Less than Two Weeks to Shutdown Day

How many people are going to take part in "Shutdown Day" this year?

The idea behind this expiriment is to see how many of us can go without a computer for one day.  Many of us have become incredibly dependant on them, and most of us don't even realize just how much of our lives have changed because of the integrated circuit.

The site talks about just shutting our computers off for one day, and some people are taking it further.  In the forums there are participants from all over the world that will refrain from using electrical devices altogether.  Some will just stay away from computers and television.  And others say that they cannot go without their computers or electronic devices for various reasons.

Unfortunately, I'm in the latter group.

Shutdown Day is slated for March 24th, 2007.  Because this is a Saturday, many people can take part in this without their jobs interfering.  Heck, even I could get away from the computer for half the day without much trouble.  However (here comes my excuse), I use my computers for so many purposes that it would be almost impossible to go without for a single day.  In order to talk to Reiko I need my 100% computerized phone, or my 100% computer.  To read most of my books I require my HP iPaq (perhaps this is a good reason why digital books are not very popular).  To listen to music I require other electronics.  Heck, there's even a computer in my stove and fridge.

Many people have iPods, or cars manufactured with computer-controlled engines, PlayStations, Nintendo DS's, even talking teddy bears … the list is seemingly endless.  In the last 50 years, we have successfully inserted computers into anything and everything.  So for many Westernized citizens, I don't think we could realistically go without our computers (be they PCs, or just computer-enhanced devices) for any real amount of time.

A day or two?  Sure.  Longer?  Probably not.

If Reiko and I were married and living together, then it wouldn't be as hard to go without touching my notebook (or any PC/Mac) for a whole weekend.  If we were on vacation somewhere, then I could even get a film-based camera and leave my trusty Canon A540 at home.  These would not be huge stretches.

But unfortunately, until that day comes, I need my computers.

Holding Out Hope for D-Link

Over the last few weeks I've written some posts about the troubles that I've been having with various Linksys routers, and today was the day that I officially removed all Linksys devices from my network.  Over the last few years I have sworn by this company, having had problems with some of the other competitors out there.  There have been print servers, NAS devices, wireless routers, firewalls, and repeaters on my home network since 1999, and I have aimed to ensure that everything was always manufactured by Linksys because of the quality and ease of use each hardware device had.  I know that there are better devices out there, but the consumer line of devices made by this company has typically been above the competition.

Until recently, that is.

In previous posts, I've ranted about problems with the WRT54GS (version 6) and the WRT300N (version 1).  I've been through two of the GS models and a 300N in the last 4 weeks.  The last solid device, a WRT54G (version 3) gave some very good performance with the factory firmware, followed by superb performance with Sveasoft's Alchemy.  Unfortunately, that device's LAN ports died, which prompted the replacement.

To summarize the failures of the Linksys devices, both the WRT54GS routers would consistently drop a network connection.  It did not matter if the computer was running wired or wireless, the connection would often drop every 20 minutes to an hour.  When running more than a single torrent, the router would often kick the offending computer offline.  At first, I had thought this was a network driver problem on my PC (my notebook has a known issue with older drivers and WinXP SP2), but this was not the case.  When running Slackware, WinXP Pro SP2, or Sun's Solaris, I could never remain on the network for more than a day.

To say this was infuriating would be an understatement.

The WRT300N was a little better, in that I could allocate DHCP addresses (which is pretty important to me).  This device gave superb wireless transmissions when it wanted to work, and would let me run up to four torrents simultaneously before succumbing to some dumb failure.  I did attempt to use the Sveasoft Talisman/Basic firmware to correct the matter, but unfortunately, this does not seem to be ready for full-time use.  The install went perfect, however, configurations would often be incredibly difficult to implement.  I would often be greeted with a blank screen after trying to make changes, and found that my requests would never be executed before the white screen.  To that end, I re-installed the factory firmware and prepped the device for a return to the store.

So, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to give D-Link a try again.  I have worked with these on several occasions in the past, but never on my own network.  In the past I had found the web UI to be very weak and lacking in functionality.  Luckily, the newer routers do not have these limitations.

I picked up a DIR-625 after exchanging the WRT300N, and quickly made my way back home.  Future-proofing is always a consideration when picking up new hardware, and judging from a few review sites, this router is pretty solid for everyone.  What I didn't understand, though, was why I was having so many troubles with it after getting the unit home.

Only my notebook was plugged into the LAN port of the router when it was first powered up.  The web UI was quick and easy to understand.  I had the unit configured with my standard SSID, WEP, DHCP allocations and port accesses within the space of five minutes.  Then I plugged my router in to the WAN port and tried to configure the device for internet access.  This is when I started running in to problems.

