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
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.

Enough Water to Refill the Great Lakes ...

Ross Shelf Ice Sheet

This is a massive ice berg ....

In March of 2000 it was the size of Connecticut when it cracked off the leading edge of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf.  Since then it's melted a bit and broken into several pieces as it slowly makes its way away from the continent of ice and penguins.

When you think about how much fresh water is contained in this ice berg, it just makes you wonder how we could better capture this and send it to some African country that hasn't seen rain in the last few years.

Our planet is warming up, there's no denying that.  Whether it's actually because of humanity or not is not truly understood (since we don't have an unpopulated earth to compare this world to), but one thing that is known is the effect of large volumes of fresh water melting in the world's oceans.

As more fresh water melts from the Arctic and Antarctic, the salinity of our oceans decreases.  This is especially noticable in the Atlantic, where the massive currents could come to a complete halt as heavy fresh water interferes with the salt water that's trying to sink as it reaches the northern latitudes such as Iceland and Greenland.

Oddly enough, Global Warming could trigger a Global Cooling in the northern latitudes if the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt were to dramatically shift or halt.  This could trigger a potential temperature drop of 5 to 10 °C (9 to 18 °F) in Europe and some parts of North America.  This would be roughly equivalent to what these continents faced at the end of the last major ice age 20,000 years ago.

This would be devastating to agriculture and could create millions of environmental refugees.

But, of course, this is all speculation built on computer simulations written by very intelligent people with a serious understanding of how the planet works ... right?

There's very little we humans can do to cool the polar caps more in order to build up their glaciers and increase the Earth's albeido, but one thing we can do is find an effective use for the massive blocks of fresh water that are melting in our salt water oceans.  I wonder what it would take to cut some of these huge ice bergs up and transport them to drought-ridden areas of the world.  While it might not be a great idea to just drop the block onto a piece of parched land and let the surrounding villiages come gather as much water and ice as they can carry, I'm sure we can do something to irrigate the lands with this pristine water supply.

And What Platform Do They Run?

Today made for an interesting read in the papers, as many articles related to the Chinese stock market decline were posted and commented on by people around the country.  At one point, an article on The Globe and Mail said:

In addition to the exchange's woes, data providers that carry buy and sell orders to the NYSE failed to keep up with selling programs in place at brokerage houses and institutional investors such as hedge funds. Dow Jones & Co. Inc., which runs the benchmark American index, saw its computers stretched past their limits, with the speed of the decline outpacing the index's ability to track falling stocks.

From a developer's standpoint, this is pretty cool.

The stock exchanges in operation around the world have some of the most sophisticated computer systems on the planet.  Not only are the servers incredibly powerful, but the databases and data pipes in use are so engrossing that I can have wet dreams just thinking about them.

Elaborate data structures.  PIT (Point-in-Time) Databases.  Fat fibre channels transporting gigabytes worth of financial data every second.  I couldn't imagine having the luxury of building one of these systems from the ground up.  It wouldn't matter where my office was ... be it a tiny cubicle shared with someone who never bathed, or an elaborate corner office on the 40th floor of an elaborate sky scraper.  Constructing a system capable of handling the demands of a stock market (espescially the NYSE) would be a worthy challenge.

I remember reading several articles a while ago about this electronic system that was put into place, and it was made to handle more work per second than my employer handles each quarter.  The people that developed the systems in place were incredibly talented and it shows in the background.

So to hear that it slowed down to the point that some organizations had to throw more servers into the fray ... that's just amazing.

In the coming years I'm sure that these systems will be scaled up a bit to handle such market corrections.  Though the question would always remain; just how big of a market change could happen before the systems couldn't keep up again?  Fortunately, this is not a question I will ever need to answer.  It would be an exciting project to work on, though.

New Horizon at Jupiter!

This is pretty exciting.  New Horizon has reached it's closest approach to Jupiter, and now it will accellerate away en route to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond.

