Comment Spammers Redux

03/04/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Internet, Spamming

Got comment-spammed this morning. Thirty-one comment spams between 4:53 AM and 5:00 AM. I get the sense that my web space provider was been doing some maintenance this morning. I think... I might be pretty thankful for that. Just semi-random crap from templates to accompany their web link.

The sad thing is, of course, they can post their link into the entry field for the comment, but I'm the only one who can see it. Google doesn't.

The spammers were taking advantage of the guestbook services over at the guestbook dot com (I have the actual link name banned for now) - the links all pointed to guest accounts over there, and each page had a small piece of Javascript to cobble together a redirection to search adv dot com (I will not do them the favour of linking to them).

Fortunately for me, since they used the same web page for all their spam, I just banned the guestbook dot com from being posted as a link, and managed to scoop out all the comments in one fell swoop.

Sad as it may be, banning Javascript from free accounts may be the only decent way to help control things like this.


Prize Number Seven

03/04/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

I got a letter a while back from the people running the contest for International Truck & Engine, to the effect that I had won fourth prize in their contest, which was a remote-controlled vehicle. How cute, I thought.

This makes my seventh win in online contests:

  1. Delenn doll from B5
  2. Manchurian Candidate movie premiere tickets
  3. Coupons for free Olivieri pasta and sauces
  4. Dock Rock 4 CD
  5. Trip to Switzerland
  6. Quip It! game
  7. Remote controlled truck

Well, the remote controlled vehicle arrived a while later. It's... big. Have a look:

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Odd Male Quail

03/04/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions

Button quails. Nice ground dwelling-birds. We've got two, and a new canary. Nice ground-dwelling birds sitting on the ground.

So what goes through a quail's head when he decides to do this:

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Optical SETI

03/03/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science

The Planetary Society sponsors an odd variety of space activities, like the Earth Dials and the Huygens microphone that let us hear the sounds of Titan. Their solar sail program suffered a major setback last year when the Volna launch vehicle failed while carrying their solar sail vehicle, the Cosmos I.

They're just about ready on their Optical SETI Search program. We've seen a lot about radio-based SETI, popularized by the movie Contact, and the distributed computing project by Berkeley, SETI@Home.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, SETI is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. It's a search far in the heavens for signs of communication. No UFOs, no aliens in Roswell.

The idea being that if intelligence arose here, it may have arisen elsewhere. We simply do not know the odds of that, despite things like the Drake Equation. It's like a lottery winner trying to figure out what the odds are that they won, without hardly any benefit of knowing how the odds came to be.

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Struck By Lightning : Jeffrey S, Rosenthal

02/27/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books, Science


This is a very entertaining, easy-to-digest (don't eat it) book all about, as the subtitle of the book says, "The Curious World of Probabilities".

The reading is brisk, and he goes over a number of pretty practical subjects. The Law of Large Numbers figures large in this tome. That is, the more times a probability event happens, the closer it gets to the calculated odds. So, you may flip three heads in a row, but flip the coin 50 times, and you'll get 23-27 heads almost guaranteed...

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Kiswahili, Msingi Wa Kusema... : Hinnebusch, Mirza & Stein

02/22/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books, Languages


I'm getting prepared to go to Africa this year. True to my nature, I've got books on Swahili, the major language of East Africa, on my reading list in preparation.

I first ran across the Swahili language in a used book called "Jifunze Kiingereza", or "Learning English" (for Swahili speakers). It's amazing what you can get out of a foreign English-learning book, though you certainly can't get everything.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Swahili. It sounds quintessentially "African" with phrases like "Hujambo, bwana" (Hello, mister/guy/sir), "Simba!" (lion) and "Mimi ni mwanafunzi" (I am a student). There are some rather odd spots to the grammar, but it's by and large pretty regular, and it's mostly pronounceable by the average North American Joe, unlike things like Russian, Arabic and Chinese (assuming those are not your native languages :) )

This is a pretty good textbook on Swahili.