The router picked up the DSL modem (a D-Link, no less) and was assigned the standard "unrecognized MAC IP" that Telus provides when an unregistered MAC device connects to the modem.  This usually is not a problem as this means users are automatically forwarded to the registration page when they access the internet.  Unfortunately, this didn't happen for me, and the router decided to give me a "gateway is measuring your connectivity" messages, saying that I would be directed in a moment.

This never happened.

To add insult to injury, my wired connection was being reset by the router every 60 seconds while it measured.

At one point, I had let the router try and measure my connectivity (which was nil) for half an hour while on hold with D-Link tech support.  I feel sorry for the guy that answered my call.  I did maintain civility and discussed the matter with him as politely as possible, but it was clear to him that my frustration had reached a boiling point.  After another half-hour on the phone, the issue was not resolved and I decided that enough was enough, thanked the tech for his time and ripped the power cord and CAT5 cables from the router.  I'm sure that my neighbours heard my explicit shouts as I came to terms with yet another failure in my network.

I just expect things to work.  Just because I'm a programmer working with both software and hardware doesn't mean that I want to spend my weekends at home struggling to get simple consumer-grade equipment to work in some consistent and dependable manner.

It was at this point that I called Reiko and talked with her for a bit.  I'm really lucky to have met someone like her.  It seems that whenever I'm upset, she is calm and I can relax and return to normal.  Shortly after our chat, I reconnected the router and decided to try again.

It worked.

Perfectly.

The modem was plugged in to the router.  My notebook was plugged in to the router.  It was the exact same configuration that had been in place for the past three hours of frustration.  Only now, I could register the router (modifying it's reported MAC addy did nothing, as this was the first thing I tried).  Once this was done, the router went and talked to the D-Link servers to measure my connectivity and report back that a newer firmware was out for my model.

So it's my guess that the router was stuck in some repetitive loop because the modem said that it was connected to the internet, but Telus' MAC registration requirements were preventing the unit from talking to its home servers.  Fun?  Wow ….

Suffice to say, the unit is now up and running.  I'm able to get some great speeds from my torrents as well as the NAS.  The radio strength is superb.  And best of all, the router has some meaningful status pages.

Hopefully this unit will give me many years (at least 2, please) of solid use.

300 Lives Up to Expectations

Spartans.  Impossible odds.  Raw testosterone.  Unblocked naked breasts (female, of course).  What more could a guy want from a movie?

Since hearing about this movie, everyone has known that it would be 95% war and 5% back-story.  We were not disappointed.

Frank Miller's 5 issue graphic novel was published by Dark Horse Comics almost ten years ago, and I remember reading this shortly after moving into my first apartment.  The story line is pretty simple:  Persians approach Greece with plans of global conquest, and Sparta is but one of a few states that try and prevent it.  The movie barely strays from the original.

There's plenty of blood, dismembered body parts, CG animated enemies and sceneries, and even a few sex scenes.  While I wouldn't recommend this kind of movie for anyone that can't handle excessive death, blood and gore, this is a pretty enjoyable movie.

Rather than get into the details of the movie, I would suggest watching it.  To quote some of the reviews I've seen elsewhere; this is made of win.

Self-Censorship

Today I managed to write three posts.  This is the third, and I highly doubt I'll ever push "Publish" on the other two.

The first was my take on the current situation regarding the comments said by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that may or may not have been misinterpreted by the West.  The other is on the recent Discovery Channel documentary entitled "Uncovering the Tomb of Jesus".

I have very strong opinions on both subjects which have often caused quite a bit of trouble in the past.  To that end, I'm forced to censor my ideas and thoughts about the subjects.  But the purpose of a blog is to open dialogue, no?  I'm wondering if not saying something is just as bad as getting some people upset with my black-and-white ideas on the matter.

Tim Horton's $105 Million Error

It seems that Tim Horton's is making a bit of a marketing blunder with their $105 Million lawsuit against CanWest, Standard and Bill Caroll.

For anyone not familiar with this icon of Canadian Culture, Tim Horton's is a coffee company that was started by a late Buffalo Sabre player by the same name.  From their humble beginnings in Hamilton, Ontario to their current multi-national presence, this company has been synonymous with Canada and holds a very loyal customer base.

Well, it seems that Tim Horton's received some bad press when CanWest reported last November that the company had received a financial incentive from the Canadian Government to open a location in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  It was later picked up by Bill Caroll (a provokative radio show host) who tried to make this appear as some sort of grand felony.  In the time that has passed, the company has asked for the statements to be withdrawn or an apology.

Naturally, there has been no response from any party.  So, off to court!

I'm really surprised by this.  I read the papers daily (both online and various print editions) and this was just a little two-inch article buried in the back of the Business sections when the story first broke.  Aside from CanWest and Bill Caroll, nobody had a problem with it.  It was easy to forget the comment was ever made.

