Hi! I don't update this page any more. I have a blog where all my current musings can be found. This page should be treated as an archival page - all information and opinions on this page should be considered dated.

Rants and Raves

A place for me to rave about something or complain about something
Real NonPlayer - Geocaching - User Friendly - Cinnamon Altoids - IP Masqerading - IdentaFone - The Microsoft Monopoly - Sun Is Really Pissing Me Off

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Real Player, the Worst Bloatware Product Ever February 25, 2003

It's going to be really hard to write this without resorting to the "F" word every other word. But I'll try.

I just had occasion to upgrade my RealOne player. And damn it, I'm not happy.

Real Networks is the name of the company that puts out Real Player. And if I had to come up with a company that's worse than Microsoft, it'd be Real Networks.

I have no problem with the file format. It's supposedly a really good streaming media format. And I'm sure that the company has done a lot of valuable research in producing a media format that streams well.

But their player sucks. I mean really sucks. Sucks big time.

But it plays the format ... it's the only player that plays the format. Why does it suck?

Because it doesn't have to do anything more than play the media format. But it does.

Bloatware is the term given to any software/computer package that eats up more hard drive space, runs much slower, and basically, does things worse than it really needs to. It usually does all this because of add ons and additional functionality that the company assumes you want, so it forces it down your throat.

The RealOne player is the absolute worst example of bloatware. If you thought Microsoft's billowing operating systems were bad, wait until you install RealOne on the computer. It outshines any MS product in the bloatware category - so much so you'd think right off the bat that it was a Microsoft product. But, near as I know, it's not.

I don't need your message center. The only use I'd make of it is the one you absolutely force me to use - which is to check on updates. All the other messages, special offers, and ads you attempt to force on me are completely undesired. Your partnership with AOL angers me to no end, as I really, really, really, do not need another three icons on my desktop - only two of which are yours (the other of course, being that "Free AOL" icon).

All I want from a media player is for the thing to shut up unless asked to play something. Don't run anything in the background - you don't program it well enough for it to sit and not take any more cycles than it needs to - because it will just cause other software (okay, most notably games) to freeze at key moments.

Just because you are partnered with AOL, doesn't mean you have to act like AOL.

I am so pissed at this company that I'm not even linking anything in this article to their site (except the title, as Google can be subjected to "bombing"). On a professional note, I will not run any product unless forced.

Because you suck. You suck during installation, you suck while updating, you suck while running, and you suck while not running - by doing things you don't need to do and weren't asked to do.

You are boycotted whenever I can get away with it.

When I get home, I'm making my Real Networks t-shirt cage liner for Aggie.

If I come up with any other way to minimize your existence in my world, I will.

If your company goes under, I will rejoice on that day.

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GeoCaching, My Other Hobby January 23, 2003

Okay, it's been about two and a half years. I guess I've had material for this page, but it's never been safe to put it up here (every other word would have ended up being the "F" word). So, instead of ranting, here's a rave.

If you know me even just a little bit, you know I SCUBA dive. That's no secret. I have a good portion of this site dedicated to that hobby.



I had been aware of GeoCaching for some time, but it was a while ago and there weren't that many caches in the Tampa Bay area. I got a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) receiver for my old Visor Prism ... thing is, it didn't work as well as I would have liked, and I never really got into using it. That, and now that I have a Handspring Treo 300 (that doesn't have Springboard capability), I've been without any kind of a GPS for a while.



So my buddy Aaron, who works in the Robotics Lab in our Computer Science department, borrowed a couple and took a look at what he could do. Also, the number of caches within a short distance of where I work and live (and don't require much more than a 30 minute walk from the nearest parking lot) are growing. He did some GeoCaching, and then after a week, decided to go ahead and get a GPS of his own. After finding a couple of caches with him and his new GPS, I got one.



At least the cost of this hobby is just that initial purchase (oh, and gas for my truck) - there's always something that requires money for diving, even if it's an air fill.



GPS receivers receive signals from certain orbiting satellites, and, from those signals, can compute (and usually display) your exact location on the planet (within a certain amount of error - usually somewhere between 10-30 feet - unless your a GPS guided missile, in which case you know your position to 18 inches or so). Your position is never broadcast through the GPS system - you are simply receiving signals and doing some math.



So, what exactly is GeoCaching (since you've decided to keep reading here and not visit their website)?



