12.26.2008

I'm interested in recommendations for a good travel agent. Let me know if you have any!

12.09.2008

On the computing front, got around to trying a couple of things.

A while back, I set up some simple software to use talk to X10 plugs from the computer so that I could schedule things (such as the Christmas tree turning on and off). I detailed it on this project page.

But now that my windows machines on all hibernate and use power saving features, the only machine that is on all the time is my linux server. I needed to move over the scheduling to the linux machine with some simple cron jobs.

And with this small software called BottleRocket, this was super easy. Now, turning on the Christmas tree (device a1) is as simple as:

> /usr/local/bin/br a1 on

Awesome.

Next up is to fix another issue caused by my windows machines constantly hibernating. Backups.

My current backup solution uses a really sweet piece of software called rsnapshot which uses a backup concept of rsync combined with hard links for super fast and super efficient backups. The only problem is, if the machines aren't on, then the backups fail. I have some of them using Wake-On-Lan (WOL) so that I can wake them up before I back them up, but if one machines takes a long time to backup, then the others could go back to sleep. Also, I have one machine which does not support WOL.

So, I started looking into BackupPC. This is a very highly rated backup system that is open source and very useful in enterprise environments. It supports the same concept as rsnapshot (rsync and hard links to de-duplicate data), but it also is set up to find machines when they are available on the network and back them up, which is what I need.

Long story longer, I fought with this ALL weekend. I actually got everything working with BackupPC. It does what I needed. But, the last part of my backup solution that I need is access to the snapshots so that I can duplicate it to an external hard drive when we evacuate for a hurricane, or just for archival.

This is where the BackupPC finally convinced me to go back to rsnapshot. BackupPC mangles the filenames in the backups. They have a reason for it: it is so they can differentiate between backed up files and their own attrib files. Plus, since their access to the data is supposed to be through the website, this should be a non-issue.

But for me, I don't even need the website. I'm the only one at home accessing backups. Also, in a lab environment, it is nice to let people mount the backup volume as read only and have access to it. With the file name mangling that BackupPC does, this does not work.

So, after an entire weekend of configuring, messing, trying, and testing, I decided to go back to rsnapshot, which of course left me with my original problem. So, I had to add some wrappers around rsnapshot to make it smart.

For the machine that doesn't support WOL, I needed to do something exactly like BackupPC. That is, I need to run a job often and check and see if the machine is available on the network. If it is, and it has been a while since it was backed up, then it needs to get backed up. If it isn't online, or if it was backed up recently, then it needs to get skipped.

In case anyone is interested, here is the csh wrapper script I am using in a hourly cron job to accomplish this. Since it is being run from cron, anything printed to stdout will get mailed to the system administrator email. So, if I detect that it hasn't been backed up in quite a while, I alert the administrator. (NOTE: The script needs a little cleaning... a few of the items in here should be in configurable variables, such as the log file to append to and the machine name. Apologies.)

rsnapshot_wrapper_some_machine.csh:
#!/bin/csh -f

if $1 == "" then
echo "usage: $0 "
exit
endif

##########################################
# #
# some_machine #
# #
##########################################

set current_time_string = `date`
echo " " >> /var/log/rsnapshot
echo " some_machine $1 attempt at $current_time_string" >> /var/log/rsnapshot

if (-f /var/log/rsnapshot_some_machine_last) then
set last_success=`cat /var/log/rsnapshot_some_machine_last`
else
set last_success=0
endif

set current_time=`date +%s`
@ threshhold_secs = 60 * 60 * 23
@ warn_secs = 60 * 60 * 72
@ time_since_last_success = $current_time - $last_success

if ( $time_since_last_success > $threshhold_secs ) then
# Wake up machine
echo "Waking up some_machine..." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
wakeonlan 00:00:00:00:00:00 >> /dev/null
echo "Sleeping ..." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
sleep 35
echo "Done sleeping. Attemping to find via ping..." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
ping -qnc 1 some_machine > /dev/null
if ($?) then
# If it has been more than a couple of days, alert the admin
if ( $time_since_last_success > $warn_secs ) then
echo "some_machine failed. Consider manual run"
echo "some_machine failed. Consider manual run" >>/var/log/rsnapshot
else
echo "some_machine not awake. Exiting..." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
endif
else
echo "Found ping. Attemping to automount..." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
cd /misc/some_machine/
touch foo
echo "Found automount... Attempting backup..." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
cd -

