logo Ming the Mechanic - Category: Diary
An old rigid civilization is reluctantly dying. Something new, open, free and exciting is waking up.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007day link 

 Forwarding and spam
The ISP that hosts one of my two dedicated servers sent me a message today. The abuse department. Essentially the message is that they have too many complaints about people receiving spam from my server and they're going to block it.

They had written a couple of weeks ago too. After I asked them very nicely they sent back a sample of a message they had gotten a complaint about. Essentially it was just one of the mail users on my server that has his mail forwarded to his yahoo account. So, vicepresident@a-non-profit-organization.org is forwarded to somebody@yahoo.com. And the thing is that spam is forwarded too, and sometimes he hits the spam button.

But Yahoo is apparently so incompetent in treating this that they don't notice that the spam didn't come from my server at all. That particular spam came from somebody in Brazil, and that was clearly visible in the headers of the message. As was the fact that the message was forwarded and from what account. But they still turn around and send an abuse message to my ISP, stating that they've received spam from my server. And when my ISP has gotten a certain number of those, they shut me down.

What on earth am I supposed to do about that? Forbid that anybody forwards their mail?

That server has quite a few mail accounts, mostly for non-profit groups that have a website on the server. And most of those mail addresses forward to where people really pick up their mail. There's also a lot of mailing lists on the server, but I suppose that's not the issue here.

What I did today was that I set up Spamassassin to process the incoming mail. So, anything that's likely to be spam gets marked with "***SPAM***" in the subject line, plus a whole bunch of mail headers are added to the message, explaining why it looks like spam.

I wonder if that will make a difference to Yahoo. Otherwise I'll have to figure out how to trash anything that looks like spam which otherwise would be forwarded to Yahoo, and that's a much harder configuration job.
[ | 2007-06-20 23:59 | 23 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, May 26, 2007day link 

 Reboot
picture Next week I'll be at Reboot in Copenhagen. The best tech conference I know, and, also since it is in the town I'm from, the one I'm most likely to go to. I go to very few conferences these days, but that's a fine reason for dropping by for a few days. Many great people on the list of participants and speakers, including quite a few coming from the States.
[ | 2007-05-26 02:01 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Trackback spam
I finally figured out what had been overloaded my server here for weeks. I had previously noticed that an extraordinary amount of trackback spam is arriving all the time. I had turned off that option for my own blog here, so that trackback would receive a "not found" error. But it was sent by a PHP page, so the server still had to do a bit of processing, which was enough to slow everything down.

My own weblog here is getting 5-10 trackback requests per second, 24-7, all of which are nothing but spam.

I now set up a rewrite filter in Apache, which gives back a "refused" error. The same amount of trackbacks keep arriving, from some kind of botnet of 100s of computers, but this takes much less processor power, so it doesn't matter much.

Trackback used to be a neat feature, allowing weblogs to notify other weblogs that one links to them. But it has been totally useless for quite some time, with the ridiculous amount of phony spam trackbacks.
[ | 2007-05-26 01:52 | 4 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Thursday, April 26, 2007day link 

 OmniWeb
picture Earlier I was lamenting my lack of success in having a browser that works for me on my Mac. But I hadn't seriously tried OmniWeb, and it was sort of the only remaining browser after Firefox, Opera and Safari. I hadn't given it much attention, because it is the lesser known, and it isn't free. Only $14.95, which is perfectly alright, but that was enough of an obstacle that I hadn't seriously tried it.

And, as it turns out, OmniWeb is the only browser that solves my showstopping problems. Mainly that if I use the other browsers the way that comes naturally to me, at the end of the day my machine would have slowed to a grinding halt, and I see the spinning beachball for several seconds no matter what I push. There are other things that are nice to have, but that in itself far outweighs all the other concerns.

Part of the secret is that OmniWeb has several separate Workspaces. That is, one can have collections of windows and tabs, and they're kept separate from one another. So, I can have 30 sites open without them all showing at the same time and the one with bad javascript slowing everything down. I see just the windows and tabs I'm working on. When I switch out of a workspace, it still keeps running for an hour or so, so if I went back to it, it would be there instantly. If it is longer than an hour, it would need to load the pages again, but everything would still come back like I left it, rather quickly.

After two weeks of using it, I haven't had that slowdown experience at all. So, they must be doing something right in terms of managing resources.

OmniWeb has a system of "tabs" which aren't like tabs in the other browsers. Not little folder tabs along the top. Rather, they're small snapshots showing in a sidebar to the left. Which is a bit odd as far as tabs go, but it actually works very well.

There'd still be a bunch of things I'd miss from FireFox, like the FireBug javascript debugger, and various other plugins and add-ons for dealing with pictures, showing Google PageRank and things like that. But the other thing that really irritated me with Firefox - that a download of any file would take 10 seconds to start, freezing all activity in the meantime - no problem like that in OmniWeb. Opera and Safari don't have that problem either.

OmniWeb uses the same engine for rendering pages as Safari, the built-in Apple WebKit, which seems to work fine.
[ | 2007-04-26 15:56 | 43 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Monday, March 26, 2007day link 

 My French blog
I've finally decided to blog in French too. You'll find my French blog here: C'est pas Mécanique. I suppose I could have chosen to have posts in several languages in one blog, but I can't quite make sense out of that. I'm not really sure what I'll be writing, but it might quite possibly end up being something different than what'd I'd write in English. Just like I'd say different things if I wrote in Danish. One sort of thinks differently in a different language, so different things will come out. So, it is a separate blog, even though that's a little annoying to administrate.

Part of the reason for having a blog in French is, well, I'm in France for one thing. And handing out my ming.tv blog address is of somewhat limited value. Most people are not going to read it, even if they speak English, which a lot of people don't. A blog is one way of being known, of developing a network, of accummulating some kind of body of material, and it is useful for me to do that in French too. And, I guess, it is a personal challenge, to see if I can. I'm a perfectionist, but there's no way I'll be writing perfect French at this point. But I at least feel confident enough to do it anyway.

