to fight with a client for doing exactly that (I don’t, personally). And that, right there, is about the extent of your access. Add an exception to the firewall so the router doesn’t block your mystery packet transfer? Not happening. Set it up so specific services aren’t available during certain times of day, or days of week? Not happening.

Rather than having the option of becoming a dumb modem, Bell handed us a dumb router. Then they broke it with an update. Awesome, yeah? And between the two of them, my brain suffered two very significant meltdowns. And I still don’t get to just say screw it and run my own damn router.

(*): The comparison may or may not have had a small something to do with the fact I just got done fighting with Outlook. Maybe. Or was that this morning? Oh well.


I’m not crazy! This caught someone else too, or at least one other someone else, pushing me just a little bit further towards the theory an update broke it. Awesome job, Microbell. Now when do ya get to fix me?

If you use Network Solutions to host your domain names, here’s a very good reason to stop.

Network Solutions hasn’t been in my top 20 places to send people for geek things for a few years–largely because every so often, they break something so significantly that it tries very hard to take out good portions of the internet. But now, the company’s got themselves in my top 10 places to talk people out of running with. And it’s all because somebody over there decided to fail business 101.

In the website hosting business, there’s two things you need to look after. Paying for your hosting, and unless it’s included (which is more common now than it used to be), paying for your domain name–so people can actually get to where you’ve hosted your site. domain names are usually payd for from anywhere from 1 to as many as 10 years at a time, whereas your hosting package is usually monthly. Here’s the thing, though. Let’s say you’ve got yourself 3 or 4 domain names you’ve registered for this or that project you’re working on. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve got people running their websites off your space and don’t want to be bothered maintaining their own domain names–enter the geek with nothing better to do. So you set up the site, you pick out your domain name, you plop down the usually $10-$20 per year depending on the company and type of domain name, and you pretty much forget it exists until the bill for the next 1, 2, 5 or whatever years comes due. But let’s say, just for the sake of keeping with our hypothetical situation here, you’ve finished your project, or you’ve simply decided to move your personal website to a domain that’s, well, more personal. Either way, you no longer have a use for the domain name, even if you can’t really officially lose it until the registration expires. So it sits there, and you go on about your business–it’ll expire and be done with when it’s done with, right? Wrong. Well, if you’re with Network Solutions, anyway.

Most domain name registrars–the people who actually keep a record of your domain name, who it belongs to, and where you’ve told it to point to–will warn you when your domain’s coming due–the registrar I use (find a nifty little plug for them later in the post) starts poking me about 3 months before the domain expires with a little “Hey bud? You’ve got this thing over here.”. In fact, that reminds me–I need to pay for this domain here shortly, but anyway. Even the ones who let you tell them yes, it’s perfectly okay to automatically renew the registration of those domains (my previous web host let me do that) will still shove warnings under your nose, just in case you’re not using the thing anymore, and/or it completely slipped your mind you’ve registered the domain. Network Solutions? They’ll just bill you. There’s no notification of any kind, no warning, and apparently no off switch for automatic renewal. You just wake up one morning, go scroll your creditcard statement to make sure your monthly subscription to Dropbox went through–you *are* on Dropbox, right?–and wham. Oh, hi, Network Solutions. Fancy meeting you here. It’s more than a little dodgey, and sadly they’re not the only company who does things exactly like that–they’re just the first registrar I’ve heard of doing it. And I’m reminded why automatic access to bank accounts, creditcards, what have you for the most part sends me in the other direction–but that’s another entry for another topic on another day.

If you’re using Network Solutions for anything web or other such geek stuff related, give serious thought to maybe not. And if you’re still not entirely sure, rethink it. Then, pack up what you have, and send your domain names in this direction. I separated my domain’s registration from its hosting a bit over a year ago–which worked out, since the hosting I was using fell through, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been with my current registrar pretty much problem free since. And yes, I’m pretty sure tomorrow, I’ll be staring at another warning from them that a domain I’m holding onto will expire in 2 weeks–and they won’t sneak it on my creditcard bill. But regardless who you have your domain registered through, it might not aughta be Network Solutions. At least not if you don’t like surprises.

Thanks goes to May for pointing me at this. And much thanks goes to Network Solutions, who once again shows any aspiring business person what exactly not to do. Keep that up and I’ll have to make you your very own category, guys.

Rumour has it Network Solutions offeres hosting as well. If you know anyone hosted through them, feel free to have them get in touch. I’ll help them shuffle domain names around–and, hey, maybe even provide them with a little hosting space. It’s not like I don’t have the room.

Geek stats. Because trivial geek is trivial.

I recently did some tweeking to the server on which this and a couple other sites run. Specificly, I tossed a second hard drive in for the sole purpose of–hey, I likes me some extra space, kay? It had the side benefit of being able to pretend I’m an actual, honest to goodness, proper system administrator. Or maybe it just gave me the extra room to exercise common sense–you be the judge. In so doing, I learned two things about me and my users.

Thing 1: my users don’t actually use much. I’ve probably got the most space going, and that’s at well under a hundred gigs. All told, user data, OS data and miscellanious crap I haven’t gotten rid of data comes to about 5% of the actual primary drive’s available space. Hot damn, I said. Then I looked at where I put my backups.

