Archive for the ‘Tech Talk’ Category.

Random Update

I’m in an ADD kind of mood, so here’s a matching entry.

I got sick of moderating comment spam so I upgraded to WordPress 1.5 yesterday and chose a new theme. The latter part was way more difficult than it should have been; since getting this 20″ Dell 2005FPW widescreen LCD last month, most webpages are now huge portions of whitespace (i.e. a couple of centered, fixed width columns perfect for an 800×600 resolution, then huge columns of whitespace on either side). Out of the 50 or so available themes I could find, maybe 5 of them are actually variable width, automatically adjusting to the size of the browser window. Out of those 5, only one of them didn’t look like ass.

We gave our first full-time offer to a female developer last week. We’re now also taking bets on which of us will be the first to be sent to sensitivity training.

I swear my car and I must be cursed or something:

  • Last weekend Bonnie and I were changing the tires on my car back to the all-seasons. Apparently one of the rear ones picked up a screw sometime last year, and I didn’t notice when swapping to the winter tires last November. Just like last time, it’s in a place that’s unrepairable. What are the chances, really?
  • A star-shaped, stone chip crack in my windshield also appeared all of a sudden. Apparently some insurance companies will completely waive the deductable on the ~$50 repair because it’s so much cheaper than the replacement option. Not my insurance company. Sigh.
  • My brakes have started squealing, though it’s a very high-pitched squeal. The next scheduled maintenance isn’t for another 6,000KMs or so, but I guess I should take it in anyway.
  • Apparently the natural resonant frequency for my front bumper matches that of my engine when it idles around 750RPM. Needless to say, there’s a lot of vibration once the car has warmed up and I’m waiting at a stop light. It’s apparently a known issue, complete with a technical service bulletin. I guess I’ll get that fixed along with the brakes.

Money Stuff

  • The University of Waterloo is expected to open a downtown Kitchener health sciences campus, consisting primarily of a School of Pharmacy in September 2007. It will be located at King and Victoria, which is coincidentally just down the street from where we’re living right now. Go one stop light south of the proposed campus and you’ll find the abandoned Kaufman Footwear factory, which is being converted into The Kaufman Lofts. Why is this of interest? Check out the expected demographic for the Pharmacy undergrads at the new school. 85% expected from outside of the Region of Waterloo, 75% female, 90% single, 65% over the age of 23. This is practically a landlord’s wet dream: 1) Mostly out of towners that require housing. 2) Single, meaning they are more likely to rent rather than plant roots and purchase housing in the area. 3) Long term leases (the duration of their undergrad program – 4 years?). 4) Females in their mid-to-late-20’s are not likely to seriously trash the place.
  • Since the beginning of March, stock markets have lost roughly 10% of their value. This has the nice effect of weeding people out such that prices drop low enough that they just give up and sell their positions at a huge loss because they think everything is going straight to zero. In the industry they call this “capitulation”, and it is also the best time to buy. People who are not usually wrong are predicting that this will happen in the next week or two, after a further non-trivial drop. Hopefully you’ve “kept some powder dry” to take advantage.
  • My sister bought me subscriptions to RealMoney and Minyanville as belated Christmas presents. The people that write for these sites tend to be more correct than the general media because there is no conflict of interest (you pay the subscription fee to read what they’re really thinking, rather than what someone has paid them to say). The value is not so much any specific recommendations that they make, but rather skimming through the articles to get a general feel for their sentiments at any given time. Hey, if you don’t have the time to do the work yourself, why not stand on the shoulders of giants? :)

Continue reading ‘Random Update’ »

DMCA, robots.txt, and Rogers Modem Upgrades

I recently received a couple of DMCA takedown notices. The first was from a company called BayTSP, on behalf of Borland. Here’s an excerpt:

Title: JBuilder
Infringement Source: BitTorrent
Initial Infringement Timestamp: 15 Oct 2004 00:18:00 GMT
Recent Infringment Timestamp: 15 Oct 2004 01:33:54 GMT
Infringer Username:
Infringing Filename: 09.11.04.Borland.JBuilder.2005.Enterprise-SHOCKiSO
Infringing Filesize: 953556942
Infringers IP Address:
Infringers DNS Name:
Infringing URL:

Looks like an automated scan and report, considering the complete lack of a reasonability check. Torrents by nature are transient; by the time the takedown notice gets to a human at the ISP, and the ISP gets it to the customer, the “infringer” is long gone. Not to mention the difficulty in proving that any one peer (except the seeder) in a torrent actually contributed a full copy of the “infringing file”.

