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More Spam

10 June 2022 05:00

I've been having a bit of a spam problem on this blog. I really didn't want to do a captcha when I set it up, and I still don't. Captchas are always too cumbersome, if they're effective at all. Often they're more obtrusive to humans than they are to bots. Even good captcha can often be farmed out to humans after a trivial amount of reverse engineering. It can be very cost-effective to do this.

I think RBLs will be a little more effective for my use case, and be completely unobtrusive to most users. And it only took five lines of code:

# Check for spam on the Usenix RBL
my @ipa = split('\.', $ENV{'REMOTE_ADDR'});
my @ipa_rev = reverse(@ipa);
my $dnsbl_host = join('.', @ipa_rev) . "";
if (gethostbyname("$dnsbl_host")) {
        $COMMENT = "/srv/ephemeris/comments.spam/"

So it still saves the comment, but in a quarantine folder that doesn't get built with the rest of the site HTML. I might check it sometimes, maybe never. The spammer does not get notified that their comment was quarantined. So if you comment something and it never shows up, you can email me and I'll check it out. You might need to get your IP cleared over here (click the "rblremove" link -- don't refresh it too many times). However, you may have been listed because you have some malware on your computer or network that's part of a botnet.

Hey, spammers, if you're reading this, why do you only spam my Birthday Post?

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Starting School

3 June 2022 08:54

I've done very well for myself in my career. I have few regrets about the path I chose in life. With no college degree, and only a barely passable high school education (thanks, bullies), I make a competitive and comfortable salary, working for a good boss and employer, doing challenging and satisfying work. It's a good spot.

"Hey, maybe now would be a good time to become a full-time student," I said to myself.

I do occasionally find situations where not having a formal education seems to have stunted me. MBAs and business professionals seem to speak a strange, unfamiliar dialect of common English that is beyond me. Marketing lingo is particularly confounding. Presentations from senior leadership, ocassionally, seem downright otherworldly. I know there is meaning to all these words, but I lack the education to truly understand them.

I'm very good at my job, I know from the feedback that I receive from my peers and supervisor. I'm also an effective communicator with my team and those in adjacent teams. Business communication is where I'm lacking. For instance, explaining "DevOps" to a senior executive in a way that makes them want to invest in it more. (My current answer: I build things that help software developers do better work, faster.)

So I've started a four-year degree program, BA in Business Administration. I'll consider the Master's after I get done with the Bachelor's, depending on how much I like (or hate) it. Beyond the business communication skills, I don't have a ton of expectations for what to get out of the program. I just hope to gain some knowledge (and a credential) that will come in handy one day.

Thanks to a particularly generous tuition assistance program with my employer, this program comes at no cost to me. It's offered through University of Arizona Global Campus, a quasi-for-profit online university. If you search around, you can find a lot of negative press about UAGC. However, I've talked to a number of higher education professionals at non-profit state universities, and they all seem to agree that this is a good opportunity for me.

UAGC even gave me a fancy schmancy student ID to print off and go laminate at the Office Depot. How about that?

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Writing with AI

24 May 2022 21:08

AI sucks. It might suck less one day, but so far, it sure seems like it hasn't solved any of the problems that startups, "thought leaders", futurists, and salespeople have been claiming it will. There is a book that I would like to read on this topic. I myself have seen firsthand examples of "fake AI" -- products sold as artificial intelligence that are, in fact, cheap contractors banging out the "computed" results in real time.

Not to say that real AI has absolutely no practical application. I'm sure that there's a use-case out there, with a sufficient data set, to where "sit on this heap of data, then identify and act upon abstract patterns within it" would be an effective and efficient solution. Hopefully these would be applications that wouldn't have the ability to ruin or end somebody's life, completely without oversight or recourse.

