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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe

This year, like last, my wife and I baked for our friends, and I came across perhaps the most simple and satisfying peanut butter cookie recipe. Which is perfect for me, cause I love peanut butter cookies...

1 cup of peanut butter
1 cup of tightly packed light brown sugar
1 Egg.

Roll dough in balls, about the size of a tablespoon, place on uncreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Cook on 350° for 8 to 10 minutes. Says it makes 3 dozen cookies, but I made fairly small ones, about the size of an Eisenhower dollar, and it made around 25. ...I also ate a few rounded dough balls.

Could that be more simple?

Oh, I almost forgot, your are supposed to squish the balls with a fork, making a cross pattern. Otherwise they don't taste right.

Opinion vs Fact

Variety is often said to be the spice of life. There are so many choices for us to make, what to wear, what to eat, who to love, who to hate, who to talk to, who to ignore, what to think... and it's all based on our own opinions, which we're all entitled to. The great mysteries of the world are even up for debate based on opinion.

Occasionally, I'll find myself discussing something with someone, and I'll actually feel comfortable enough to express my opinion, but generally I like to keep my opinions to myself. It's not that I feel that my opinions are offensive or that I just don't feel like sharing, but because it's very irritating to me when someone states their opinion as fact, and in my experience that seems to be something that most people find difficult to avoid.

We've all been in conversations that start with a statement like "Boy, I could go for a coffee" and end with someone saying "Coffee is disgusting!".

Not only do I disagree with that statement, but the sentiment as well. I happen to love coffee, and I'm sorry if you don't. However, calling it disgusting as though it's a well known fact not only suggests that I am wrong or not entitled to my own opinion, but that I too must cause you some great displeasure by the simple fact that I like that by which you are disgusted ...

Yet, I've never seen such a person actually cringe or shudder when being around me while I drink coffee, even after exclaiming that they hate it, and it's disgusting. Were they lying? ...No, they weren't.

What I think is happening in this case is we've been told since early childhood that we're all entitled to our opinions and so encouraged to share them, that we don't think before we express them as if they are law. Further, people who are on the receiving end of such statements are more apt to exaggerate their own opinions, in an attempt to convey that they disagree, and that their opinion is dominant. It's the "Is too!" - "Is not" argument we hear children get into, only a little more complicated.

I think if we tell our children that their entitlement to their opinions does not grant them the right to disrespect those of others, we'd be much more well off.

Shopping

I've never really enjoyed shopping, and as a kid, I really didn't have much trouble avoiding it. That all changed of course when I met the woman who would one day be my wife. She liked shopping very much, even when we had no money... She just liked to look. Still does... I disliked that even more than having money in my pocket and an objective. ...And still do.

I don't think it's any real secret that shopping is historically more interesting to women than men. I believe it goes back to the caveman days when the men went out in small hunting groups, and had to be quiet so as not to scare off their prey. They'd move in, kill it, drag it home, end of story. Meanwhile women would meander through the berry bushes and gather things, looking for only perfect berries, and chat with their friends. They'd have the kids with them because the likelihood of the kids getting killed by a berry bush was far less than whatever the men were killing.

Unfortunately (and fortunately) things have changed, and we men no longer have to (or get to) go kill dinner in groups where you can be quiet without your companions thinking you're mad at them. There are things we need that no longer be legally gotten except by going into the retail stores.

If it's possible, we'll head in alone, grab what we need, and hit the road. Even if that which we grab isn't exactly the perfect specimen of it's kind, it's good enough. I believe this to be something akin to choosing the second biggest mammoth, because bringing down the biggest would be more of a pain in the ass, and wouldn't feed the family any better than the one of lesser size. The cost outweighs the benefits, you see. My wife tends to disagree.

Getting back to the browsing through junk we don't need and can't afford, I would frequently find myself thinking "OK, good, I think we're done" only to find that there was another stop along the way that had to be made. I'd never really noticed just how insidious the retail store designers are...

We'd walk into any given store. let's say a place like sears, and there'd be a display set up with items that are historically impose-items for women. Pocket books, or shoes. Just after there is the women's clothing, which is no small area. It almost always completely dwarfs the men's section. Designing clothes for women should be an Olympic sport, I think. For me, there's Kids, Husky kids, and Mens. There's usually a big men's section, but the sizes go from in numerical order through kids, and then men's goes small, medium, large, extra large, and for anything bigger, you just add more Xs to the beginning. Women have Kids, Juniors, Regular, Missus, Petite, Plus size, Maternaty... too much to keep straight.

I was recently in the Disney store, and noticed that out of the twelve display stands, nine of them were covered in pink. Boxes, dresses, dolls, etc... All pink. The other three displays were of toys that may appeal to either a boy OR a girl.

Once out of the Womens clothes, is the baby clothes. Nine out of ten times, a women will browse through the baby clothes, even if they're not pregnant, don't have a baby, and don't know anyone with a baby. They'll stop and wonder if they know anyone for whom they could purchase these things. I've seen women consider buying baby clothes for people they haven't seen in a decade, but heard they were pregnant, even if they claim to hate that person, and everything that person stands for. While my rational side says this is crazy, I have to believe it has to do with the overwhelming urge to care for kids, regardless of whose they are.

Making it out of the baby clothes, you generally come to home goods. Plates, flatware (which until I was married I thought was just called "silverware".)  glasses, small appliances, etc. When in this section I find myself saying "Sure, it's got allot more buttons than ours, but... it makes coffee... Ours makes coffee, and we already own it." or "why would these forks get food to my mouth any more effectively than the forks we have at home?

Finally, after going through all of this, there comes things like tools, auto parts, ride-on mowers, etc.

Then we leave there, and have to brave the jewelery section.

However, as nice as I think it would be to have the men's section and the tools and such right by the door, I am willing to be the effect on our economy would be crippling.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving

By far my favorite holiday. Growing up, just about any holiday would be enjoyable for me, but Thanksgiving is the one that sticks out in my mind far more prominently than the others. Perhaps it's the smells associated with the meal. It is said that the association between memories and the sense of smell is stronger than that of the other senses.

To me, Thanksgiving was a day off from school, usually following an extremely early release day, translating into a four and a half day weekend. Quite the mini-vacation for a grade schooler. Family would gather and we'd watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special, I'd follow that up with the Garfield special, and any other specials I could find. The meal came, and we'd eat Turkey and all the fixings, drink cider, and follow up with some pie.



Afterward, the grown-ups would find a quite place to slip peacefully into a food coma, and I'd return to my video games. The next few days would consist of turkey salad, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, and pie remnants although that was usually gone sooner than the rest.

As a child, Thanksgiving was really a chance to have a great meal, watch specials and goof off for several days.

Toward the end of my father's life (He died in 94, a cancerous tumor that started in his tongue) he found it difficult to eat. Favorite foods were no longer an option. Some things we could blend for him, which we did on Thanksgiving; a turkey-gravy shake in a small coffee mug I'd given him as a Christmas gift the year before. At the time, he was bed ridden, and the mug was easier to hold than a bowl. He enjoyed it immensely. When it became impossible to eat anything with more texture than a bowl of oatmeal, he'd express pleasure in simply smelling his favorite foods cooking.

I remember thinking it must have been torturous to be able to smell these foods cooking, knowing you wouldn't be able to partake.

The first Thanksgiving after my father had passed was strange. Things had changed. He'd been gone roughly nine months, and day to day life had only just started to feel normal. The thought occurred to me the moment I got up that morning to the smell of the first stages of Thanksgiving preparations. There'd be no turkey frappe this year.

I took the old coffee mug from the cupboard and examined it while I sat at the kitchen table in front of a pan of stuffed mushrooms that were waiting for their turn in the oven. It was a narrow eight ounce mug, suited for a small amount of coffee, with a serene painting on it of a duck pond. I remembered picking it out for him while Christmas shopping, thinking that it had no real symbolic meaning to him, but it did for me.