The second one was from “James Young, Internet Investigator”, on behalf of Microsoft:

Computer program(s):
Windows XP Professional
Windows XP Home Edition
Office XP Professional
Windows 2003 Server Enterprise

Copyright owner(s):
Microsoft Corporation

Infringing material or activity found at the following location(s):

The above location is offering ‘Cracks’ or ‘Product Keys’, intended to circumvent technical measures that control access to Microsoft’s copyrighted works and that protect Microsoft’s copyrights in those works.

Based on the web server logs, this one looks like it was not-automated; found by a real “Internet Investigator” using MSN’s search. Now I know what you’re all thinking; I should have just created a robots.txt file to prevent that directory from being indexed by search engines.

Sure, except for one tiny problem. It’s like attaching a sign to your house listing all the valuables that you don’t want people to know about. It makes the job of a nosy “investigator” much easier, since they can go straight to the goods as long as they know where your “house” is. Want a real example? Check out the robots.txt on Rogers’ web site here. For those too lazy to click, here’s what it contains:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /yahoo/
Disallow: /modemupgrade/

Gee, I wonder why they want to hide /modemupgrade/. Suffice to say, I’ve successfully traded in my Terayon here in K-W for a Motorola DOCSIS, even though I never received an “upgrade letter”.

As for the XP/Office/2K3 keygen, it’s now password protected. Those that need access should be able to easily decipher the instructions when they click on the link.

Doom 3 and Nvidia

Doom 3 came out last week. It looks really nice, gameplay is the same old, and the multiplayer is laggy as crap over broadband. Its release has wider implications though. The short of it is that now looks to be a good time to pick up NVDA shares.

Remember a couple years ago, how Nvidia was the darling of the video card industry and ATI was the red-headed step child? Now remember how those sentiments reversed themselves practically overnight when the NV30 (GeForceFX) cards were released? There’s no consumer loyalty in this industry, and being made up of predominantly teen and pre-teen males, they are strongly succeptible to peer pressure.

It was hard for anybody to understand how Nvidia could charge so much for a card that was late, an underperformer, took up two slots and had a cooling solution as loud as a vacuum. It got so bad that their marketing people even released an unofficial video making fun of themselves.

Well it all makes sense now. Turns out that John Carmack requested certain Doom 3 features be implemented in hardware, which Nvidia agreed to do, architecting the NV30 with his requests in mind. They were then left holding the bag for about 18 months, the length of time that Doom 3 was late coming to market. I guess you could say NV30 was ahead of its time.

Well it’s paying off in spades now. You see, Doom 3 should really be looked at as a technology demo for its game engine. Since Quake, id has been licensing their engines to third party developers, and Doom 3’s engine is no exception. Their only other real competitor in this respect is Epic, with their Unreal Engine 3. However, the first game based on UE3 isn’t expected to be released until 2006.

Which means that the majority of “next-generation” games that will be released in the next couple of years will be based on the Doom 3 engine. Good for Nvidia, bad for ATI. Just skimming review sites and forums, I already feel the rumblings of the tide turning against ATI, which is why I picked up some NVDA shares on Monday @ $9.55. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m moving to Texas!

Well no, not me exactly, just this server. I’ve been running it off my Rogers cable connection since around 1997ish, on a series of low-class Pentium machines put together from spare parts. The connection’s actually been surprisingly fast and reliable, especially since I yelled at them a couple years ago until they finally swapped out my LanCity[1] for a DOCSIS.

Thing is, when it goes down, it usually stays down for a good half day before I can contact someone at home to reset the modem. That downtime’s pretty painful. Yes, I know, I’m pathetic, but I just hate it when things don’t work the way they should.

Plus, it’s every geek’s wet dream to have their own box hosted in a kickass datacenter, complete with diesel generators, banks of UPSes as far as the eye can see, VESDA fire supression, raised floors, constant 20 degree celsius air conditioning, and fat, fat GigE pipes to the Internet. I wouldn’t mind having armed guards behind bulletproof glass as well, but alas, I can’t afford the rent at Q9. Maybe if I didn’t have to eat.