I'll probably do really short posts, and quote other people a lot, but, hey, that's ok in a blog.
[ | 2007-03-26 21:28 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, February 25, 2007day link 

 Landmark
picture This tower always makes it relatively easy to figure out which direction my house is. We live on a set of hills, Les Hauts de Ramonville, and on top of the tallest hill is this impressive-looking 71m tall telecom tower, full of, I suppose, micro-wave antennas. You can see it from pretty far away. OK, we luckily don't live right next to it, but a few hundred meters from it at least.
[ | 2007-02-25 15:53 | 10 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, February 24, 2007day link 

 Browsers
I've used FireFox for a long time, and generally I've been happy with that. Lots of useful plugins, for one thing. But after version 2.0 somehow worked worse than the previous version, I started considering seeing if there are alternatives. Which there are, of course. Like Opera.

There's a few annoying problems I've always had with FireFox. One is that the file downloading is horrible. You click on a download link, and I'm stuck with a spinning beachball for a number of seconds, no matter how small the file might be. Once the download is running, Firefox can do other things, but it seems to be a really big deal to start it. In the same time it takes, I could open a terminal window and do it with some command-line utility, like wget. I don't understand why nobody's ever fixed that. Downloading a small file should not be a big deal. There are an assortment of download manager plugins, connecting to external programs that are good at downloading, but that's kind of overkill if I just want one little file.

The other really annoying thing is that after I've used the program for a while, and I have a number of windows open, things slow down. With tabs, I can quite easily have 20 or 30 sites open. And it can quite easily happen that one or several of those do something that uses up resources. It might have some Ajax running, or Java, or Flash, all of which might be doing something dumb. It might be in the middle of queueing up a dozen embedded videos for viewing. The point is that when things slow down, it is not always obvious why. If I close all the possibly offending pages, things get a bit better, but the browser remains kind of slow. And the system would often show that it is using, like, 98% of system cycles, and hundreds of megs of memory.

What I really would like would be that the browser could give me an idea of what resources each page is using. It shouldn't be hard for the browser software to show me where the problems are. And then it should of course recover the used resources when that page is closed.

There are other things, but they're minor. Firefox now has a nice feature for restoring the pages you had opened in your last session. Except for that the windows are in a seemingly random order. I normally have around 5 windows open, with a number of tabs in each. The tabs are in the proper order, but the windows never get loaded in the order I had them in in the Window menu.

I tried Opera for a week, and I actually really like it. It is faster, and it downloads files fine, and it restores the last session with everything in the proper order. And it includes a bunch of standard features that I have in plugins in FireFox. Very nicely put together. But after using it normally for a day or two, having a bunch of windows and tabs open, the same thing happens as in FireFox. Things get slow, and I don't know which page is doing it. And there are a few key plugins I use a lot in Firefox, which don't have anything comparable in Opera. Like the Firebug Javascript debugger, and a plugin that shows me the dimensions or paths or pictures in a page.

So, I went back to Firefox. But if anybody knows a browser or a plugin that shows you which pages slow everything down, I'm all ears.
[ | 2007-02-24 14:18 | 24 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, February 11, 2007day link 

 Server4you sucks a bit
For the past year my main server has been at Server4you in Germany. They had the best deal I could find anywhere, for a fast server with good connectivity. Only problem was that they turned out to only speak German, and that they wanted me to pay for a year up front, because I wasn't in Germany. Took them a couple of months to set the server up, but it worked great when it was up. At least as long as there weren't any problems. The first big surprise was when I realized they didn't have 24/7 tech support. I hadn't even imagined that possibility. So, if something goes down, it of course is always just after midnight, and particularly in the weekend, just after their support line closed. And it then turned out that my 15 minute server reboot facility doesn't work either at such a time, as somebody at their end would have to go and do it.

And then they closed their support e-mail addresses, so that one only could contact them through their online control panel, and they take a couple of days to answer most things. Or by phone, which takes hours to get through to, and costs something every time.

But so far so good until yesterday. When the server came up for renewal after the first year, I had sent a message to the accounting department if I couldn't please pay per month, rather than per year. Which it took them two weeks to respond to. After a couple of messages back and forth like that, I called them. And they repeated that no way they could do that, as I wasn't in Germany, so they had no way of controlling that I actually paid. And they said my server would be turned off soon if I didn't pay. So, I sent them their €1000 for this year, as I said I would, and sent them a fax with the bank transfer confirmation, as they said I should. That was several weeks ago, in January.

So, now, yesterday, half past midnight, somebody halts the server. Of course that's 1/2 hour after I possibly can get hold of anybody. So, I call them in the morning, now Saturday. Tech support says that my account had been cancelled and no longer exists, and there's nothing they can do to turn on the server, as it is accounting who controls it, and they of course aren't there before Monday

So, that starts to seriously suck. There's a lot going on on that server, dozens of quite popular sites, a lot of mail accounts, including my own, and many mailing lists. It can't really be down for several days.

So, most of the weekend until now I've been busy bringing everything up on my other server, at 1and1 in the States. Luckily the backup situation was pretty good, databases replicated, and other files at the most a few hours old. But, still, that is very messy, and there are always little things missing.

Seems like everything is working. But I really had better things to use my weekend for.