One of the many interesting things that this craft photographed was an eruption on the moon Io.  This tiny world is under constant tidal stresses from Jupiter and, because of this, is quite active.  I would love to see the effects of such a massive body like Jupiter causes to the surrounding moons.  The tectonic movements alone would be enough to keep me occupied for days while mentally envisioning the entire process.

At one time I thought that I had been born too early.  We've barely left our own protective atmosphere and know next to nothing about the universe around us.  However, as I see the information from NASA and other great observatories around the world, and as I learn of the theories and posits of various scientific masters, it's clear that this is one of the most exciting times to be in.

We learn more day by day.  And the simplest things can both amuse and excite us.  The things we're learn today will be boring and common knowledge to children in the next few centuries.

Our future generations may find it harder to be impressed by the things we have yet to learn about the universe.

The Elite Environmentally-Friendly Sports Car

I recently enjoyed an episode of the Discovery Channel's Future Car where they discussed Tesla Motors' Electric Roadster.

What a sexy car.  Starting at about $91K USD, these machines look better than a Ferarri and move just as fast.  The best part is the lack of emissions, as these are 100% electric.

Electric cars have been around for quite some time (the first being manufactured by Thomas Davenport in 1830's ... that's right ... almost 200 years ago).  One of the biggest problems with these vehicles was the limited range they offered.  The Tesla Roadster has a range of about 400 km, and can recharge in about 4 hours give or take.  This would be more than adequate for most people's commute to and from work.

Unfortunately, these are way out of my price range.  But while researching which vehicle might provide the best cost of ownership, I just had to include this one and run it through some numbers.  Based on the amount that Reiko and I would likely use a vehicle, and assuming that gas prices remain constant at $1.07 CDN for the next twenty years (not likely), this car would pay for itself through fuel savings in 19 years 9 months.

That almost worth it ... by the time the vehicle pays for itself, it will be a classic :P

Unfortunately, I don't think this will be the car for Reiko and I.  But it's fun to imagine having a sexy little sports car in the driveway that can beat a Porsche off the line.

Time to Buy a Car

For almost five years, I've relied on my feet and public transit to get me from place to place.  This was for several reasons, including a vehicle's return on investment and my environmental responsibilities.  I could never justify owning a vehicle in Vancouver as everything I need is either within walking distance (within 12 km) or easily accessible via public transit.

However, it's time to change this.

In just over a year, Reiko and I will be married and living in Canada.  With two people using a vehicle, the cost of ownership is now a little more in line with what I prefer to see.  Also, in the event that we have children in the first few years of marriage, it would be nice to have a vehicle to get from place to place.  I would never want my Reiko to go through the hassles of bringing a stroller and a child onto a transit vehicle ... it's just way too much trouble.

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed far more ... how should I put this ... "stupid white guys" on transit.  I'm sure we all know the type.  These are the people that have more braun than brain.  They curse more in 30 seconds than Eminem does in an entire album.  They make women uncomfortable with their idiotic come-ons.  And they lower the average intelligence level of the entire bus or train by a solid 50 IQ points.

I can't stand these fools anymore.  Seriously.

In the last few days I've seen these fools get on the bus with the smelliest slices of pizza you could imagine.  They talk with their mouth full, spewing forth explicit language and partially digested globs of filth.

You'll never see anyone but a dumb white guy do this.  I try not to judge people based on their appearance, but seeing these idiots makes me uncomfortable to be caucasian.  I've seen drunken asians and delerious aboriginals carry themselves with more self-respect.

So to that end, I'll be in the market for a decent hybrid car in the next few months.  I'll have to talk it over with Reiko, of course, but having a car here and at the ready will be one less thing we would need to worry about after starting our lives together in Canada.  It would also give me one less thing to actively ignore.

I stopped fighting when I was 12 years old.  It was no longer worth the hassle of getting hauled into the principals office and being sent home after the phone call to my father.  But it's awfully tempting to stoop to the same level as these fools and forcibly evict them from a moving bus.

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