Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Oh hell

I took the Expedition up to the shop this morning and an hour or two later the mechanic called me. The number 4 cylinder wasn't firing on time, which certainly explains why the Big Green Truck (as Alexandra calls it) was running roughly.

He gave me two options: They could hook it up to a "Moto Vac," which is supposed to clean all the accumulated carbon out of the system and which would cost about $150, and which might fix it. Or, he could replace all the spark plugs and wires, which it's about time to do anyway, since it's a '97 and has almost 84,000 miles on it. I told him to do the plugs and wires. I just wish it wasn't going to be around $500.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day Weekend Wrap Up

It's been a nice long weekend. I took off last Thursday and Friday, so it was like a mini-vacation.

Last Thursday I went back up to Wicen's with my AK and AR-15. On my drive up and on my return, I got to see the US Navy's Blue Angels practicing for the airshow held 5/27 - 5/29 at Willow Grove NAS. F/A-18s are cool!

Anyway, the weather was crummy Thursday so I had the range pretty much to myself. I put another 100 rounds of Wolf 7.62x39 through the AK without a hitch. I also ran 55 rounds of Federal XM-193 through the AR-15 using the same 20 round NHTMG mag that didn't work in my AR-180B. It works fine in the AR-15, so I've concluded that my AR-180B probably needs a trip back to ArmaLite. Or, maybe I'll trade it off towards something less finicky.

Friday the 27th was my birthday. I hit the ripe old age of 37. The weather was nice and I took Alexandra to Sesame Place. She enjoyed herself, but was a bit freaked out by the people dressed up in the Elmo, Zoe, and Baby Bear suits. Hopefully by next year she'll be able to get into it more.

Not much doing on Saturday. I wanted to barbecue, but the weather didn't cooperate.

Yesterday we got together with the guys who've I've been friends with since high school, or longer. Now we're all married with kids. We all gather a few times each year to swap updates and bag on each other about the weight we're gaining or the hair we're losing.

Unfortunately, on the way over to my friend's house the "Check Engine" light on my Expedition came on and the truck started running roughly. I turned around and we moved everything over to Judith's car to go on over. I looked in the owner's manual today and the C.E. light means that something related to the truck's emissions controls needs servicing. I'm going to drop it off at the corner service station tomorrow morning.

Today, I got up early and took care of the kids while Judith slept in a bit. Afterwards, I went out to REI and Barnes & Noble, but came home empty-handed. Following that I played around with fire in my backyard, as described in my previous post. We wrapped up the day over at my parents' for dinner.

Finally, let's not forget the real reason for Memorial Day. It's not about barbecues and farting around. It's to remember those who gave their lives in defense of our way of life, our very freedom to barbecue and fart around.

Review of Coghlan's Emergency Tinder & Fire Kit

I posted of review of this along with pics on AR15.com. Linky.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Is encryption software evidence of criminal intent?

Apparently, a Minnesota appeals court thinks so.

As with a lot of hard cases, the defendant in this case isn't especially sympathetic -- he's someone convicted of a child pornography charge. That said, let's step back for a second, especially in light of the fact that

The court didn't say that police had unearthed any encrypted files or how it would view the use of standard software like OS X's FileVault.

In other words, the the mere presence of encryption software -- in this instance PGP -- on a defendant's computer can be evidence of criminal intent. Wow.

As Declan McCullagh mentioned, Mac OS X includes "FileVault," an encryption utility. Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP allow you to encrypt files. Various Linux distributions, such as SUSE, support CryptoFS. And of course there is a plethora of third-party encryption utilities like PGP and GNUPG. Now a court has said that having any one of these programs loaded on your computer can be used as evidence against you in a court of law.

How does this square with the Fourth Amendment right to be "secure in [one's] ... papers, and effects .." Or the Fifth Amendment's proscription against being compelled to bearing witness against oneself?

This court's line of reasoning can easily lead elsewhere. I wonder what other items the court might look at as evidence of intent. It's not too much of a stretch to see it used as another way to undermine the Second Amendment.