So, I take back any recommendation I might have made to rent servers from those guys. In the meantime, I've noticed that OVH here in France has good deals. So, if Server4you for some reason holds on to that I no longer have an account with them, and they pay my money back, that's what I'd go for.
[ | 2007-02-11 17:22 | 50 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, January 28, 2007day link 

 Metro
picture Toulouse is getting a new metro, line B. The city has been a bit of a mess for years while they've been working on it, as long as we've been here. OK, they're long done with the tunnels and tracks and just finishing up the stations, so it isn't too bad. And the good news is that one of the end stations is Ramonville where I live. The station isn't as close as where we used to live, at least a kilometer. But that should still make it a good deal easier to get to town. They're supposed to open the line on June 30th, but we're a bit impatient. The site of the station is still a huge construction site, but I suppose they know what they're doing. My son and I snuck in there on our bicycles the other evening, as I was curious, and we managed to walk down to the tracks.
[ | 2007-01-28 14:31 | 8 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, December 31, 2006day link 

 My story
picture Writing your own biography in short form is a good exercise, I think. Or in long form, for that matter. I haven't really written anything but short blurbs to put in a profile or at the bottom of an article. So, here's a slightly less abridged version of my life. Leaving out, of course, lots of stuff, but it should give a bit of an idea, at least.

I was born in 1959 in Copenhagen, Denmark. At the time my family lived in Christianshavn, an old part of Copenhagen, near what used to be the defensive wall and moat around the central town. Nothing remarkable about it really. Old run down apartment buildings with tiny apartments, upgraded not long before to actually have toilets IN the apartments, rather than out on the stairs, or down back in the courtyard. Christianshavn is most well known today as the location of Christiania, a unique social experiment, a sort-of free nation founded by squatters who took over an old military base in the 70s. Which I only paid attention to at the time because it allowed my grandmother to take me for walks inside that area which previously were closed off, but which contains some enjoyable pieces of nature.

I was baptized in Our Savior's Church, which is the other thing Christianshavn is known for, because of its characteristic tall copper spire with a spiral staircase on the outside and a golden dome on the top. Not that anybody in my family were religious, but kids were baptized as a routine thing to do.

My parents got divorced when I was around one, so we didn't live there long. They stayed married just long enough to have moved out into a modern villa on Amager, the island stuck to the right of Copenhagen. After which I lived with my mom in a small apartment. My grandmother watched me while she went to work.

I was a very shy and quiet boy, mostly living in my own fantasy world. I had a problem with my hearing at the time, and didn't even always hear what people were saying, and mostly answered in short sentences, adding up to "I don't know".

I taught myself to read at 3 or 4 years old, mostly so I could read the new issue of "Donald Duck" every Tuesday.

Otherwise I occupied my mind with what, in hindsight, was trivia and idle superstitions. Like, my grandfather, who was a very careful person, had taught me the principle of what to do if you're in a car that drives into the water, like if it accidentally tips into a canal. You know, because of the water pressure, you can't open the doors, so you roll down the window a little bit, let water come in, and when the car is almost full of water, you can open the door and swim up to the surface. I couldn't swim, but I understood that this was very important. So, I dedicated at least 5% of my mental capacity to make sure I'd never forget this procedure. I was sort of counting on that this was something that happened once in a while. It didn't.

I also spent several years, whenever I walked on the street, on wondering whether it was correct that one isn't supposed to step on the lines between the cement blocks in the sidewalk. My brother had told me so once, and I didn't verify it with anybody, but when I remembered, I tried carefully not to step on them, just in case it was correct. I didn't want to get in trouble with the sidewalk police.

Oh, and I had a hobby. I was collecting the license plate numbers of taxis. I had a little book, and would carefully write down all the numbers of taxis I saw. I don't remember why, exactly. Later on I graduated to collecting large numbers of plain white yogurt containers, all the same.

When I was around 5 my mother re-married, and we moved, to a house in Gammel Holte, in the suburbs, around 20km from Copenhagen. This is a rather upscale kind of place to live, where people are architects, engineers and company owners, rather than working class, which otherwise is what my family were. My new stepdad was an army officer, known to most people as The Major. In retrospect, he was a nice enough guy, but at the time I mostly considered him overly strict and stuck in his ways.

I started going to school. You know, walking 5 kilometers through the snow by myself to get there. Oh, it was only 2km to the first school, and it wasn't always snowing, but in those days kids would be expected to get to school on their own when they're old enough to go to school.

My spare time and my vacations were either spent reading, or, to a large extent, outside playing. No TVs or computer games in those days. So, me and my friends would be outside doing healthy boy things. You know, climbing trees, throwing knives, playing in construction sites, fighting, shooting BB guns, blowing things up, ringing people's doorbells, and so forth. All the kinds of things I wouldn't want to let my own kids do, but which were character building at the time. And if anybody ever came to complain, my mother would always insist that "those nice boys would never do that!"

I did alright in school. I guess I was one of the smarter, nerdier kind of boys, which went well with math and with writing stuff, but I sucked whenever I had to say anything. I was still terribly shy, so standing up in front of the class and answering a question would make me break out in cold sweat and hemming and hawing. I was somehow not so shy when it came to my friends, and still managed to be the instigator of various kinds of trouble-making and practical jokes.

In high school I went to the venerable old school, Holte Gymnasium, where one suddenly addressed each other by last name, and where each teacher seemed to be known by a secret nickname, which had been passed down from generation to generation of students for 30 years. You know, my Latin teacher was (translated) "Brushless" because his name sounded like that, and he didn't have any hair. And my chemistry teacher was "The Cone", because she had a very small head and a decidely cone-shaped body.

The school was progressive enough at the time, around 1975, that they had invested in a computer. One could sign up for extra programming classes, and one could reserve time, in pairs an hour at a time, with said computer. It was an HP3000 minicomputer, which was a big box with blinkenlights buttons on the front panel, a paper tape reader, and a Teletype to type stuff into it. I spent many hours with my friend Morten in front of that computer, mostly doing little programs that nobody would bother with today, you know math tables and that kind of thing.