Thing 2: Holy Christ–backups much? Both drives on the server are 2 TB. So basicly, they’re both smaller than the external HD I’ll be glomming on to when funds come in shortly. I mentioned how much of that space the actual userspace takes up. The backups of said userspace? 55% of the second drive. Yes, nearly 1 TB of the second drive’s 2 TB is backups. As opposed to about 86 GB of the primary’s 2 TB actually being used. Paranoid sysadmin is paranoid, perhaps? I mean, drive failures aren’t entirely common, but hell, should one mysteriously decide to show up and say hi, I’d likely be offline for all of an hour–not counting how long it takes folks to get around to replacing drives. Not bad for a mostly improvized server job, yeah?

Short version: I likes backups. Apparently, way too much. Also tiny users. I have that much diskspace why, again? Oh, right–I have uses. Just uses. Stop asking.

So. Anyone want hosting? I’ve got the room.

The basics of what Twitter ate, and how to work around it.

I still live on Twitter, even if they occasionally go and break their API without warning. Which is kind of what happened yesterday. Users of a few different clients ran into an issue where they could receive tweets, mentions and DM’s all the day long. Posting? Different story. Twitter threw back a 411 error–which, just for the record, does not mean what Twitter would like to think it means. I’ll let you know what that is when Twitter lets me know. No one has any idea just yet how to fix it. But like that’s stopped me. So late-ish last night, I put together a vaguely quick attempt at fixing the issue. It involves an entirely different–and yes, supremely simple to use–program and, for those who need it, support files for the screenreader I use. You can download the zip archive of both the program and the scripts for JAWS for Windows from over here. Instructions on how to use the program from the perspective of a visually impaired person are right this way. If there’s a question that isn’t answered here, feel free to come find me, and I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, happy breaky day!

Hey Apple? Stop shrinking the SIM already.

Apple has this thing about not playing well with others. It started with the software, then slowly graduated to the hardware. Now, they’ve gone and shrunk the SIM. Again. They invented the micro-SIM. that thing made aranging to make use of phone service, you know, outside of my carrier, a little fun. and now with the iPhone 5–yet another reason not to upgrade to the iPhone 5 just yet, they’ve gone nano-SIM. which means, you guessed it, if you want to even keep the SIM from your old iPhone, you’ll need to do some trimming. And grabbing a SIM from another carrier if you’re, oh we’ll say, hiding out in the states for a few weeks? Yeah, no. Some carriers may not even get the nano-SIM for a few months–especially if they don’t actually sell the iPhone. I get it, Apple–you don’t like to play nice. But really. Enough with the SIM shrinkage. Damn thing’s hard enough not to lose when half awake at half past dark.

So long, Feedburner. I barely used ye.

Feedburner hasn’t officially been shut down just yet. It’ll probably be a while before it actually is. But Google’s definitely firing warning shots. The developer API for the service was killed off, limiting what people could actually do with the stats Feedburner hands you. Not long after, AdSense for feeds–which I used to use–was taken out back. It’s not a very far leap to say Feedburner itself is heading for an early grave soonishly. If you use Feedburner for your RSS feeds, now might be a good time to consider switching away. And, hey, if you need a pointer or 6, get in touch. I’ll help where I can.

Why I’ll be holding off on the iPhone 5. For possibly ever.

For half an age, I held out against the trend of switching to the nearest iThing. And I didn’t suck at it, either. The thing to do as soon as the iPhone 3GS came out was get ye out and buy one. but for me, Nokia worked. Until it didn’t. I switched to an iPhone in April of 2010. And, with a few issues–some of which I’m working on extinguishing, it does, well, what I want it to do. With the appropriate amount of coaxing. I’ve even thought occasionally about trading it in on a 4S. But that’s about where my aspirations to keep up to date with club Apple go their own way.

Because we had a few things to get done anyway, May and I popped in to have a look at the 5 a couple weeks ago. Design-wise, it sort of tries to work. It doesn’t really do much of a good job about it, but it tries. That’s something, at least. But just the act of holding it felt, to both of us anyway, a little bit awkward. Yeah, it’s thinner than the 4 or 4S. But it’s wider, which leaves it less easily actually fitting in your hand. Or, at least, mine. Kind of a requirement, since my phone–whether Apple makes it or not–goes everywhere with me and kind of is my communication, when I either can’t or don’t take the laptop. Because of how they make the case for the 5 now, it’s also a little lighter than the 4 or 4S. And that’s the up side. The down side? Because of how they make the case now, it also scratches a lot easier than the 4 or 4S. Again, not cool when the phone pretty much does what I do with me. It gets some use. I’d rather not have it look like I’ve had the thing for 3 years when it’s been 3 weeks–which has been a quite common complaint. So common, in fact, that some are suggesting mayhaps Apple might aughta think about recalling the device.

We didn’t do much actual playing with the device, mostly because as said, we kind of had things to do, but on top of it being easily scratchable, the iPhone 5–and apparently only the iPhone 5–has an issue with static lines on the keyboard when entering your password into the app store. And, also curiously, only the app store. No idea if it’s a usability problem, but apparently it’s at the very least irritating if you can see it. There’s also an issue, of sorts, with the camera giving photos a purple halo when even close to some light sources, whether or not the light source causing the problem is actually in the frame–surprisingly, and also curiously, Apple says that’s perfectly normal behaviour.

combine that with the, uh, shall we say, issues with wi-fi, again just with the iPhone 5, and you start to see a rather fun picture. So I won’t bother mentioning the light leaking issue as well.

All told, while *probably* not significant enough to cause the iPhone 5 to, uh, rather, cease to be an iPhone 5, they’re significant enough eyebrow raisers to maybe make me wanna somewhat reconsider plunking $150 down on the latest and gratest. So I’ll just be holding off on purchasing that brand spanking new iPhone 5. In the meantime, here’s hoping half the issues are fixed in the 5S. Or the 6, if they decide to fire the letter S. In the meantime, if anyone needs me, my iPhone 4 will be in my pocket and I’ll be around somewhere.