# Run the rsnapshot job
rsnapshot -c /etc/rsnapshot.conf.some_machine $1

# Save the successful backup time
date +%s > /var/log/rsnapshot_some_machine_last

set current_time_string = `date`
echo "some_machine $1 done - $current_time_string" >>/var/log/rsnapshot
endif
else
echo "Not enough time has passed for some_machine." >> /var/log/rsnapshot
endif


Seems to be working. I'm a little less stressed now.

12.06.2008

We recently went to Ziti's in Friendswood and we really enjoyed it. Great food and great service. If you're looking for a good local Italian restaurant, I've got to recommend this one along with Babba Brunos (although Babba Brunos is a bit more expensive).

11.18.2008

I recently got introduced to a "tomato worm". Wow... that is one big caterpillar! And you would not believe how long you can stare at a tomato plant and never see something that big on it. I found a few on my tomato plant. Here is one of the guys I found:


You can read more about tomato worms here.

Also, the first official harvest from the earthbox!!!!

11.02.2008

well, managed to fix the kitchen faucet ($1.97 for o-rings) rather than buying a new one ($89.99). Scratch one item off the list. 934 left to go.

10.26.2008

man... we have been so busy, this blog and the family blog haven't seen updates in a while.

most of my time has been on family stuff, but one thing of personal note is that after five years of owning a Kyocera 7135 with Palm OS on Verizon, I finally got a new phone. I have been looking for a new phone for over a year now, and have been almost depressed at the lack of smartphones and how big network providers cripple them in their interest.

I was already looking at T-mobile as they seem to have a better selection of uncrippled phones, particularly those that include 802.11 wireless (since I want to be able to connect to the internet and not use an outrageous data plan.


Then the T-mobile G1 came along. I must say, I am absolutely amazed at how revolutionary this is. Most consumers might see this as just another phone. But the phone isn't the revolution. It's the entire operating system and development being open sourced. Open... to anyone. Want to use that operating system on another device... then do it! Want to fix a problem on it... do it! Write your own applications and load it straight into your phone??? do it! Here is a page outlining how to download the source to Android and do with it as you see fit:

I think Google realizes that the real power needs to be in the hands of the consumer, and not the big companies and lobbyists, which is why they support open networks, open hardware, open software, and most of all, network neutrality. It is nice to see someone fighting for the consumer. Google appears to be one of the few people doing that.


I got the phone in last week, expecting it to have some issues and be unpolished. But man, it is really slick. It hasn't crashed or glitched on my yet. It really is impressive being the first one out. I think it really does rival the iPhone in many ways, but that isn't why I didn't buy an iPhone. If I wanted an awesome smartphone, I could have bought an iPhone a long time ago. The reason I don't is because while Google might be fighting for a more open environment, Apple is bordering on the most closed environment one could imagine. Try to buy a song in iTunes from something other than the iTunes store. Try to use something other than iTunes to manage your iPod. I could go on and on, but Apple really has turned me off... WAY off.

So, kudos to T-mobile and Google. I am really enjoying my G1 and happy that I have a smartphone that does what I want.

9.12.2008

It's not looking good. And it really hasn't started yet.

9.07.2008

I thought my saints looked pretty good today. I think they need to work on opening up the running came a little more and also on special teams.


Overall, it was a good game. Maybe it is finally "next year" ???

8.30.2008

I'm reading a book that a friend let me borrow called "Riding Rockets" by Mike Mullane. It is really a great book. As an example, take a look at a preview of the first few pages. I was killing myself laughing at some of this stuff.


Working at Johnson Space Center, I get to see the spectrum of personalities within the astronaut corps, and this book really gives some great insight into Mike's psyche and what must be going through their minds. I haven't gotten too far in the book, but I really like it so far.

8.07.2008

Thought this was an interesting interview with Ron Paul about things to come.

7.13.2008

Been busy lately. The plants in the earthbox are doing well.

Also, a friend recommended a pretty neat game for Neo and I called Portal. Here is the trailer for it:



It's basically a puzzle game but with a neat FPS twist. We've been having a blast playing it.

