internet

Very much so to you all. I’ve had a good weekend. Watched Pirates of the Carribean and thought it was a good silly film. Explored Milton Country Park and took some photos. Links to follow.

The dancing is back in full swing. GD on Friday was packed, but packed largely with nice people who it was good to see again. I also tried Clive’s lessons last night, which were hard but fun.

Had tea with Safi beforehand. The subject turned to Old Testament prophecy and how the prophets predicted JC, hence the Bible is miraculous in predicting stuff before it occurred and I should reconvert at once (I exaggerate a little). I said I thought that things like Isaiah passages referred to by Matthew show that Matthew thought Jesus was the Messiah, but they don’t constitute “prediction”. There’s another opportunity to ask my Jewish readers here: what do you think Isaiah 8 and Isaiah 53 are about? (I need a Vim macro to link to gospelcom’s site for references under the cursor, to go with the Google one).

I would like to big up (and also give mad propz to) the combined Spamhaus SBL+XBL blacklist, which is catching stuff which slips by the Distributed Checksum Clearinghouse (this does mean I miss out on my daily dose of poetry, but it’s a small price to pay). Windows people who collect email using POP3 or IMAP can use the list via Spampal. I’m passing stuff through rblfilter as well as dccproc.

Now that, as a paid user, I have the full power of LiveJournal’s S2 style system at my disposal, it might be time for a revamp round here. I’ve not yet decided whether to change the format to dark blue text on a black background (and go on about how goth I am, naturally) or merely to have a sodding huge picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar occupying most of the screen with the text in a small strip down the right hand side (I’d need to increase the font size, too). Vote now.

I’ve become a paid user of LiveJournal. As well as making me feel good about contributing to the upkeep of the place, this means that the RSS feed now contains the entire entry. As I can control the DNS for noctua.org.uk, that also means I can do:

blog.noctua.org.uk. 68048 IN CNAME livejournal.com.

so that http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ becomes an alias for my LiveJournal. That’s not very useful for existing LJers, as you won’t see friends only stuff even if you’ve logged in. But the URL is shorter, and it provides some sort of future proofing (not that I’m thinking of leaving LJ, of course).

It looks like there are many other exciting things one can do as a paid user. New toy!

Cogito Ergo Sumana linked to me. Blimey, somebody’s actually reading this stuff? I have arrived, I tell you. Must finish that losing my religion article.

In other news, there’s a new version of URLBody out, which undoes more of the bad stuff those pesky spammers to do hide the real host names in their URLs. And the people causing the excitement on the Spampal board want me to collaborate on a DCC plugin. Have to see whether I’ve got time.

I seem to be dancing quite a lot lately. I’m enjoying Dancesport B lessons. Sadly had to give up on the Intermediates on a Monday night as I think 4 nights a week is just a little bit too much. The word on the CDC grapevine is that some people think the Dancesport classes are too easy. Not sure where that’s coming from. The web page reckons people with more than a few terms of medals should be going to the B classes, and Alf never did arms and whatnot in his Latin teaching. Possibly dancing one-upmanship going on? Who knows.

Off to Rome in a week or so, which should be fun. Anyone know any good restaurants and suchlike?

People on the SpamPal support forums are getting a bit excited over the idea that someone might commercialise the thing. This would probably involve producing a better installer so the average Windows user can use it without having to fiddle with Outlook Express settings and so on (note to Windows users: please stop using OE, I’m bored of getting copies of viruses. Try Thunderbird or something instead). James Farmer, the author, has licensed it under an open source licence, so he presumably doesn’t mind this. But some people who wrote plugins, manuals and foreign language support for it are up in arms about the evil megacorps appropriating their stuff. I’ve said that I don’t mind my meagre plugin going in to such an effort. I’m not convinced that it’d be a commercially viable venture anyway, but people have packaged up SpamAssassin in a similar way. If people want to trade money for time spent fiddling with it, I can’t really see the harm in it.

The company also want to make a free DCC plugin, which would be nice, as the chances of me getting off my arse and finishing mine seem quite small at the moment.

