Computers don’t fix themselves, do they?

Over the last few days, something had gone horribly wrong with the site. I feel as if it’s been hacked, but I don’t find any evidence.

For some reason, Apache had stopped responding to the “www” hostname for a few days, which is why you’ve probably been unable to see the site (not that you tried). If you’d tried without the hostname ( you’d have seen the site minus images and style sheets. Then this morning, it suddenly started working again. What gives?

I’d been vaguely looking into the problem since I noticed the site stop responding on Saturday. It wasn’t until this morning that I actually figured out what was wrong. While I was writing a post about the problem, it suddenly went away. Later tonight I’ll try to figure out what went wrong and why.

The research I’ve already done turned up a bit of strange stuff in the access and error logs right before the site went down, but it mostly looks like the usual worms and bot net scans. There’s nothing definitive that looks like an attack succeeded. None of the usual scans of my machine have turned up anything amiss (Spybot, AVG, etc.); Reinstalled ZoneAlarm and I’m not seeing any unusual traffic . . .


I’m uncomfortable with the current state of affairs. The web server is running on my own personal PC (albeit under a dedicated user account with very limited privileges — at least I secured that much) and WordPress seems to have more that its fair share of vulnerabilities. It’s pretty easy to use, but I’m not really in love with it for any other reason.

I may find myself with an extra old PC laying around the house soon and should that come to pass, I think I’ll try installing Linux (DSL or FreeBSD are my likely choices) with Tomcat and move the site over to using Roller. Roller looks pretty full-featured, and has the added bonus of being Java-based (I know Java a lot better than I know PHP — also, PHP code is ugly).

Anyway, have fun out there. I’ll be having fun fighting with PCs on my end . . .

Unshaven and smelling of smoke. That’s a vacation.

Life’s just been absurdly busy lately, and I’m pretty far behind on posting. As an example of what I mean, I present to you my vacation photos. From the camping trip we took over the Fourth of July. Like I said, I’ve been busy.

Here’s the regular old Flickr slide show, and here’s the set in full geotagged glory. The latter should pretty much tell you everything you might want to know about where we went, and the comments in the former will fill in the details of what we did when we there there.

It was a great trip, even if it was pretty cold and rainy for a good portion. It had been five years since we’d been camping, and nine since we’d been to the north shore (Isabella was only about 10 months old back then). I don’t want to let it go that long again. It was the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time, and it’s the first vacation in years that I wasn’t ready to have end. I’ve never camped for two weeks at a stretch before, but I may have to give it a try next year.

Would you like to play a game?

-Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War.

-Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess? 

As a matter of fact, I would prefer a nice game of chess. How about you?

It’s been far too long since I’ve played chess against anyone who was over nine years old. Through a post over on Metafilter I ended up signing up for an account at Red Hot Pawn, a pretty good correspondence chess site (even if the name seems to suggest something less wholesome). I’ve started a couple of games against anonymous opponents but would love to play against a friend or two.

If you’re interested, head on over, create an account and look me up. My user name, as you might expect, is Ickster. Hope to get a couple of challenges soon!

Safe and Sound

For what it’s worth, everyone in my world is OK today. It was a close thing, though.

Yesterday Amanda dropped the kids off at her mother’s house and then headed back home, taking 35W south. She was right about here when police started streaming past in the other direction and she looked back to realize that the road was completely empty behind her.

Neither of us knew what had happened until her mother called to check on her.

So, we’re all safe and sound. I hope that’s true for all of you and wish that it were for everyone else crossing the river yesterday.

Up and running again

The site’s now back up and running after a hiatus of a few days owing to a blown power supply.

I was playing a game of Unreal Tournament the other night when the ‘ol computer went clunk and stopped dead. I paused a second waiting for it to explode, but it just sat there. Guess the excitement of a seven year-old shooter was just too much for it. I spent the next day or so stopping by hopefully pressing the power button, to no avail.

Eventually started troubleshooting, and picked the what seemed — given the clunk and the fact that it didn’t do anything when the power button was pressed — like an obvious choice. I pulled the power supply out of my trusty 9 year-old Packard Bell PII 300, plugged it in and the ‘ol PC started right up. (I got a lot of flack way back when over buying a Packard Bell instead of something like a Compaq because Compaq was top-of-the-line and everyone knew Packard Bell was junk. However, I have a Compaq PII 300 of similar vintage to the Packard Bell sitting on my desk and when I tried to raid it for a spare power supply, I discovered that the state-of-the-art for Compaq in 1998 was to use ISA slots and ancient AT power supplies. Fortunately, the Packard Bell had an ATX. Vindication!)