Heck, with the millions of dollars that the Canadian government misappropriates every month, one would think that a small amount like $4 million so that our troops can enjoy a taste of home is a small price to pay.  And why shouldn't Tim Horton's (or any other company for that matter) have a little incentive to open a shop at a Canadian military base in some war-torn nation?

However, this issue is making headlines now that this has been made into a libel suit.  With the bigger press, now the more vocal opponents of everything and everything will raise their voices against Tim Horton's saying that the company should have opened the location at their own expense.  From the comments I've been hearing already, I think that this suit will only tarnish the company's reputation with patrons.

If Tim Horton's received some sort of incentive or subsidy for opening a location in Kandahar, then clearly it's already been vetted by some of the officials in Ottawa.  Four or five million dollars is a small price to pay considering how this boosts the morale of our troops in Afghanistan.  Sure, the money came from every Canadian (approximately 17 cents from each one of us), but the benefits far outweigh the small monetary outlay.

Unfortunately, with this subject now being discussed in a larger forum, it might cost the company more than the $105 million they're trying to collect.  Every regular patron of the brand will only need to avoid Tim Horton's for about 14 cups of coffee before that same amount is lost.  Before this suit came to life, the public didn't care … there was no need for it.  Naturally, the money doesn't quite work like that … but it wouldn't take much for revenues to drop at all the franchises by the same amount.

It's a shame they weren't big enough to walk away.  It's one thing to defend your name … it's another to sully it during the act of defense.

Another Short-lived Fad?

There's been quite a bit of talk about Twitter over the last few days and I must admit … I don't get it.

Much like many of the internet phenomenons, I don't see much of a future for this … which means that Google is going to buy it shortly and it will be worth some stupid amount of money (YouTube was not, or will ever be, worth $1.65 Billion USD).  This just seems like "too much information".

Maybe I'm just looking at it from the wrong perspective.  I see this as a "where am I now?" statement.

"I'm grocery shopping"
"I'm stuck at work while another beautiful day passes without me"
"Number two in the loo"

Does this matter to anyone?

I would think that anyone who wanted to know what we were doing would either call, or stay in touch regularily enough to know when we would attend a concert, or get stuck at some desk job.

From what I've seen, nobody can comment on a Twitter entry.  You can't post pictures, either.  Heck, as we speak, I can't even load the site for all the traffic it's receiving.

If I'm completely wrong here, please leave a comment.  Though I must admit that even if it were possible to post comments or images, this would just seem to be a "mini-blog" entry…  and we already have blog software that can accept information sent via SMS Text Messages and email.

Maybe, like YouTube, Twitter is just a better marketed version of existing technology aimed at people who want to have a running list of "where am I?" messages to look back on.  But no matter how I try to wrap my head around it, I just cannot see any real future for this service.

P.S.:  Happy 50th, Dad!

Thanks for the Spam ... I think

An odd thing has happened in the last three days.  It appears that my site traffic has more than doubled, and I'm starting to get way more comments.

Funny thing about all these comments, though … they seem to think I need Viagra or some help with the size of my body parts.

With the increased traffic, this site is now sucking up 20% of my monthly bandwidth allowance (not a problem, yet), and I'm now in the top 800,000 blogs according to Technorati (note the site rank widget at the side).  There are an average of 90 comments waiting for my approval every day, and FireStats shows 1200 new hits from countries such as China, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation every hour.  This wouldn't bother me so much if it was actually people from these countries looking at my site … but with thousands of hits per day from a handful of distinct IP addresses, it's clear that these are bots that look like real users.  They don't seem to look for new content, really … they just view every page repeatedly in every language I have available.

Luckily, there are tools to help combat these nuisances.

To handle spam comments, I would recommend Akismet.  This handy little utility comes with WordPress and can be integrated into almost any site (from what I've read over the last few months).  This program is right about 99.9% of the time when marking something as spam, and several very popular bloggers swear by it.

To combat the bots, I'd suggest blocking the worst offenders from your site.  In the case of the excessive hits from China, Korea and Russia, these looked like actual users but were all coming from seven IP addresses.  So instead of adding whatever user-agent they employed to my robots.txt file (which would then block anyone using IE 5 or 6), I was forced to ban their IPs from accessing my site.  This can be done pretty easily in the .htaccess file as seen below:

order allow,deny
deny from 123.45.6.7
deny from 012.34.5.
allow from all

Of course, this isn't for everyone.  And you wouldn't want to block all bots from your site unless you were trying to stay completely off the search engines.  But with due diligence and a little log reading, spam and excessive bot traffic can be turned into something a little more manageable.

What's Up, Linksys?

Well, I'm right frustrated with Linksys.