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The 40-Year Old Virgin

02/20/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Movies

I didn't understand what all the kafuffle was about until I saw the movie. Steve Carrell does an absolutely outstanding job as the main character. The main character, Andy, is charming, obviously a little bit naive, but is not a flat caricature of a geek. He doesn't always stay in when invited out, or not "get" the jokes or sarcasm flung his way. Watch for how he backs up his co-worker on the discovered date card thing, and how he handles the daughter later on. You'll enjoy it :)


War of the Worlds (The Modern Remake)

02/20/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Movies

It's got Tom Cruise in it, and follows him, but he doesn't take over the show. This is a Spielberg spectacular, and if you're looking for an utterly horrifying, as-realistic-looking-as-you-can-get version of the War of the Worlds story, this is definitely it.

I was surprised at the way the movie is set up. It's all very "eyewitnessy" - as an audience member you don't get inside information about what's going on except for what the protagonist sees. That makes it all the more creepy. (It's like being in Half Life 2, except nobody's yelling "Striders", and you have no weapons at your disposal.)

The movie ends somewhat... abruptly, although not unsatisfyingly. It does leave you wishing for additional material before the ending, but it's a movie, not a miniseries.

Fun to watch if you like being creeped out, in a good way.


The Savage Garden : Peter D'Amato

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books, Gardening


This is a great book for fans of carnivorous plants.

I got my first interest in gardening going to the horticulture department of UBC as a little kid, and the Venus Flytrap was definitely the main thing that got me hooked.

I've tried raising them in the past. Often, Home Depot or the like would get in a little shipment of tiny Venus Flytraps, we'd take them home, and they would just slowly decay. Well, we're hoping to change all that.

First thing you learn in the book is not to use tap water, or many bottled waters. Anything with minerals in it is bad for the vast majority of these plants, since your plantings cannot possibly simulate the constantly-running waters of a bog which clears away any buildups, and if you live in a place with alkaline water (if your reservoir is on limestone, for example), that's even worse, since most of these plants are acid-loving. Use distilled water. It's cheap, albeit less convenient.

You'll find out the origins of most of these plants, and it's surprising how many of them are native to North America, not the jungles of Madagascar, for example.

There's plenty of excellent advice and reference material on each kind of carnivorous plant, from Venus Flytraps to Sundews to Bladderworts to Pitcher Plants (there are different species of these) to Cobra Lilies (a very challenging plant to grow, from the sounds of it).

We've got some carnivorous plants on the go here now. If we have success, you'll hear about it :)


Google Your Own Tech Support

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Internet

Oh boy, did I ever have fun with my web space provider over the past while. I just have a cheapie account with a 300 Mb quota, which has been more than sufficient for my needs.

So when the account usage suddenly grows by 100 Mb overnight without me having uploaded any files, I get worried. Especially when that trips it over quota. You can create new files... but you can't put anything in them.

So I started talking to tech support...

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Meet Gorbachev

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

Well, our canary called Gorbachev, anyhow. He's a fascinating little canary, all white except with a grey smoodge (as opposed to a smudge) on his head.

We went to Pisces to take a look at canaries. We were in luck that day, because they put out a number of canaries into the hall, many of them excellent singers.

It came down to a choice of two. One yellow who just belted out his song, and one white-with-a-smoodge who was slightly quieter but had a lovely song as well. It took a while to decide. In the end, the yellow fluffy guy lost out because we thought he might deafen us at some point :)

So we chose our white-n-grey canary, and they put him in a cardboard box for the journey to our place, and usually, pets are a little freaked out once they finally come out of there into their new home, but this little guy... no problem. Just hopped right out, hopped around his new environment, and started eating.

He made lots of peeps and chirps for days. We were wondering, though, if he was ever going to sing like he did in the store. They have a 4-day non-singing guarantee, where you can return a guaranteed singing canary at the end of four days if they don't sing. Well, he wasn't singing after four days. Some slightly longer chirping, but nothing like song.

We decided to hold onto him anyhow, at the very least since he was so personable. Well, a few days later, we were rewarded.

Here is a movie of Gorby singing. You may need to turn the audio up a little, since if we get too close, he gets too interested in us to sing, but this is representative of his pretty marvellous singing abilities. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Gorby passed away while we were on vacation, unfortunately. No real reason for his decline, as far as we know. The other birds in the cage seem fine. He is survived by Raisa who, while not up to Gorby's par in singing, a month later, she twitters and responds to us. We have yet to decide if we want to get a replacement companion, given how solitary canaries can be.