As Jerry Pournelle has commented, "But we were born free."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

AR-180B & Bulgarian AK Range Report

SWMBO let me out of the house today so I got to hit the range.

Instead of the range that I've been going to for about the past 10 years, I went to Wicen's Farm, near Doylestown, PA.

I was favorably impressed with Wicen's. The range is wide, with over a dozen well-constructed benchrests. On the right side is a 25 yard pistol range (although you can shoot rifles there, too), while most of it is a 100 yard range. Target frames are portable and there are markers set at 25, 50, 75, and 100 yards, so it can accommodate a variety of shooters. Price is $10 per day ($5 for kids under 12). The only restriction to put a slight damper on my fun was the ban on rapid fire with semiauto rifles. I gather that this is part of a deal with the township and is due to noise. I can live with that.

Anyway, I took my ArmaLite AR-180B and my Arsenal, Inc. SLR-101SG Bulgarian AK. I wanted to test my Bubba brass deflector on the AR-180B and sight in the Bushnell red dot I mounted on it awhile ago.

The Bushnell sight worked well and was no trouble to get sighted in. More importantly, the Bubba brass deflector worked! This is an unsightly lump I epoxied to the receiver abaft the ejection port. I made it from a rubber stopper and now, instead of pelting my face with ejected empties, they fall in a pattern a few feet to my right. I'll need to add a metal face to the deflector so that the rubber doesn't wear away, but now the concept is proven.

Unfortunately, the rifle is still finicky with respect to magazines. I first used a new NHTMG (same as OKay or Colt) 20 round mag. I had a couple failures to lock back on an empty mag, but worse, got a few bolt-over-base failures to feed on the last round in the mag. I then switched to a new 30 round USGI mag. Again, at first it worked fine but I then had a bolt-over-base FTF. This is damn annoying and frankly, is starting to sour me on the gun.

I put 60 rounds of Federal XM-193 Ball through the gun total, in 5 round strings.

Next up was the Bulgarian AK. I bought this last Fall but this is the first time I've had it to the range. This gun is by far the nicest AK I've ever shot, the others being a couple of pre-ban Chinese Norincos, a Romanian SAR-1, and a Hesse/Izhmash Russian AK-103 clone. Fit and finish is on par with or better than the Robinson Arms Veprs. Aside from the high quality workmanship, the milled receiver gives the gun a very solid feel.

I put 100 rounds of Wolf JHP through it without any feeding or ejection issues. During the first 20 or 30 rounds I did have two failures of the trigger to properly reset, which I'm guessing are due to a burr that needed to be worked out. After those two bobbles, it worked perfectly with either the OEM 5 round polymer mag, or a 20 round Hungarian AMD-65 mag (the 20s are my favorite AK mags). I'll consider the rifle truly "AK-reliable" after another 100 rounds without any problems.

The SLR-101 wears a fishgill style muzzle brake. It's hard to judge how effective it is without another rifle without the brake to compare it with side-by-side, but it ~seems~ to work. Recoil felt about the same as my old AK-103, which has an AK-74 type brake.

Weather permitting, I'm planning to hit the range again Thursday, since I'm taking a vacation day.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Defensive Gun Usage Counter Widget for Tiger

Courtesy of Stephen Wenger, I just found out about the Gun Self Defense Widget for Mac OS-X Tiger's Dashboard. It gives tells you roughly how many defensive gun uses there have been in the US since January 1st, drawing from Gary Kleck's work.


Windows Wireless Suckfest Part Deux

Yesterday afternoon I went back out to the golf club where we installed a wifi hotspot. My goal was to get our customer contact's laptop online, along with the PC they have in their pro shop. Both machines are running XP. The laptop has a Linksys Wireless-G adapted, while the desktop PC has a Linksys UBS to 802.11g adapter.