One of my earliest memories of being a child old enough to enjoy time with my father, yet young enough to have not appreciated it at the time, we'd walked around the Brookline reservoir. A family of ducks had come walking along in our path, two large, and a half-dozen or so little yellow chicks. The rest of the walk was mostly my father answering questions I came up with. Why don't ducks get wet. Why was one of them green about the head. How do ducks float. Why don't they get cold in the water. Typical kid stuff.

I had no idea that this mug that tugged so gently at the strings of my childhood memories would soon come to symbolize even more for me. Calm water, reeds bending gently in a light breeze, ducks placidly floating along. There was a peace in the scene on this mug. It became symbolic to me of the peace that had eventually my father had found.

The years after, I always thought back on Thanksgiving mornings to the mug, filled with thick gravy and bits of turkey breast. Thanksgiving for me now represents comfort for myself and loved ones, fond memories, and Peace.

Ironically, some of the same ideals that were professed during the first Thanksgiving, right before the New Englanders started to force the natives into small reservations and impose their "Civilization" all the while complaining that they were being treated unfairly by England.

Perhaps that's a post for another time though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's a blacklist and why am I on one?

The internet: a bustling cloud of completely organized chaos. The internet has the potential to send information to the waiting eyes of countless recipients, all in a matter of seconds. Coordinate your schedule with others, catch up on the latest gossip, ask an opinion, hire someone, fire someone, break up with someone… perhaps find a suitor for your available female Ukrainian friends? Maybe sell some Viagra imported from Canada? Get to know an Ethiopian ambassador who wants to transfer umpteen-jillion dollars into your bank account right away.

As I stated before in a previous article, around 70% of the estimated 210 billion emails that were sent in 2008 were spam. As you can see (and probably have witnessed first hand) spam has become somewhat of a problem. So what’s a little junk mail, right?

If we were talking about the post cards and sales circulars you get at home it would be one thing. The trouble with electronic junk mail is that it’s being used on a large scale to spread viruses and other malware.

Today’s Spam filters communicate with companies whose job it is to keep a constantly updating list of known and suspected spammer IP addresses. The filters download these lists and stop messages that come from those sources. Some of the most widely known of these companies include SORBS, Spamhaus, and CBL.

Unfortunately there are a number of reasons that you may end up one day finding yourself listed on one of these blacklists, and it may or may not be for a legitimate reason.

If you find yourself receiving non-delivery reports when you send emails to recipients who have historically always been able to receive email from you, you should check to see if you’re listed.
One way to do this is to go to mxtoolbox.com, type your domain name (usually the part of your email address following the @) in the search field and do an MX Lookup. The screen that pops up will show you where the internet gets your mail from. There’ll be a link that says “Blacklist Check”.

The Blacklist Check link will bring up a list of over 100 blacklists, and will let you know if you’re listed on any of them. Clicking the links to the lists you find yourself on will usually bring you to a place where you can request de-listing.

But why?
Before requesting de-listing, you really ought to find out why you’re listed. If you request a de-listing before fixing the problem, you’re likely to find yourself right back on the list again.

Malware
Spambot infections are a common reason to be listed on a blacklist. This is malicious software written for the purpose of searching through your address book, and sending spam messages out to those recipients, in the hopes of spreading the infection by tricking the recipients into clicking links or running programs.

This can generally be detected by reviewing your firewall logs to see if there are machines sending excess traffic on port 25, the default SMTP port. Generally speaking a user will have this problem in conjunction with other such problems as unsolicited browser pop-ups, warnings that there are infections, or odd computer behaviors. If your firewall does not keep verbose logs, start with machines having these kinds of problems.

Some malware will search through an address book and choose a recipient whose name it will then use for its emails. In other words, if John Smith’s computer gets infected, and he’s got my name in his address book, that infection could then start sending spam to all recipients in his address book that look like they came from me. This is known as spoofing an email address, and can result in my getting blacklisted.

Running MalwareBytes’ Anti-malware or other such malware scanners will usually remove these infections.

If you host your own email server, a good way to stop this and prevent it from happening again is to lock down your firewall, so that only your email server is allowed to send emails to the internet. You can then configure email traffic monitoring, or a spam filter that filters outbound emails to check all messages as they go through.

You can also have a third-party such as MXLogic or Postini filter outbound traffic, and lock down your firewall to only allow email traffic coming from the email server to only that vendor’s external IP addresses

If you use a host for your email and connect via POP3, this method will not be viable for you. Be sure to consult your network administrator if you’re unsure how you send and receive email.

Note: A mis-configured firewall can cause traffic to be delayed or stopped altogether. If you’re not sure of exactly what you’re doing, you should always consult with a knowledgeable source before changing firewall settings.

IP Blocks
Companies who make their money from spam emails will sometimes buy several external IP addresses at the same time. These are called IP blocks, and will be sold as a range, say for example from xxx.xxx.xxx.100 to xxx.xxx.xxx.150. That company will then use these IP addresses to host email servers from which they will then send spam.

The blacklist companies will notice an increased amount of spam from all or most of these IP addresses, and just add a whole range to their black lists. Unfortunately over time as IP addresses change hands, this can cause a legitimate company who has the misfortune of being assigned xxx.xxx.xxx.121 to become blacklisted.

Even more unfortunately there’s really no way to avoid this other than sheer luck.

Other
If the reason you were blacklisted is something other than these two common reasons, you may need to contact your network administrator, your email host, your internet service provider, or all of the above.

Now that you’ve found out why and remedied the problem, you can go ahead and request a de-listing. Sometimes you are removed in a matter of minutes, but changes like this can sometimes take several days to propagate throughout the internet.

Prevention
As the old saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Our vendors realize that this is a problem. As I said earlier, port 25 has historically been the default port for email traffic, and thus a common path for malware and spam to take. Some companies such as Verizon are shutting down port 25 to all traffic from sources with dynamic IP addresses. If you’re not sure whether you have a dynamic IP address, consult your network administrator. While this isn’t exactly a blacklist, the results are similar.

Don’t be fooled by spam. Bill Gates is not going to share his money with you for passing a chain letter. You’re probably not really pre-approved for a mortgage from a company you’ve never heard of and never contacted. The shipping and handling on a mail order bride is probably too much anyway. Any email that seems too good to be true probably is.


Invest the time and make sure you’ve done everything you can to help prevent this from happening to you. Always ask a knowledgeable source if you’re at risk for email blacklisting. Get a spam filter, even though you don’t have a spam problem. Get a professional grade firewall, and get it configured by an expert. Make sure you have up to date Virus and Malware protection, and exercise cautious computing. Don’t wait until this becomes a problem, resulting in delayed or denied communications or loss of revenue.

Windows 7 Burger from Burger King

I actually feel a little ill after watching this...


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Boston Driving

This is an old email I got about ten years ago. Found it amusing, so I thought I'd share:

The geographical center of Boston is in Roxbury.


Due north of the center we find the South End.

This is not to be confused with South Boston,

which lies directly east from the South End.

North of the South End is East Boston and

southwest of East Boston is the North End.

Backbay was filled in years ago.

Basic Rules for Driving in Boston: (Subject to change at any
time)

Boston is often acclaimed as the most exciting city in America in
which to drive. Who would argue? Herewith, for newcomers and visitors, are
a few basic rules of the road for driving in these parts:

  • To obtain a general idea of how to drive in Boston, go to a Celtics
    game and carefully watch the fast break. Then get behind the wheel of
    your car and practice it.
  • Never take a green light at face value. Always look right and
    left before proceeding.
  • When in doubt, accelerate.
  • Very generally speaking, the intransigence of the Boston driver is
    directly proportional to the expense of his American-made car, and
    inversely proportional to the expense of his foreign-made car. But in
    applying this formula, bear in mind that they are all more or less
    intransigent.
  • When on a one way street, stay to the right to allow traffic to pass
    coming the other direction.
  • Drivers whose cars sport "I Brake For Animals" bumper stickers may
    brake for animals, but they may not brake for you. Watch it.
  • Teenage drivers believe they are immortal. Don't yield to the
    temptation to teach them otherwise.
  • Taxicabs should always be given the right of way, unless you are bent
    on suicide.
  • Never, ever, stop for a pedestrian unless he flings himself under the
    wheels of your car. Most multicar pileups are caused this way.
  • The first parking space you see will be the last parking space you see.
    Grab it.
  • Learn to swerve abruptly. Boston is the home of slalom driving, thanks
    to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which puts potholes in key locations to
    test drivers' reflexes and keep them on their toes.
  • Never get in the way of a car that needs extensive body work.
  • Double-park in the North End of Boston, unless triple-parking is
    available.
  • Always look both ways when running a red light.
  • While it is possible to fit a 15-foot car into a 15-foot parking
    space, it is seldom possible to fit a 16-foot car into a 15-foot parking
    space. Sad but true. Don't even think of finding a 20 ft space.
  • There is no such thing as a shortcut during rush-hour traffic in
    Boston.
  • Rush 'Hour' generally only lasts from 7am until 8pm.
  • It is traditional in Boston to honk your horn at cars that don't move
    the instant the light changes. Color doesn't matter.
  • Never put your faith in signs that purport to provide directions.
    They are put there to confuse people who don't know their way around the
    city. And to confuse those who do but are detoured by the Big Dig.
  • Use extreme caution when pulling into breakdown lanes. Breakdown
    lanes are not for breaking down, but for speeding, especially during rush
    hour. Breakdown lanes may also end without warning causing traffic jams
    as people merge back in.
  • Never use directional signals, since they only confound and distract
    other Boston drivers, who are not used to them.
  • Similarly, never attempt to give hand signals. Boston drivers,
    unused to such courtesies, will think you are waving them on to pass you.
  • The yellow light is not, as commonly supposed outside the Boston area,
    a signal to slow down. It is a warning to speed up and get through the
    intersection before the light turns red. As a result, yellow lights only
    light for a quarter of a second.
  • Seeking eye contact with another driver revokes your right of way.
  • Never pass on the left when you can pass on the right. Sidewalks are
    optional.
  • In making a left turn from the right lane, employ the element of
    surprise. That is, do it as suddenly as possible, so as to stun other
    drivers. Crossing entire 4 lane roads in one block always gains the
    respect and salutes.
  • Speed limits are arbitrary figures posted only to make you feel guilty.
  • Whenever possible, stop in the middle of a crosswalk to ensure
    inconveniencing as many pedestrians as possible.
  • Remember that the goal of every Boston driver is to get there first,
    by whatever means necessary.
  • Above all, keep moving.

    And good luck. You'll need it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Comcast digital converter boxes

Comcast actually managed to sneak up another step on my annoyance chart this week.

I'm sure by now everyone's familiar with the movement to digital over analog. Well, if you've got Comcast for your TV services, you need to take it a step further. They require an additional converter box for any TV into which the cable was plugged directly.

This box is small, about the size of a sandwich. Best of all, it's free.

I called Comcast and told them I had Coax coming out of the wall and plugged straight into the back of the TV in two rooms of the house. They sent me two boxes. Pretty simple.

On the first of this month, one of the boxes stopped working correctly. For some reason, I was only getting about 15 channels, and they were spread far apart, starting around 234 and ranging all the way out to the 700s...

I called Comcast. Tech support sent a couple of reset signals which did nothing. They told me to keep the box off for thirty seconds. This too did nothing.

The conclusion was that the box was bad, and I was presented with two options.

1 - I could take the box to a Comcast service center and have it switched out for free.

OR

2 - A tech could be dispatched to the house to replace this box (and I quote) "you will never have another problem again".

I was very tempted to go this route just so that when I eventually have another problem, I could call back and complain... However, this would cost me $25!

I said "Hold on. So let me get this straight... I get the box for free. I've had it for a week, and now it's not working, and to have someone come fix this box that I was sent for free, would cost me money. How about just sending me another box for free, and I'll return this one?"

"No sir, I cannot do that."

Makes me wonder if I might be able to just find a third TV to report and see if they'll send me another free box and just use that one.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Elbows on the table!

Garth Brooks said "I'm not big on social graces" in his song "Friends in Low Places". This is one of my favorite quotes. I too, am not big on social graces.

Don't get me wrong, I like to think I'm well mannered when the situation calls for it. I believe in saying please and thank you. I believe in giving before taking. I am a huge fan of these things, and I'll be the first to agree that there's far too little of it in the world.

I find it interesting how things have changed over the years. There are some things that are considered bad manners, primarily by people over 50, that just make me wonder why?

For instance:

Elbows on the table.
I never understood why elbows on the table was such taboo.

I never had to observe this rule as a child, and hadn't heard of it until I ate dinner at a friend's house sometime around the age of ten. For the sake of this post, we'll call my friend "Paul".

The family was a well to do, young (early 30s) married couple with three kids. Very catholic. They would be made to hang their head in shame when they used the world "god" in anything that wasn't a prayer.

Paul and I had just been called in from an afternoon of goofing off in the back yard. I was invited to dinner and graciously accepted.

Paul's father had just gotten home, set his briefcase at the foot of the stairs and loosened his tie. We sat down at the table and I reached for my fork.

Paul swiftly kicked me in the shin. I looked up and noticed that they were all folding their napkins to place on their laps. I didn't even notice I had a napkin at all. I followed suit.

I was now a little gun shy, so I sat still and watched. They put their hands together and began to pray. At the time, I was an alter boy (hold the jokes please) so I followed suit again. Interestingly, I had never heard someone say "Grace" before either.

The meal went on as normal, or at least as far as I could tell. That is, until Paul was scolded for having elbows on the table. "But he's doing it," Paul ratted me out. It was explained that I was a guest. I was very puzzled by the interaction, but took my elbows off the table regardless. The dinner finished in silence.

We cleaned up and went to the living room to play. I heard talk from the other room, and listened although I knew I shouldn't. Paul's mother was explaining to him that I didn't know any better than to have my elbows on the table, and that it was bad manners.

I was baffled. I knew there were things that were simply unacceptable at the dinner table. Certain things were not discussed at the table. Disections we were doing at school, for example. Certain items did not belong at the table, like turtles. But, why would my elbows offend someone at the dinner table? They weren't bleeding or dirty.

I dismissed it as "one of those things".

It came up again from time to time. Most commonly was at other tables, when out at a meal. One fellow even threw an arm out and knocked his date's arms right off the table. Such a silly thing I thought, to strike out in righteous fury at someone who dared to put their elbows on the table during a meal.

I found a resource (which to my relief shows that I'm not the only one confused by this) suggests some possible reasons for this. Here are a couple of my favorites:

The great houses and castles of England during the middle ages did not have dining tables in the great halls, so tables were made from trestles and covered with a cloth. The diners sat along one side only; if they put their elbows on the table and leaned too heavily, the table could collapse.


Tony Muir, Tamarama
Leave it to the English... :P

It's taken me the best part of 50 years to work out what the elbows on the table thing is all about and I now realize my parents didn't understand it at all. If they had, they would have explained it to me.
When you eat with your elbows on the table, your upper spine is bent forward, your ribs are pushed in-wards and - most importantly - your stomach is squeezed between the two. It's incredibly bad for your digestion. I wish my parents had understood that. If they'd explained it, I might have taken some notice - and my digestive system would work so much better than it does today.

Will Kemp, Lismore
...Well, OK. I'll buy that it's not very healthy, but bad manners? Only person I'm hurting is myself!

Hats off indoors (or at the table)
Wearing a baseball hat, or other such sport, was a very "in" thing to do growing up. While I wasn't much of a sports fan, I enjoyed wearing a hat.

It was a rule though, that these hats could not be worn in the school, and would be confiscated on the spot if they were found on your head. It was explained that school was not a place of fashion, and wearing hats depicting sports teams encouraged the exclusion of those who were not. I could understand this, mostly because I never really fit in back then, and I agreed very much with limiting the amount of things the other kids could zero in on when looking to crush spirits.

However, my understanding of this was I'd not encounter this anywhere outside of school. I was wrong. In high school, where we were given many more freedoms, it was no longer against the rules to wear hats. I happily donned a new cap, and didn't attract any negative attention.

At least, not right away. Eventually, I was told by one of my teachers that it was a sign of disrespect. Again, I was baffled by social graces. A sign of disrespect to block the view of my hair? Was I suggesting to the on-lookers that they were unworthy of looking upon my head?

