2004

The TouchGraph LiveJournal Browser is a rather pretty toy. It uses LJ’s machine-readable user information to plot nice graphs of the friend and interest relationships (if you just want to see the friend relationships, nudge the max and min interest popularity settings so they’re close together). Double-click on another user and their friends appear, with the graph shuffling itself around to accommodate them. Load up someone with lots of friends and watch the thing grind to a halt. Super.

It’s written in Java, so it runs on my Mac (and presumably under Linux). If you’re not on Windows, use the command line from the batch file which comes with it, but replace the semi-colons in the class path with colons. It is, as numerous people have said, all good.

Had a gluttonous weekend, dining in a posh restaurant (well, it was a special occasion) and going to PaulB’s barbeque. My stomach has just about recovered now.

It seems like everyone else is doing this quiz, so:

You are a XPYG–Expressive Practical Physical Giver. This makes you a Roving Spouse.

You are magnetic, charming, and impossible to resist. You have no problem with approaching the opposite sex — it just comes naturally to you, and the thrill of warming up a stranger is one of your great drives. Still, very few people really know you. You don’t just *feel* misunderstood — you are. You are probably nursing a heartache that you never let on.

<lj-cut text=”Tell me more”>

You’re calm in a conflict (almost *too* calm — a more emotional partner may wonder why you’re not more engaged) and quick with affection. Fighting makes you uncomfortable, but as you avoid direct conflict your frustrations can manifest in the cold shoulder and passive-aggression, which is no better! Still, you make a loving, doting parent — giving more love than discipline — and your children prefer you.

Like an XSYG, you put so much thought and effort in what you give to your partner that you feel dismissed and unappreciated if you don’t get the same in return. You also give and think so much that you can also talk yourself into cheating — physically or emotionally — and this can lead a cycle of conflict, guilt, conflict-avoidance, chilly atmosphere and then more cheating. But you’ll stay with your partner in the long run from guilt and a desire to please.

You’ve got to open up! You express and give so much of yourself in other ways — don’t be afraid to express what’s bothering you.

I’m only being so hard on you because you remind me of me.

Hmm… not bad, although I think I’m getting better at that opening up thing, and some people seem to understand me just fine.

There is a confusing multitude of spam filters out there. I once wrote an article listing all the ways of filtering spam I could think of. If you’re confused by all this, here’s what I do, along with ways of doing the same thing on both Unix and Windows systems.

<lj-cut> My first line of defence is a bunch of blacklists. These don’t work on the From address of the spam, which is usually forged, but rather on the IP address of the machine sending the email. There are a multitude of blacklists available, too. They differ in their listing criteria from narrow listings of machines which have sent spam, to broad listings of entire networks, intended to help you boycott ISPs which support spam. Getting legitimate email is more important to me than filtering all the spam, so I choose narrowly focussed blacklists. I use:

  • The Spamhaus Blocklist, a manually edited list of the worst corners of the Internet. These days, spammers tend to host their websites in these places and exploit other people’s machines to actually send their spam. Which is why I also use…
  • The Spamhaus Exploits Blocklist, an automatically compiled list of machines which have been taken over by spammers, probably without their owners’ knowledge. Windows users with cable modems, usually.
  • The Open Relay Database, another list of machines which are exploitable in a different way (mostly not a way which is used by spammers these days, but it occasionally catches something).

If you want to filter your email using these blacklists, and you’re on Windows, you could try Spampal. It is completely free and very stable. It will work for you if you collect your mail using something like Thunderbird or Outlook Express (but don’t use OE unless you want to become one of the aforementioned exploited Windows owners). It works by sitting between your mail server and your mail program and marking suspect mail as it goes by. You then configure a filtering rule in your mail program to move the suspect mail into a separate folder. If you pare down the blacklists Spampal uses to just those listed above, it shouldn’t slow your mail downloads too much.

If you’re on Unix and you run your own mail server, receiving mail directly from the Internet, that server will probably have support for using these blacklists. If you pull mail from elsewhere, using fetchmail, say, so that your mail server doesn’t see the IP address of the machine which originated the mail, there’s a little Perl script called rblfilter which will help. It doesn’t seem to be maintained anymore, so I’ve put a copy here. You’ll need to work out how to tie it into your email system and edit the script according to the instructions in the comments.