In short, I was unable to get either PC online, using any combination of drivers or configuration utilities. The laptop could see the WLAN but not pull an IP. The desktop didn't even see the WLAN, even though my iBook sitting right next it had very strong signal. Both machines worked OK for a couple of weeks following the initial installation but eventually crapped out, almost certainly due to some "patch" from Windows Update.

I even tried installing my Netgear Wireless-G card in the laptop, using the latest available drivers and config utility downloaded from Netgear. No joy there, either.

Supposedly, the laptop can be used with other hotspots. So, we may go out again next week with different WAPs in tow to see if we can get them online. My concern, though, is that even if we do get them online with say, a Netgear WAP, who's to say some future software update won't kill functionality.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith

One of the nice things about working for an ISP is that sometimes vendors hook you up with cool stuff. Today, it was a pass to go see a private screening of Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith.

FINALLY, Lucas has made a Star Wars prequel that doesn't suck. It's quite good in fact.

Sure, some of the dialog is stilted, but the first three SW movies aren't full of Shakespearean dialog, either. The acting in this one is much better than Episodes I and II (granted, that ain't saying much). Hayden Christiansen as Anakin Skywalker doesn't come across as a whiny little turd in ROTS, while Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi actually looks like he's not ashamed to be in the movie. Samuel L. Jackson does some butt kicking, while Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine/Darth Siddious is back to his evil ways as seen in Return of the Jedi.

Without giving away any of the plot, I'll note that this movie does have one, and it's pretty good. By the end of the movie all the loose ends leading up to Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope, are tied up.

Naturally, the special effects are amazing and if you wait to see it on TV, you'll wish you'd seen it in the theater.

Note to parents: ROTS is rated PG-13 (all previous SW movies were PG.) It's definitely more violent than the other movies, and there are scenes of dead children, so you might not want to take little ones.

I give it 3 out of 4 stars.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

USB to IDE Adapter

This is neat. It's an adapter that allows you to connect an IDE drive via a USB cable to a USB port. Unlike external drive enclosures, you don't stick the drive in a box, you just plug it in. Something like this could be useful for pulling data off an old drive or making a disk image of an IDE drive for forensic purposes.

The advantage that I see over a conventional external disk enclosure is convenience. I wouldn't want to employ it for regular use.

Mac OS-X Update 10.4.1

I just installed the first update Apple released since Tiger came out. You can download it, and read the Apple knowledgebase article explaining it, here. The file is a 37 MB .dmg, which opens to reveal a .pkg that's about 50 MB. That's a lot of stuff for a "patch." If I run into any issues as a result of the upgrade, I'll post about them.

Incidentally, both my connection here at the office and the Apple mirror I downloaded the file from must have huge pipes. It took me only about 10 - 15 seconds to download the file!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I sold out to The Man

You may have noticed the Google ads in the lower right. I figured that they'd be an unobtrusive way to (hopefully) make a few bucks. If they become obnoxious, they'll go.

Testing Apple's Safari and Maill.app

Even though I've had my iBook since December, I can't say that I've really tried out Safari (Apple's KHTML-based browser) or Mail.app, the mail client included with OS-X. So last night I setup Mail to access my building-tux.com and davemarkowitz.net accounts, and I've been using Safari today for browsing.

Naturally, using Mail is taking some getting used to, since it does things differently from Mozilla Thunderbird. For example, the groups the Inboxes for my two IMAP accounts together, and in general, seems to have fewer configuration options. One thing I don't like is that there does not seem to be a way to disable the preview pane, something easily done in Thunderbird. Overall, though, my impression of Mail is positive.

Safari is a good browser. I haven't hit any pages today which it won't render, except for Blogger's composition page. The row of buttons which normally appers above the compose window is mostly absent. Other than that, it's been fast and stable. Of course, I miss certain Firefox extensions like Adblock, which is a killer tool, IMHO. As with Mail, my overall impression is positive, though.

Edit: Wow. I take that back about Safari not rendering any pages incorrectly. This blog looks like shit in Safari!

