Huh? Say that again?

While waiting for a co-worker to be ready to go to lunch today, I picked up a copy of the Deseret Morning News that was laying nearby. An account of Hitler's last days was one of the lead stories on the front page of the paper.

Talk about awkward phrasing (or a poor bit of editing):

With defeat imminent, Hitler, 56, shot himself, and his mistress Eva Braun—whom he married shortly before his death—committed suicide by taking cyanide in his underground bunker in Berlin.

Though in fairness, maybe the reporter really wanted to capture the confusion surrounding Hitler's death?

— Michael A. Cleverly

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A survey of installed fonts

In my previous entry I wanted to "typeset" the blockquote from the newspaper article in a typewriter-like font.

I knew that since (sadly) many readers might be stuck using non-OS X systems, most would not have the ITC American Typewriter font installed.

But what typewriter-ish fonts would they have? Ideally I'd like something better than a fixed-width courier...

A bit of surfing turned up Code Style's very interesting cross-platform font survey.

Some highlights:

Operating System Most prolific font %
Macintosh Helvetica 96.55%
Unix & Linux Courier 91.11%
Windows Arial Black* 95.18%
(* which surprisingly narrowly beats out Comic Sans by 1.19%...)  

— Michael A. Cleverly

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VoIP frustrations

Things have been busy at work and at home the past two weeks, so I haven't had as much time to play around with Asterisk as I'd like.

Last Friday the power was out for almost an hour in the afternoon. I hadn't gotten around to configuring Asterisk so that everything would come up OK on boot.

Tonight when I wanted to write my first AGI scripts for my BroadVoice phone number, I ran into a bit of a brick wall.

I can call 317-0261 and my AGI script would answer. But I'd only hear dead air. After fidling around a bit I decided to backtrack and make sure that calls could still ring through to my xten-lite softphone.

Guess what? The softphone would ring, but when I'd answer the call I'd only hear dead air again. Whenever I'd hang up either phone, though, the other would instantly realize that call had been disconnected.

I suspect something is amiss with NAT, but so far I feel like I'm going in circles. Though on a positive note, I've had a crash refresher course in firewall logging.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Intellectual entropy

A great quote from a thread about macros in programming languages:

Intellectual entropy does increase over time. However, I suggest that dumbing down the tools won't save the project any more than bringing in the latest and greatest buzzword-compliant application server...

...My experience, however, is that the pressure in organizations is to deliver with smaller teams in impossibly constrained time frames. I have never had the luxury of using less than the most powerful methodologies and tools, although I have often been restrained by others who valued buzzword compliance over productivity.

My on-the-job experience (especially at my former employer) bears the truth of that out.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Under the weather

Tuesday at work I started feeling like I head a head cold coming on. By that evening I was feeling achey & clamy. Wednesday I stayed home from work and slept most of the day. I couldn't swallow anything, and could only sip liquids slowly. Shauna took my temperature: 104 degrees.

I felt totally miserable. Even knowing, intellectually, how often we tend to take good health for granted, getting sick sure makes you appreciate generally good health.

Yesterday evening when, after a day of rest, I didn't seem to be getting any better Shauna took me to InstaCare. I tested "very positive" for strep throat.

I was given the choice of penicillin pills 3 times a day for 10-days, or a single shot that would have the same effect. Call me crazy, but I opted for the pills. Getting poked when I was already feeling miserable didn't sound like fun.

The doctor told me to stay home again today (you're still contagious for up to 24-hours after you begin taking antibiotics), and even offered to give me a doctors note to take to work. (I declined; I don't think I need that formality at my present job.) That and lots of liquid, tylenol and ibuprofin, and I'm beginning to feel less miserable, though I don't yet feel "well."

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Recent BroadVoice QoS issues

Louis pointed me in the direction of an open letter from BroadVoice's CEO David Epstein. It reads:

The last seven days have been very difficult for BroadVoice and many of our customers and Id like to sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. I also want to explain, briefly, why service has been intermittent or interrupted for some, and what we have been doing to solve the problems.

On Wednesday May 5th at 2 am, BroadVoice began a major infrastructure upgrade of our core systems. This upgrade, which initially went as planned and had been tested in our lab, represents a substantial investment in future service enhancements that will allow us to add more features, new CODECs and additional user capacity. In retrospect, the upgrade could not have happened at a worse time.

On Thursday May 6th at 9 am a 12-month long dispute with a telecom carrier partner came to a head, when that carrier unilaterally broke off negotiations and interrupted some of our outbound calling services and all of the inbound calling services of over 7,000 BroadVoice customers. Even though BroadVoice has received bills from the carrier that inflated charges due by over 44% and, in some cases, reflected rates that are 13 times the contracted rate, BroadVoice has paid 100% of the undisputed charges. The heart of the dispute involves the appropriate classification of our users calls. BroadVoice believes these calls originate from the Internet which is global in nature. We further believe that the proper resolution of this open issue has significant implications for all VoIP service providers and end users.