The GC website has a list of caches and GPS coordinates. A "cache" in this case is "something," typically a Tupperware box or other relatively water resistant storage container, hidden somewhere. At a bare minimum, your "typical" cache will have a log book and writing implement (so you can write the date you found the cache, and if you've left/took anything). Caches also usually have "stuff" in them ... anything from batteries (in case yours are running low), zip ties, coloring books, decorative pins, coupons, crayons ... there really isn't a limit to what you might find in one aside from size (heck, someone once found a five dollar bill in one).



An expansion to GeoCaching that the GC website tracks is TravelBugs. TravelBugs are items that have been (usually) formally registered with GeoCaching.com and are indicated as a TB by a tag. TB's usually have a "goal"; like "I want to see how far I can travel." The premise is that the person who dropped off the TB will know where the TB is trying to go and has logged it; so when you see the TB, and find the log entry pertaining to it, you can figure out if you should leave the TB there or take it with you. One cache near me has the "Key Lime TravelBug" in it right now, whose goal is to become the southern most Bug (I'm guessing in the US, because the end goal is suggested to be a cache in the Florida Keys). On the GC website you can even see a map of a particular TB's travels.



So essentially this is what happens when geeks get new technology, have a little too much time on their hands, and want to see what they can do with that technology. They'll find some use for it. Heck, at least it gets us out into the open and makes us exercise.



Now, if I could just find a use for a bike beyond getting to the GC1333 and GC51FA caches (one of which is supposedly four miles away from the nearest parking lot, inside of a park).



So now you're probably saying, "What's the challenge? I have the coordinates so I know where it is; what's the challenge?"



The challenge is that caches are not always out in the open. Most often, they are hidden (not quite buried). Along with that, your GPS device really can only tell you that you're near it, with an error of 10 feet or so. Also, that error rate goes up as you get into wooded areas (trees aren't too bad but a really thick canopy can mess with your GPS reception). The first one I went to look for took about 20 minutes of wandering around with Aaron saying "It's supposed to be around here somewhere." The fifth one I found (third on my own) was in a park. I was following the trail when I came to a point at which my GPS said, "It's about 50 feet in front of you." Directly in front of me there was a small pond (it was on the other side).



Finally, one piece of advice for future GeoCachers: Always mark your vehicle when you leave it, and if your GPS does "tracking" (like a breadcrumb trail), turn it on. Failure to do so will prove the point (not that this has happened to me yet) that, you can know exactly where you are on the planet, yet still be completely lost.



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Sun Is Really Pissing Me Off July 18, 2000

Can these people please do something right for once?

Do they not realize that just because Microsoft is under legal attack, doesn't mean they have to stop putting real effort into their product?

What brought this rant about is a series of compiles I've had to do on Sun's newest operating system, Solaris 8. The most recent one involved compiling Pine 4.10 for LDAP support. I had noted early on that some LDAP libraries were included with Solaris 8, so I followed the directions to the best of my ability for letting Pine know that you were going to compile in LDAP support, intending to use the Solaris 8 libraries to do it. So I get an error:
libldap.a not found.
Lo and behold, no such library exists on the system ... makes me think Sun is trying to follow, in the Unix world, some of the same bad practices that Microsoft has in it's own little Universe. So, frustrated, I go to UMich's LDAP site, only to find that they don't really do the LDAP stuff any more; they suggest going to OpenLDAP. So I do.

Using the included 'configure' script resulted in errors. Lo and behold, there's a bunch of things wrong with most Solaris releases, and there are some workarounds. After fighting with it for a while, I decide "Hell, maybe I can find something that's precompiled ... they suggest looking at Netscape's SDK LDAP 1.0." Well, 1.0 is not in use any more, it's 4.11, and, lo and behold, there's no libldap.a library.

Finally I go back to the OpenLDAP stuff, realize that we have the GDBM stuff (since Sun's included NDBM stuff isn't compatible with OpenLDAP) compiled on another machine, rdist the appropriate libraries and include files, and poof, the OpenLDAP libraries compile. Next thing ya know, I have an LDAP included version of Pine compiled.

But I shouldn't have had to jump through these hoops.

Sun has started including a bunch of open source/freeware software as part of it's distribution (examples: the gzip stuff, some other gnu stuff, and even a version of Apache compiled with some really weird default file locations). They're trying to be like Linux. But guys! You're not doing it right! At the very least ... you're not doing it all the way, but only half-assed.