This posting has been brought to you by the number 42 and the ACRONYM tag.

Danny O’Brien of NTK writes about the mixing of public, private and secret conversations which occurs on the web. It’s in reaction to yet another “look, these people are sad” article in The Register, but it goes on to say some interesting things:

My God, people say, how can Livejournallers be so self-obsessed? Oh, Christ, is Xeni talking about LA art again? Why won’t they all shut up?

The answer why they won’t shut up is – they’re not talking to you. They’re talking in the private register of blogs, that confidential style between secret-and-public. And you found them via Google. They’re having a bad day. They’re writing for friends who are interested in their hobbies and their life. Meanwhile, you’re standing fifty yards away with a sneer, a telephoto lens and a directional microphone. Who’s obsessed now?

There’s something nasty out there, changing the DNS settings of Windows machines to point at what look like a couple of Linux boxes on some US hosting service. Best guess is that it’s down to another fricking Windows exploit, one that seems to work via a web page which downloads an executable, which runs itself to change your DNS settings, and then deletes itself. It got me during my lunchtime surf at work, and it seems other people have seen it too. Check your DNS settings before you next use Internet banking, or face the Man in the Middle. Praise Bill!

(I always thought it’d be cool to have a LiveWires course on exploits, as the kids were always keen on Internet stuff: In this worksheet, you will own a poorly configured IIS server, changing the site’s front page to the message “Je5u5 0wnz j00: ph43r G0d”.)

In other news, the dear old Church of England (in fact, the Anglican communion) looks set to split on the gay issue, what with a big meeting of bishops coming up and much sabre rattling on both sides. Bit of a shame, as I can’t help feeling some affection for the old thing, although I suspect that a split church is just what many evangelicals (such as our old friends Reform) are looking for. (Really must get round to responding to livredor‘s latest on that thread, too).

I confess that I underestimated the enemy rather badly. I underestimated both the enemy’s level of sophistication, and also the enemy’s level of brute malevolence. I always knew that spammers had no principals and no ethics, but up until recently, I had no idea that they could or would stoop this low, or that they would engage in quite this level of criminality. I guess that, naively, I just never thought hard enough about how much money was actually at stake (in the spamming trade) or what that might mean in terms or the determination of spammers to win at all costs.

Ron F. Guilmette announced that he was giving up the fight against spam in the face of massive Distribued Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. This, in the wake of the attacks which forced Joe Jared off the net, is rather worrying.

<lj-cut> Ron maintained a list of open proxies. When you connect your home or company private network to the Intarweb, and mess up (or install something which is insecure by default), you can arrange matters so that anyone can use your proxy as a convenient way to make themselves anonymous, since their activity appears to originate from the proxy. Whether it’s spamming, or merely making a nuisance of yourself on talkers and the like, open proxies are favoured by asshats everywhere. Ron was also running a network of honeypots, servers which pretend to be open proxies but which are actually gathering the real addresses of those responsible for abuse.

Joe Jared was the main distributor of the SPEWS list, a controversial blacklist of ISPs who, in the view of the anonymous list maintainers, weren’t doing enough to get rid of their spammers.

The lists, so called DNS Blackhole Lists or DNSBLs, were available published using the DNS, the name service which turns domain names (like www.livejournal.com) into IP addresses (like 66.150.15.150). Most of the big unix mail servers, such as Sendmail or Exim, can use these sorts of lists to refuse connections, or to tag mail as suspect. Even if your server administrator isn’t using blacklists, home users can also make use of DNSBLs using James Farmer’s Spampal program.

Guilmette and Jared probably overextended themselves by running these services from DSL or cable connections. The big boys are getting DDoS’d but their lists are still being published (even if the website isn’t doing so well). There are other proxy lists out there. So, what’s the worry?