The best answer I found on Yahoo Answers was:

This goes back to Christian religious traditions of many years ago.

At one time, people wore hats to a much greater extent than they do now, and it was considered polite for men to always wear a head-covering (hat, beret or cap) outdoors.

However, when they entered a church, they were expected to 'uncover' their head, as a sign of respect for god.

Women, on the other hand, were required to keep their head covered in church, as a sign of respect. They were also expected to remove their head-covering in the presence of any 'higher' person, such as a king, or lord.

These traditions had their origins in passages in the bible and the widespread interpretation of those passages at the time.

Gradually, the habit of men removing their head-covering spread from being just when in the presence of god and higher persons, to a sign that the man considered the person to be worthy of esteem in removing their hat ~ for example, a man would take his hat of in the company of a woman to show respect.

Over time, it became generally acceptable and removing a head-covering has now spread from men to women.

It's simply a changing fashion with its roots in very old traditions and beliefs.

OK, so that's a believable origin, but I still don't understand why it was ever considered polite to show someone your hair.

"Good day, pleasure to make your acquaintance! Here, have a look at my cow-lick".

"Such a gentleman!"

Seems silly.

More on this custom here.

God Bless You!
I grew up allergic to dust mites and cats in a house that wasn't dusted and was home to a long-haired calico. I always had red itchy eyes, a runny nose, and frequently sneezed. Which of course, was answered: "God bless you!".

Only the back-and-forth went something like:

"hahCHOO!""God bless you.""Thank you."
"hahCHOO!""God bless you.""Thank you."
"hahCHOO!""God bless you.""Thank you."
"hahCHOO!""SHUT UP!"

I grew to hate being told "God bless you" when I sneezed, because it meant that I was forced to say "Thank you" around a soggy tissue, over and over and over... Yeah, I know, I seem like a jerk now, right? Well if you think about it, there's really no rational reason to ask God to bless someone when they sneeze.

It used to be that saying "God bless you" to someone who sneezed helped to make sure that person's spirit wasn't inadvertently thrust from their body.

Another common belief was that the sneeze was the body's way of expelling an evil spirit that had taken up residence in the body. Saying "God bless you" helped to ensure that this spirit did not come back.

So I ask you: is this really necessary? I believe that no, it's not. But still I'm blessed on the big guy's behalf every time I sneeze, and if I don't respond, I'm rude, and really it's not the person saying it that bothers me, it's the fact that the culture expects it for (what is in my opinion) no good reason.

More on this here.

I think it's time to put these things to rest as beliefs of the past and make room for some things that are going on every day today that should, in my opinion, be regarded as bad manners.

FOR EXAMPLE!


Being loud in public areas
More often than not, I'm assaulted verbally, yet unintentionally. This is generally by the young, usually girls but not always. Seems to be very difficult for people to keep their voices down when on the cell phone as well.

I've had conversations with people in public places quietly enough for them to hear me, but the person beyond them to not. I know it's possible to communicate without the entire room being made to listen.


Intentional misspellings
I'm certainly not the best speller in the world. I'm not even pretty good at it. Heck, I'm really not very good at it at all. If I didn't have a spell check, I don't know where I'd be.

However, I am well aware that "Ur" "sup" "wut" are not words.

I could understand writing like this if you're paying by the character, but generally speaking this is not the case. True, this helps when there is a character limit, such as in Twitter or text messages, but when you're chatting, or sending an email, it's just lazy. (Again, in my opinion.)

I've got lots more, but I figure I'll end it here. Some believe it's rude to be too long winded. :)

Note: Sadly, my spell check did not suggest anything for "Sup" and it corrected me on "ur". It asked me to change it to "Ur".

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Another chance for us to dress our kids in funny costumes, occupy them for a whole evening, get them all tired out and eat their candy when they go to bed. :D

Givers of candy, I have this request for you! I realize that America is obese, and I understand that proper education and discipline as a child will help to stem this epidemic. Trust me when I say, I am doing my part to make sure that my children are not in receipt of too much candy!

How you ask? Well, I secretly remove some of the candy from their stash, a little at a time so as not to be noticed. This way they feel like they ate it all, but in reality, they only eat a portion of it.

No! Of course I don't eat it! *wipes mouth*.

My request is that you help me out a little bit here... Here's a list of candy that don't lik...er... That's hard to dispose of undetected... Yeah, that's it.

PEEPS
These nasty little buggers get sticky and leave marshmallow all over my fac... ah... hands. Very difficult to take care of undetected.

CANDY CORN
If you purchased candy corn, you may as well keep it. Take a look around the house and see what else you got. I completely understand that you bought these with the best of intentions, and it may be the only "candy" type food you got, but be creative! Sugar cubes or packets? Tea bags? (Earl Grey are nice. That is to say, they're the easiest to squirrel away from the kids while staying under the radar). Chicken nuggets? You get the idea.

COCONUT
Anything with coconut in it is bogus. Stay away from this at all costs. Why? I don't like them. And that's a legit reason, cause just the smell of them makes me wretch, so being stealthy is very difficult with a fist full of mounds bars. I can't think of a good use of a coconut that involves eating them. I think the professor made a HAM radio out of a couple, didn't he? That's acceptable.


CIRCUS PEANUTS
Seriously, could there be a more disgusting "candy"? It's like they didn't have quite enough coagulation agent to make another batch of silly putty, so they feed it to the indiscriminant. I don’t even like that junk in my house, let alone my bell… Kid’s bellies.

FRUIT
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen this, but several times over the years someone’s tried to pass of raisins and apples as Halloween booty? What are you, new? You want your place toilet papered? Weren’t you ever a kid? Did you like getting produce on Halloween? The fourth grade versions of yourself would kick your ass for that. That’s like giving a little boy clothes for Christmas.

If you’re into disappointing children (which I’ll admit can be rewarding from time to time…) keep it up. You’re just giving them things to throw in the compost heap. By the time they get through the real stuff, the nature’s bounty you handed out will be turning brown and sprouting hairs. Look, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, keep that junk for pies and breads. Halloween is about glucose packed goodies, not health foods.

* * * * *

Now that you know what not to give out, here’s how to do it right.

This is not one of those holidays where you go to the dollar store to buy your supplies. Penny pinching is going to get you in trouble. Not quite as much trouble as giving out V8 juice or celery of course, but old stale no-name chocolate bars are only just so-so. May not get you egged, but don’t be surprised to find your morning newspapers in the bird bath for the next couple of months.

That said, you don’t have to go top shelf either, once you pass a certain level you’re in the clear. Sure, we’ll tak… Ah, they’ll take Symphony bars, toblerone, and Lindt chocolates, but your return on investment isn’t going to be that much higher. Remember, going above and beyond isn’t going to get your lawn mowed or your gutters cleaned. You’re never going to get positive karma out of this… Your job is just to not get assaulted by angry Junior-high kids equipped with shaving cream.


Think of the standard names. These are the candies you see lining the aisle as your leaving the super market. Hershey’s, Reece’s, NestlĂ©’s Crunch, Kit-Kats, Snickers. These are perfect examples of middle-of-the-road treats to give out. This will keep your yard free of any kind of delinquent Halloween tomfoolery.

The little bite sized ones are fine, those will get you a pass. You don’t have to go full sized, or king sized.

If you disagree, and still would rather give out vitamin filled tree-droppings, do yourself a favor: Turn your porch light off, and don’t answer your door. You’d much rather the kids think you’re not home, as opposed to trying to get them to slim down.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Love / Hate

I love
Rainy sundays when nothing is planned. Cold. Raw. The smell of wet dirt permeating the air outside, while I'm inside in pajamas with a steaming cup of coffee. (Especially during Football season!)

I hate
Trying to read something that’s be written with no regard for grammar. Must have punctuation. Must have individual, identifiable paragraphs.

I love
My family. My wife and children are what keeps me going.

I hate
The following phrases: “Same difference”, “don’t hate the player, hate the game”, “six of one, half dozen the other”, “working hard or hardly working”.

I love
Windows 7.

I hate
Running behind schedule.

