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Austin, Trails, Bats and Springs

by @ 10:38 am
Filed under: environment,running-hiking — Tags: , , ,

Last week I was in Austin, TX setting up for a show that my company runs. My initial reaction to the city wasn't so favorable but as time went on, the city grew on me. These were the attractions that I was able to catch in Austin.

The trails - The Lady Bird lake has a long and beautiful dirt trail running alongside made for running. I did a number of happy runs and walks on this trail. There are quite of a number of hikers, runners and dog walkers on this trail. Most are pretty young and I assume they're students at the nearby University of Texas. This is a very long trail and hooks into other trails so careful not to get lost, I did.

The bats - Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world. You can smell them anywhere near the Congress Ave bridge. Just before dusk the entire colony from the bridge and the surrounding areas takes flight. It's a surreal scene with a million bats filling the skies like dark clouds. I was lucky enough to witness that event one night. It's something you don't forget.

The springs - Barton springs that is. I went running on the trails the first day and got lost, but that's how I discovered this gem. So on my last day in Austin with not much time to spare I went to the Barton Springs pool and did a 20 min dip. Hardly enough time to enjoy the refreshing cold water, the giant pool and the surroundings and all that for $3.

Austin is a weird town and apparently it prides itself in that. Weirded me out.

Austin Bats

Austin Barton Springs

Hurricane Comes, Server Goes

by @ 11:04 am
Filed under: environment,web — Tags: , ,

Hurricane Irene has come and gone causing much damage and destruction in its path. I ended up with a leaky roof and a power outage. Relatively speaking, that's not so bad, except that the power outage lasted for what it seemed like eternity.

Of course with the outage came the loss of this site as the server went dark. This right on the heels of the recent DDOS attack the site had suffered. The tools and utilities used by people around the world were no longer accessible and understandably that's a source of frustration. It's one of the hazards of self-hosting and not having an huge budget. Why not host the site with a hosting company in a data center, like it was at one time? I am working on a separate blog post on that.

For now, I offer apologies and the hope that the next outage, while inevitable, will be in a distant future. Nothing in life is certain and even the Titans of the web go down occasionally, let alone a small operation like this. I promise my best effort to keep the server up and running.

Thanks for your support and trust,

Robert

 

IT help Needed, Indian Style

by @ 5:06 pm
Filed under: computers,technology — Tags: , ,

It's such a stereotype, but there's a reason why Indians are associated with IT (Information Technology). Obviously Indians are very active in the field and most likely they are biggest ethnic group in the IT industry.

So where does a company go to hire IT people? In this case they post a giant want ad on an Indian grocery store's window. I snapped this photo recently while passing by a nearby Indian store. The sign had me do a double-take.

While the sign is indeed stereotypical, it's posted in exactly the right place. I'm not Indian but I do shop at the Indian store and I am in the tech field. I bet many more IT people shop there too.

Block China Web Traffic

by @ 10:16 am
Filed under: hacking,internet,web — Tags: ,

Sometimes I'm so tempted to to do this: Block China Web Traffic IP Addresses and Chinese Hackers.

Of course if everyone blocked everyone else indiscriminately that would go against the spirit of the Internet.

What's needed is for the ISPs to get off their lazy and greedy butts and block attacks at their sources.

Certainly a bunch of zombies (unwitting users with infected machines) will be caught in the dragnet too, but they can be contacted and urged to clean up their machines before they're allowed back on.

It'll be good for us, it'll be good for them, it'll be good for the Internet.

SYN Flood DDOS

by @ 11:13 pm
Filed under: hacking,internet — Tags: ,

To the couple of visitors of this website, I'm sorry for the 2-day outage earlier this week. It was a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack and I never found out who was behind it and why.

The problem started in the early morning hours with an outage alert from the remote monitoring service. The site was down and the server wasn't even responding to SSH login. Jumping directly on the server, I could already tell something was wrong by the loud sound of the fan. Indeed the load was in the 40's when it usually hovers around 0.25 and inbound traffic utilization was at saturation levels.

Realizing that I've been wrong on blaming server issues on attacks, I did what every server admin does at the first sign of trouble, reboot. No dice, the server load soon went sky-high again. So I blocked outside connections to apache and started running some simple tests to check the server health. CPU, RAM and IO checked out fine under some local test load. No, this was something else. The logs finally indicated the problem:

-- possible SYN flooding on port 80. Sending cookies.

Looking at the connections (using netstat), there were hundreds of SYN_RECV records hanging around from various IP's. Obviously the server was under a SYN flood DDOS attack. Using iptables to block the offending IP's was no help. Most likely the ip addresses were fake and combating them was like fighting a tidal wave.

The attack continued throughout the day with no relief and finally in the evening I contacted my ISP to see if they can rescue me. I didn't have much hope, but I almost lost it when the technician asked: "Huh? You have a sink flow attack? Could you spell that?" So much for tech support.

