Thursday, November 30, 2006

GUI tar for OS X

I just ran across GUI tar on Versiontracker. It's a GUI front end to tar, gzip, bzip, etc. for Mac OS X. I don't have a problem using the CLI versions of these tools, but sometimes a GUI is handy.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Apple Keyboards and Mice

Apple desktop keyboards suck. When I came back into the office yesterday I plugged an G4 keyboard that we had laying around into my iBook. I'd been using the Dell keyboard which I was issued a couple of years ago with my Latitude D600, but wanted an Apple keyboard with the Apple and Option keys in the right place.

I finally gave up on the Apple keyboard after a day and a half of use. The feel is horrible – mushy with poor tactile feedback. The keyboard on my iBook feels better, as does the one on my brother's 12” PowerBook. I found that with the G4 keyboard I was making a lot more typos than normal. The Dell keyboard is back in place.

The keyboards which came with the G5 towers were very similar to the one I just disconnected. I don't know how the board which come with current Macs are, but I suspect they're basically the same.

Mice and keyboards are Apple's biggest weak points. Everything else about their hardware is very well designed. Luckily, Macs Just Work with regular USB keyboards and mice intended for Windows boxen. On a PC keyboard, the Windows key subs for the Apple key, and the ALT key subs for they Option key. Two-button mice work without any special configuration; I've used a Logitech and currently have a Dell mouse plugged into my iBook.

MS Entourage Project Center

Microsoft Entourage for the Mac has a mini-project management module called -- strangely enough -- “Project Center.” It's allows you to keep together various items related to a project , e.g., emails, calendar appointments, tasks, clippings, and notes. The “Overview” screen gives you a place where you can get a quick snapshot of the current status of a project. I've mostly ignored Project Center heretofore, but I'm going to give it a try with a couple of the things I'm currently working on.

If Project Center works well for me, it might be a good fit for a case or practice management solution for my law practice. I use Entourage for my day job only, where I need to connect to an Exchange {spit} server. My personal stuff is handled with, iCal, and OS X's Addressbook. Whether it'd be worthwhile to switch to Entourage remains to be seen.

Edit: OK, this is pretty cool. When you set "Watch Folders" for a project, Entourage does two things. First, in the "Files" tab it gives you a file manager with direct access to the contents of the watched folder, without having to go through Finder.

Second, in the lower right corner of Overview tab for the project, you can click on the Entourage icon to bring you to the project's mail folder in Entorage, or the Finder icon to take you to the watched folder in the Finder. Pretty neat.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back from Thanksgiving, New Ruger Blackhawk

Back from Thanksgiving break. Our holiday went well, hope yours did, too. (As for my non-American readers, hope you at least had a good week.)

Aside from large quantities of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc., I picked up a Ruger 50th Anniversary Blackhawk last Wednesday from Surplus City. I traded in my Century G3 (nothing wrong with it but I wasn't shooting it often) and $20. The Ruger is "used" but there was no sign that it had been fired. It looked factory-fresh.

The Ruger is built on a smaller frame than most New Model Blackhawks, which means it's a bit lighter and generally handles better. Much better than NM Blackhawk .357 I had a couple of years ago. The frame is the old "flat top" style which I find aesthetically pleasing. It has a 4-5/8" barrel and is chambered for .357 Magnum. The grip frame is Ruger's original XR-3 type, which is closer to the grip on a Colt SAA than the later grip types. As a special, limited-production model, Ruger paid more attention to fit and finish than regular production guns. The polish and blueing are better and the action smoother. The trigger is light, unlike most Ruger factory triggers.

It shoots really well. Saturday afternoon Dad and I went to the range. I was a bit shakey but it groups well with the Ultramax .38 Special 158 grain LSWCs I was shooting. It'll be interesting to see how it does with better ammo and/or .357s.