After high school I became a student at the Danish Technical University, in electrical engineering. I didn't really know what else to do. Computer science was one of the options, but that sounded more boring those days. And since I enjoyed tinkering with digital electronics, that sounded more substantial. Studying was boring, however, as the first couple of years are spent with a lot of theory, like math I never imagined having a need for. I discovered that since 90% of the math books where explanations of proofs for various formulas, and one never needed the proofs, I could get away with going to the exam without having read the books, just finding the appropriate formulas I needed to solve the exam questions. But I couldn't really get into it.

So, I dropped out and became a Scientologist. Hey, don't snicker. That was an adventurous time. I signed a billion-year contract and got busy saving the world. Over the course of 4 years I got a very thorough education, as a psychotherapist, as an executive, as a quality control specialist, and various other things. Of course I can't put any of that in my resume. But I don't regret anything about it. Scientology was somewhat less insane at that time, and it was fun and character building. It wasn't a smooth ride, exactly. I got thrown out several times, for rocking the boat essentially. Eventually I got altogether excommunicated, or "declared suppressive" as it is called. It is essentially that you get presented with a clinical document that outlines why you're evil and thus unfit to be a Scientologist. I never framed it, but I'm nevertheless quite grateful. I went on to be an infamous dissident, and years later were still occasionally being followed by private investigators, but even that gets a bit old.

I got married somewhere along the way, in 1980 to Birgit. She was 17, I was 20. We were really very different people, but somehow that kept it interesting enough that we're still together 26 years later.

We created a small company that did janitorial services for businesses. We had up to 12 employees, and it was a nice simple business model. Send out some brochures, or call some random companies. A certain percentage will be interested in an offer for cleaning their offices every day. 1 out of 4 of those offers turn into a job. Then I hire somebody to do it, get them some supplies and check that they do it well.

In 1985 we decided to move to the U.S. Or, rather, that was my idea. There wasn't any particular reason, other than feeling Denmark was a little small and boring at the time, and there's a whole big world out there. The choice of California and Los Angeles was basically just because we knew a couple of people there, so it was a place to start.

We moved without much more preparation than a quick visit, having bought the tikets, and having money for getting a car and surviving a month. Or, I had managed to secure a job as a computer salesman in advance, but that didn't last more than a month, until they discovered they didn't know how to pay me, because I was an illegal alien.

After a bit of a crisis, being stuck in a strange foreign country with a little kid, without money, I got a job as a data entry clerk. Which turned out to be the start of a lucky streak. A year later I was in charge of Management Information Systems in that company, and later the architect for a big new computer system in an affiliated company, all in the medical and insurance industry. I worked 80 hour weeks, had a bunch of interesting people on my team, accomplished great things, and was paid a lot of money. Bought a big house and a sports car, and was living the american dream.

A few years later I quit, because, well, I had sort of finished my job there. I hadn't prepared that very well, and thought I'd magically keep making money, not noticing the large mortgage and credit card bills I had worked up during that time. So, another temporary crisis.

I set myself up as a psychotherapist. I had a small office close to our house, and I advertised in new age magazines. Transformational Processing is what I called what I did. An amalgam of NLP and whatever else I had learned along the way about personal change. That's one of the periods where the scientologists were on my tail, because I looked like competition, I suppose, but eventually that got sorted out. I also wrote several books about the principles and techniques I was using during that time.

Later, another computer programmer type of job for a few years. One without any possibility for bigger responsibilities for a change, but with plenty of free time to surf the internet and sit and meditate. That's for example when I started the New Civilization Network in 1995. I eventually quit the job in protest after the management started monitoring everybody's e-mails. And then working as an independent after that.

A number of adventures in the following years. With my pal Julie I had a company called Synchronicity. We had an office on the beach in Venice as part of what first was the Global Solutions Center. Which was both a non-profit community center, and an incubator for new businesses. Not everything worked out, but it was a magical time. We spent most days meeting interesting people with huge plans and strange stories. Like Jim and Luz. Luz Santa Romana being an heiress to a large fortune with a dark history, who considered maybe putting a few billion into a New Civilization Foundation. Oh, and many more fantastic stories.

In those days I was also the organizer of the New Civilization Salons, which were very popular events held every month or two. Hard to describe, but part networking, part party, part three ring circus. Around 100-150 people every time, and the invited were mainly creative people, artist, inventors, organizers, activists, explorers, etc. Which never was boring.

In terms of work, I did many different projects for various companies. Developing websites, administering servers. Many different fields. Television, healthcare, food, shopping, etc. Oh, I didn't mention that I lived in the San Fernando Valley. When one says "The Valley" in Southern California, it isn't Silicon Valley one is talking about, but San Fernando Valley. An endless suburb, with 7-11s and gas stations on each corner, and where girls speak "Valley Speak". And, you don't see it, but it is also known in other circles as "Porn Valley", because the majority of the world's porn production happens there, behind the facades of anonymous-looking warehouses and offices. So I couldn't avoid doing a few things for online porn companies, which was entertaining. Oh, I just managed web servers and did some software, but it was good experience, even though I can't quite put it on my resume. You know, web sites with millions of members and millions of daily visitors, that's a bit hard to get one's hands on otherwise.

I get motivated by new stuff, new possibilities, new environments. So, despite that life in L.A. had been mostly good, it started being a little stale. OK, there are many other ways of revitalizing things than moving, but it is one thing that works for me. When you're in a new place, your eyes are wide open and you're really paying attention. And I was no longer proud to be an American. The U.S. was more and more of a police state, both inside and out, in ways I could not at all stand up for. And we started having more affinity for Europe again. So, somehow it seemed time to move "back".

Denmark would have been too easy, and I'd like a bit of a challenge, so we looked further to the south. The choice of Southwestern France was mostly the result of a process of exclusion, and a bit of feedback from the readers of my blog here. So, we moved to Toulouse, 5 people, in the summer of 2003.