6.02.2008

Worked on trying to get a couple of my windows machines go to sleep when not being used and have the file server automatically wake them up when doing backups or virus scans. Hopefully this will save considerable power. Figured out how to get automount to work for the samba shares (mainly just setting up /etc/auto.misc). My only problem now is that my rsnapshot backup utility lets me run a script before running the entire backup, but not before each host. Changed my preexec script this morning to not only wake up the machines, but to also cd into the directories so that rsnapshot would see them as existing. Hopefully this will work better tonight.

I'm also having problems with my Dell Dimension 9150 staying asleep. I guess I'll just have to keep fiddling with settings.

Also, made my way into the garage for a bit to try and set up the old software for P.E.A.R.T. from long ago. Let's just say we weren't exactly creating a commecial software product!! After I get the software working, I still need to get a drum set, and a bunch of mic stands.

5.19.2008

Got to see Christian's old Geo Prism parked down the street with the people we sold it to a while back. Talked with the owner who said it is still running great and has been a "lifeline" for him.

That felt good.

5.07.2008

Helped a neighbor clear a clogged septic line, and later, helped them install a new toilet flange and a toilet.

I'm not thrilled about the flange installation... it was a bit hokey, but we were running out of options and they were desperate to get their toilet working again. So, we got it on, and its working. I hope it stays that way for a while.

Helping your neighbor feels good. If we can't help those close to us, what are we here for?

4.20.2008

With the economic stimulus checks due to arrive soon, I thought I would just share some of my thoughts on how people might use the money.

I know many people believe that this money is there money to begin with and can do anything they want with it. I just share these points because I believe they highlight areas where people can use the money and achieve some of the things that the money is meant to provide.

I call this Frankie's Pledge. It is basically just a pledge to spend your economic stimulus money in one or more of the following ways:

  • Education/Self-employment (investing in yourself)

    This is never a bad investment, no matter whose money it is.

  • Paying down debt

    As Americans, we have learned to live well beyond our means. As I heard one blues singer put it, we are "Victims of Comfort". Paying down debt helps everyone.

  • Energy efficiency upgrades (home, car, office)

    We obviously can do more to help our economy (and our national security at the same time) by lessening our dependence on oil and non-renewable resources. Consider some of the many upgrades to your home to lower energy usage and utility bills.

  • Services or construction that utilizes local labor

    Utilizing local labor and resources, instead of buying a piece of electronics or a toy made in China, is obviously a much better way to invest in America and your community. Also, new additions such as new insulated windows, or more insulation in your attic, is a great way to use local resources, and lower energy use at the same time.

  • American charities

    Obviously another great use of the resources, especially if it contributes in some way to allowing more people to work, or more small businesses to function.


Take the pledge. Don't go buy a new TV. Invest the money. Invest in your country.

4.11.2008

ok... it looks like slurp is obeying the robots.txt file now... but it looks like it took about 7 hours to take effect.
Man. Yahoo's bot... slurp... is killing me. Their bots have been pounding my site for weeks, sucking down lots of bandwidth.

I decided to make a robots.txt and try to disallow crawling on some of the more byte intense portions of the site. But, after just watching my log for a few minutes, I could see yahoo slurp get the new robots.txt, and completely ignore it! Dangit!

That is annoying. Apparently, I'm not alone. Cmon yahoo... get your stuff together.

3.18.2008

Wow. What a speech. I feel like Barack Obama nailed in this speech many of my feelings on race... that it is often more of a mirror image than people like to admit, and that ultimately, while big government deprives people of healthcare equally, and removes liberties from people equally, and ships people off to war equally... they are quick to point out our differences and use the infighting for their political gain.

I'm posting the full version of this speech, as I don't think selections can do it much justice.

3.17.2008

I feel better now. Managed to recover enough to go on our vacation to see the shuttle launch.

Following the mission, it is neat to see the SPDM alive and kicking. Congrats to the Canadians for another successful delivery.

While I was sick, I can report that my replacement ASUS G2S worked very well. Aside from the initial laptop having problems and having to send it back to ASUS multiple times, I am having a very good experience with the new one so far.

3.05.2008

So, I've been lying in bed for the past few days in quarantine.