I love
When someone who talks trash gets bit on the ass by it.

I hate
When I get bit on the ass by my own trash talk. (which is why I almost never do it!)

I love
Working from home.

I hate
The fact that I have to work to survive, even though:

I love
My job and the work that I do.

I hate
When people say they hate closed-minded people. Doesn’t that make them closed-minded toward people who are closed-minded??

I love
The work of George Carlin, Bill Cosby, and Mel Brooks.

I hate
Saying goodbye.

I love
Skype!

I hate
The fact that I can’t get my dog to stop digging holes in my yard… Grr… It’s a good thing:

I love
My dog.

I hate
The fact that people are capable of such tremendous evil, and inflicting such horrible pain.

I love
Watching my children grow up.

I hate
That my children are growing up so fast.

I love
To listen to stories of old times told by people who are older than me. Time is by far the best teacher.

I hate
My dependence on spell check. (F7 for your Microsoft Word users!)

I love
The fact that I can type almost as fast as most people talk.

I hate
Moxy and Mr. Pibb

I love
Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper.

I hate
The fact that I love soda so much!

I love
Singing along to the radio when I’m alone in the car, pretending I’m the lead singer rocking out in front of thousands of fans.

I hate
My singing voice.

I love
The quote: Nature and wisdom never are at strife.

I hate
The quote: Necessity is the mother of invention. There’s much more to invention than simple necessity. I think sometimes the mother is greed, sloth or jealousy… then sometimes it could also be compassion, love, or empathy. Just because something was invented doesn’t mean it was a necessity. Perhaps just a creature comfort. I don’t NEED super comfy pillows, but boy am I glad someone invented them!

I love
My super comfy pillows. o

I hate
Being lied to.

I love
Peanut butter cups.

I hate
That so many kids have peanut allergies now that schools are sometimes required to be peanut free.

I love
Solving problems.

I hate
Being yelled at.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Visa Gift Card

I learned something today, and I learned it the hard way...

Don't EVER use a Visa (or any other) gift card at the gas station pump.

I ran out to the Hess Express up the street, and popped the card into the pump, fulling expecting it would ask me to go in and see the cashier. It did not disappoint.

What I didn't know is that the pump automatically tries to charge $75 to the card. I happened to have $73, so it didn't go through. This caused a problem because the bank still had Hess's request for money in their system, but since there wasn't enough Hess assumed the transaction was over, and there was no reason to request the money fromt he bank.

The bank now has the entire balance of my gift card in a "pending" status. What's worse, they won't cancel it, because for all they know, Hess just hasn't come to claim their money, and I've got a tank full of gas...

What's worse, they consider this problem my fault for not abiding by the user rules. Call me crazy, but I'd think if you're going to pedal a product that has rules like this, you should also send along a copy of said rules. Nowhere on any documentation I recieved, does it say this. It DOES say it on the website however... Fat lotta good that does me.

The only thing I can do is wait for the pending transaction to expire. Could be 2 days, could be 5 days, could be 12 days...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Create and hide a local admin

It was recommended by Kaseya that you create a local user on your endpoints and set that as the agent credentials.

This script creates a username, makes it a local administrator, makes sure the password never expires, and sets the account so that it doesn't show up on the fast user switching screen for those machines that use the welcome screen.

First, create open notepade and create the following VBS:

' nopwdexp.vbs
' Windows NT/2000/XP/2003 Administration Script
'
' Turns off password expiry for the specified account
'
' Usage: cscript //nologo nopwdexp.vbs /domain:domainname /user:username
'
' Written by Mark Wilson, 10 September 2004
'
' This script is provided as is without warranty of any kind. Mark Wilson
' further disclaims all implied warranties including, without limitation, any
' implied warranties of merchantability or of fitness for a particular purpose.
' The entire risk arising out of the use or performance of the script including
' any associated documentation remains with the user of the script.

Option Explicit
On Error Resume Next
' Set constants
Const ufDONT_EXPIRE_PASSWD = &H10000
' Set variables
Dim colNamedArguments
Dim strDomain, strUser
' Read command line named arguments
Set colNamedArguments = WScript.Arguments.Named
' Report missing domain argument
If colNamedArguments.Exists("domain") Then
strDomain=colNamedArguments.Item("domain")
Else
WScript.Echo "Missing argument: /domain:domainname"
Usage
End If
' Report missing user argument
If colNamedArguments.Exists("user") Then
strUser=colNamedArguments.Item("user")
Else
WScript.Echo "Missing argument: /user:username"
Usage
End If
PasswordNeverExpires strDomain, strUser
Sub PasswordNeverExpires(domainname, username)
' Sets the do not expire password flag if not already set
Dim objUser, objUserFlags
' Read user properties
Set objUser = GetObject("WinNT://" & domainname & "/" & username & ",user")
' Examine flags set against account
objUserFlags = objUser.Get("UserFlags")
' If password expiry is allowed, then set password never to expire.
If (objUserFlags And ufDONT_EXPIRE_PASSWD) = 0 Then
' Password does expire
' WScript.Echo objUserFlags
objUserFlags = objUserFlags Or ufDONT_EXPIRE_PASSWD
' WScript.Echo objUserFlags
objUser.Put "UserFlags", objUserFlags
objUser.SetInfo
WScript.Echo domainname & "\" & username & " password has been set never to expire."
Else
' Password does not expire
' WScript.Echo objUserFlags
WScript.Echo domainname & "\" & username & " password was already set never to expire."
End If
End Sub
Sub Usage()
' Reports the correct command line syntax
Wscript.Echo VbCr
WScript.Echo "nopwdexp.vbs"
Wscript.Echo VbCr
WScript.Echo "Usage: cscript //nologo nopwdexp.vbs /domain:domainname /user:username"
Wscript.Quit
End Sub

Make sure the file is named nopwbexp.vbs, and upload it to your kaseya server.

Then import this scritp, making sure to edit the username and password as applicable:

Script Name: Create and hide local admin


Script Description: This script creates and then hides a local administrator account.


This script should be run on every new Managed Services machine, unless you're using a domain admin credential.

IF True
THEN
Execute Shell Command - (Continue on Fail)
Parameter 1 : net user /add *USERNAME*
Parameter 2 : 1
OS Type : 0
Execute Shell Command - (Continue on Fail)
Parameter 1 : net user *USERNAME* *PASSWORD*
Parameter 2 : 1
OS Type : 0
Execute Shell Command - (Continue on Fail)
Parameter 1 : net localgroup Administrators *USERNAME* /add
Parameter 2 : 1
OS Type : 0
Write File - (Continue on Fail)
Parameter 1 : c:\temp\nopwdexp.vbs
Parameter 2 : VSASharedFiles\nopwdexp.vbs
OS Type : 0
Execute Shell Command - (Continue on Fail)
Parameter 1 : wscript //B c:\temp\nopwdexp.vbs /domain:%computername% /user:peadmin
Parameter 2 : 1
OS Type : 0
Set Registry Value - (Continue on Fail)
Parameter 1 : HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\SpecialAccounts\userList\peadmin
Parameter 2 : 0
Parameter 3 : REG_DWORD
OS Type : 0
ELSE

This script runs quickly. After it's run, set the agent credentials in the Agent tab, and you're good to go!

Event ID: 1023 Perflib errors

Below is the script we use to remedy the event 1023 error on our servers when we come across it. As usual, don't forget to edit the email address.