You know what AI's really good for, today? Making funny blurbs of text. I used one of my recent blogposts as a blurb to generate this beauty on NovelAI:

My husband and I got bikes recently, from a local shop located in a dilapidated Frito factory. We awkwardly peddled them back home to our home, located in a 114 year old Model T factory. The bike shop was called "The Green Machine," which is what we were looking for, but the owner insisted on calling it "The Green Machine." This was an annoyance, as he would say this every time we went into his store. He had also been trying to sell us a green bicycle seat cover that looked like a giant leaf. It was hideous. We never bought it.

We rode our bikes through the streets of our neighborhood, past the decrepit factories and abandoned warehouses. There were lots of abandoned buildings here, because most of the people who lived in this area were dead. Or maybe they just didn't want to live in a place with so many dead people. They moved out when the dead started coming back to life.

I knew I should be scared by all these dead people walking around, but I wasn't. I felt like I could handle anything now. I'd seen zombies before, and I had killed them. And not only that, but I had killed the zombie leader himself!

There were still plenty of other zombies roaming the streets, though. Some were just walking along minding their own business, while others seemed to be following someone or something.

Turns out everyone in Deep Ellum is dead. Tragic.

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Birthday Post

30 March 2022 23:30

I once again find myself at an age ending in 0. What a ride. 10 years before now, I was trying to figure out how to live my gay adult life in a big new city. 10 years before that, I was lamenting having to move yet and find new friends yet again, knowing nothing of the big adventure that lie ahead. 10 years before that, I was born into a whole new world. What will this new decade bring?

Well, to start, I'm finding that I have to put effort into looking healthy. Gone are the days where I can eat crap, do nothing, and look pretty. I've already invested in a bicycle to stave off the Dale Gribble-bod. I'm starting some resistive training as well, though perhaps I should hire a personal trainer just so as to keep me from injuring myself.

Frustratingly, though my body is beginning to slump into a King of the Hill shape, I still get breakouts of acne. I'm sure that, left untreated, the acne will combine with typical, leathery aging of skin to make my face look like the spell book from Hocus Pocus. Lest such a tragedy befall my supple face, I must take action. Time to tune up my skincare regimen.

My nightly skincare regimen

In selecting my emoilments for my beauty sleep, I looked for things that seemed to contain "natural"-type ingredients. To a certain definition of the term, "natural." Other primates certainly don't seem to concern themselves with night time moisturizers. Really what I'm looking for is an ingredients list that doesn't contain a ton of nasty solvents that will dry out my (already quite dry) skin. For now, I've settled on:

  1. Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel Cleanser
  2. Thayers Witch Hazel Toner (various fun scents)
  3. Ayur Tulsi Face Pack (couple nights a week, mixed with rose water)
  4. Sri Sri Rejuvenating Night Cream (for night time moisturizer)

I use the same cleanser and toner in the morning, followed by a moisturizer (looking for a new brand, right now it's some Korean crap I found) and Badger Mineral Sunscreen. So, does it work?

Eh, I dunno.

At least it makes me feel like I'm doing something for myself, which is really the main point. I will say that Thayer's stuff regularly goes on sale at TJ Maxx, and the Ayur and Sri Sri skincare products are very economical, and can be consistently found at our local Indian markets. It seems to make a difference when I stay on them, and there seems to be a detriment in my complexion when I go off the regimen for a few days.

On the other hand, it could be all placebo. It could be that I'm simply seeing benefits from having a self-care routine of any sort, and I could just as easily achieve all this with a bar of Irish Spring and a gratitude journal. Either way, I just hope it delays the Necronomicon face for another decade or two.

Do gratitude journals have sulfates?

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Riding with Mavica

25 March 2022 21:08

My husband and I got bikes recently, from a local shop located in a dilapidated Frito factory. We awkwardly peddled them back home to our home, located in a 114 year old Model T factory.

Having not ridden a bike since middle school so many years ago, it took us some time to get used to them. Balancing and going fast aren't the problem, so much as starting and stopping.

But I've really taken to riding after work. For what Dallas lacks in nature hikes, it makes up for in bike trails. We can ride from our home in Deep Ellum all the way to White Rock Lake and the trail that encomposses it, with only a few blocks of road travel and just a few intersections.