Bought a new power supply for 30 bucks at Micro Center and installed it last night, with a three-hour break in the middle to pick up the new Harry Potter.

Finished the job about two AM last night. I suppose the Compaq has one advantage over cheaper hardware: I could probably replace that power supply in about fifteen minutes but had to completely remove the motherboard and standoffs in my PC to do so.

Anyway, more to post soon . . .

Our very own bridge to nowhere?

The Strib is running a story about the temporary (and I hope permanent) cancellation of plans to build a bridge across the Mississippi to extend the Midtown Greenway to St. Paul. I’m a cyclist who’s ridden to work in snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures, and even uses a portion of the Greenway when riding to work, but I think the proposed bridge is a terrible waste of money that accomplishes little and has no real reason for being.

The eastern terminus of the Greenway is at West River road, almost exactly equidistant between both the Franklin Ave and Lake Street bridges. (Here’s the location on Google Maps; the Greenway ends where the railroad tracks cross the river.) Across the river in St. Paul, there’s a small neighborhood bounded no the north by I94 and on the east by the Town & Country Club. From that neighborhood, there’s a bridge crossing I94 to the north, leading to a heavily industrial section of St. Paul surrounding University Avenue. To the south the only exits to the south intersect Marshall (as Lake Street becomes on the St. Paul side of the river), and the only other exit to the north crosses Franklin Ave.

Thus, the proposed new bridge provides one route that’s unlikely to be traveled by a cyclist and two others which are merely alternate routes to existing crossing points. In short, it makes no sense.

This strikes me as a project that has rooted in the imagination of someone involved, who is backing it because it fits his or her vision of something that would be fantastic to accomplish. Whoever that person is, they haven’t really thought about it.

I’d much rather see that money go towards work on the River Lake Greenway (formerly the 40th Street Greenway) or towards extensions of bike lanes along Blaisdell and 1st Ave, or anywhere else in the city for that matter.

If only I ran the world . . .

Flashing lights, fireballs, and self-aware weirdos

I have several posts in the draft stage that are very slowly progressing towards being published. So slowly in fact, that I’m going to throw some random, unformed thoughts and observations out here just to say that I’ve posted recently.

In no particular order:

  • Why do gas pumps all have stickers on them which proclaim “FOR USE AS A MOTOR FUEL ONLY”? Are there other common uses for which people might purchase gasoline but for which the stuff from the pumps would be unsafe? Or are the stickers there just for those who might put the gas to use in Molotov Cocktails and the like? Will the warning stop those people?
  • There’s an Infinity G35 in the parking lot at work with a piece of paper taped in the rear window which reads,

    FIRST and LAST Infiniti! Too many defects! Going back to General Motors!

    Is it wrong of me to be baffled by this? I have a sneaking suspicion the driver was was prejudiced against Japanese brands, was talked into buying the Infiniti and was looking for an excuse to hate the car. Otherwise the note would read Too many defects! Buying a Toyota next time!

  • I need to figure out a coherent plan for my personal e-mail addresses. I have two Gmail accounts which I regularly use, one of which being Ickster and the other being erikgranse. (I’d prefer erik.granse, but it already exists — I think I created it and forgot the password. I’ve tried to get into it several times, all to no avail.) I also have ickster and erik.granse at the domain here, and would actually prefer to use those. I actually access them all from the same Gmail account, so managing clients isn’t an issue. I’d just like to consistently use the same address, but sending out a mass e-mail asking everyone to change would be pretty stupid. (Don’t ask me why it’s important to be consistent; I have no idea myself. It’s my brain’s foolish idea.)
  • I liked Christopher Walken better when he wasn’t being a parody of himself. I’ve liked many of his movies and roles, but lately he’s been constantly showing up in little cameo roles where the entire gag is that he’s Christopher Walken, and he’s being creepy and unbalanced as only Christopher Walken can be! Doing the self-aware joke is funny once, but after the twentieth time it’s just kind of pathetic. Doesn’t he get offered any serious roles anymore?
  • What ever happened to the magnetic flashing lights that used to be ubiquitous in police movies and TV shows from the sixties through the eighties? It used to be so common to see the detective get the call, turn the flashing light on (while still holding it in the car) and then reach out to stick it on the roof. Whenever that happened, you knew it was getting serious. For some reason, that never happens anymore. If a cop’s in a unmarked car and needs to get somewhere in a hurry, he just takes off and blows through traffic. (Oddly, when watching a movie or TV show as an adult, I never think twice about a cop driving like a bat-out-of-hell without that magnetic light, but when I was a kid it really bothered me that when they were using that light they still didn’t have a siren. I never thought the light alone was sufficient. Why that bothered me when having neither light nor siren doesn’t bother me now is an unsolved mystery.)