Script Name: Event ID: 1023 Clean up Perflib errors on C, D, E


Script Description: This script fixes permissions on sqlctr80.dll file under SQL directories that causes problems with Kaseya and generates PERFLIB errors in the application event log
IF True


THEN


Get Variable


Parameter 1 : 4


Parameter 2 :


Parameter 3 : agentDrv


OS Type : 0


Get Variable


Parameter 1 : 6


Parameter 2 :


Parameter 3 : machineName


OS Type : 0


Execute Shell Command


Parameter 1 : forfiles.exe -p c:\ -s -m sqlctr80.dll -c "cmd /C cacls @PATH /e /g 0x22network service0x22:r >> #agentDrv#temp\sqlfiles.txt"


Parameter 2 : 1


OS Type : 0


Execute Shell Command


Parameter 1 : forfiles.exe -p d:\ -s -m sqlctr80.dll -c "cmd /C cacls @PATH /e /g 0x22network service0x22:r >> #agentDrv#temp\sqlfiles.txt"


Parameter 2 : 1


OS Type : 0


Execute Shell Command


Parameter 1 : forfiles.exe -p e:\ -s -m sqlctr80.dll -c "cmd /C cacls @PATH /e /g 0x22network service0x22:r >> #agentDrv#temp\sqlfiles.txt"


Parameter 2 : 1


OS Type : 0


Get Variable


Parameter 1 : 1


Parameter 2 : #agentDrv#temp\sqlfiles.txt


Parameter 3 : Sqlfiles


OS Type : 0


Send Email


Parameter 1 : *EMAIL@ADDRESS.COM*


Parameter 2 : #machineName#


Parameter 3 : #Sqlfiles#


OS Type : 0


Delete File


Parameter 1 : #agentDrv#temp\sqlfiles.txt


OS Type : 0


ELSE

Migraine Sufferers have different brains

Section Of Brain That Processes Pain Thicker In Migraine Sufferers

(WebMD) Researchers have identified specific differences in the brains of migraine sufferers linked to the processing of sensory information, including pain.

In earlier research, Harvard Medical School investigators used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show structural differences between the brains of people with and without migraines.

Specifically, the imaging showed thickening in a specific area of the brain related to the communication of sensory processing called the somatosensory cortex (SSC).

It is not clear if migraines cause the brain changes or if the brain differences cause migraines, researcher Nouchine Hadjikhani, M.D., of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital tells WebMD.

"That is the big question," she says. "A person could be born with these cortical differences, making them susceptible to migraines later in life. But we just don't know."

Migraines and the Brain

In the newly reported imaging study, researchers compared the brains of 24 people with migraines and 12 people without them. They found that the SSC was an average of 21 percent thicker in migraine sufferers. The thickness changes were especially pronounced in the part of the SSC related to sensation of the head and face.

Most study participants with migraines had experienced the severe headaches since childhood, suggesting that long-term stimulation of this sensory area of the brain could lead to structural changes, Hadjikhani says.

The study is published in the Nov. 20 online issue of the journal Neurology.

Other studies have also shown differences in cortex thickness in patients with multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.

But it is also possible that the structural changes precede migraines and actually cause them to occur.

Hadjikhani and colleagues hope to shed light on this 'chicken and egg' conundrum in a much larger study.

Imaging studies on young children who are at high risk for having migraines later in life because their mother or father had them may also help answer the question of which comes first.

"If we already see these changes in children who have never had a headache in their life, that will tell us something," she says.

Whatever the outcome, it is increasingly clear that the brain's sensory processing center plays an important role in migraines.

Treat Migraines Aggressively

It is also now clear that the brains of migraine sufferers are different from those of people without the severe headaches.

In an unrelated study, researcher Mark C. Kruit, M.D., and colleagues from Leiden University in the Netherlands identified tiny brain lesions in the brains of a significant percentage of migraine sufferers who underwent MRI.

In an interview with WebMD in 2004 , Kruit predicted that the imaging studies would "change the common perception that migraine is a trivial problem with only transient symptoms."

The studies also point to the importance of aggressively treating migraines , Hadjikhani says, to both prevent the headaches from occurring and to manage the pain when they do occur.

She reasons that if frequent migraines cause structural damage to the brain, having fewer migraines and migraines with less intense pain may prevent this damage from happening.

"It is important not to let the pain get out of hand," she says.



By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

Read this article at it's orginal location here.

Ticks

With the weather getting warmer, the ticks are coming out in full force. Living in eastern MA, I've dealt with ticks many times before. This year, I've been seeing a lot of deer ticks, and that's got me concerned.

Here's a helpful article from Northern New England dot com:

Ticks (also known as arachnids) are a fact of life here in New England, and, in fact, in many places on earth. Golfers, hikers, hunters, bird watchers and anyone that spends time outdoors should be aware of ticks.

Globally, there are some 400 species of ticks on this planet. Here in northern New England, we have about a dozen different species lurking in the woods, forests, and grass.



Not much is usually heard about ticks, but the fact is - knowing about ticks is extremely important and potentially life saving. Ticks, like mites are external parasites that live off the blood of mammals, birds, and even reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are also vectors of several diseases, including the potentially fatal Lyme disease.

Often tick species take their name from their favorite host, so we have bird ticks, woodchuck ticks, rabbit ticks, moose ticks, and dog ticks. Other New England varieties of tick include; one star tick, tiny black-legged tick - the local variety, of which is commonly referred to as a "deer tick".

Ticks are rather unique in that all ticks must stalk and feed from a host vertebrate three times in their lifetime, as larva, again as a nymph, and finally as an adult. It is in the third and final phase of the deer tick's life that is the most dangerous to humans.

Ticks & Lyme Disease


An infected tick can spread Lyme Disease. Not all ticks are infected with Lyme Disease. A tick bite can be difficult to detect. Anyone who spends time outdoors (hikers, golfers, hunters, bird watchers, bike riders, etc. ) should learn how to check themselves for fleas, ticks and insect bites and should take the time to perform this precautionary measure. The actual size of an adult tick in about the size of this 0, or the size of a pin head.

Most cases of Lyme diseases are from the Northeast. Nearly 90% of all Lyme disease cases have been reported in the Northeastern part of the US. Many people are being infected from ticks in their own yard.

Ticks are blood-feeding parasites that are often found in tall grass, stone walls, fallen leaves, and shrubs where they wait to attach themselves to a passing host, like you or your pet. Physical contact is the only method of transportation for ticks. Thankfully, ticks can not jump or fly, although they may drop from their perch and fall onto an unsuspecting host.



Tick Removal

To remove a tick use a small set of quality tweezers: grab the head of the tick and slowly pull it out. Crushing or irritating the tick by using heat or chemicals should be avoided, because these methods may cause it to regurgitate its stomach contents into the skin, increasing the possibility of infection. Very small ticks and larval ticks can be removed by scraping them off.

Lyme disease (which is found in deer ticks) cannot be transmitted once the tick body is removed even if the mouthparts break off and are still in the skin. Prompt removal is important; infection generally takes an extended period of time, over 24 hours for Lyme disease which is why carefully checking yourself after hiking, hunting or outdoor activities is so important.

Tick Population Factors

Ticks of all types depend largely upon water and moisture for survival. More ticks will survive a mild winter than a cold one. A long dry summer will have a devastating effect on tick populations, conversely a wet and warm spring will help hatch an abundance of ticks.



Reposted from here.

The Bridgewater Triangle


Story reposted from: http://www.paranormal-encyclopedia.com/b/bridgewater-triangle/

The Bridgewater Triangle Area
Although not an 'official' Vile Vortex, the inland Bridgewater Triangle is likely one of the world's most concentrated areas of diverse paranormal reports.

Located just 30 miles south of Boston, this 200-mile square area has the Massachusetts towns of Abington, Freetown and Rehoboth at its angles. The town of Bridgewater is located nearly dead center within the triangle and the area also encompasses six other Massachusetts towns: Raynham, Taunton, Brockton, Mansfield, Norton and Easton1.


Mysterious Landmarks

The Hockomock Swamp
The Hockomock Swamp, a 5000+ acre area lies within the western section of Bridgewater Triangle and is the hub of many paranormal reports. Also the site of an 8,000-year-old Native American burial ground, when archaeologists opened the graves of Grassy Island, the red ochre within the tombs bubbled and then mysteriously disappeared. Photographs taken of the excavation would not develop1.

The swamp remains shrouded in superstition. Called, "the place where spirits dwell" by the Wampanoag Tribe of the Native American Algonquian nation, the Wampanoag avoided the Hockomock Swamp and the area remains a place filled with foreboding2.

Dighton Rock
On the banks of the Tauntaon River, Dighton Rock lies across from the Grassy Island Burial Grounds of Hockomock Swamp. Numerous inscriptions of unknown origins are carved into the face of the rock. Although various speculations attribute them to Native Americans, Vikings, and even Phoenicians, their identity has never been specifically determined 3.