My Retrospec Beach Cruiser against an overpass mura

Today, I thought it would be fun to bring my Sony Mavica, model MVC-FD88, along for the ride. I brought along a satchel full of 1.44 MB new-old-stock Office Depot floppy diskettes, but I only got through three of them before my long-disused battery ran out.

My Retrospec Beach Cruiser against an overpass mural, different angl

So, yes, 33% of the pictures that I took are of my bike. Though it's pretty fine-looking, if I do say so myself.

My Retrospec Beach Cruiser on some grave

Hey, it's a new toy and I want to show it off. Could you really blame me? Though the reason I pulled over on this gravel wasn't to get another shot of my bike, it was this:

Some rude, though strangely asesthetic, graffit

I'm not normally a fan of graffiti, but I would certainly rather it be done against stark slabs of cement than the natural features themselves. So, thank you for that, anonymous lady-butt drawer.

A little pond near the lak

I enjoy the limitations of the crappy digital camera... uh, format? This would be a rather mediocre picture if taken with a good camera. It's over-exposed, there's a lot of detail washed out. But the artifacts and jpeg-edness of it all make it so much mroe interesting. And I can still arrange a halfway decent composition, at least if I stare intently into the early 00s LCD technology intently enough.

A duck, or some type of waterfow

And this thing has some halfway-decent glass in it, for being a monolith without any form of changeable lens. I won't pretend this isn't a crap photo, but I'm always impressed how close I can get with the optical zoom.

Old building, big smokestack. If you're a hotel manager, contact me for prints

There are some pretty old buildings around the lake. Clubhouses, some repurposed industrial buildings. I think most of them are venue spaces now.

A weird little boat. It was chasing some college rowers

There was some sort of rowing competition. I wanted to get more pictures of it, maybe even a zoomy panning shot, but my battery was running low. All I got was this chaser boat, and perhaps the only particularly decent shot of this set:

A moody backlit picture of a fisherman

This fisherman seemed none too pleased that he chose rowing competition day to get all of his gear together and head down to the lake. Hopefully he had something to show for at the end of the day.

Not a bad day of bike riding or shooting! And I'm pleased to be re-acquainted with the good old post-workout feeling of tired/not-tired. The mostly uphill ride home was strenous, but invigorating. And I'll certainly be bringing crappy old digital cameras on future rides!

The full gallery is available here. It's interesting -- usually I throw away between 80 and 100% of the digital pictures I take. But something about the limiting nature of recording them on floppies makes me think about the ones I take more, like with film. These are all the exposures that I took today!

It's almost like it's the best of both worlds, if you can excuse the poor sensor technology and image resolution.

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Blue Planet

21 March 2022 18:05

Blue and Yellow digital watches displaying different times

These cheap knock-off Casi-faux watches remind me of something very important. We're farting around on a little spec of dust in the universe. Everything is impermanent, and in the greater scope of the universe, fairly insignificant. We don't tend to consider this, because it's a little depressing.

I've been in a weird mood for the past month. I've been dismayed about the death and destruction being caused by Putin in Ukraine. I've been worried for my friends and associates there, and trying to reach out and check on people without pestering them.

Then I feel like something of a grief-imposter, as though I'm making somebody's horrific national tragedy about myself because I saw a pretty building once. Like somebody who uses solidarity as a fashion accessory. A big ol' phony.

And all the while, I forget to live my own life. My hobbies, work, and relationships suffer, because I'm paralyzing myself with not only scrolling through pictures of bombed apartment buildings all day, but negative feedback loop of self-doubt.

I think the best thing that I can do -- other than giving what I can to Ukraine-related causes -- is live my own life and output positive energy into the universe. One day the situation may be reversed, at which time, I would only want the same from my friends an ocean and a continent away.

Please consider donating to Ukraine's military and humanitarian funds -- now accepting credit cards!