In which many a college network crumbles before me. Or maybe just Algonquin’s.

So I made vague mutterings about maybe going back to school. In a sense, I did. I went with May over to Algonquin College a couple weeks ago so she could get a couple things done. Since I’d have some time to kill, I took the laptop with me. Largely because she made the mistake of telling me she could receive email, but the network wouldn’t let her send. Come to find out, at least I believe, all the common mail ports are, shall we say, firewalled. Somewhat successfully, I might add. But, and this is where anyone who knows me should be paying close attention, I had a little over an hour and a half to myself. An hour and a half, with an unfamiliar network, wireless access, and one hell of a powerful portable unit with which to play chicken. This can only end not so well.

So I took that portable unit, that wireless network access, that little over an hour and a half, and I did something useful. I prodded my own server looking for open ports. Not open ports on the server, per say, just the network. Ended up getting the college slapped on the block list in the process, but hey, that was fixable when I got home–note to self: try and find the damned IP first, whitelist the thing, then port scan your server to death. Kay? Kay. But I found me an open port. Two of them, actually. And I was already using one. So when I got back to the apartment, I–uh, first, um, unblocked the college (oopsies), then fired the mail server up on the open port I wasn’t using. Odds are, now, if one does it right, mail sends while one is at the college. I’ll need to get back there at some point and play.

Firewalls are awesome. But here’s the thing about them. There’s ports they don’t necessarily block, simply because doing so would pretty much break students’ access to potential external, uh, educational materials. One of those ports is HTTP port 8080. Now, here’s the thing about this server. This server doesn’t run anything on port 8080. As in, nothing. As in, no thank you please. Or rather, it didn’t until a few minutes after I got home. Now, in complete violation of probably a couple standards and definitely in complete violation of one college firewall, the mail server listens on port 8080 as well as the usual mail ports. And a couple others, but I’ll keep those to myself and the people who actually need ‘em, lest some Algonquin IT type person with a Google adiction accidentally finds this thing.

Sending mail from on campus, for those times wherein somebody with access to the server, or me, needs to send email while on campus, can now, legally, happen. Perhaps not Algonquin’s definition of legally, but hey–I’m looking at getting into one of their geek courses. Of course I’m going to flex my geek on their network beforehand. Why not? Besides. I didn’t need that port anyway.

Review: Postie for WordPress

So I mentioned I started experimenting with posting by email, for not the first time, on this blog. The plugin I tested for that purpose, the only one that before didn’t really overly irritate me, was Postie. For the most part, it does what it’s supposed to. General usage takes some getting used to, but that can be lived with.

What It Does

Let’s say you get wicked uber popular and your site gets recognised enough that certain overactive filtering systems–I’m looking at you, most corporate firewalls–decide you’re just way too evil for people to read at work. Or in your case, your site’s way too evil for you to post to from work. But you still have mockery material. You could write the whole damn batch in MS Word or somesuch, or, you could play with this plugin. If you create an email address (can be Gmail, if you don’t want or don’t have access to create one on your own domain), then hand the login details to that address to the Postie plugin, anything you send to that address will, if the email address you use is authorised, become website material. the plugin lets you specify things like categories and whatnot in the actual email itself, or in the subject in some cases–part of what takes some getting used to. But if you’re used to how LiveJournal and maybe Blogger do email posting (Does Blogger even do email posting anymore?), it shouldn’t take too much getting used to.

What’s Changed In the Update

The plugin was last updated in August of this year. Before that, it hadn’t seen an update since mid-2011. there was at one point a security concern or two about the plugin, but that seems to have been addressed–more on that below. The biggest change with this update, that I’ve noticed, is it’s become a lot more sensitive to HTML emails. I sent a test email to the site using Outlook, and didn’t switch it to text format. Mostly because I want to see what happens. The plugin saw the email, scanned it, determined it was a possible XSS attack, and promptly deleted the email. Oops. Not exactly the intended result, but hey, easy fix. Switch to text format, send the same test email. It works, almost, as advertised–again, see below. I can probably fix that with one of their other built-in commands. The edited result of the test that actually succeeded is here. Again, easily worked around–took out the extra blank lines at the end, added my update.

What It Won’t Do

I had to test this on my own, though I can probably make it do what I want easily enough. Out of the box, the plugin doesn’t respect post scheduling settings. For instance, I run another modification that pretty much guarantees this post won’t show up 30 seconds after the last one I wrote. It also makes for easy editing if I decide, say, 6 hours later to delete that incriminating paragraph about my caffeine habbit–oh, uh, that’s half the blog. Nevermind. Postie, however, wants to publish things immediately, regardless to when it’s supposed to be published. Works for most people, doesn’t work for me. Or anyone who runs anything remotely like me. But hey, nothing’s perfect.

Security Concerns

In the early days of the plugin, and quite possibly as recent as the 2011 update, there were concerns that the plugin made liberal use of bypassing WordPress’s publishing routines and manipulating the database directly to insert posts. I didn’t get a look at the 2011 code, but in the latest update, the plugin appears to have fallen back to using WordPress’s publishing routines. At least, my 30 second look at the code says maybe. somebody with more time on their hands can feel free to provide me with a free education though.