My best option was to lay low and take the abuse and hope the attacker(s) will get bored and move on. And that's exactly what they did. Almost as fast as it started, the attack stopped in the wee hours of the second day and I could finally bring the server back online.

Moral of the story, DDOS attacks are tough enough to combat for big shops. Small guys like me don't stand a chance against them. The best solution is to wait them out and hope the attacker moves on. Also small sites aren't lucrative enough to get expert support from their ISP's. The best that can be hoped for is to ask the ISP for a new set of IP's and still there's no certainly that'll stop the attackers.

As for this attacker(s) and their intent, it remains a mystery. Perhaps it was a script kiddie rolling through a bunch of victim hosts, or someone testing an attack platform or algorithm, or a mistake specifying a domain or IP in the attack vector. This site is just too small for bragging rights or boosting egos. There are much tastier targets out there for attackers to prove their expertise and flaunt their skills. Then again why use your smarts to attack sites instead of doing something constructive?

 

Star Trek Blood Donation

by @ 11:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After donating a pint of blood to the Red Cross a few days ago, I got a blue mark on my forearm that looked eerily similar to the Star Trek insignia.

As a trekkie, I was only too happy with this temporary tattoo.

Of course it didn't last long and it has pretty much faded now. Oh well, there will be other blood drives.

Patents attack Android

by @ 2:29 pm
Filed under: financial,google,law,microsoft,technology — Tags: ,

I'm not naive to the point of believing that Google is all good and no evil, but in this case I side with Google.

What the big patent trolls like Oracle and Apple and Microsoft are doing by burying Android in lawsuits and threats is stifling innovation and taking away choice from consumers.

I'm all for protecting new ideas, but patents are no longer used in the way they were envisioned. They no longer protect ideas and innovation, but are used as weapons against anyone who can be leeched for money. And the leeches are typically not the original patent holders either, but sleazy patent trolls and patent mills.

Official Google Blog: When patents attack Android

Internet Explorer IQ

by @ 10:19 am
Filed under: google,microsoft,social,web — Tags:

Tying browser usage to intelligence makes as much sense as linking hair color to sleeping habits. No doubt someone will come up with that study at some point too.

So going by this study, a few years back 90% of the world was stupid and suddenly most people smartened up by switching away from IE.

And no, I'm not switching to Opera just because its users were shown to have higher IQ. I'll continue using Chrome and remain stupid.

Are Internet Explorer users dumb?

Mexican Coca-Cola

by @ 10:01 pm
Filed under: marketing,social — Tags: , ,

When I was a kid growing up in Iran, one of my favorite places to go was to my grandparents' on weekends. Sometimes they'd would order out Chelo-Kabab (lamb kebab with rice), and while many Iranians like their yoghurt drinks, for us no soft drink could complement Chelo-Kabab quite like an ice-cold Coke, or Koka, as we used to call it there.

Years have passed, both of my grandparents have passed away and I haven't had the taste of that Coke ever since. The Coke we have here in America is nothing like that. It comes in plastic bottles or metal cans, as opposed to glass bottles, and it's made with high fructose corn syrup, instead of real sugar.

A while back someone mentioned to me that Costco sells Mexican Coke that uses real sugar, and last week I finally bought a case from a nearby Costco. The bottles looked like the ones I remember from my past. But how about the taste? I stuck a bottle in the freezer, allowing it to chill for a while before getting a taste. It didn't disappoint. At first swig, I was transported to my grandparents' home.

If you ever have the chance, try the Mexican Coke. It's not a myth, it really does taste better than the American Coke.

 

Software Patent Sharks

by @ 2:46 pm
Filed under: business,computers,law,technology — Tags: , ,

This is superb reporting by NPR (link at bottom) on the murky business of software patents and how the real spirit of patent and copyright laws have been subverted by patent mills out to make a quick pile of cash.

These days greedy companies get patent protection for the most ridiculous and obscure algorithms. Most developers behind these patents don't even know what the patents actually cover. The patents are then sold to patent mills, which are front companies with a few lawyers and accountants collecting patents.

The patent trolls then go after anyone they deem to be a good target to extort money from, using frivolous lawsuits. From the thousands of patents in their lists, they can cash out with one or two, and that's what keeps this repugnant but lucrative practice alive.

The fact is that just about any idea anyone can fathom is covered in one way or another under one or more patents, mainly in vague general terms. That is why software is under siege now. Any entrepreneur who would dare conceive and implement a new product with a modicum of success, will inevitably be in the cross-hairs of patent lawyers.

And so we give yet another boost to countries like India and China and extinguish innovation in USA. I'd like to see how far these sleazy patent sharks can get in those countries.

Intellectual Ventures And The War Over Software Patents

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