Along with the Blackhawk, I took along my Old Model Single Six. It likes the CCI .22 LR Subsonic HPs a lot. Just for kicks I ran a few cylinders full of CCI CB Longs through it, just to see how quiet they were. Without hearing protection they're a bit louder than a pneumatic air rifle, when fired from the Single Six's 5.5" barrel. They should be very quiet when shot from a rifle. They'd be the ticket for short range pest control where you need to keep the noise down.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Online File Storage

I am glad this is going to be a short week. The past couple of weeks have been a bit rough, due to a sinus infection which degenerated into a cold, of which I'm on the very tail end {knock wood}. Awhile ago I tried a saline nasal rinse similar to what Jerry Pournelle has written about, and found that it really helped my allergies by flushing irritants out of my sinuses. I used it after getting the sinus infection and I'm pretty sure that it shortened the duration and helped me avoid the need to take antibiotics. Flushing out the bacteria-laden snot instead of letting it fester up there in my head worked.

At work I've been evaluating a few different online storage services. I have a dot mac account and I've been using it as a yardstick for comparison purposes. I've found that as long as I have a good fat pipe, accessing files remotely over the Internet using WebDAV can be made similar to accessing them via a LAN or a VPN. For example, dot mac includes iDisk, which I primarily access as just another disk in the Finder. (It's also accessible via a Win32 client from Apple or through a browser, but with limited functionality) Some of the services I'm looking at offer similar functionality for Windows, Mac, and Linux boxen.

Dot mac and one of the other services allow me to create a locally cached copy of the online "drive," which allows me to access those files offline. Then, when I'm reconnected, the cached and online copies automatically sync.

Windows XP includes a similar feature called Offline Folders but in my experience, it sucks. On every machine that I've used it I always get errors and sync failures. And that's on a 100BaseT LAN. Forget about using it over a VPN.

The online storage services also allow you to share files, e.g., by allowing other users to open your online folder or you can email someone a link to a specific file.

I'd like to see this sort of thing become more popular because it could take a major load off of mail servers, which are probably the primary way people transfer files across the Internet nowadays. Email was never intended for this and while it works -- mostly -- it still results in inefficiencies. Shared online folders, if impelemented securely, will be a better solution with the ever increasing adoption of broadband Internet access.

If I don't post again before Thursday, have a happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cross-platform encryption

I want to save digital copies of important documents on a USB stick, but want to secure them against unauthorized access if the drive gets into the wrong hands, because it would be an identity thief's wet dream. The stick will be part of my household emergency kit.

Today I discovered jFileCrypt, a cross-platform encryption/decryption tool written in Java, and which can run on any platform with Java 5. Aside from the fact that it's free (GPL) software, being platform-independent is what I really find attactive. JFileCrypt supports Blowfish so the resulting encrypted file should be secure.

Alternatives include Mac OS X's built-in ability to create encrypted disk images and GPG. Unfortunately, an ecrypted Mac disk image isn't cross platform, and GPG can be confusing, although I've been playing around with it and I'm getting a better understanding of it. For Windows and Linux users, TrueCrypt looks like a good alternative.

Ideally, I'd like to have an ~500 MB encrypted file or folder on a 1 GB USB drive. On the unencrypted portion I'll keep a copy of the encryption utility so that if necessary, I can decrypt the information even if I don't have access to one of my computers. The password I'll be using is long, non-obvious, and has zero significance to anyone other than me.

If any of my readers have suggestions for cross-platform encryption software that would be suitable for this application, please post them as a comment.

(This will be crossposted to my Survial & Emergency Preparedness blog, but this blog gets more traffic so I'm posting it here first.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thoughts on the Aftermath

I am not surprised with how the election turned out. With regard to some local races ...

Ed Rendell beat Lynn Swan for the PA governorship. Maybe next time the Republican Party can pick someone other than a football player as their candidate. Rendell is very popular in Pennsylvania’s metropolitan areas, so the Reps needed somebody with real experience or at least a better-communicated platform to have a shot at winning.

Bob Casey, Jr. beat Rick Santorum for his Senate seat. The intense dislike for Santorum in the blue areas of PA made this no surprise. Casey’s campaign was basically, “I’m not Santorum.” The fact that this was all he needed to unseat Santorum should be a wake up call to the GOP.

Turning to my little part of the state, House District 6 is at Jim Gerlach with 51% of the vote to challenger Lois Murphy’s 49%. This reflects in large measure the increasing Democrat demography of Montgomery County. Formerly solid “R,” as more Dems have moved out of Philadelphia and settled in MontCo the balance is shifting blue. I can see the Dems slowly turning MontCo into a reflection of Philly, in which case it may be time to bail the hell out of Dodge.