For what most people will use it for, the plugin does what it should. I didn’t test things like images, or videos, but I also very rarely post videos, and even more rarely post images. But it does what I expected it to do, with the exception of respecting automatic scheduling modifications. Use this plugin if you want to be able to post from behind a corporate firewall. Don’t use this plugin if you expect to be able to do so in accordince with some other posting structure. At least, not without some slight modifications. Then, feel free to share those mods with yours truely.

Smacked by

I love breaking in a new server. It’s kind of nifty cool. What’s not so nifty cool about it is breaking in a new server when you kind of need to move some of your production stuff over to it, like, 5 minutes ago. That’s where I spent the last week or so. Everything I maintain directly, for my own benefit–or, now, for May’s as well–has a new address. Unfortunately for everything I maintain, that new address apparently used to be owned by someone with a less than stellar performance record. So when it got handed to me, I got to find out just what *not* to do as a sysadmin. I mean I knew most of it already from dealing with previous sysadmins, but that’s a rant for when I’m less than sober.

I’ve been used to the standard problems with email, especially with email coming from a new–or in some cases, previously used–IP. Hotmail doesn’t like recently asigned IP addresses, AOL tends to throw a bit of a hissy, and most smaller services tend to temporarily fail mail coming to them from new servers on the first pass–they call that greylisting. And then there’s the odd duck who decides “Oh, you’ve never had this IP before. I’m just going to pretend I don’t know you.”.

I can deal with that. It’s called just keep queueing up the mail, and eventually, they’ll like you enough that a metric shit ton of it will hit them in the box. But this one’s new, at least for me. Apparently, is not actually a strict blacklisting service, a la SpamCop. It’s an IP reputation tracking service, whatever the hell that means. Which, again, is awesome. Until you start to factor in, uh, companies will permanently (as in, 5xx error) reject mail from your server if senderbase doesn’t like you. Which is all well and good and amazing, if you’re the lazy type. And here’s a fantastic little kick in the teeth to go along with the kick in the geek nads. They don’t actually give you a whole lot of info on how, exactly, you’re supposed to *improve* your server’s reputation, so companies who use them don’t permanently reject your face off–especially when the only way I know they track such things is when companies receive email and report such things to them. So you’re sitting there, trying to figure out exactly what in the 7 levels of hell you broke when you set up your server, and all you have to go on is, well, this.

2012-08-14 11:41:59 1T1JFP-0006mG-18 ** R=lookuphost T=remote_smtp: SMTP error from remote mail server after initial connection: host []: Your access to this mail system has been rejected due to the sending MTA’s poor reputation. If you believe that this failure is in error, please contact the intended recipient via alternate means.

Helpful. Really. Extremely Now, uh, kindly tell me how I’m supposed to get in touch with the moron who says so so I can point out to ‘em that, hey senderbase guy? Yeah. IP’s a week old from where I’m sitting. Little help? Nah, I didn’t think so. And that’s where it sits. About 20 minutes on Google tells me, uh, not much. Apparently your IP reputation’s supposed to improve over time, but since everyone I know tracks that kind of thing has apparently blocked my face, I’m still curious how that happens. Unless senderbase just occasionally develops amnesia. Which, I suppose, is possible–they don’t say. So I’ve been smacked by, and the only counter is, uh, an unknown variable. God I’d love to be that lazy with this server. But I’m not paying to do it.

In which cPanel and CentOS actually, uh, kind of do what they should?

I’m still trying to figure out if it’s just because somebody decided to smack me in the head a little too hard, or I woke up in an alternate reality at some point, or what. But an interestingly weird thing happened over the course of the last couple days. I asked cPanel and CentOS very nicely to do something for little innocent old me, and the server didn’t actually catch fire.

A little background, for those of you who may be almost as sadistic as me. Installing Icecast on a CPanel server, any version, any time, used to be a right royal bitch. Compile the thing from source, curse as it spits out 80 million missing dependencies, compile those dependencies from source, curse as it still can’t find them–by the way, /usr/local/lib64 being in root’s environment path apparently does not help when the configure script is freaking braindead, then spend the next 5-10 minutes tracking down all those dependencies, finding the exact shared object the configure script wants to reference, then symlink the whole damn batch to a directory wherein the damn script wouldn’t bitch. If I didn’t occasionally *use* Icecast, just setting up the dependency structure for the compile process would warrant hourly billing for the poor bastard who asked for it. But since I do, and hey, it was an excuse to flex muscles I haven’t needed to flex since the last time I smashed Gentoo, I figured oh what the hell. So Icecast existed, compiled from source, dependencies and all. and I kept 80 million notes for the next time, just in case. And then the wickedest weirdest awesomest thing happened.