I have the flu. Luckily, I am starting to feel better. But, I realize that I am still contagious. Since we are hoping to go on vacation soon, I don't want anyone else in the family getting sick, if I can help it.

So, I am in strict quarantine! Hand washing is paramount! Stay away from the baby! This is not a drill people!

2.05.2008

Wow. What a game. No matter who you wanted to win the superbowl, nobody can say the Giants didn't deserve to win. There wasn't any controversial calls, no big injuries, no huge turnovers... the Patriots just got outplayed - plain and simple. I still think the Patriots of 2007 may be the greatest football team I've ever seen play the game. But on that night, they got beat.

Congratulations to the Giants and all those Giants fans. Congrats to Eli as well. What a game.

1.08.2008

I've been getting quite a few follow-ups to my reports of the Earthlink DNS poisoning. I got a couple of emails from technicians working the issues, both of which found the blog not from my reports to the abuse departments, but from this blog. Kudos to google for making the world's data searchable!

I also got a comment from another user who is still having issues. His comment is here.

1.02.2008

Looks like Earthlink has it fixed now. I wonder if they will let people know they were hacked and should scan their computers. That would be the responsible thing to do.
Ok, since I haven't gotten any responses from the Earthlink security folks, I decided to call the phone number listed via the WHOIS lookup on earthlink's DNS IP. I get the operator who tells me that "The Abuse Department is a voicemail line only, and it is broken right now." Wow.

She passes me to tech support. An Indian lady answers the phone and starts telling me what websites I can go to. I explained to her that I am trying to do her a favor and tell them about a hack that could be affecting thousands of their customers, and was not interested in looking up other websites and doing more work for them.

She had no idea what I was talking about. All she said was thanks for reporting it, and started trying to talk to me about why people do things like this. My god. Earthlink appears to be doing things all wrong.

Who knows what else is being spoofed from their DNS... banks... email login pages... and geez, google-analytics!!! I mean, think about how many websites use that service!
Looks like the Earthlink DNS servers I am on got hacked. I noticed any site I went to, including mine, that uses Google Analytics was giving me a message to install some bogus Active-X control that claimed to be from Microsoft.

Looking into it further, it looks like the DNS for "www.google-analytics.com" is resolving to some bogus Chinese domain, which is serving up a severely hacked version of the urchin javascript file that the real service normally serves. This effectively allows the code to run on every Earthlink customers machine if they visit any site that uses the Google Analytics service.

My primary Earthlink nameserver is "207.217.126.81". Doing a dig on the DNS entry reports back a bogus IP:

ANSWER SECTION:rn www.google-analytics.com. 282 IN CNAME www-google-analytics.l.google.com.rn www-google-analytics.l.google.com. 222600 IN A 74.86.119.87


That IP address is bogus. A dig -x on it reports:

; <<>> DiG 9.2.4 <<>> -x 74.86.119.87
;; global options: printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 1476
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 2, ADDITIONAL: 2

;; QUESTION SECTION:
;87.119.86.74.in-addr.arpa. IN PTR

;; ANSWER SECTION:
87.119.86.74.in-addr.arpa. 80872 IN PTR nuo.cn.

Nice... "nuo.cn". I sent an email to the Earthlink abuse team and also to Google security. Hopefully it gets fixed.

1.01.2008

After whining about bad and horrible business, like Comcast, or Frys, I thought I might write about some of the great businesses that get it right.

A phone call to ING Direct was so refreshing. The person on the phone was very nice and a great help. I love giving them my business. Why can't all customer service be like this???

All of my phone calls to Ameritrade have been good experiences. Even Christian was impressed with their service.

There is a local Italian ice-cream shop called Piccomolo that is run really well, and has wonderful ice-cream. We love going there. It is always clean and well run. The people are always friendly to their customers. The owner goes out of his way to make kids feel welcome. Today, we dropped by, and the owners were cleaning it up, but were closed for New Year's. As we turned around to leave, the owner ran outside and yelled "Let me just fix you one small cup of birthday cake!" Neo was very grateful. He wouldn't let me pay for it either. He rubbed Neo on the head and said "This is a New Year's present. Happy New Year!" I like patronizing businesses like that. I encourage all of you to go there as well if you are in the area.