In the Connecticut Senate race the message to the Kostards seems to be, “PWNED!”

As of the time I write this, the Montana and Virginia contested Senate seats still hadn’t been decided. If the Dems pick up both they’ll gain a bare majority, while if they pick up one the Reps will keep theirs, since with VP Dick Cheney as President Pro Tempre of the Senate, they’ll still have enough votes to break any deadlocks.

So, on the national level the balance of power has shifted a bit. It looks like we’re going to see two years of gridlock.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Postfix message and mailbox size limits

I learned some more about Postfix today.

This morning I got a call from my client with the new mail server. They were getting an error message when trying to send a file with a 7 MB attachment. Since they send and receive a lot of attachments (of which a 7 meg file would be on the small side) this needed to be fixed. The message they were getting indicated and inability to access a mailbox. I skimmed through /var/log/maillog and found this:

Nov 7 10:48:47 postoffice postfix/local[14046]: 0671D344040: to=, relay=local, delay=33, status=bounced (cannot access mailbox /var/spool/mail/foo for user foo. error writing message: File too large)

I was a bit surprised, since I made sure that /etc/postfix/ did not include any limits on email sizes. After some time searching on Google, it looked like the default value for a mailbox size according to Postfix is 51200000 bytes. I wanted it to be unlimited, so I used postconf to explicitly set the value to 0, for no limit, like so...

% postconf –e mailbox_size_limit=0

... then restarted Postfix.

I then tried to send a 12 MB file from my Gmail account to my test account on the box. I got an SMTP 552 error, “Message too large” back from the box. Again, I skimmed the maillog file and this time came across:

Nov 7 15:51:33 postoffice postfix/postdrop[14200]: warning: uid=48: File too large

Back to Google, whereupon I learnt that the default max message size for Postfix is 10240000 bytes. To fix it I ran:

% postconf –e message_size_limit=0

Again, I restarted Postfix and then resent my test email. This time it went through.

If you want to view the default settings for all the parameters you can configure in, use postconf –d. The output of postconf –d | grep size looks like:

[root@foo]# postconf -d | grep size
berkeley_db_create_buffer_size = 16777216
berkeley_db_read_buffer_size = 131072
body_checks_size_limit = 51200
bounce_size_limit = 50000
header_size_limit = 102400
mailbox_size_limit = 51200000
message_size_limit = 10240000

As an aside, since Postfix on this box is started by MailScanner, I restarted the MailScanner daemon to restart Postfix, like this:

% /etc/init.d/MailScanner restart

... which stops the inbound and outbound Postfix queus then starts them again.

Election Day 2006

Election day. And a sorry one it is. None of the choices that the political machines have offered up to us are especially appealing. So, do I vote Republican, Democrat, third party, or sit this one out?

As tempting as it might be, I do not regard abstaining as a viable choice. It’s a cop out, and the more people that do sit on their duffs in front of the TV the more my vote is worth.

The third parties don’t appeal to me either. The Libertarian Party may as well be on Mars with their platform on border security and the threat posed by Islamists. The Constitutional Party includes some religious dogma in its platform that I dislike. The Greens are a bunch of socialist Euro-wannabes.

That leaves voting for a Democrat or a Republican. I can’t bring myself to vote for any Democrat and therefore strengthen them one iota. The steering wheel of the Democratic Party has been co-opted by left wing extremists who, should they have their way, would take us down the socio-political road that has lead Europe to socialism and which will eventually let it be accurately known as “Eurabia.”

Expanding on that last point, the Dems show no signs of taking the Islamist threat to Western Civilization seriously. Their calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq show that. While Iraq may not have been the best choice for taking the fight to the Islamists, it’s the fight we have. The Dems would have us show weakness in the face of a ruthless, implacable enemy with zero respect for any way of life save their own. Furthermore, they would have us abandon those allies we do have in the Muslim world, leaving them to the mercy (hah!) of the Islamists much as anticommunists in South Vietnam were abandoned in Southeast Asia three decades ago.