I’m not sure if it’s a CentOS 6 thing, or the version of CPanel I’m running, or hell, maybe the OS devs just finally decided let’s update a bunch of packages that we haven’t actually updated in at least a year and a half (Did I mention I hate binary OS’s for that?). But on a random thinggy, I thought hey, let’s run a theory. They’ve had time to fix their shit, and they’re not Debian, so maybe. So I skip the tracking down of my usual source dependency packages, and go straight to the configure process. It falls on the floor. Apparently, the server has ogg-vorbis support (hey, that’s an improvement right there), but it’s 0.6.x. Awesome. Wicked. Nifty. Cool. But Icecast wants 1.x. Well fuck me running. So I’m all ready to go tarball hunting. I’ve got links, I’ve got references to other links, I’ve got ice cold (no, literally ice cold) caffeine, bring it, bitch. I do the usual dance. make sure my links haven’t broken in a year and a half, make sure nothing was unexpectedly updated and I need to do something slightly different this time around, and I find something so new it still has that new geek smell. Where before, the CentOS package manager absolutely hated to do anything remotely involving Icecast and its dependencies, this time, I was fed exactly the command I needed, in exactly the format I expected, that I’m pretty sure I tried a year and a half ago that made just about everything fall down around my ears. But, hey. Maybe. I didn’t find this in Google last time I looked, so maybe. It would certainly make me less dependent on vodka, if nothing else. So I do the do, and suddenly, I’ve got updated libraries the configure script likes, and a couple packages I’m pretty sure the box I set this all up from via source last year is still missing. And because CentOS did whatever CentOS does with it, the configure script *should*, God willing, find the damn things without me needing to perform minor surgery. So I run it, kick back, and hope the booze store’s still open just in case this thing blows up–it wasn’t, by the way. And the thing not only compiles, but compiles like a dream. Thing threw less warnings on this box than it did last year.

I nearly fainted. CPanel doing what I say is a rare occurance when it comes to actual, significant admin things. CentOS doing what I say is even more rare, for anything, administrative or not. Both of them cooperating on the same task, at the same time, and neither’s arm needing to be twisted? That alternate universe theory sounds better and better all the time. And then I go and install something like Logwatch (believe it or not, the server was not handed to me with that installed), and I run smack into CPanel’s damned yum.conf exclude line. Okay, right universe. CPanel just wanted to mess with my head. Did I mention I hate it when CPanel wants to mess with my head?

I vacate Ottawa. Which means: welcome back, TekSavvy.

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I gave Bell Canada (at the time called Sympatico) the middle finger. Their service sucked royally, every second or third month was a new conversation with the folks what lost my payments, and they just couldn’t seem to convince me not to drink. I still won’t touch Bell, but that’s largely now because the service I can get here–which I’d *love* to get here, by the way–is in fact not available where I’m running to. So it’s off to TekSavvy for a second go round, and the same service I can get through Bell–minus the supremely ridiculous bandwidth caps. TekSavvy said the magic word–for those keeping score, it’s “unlimited”, and Bell still can’t quite figure out where exactly Pembroke/Petawawa is on the map. So when I get myself settled, somebody goes back to DSL. Hey, it’s a downgrade, but it’s interwebs. And it’s unlimited. Even Rogers could learn a thing or three about that.

Related: Are DSL routers still insanely cheap? Just in case the one I retired a year ago did, in fact, retire…

So I mentioned we moved servers.

Here’s where I get geeky again. Sorry. Okay maybe not *sorry*, but uh… I’m something, anyway. So what did I go and break this month? Nothing that can’t be fixed with a tiny bit of vodka and a whole lot of miracle. I spent some time over at Iweb, with one of their smart servers. Good for the buck, but a tiny bit too much buck.

It took some negotiating to get it to where we thought we’d do something useful with it. On that server, we somehow got away with 12 GB of RAM, 2 500 GB hard drives originally configured as RAID1 (yeah, that lasted not even 12 hours), and a halfway decent processor. That was good for about a year or so. But I started wondering. We host things for other people. Us, not the datacenter. the datacenter just charges us for the privelege. Something goes sideways, uh, hey genius? The folks what sometimes pay you can’t actually tell you something’s gone smash if your crap’s on the server that went smash. Now, okay, admitedly depending on what exactly went smash we’d already know, what with us being on the same server, but that still made not a whole lot of sense.

So I grabbed WTN, all nearly 50 GB of WTN, and threw it at a server I picked up at end of last month through Interserver. Not as much bang in the processor or RAM department, but it makes up for it with diskspace. We get 2 GB of RAM with this one, a slightly better processor than Iweb, and 1.8 TB of disk for a fair bit less in the dollars department. I wouldn’t throw the entire drive full of hosted other people’s data over here–that’d probably kill the server on a busy day, but it works for the sites I’ve tossed over here. And the move gave me a bit of room to go bug squishing. Which, uh, reminds me–you might not have been quite so easily able to actually reach the site for a couple days last week. Oops. Upgrading software kind of broke a bit of PHP. Those bugs have been squished. I uh, think.

so now, we have us what we call a sandbox. Where I can get moderately breaky smashy with and not have to much more than nuke a couple sites that don’t make money. Mind you, this may or may not be somewhat countered by backup, duplicate and recover skillz of madness. But quite potentially maybe. And this means at the very least, I’ll have more flexibility to write about how I very nearly broke, then fixed, then accidentally demolished the server. And see? No innocent customers were nuked in this experiment. We kind of save those for next time.

Knighthood ain’t what it used to be.

Apparently all it takes to become a knight these days is being partly responsible for Apple’s mamoth crushing of just about anything that competes with it–whether it’s deserved or not. The guy who was behind the original design of the original iPhone, iPod and iPad has officially been knighted. For uh, being responsible for Apple’s mamoth crushing of pretty much everything that competes with it. Is now a bad time to say I’m contemplating what will be the eventual replaceement for the iPhone I didn’t really want?

This has “In Death” series written all over it.

Everything’s cool in science fiction. Cars can drive themselves, a phone without video is considered what the Nokia 6682 is in today’s cell phone market, everything electronic is also voice activated, and if you read the “In Death” series by J.D. Rob, handguns are banned except in cases where they’re collectors’ items. Whether we want to admit it or not, more and more of science fiction’s staples are showing up in today’s world–so much for us not having an informed culture. This idea looks like it came straight out of the “In Death” series.