Monday, May 16, 2005

New scope on the way

Tonight I ordered a Hakko COL-4211 ER 4x21mm scope to mount on my Colt AR-15A3. Thus, I'm one step closer to putting suitable optics on all of my EBRs. I'm doing this because everything else being equal, I shoot more accurately with optics and illuminated optics like the Hakko work better in low light (which is a factor under SHTF situations).

If you've ever seen the short Colt scopes mounted on the carrying handle of an AR-15 or M-16, you've seen a Hakko, who made them for Colt. The Colt/Hakko units have a good reputation for sturdiness and optical quality at a decent price. Yeah, I'd love to have a Trijicon ACOG, but one would cost me as much or more than I paid for the rifle.

You might wonder why I ordered a scope designed to attach to the carrying handle when I have a flattop rifle. One, this way I don't need to buy a mount or a backup iron sight, and should the optic go tango uniform, the irons are instantly usable.

A full report will follow, of course.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Mozilla Thunderbird Inbox Size Limit

I did an emergency site visit yesterday to a client who I migrated over to Thunderbird last month from Outlook Express. He called me Friday explaining that when he tried to POP down his mail, he got a dialog box saying that Thunderbird was unable to write to his inbox.

It turns out that there is a known bug/issue in Thunderbirdbird when the Inbox reaches 2 GB in size, at least when running on XP. Even after compacting the Inbox three times and moving a lot of mail out of it to other folders, the actual Inbox file didn't shrink when viewed in Windows Explorer, and I wound up having to delete it and the associated index file.

To avoid running afoul of this issue, you should organize your mail. Create folders for your saved messages not within the Inbox folder, but rather, under the Local Folders hierarchy. Also, saving file attachments to your hard drive rather than keeping them within email will go a long way to keeping the size of your email folders down.

Friday, May 13, 2005


I've mentioned previously that my preferred office suite is OpenOffice.org. I've used it on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS-X. The Mac version requires X11, which while not a terrible thing, isn't ideal. Since it's not a native Aqua app, it doesn't fit in with the rest of the Mac desktop and doesn't behave like a normal OS-X application.

The good folks behing the NeoOffice/J project aim to fix that. I tried it out a couple of months ago but went back to OO.o running in X11, because NeoOffice/J's font display wan't quite right on my system. I'm not sure if it was OS-related or NO/J-related.

Anyway, this morning I downloaded the latest release candidate, and noticed an improvement in how things display. Before, when viewing a document created on Bagend in OO.o running on SUSE, a lot of words would run together, especially around punctuation marks. I am happy to note that this doesn't seem to be the case anymore with NeoOffice/J. Again, I can't say if the improvement is due to upgrading my system to Tiger, or if its due to improvements in the NeoOffice/J codebase.

I was prompted to try NeoOffice/J again after corresponding with a Mac-using attorney. He's using it in his law practice, running on an iBook with good results. So, I figured it was worth another shot. It's looking like it'll pan out.

Twenty Years Ago Today

On May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb out of a helicopter onto a bunker built by members of MOVE in a house on Osage Avenue in Philly. Several members of MOVE were killed by the blast and the ensuing fire that was allowed to spread until 61 homes were destroyed.

No members of the police department, fire department, or Mayor Goode's administration were ever prosecuted. Wilson Goode went on to win reelection two years later.

Remember, only the government can be trusted with weapons.

Edit: Welcome InstaPundit readers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Forwarding Remote X11 Connections to Mac OS-X

I've become smitten with Mac OS-X largely because it is desktop UNIX that Just Works. Most other forms of desktop UNIX, e.g., Linux or FreeBSD, use an incarnation of X11, such as XFree86 or X.org, for their GUI. One of the neat things you can do is run a graphical application on a Linux or BSD box but have it display on your Mac.

I used this tonight while doing some online bill paying. Rather than saving my receipts on my iBook, I SSHed into Bagend, exported the display over to the Mac, and paid my bills using Firefox running on Bagend but displaying on the laptop. So, when I saved the receipts, they went straight into the appropriate folder on Bagend.