Fortunately, we quickly found alternate carriers who have worked with us around the clock to restore service to the affected users. Unfortunately, the combination of the above upgrade and the need to technically interconnect with these new carrier partners on such short notice has exposed some significant bugs in the newly upgraded system that were not present in our earlier testing. Our team and the vendors involved are making substantial progress on stabilizing the system and removing the remaining issues but they are not done yet. We believe we have identified all the remaining issues and are working to fix them as soon as possible.

I am sorry this communication did not go out earlier but we have been 100% focused on resolving the problems and the team here is working non-stop to do just that. We have seen incremental improvements, and a number of issues are resolved, but there is more to do.

We all apologize for any interruptions you may have experienced, and we thank you for your loyalty and your patience. We will continue to work 24/7 to bring you the high-quality, feature-rich service you deserve, as we are committed to making BroadVoice the best VOIP service available.

When I called my BroadVoice number tonight I get my simple "hello world" style AGI-application that recites back the phone number I'm calling from.

So, I'm inclined to think the frustrations I was having Monday evening were more likely due to trouble on BroadVoice's side, not mine. I've been too sick to fiddle with it anymore since Monday, so if my side was broken then, it should have still been...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Am I a pioneer?

Adam Connor writes about the phases of language adoption and outlines three groups:

  1. Explorers - motivated by curiousity and desire for new vistas, self-reliant in the extreme, can afford to take risks.
  2. Pioneers - motivated by some kind of gain (free land!), self-reliant but not inclined to wander up and down the Rockies looking for a pass. Often not in as good a position to take risks as explorers. Would like some minimal amenities, or at least a map.
  3. Townsfolk - Basically, everyone else. Motivated to do better if it doesnt involve risk or hardship. Content to develop well-explored areas. Often very risk-intolerant.

Me, I think I'd classify myself as a pioneer. (Cities feel too crowded, or something...)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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The potential danger of SSH known hosts

A group of MIT researchers are working on protecting SSH from known_hosts address harvesting. A hypothetical worm that used SSH as a propagation vector would have a nice roadmap of systems to try from a users known_hosts.

One additional remedy, not mentioned in their article, would be for site administrators to change the name of the known_hosts file so that it wasn't in the same known location on every host. [Weak pun intended...]

Security through obscurity is bad. But what about security first, and then obscurity? (Or, perhaps more aptly, security first and then variability?)

if a worm were written today it would be programmed to iterate through each user's ~/.ssh/known_hosts file. What if, on my system, I'd recompiled OpenSSH to look at ~/.ssh/hosts_known or something not even under the ~/.ssh subdirectory (say, ~/.toothpaste)?

At first glance it would seem that this local mutation would inhibit the spread of the hypothetical worm somewhat. Even better would be to leave a fake known_hosts file around with a lot of bogus entries, or to a honey pot or tar pit.

Am I overlooking some danger or flaw in deviating from where the rest of the world stores the known_hosts file?

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Connecting Asterisk to FWD

BroadVoice seems to be having issues again today... sigh.

So, as an alternate means of furthering my VoIP explorations on a Saturday, Louis and I hooked our Asterisk servers up to Free World Dialup (via IAX instead of sip).

My FWD number is 655512. I presently have it routing through to my simple hello world-style AGI application (that just recites either your calling number or my BV# back to you).

— Michael A. Cleverly

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A script Becca could use?

I know Becca is thinking about entering the LDS film festival (that occurs at the same time as the Sundance Film Festival) next year.

Maybe she could get in touch with Jeff Lindsay and see if she could produce this script of his...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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A painful fifty pages!

Mrs. Graham, my Jr. High English teacher (one of the best teachers I had growing up), taught me to always give any book at least fifty pages before giving up on it. The book (and the author) deserved at least that much, she said.

You know, you can't judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn't make a snap decision after just a couple of pages, generally speaking.

Well, Saturday I took the kids out to adventure for the afternoon to give Shauna some peace and quiet. (It was her turn to be sick.)

We ended up at a bookstore in Bountiful. I told the kids they could have a choice: we could go out to lunch somewhere or I'd buy them each one book of their choosing.

Here's what we ended up with:

  1. Smart About the Presidents
  2. Nancy Drew #36: The Secret of the Golden Pavilion
  3. Clifford's Adventures
  4. Digital Fortress

That last book was my purchase. I hadn't planned on getting a book, but it caught my eye. I've read Dan Brown's other books, usually on airplanes, and enjoyed them well enough. (My favorite was Angels & Demons, then The Da Vinci Code, with Deception Point coming in a distant third.)

The premise behind Digital Fortress is so ridiculous: a former NSA-cryptographer has created an unbreakable—by brute force even—algorithm that employs (get this), "a rotating cleartext", and has encrypted his software (with itself) and released it on the Internet so people can bid on buying it.

There's a super secret NSA super computer, TRANSLTR, that supposedly can brute force anything (till this new algorithm shows up which is the crisis our protagonists find themselves in) that has to "virus scan" messages before it decodes them and rejects outright (without decrypting) any that might infect it.(!?)

I suppose that last bit might be plausible if the NSA had purchased the machines OS from Microsoft, but presumably it was a custom job (Microsoft's monopolistic dominance doesn't extend into the three-million node super computer market yet).