I'm not even gonna go into the headaches I'm developing from trying to get Apache compiled to use an iPlanet (a spin-off from deals that developed between Sun and Netscape) Directory Server, and a mySQL server (or the headaches that developed from trying to get the mySQL server compiled in the first place) since Netscape revoked the "Free to Educational Institutions" licenses for their server software when they moved to iPlanet (we were using Netscape's Fasttrack and would have moved to Enterprise in a heartbeat). And not to mention that Sun took it's SIMS product, which, in an old maintenance agreement with Sun, we could get updates for, and moved it to iPlanet, so now we have to pay obscene amounts of money yearly for to get at all. Never mind that Sun is beginning to charge us a lot more for maintenance, cutting our discount rate, than they used to ...

Sun, do you not realize that people here at USF were buying your products because of the decent deals you gave us on software maintenance and hardware maintenance? Do you not realize that some of us are quite competent, and given enough motivation, could easily drop your stuff and move to a Dell system (which we can get fairly cheaply, and easily get a 3 year maintenance contract) and use Linux (which we can get for free, and little by little is becoming easier to keep up to date and maintain ... especially since standard freeware packages seem to compile right out of the "gzipped tar" box)?

Look. A good portion of the more knowledgeable folks at this University prefer your platform over any other, definitely over any other Unix platform. But your positioning yourself to be dropped as our Unix server vendor. Clean up your act. Clean up your operating system!

I have installed Linux on a couple of machines; compiling kernels is fun for the first two times, but after that it drags on. I'll admit it: maybe I've just reached the limits of what I'm willing to take the time to learn. Heck, last Friday I was stomping around the office yelling that I was gonna quit the computer business and go into SCUBA instruction full time, lack of money be damned.

Now, beyond Linux, I'll say that Sun is still probably one of the better choices as far as Unix systems are concerned. But that doesn't give them the right to ignore major flaws in their OS through several versions.

The best way a computer company can make nice with the administrative public is to do it right from the core out, instead of tacking on new features at the expense of letting internal flaws continue to exist. Heck, with Open Source the way it is, WE can take care of the rest ... just give us a decent platform to develop stuff on!

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The Microsoft Monopoly January 31, 2000

This is a rant. But I'm not ranting just about Microsoft, but I'm ranting about all of the other companies that should be able to *do* something about Microsoft.

It is my opinion that the biggest piece of evidence that Microsoft is a monopoly is how well everything works together. I know that in an ideal computing society, this is what everyone wants: an office suite that can publish to HTML (well, Office 2000 apps publish to XML, the next step); an all encompassing email system (Exchange does more than mail; it does calendaring, and you can set things up to where email goes straight into a database ... ideal for help desk situations). You name it, these days, Microsoft can do it (I myself will admit that since I primarily use an NT server for my personal site, I use FrontPage 2000 to do the coding ... and the FrontPage server extensions are nice to have).

Never mind the fact that administrating Exchange is a nightmare. What we technical types have to eventually understand is that *we* often do not choose the platform; people higher up with fewer cares about how hard something is to admin than we do make that decision. And since Microsoft has cornered the market, they own the game. You have people who hate Microsoft having to go get their MCSE's and taking Exchange courses because their company gives them no choice but to learn or leave. You can cry all you want about "unstable systems," "independently agreed to standards," or "inflexible platforms," but your CEO doesn't care. You learn ways (like having things reboot once a week automatically) to minimize your unplanned down time and deal with it. All your CEO wants is a productivity application that's cheapest in the short term. Microsoft is the only choice.

Netscape has dropped the ball. They had a calendaring system that actually was more difficult than Exchange to admin and it never did work quite the way it was supposed to. And they never fixed it. Their web browser cannot interpret XML as well as Explorer does, and has trouble displaying some HTML as well as Explorer does. I have people who say the web browser is more unstable than Explorer (not having used Explorer all that much I cannot make that comparison). Others do not like the way the mail reader feels and prefer Outlook (even if they are only connecting to an IMAP service).

Sun has dropped the ball. They came out with SIMS and low and behold is was slightly better than Exchange to admin but it took far too long to get stable enough to be more than a fancy combination of Sendmail, IMAPD, POPD, which used a LDAP server. Rich ISP's who don't want to use Linux based stuff and have money *might* use SIMS.