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Thinking of You, Ukraine

24 February 2022 20:13

Tonight, the "Green Building", or Bank of America Plaza in Dallas, TX is lit up in the national colors of Ukraine.

Bank of America Plaza Tower lit up in Ukraine's national colors

I love Ukraine. It's one of my favorite countries that I've visited. I've travelled from Lviv to Kyiv via rail, and back via regional jet (or vice versa -- I can't remember). I saw churches, military installations, book festivals, cold war relics, ancient forts, and lots of tough, kind-hearted, speak-your-mind type of people. Theirs is a culture that blends East and West, old and new, and has a distinct character unlike anywhere else.

Russia's Putin seeks to destroy and assimilate this culture into a second CCCP. The man fancies himself a warlord. A nuclear power with a truly medieval brain.

Ultimately, this will end up very bad for Putin and Russia. The Ukrainian people are tough and resilient. They won't let their country go easily. And after it's all said and done, nobody will want to be seen doing business with Russia. Unfortunately, there will be bloodshed and senseless violence in between now and then.

The Ukrainian National Bank is accepting donations via SWIFT. You can get the information on how to donate from their official website. As the Ukrainian government websites have been under attack, I will mirror the information for USD donations below. Please consider donating to help the Ukrainian people defend themselves.

For USD remittances:
Account: 400807238
383 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10179, USA
Funds will be wired into account No. UA843000010000000047330992708

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Before you get mad on the internet...

20 January 2022 11:06

Remember that there are troll farms, and other concerted efforts to make people upset.

Practice gratitude and compassion instead.

Happy New Year!

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Advent 2021 Week Two

13 December 2021 12:00

It's oddly difficult to keep up with an advent calendar. We're introducing a new daily habit temporarily, and cease it at about the time it takes for a new habit to set in. Verily, we will in two more weeks' time have had the Pavlovian conditioning to expect small vials of jam and bits of brightly colored plastic daily, and will immediately go into Advent Withdrawal. Perhaps it's for the best that I passed on the wine and beer advent calendars at Costco, lest we add Noel DTs to the stack.

Our Marty predicament is exacerbated by the addition of Western Marty's hat, and by my overcompensating for harsh light with the color temperature settings on my camera. Seedless Raspberry Jam bears witness to the now escalated situation.

Doc Brown gets out of the Terrorist-scamming racket and into the tire business! Unfortunately, he chooses a time and a place where demand for those white sidewalls is very low. Today's jam lurks in the background, cropped and out of focus. It probably tasted nice.

Starting to get desparate, Marty tries to fund-raise for his trip home by posing for an erotic calendar. His success in this endeavor is limited by the fact that Playmobil clothes are not removable, and women in 1885 are forbidden from knowing the current date or time. The jam is Mr. August, and thus is not in this shot.

Now we get 50s Doc, and his severe case of hat-head. Today's jam is a more showy Orange Cinnamon Spread.

Having resolved his hat-head with the addition of a trilby (back when they were not exclusively worn by horrible phony hipsters), Doc commandeers today's Raspberry-Rose jam the same way he obtained at least two of the five watches he wears: good-old fashioned mugging!

This is the last day of the jam calendar. The final, Cherry-Christmas Spice Spread is so unceremoniously ringed in by a small plastic succulent.

1885 Doc finally shows up, demanding to know why there was no jam left for him. This escalates when he meets his three other selves: 1955, 1985, and Dead. A Doc-Fight to the death ensues.

More pics in the advent gallery. More advent posts in the comming weeks!

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Advent 2021 Day Six

6 December 2021 16:45

Got a little paradox here.

If 1980s Marty doesn't save 1880s Marty from the oncoming train, will the video of 1880s Marty's death disappear before 1980s Marty can profit from it as a mail-order snuff film? Also, at what point will the Libyans realize that the barrel of radioactive waste they ordered is simply a large jar of Bonne Maman Wild Blueberry-Balm leaves Spread?

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