That happened to be in the middle of a boiling heatwave, but that was sort of the least of the difficulties. Oh, actually we were quite lucky with most things, but it was more trouble than we planned. France is a different place. The rules for how things work are different here. And people speak French. We spoke very little. But it worked out.

In part, the motivation for moving was also for the sake of our kids. The two of them are more or less grownups by now. But did we really want them all to only have the American perspective on things? There's something you get from having a foot in several cultures that is kind of invaluable. Not just that you can speak several languages, but that you remain aware that there are always several ways of seeing things.

So, anyway, life is pretty good in France. I haven't quite found my right place in terms of the French society, but I continue doing what I otherwise was doing, contract projects over the internet, and pursuing being a consultant with more local projects.
[ | 2006-12-31 17:20 | 25 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, December 24, 2006day link 

 Joyeux Noël
picture
Merry Christmas and Glædelig Jul everybody.
[ | 2006-12-24 13:29 | 13 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Tuesday, December 5, 2006day link 

 Suxors
picture Hey, I just notice that I'm still #1 in a Google search for "Western Union Sucks" and "Budget Sucks".

Not that I'm particularly in the business of bad-mouthing others, but I do find it to be a wonderful balancing factor that anybody who feels they've been screwed over by some Big Soulless Corporation can simply talk about it on their own website and grab a part of the mindshare. Of course it helps a bit if one has a blog with PageRank 7.

If you didn't already know, whenever you would like to check out how clean a certain company is, searching for "[company name] sucks" in Google will give you a bit of a clue. OK, sometimes people badmouth companies for no fair reason, but if you find lots of entries from different people, you might catch wind that there might be some problems with their practices.

As you can see in the comments to my Western Union post, there's no lack of other people who've had the exact same experience. In brief, what happened to me was that I needed to transfer some money quickly, and they accepted the order, charged the money from my bank account immediately, and then later sent me an e-mail to call them, after which they presented me with a "security" interview, confronting me with erroneous 15 year old credit report entries on me, and when I didn't agree with them, they denied my transfer, and then took 10 days to refund my money. So much for "money in minutes".

And don't get me started on Budget Rent-a-car.
[ | 2006-12-05 16:08 | 15 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, November 5, 2006day link 

 Night lights
picture
This is a NASA picture from here of sunset over Europe and Africa. Digitally composited.

Which I'm thinking of because there was a power failure here last night, which affected big chunks of Europe. It was only 45 minutes or so here in Toulouse, but long enough to start a fire in the fireplace, have cocoa, and spend a cozy time while the computers and the TVs were off.
[ | 2006-11-05 19:56 | 18 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, October 18, 2006day link 

 Checking in
Yesterday I had a root canal without anesthesia. French dentists work a little differently than American ones. Oh, didn't hurt too badly.

Anyway, strangely I feel like putting out a couple of blog posts, despite that I'm super busy. Most of my days in the next couple of months I'm going to this continuing education consultant thing at an engineering school here. Which means I suddenly need to squeeze my otherwise full day into a few hours in the evening, and go to bed early. But that of course gives the opportunity for organizing my time a bit better, and choosing which things actually are important.
[ | 2006-10-18 19:56 | 7 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, September 27, 2006day link 

 Good neighbors
So, I've had this problem getting my internet connection to work in our new house. We're staying with the same provider which is called Free. They're the biggest, and provide an excellent package for little money. When it works, that is. Their technical support isn't easy to get through. In principle our line was all activated on the 11th. Except for that it doesn't work. I've tried all the plugs and dug through the house for any possible kind of phone outlet, but no success. So, I'll have to wait for somebody to actually come and look at the wiring in the house, which will take another couple of weeks.

And, well, my life grinds to a halt without a connection. OK, mainly my work. But it drives me crazy when I can't get on. So, in these last couple of weeks I've shuffled my computer around to various friends' houses and offices, plugging into their connections. Which was very nice, and allowed to me to cover some basic things and do my e-mail, etc. But not really to actually make progress.

I tend to shy away from asking anybody for anything. Sort of a personal issue of mine. I have to be very lost before I reluctantly will ask somebody for directions. So, I had internet connection at friends' houses recently more because they offered it, and insisted that it was no problem, rather than because I actually asked them.

But yesterday I got myself together and passed around a letter to all my neighbors, explaining the situation. See, I had noticed that somebody had a WiFi connection which seemed usable, if I only had their password. So, I was trying to locate who it was, to pursuade them to share.

Didn't take much persuasion, though. It is something I've noticed often in France. If you lay out your situation and your problem in some detail, lots of people will find it both logical and "normal" to help solve it. Of course even more so when you run into some nice people who aren't just being polite.

I had passed around letters to five neighbors. Within an hour or so I had had three of them on the phone. The first one apologized that they didn't even have a computer, so they're sorry, they can't help, but if there's anything else we need, don't hesitate to ask.

The second neighbor said he'd come by in an hour, and "we'll find a solution".

The third caller was actually the house with the wifi connection I noticed. And he said, yes, of course we can use his connection, go right ahead!

So, now I was almost getting too much help. Neighbor #2 came by first. His suggestion was to string a cable over to his house. And he's in the computer hardware business, and has his garage full of equipment anyway, and he'd be perfectly comfortable with that.

I say thank you very much, but I've better check out the WiFi thing first, as it would be less of a hassle if that would work. So, I visit Neighbor #3, who happily gives me his passwords and codes. He didn't know overly much about it, though, so he wasn't quite sure what was what. Two visits later, and several cups of coffee, I can't seem to get any of them to work. So, despite his offer that I could just take his laptop with me and work on that, I go back to Neighbor #2, to take him up on his proposal.

He offers to drive me to town to his favorite supplier, we acquire an 80m ethernet cable, and I string it up. So, now there's a cable going out my window, around the house, over the hedge, through his bushes and into his back window. And, voila, I have Internet. And he didn't even allow me to pay for the cable yet.