Tobacco kills people. Everyone knows this. So to try and combat that, a company has come up with an electronic cigarette idea (disclosure: I support this article’s political position, even though I 1: don’t smoke and 2: didn’t link it for its political viewpoints). In the series in question, tobacco is either banned or very hard to come by–the author doesn’t actually specify which one it is, but unless you’re among the rich crowds, you probably don’t have access to it in any case. Instead, people are doing, well, exactly what this article describes.

To the uninitiated, walking into this suburban Toronto bar must look like a throwback to the 1980s. A cloud of what appears to be smoke can be seen hovering over a group at the far end of the establishment. But a quick check of the sense confirms that looks can be deceiving.

The air is fresh, lacking the pungent aroma of burning tobacco; the eyes aren’t watering with the sting of fresh smoke seeping into the sockets; and instead of ash trays and cigarette packs, the tables are full of small bottles of liquid and other pieces of equipment. On this night, a group of Toronto-area electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, enthusiasts are getting together for their monthly meet-up.

Wouldn’t you know, science fiction does serve a purpose. How many more steps now before smokers get to freely comply with another of my political viewpoints–smoke all you want, but keep it to yourself. Oh well, the idea’s still interesting. And that it looks like it came right out of the only actual series I’ve managed to read through and not completely lose my mind makes it both interesting and amusing. Hell, why not? Let’s see where this thing goes.

In which WordPress changes their API, busts a couple features. Oopsies.

This site has comments by email. This site also has posts by email, should you be sadistic enough to subscribe to it–hey, a couple of you have, so it’s relevant. Or it did, until approximately 2 hours ago. You see, WordPress released a slightly newish version of their software last month, and one or two of the things that get some fairly regular use over here I don’t think were expecting that just yet. So they’ve kind of gone, um, squishy. I get to go digging through code later, but here’s a thing to keep a hold of–all your info has stayed put. If you subscribed to get comments to an entry by email, you’ll get comments to an entry by email–just not immediately right now, and unfortunately not retroactively either. Although, now that I think of it, your mailboxes might just thank you for that. Same goes for posts by email–although those, at least, you’ll get retroactively (don’t worry, I have sane limits on the amount of email this thing sends). The features still exist, they’re just somewhat temporarily broken. stick around, though–I’m not done twisting things into knots just yet. One of those knots might just fix themselves.


As anyone who’s anyone on Twitter knows, just about any and every link you throw on the site now, including links to posts on this site, gets automatically wrapped in their shortener–yes, even if the link’s already been shortened. They announced the rollout in June, and as of yesterday or the day before, have made it pretty much automatic and global. While some clients have developed workarounds, most of them get to put up with automatic URL shortening. Which, yes, is wonderful and great and convenient in theory. Except for one very minor little catch. Links, particularly links posted from this site and others like it, are already shortened through Bitly–we used TinyURL before that. In 99.999% of cases, they’re already small enough to fit inside their 140-character limit. Shortening them again just seems kind of like a waste of resources, really. And yet, there’s no real way to turn off the service on your account–meaning, unless you’re using a client or service who’s already coded a way around, which most apparently haven’t yet, your shortened link is shortened yet again–often to no real benefit (19 character URLs versus 20? Really?). is awesome, in theory. In practice? T.CNo. Just sayin’.

Shaw pulls a Rogers, doesn’t get nearly the same attention.

Remember when rogers first started screwing around with bandwidth restrictions, then proceeded to launch their own online on-demand video service and, escentially, flipping customers off with it by not exempting it from existing bandwidth caps? Yeah, I figured you would. If not, refresh thyself. Then, read this. Clearly, it’s monkey see, monkey do in the Canadian telecom industry–and, clearly, Shaw has very good eyesight. Again, reread that first link. Except, replace Rogers with Shaw. Where’s the CRTC on this, again? Oh, that’s right–they’re just now getting around to calling bullshit on Bell, 3 years later. Well, I tried. Now, back to pirating CSI.

Verizon breaks your phone, charges $20 extra to fix it.

Just when you think “Hey, a feature I can actually find a use for”, your local phone company things “Hey, a feature I can find a price for”. Latest example? Verizon. Certain android phones sold by the company come with the ability to be used as a wireless hotspot, not unlike the iPhone on any company that doesn’t try and milk you out of every spare dime you can find–hi, Telus, nice to see you. Until recently, those phones could be used in that fashion easily, and freely–allowing you to take advantage of your cellular data connection using your laptop, should you have no access to a traditional wi-fi connection and need to make use of your computer for something net-ish. Fast forward to earlier this week. Verizon pushed out an update to those particular phones, effectively disabling that feature. Their reasoning? Now, it costs extra. Google’s apparently helping them with this, having agreed to remove apps from the Android Market that might make it easier to work around the partial bricking. You don’t actually own your phone. It’s a rental–a very expensive, non-returnable rental. You can thank Verizon for the reminder.

In which WordPress and my server conspire to psych me out.