Profile Rock
Profile Rock is another Bridgewater Triangle landmark that has gained a paranormal reputation. Located in Freetown, from a nearby hill, the rock shows a clear portrait of a Native American face looking out from the stone. Long before Massachusetts colonists arrived, the Wampanoag people considered Profile Rock sacred. Local legends claim that Native American ghost dancers in warrior dress dance around Profile Rock3, 4.

Anawan Rock
Located in Hockomock Swamp along Route 44 in Rehoboth, Anawan Rock is named for Chief Anawan and is the site where Chief Anawan surrendered to the colonists, ending "King Phillip's War". Legend says that the angry spirits of Chief Anawan's warriors continue to haunt the area, starting spectral fires and "ghost dancing".

Bridgewater Triangle Phenomena
Paranormal researcher, Loren Coleman, who named the Bridgewater Triangle in the 1970, revived public attention to the many paranormal reports emanating from the area.

Aside from the number and diversity of paranormal reports, what is phenomenal about the Bridgewater Triangle is that the first report of paranormal activity was made over three centuries ago, in 1760.

At 10 am on May 10, 1760, a "sphere of fire" was reported to hover over New England and emit a light so bright that is cast shadows in the morning sun. Reportedly, the light was seen from both Bridgewater and Roxbury3. Since then, the area has spawned a diversity of reports that include paranormal events that range from ghost dancers to UFOs to Cryptozoological sightings.

Bridgewater Triangle UFOs
The 1760 report is likely the first documented UFO report on the planet. However, it certainly wasn't the last UFO report to come out of the Bridgewater Triangle.

•Halloween 1908 marked another UFO sighting, documented in local newspapers.
•In 1968, five people claimed that they saw a strange ball of light floating among the trees in a wooded part of Rehoboth3.
•In the 1970's, UFO sightings were frequently reported to occur in different areas of the Bridgewater Triangle1. In one 1976 report, two UFOs were seen landing along Route 44 near Taunton.
•In 1994, a Bridgewater Law Enforcement Officer reported seeing a triangular shaped craft with red and white lights.
•The town of Raynham frequently receives reports of glowing balls of light, floating over the ground at the local dog track3.

Mysterious Creatures
Cryptozoological sightings are numerous and varied in the Bridgewater Triangle. In 1970, reports of a big-foot like, 7-foot tall hairy monster and its footprints instigated both the Bridgewater and Massachusetts State Police canine unit to conduct a search for a bear. However, neither man nor bear was ever found.

In 1978, paranormal researcher Joseph M. DeAndrade claims to have observed another such creature as it slowly walked into the brush of the Hockomock Swamp, about 200 yards from his location. He chronicled his sighting in his 1997 book, Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors8.

Not all of the creatures that allegedly inhabit the Bridgewater Triangle are land-bound. Since 1971, several sightings of phenomenally large, black birds, with wingspans that stretched from eight to twelve feet, have been reported as well. Coincidentally, the first of these reports originated from Bird Hill in Hockomock Swamp. In 1984, two of these avian creatures were allegedly seen fighting in mid-air.

Bridgewater Triangle Ghostly Specters
Besides the legends that tell of Native American ghost dancers, reports of several contemporary ghostly specters come from the Bridgewater Triangle.

•A mysterious redheaded hitchhiker haunts a stretch of Route 44 in Rehoboth.
•A ghostly phantom appears in Hockomock Swamp near Route 138.
•From Freetown, a ghostly trucker is rumored to speed along the winding Copicut Road, blaring his horn and threatening passing motorists.

Resources:
1. “Bridgewater Historical tidbits.” Bridgewater Public Library 4 Jun 2003. 8 Aug 2008 .
2. “The Bridgewater Triangle” Terrifying Tales-Encounters With The Unexplained. 2 Apr 2008. 18 Apr 2008 .
3. Christopher W. Pittman. “The Bridgewater Triangle.” Massachusetts UFO Resource Site 2000. 27 Apr 2008 4. “Bridgewater Triangle.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2008. 8 Aug 2008 .
5. Christopher Balzano. “The Cursed County.” Massachusetts Crossroads n.d . 8 Aug 2008 .
6. Brian MacQuarrie. “The old haunting grounds.” The Boston Globe 30 Oct 2006. 8 Aug 2008 .
7. “Paranormal Adventures in the Bridgewater Triangle." I Want to Believe 10 Apr 2006. 8 Aug 2008 .
8. Ed Hayward. “Bigfoot of Bridgewater, Hockomock Crock?.” Bigfoot Encounters n.d . 9 Aug 2008 .

443!! OMA!! OWA!! OMG!!

One of my clients today was having an issue where their outlook web access mysteriously stopped working.

I RDPed to the server, and found that the Default website had stopped. I right clicked, hit start and was presented with the error message: "the process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process".

I checked all other IIS websites, and found nothing that might be causing the problem... So I turned to my good ol' standby: Google.

I found some Microsoft KB articles that instructed me to run some netstat.exe commands to find the problem... Trouble is, the results were many. Many many. I couldn't find anything in there. I felt like I was drinking from a firehose.

Eventually, I stumbled upon this utility called currports.exe. It's a quick download, runs fast, and reports to you in a nice little console, all ports that are currently being used, and what process is using them.

I found out that the client had installed a utility called E-BLVD. Looks like a remote control utility that works over the SSL port.

Moral of the story, if you want to achieve something like remote control to your server, consult your IT department, or you just might bring down some important services. In this case, not only did OWA stop working, but so too did OMA. We have owners with no emails to their moble devices, which is never a good thing!

Computer Viruses... Am I at Risk?

One of the most common things I see as an IT professional is infection. Viruses, Spyware, Key-Loggers, etc. Infections like this can cause serious issues on your machine and lead to costly downtime. Depending on the severity of the infection, the cure can take a long time, which in turn ends up becoming expensive!

Unfortunately there is no 100% bulletproof protection from these things. Your anti-virus can’t cure a virus it’s never seen, so viruses on day-1 can go by unnoticed all together. However, there are steps that you can take to help avoid the initial infection. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Anti-Virus
Even though an anti-virus software isn’t much protection against brand-new viruses, they’re usually updated only a couple hours after they’ve discovered the threat. It’s very important that you have an anti-virus software installed, running, and updating. Don’t assume that because you installed an Anti-Virus software two years ago, that it’s protecting you. Make sure that you check the program to find out when the last time it was updated.

If you are looking for an Anti-Virus program, make sure you do your homework! There are lots of programs out there that say they’re anti-virus, like “Anti-virus XP”. These programs only look like anti-virus programs. They’re actually viruses! These are called Rogue Anti-Virus programs. Make sure to ask your IT professional, or a knowledgeable source if the program you’re considering is legitimate.

Some legitimate Anti-Virus names:
  • TrendMicro
  • AVG
  • Norton
  • McAfee
  • Avast

Anti-Malware
Even if your Anti-virus is up and running, updating and catching threats, you can’t rely on it alone. Anti-Spyware programs can be effective in removing things that aren’t technically viruses. Things like spyware can sneak into your machine the same way viruses do, but they don’t always set off alarms like a viruses.

Once again, there are programs out there that pretend to be anti-spyware programs, but are actually spyware themselves.

Some legitimate Anti-Spyware names:
  • Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware
  • Super Anti-Spyware

Computing Practices
As I’d stated earlier, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • Do not click on any popup advertisements. If you get a popup, click on the outer-most edge of it as though you’re trying to resize the window to activate it as the current focus, and press Alt+F4. This should close the popup window.
  • Never open attachments you weren’t expecting, especially if it’s from someone you don’t know. If you aren’t expecting an attachment, email the sender back and ask what it is, and if they meant to send it. No one can fault you for being cautious.
  • Be careful installing browser add-ons from websites that say “you must install this software to properly view this webpage” unless you’re sure of exactly what the software is.
  • X-rated, or serial number cracker websites are always laden with viruses. It’s best to stay away from them.
  • Never use peer to peer programs for the downloading of files. Programs like Limewire are littered with infected files.
  • As always, if you’re uncertain of something, always ask someone knowledgeable. As an IT professional, I’d much rather tell someone “It’s a bad idea to open that file” rather than “That file you opened infected your computer, and fixing it could take hours”.