Anway, the book is just awful. I got to page 50 (and actually finished out the end of the current chapter, so I read a bit farther even), and am going to call it quits. Oh, and I'm not the only one who thinks the plot has major holes; even some of the faithful have a hard time stomaching it.

I wish I could get my money back...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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An interesting pre-draft RFC for an "application protocol for reliable transmission of messages using HTTP."

From the introduction:

This document describes an application protocol for guaranteed once and only once transmission of messages using HTTP, something that HTTP alone does not guarantee. It describes a means for both downloading and uploading of messages. It is not concerned with endpoint availability, robustness of components, or details of persistent storage. It is not concerned with message order.

A characteristic of distributed systems is that senders and receivers of messages can't know with certainty what went wrong in the event of failure, and without catering for agreement, they might not know if anything did go wrong with a transmission. Our primary concern for failure is dealing with partial failure. Partial failure is where one component in the system fails while the others continue to function. The HTTP client-server model has three failing parts, the Client, the Network, and the Server. For example, if the Network fails mid-transmission, a request might be arrive to the Server but not a response to the Client. Or if the Server's firewall rules are mis-configured, Client requests might be rejected out of hand.

The techniques described here provides a measure of reliability within the client server model of HTTP. Reliable variants of HTTP or protocols layered upon HTTP often require a peer to peer model, where both communicators are HTTP servers.

There are some interesting ideas there...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Turning to the darkside

I saw Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith this afternoon. Our management at work rented a theater for our department to watch the movie this evening at 5:30pm.

I couldn't attend, because Meghan had her 2nd grade program at 7:00pm. Luckily there were some people who'd gotten tickets to go to a private Microsoft Events showing at 1:30pm. I swapped tickets and went in the afternoon.

Watching Anakin Skywalker turn to the darkside on Microsoft's dime somehow seemed rather apropos. I wore my GNU t-shirt as protection from the darkside... ;-) Speaking of Microsoft Darkside, Microsoft's home page turns up in position #9 on Google when you search for that term today.

As to the movie: it was far better than the other two prequels. You know essentially what has to happen going in, but by and large I thought Lucas did a good job showing the internal angst that Anakin went through. Though I do agree with Ben that the transition from "oh no! what have I done!" to "yes my master" in three seconds was too abrupt.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Don Seamon's GrokMart

Tonight at the 2nd grade program I ran into a neighbor & former co-worker of mine at Deseret Book, Don Seamons. (Don was part of my team when we won the Marvin J. Ashton Award of Excellence.)

I was a little surprised when he told me that he read my blog and had even subscribed to my RSS feed. I don't even think my own sister Becca has done that.

Turns out that Don has a blog named GrokMart that I hadn't been aware of before.

While I haven't had time to read all of his archives yet, here's a few reactions to some of his more recent posts:

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Danger Quicksand — Have A Nice Day

I neglected to mention until now that I got my copy of David St Lawrence's book, Danger Quicksand — Have A Nice Day last week (while I was home sick).

Being sent media mail, the book did take a while to travel west to Utah. But that's OK, since I'd already read the book online (and had the honor of being the very first customer to place an order :-).

I'd encourage anyone, but especially any former co-workers who might happen to be reading, to go get yourself a copy of this book ASAP. You need it.

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Strep throat, take two

I tested positive for strep again last night. I took the perscribed antibiotics three times a day through last Saturday (when they ran out).

Monday afternoon my throat started feeling a bit scratchy. Tuesday mid-day I began feeling achey and clamy. By the evening when I went to the InstaCare I had a fever of 101.6° F. This time I opted for the shot instead of pills. Hopefully that'll kill the strep and make it stay dead. (Otherwise it was just a big pain in the butt...)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Silly interview questions

While I've plunged in and given my all to the jobs I've had in my career, the act of job hunting is not one I relish. I especially dislike playing the interview game.

There is a post up at The Volokh Conspiracy today discussing why so many interviewers ask "What is your greatest weakness?". The responses are enjoyable reading, though I don't think I'd ever flippantly answer "I kill people!"

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Blogger blogs the clue that leads to the capture of his killer

This almost sounds like a plot from Law & Order, except that it is a real life story (in New York no less): a blog post solves a murder.

(Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy.)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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More blogging siblings

Just a quick note that two [update: three] more of my siblings are blogging:

Also Becca has a new secondary blog, In Pursuit of Liber.

That leaves my parents, brother and two youngest sisters without blogs (as far as I know). Of course Rachael's blog began on May 6th and I only just discovered it today... :-/

— Michael A. Cleverly

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Internal consistency is required

Internal consistency is required to enjoy books & movies—you have to be able to suspend your disbelief, obviously.

As such, I got a real kick out of reading "The Science of Consistency: On fictional universes and the fans who rationalize them."

Alan: you'll especially enjoy it too I suspect. Jeff: I can only imagine what type of discussion this will spawn for you at work. (Ben, Matt & Natalie: my apologies in advance. ;-)

— Michael A. Cleverly

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