Good neighbors for sure. In France one has no guarantee one will even ever meet one's neighbors, as people tend to be very private. But one can be lucky, or actually have a good excuse for presenting them with a problem to solve. So, I'm glad I asked.
[ | 2006-09-27 10:50 | 18 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Moving
picture I haven't been online much recently, because we moved houses. And still no success on getting our new internet connection working.

But, hey, I've better capture a bit of the magic of moving to a new place, while it is still fresh. You know, when you go to an unfamiliar area, your eyes are more open. After some months you might just get used to it, and take it for granted, and you don't pay much attention.

The old landlord was selling the house we were renting, and the contract was up, so it was time to move. That was all somewhat more trouble than we had imagined. I guess we had some luck 3 years ago, getting our house deal worked out within a couple of days, without any significant obstacles, other than my very sketchy ability to speak French at the time. This time there was a mountain of paperwork being in the way, and it took a while to work out.

We're now in a town called Ramonville, which is still in the suburbs of Toulouse. A little further from the center of town, but not much. Around 10km from the old place.

The house seemed at first rather mysterious to us. It is a big old house on a hill, and it looked quite a bit like the Bates Motel in Psycho. Particularly when the real estate agent explained that some parts of house would be locked off and reserved for the owner. To store furniture, he said. We imagined that if one walked in there, one would find his dead mother sitting in a rocking chair, or something along those lines.

As it turned out, the owner is a very nice fellow, and the first thing he did was to show us what was in the locked rooms, so we didn't have to be concerned, and he even left the keys. And it wasn't all that far off. It used to be his childhood home, until like 20 years ago. And it wasn't really that there was furniture storage, but rather that those rooms had been left pretty much as they were, because he hadn't felt like getting around to sorting them out. Like, at the ground floor there's an appartment where his uncle used to live. An uncle who was a catholic priest who had travelled a lot. The place is stocked from floor to ceiling with his archives, books, pictures, travel reports, etc. And it was left like he left it when he died. There's still papers on his desk, cigarette butts in the ashtray, and a bottle of brandy in the closet. Anyway, it isn't really scarey, but rather peaceful.

At the top of the three floors there were rooms that were rented out to students. Also left just as they were. Not so much of a personal feeling to them, but again, nothing to worry about. And it all leaves lots of room for us.

There's a large garden full of fruit trees, and with room for a large vegetable garden. It even has its own well, to deal with the frequent water rationing in the summer here. Btw, I still don't get exactly how that can work. We're on a hill, around 50 meters above the town itself. And yet a 13 meter well will reach the water level. I guess the water follows the hills.

My little daughter is very happy with the garden. She will actually now turn off the TV and go and climb trees instead. That's good news. And her new school is just around the corner, so she can even walk there herself.

Now, a little history. This town is called Ramonville because it is named after Raymond IV, one of the counts of Toulouse. It used to be Raymondville, but lost a couple of letters along the way. It was named after him because he had a castle here, called Bellevue. And not just that, but it was on this very hill, roughly just across the street from us.

Today we're right next to a large closed off park and nature preserve called Domaine Latécoère. There's a big wall around it, and there's a chateau there. That's relatively new, though. But it is a little bit mysterious what goes on there and who owns it now, as it has been closed off as long as anybody seems to remember. Anyway, it is called Domaine Latécoère because it used to belong to the Latécoère family. Pierre-George Latécoère had a company that built airplanes in the early decades of the 1900s, and he's quite famous around here. Because some significant pieces of avionic history happened around here. The Montaudran airfield is close by. It was from here that Aeropostale started the first regular flights that transported mail to exotic places like Africa and South America. Latécoère was the guy who built the planes and the airport and ran the company. And his most famous pilot was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. You know, the author of The Little Prince. He flew a great many flights out of Montaudran, and lived in Toulouse for some years. This is all something that Toulousians are quite proud of, as this is still a big center for aerospace. So, many roads, schools, etc. are named after Saint-Exupéry or Latécoère. Including the street we live on and my daughter's school.

It is said that when Charles Lindbergh's son was abducted for ransom in the 30s and subsequently killed, Pierre-Georges Latécoère got very freaked out about it, and that's when he built that big wall around his grounds. Apparently he had in mind to buy all the land between here and the Montaudran airfield, so he never had to leave his home. He didn't quite succeed in that, but he still managed to wall in 10% or so of Ramonville in his park. Which is great to look at across the street. Just a shame that we can't walk around in it.

Anyway, back to Raymond IV. More than 900 years ago, this was the location of his Bellevue castle. Raymond was a powerful man. He ruled all of the south of France, from the Atlantic over including the Cote d'Azur to around where Italy starts today. And the Pyrenées, down into Spain as well. He was richer than the French king and had more armies under his control.

He was also one of the key figures in the first crusade, its leader in many ways. It wasn't his idea, but he provided a majority of the funding and the manpower. The crusade came about because the Byzantine emperor Alexis made an appeal to Pope Urbain II. Jerusalem was controlled by unfriendly powers who no longer allowed christian pilgrims free passage, and something had to be done. And despite that Alexis was extremely rich, he didn't really have the armies at hand to take care of it. So, he asked the Pope. And, apparently Urbain gave one of the most effective motivational speeches in history, and he got a bunch of French noblemen to drop whatever else they were doing and invest their fortunes and their armies into going to Jerusalem to kick out the infidels.

That was all totally insane, of course. But it seemed to make sense for these guys. And, well, I've read the former Toulouse mayor Dominique Baudis' book "Raymond d'Orient", which has Raymond IV as the main figure and hero of the story, and it is based in part on his diaries, so I can see the romantic appeal. But it was a brutal and needless adventure. The crusaders eventually prevailed, against great odds, by being more fanatic and ruthless than the opposing, much bigger, armies. You know, such tricks as bombarding a besieged city with the cut-off heads of their slain soldiers. And, after a few years and 10s of thousands of bodies in their path, they finally conquered Jerusalem, carrying out the greatest bloodbath of all, killing another few 10s of thousands of people.