After literally months of research (remember, I don’t make large purchases lightly), I’ve started renting a dedicated server at Server Matrix in Dallas. For a measly US$79/month, I get a Celeron 2.4, 1GB RAM, 80GB drive, and 1TB of data transfer per month.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m light on the blog updates, between crunch time at work and my new toy, there isn’t much left. Some random tidbits:

  • Saw American Splendor last weekend. Wasn’t really impressed. Haven’t read the guy’s comics, but the way everything was portrayed in the movie, he didn’t really seem deserving of all the recognition. With the exception of his cancer, his pain and anguish seemed to be self-imposed or a consequence of his own laziness. I hate people like that.
  • Took advantage of a pre-order pricing mistake at for Angel: Season 3, and got the box set for a measley CDN$38. Threw in a copy of High Fidelity to push the order high enough to get free shipping. Now there’s a decent movie — then again, I’m a sucker for John Cusack in these roles (Grosse Point Blank being another).
  • Watched the extra features on Tim’s Lost in Translation DVD[2]. Sofia Coppola always looks like she’s scowling — no wonder she never made it as an actress.
  • We bought a portable humidifier because the winters are so dry in Kitchener/Waterloo. The thing needs refilling every 8 hours though, and if you let it run dry the owner’s manual warns of famine, war, despair, and other generally bad things. I’ve forgotten to refill it in the morning on at least 4 separate occasions to date. Maintaining this thing’s annoying, I imagine it rivals the kind of concerted effort required to raise a child[3].

[1] Notice how it had the Rogers “Wave” logo on it – now that’s old school.

[2] Haven’t decided whether I’ll buy it yet: 1) When you get right down to it, the movie just looks pretty and has a few gems of dialog. Perhaps not worth $27; and 2) Hube’s theory is that they’ll release a special Academy Award edition of the DVD with more bonus features (since this one seems a little bit skimpy). Guess I’ll wait and see if they do that.

[3] Contrary to what it may seem, I’m not a child hater. I like children, I do the whole diaper thing, have no problems playing with them, and I don’t get mad if I’m drooled on. It’s just a lot of work, and the last thing I need now is more of that.

Polarized electrical sockets

About 4 years ago I was in Germany with my family, visiting an aunt and uncle who live there. My dad had recently bought one of those Digital8 Sony camcorders, which was meant for travel since the AC adapter could handle both 120 and 240 volts out of the box. The shape of the electrical outlets in Germany are the same as in North America, but there was a slight problem when we went to charge the camcorder battery. My aunt and uncle live in an older house, so the electrical outlets aren’t polarized (“polarized” meaning one prong is larger than the other, so non-grounded plugs can only be inserted in one direction).

My uncle goes and phones Sony Germany and asks if its OK to file down the larger prong so that it’ll fit in the socket. They give the OK, which makes sense since it’s AC. Neither prong is really a “positive” or “negative” so to speak, they alternate polarity some 50-60 times per second, depending which part of the world you’re in.

So the question that’s been bugging me on and off since then is why they bother making sockets and plugs polarized in the first place. I’ve periodically googled for the answer, but never come up with anything useful until now[1]. Even then, it’s a single page, only available from the Google cache, and it doesn’t come outright and explain why. It’s like some weird electrical engineering conspiracy to keep the secret of socket polarization under wraps.

The answer turns out to be obvious, but it never occurred to me before because I was always thinking in terms of how DC batteries work. They’re rated for a certain voltage, with one terminal positive, one terminal negative. That doesn’t mean the negative terminal is at 0V and the positive is at 1.5V (e.g. on an AA cell). It just means the difference between the two terminals is 1.5V. In fact, the negative terminal will most likely be floating somewhere above or below 0V, unless it’s pulled to ground by an external source.

So for some reason I always thought of AC outlets in the same way (i.e. the difference between the two “live” prongs would always be 120V/240V, with the positive and negative alternating at 50Hz/60Hz, but neither terminal would ever be guaranteed to be at any fixed value). I thought only the third “ground” prong was guaranteed to be 0V.

Not so. The larger prong is actually fixed at ground, and the smaller prong just carries a 50Hz/60Hz sine wave. So polarization is a useful safety measure because when a device is plugged in but turned off, it would be nice if the switch cut off the lead attached to the smaller prong. That way, any sort of energy storage components (e.g. capacitors, inductors) in the device will not get charged up and cause electrical shock if the device is opened and prodded. Makes perfect sense now.

I think it’s all kind of dubious as a safety measure though, especially in comparison to the direness of the warnings against filing down the larger prong and/or forcing the plugs in “backwards”. I mean, who opens and prods while things are still plugged in?

[1] This time around I was prompted to google for the answer while reading the manual to the APC SmartUPS 1400 that Tim got me for Christmas. The manual kind of touches on how the UPS can detect if the electrical socket is wired correctly.