I suppose, like Ron Guilmette, I’m surprised at such outright criminality. It makes me wonder who’s next on the list of targets. DNSBLs make particularly popular targets, but what about distributors of spam filtering software, say? One could say that these are the acts of desperate individuals, running scared of anti-spam efforts, but possibly this is the end point of the evolutionary arms race against spammers: many of them have gone to the wall, but the ones who are left are nastier than your average spammer was a few years ago.

People on news.admin.net-abuse.email are already talking about peer-to-peer systems to make a big easy target into lots of small, hard to hit targets (but geeks love to talk about distributed systems and crypto, so who knows whether it’ll go anywhere). Meanwhile, the old mantra about how you shouldn’t fight abuse with abuse is sounding less and less convincing.

A quick glance at the folder where my computer puts stuff it thinks is spam shows I’m getting a lot more of it lately (about 5 or 6 spams per day, right now, with more at weekends). The amount coming into the “spamtrap” addresses which report spam to the Distributed Checksum Clearinghouse for the benefit of the world at large seems to be going up too. The DCC works by counting how many times a particular message text has been seen in the wild. Messages with a high count are either spam or legitimate bulk email, so you need to whitelist the mailing lists you’re on so as not to filter them by accident. Every other bulk email that you didn’t ask for (and whitelist) is spam, by definition.

I’m actually doing some good with the spamtraps, as my computer is getting stuff which doesn’t already have a high count and maxing out its count as it sees it.

I can’t imagine what it’d be like for someone whose address appears somewhere on the web or Usenet and who doesn’t have any filters. It looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

If you have a LiveJournal, you’re a blogger. It’s short for “web logger”, you see. The Register writes that most bloggers are teenage girls. “Teenage girls of all ages”, they add, pointing to examples of grown men throwing tantrums, dieting, experimenting with alcohol, and, for all I know, giggling and going gooey over that bloke from Alias.

The Register is a tabloid, and as such they love to build things up, buttercup baby, just to knock them down. Blogs never deliver what they say they will, the Register says, pointing to the exciteable speculation of the professional bloggers, who apparently think they’re the vanguard of a revolution in communication in which the centralised corporate meeja will be the first against the wall.

This is all pretty reasonable. The number of people on the Internet is very much larger than the number of people who care enough to read any given web log, and the number of people on the Internet is very much smaller than the number of people. So the revolution will not be blogged, fair enough. But then it all gets a bit nasty.

…blogging is a solitary activity that requires the blogger to spend less time reading a book, taking the dog for the walk, meeting friends in the pub, seeing a movie, or reading to the kids. The reason that 99.93 per cent of the world doesn’t blog, and never will, is because people make simple information choices in what they choose to ingest and produce, and most of this will be either personal and private, or truly social.

Maybe blogs are a way of keeping the truly antisocial out of harm’s way. So if you know a middle-aged sociopath, for heaven’s sake, point him to a computer and show him how to start a weblog.

At least it will keep him off the streets.

This is going away from the worthy task of pricking the pretensions of those blogging advocates and getting close to the old Saturday Night Live sketch about how some people need to “get a life”. The Register’s problem is that it fails to differentiate between people trying to get attention for their revolution and friends who are just quietly doing their thing. No-one thinks any step away from talking face to face is an absolute improvement. But given the constraints of distance and free time, alternatives like the telephone, email, instant messenger, and even a LiveJournal might be the next best thing. Every time some new way of taking that step turns up, people regard it as slightly odd. Back in 1994, it used to be that knowing email addresses off by heart was “sad”, but knowing telephone numbers wasn’t.

Letters, phone calls, email, Drogon, and this blog thingy are useful as long as there are friends using them. It’s not a revolution, it’s more of the same. Blog like no-one’s watching, because to a first approximation, you’re right.

Trying out the Charm LiveJournal client, as it’ll let me edit postings locally rather than using a web browser, so I can use Vim to edit them. And it’s written in Python, which earns it geek credibility. I suppose I should find something to say while I’m here.

The controversial Drogon sex discussion featured this rather good version of a Madonna song (perfectly safe for work, viewers, but needs Flash and sound).

Should male Cambridge Dancers’ Club members have perse-girl on their list of interests, I wonder?