So there you have it. As I said, just random tidbits, and absolutely nothing important. Have a great day!

More connection woes

As loyal readers (yes, both of you) may have noticed, the site’s been down a lot lately. That’s because it’s still being hosted on my PC at home, and we continue to have problems with our connection.  On Sunday, I talked with a tech who gave the impression that he actually looked into the problem and he deduced that there’s a problem with our connection! Woo Hoo! He offered to send a tech out without even making any dark threats about possible charges if it’s a problem with our equipment, so I have an appointment tomorrow morning.

Anyhoo, all the problems lately have been making me think that I should actually get the site hosted somewhere else. Anyone have any particular thoughts? I’m looking at Dreamhost and 1 and 1 right now; I know some of you are using GoDaddy, and that seems decent as well. Dunno.  Maybe. Someday. Eventually. I suppose.

Hope they fix my problem tomorrow so that I can forget about looking for a host again . . .

Comcast frustrations

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been having intermittent problems with my internet service at home. Randomly, but nearly every day, we simply lose our connection. Our modem shows a connection with the home network, but no signal from the Comcast (our ISP) side. A quick glance at the router status confirms my network is A-OK, but there’s no traffic from the modem side.

“Power cycling” the modem (as Comcast likes to call it; it involves unplugging it, waiting for a minute and plugging it back in) will restore our connection, but at very slow speeds for periods that have lasted up to an hour (for example, a speed test last night showed 11 kbps, much slower than a 56K dial-up connection). After that, speeds ramp back up to the 4-6 Mbps I’m used to. Until the next time it goes down.

After putting up with this for a while, I decided to call tech support last night (*shudder*). After brief troubleshooting on their part (which I think consisted of pinging my modem, which didn’t tell them anything other than the fact that my connection was up), I got the dreaded question, “Do you have a router connected to your modem?” I’d gone through this before, and explained to the tech that I had no intention of disconnecting the router, connecting my PC directly to the modem, reconfiguring networking on my PC from static to DHCP, rebooting, etc., when the problem is clearly not on my side of the modem. From there the immediate response was that there was nothing else they could do but to send a tech out and that if the problem was with my equipment I’d be charged. I was a bit surprised that they weren’t even going to try having a level II tech look into it before sending a field tech, but I agreed to let them send the tech. Then I was informed that because I don’t have cable TV (just internet for me, thanks) there would be a $19.95 charge for sending a tech, with additional charges if the problem wasn’t with their equipment.

WTF? The fifty bucks I pay per month only grants me the possibility of accessing the internet? Apparently if I want actual service there may be additional fees.

After arguing this point for a few minutes, I hung up without accomplishing anything. Then I tried the online chat feature, and went through the exact same process, but without the $19.95 dispatch charge. So now I have an appointment for Saturday, some time between 8:00 and 5:00. Great.

Of course, I’m still not actually sure that I want to take the risk of having a tech come out. It’s an intermittent problem, and if I can’t recreate it when the tech is here, am I going to get slapped with a big fee? Even if we lose our connection while the tech is here, my experience is that he or she won’t do anything except get it working again and then leave with a resolution of “power cycled modem”. What I’d really like would be to be able to open a ticket and have someone who knows something take a look at my connection, and maybe even run a couple of actual tests on it.

Crap. All I want is to pay my bill and have a service that actually works. Is that too much to ask?

Edit: After posting, I decided to cancel the tech appointment. Next time I have a problem, I’ll start over and insist that someone actually troubleshoot the problem. Don’t know if that will get me anywhere, but it’s worth a shot.

I’ve been baffled, and I like it.

In the spirit of yesterday’s post about IT e-Business techno-babble, here’s an excellent piece skewering political babble-speak.

My favorite bit:

But at the end of the day, my new slate of initiatives was in meltdown mode. The dog that previously didn’t bark now wouldn’t hunt. My gaffe morphed into a climbdown as I stumbled across the fourth, fifth and sixth rails of American politics. Instead of walking back the cat, I had jumped the shark. Where once I had been a dark horse, I was now a wingnut. The last straw that broke the camel’s back left my platform for clean politics in a lockbox. My Sister Souljah moment came during a perfect storm that was unprecedented in its magnitude, just as my political star was beginning to ebb. It was Me-gate.