Linux has dropped the ball. The user interfaces can be quite snazzy but as of yet don't quite manage to be as customizable as your average Windows desktop. Hardware admin is still a mostly a matter of command line (which I personally prefer) issues than a GUI issue. And hardware support is quite lacking. I will give Linux this though: It is far more impressive what people have been able to do and give away for free than what Microsoft has done and charges for. But without some larger advances in hardware support, application support, and user interface customizability, Linux will remain the stable for smaller ISP's and enthusiasts.

So some of you idealists are saying "What about the court cases? Won't Microsoft have to break up?" What about appeals? And think about it: just because the company breaks up does not mean that magically there will be more choices. The new companies will probably stick to coding for the Windows platform; Exchange is likely to remain as part of the NT Server group's company. Other companies will have to attempt to write software to compete, but the new companies will have the same head start that Microsoft itself already has: applications that already work together. Just because you break a company up does not mean that the new companies will cooperate with existing companies to foster competition; they will instead cooperate mostly with their ex-Microsoft buddies (this is a hard concept for me to express ... hope you understand what I'm trying to say). It will be years after this breakup that you'll see anything like Exchange for Solaris.  StarOffice was a valiant attempt at pulling some of the attention away from MS Office, but without an Outlook 2000 component, it has become little more than an interesting possibility.

Now, if Bill Gates really wanted to throw the world a curve, he'd open source everything. But then, Microsoft would stop making money hand-over-fist the way it does now. So it isn't going to happen.

And as for the existing open source people (aka Linux, FreeBSD, Samba, etc.) they cannot compete on a large scale with Microsoft as MS currently exists. Sure, they can make a sizable dent, but there is no way they'll be able to conquer or even greatly wound the beast. Microsoft as it stands now will be the company large organizations with money will get their software from. Linux will become the platform for enthusiasts and small ISP's. Sun, if they start picking up the ball a little more, might just keep its segment of high reliability, high hard drive access speed, database systems.

Sad but true; the lemmings have all jumped off the cliff, but nobody's drowning. Oh sure, they choke on the water once in a while, but they're all keeping their heads above the water. Nobody has been able to build an all-encompassing product that's cheaper and better than Microsoft's.

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The Only Cartoon I Read: User Friendly Jan. 23, 2000

Yes I do so love Dilbert (I have most, if not all, of the stuffed animals as my personal "menagerie" on my desk). However, I don't get the paper any more, so I don't read him as faithfully as I read User Friendly, which is now my Netscape start page. User Friendly is more in tune with my life than Dilbert is (though Dilbert often rings true when it comes to my dealings with usually the upper admin of other IT departments on campus) and I tend to identify a little better with the characters in UF than I do with Dilbert (well, except maybe Dogbert).

Take a day of sitting in front of the computer and burn through their archives. It's funny stuff!

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Newest Addiction: Cinnamon Altoids Jan. 23, 2000

The only thing more pleasing to a hot cinnamon lover like me is cinnamon oil ... which I haven't seen in ages. It took some searching to find these little gems of candy goodness. Once I did, all was right in the universe. Peppermint Altoids are of course very good too ... but have a more medicinal quality than anything else (I know folks like me who use them to clear up stuffy noses, and others who have managed to work their way through the issues with quitting smoking with them). Wintergreen is too weak for my tastes. I now often have a tin of Cinnamon with me almost everywhere I go.

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Got my Cell, got my Cable Modem: Gotta Love IP Masquerading Feb. 9, 1999

I've ditched my land line, suddenly making that $20 I spent on an otherwise useful program (see IDENTAFONE) pointless. I now run life on my cell phone and a cable modem provided by Time Warner's Road Runner service. So what I've managed to do is eliminate a $30 phone bill, and pick up a ~$25 cell phone bill and a ~$35 cable modem bill...where I was getting decent phone service, and crappy Internet service (someday USF will upgrade their incoming lines but until then it bit), I now get a phone that goes everywhere with me (look for a rave about PrimeCo sometime in the future) that gives me no long distance charges inside Florida, no roaming wherever there is PrimeCo coverage in Florida, and a computer line that gives me really nice Internet service (a 6.4meg download from the 98 upgrade site took less than 3 minutes to download and install).