For two years, I was using their WRT54G (Version 3) router.  At first, I would have connection problems, inconsistent speeds and even total freezing of the router.  Then I discovered Sveasoft's Alchemy firmware and installed that.  10 minutes of install and setup, then I was off and running without too many problems for well over a year.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.  The router died completely and I was forced to quickly find a replacement.  I picked up Linksys' WRT54GS (Version 6) router and was off and running in the span of 5 minutes after getting the device home.  Unfortunately, the version 6 GS will not permit an easy switch to a custom firmware, so I was forced to keep the manufacturers' on there (I did update it, though).  This device worked pretty good, aside from the fact that it had to be shut off and re-powered every 50 to 60 hours.  This is unacceptable for a device that needs to be operational for several people who do not always have direct access to the device.

So, after going through all the forums and following manufacturer instructions with still no luck, I returned the device to pick up one of the newer WiFi-N devices, the WRT300N.  I have read of a few people with problems, but nothing seemed to be common.  After getting the device home, I managed to have it up and running after 20 minutes of setup.  There are some features in the firmware that I had grown accustomed to in the Alchemy firmware employed by the 54G, and I was happy to see them there.  The most important of these is MAC based IP assignments.  All nine devices on my network must have very specific IPs in order for the port forwarding to work properly, so this was a feature I enjoy.

Unfortunately, in the last two days I have had to do a hard reset of the device three times.  What happens is the unit will be working just fine with no signs of failure.  Sites will load quickly.  Torrents will move at a relatively decent speed (so long as the UPnP is configured accordingly).  MSN and IRC will also behave just as they should.

Then it all dies.

The router becomes un-responsive.  Loading the home page is not possible.  Obtaining an IP through DHCP fails.  The router's LED's show the wireless signals moving at peak, but the wired connections don't move.  Internet is, naturally, impossible.  The only way to correct this is to kill power to the unit for a few seconds then restart.

This is made worse by the router's piss poor start up speeds.  It boots pretty quick, but the initial download speeds leave much to be desired.  For the first hour, my download speeds (regardless of what it is) top out at 20 KB/sec.  My analog watch can load sites faster than 20 KB/sec … what the heck?  And why an hour?  What special thing does the router do during that first hour?  Is the entire MFT file from my terabyte of NAS storage uploaded to some site every time the router restarts?

Luckily, Sveasoft does have a firmware that will work for this unit.  It means voiding my warranty, but if I can have more peace of mind in my hardware, then I can get on with my life.  I understand that devices made by humans are prone to failure.  But after two days?  I thought that after Cisco bought out Linksys, the quality of hardware would only get better.

I think that next time I will have to do it right and buy some commercial 3Com equipment.

Is Random Just Another Off-Topic?

Well, it seems that Google was only blocking the translations for a day, and the plug-ins that make use of the mogul's translation engine are up and running fully again.  So on that note, it's probably not very necessary to get an alternate translation plug-in built … so that means I can go back to working on integrating the RoundCube email client into my admin screen.  Assuming I can make the whole thing easily drivable in setup screens, I might even make the plug-in available for everyone that wants it.

Over the course of the last few weeks I've noticed that the subjects discussed on this site are often way off course of what I had originally planned, and this raises some questions.

Initially, this site was going to be a showcase for Reiko and I.  We would have our pictures in the gallery (which is probably the only planned item that has remained true to form), and over time we would discuss our upcoming wedding as well as the difficulties that we face with all the paperwork our governments would require.  What challenges would a Japanese person face when trying to live and work in Canada after marriage?  What needed to be done?  Were there shortcuts?  On the inverse, what challenges would a Canadian face when moving to Japan to work and start a family?

There are a few sites (mostly forums) where I have found these subjects discussed, but it's usually from an American's perspective.  While Canadians can get a rough idea of what challenges they might face, the rules and regulations regarding immigration, working visas, temporary residence and citizenship between Canada and Japan are different.  I was hoping that we could provide a useful map for anyone else planning something similar.

So to that end, I'll likely set up another site under a sub-domain to cover the matter.  Looking at the range of subjects discussed during the first six months of this site, it's clear that "Jason's Random Thoughts" is just that … whatever I happen to be thinking about the most that day.

Gomen nasai, Reiko … I seem to have missed the point of why you wanted us to have a web presence.

Google's Blocking the Translations!

Well, I guess this was bound to happen.

With so many sites making use of Google's translation engine, it seems that they've put a stop to it by blocking any site that tries to mask the Google-ness of the function.  I can certainly change the site so that it points to Google and gives everyone a lovely little IP address with my site page requests, but that's not very elegant.  I know this because I've just spent the last two hours trying various ways to get around this little hiccup with no real success.

No, I think that it's time I invested a little bit of effort and made an alternate site translation plugin for WordPress.  I've already got most of it planned out in my head, and only two areas to research, so hopefully the execution won't take too long.

Once such a plugin is created, I'll post it for everyone to use.  Hopefully it won't take me too long to make such a thing.