Spam Filtering

Over the past decade, email has become a major form of communication, and a crucial tool for businesses the world over. People share thoughts and ideas, plan projects, build relationships, market their products, network with colleagues, stay in touch with loved ones, all at the click of a mouse. But what happens when the emais are dangerous??

According to a
Heinz Tschabitscer with About.com in an article posted here, back in 2008 there were around 210 billion emails sent per day. A little quick math here, divide that by the 86,400 seconds in 24 hours, that’s 2.43 million emails sent every second. That’s an awful lot of emails! Most of these emails never actually make it to their destinations of course, as around 70% of that number (in 2008) was spam. Since 2008, the numbers have only increased.

As you may imagine, with an increase in spam, comes an increase in anti-spam. There are several different ways of fighting spam.

Client-Side Software
Client-Side Software refers to a solution on the local machine to address spam issues after the message has been delivered to its destination. This does not prevent the message from reaching the end user, but allows for relatively safe management of spam and messages that may contain malware.

These solutions are generally low-cost, and common in small companies and residential environments, especially where mail is hosted offsite and retrieved via pop3 or imap.

Email Clients
Email clients, such as Microsoft’s Outlook, have some basic spam filtering capabilities built in. You can mark a message, a sender, or an entire domain as a spam source, and then anything that comes in from that source will hence forth be delivered to the email client’s “junk” or “spam” folder.

Pros:
  • The benefit to this is if you’re using an email client anyway, the functionality is built in. There’s nothing to purchase or install separately, and if that client is outlook, updates come in with the Windows Updates.
  • If you already have an email client that has this functionality, there’s no cost associated with updating the rules.

Cons:
  • This feature is not very accurate however and a lot of messages that are actually legitimate correspondence can be flagged as spam. Conversely, many messages that are actual spam can be overlooked, and will be delivered as normal.
  • In this situation, the message will still come into your organization and be delivered to your computer. If it’s identified as spam, the infectious content will usually be blocked from running, but you still have to manage it. You still have to decide if you’re going to leave the message in the folder or delete it. Also, this message required internet bandwidth to come in, only to be discarded or set aside. True, one little message isn’t going to do anything, but if you’re getting a lot of spam, or you’re a member of a large corporation, chances are there’s a lot of spam coming in, and it’s cutting into your internet speed, as well as storage space.

Client-Side Anti-Virus/Anti-Spam
A lot of today’s anti-virus programs come with anti-spam modules built in. These programs will keep a keen eye on your inbox, watching traffic come in and go out searching for messages it thinks may be spam. What it does when it finds something it thinks may be spam is a behavior you can usually set within the software. Typically, it will create a “spam” folder, or use the one that was created by the email client, though it can be set to simply delete the message.

Some Client-side Anti-Virus solutions that include anti-spam functionality include
Trend Micro’s Internet Security, and McAfee’s Internet Security.

Some Client-side Anti-Spam solutions include Sunbelt Software’s Ihatespam and Spam Blackout

Pros:
  • This functionality is usually more accurate than the simple email client filtering capabilities, and is updated as often.
  • This does not require installation on a server or any complicated networking changes. This is also typically an inexpensive solution.

Cons:
  • With the exception of better accuracy in spam identification (which is more robust than the email client, still can leave something to be desired) this method shares the cons of the email client. You still have to manage the messages yourself, it’s still delivered to the mailbox, and the message is still a burden on storage space and internet speed.
  • These solutions require regular updating, and there could be a cost associated usually in the form of a yearly subscription.

Server-Side Software
A Server-Side software solution involves installing software on the mail server. The software will integrate with the mail server software, and scan messages as they arrive and/or leave. This method is most commonly used by small to medium companies who host their own mail, although some outsourced mail companies, like
Mi8 may use it as well.

Server-Side software includes Anti-virus solutions, like Trend Micro’s
Office Scan, and Anti-spam solutions like GFI Mail Essentials.

Pros:
  • These solutions prevent the message from being delivered to the end-user’s mailbox, lightening the load on that user’s mail storage.
  • This provides a single point of management for delivery rules and spam identification. The administrator need only create one rule which then applies to all recipients. In most cases, users can be permitted to view the messages they would have received to determine if they were falsely identified as spam.
  • The software can also be set up so that the messages are only reviewable by the administrator.

Cons:
  • Even though this method lightens the load on the mailbox storage for the end users, the message is still delivered to the site, cutting into internet bandwidth. Also, depending on the quarantine rules on the software it can still require disk space for storage.
  • These solutions require regular updating, and there could be a cost associated usually in the form of a yearly subscription.

Hardware Spam Firewall
Basically a computer dedicated to scanning your mail as it comes through your firewall, an anti-spam device is a common solution for a medium sized business. There are many brands, some of the most popular include
Barracuda, Cymphonix, and Spamwall.

These devices are akin to your common network router, but they have a more sophisticated operating system. This device sits just inside your network, and your router sends all mail packets to it for scanning. The device finds the messages it thinks is spam, sets them aside, and then passes the good ones along to the mail server.

Pros:
  • These devices, if configured correctly can be highly effect and accurate.
  • This provides one central location for your IT team to manage spam. You’re able to set one rule that will apply to all.

Cons:
  • These solution can be relatively expensive, requiring new hardware and installation.
  • These devices require physical installation, and unless the person doing the install is familiar with the infrastructure and understands networking principals, this can be a daunting task.
  • These solutions require regular updating, and there could be a cost associated usually in the form of a yearly subscription. Beyond updating spam definitions, these devices will sometimes require operating system updates and service packs. This is not always available automatically, so an administrator will be required to update the operating system.
  • Even though this method lightens the load on the mailbox storage for the end users, the message is still delivered to the site, cutting into internet bandwidth. Also, depending on the quarantine rules on the software it can still require disk space for storage.
  • If the software is set so that only the administrator can review the quarantined messages, it adds another task to someone’s plate.

Third-Party
In a third-party solution, your mail messages are checked before they ever hit your mail server. This third-party receives your mail before you do. This is achieved by making a change to your public MX record. Instead of having mail.yourdomain.com resolve to your public IP address, it will be changed to resolve to a location that will be given to you by the third-party. Your mail is routed to the third-party’s servers where it’s scanned for spam content, viruses and malware, and it is then delivered to your mail server.

Similarly, your mail server can also be set up to send all your company’s mail through this third-party, and then your firewall can be locked down to allow outbound email only from the mail server. This can prevent machines on your network that may be infected with malware from sending out spam. This can help make sure that your IP address is not
blacklisted.

Some third-party spam solutions include
MxLogic and Postini.

Pros:
  • This solution does not require any changes to hardware or software on your end. There are no devices to install, no software to install, and spam gets stopped before it reaches your internet connection. Your bandwidth is not impacted. Your storage space is not impacted.
  • Users can log into the third-party’s system and manage rules and alerts for themselves.
  • The messages are stopped before they’re delivered to your site, freeing up bandwidth.
  • The messages are stored on the third-party’s end, so there’s no impact on your storage.
  • Management of rules and quarantined messages are available to both the end user for their own messages as well as an administrator for global administration.

Cons:
  • These services are generally more expensive than the other options, usually requiring a monthly subscription.
  • Configuration includes editing of public DNS settings, which is not something that is recommended unless the person making the changes if familiar with such things. A misconfiguration can lead to downtime.
  • Configuration of the mail server is required for outgoing messages to be routed through the third party, which is not something that is recommended unless the person making the changes if familiar with such things. A misconfiguration can lead to downtime.
  • This setup adds one more point of failure to the message’s journey. If the third party needs to update systems, or has an outage of some sort, this can cause mail to be delayed. Make sure you ask the third party what their policy on downtime is, and how often it’s likely to occur.

Email having become such a widely used medium for us in business and our personal lives, all of the solutions listed have value of some sort. If you’re unsure what solution is right for you, consult with your administrator or a knowledgeable source.