Raymond refused to become the king of Jerusalem, even though he was the first and obvious choice. But he didn't have in mind coming back to Toulouse either. He picked out the city of Tripoli in what today is Libanon, took over the place and became the Count of Tripoli and built a huge castle, and his descendants ruled there for a few generations.

But, back to Ramonville. The reason this is related is that Raymond took off on his crusade in 1096 exactly from his Bellevue castle across the street here. He brought with him around 10000 people. 1000 or so knights on horses, their supporting servants, and a bunch of other people from Toulouse just chose to walk along. And we're talking about walking all the way, which took a while. Anyway, this is where those crazy folks walked. Straight down from the hill from here, the street is still called "Chemin des Croisés", you know, the path of the crusaders. Raymond took his money with him, and his best people, leaving his not very capable son in charge of a very cash-strapped empire. Which eventually fell permanently into the hands of the French crown some hundred years later, after a later Raymond didn't leave any male heirs.

None of that has much to do with living in Ramonville today, of course, but it is always fun to explore a little history. Now it is a fairly small town of 12000 people, best known for having the technical university close by, and various aerospace companies. It is rather green, close to open fields and forested areas. It is close to the Garonne river and the Canal du Midi (going from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean) goes straight through it. It is close enough to Toulouse that it will have a metro station some time next year, which will make it somewhat easier to get to town.
[ | 2006-09-27 09:27 | 19 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Saturday, July 22, 2006day link 

 Western Union sucks
picture Yesterday I needed to make an important payment, with money I had in my U.S. account. Without thinking it through very well, I decided that the fastest way of getting the money over here was Western Union. "Money in Minutes", you know. Had I thought it through better, I'd have realized that the easiest thing is just to ask my bank to increase my cash advance limit, and then take them out in an ATM. As I'd have to use the same cash advance limit to make a Western Union payment. But I didn't think that through at first.

So, I got my bank to make $1000 available, and went to the Western Union website, and ordered the wiring of the money. And it said it had been ordered, but before the money would be available, I'd need to call them to answer some security questions.

Now, it has been a lot in the news recently that Western Union has blocked money transfers for anybody with an Arab name, in some misguided attempt of hindering the funding of terrorists. Which sucks if you're one of the millions of innocent people named Mohammed. But that doesn't really apply to me.

But it turned out that they've implemented a new elaborate security verification scheme. Which consists of asking me questions based on what they've found in the public record about me. They asked me about 10 different multiple-choice questions. They were basically two kinds: 1. giving me a list of domain names and asking if I've registered any of them, and if so which one, or whether I just don't recognize any of them. 2. giving me a list of addresses, and asking me whether I've had any relation to them, and if so what city they're in, chosen from multiple choices, or whether I don't recognize any of them.

I own lots of domains. But yet they gave me several lists of domains I'd never heard of, which I told them. And they gave me lists of addresses I didn't recognize. Except for one, which was an address I used to have a mailbox at, 15 years ago. And then they gave me a list of 5 cities, to identify which one would go with the address. The problem was that my address at East Broadway was in Glendale, California. But the choices were "Los Angeles", "Riverside", "San Bernardino", and a couple more. I explained that to the operator, that there must be some mistake, the address I recognized was in Glendale, and not in any of those, but if I had to choose one of them, the closest would be Los Angeles.

So, then after all 10 questions like that, he informs me that, sorry, but I don't pass the Western Union expanded security requirements. Which, obviously, are screwed up somehow. Essentially they take the kind of stuff that is in one's credit record, or in domain registrations, and if there's anything that happens to be a bit incorrect, or wrong, or one doesn't remember one's address of 15 years ago, one is out of luck.

Now, the problem is also that they already took my money. I.e. they charged a $1000 cash advance from my account when I ordered the money transfer, which registered on my account immediately. And now the guy says he'll cancel the transaction, but that it is no concern of his how and when my bank responds to that.

A call to my bank, after they opened a number of hours later, reveals that all they see is that I spent $1000 with Western Union, and if anything would be reversed, they'd estimate that it might take 2 or 3 business days. Which in itself is ridiculous, of course. If you can do an instant subtraction, you can of course just as easily do an instant addition. But that is often not how banks work. I can spend my money instantly, but if, say, I do a wire transfer between countries, it takes 5-7 business days. There's no good excuse for that, of course. Anyway, in this case the problem is that my $1000 instead of being transferred "in minutes" got locked up for a few days, and I've already spent my maximum cash advance limit for the day, and despite that there were more money in my account, there was no way of getting at them that day. Oh, I could have gone and bought a huge dinner with it, and VISA would have charged it instantly, but that's a different matter.

So, what sucks? Well, Western Union is really cumbersome, has a dysfunctional set of security requirements, and operators who's job it seems to be to give you a hard time, rather than helping you. And if they don't want your transaction, they keep your money for several days more anyway. Which might well be because the banking system sucks.
[ | 2006-07-22 14:42 | 300 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, May 31, 2006day link 

 Reboot
picture
So, I'm in Copenhagen for a few days, for the Reboot conference. Starting Thursday, but with a pre-conference boat party in the harbour tonight. Looking forward to it. I was there for the first time last year, and it is an excellent conference. You know, forward-thinking, leading edge internet culture stuff. Lots of good people, and I see a number of my friends on the participant list that I'm looking forward to seeing again. Anyway, more later.
[ | 2006-05-31 00:42 | 2 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Sunday, May 28, 2006day link 

 Creme de Violette
picture Oh, I need to write something about the event I was co-organizer of last week. It is called Creme de Violette. It is Lionel's idea. Speed Consulting. It is like Speed Dating, just different. The basic idea is that one invites some experts/consultants and some business people, and then one has rounds where the participants can go and talk with the experts and ask them questions, and have a little free consulting session in 11 minutes, until the gong sounds and the next round starts.