I’ve been making a fair few changes to things on this end lately. Mostly changes aimed at preventing things from falling flat on their faces. For the past few days, though, it’s been looking mostly like things were falling all over the place anyway. It started with my finally ditching Feedburner, while at the same time playing with the latest new addition to this blog’s feature set–you’ll find it at the end of this post. Multiple issues decided it’d be fun to crop up right around then. This blog’s RSS feeds, temporarily, did the awesomest impression of a corpse, with a path that used to be acceptable to get to the feeds in question deciding to pick around then to, well, fall flat on its face. Or so I thought. On top of that, the server was quite running away with memory usage around the same time–to the tune of over 2 gigs of reserved memory last night, for what should be at most maybe 3 quarters of a gig at peek times. Nifty. Except not. I managed to track down the memory leak to my first attempt at introducing the feature you’ll find at the end of this post, after a couple days of troubleshooting. It’s since been shot in the face. But the other issue? That was the fun one. And by fun, I mean so stupidly simple I could only have figured it out after a couple beers. Fortunately, I’d had 5 tonight so was in good shape. The RSS feeds, as it turned out, weren’t quite as broken as I’d thought. WordPress just temporarily decided to forget what it was supposed to do with them. A stupid setting on the admin side of the software developed temporary amnesia and needed to be reminded how things were supposed to look. And then reminded again, because it didn’t save the first time. Thanks, WordPress. No, really. Thanks. My technology has been conspiring to sych me out. And it damn near worked. Now, to go attempt this whole sleep thing, then try and figure out what the hell caused *this* spike in memory usage. More mockery tomorrow–I’ve built up quite a bit since things started conspiring. You’ll get to read it when I’m not halfway to Zombie City. Well, okay, if I remember.

European politicians join the wi-fi is evil camp. Go Europe!

I may or may not have made reference before to folks who get it in their heads that wi-fi has this issue wherein it’s exceedingly damaging in some way, shape or form. I may or may not have indicated that camp gets its ideas from the most ridiculous of sources–like, for instance, children developing mysterious symptoms of illness while at school, and feeling perfectly fine on weekends. Now, I catch wind of word coming out of Europe that some politicians would like to see an end to wi-fi. For the children, of course. They base it off of some studies comparing wi-fi to such things as second-hand smoke. Really. I’m not creative enough to make that up. Sounds more like the biggest risk to our collective health at the moment are these politicians.

Fake hardware failures suck almost as bad as real ones.

Disclaimer: If you’re not of a technical mind, or things like hard drive failures make you run screaming in the other direction, you may want to skip this post. Just a friendly warning from your neighbourhood undercaffinated geek. Particularly when the fake ones in question leave not just you, but your equally technically inclined roommate, staring at the computer as though it’s just sprouted its very own artificial-ish inteligence.

Take this weekend, for instance. I’m minding my own on a Friday evening, trying to invent the best and least hair-pulling way to introduce updates by email–and comments, by the way, not just replies–to the blog, when the desktop decides to throw not one, or two, or three, but nearly a dozen warning and critical error messages at my face. Everything from hard drive failures to RAM usage being critically high, to flat out memory failures. Now, keep in mind, this machine’s nearly 4 years old and just had its wireless card replaced–twice, mind you, so one or two failures of that nature wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility. So I’m going through the usual diagnostic steps, doing what you do when you’re under the distinct impression your primary machine’s about 30 seconds from going flatline and you’ve got absolutely no spare parts kicking around, when this innocent enough looking “Windows XP Recovery” window crops up. It helpfully informs me that Windows is suffering damage possibly related to bad sectors on the drive. This along side yet another of those dialogue boxes cropping up informing me one or more IDE/SATA drives are about ready to self-shoot.

By this point, I’m more than a little WTF-ing. I *just* meaning less than a week ago, had a Dell tech out this way to replace the network card. Was I *really* going to have to have another one out to replace at least one failing drive and lord only knows what else? Not to mention the roommate just 48 hours prior to that got the pleasure of dealing with his very own failing hard drive and the replacement of same–in fact for much of Friday evening, while I was diagnosing, the running joke was that apparently hard drive failures had now become as airborn as your common virus. But I got curious. The only Windows XP recovery utilities, particularly utilities that bare that name, are usually found on the XP CD–and certainly don’t randomly show up when Windows is loaded, though sometimes I think that might be helpful. Enter that tiny little alarm going quietly off in the back of my head while I go hunting for my usual fix me tools.

I keep 3 tools one hand for incidents kinda like this one–one spyware scanner, one virus scanner, one nuke ‘em all tool. Because I was testing a theory, and if I was right it would at least manage to nail most of it, I loaded–and fired–the nuke ‘em all tool first. Sure enough, within about 2 minutes of the utility running, Windows XP Recovery took a hike. And so did its small army of warnings and alerts and whatever else managed to show up. Yay! I’m free! Except not quite. I nuked the majority of the infection, and probably caught the source, but there was still damage. Have my desktop was toast, and I’m pretty sure I was missing things out of my start menu on top of that. Nice. Wonderful. Nifty. Easily fixed.

I ran my other two tools, which took a little longer than I’d of liked to finish–but they finished and nothing broke, so I’m happy, and removed what I think might have been the last remains of the thing. Easily delt with by a simple reboot. Now, there was just the issue of half my desktop and probably some of my start menu going completely snap all over the floor. Because I was sick and tired of fighting with it, a system restore took care of that–and then some. Yay, again. I took care of what I thought needed taking care of manually, then went on the hunt for info.

Apparently, the infection I just went around with is new. Extremely new. As in I’ve seen postings as early as May 13th, but no older so far. To the tune of every forum, blog, website etc I know to check has something on it. And still, it managed to sneak by my usually pretty solid defenses.

All told, I’d way rather have just had an actual hardware failure. Or several, to be completely honest. The fake ones were a bitch to knock out. Now, to find where I hid my emergency back-up material–just in case.

When is a router no longer a router? The sequel.