The next line of defence is the Distributed Checksum Clearinghouse. The DCC works by sharing information about how many other copies of a particular email are floating around the Internet. If there are a lot of copies, it’s either something like a mailing list, or it’s spam. To use the DCC, you tell it where you expect to get legitimate bulk email from. Everything else you get which is bulk is therefore spam. The DCC is designed for Unix, so the web pages and Google will tell you how to get it set up there. There is a plugin for Spampal which will also let Windows people use the DCC. It’s beta software, that is, released to the public for testing, so it may contain some bugs: I’ve no idea how stable it is (despite getting a credit on that page, I didn’t actually write it).

If someone else manages your email for you, and you read it via a web interface, for example, then you should have a look a the spam filtering options you have available. I’ve just noticed that Pobox.com, who provide a forwarding address for me, now let people configure their service to reject mail based on those blacklists.

Fight the pink menace!

I stumbled across saltshakers on my Friends of Friends page and got into a debate about morality and various other things. Don’t really want to be the sort of atheist who hangs out on Christian internet sites and harangues them (I have my own site for that, after all), but I couldn’t resist this one.

I’ve also contributed in small part to a discussion involving cathedral_life on the ToothyCat Wiki, which seems to have replaced ucam.chat as the place where the Next Generation of Cambridge geeks hang out. The discussion starts off being about the Historical Jesus, moves on to talk about pigeonholing Christians, and ends up being about how many university CU members leave the faith after they leave university. Interesting stuff.

The Lakes were lovely. We had excellent weather, and the scenery was beautiful. S and I took many, many photographs. We walked up Cat Bells, went to the Sellafield Visitors Centre (which, disappointingly, does not sell fluorescent T-shirts saying “I’ve been to Sellafield”), went on a boat trip, and also managed to do a bit of reading in the evenings.

At Brantwood, John Ruskin’s former home, we happened across a performance of The Tempest by Illyria, who were excellent: a company of 5 actors, a simple set and a rollicking performance, in the best tradition of traveling players (being a Pratchett geek, I thought of Vitoller’s Men in Wyrd Sisters).

We also happened across a “3 for £10” deal on SF classics in a bookshop, so I bought Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowiz. I’ve read Canticle, so that’s gone to S. The Forever War‘s grinding tale of the pointlessness of war came to mind when I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on Sunday night. My favourite was The Left Hand of Darkness, though, for the evocative and touching description of an alien society. Recommended.

Fahrenheit 9/11 was biased and polemical and relied too much on pathos (or do I mean bathos?), but was quite terrifying for all that. I hope lots of Americans are watching it.

Compare and contrast. I quite like both of them, for different reasons. The first I like because it’s good to be hopeful, and the second for the same reason that many of the CDs I’m ripping into iTunes (did I mention that I really like iTunes?) are by people like Del Amitri, Alanis Morisette (before she went to India) and The Beautiful South.

Off to the Lake District for a week. Hoping it doesn’t rain too much.

Update: I’d like LiveJournal to be able to categorise postings and have a display which shows only those postings in a particular category. Without messing about with styles, the closest I seem to be able to get is the Memories feature. So there are some new links on the sidebar to the left (in this style) to postings of mine and of others which fall under my favourite topics.

Dave and Abbie’s wedding was fun. We started in Kew Gardens for the wedding itself, in beautiful surroundings for a charming ceremony. That was the first and only civil wedding in the crop of five (count ’em) weddings this year, and it lacked nothing on the church ceremonies. We then moved on to Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park, for the wedding breakfast, and, after some quick furniture removal, for an evening of ballroom dancing.

I took some pictures, as did S. Hers are the well composed portraits, mine are the blurry ones with people half out of shot. You can find them all here. Higher resolution ones are available if anyone wants them.

I’ll run out of superlatives if I try to describe it much further. Suffice to say it was a lovely day.

A couple of students in Another Place are in trouble for “hacking”. The news papers aren’t particularly specific about what they did, but it sounds like they installed a packet sniffer and listened in on traffic across their network.

Ethernet networks have everyone hanging off the same piece of wire. If you’re on an Ethernet network, your network card has a unique address. As the traffic for everyone on that piece of wire flows by, your computer picks up traffic addressed to it. It doesn’t listen to other people’s traffic because you usually don’t care about it. However, by running your network card in what is delightfully known as promiscuous mode, you can see other people’s traffic. Programs which do this and present the results to you are called packet sniffers. Ethereal is a popular free packet sniffer. Packet sniffers have legitimate uses, like diagnosing network problems or writing and debugging software which uses the network (I installed Ethereal the last time I was having problems with DNS lookups, for example). The remedies for undesired sniffing are encryption and restructuring the network so everyone’s packets don’t share the same piece of wire.