In France this has been done in Paris, but apparently nowhere else. So, the idea here is to do it in a more relaxed southern way, with good food and wine in a restaurant. And, well, this is the third time we did this. The first two times I was one of the experts, which was quite fun, and even got me an interesting project and a part of a little upstart company.

This time we had more partners participating, and added some new elements, which actually made it a good deal more interesting. The basic idea was to add elements that are "speed" oriented, or that makes something happen in real-time during the evening, and which facilitate the networking. It didn't all work, but it didn't matter too much, as what worked worked well. But I had for example made a database meant to keep profiles of all participants, so that everybody would have a little bio and picture, and maybe a statement of what they offer, or what they're looking for, and that would be available during the evening, and/or before and after, as possible. Which makes it a good deal easier to do networking, as you're able to know who everybody is. I've done similar things at events before, with very good results.

The MC was a well-known talkshow host and public speaker, Yann Fernandez. There was a journalist interviewing participants. A professional photographer taking pictures of everybody. Somebody taking video. Several people who's job it was to help people find each other. Several hostesses.

One thing that worked really well was the production of a newsletter during the evening. In one corner was a little production team with computers. A video projector showed what they were working on at the time. They would get photos from the photographer, the journalist would submit articles, and they would lay it out. All during the evening. You can see the result as a PDF. The idea was that at the end of the evening, everybody would leave with a copy of it. But that depended on a few other technical details that didn't work. Like the WiFi internet connection. And therefore the internet sharing application we had planned, based on a clever invention from a local startup company, Personalité Numerique, which basically turns any USB key into a large virtual disk, from which one transparently can share data with others.

Anyway, overall it was a success, and we'll be sure to develop some of these ideas further. Which incidentally have created a bit of interest from various organizations that are interested in having more effective networking events.
[ | 2006-05-28 22:59 | 18 comments | PermaLink ]  More >


Wednesday, April 12, 2006day link 

 The unbearable slowness of computing
picture My new iMac is in the mail from the Apple store. So now I can allow myself to complain about my old one in the meantime.

The last couple of years my computer has been a 12 inch aluminum powerbook. Which is a handy little machine, very convenient for taking on the road. And if you plug in a big screen and a keyboard, in principle a perfectly fine thing to have on one's desktop.

But the last year it has just gotten increasingly unbearably slow. Whenever anybody asks me about that happening to their computer, I always deny that it is even possible. Computers don't just get slow from getting older. On Windows maybe. It might be full of spyware, or you haven't defragged your disk or something. But a Mac? There should just be no good reason for it.

Well, various reasons compound. Everything very gradually requires more and more resources, and suddenly the computer that was super-fast a couple of years ago seems like it isn't moving at all.

Like, Firefox has tabs, and I somehow can't seem to live without 30 or so different pages open in different tabs. A number of which will nowadays do some kind of Ajax and Javascript thing all the time, or there's some Flash or whatever. All of which uses memory and processing power.

And I have an editor with another 20 or 30 open documents, and ICQ and iChat and Skype, and the calendar, and TextEdit, and a few terminal windows. I think that is all quite modest. I don't even dare try to have iTunes running, let alone iPhoto, or Word, or various other things I'd have reason to use.

Of course it is running Apache and MySQL and various other things under the hood, but none of those seem to be much trouble. Mainly it is Firefox and ICQ that uses up the resources, and an annoying HP printer driver. Oh, and OSX nicely allows several people to be logged in at the same time, and we're a bit low on computers right now, so a few more things running in another desktop.

And this Powerbook only has room for 640MB or memory, which it has of course. But which nowadays is pitifully little.

When it has a lot to do, like just having Firefox open, the fan starts running, which somehow slows things down even more.

There's nothing worse, when you have a lot to do, than your computer being, like, 10 times slower than you are. You type something and it appears 5 seconds later. You click on a window and a spinning beachball hangs there for 10 seconds before anything happens.

It is like when you're used to always-on broadband internet, and suddenly you're on a dial-up modem. You suddenly become keenly aware that you maybe should have arranged things so that there wasn't such a bottleneck, but you can't do it before you're back on your normal connection, and when you are, you forget all about it. Likewise, when everything is slow, you can quickly get the idea that you maybe should have arranged things so that the computer had much less to do, but since it is slow as molasses, you give up doing anything with it other than the most basic and needed stuff.

23 years ago my IBM PC 8.77MHz, 128k, with dual 360k floppies was lightning fast. I never ran out of memory. I have 500 times as much memory here. Why, oh why must I suffer?

Well, I mainly wanted just to complain. But also remind myself, before I get spoiled again by a fast new computer, that there's plenty of opportunity for making many things more efficient.

Like, why do I have so many browser windows open? Well, there's gmail, there's a dynamic home page, there's a feed aggregator, there's several admin pages for sites I need to pay attention to every day, there's a page with graphs and monitoring information for my servers, there's a couple of blogs, a couple of member areas. That's 10 already. For the rest, if there's site with information I need to do something with, why don't I just put it into a bookmark list or into delicio.us or furl? Well, I do, but those are all more cumbersome to save to and find something in than just having it open. Windows need to pop up, stuff need to be saved, the page needs to reload, etc. Still too many steps, and I can't arrange things the way they make sense for me. So, just a reminder to myself that it is a good idea to come up with better and faster ways of organizing stuff, even if one can buy a faster computer every couple of years.
[ | 2006-04-12 01:20 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >



<< Newer stories  Page: 1 2 3 4 5 ... 15   Older stories >>