The beautiful thing about all this is that, though Road Runner doesn't officially support it, you can hook their cable modem up to Linux. There are several pages out there, the most useful one I found being Phil Karn's stuff...he even has a page specific to RedHat 5.1 that worked well for RedHat 5.2 (only catch being things don't work right unless it's right after a reboot...no on the fly configuration seems to work...but then I really didn't mess with it all *that* much). There is one minor reward for me here: I got to tell the guy that was planning on installing the PC network card that he didn't get paid enough to touch my machine.

Now, if you're like me, you're a computer nut who could probably learn programming very well but don't see the point. You love PERL and enjoy getting computers to do all sorts of things, but you can easily get lost and even feel a little sad if it's all working right. You have an internal network that you would like to hook up to the Internet but don't want to pay extra money for extra IP's from RR. Your ethics prevent you from becoming an evil hacker and you're directing your life to becoming a systems administrator. Well, you should look at IP Masquerading.

Okay...what's it do, what's the point? With one IP and two TCP/IP connections (modem->network, network->network, or even modem->modem), you can have a number of machines using a Linux box on the Internet as a gateway. It takes some compiling of your Linux kernel with all the right (and some experimental) code activated, and a little bit of modification to your startup routines, and even a little bit of research if you have games you want to play through that Linux gateway, but once it's all running, you can have a whole lot of machines using one small Linux box (and it's IP) to get access to the Internet.

Now at this point I consider myself lucky. My main purpose here is to have my Linux box on the net but have my Win98 PC still have access to it. Occasionally I have a laptop from work that I plug in and it too can go through the Linux box to do the deed. More computers than that, and you might have difficulty getting some applications (especially games) to work 'just right' over the Internet. And for some applications (I do this for Worms2, where I have a worms2.sh and a deworm.sh) you might want to think more towards shell scripts than startup configurations (using ipautofw, for instance, can get some applications to work, like Worms2, at the expense of breaking a bunch of other apps, like ssh2, irc-specifically ident requests, AIM).

Well worth the effort, but even if you know everything, make sure you catch all of the gotchas...IP Masquerading, not done properly, can leave your system (including all of your internal computers) vulnerable. I personally don't know enough to trust it with the system running overnight, when I'm not there for extended periods of time, etc.

If you've got one IP, more than one computer, and one of them's a Linux box? Think about IP Masquerading.

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Better than good, it's great: IdentaFone Probably sometime in mid to late 98

Okay, to start everything off on a good note for once in my life, I just have to rave about IdentaFone. It's a shareware package written by this great guy Maurice. With the newer modems these days, some come with the ability to pick up the data from your caller ID service (if you have it). Now that in and of itself is no big deal...99% of the modems that come with this feature usually come with something to read that data. However, this beautiful, inexpensive package comes with the ability to then page you, numerically or alpha numerically, with the information! And that's not all! You can set up an address book, and if you know someone's number and don't like the way their caller ID pops up, you can change that. My Mom and Dad now pop up on IdentaFone (and my alpha pager) as "Mom and Dad Stewart"! There's the ability to have calls blocked while IdentaFone is running, as well as who does and does not rate the privilege of paging you when they call.

I had some problems at first; the two USR modems I got from Dell were royally screwed up and didn't pick up half my caller ID stuff. The USR modem I got from Comp USA got all my CID data, but couldn't hold a stable connection to my provider. At that point it was time to give up on the supposedly good USR/3Com modems and I got a Diamond Supra Express from Comp USA (which was cheaper than my USR modem). This wonderful piece of hardware originally picked up all CID, held a surprisingly solid, 38K connection to my provider (it's a 56K modem but, eh, phone lines, what can you do?), and even sent out the test pages correctly, but for some reason I couldn't seem to get an alpha page when someone actually called me. Numerical worked great and I was ready to settle for that...

Throughout all of this, Maurice was great. It's fascinating how you can get good technical support from a guy writing software he sells for 20 bucks and can't get a straight answer out of major corporations (and my recent experiences with Dell about the USR modems that they sell but don't support all of the features of and USR about the USR modems that Dell sells that they don't support mean this phenomenon is not limited to Microsoft). Maurice practically held my hand, pointed out my errors politely when I made them, took two days to test his software code with certain pager companies and write fixes. At this very moment I have a perfectly working system. Maybe I should die right now before anything else goes wrong.

If you need this kind of functionality out of your PC, modem, and pager service, then IdentaFone is for you.
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