The Oxford students seem to have been disciplined for drawing attention to what they did, but none of what they found is news. A college network probably has everyone hanging off the same wire. There are encrypted versions of telnet, HTTP, IMAP and POP3 but not many people use them. There are a lot of clever people with time on their hands. You work it out.

People who know this have done some sort of risk calculation and come up with a solution that they’re happy with, which balances convenience against privacy. For example, I only permit encrypted logins to my machines and don’t send my password itself when fetching email (although the mail itself comes across the wire as plain text). Now you know what’s possible, you can do that calculation too.

I recently finished reading Jill Paton Walsh’s Lapsing. The book follows Tessa, a young Catholic woman, through 50’s Oxford. With a title like that, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the she loses her faith eventually. What I liked about this book was how well it evoked the strangeness of growing up, and particularly, the dissociation of losing one’s faith.

<lj-cut text=”The colours change”>

Though any photographer knows how the light changes all the live-long day, how various it is under every passing cloud, in every different climate, latitude, season, hour, for most people the medium of seeing is invisible – a constant white. We can hardly believe that the fabric samples, carefully matched under the lamplight, can so treacherously clash by daylight. “The colours change”, we say. Just so, for the most part, we treat our own consciousness, by whose flickering light we view the world, as an invisible medium seeing: its quirks and tints, and shadows, and changes of hue simply projected as changes in the world outside. Eagerly and hungrily viewing the whole world, the young particularly treat themselves as the invisible constant – though retrospective understanding will later illuminate every one of their friends, enemies, companions – it will always be hardest to find for themselves. Whatever thoughts and actions seem most entirely natural will occasion the most astonished incomprehension later; later everyone’s behaviour will seem explicable except one’s own; and thinking back across the years, Tessa will, of course, be able to see clearly everyone in the circle except herself.



The person I was is out there for all to see, but though I know in abstract what drives evangelicals as a group, my own inner life from that time is alien to me. There are occasional echoes brought on by a song or a sunny day, but I don’t know why I thought what I thought or felt what I felt.

The book’s characters are well described, for all the brevity of some of the cameo roles (which perhaps reflects the rush of Oxbridge life and the protagonists’ own self-involvement). The portrayal of religion is realistic and sympathetic, although the feeling of a lapser is well described too. Catholics named Theresa might enjoy the book 🙂

I’m trying out Xjournal, a rather nifty LJ client for Mac OS X. It’s all very pretty. Club 977 is an 80s Internet radio station, by the way. Pure cheese, all day long. Fantastic.

I had a brief stay in Edinburgh, for a wedding, last weekend. I took a few photographs of the place. Edinburgh is full of impressive architecture. Describing it as “pretty” doesn’t really do it justice, as that seems a little twee, which it isn’t.

That was the first of a run of weddings this year. It was a good start, with a ceidlidh afterwards (at which my theory that Karl Sandeman plays all ceidlidhs, ever, was disproved). S asked them to play a slow waltz. We ended up having the floor to ourselves and getting compliments on our dancing. I don’t imagine that’ll happen at the big ballroom dancing wedding in a couple of weeks.

Leonard of Crummy.com, boyfriend to sumanah, has the answer to why prayers sometimes go unanswered. Now you know where you’ve been going wrong.

I recently finished Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, a historical novel set in the late 1600s. It’s a bit of a departure for Stephenson, who usually does cyberpunk, but it’s still got his usual style and frenetic set-piece scenes. The Waterhouse and Shaftoe families, familiar from Cryptonomicon, turn up as a friend to Isaac Newton and as a Vagabond, respectively. I found it hard to keep track of just who was related to whom in the noble families mentioned, before deciding that it was better to just give up and enjoy the ride. The name dropping and anachronisms jar occasionally, but all in all, it’s well worth a read. Stephenson has avoided his usual problem of weak endings by making this the first book of a trilogy, so the ending is not the ending at all.

I’m thinking of getting a new phone, which will of course incorporate Bluetooth technology. Currently it’s a toss-up between the Nokia 6600 and the Sony Ericsson T610. Anyone got any experience of either of those? I’d like one with a decent organiser that I can sync with iCal, as I want something which will go beep at me when I’m about to miss important appointments.