That didn’t take long. After just over a year of actual, constant usage, the router I ended up finally putting in service last February took that very short drive off the performance cliff. Or perhaps it was a long-ish one I just didn’t really pay attention to. The problem itself took the better part of 3 days to actually narrow down–initially, we blamed our ISP, but quickly discounted that in a matter of a few minutes. The modem was the next guilty party to be blamed–I’d had a small problem with this type of modem before, so it wasn’t about to surprise me if I’d be replacing that. A few tests and diagnostics later, nope, modem’s working perfectly fine. Well hell. I was hoping I wouldn’t need to invent money for replacement parts this quick. so now my sights are set entirely on the router. Yes, the router I’d just replaced already last February. We do our usual routine with all the computers in the house save one running wireless, because that’s just how we role. Things should be flying both around the internal network and past it to the greater internet. Things didn’t end up getting out of first gear in most cases.

It made troubleshooting this issue even harder still, as the desktop I primarily use for 90% of my online work when I’m at home has been experiencing its own good attempts at dialup performance on the network. I was initially blaming the router, but during testing I was getting much better performance from the laptop than the desktop, both of which I was testing wirelessly. Yes, the laptop’s definitely a more powerful machine, but that has no baring on internet speeds these days–a dual core processor should be running just as or nearly as fast on a network set up by an OCD geek as a machine running a core i5 or i7. Well, you’d think, anyway. Testing disproved that. So now, I have a theory. A dangerous thing in my hands, but you’ll have that. The mystery of the dying router was partially hidden, or at least masked, by the compounding suspected issue of the desktop’s card tanking in 18 different directions. Nifty, with the tiny exception of not entirely. Fortunately, or not depending on your perspective, that’s the easiest thing to replace–and the cheapest. It was also the first thing I got things moving in the direction of replacing–hi, Dell technical support. Time for you to actually work for me. Considering you’re working because I’m not, and all. So one phone call later, and yes it took giving out my former Dell employee ID, troubleshooting was bypassed and hello, replacement card under warranty.

So now, we have replaced the router. I am replacing the network card in the initial problem machine. The rest of the wireless equipment? Wayyy too new to be causing problems–unless someone really wants me questioning their compitence. The only questionable piece of hardware that has yet to be gone over with a fine-toothed “don’t you dare fall over” comb is the modem. And honestly, it’s only a gigantic questionmark over here because, er, one of those already blew up in my face. The unstable network should now, barring unforseen small technological implosions, only be a myth in the house of geekery. And if it’s not, I know one ISP who’s going to get really, really tired of hearing from me. Mostly because I’m not looking forward to the next installment of “When is a router no longer a router?”.

Guest Post: Welcome to open communication, pizza pizza.

Blog author’s note: the below content is a guest contribution. Any responses will, if nothing goes and breaks, go directly to the post’s author and not to me. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact me to discuss the possibility.
I love pizza, and hey, so does the owner of this here blog.
So niftily enough
pizza pizza
one of the major pizza places here in canada has an iphone app.
Nifty, I thought, and hey, it’s free. no complaints.
Um, except their was.
The accessibility of this app, leaves their a lot to be desired.
With a lot of patience, you can find, and by trial and error make voice over read things, and you can put together an order, if using specials, but attempt to design your own pizza? not so much.
Buttons don’t read, the process is not explained, in short, pizza pizza didn’t design this app with the voice over user in mind.
So, I sent the following short and simple message to their iphone feedback address.

From: Shane Davidson
Sent: Thursday, April 07, 2011 4:45 AM
Subject: iphone app feedback.

To Whom this may concern;
I am writing you as a blind iphone user, who uses voice over, the built in screen reader.
The app would be useful to myself, and other blind iphone users if you took the time to make it usable with voice over.
At this time, some of the app is accessible, but it has a long way to go before it can be successfully used to order and manage previous orders with your company.
I am happy to help test this apps accessibility if your company is willing to build accessibility into the app so it works more flawlessly with voice over on the iphone, and other similar IDevices.
This is being posted as open communication on my own personal blog at

and on another blog, welcome to knowwhere, that I help manage, at

so any response, or lack their of, will be read by a lot of users, both sighted and blind alike.
Thank you for your time and attention to this issue.
Shane Davidson

In short, let’s see if pizza pizza cares enough to come up with a response or a reworked app with voice over support, shall we?

|I was not fooled yesterday, just scared to death. Twice.

I blame Slashdot, and them there folks what host this blog. The web host thought it would be fun to include as part of their blog posting prank a little thinggy about the company being sold off, and their own control panel–which, by the way, could have benefitted from some of my caffeine this morning–being replaced by CPanel. That very nearly gave me a heart attack–until I remembered what day it was. Then I promptly did something I don’t do, like, ever–I thanked Christ and the chick who shot him out. I despise CPanel.

Slashdot, I think, wasn’t even trying this year. Their post, completely and entirely–I suspect purposely–uneditted and otherwise not anywhere near the type of post I’d expect to see from Slashdot, made a big show of a whole bunch of linux distributions, including Gentoo, merging. Yeah, I fell for it–for approximately .3 seconds. Though, admittedly, something like this would be nice if it were an actual serious thought. Too bad the leaders in those respective communities couldn’t manage to get along enough to make something like that work if they tried–which they probably never actually would. Different philosophies, and all. Kinda like me and Apple–more on that in another, later, caffeine-induced entry.

No one actualy tried to pull one over on me yesterday. My blood pressure, though? May not be quite the same for a while…

Edit: I fail at HTML on laptop. Or typing on laptop, anyway.

Alibi3col theme by Themocracy

starting-blast landlocked