Another point in favor of forwarding X rather than using something like VNC is that performance is somewhat better, in my limited experience.

Rather than repeating what's been said on several other sites, I'll refer you to this article, which explains in a clear manner how to get this working securely by tunnelling X through SSH.

Wireless Site Survey

For someone who's supposed to be in product development I seem to be going on a lot of site surveys lately. This morning I went on one at a five-star hotel in Philly that we're in negotiations with to sell them our hospitality product. In addition to Ethernet-based Internet access in all the rooms, the hotel's IT manager wants a complete wireless overlay.

The equipment we're planning to use is from BelAir Networks. This gear is high-end, not your average Linksys, Netgear, or Cisco. E.g., the units can be used to create a wireless mesh, run RSTP, and can be setup with multiple SSIDs bound to different VLANs. Very cool stuff.

So, today we hauled a BelAir 200 over to the hotel, set it up, and walked around with laptops checking signal strength around the hotel. I used MacStumbler running on my iBook. Based on the information gathered today, another engineer in my department will be putting together a proposal.

Mailserver Followup

I've been running BitDefender for Qmail on my mail server at home for a few days now and so far it looks good. I am seeing fewer worms and spam making it into my Inbox. I'm planning to recommend a trial on my client's SUSE/CommuniGate Pro server as a potential replacement for ClamAV.

And I've also been considering that I may want to move to a "Qmail Toaster" for my own mail server. This one, in particular, looks very interesting.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

BitDefender Antivirus

I would appreciate it if any of my readers who have used BitDefender Antivirus on a mail server would let me know via email or a comment what they think of it. My larget client, running a SUSE/CommuniGate Pro mail server needs a better solution than ClamAV, and I'm looking at BD.


Edit at 2030: I installed a evaluation version of BitDefender on my mail server. We'll see if it makes a difference in the mass of spam/viruses I receive.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

New Apple Powerbook

Not for me, alas, but for my brother Josh. Last night Josh and I went to the Apple Store in King of Prussia and he got a new 12" G4 Powerbook. I went because my employer has a deal with Apple for discounts on their products -- we got 8% off. And since I charged it on my Discover Card I'll be getting cash back, I'll actually make a few bucks.

Anyway, the new machine is very nice. The keyboard seems a little nicer than on my iBook, and it should give noticeably better performance with the better video card and fast hard drive.

We took it back to my house, plugged it in, had Josh go through all the initial setup stuff, and then upgraded it to Tiger, since it came with Mac OS 10.4 on a DVD in the box, the hard disk had Panther on it. The OS upgrade was simple: insert the DVD and double-click an install icon. The machine rebooted and proceeded with the upgrade. It took about 40 minutes; I expect that when I upgrade my iBook to Tiger it'll take a bit longer due to the slower CPU and hard drive.

After completing the upgrade, Josh played around with it for a bit, and after seeing something particularly neat about OS-X, wondered aloud why anyone would use a Windows machine after trying a Mac.




Tuesday, May 03, 2005

If only you knew the power of the Dark Side...

In a way you can. Just read Darth Vader's Blog.

Windows Wireless Suckfest

Well, it wasn't the SMC gateway that was causing the problems out at our customer site. Nor was it the SMC WAPs. It was our old friend, XP's Wireless Zero Configuration.

As I noted yesterday, my iBook worked as you'd expect out at the customer site. I replicated the basic setup today in our lab, but substituted a Netgear WG302 WAP for the SMC WAP. Again, my iBook just worked, while my Dell with the Netgear Wireless-G card choked. But if I disable WZC and used Netgear's drivers and configuration utilities, the same card worked just fine.

I even tested to make sure it wasn't the SMC gateway's DHCP server, by connecting the WG302 to an old Cayman NAT box I had laying around. When using WZC, the connection died after 10 - 15 minutes. With it disabled I was able to maintain a connection for over an hour and pass significant amounts of traffic.