Another Case For Intrinsic Redshifts

02/19/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science

Another pre-print from our very own Morley Bell of the Herzberg Institute with another interesting case for intrinsic redshifts in a paper bestowed with the enormous name, "Evidence that Quasars and Related Active Galaxies are Good Radio Standard Candles and that they are Likely to be a Lot Closer than their Redshifts Imply".

As you look further out into the universe, spectral lines caused by heated gases shift towards the red part of the spectrum. The further out you look, generally, the redder it gets. Conventional wisdom has it that this red-shift corresponds very closely with distance. This is "cosmological redshift". Conventional wisdom also holds that this is due to velocity away from us. A while back, this was believed to be an actual speed, but now it is believed to be due to "space expanding".

The existence of intrinsic redshift throws some caveats into this picture. An "intrinsic" redshift is a redshift not caused by distance or velocity. It can cause things to be more red-shifted than they "should" be, meaning that the objects are nearer or moving more slowly than conventional theory would indicate.

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Revenge of DOS

02/03/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Programming

A coworker of mine brought something to my attention. We were informed of trouble in testing one of our pieces. Funny... it had always been working. The test was construction related, and our tester had put in "con" (short for "construction") as a test user name...and it blew a small gasket.

If you used another user name, no problem. So what gives?

It was encountering an error making a directory. Hmmm? Privileges? What? Well, it was making a directory corresponding to this particular user name, C:\Blablabla\inbox\con. That failed.

Then it struck him, and it may strike some of us "old-timers". "con" is a device name from DOS days. It still functions. You can go Start->Run cmd [ENTER] then type:


You can then keep typing until you hit Ctrl+Z, and what you typed will end up in MEEP.TXT.

Funny that in this day and age, you can't name a directory 'CON'.

Go ahead and try it (if you have a Windows machine) - make a new folder anywhere, and try to rename it as "con".

Other things you cannot name the folder: "nul", "lpt1" (or lpt plus any number), "aux", "com1" (or com plus any number). As an old-timer, I understand why: these are reserved system device names. Just kinda surprising/funny is all :)


Sam Brownback

01/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Politics, Religion

I just read an article on Rolling Stone about this man, and it personifies everything that frightens me about the theocratization movements south of the border.

It's a long article, but the thrust of Sam Brownback can be understood from a few quotes...

The most bluntly theocratic effort, however, is the Constitution Restoration Act, which Brownback co-sponsored with Jim DeMint, another former C Streeter who was then a congressman from South Carolina. If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power. Say the mayor of your town decides to declare Jesus lord and fire anyone who refuses to do so; or the principal of your local high school decides to read a fundamentalist prayer over the PA every morning; or the president declares the United States a Christian nation. Under the Constitution Restoration Act, that'll all be just fine.


And yet compassionate conservatism, as Colson conceives it and Brownback implements it, is strikingly similar to plain old authoritarian conservatism. In place of liberation, it offers as an ideal what Colson calls "biblical obedience" and what Brownback terms "submission." The concept is derived from Romans 13, the scripture by which Brownback and Colson understand their power as God-given: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

What if these people get their way? What if they hoodwink the millions upon millions of moderate Christians into believing their tripe and supporting their agenda? Or, will they even have to do that - they already seem vastly over-represented compared to their actual fundamentalist voting base.



Kingdom Hearts

01/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Games


This game was a surprise. It's one of the oddest concepts I've come across in a while - Final Fantasy meets Disney - but the truly strange thing is that it works, and even soaked-to-the-bone surety that running around with Goofy and Donald by your side can't possibly be anything other than cheesy... doesn't prevent you from enjoying the game thoroughly.

This seems a homage to the "horror lite" that Disney was occasionally so good at, like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Indeed, the beginning is pretty darned... creepy. Shadows, including your own, coming out of the ground to attack you. When you finally land on the idyllic paradise island, all seems to go well. It doesn't last, though.

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