To me this is the most important issue facing us. Do we cut and run or stand and fight? Do we ensure that our children and grandchildren have the chance to grow up enjoying freedom or grow up under religious despotism?

Sadly, while the Republicans have shown themselves willing to fight, they haven’t proven themselves all that fit to rule, either. On the Federal level they’ve had control over the executive and legislature for six years, and their failures include:

  • Ballooning deficits resulting from a spending spree that any drunken sailor would envy.
  • Utter failure to do anything significant about our reliance on foreign fossil fuels.
  • Failure to address the Social Security time bomb.
  • Failure to secure the Mexican border.
  • Willingness to let port facilities be run by foreigners.
  • The DHS and TSA. Treating our own people as the enemy do not make us more secure.
  • The PATRIOT Act. Bypartisan stupidity.
  • Iraq – Not the right place and mismanaged since Sadaam Hussein was deposed.
  • Saudi Arabia – The Saudi wahabbiasts need to be held accountable for their moral and financial support of Islamist terrorists.
  • Harriet Miers. WTF?

The Republicans have done some things right:

  • Letting the vile, unconstitutional Assault Weapons Ban expire.
  • Passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Firearms Act.
  • The recent law prohibiting law enforcement from confiscating firearms from lawful citizens in the aftermath of a disaster, when they’d be needed most.
  • Justices Alito and Roberts.
  • Taking the fight to the Islamists instead of waiting around to get hit again. While the wisdom of attacking specific targets is up for debate the fact is that rather than a passive response or crawling to the UN in response to Islamist aggression, the Republicans struck back, and pretty effectively.
  • On the state level, more states now have CCW and more prohibit junk lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

So, when I go into the voting booth later today I’ll hold my nose and pull the Republican lever, because the only other party with a shot of gaining control wants to (a) stick its head in the sand and pretend the wolf isn’t at the door, and (b) take our society down the European socialist road.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Coleman Outdoor Fireplace

Yesterday I found this Coleman Patio Fireplace on closeout at Dick's Sporting Goods and picked one up. I've been wanting something similar for a little while and at $80, this was a good deal. I then went over to Lowe's and bought a bundle of kindling and two bundles of firewood for about $4 each.

It took about an hour to put together using a screwdriver and pliers to hold nuts, and seems pretty well made. It's a good size, about two feet in diameter. I especially like that you can use it as a BBQ grill by taking off the screen and putting the enclosed grill in the base. We have a propane grill but food does taste better when cooked over charcoal. If the weather is good next weekend maybe I'll cook something on it.

After dinner last night we introduced Alexandra and Amanda to the joy of marshmellows roasted on a stick over an open fire. They loved it.

Mail server migration complete

On Saturday I was able to get my client moved over the new mail server that I'd installed a couple of weeks ago. It went pretty smoothly, although I did have to modify Postfix's to allow it to accept email to their domain, rather than just to their

It's amazing how many attempts there are to relay mail through the box. If I login to it and run tail -f /var/log/maillog, and I can sit there and watch relay attempts scroll off the top of my screen. I've done this several times and it just doesn't end.

Theire old box used CommuniGate Pro for mail services. One advantage CGP has is that mail users are different from system users. I.e., you don't need to setup an account on the system for a user to send and receive mail through it (although you can configure it to use system accounts). When using Postfix and Dovecot, and not using virtual domains, mail accounts are system accounts. I wanted to make it more difficult for someone to crack the box. Since my client is using this only for email and system logins aren't needed, I used chsh to change the login shell of each mail user to /sbin/nologin. Now, when someone tries to SSH into the server they get bounced right off.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006



I'm having a frustrating day at work. I have new firmware for two separate cable modem/gateways and our test environment is all fouled up. For some reason RIP isn't working, so if I configure one of the modems to route a RIP subnet I can't get anywhere. The more pressing problem, however, is that our Cisco Broadband Access Controller, which handles provisioning and modem registrator, keeps crashing. Without a reliable BAC the lab is basically non-functional.

The guy who's filling in as our network admin is working on it but for now I'm spinning my wheels.

Side note: This is my 650th post to Blog O'Stuff since I switched over to Blogger in 2004. Wow.