I wish Microsoft would just ditch WZC, since they can't seem to get it to consistently work, and leave wireless configuration to the cards' vendors. Now I'm going to have to call the customer back and explain to him that he's going to have to tell anyone who wants to use the hotspot that they need to disable WZC and use their card's manufacturer's driver and utility. That's going to go over like a lead balloon, because it means they're going to have to find someone to provide client support.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Out of the office today

This morning I did a now rare service call, back at the country club where I helped install a wifi hotspot. Last Thursday our contact there called in and let us know that members were having major problems getting online using the hotspot. So, I setup a site visit for this morning.

Since everything was working just peachy just a few weeks ago, I had figured that what probably was happening was that users' PCs were infected with malware that was hosing the Windows networking components. It turns out I was wrong.

I got onsite with my Dell D600 which has a Netgear Wireless-G card and my Apple iBook with its Airport Extreme 802.11g card. The iBook got online without any problems. The Dell, on the other hand, had problems pulling an IP via DHCP even after associating with the SMC access point. The customer's Dell, with a Linksys Wireless-G card, experienced similar difficulties. So did the laptops of a couple of members who were a couple of rooms over.

The Windows machines kept giving reporting an error contacting the DHCP server.

I verified the configurations of the SMC WAP and our SMC8013 gateway/modem. I rebooted all our equipment, and even factory-defaulted the gateway, then reconfigured it. No dice. For some reason, Windows boxen associating with this WAP or the second WAP we have onsite are having difficulty pulling -- and retaining -- IP addresses. Throughout the three hours I was onsite, my iBook's connection never bobbled.

I'm therefore pretty sure something is hosed up with the SMC8013 gateway. I called in to tech support and requested a high-priority dispatch to get the modem replaced. That was supposed to be done this afternoon after I left. I haven't heard back from the customer so I'll follow up tomorrow.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Time to get back into reloading

When I lived at home with my parents, I did some reloading so I could shoot more for the same amount of money. But since I moved out I haven't had a place to set up reloading equipment, so all I've been shooting has been factory ammo. That's about to change.

Tonight I placed an order with MidwayUSA for equipment to get me setup to reload .38 Special and .357 Magnum. I'm getting:
  • Lee Hand Press kit
  • Lee .38/.357 4 die set
  • Lee primer pocket cleaner
  • Frankford Arsenal (Midway) dial caliper
  • 500 Speer .358" 158 LSWCHP bullets
I'll pick up a toolbox at Lowe's to keep the tools in. I already have a ton of .38 brass and a few hundred .357 cases, so I'll be good to go once I pick up some powder and primers locally.

Range report

Last night I went to the range with my dad. He had his new S&W M-625, while I brought my Ruger Service Six and Old Model Single Six.

I'm finding that the Service Six take a lot more concentration to shoot well than my Smith &Wesson Model 15, due to the DA trigger. But when I get in the groove, it shoots really well. I put two boxes (100 rounds) of Winchester white box .38 Special 150 grain LRN through it. I kept a target with 18 shots fired double action into a hole that's about 1.5" edge-to-edge. Range was seven yards. The more intense practice should pay off in spades when I pick up a S&W.

I only put about 30 rounds through the Single Six. It seems to like the Winchester Super-X Power Points that I was shooting. When I didn't jerk the trigger the shots clustered together nicely on the paper, right near point of aim.

On the other hand, Dad's M-625 has the worst DA pull I've felt on a S&W revolver. And I thought Rugers came from the factory with bad triggers. It's a new gun with only a few hundred rounds through it, but it felt gritty, and it stacks badly. He attributes the grittiness to MIM (metal injection molding) parts. The contrast with the very smooth trigger on my older M-625 couldn't be more stark. If this is typical of new S&Ws coming from the factory, you couldn't pay me to buy one if they came out and used the agreement with the Clinton Administration as toilet paper. At least Dad shoots it well.