Tag Archives: geek

Mail filters

I had my laptop in for service today. When I got it back I had to restore everything from backup. In the process of restoring, I lost my mail filters – the list of rules that sort inbound email into folders.

I have 116 folders in my personal email, and 26 in my work email. Perhaps three quarters of those have mail sorted into them automatically, while the rest are either historic, or actually get stuff sorted in manually.

Losing my mail filtering rules gave me an interesting insight into just how much email I receive, and how little of it I actually read.

Some of it I don’t read because it’s automated sysadmin mailings that I want to be able to refer to if something goes wrong, but which I ignore when nothing goes wrong. Others are mailing lists that I’m subscribed to, but just never get around to reading.

When all of this stuff gets dumped into my inbox, I realize that I get many hundreds of messages a day that I never even look at.

Granted, this is better than it was a year or two ago. Since then, I’ve unsubscribed from dozens of mailing lists. At one point I was getting thousands of messages a day, and reading perhaps a hundred of them.

Looks like it’s time to prune again.


I’ve been using the same keyboard for the last ten years – a Microsoft Natural Keyboard. It’s pretty much the only Microsoft product I use on a regular basis. I’ve been using it at home and at work since when I was at TCG, which was starting in about 1999 or 2000. I actually had two of them – one for home and one for work. One of them broke several years back, but that’s fine since I work at home now.

A month or so ago it started dropping keystrokes, and about a week ago it started getting stuck in CTRL or CMD mode, and only unplugging it would reset it.

I’ve replaced it with the new Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which is the same keyboard, although with a few more bells and whistles. It’s got programmable keys that actually work on OSX, and it’s got a little zoom scrolly thing in the middle. It’s got the same basic shape and split keys, which is what I’d gotten used to, but the key layout is just slightly different – enough that I’m missing keys every now and then. But I’m getting used to it pretty quickly, I think. It’s happening less today than it did yesterday.

I don’t think I’ll use the programmable keys much – never felt the need for them before – but the volume keys and the play/pause key is already getting a lot of use. They Just Work out of the box and do the right thing on OSX without any special programming, controlling the volume and iTunes, respectively. Oh, and there’s a calculator button that’s slightly useful – at least, I think it might be.

There’s also a back and forward key down front, and I don’t know why anyone would want that. But fortunately it’s not actively in the way, so I probably won’t press it by mistake.

I looked around a little before choosing the same keyboard. But much of what I do on a daily basis is all muscle memory – this is why I still use vim as my editor, after trying dozens of other editors briefly. After using vi for 20+ years, my hands want to press :wq when I’m done, and they want to press x and dd and so on when doing basic editing. So I went with the keyboard that my hands already know, even though I got several recommendations for other keyboards.

Speck laptop cover

My biggest complaint with my MacBook Pro has always been the sharp front edge. When using it for extended periods of time without an external keyboard (which I do perhaps 2 or 3 days a week, working in the living room or dining room) it begins to cut into my forearm quite painfully. Yes, I know, I’m not supposed to rest my wrists on the laptop. But I’ve been typing this way for almost 30 years, and am unlikely to change now.

I read a few sites that talked about grinding off that sharp corner, but somehow I think that my employer might frown on me voiding my warranty in that particular way.

So, last week I picked up a Speck laptop cover. Yes, they are expensive, but I figured it’s tax deductible, and it’ll save me some pain.

Turns out that it has a sharp corner on it, too. But, it’s plastic, and grinding it down doesn’t void the warranty on my MacBook. So, with a little work with sandpaper, I now have a front corner of my laptop that doesn’t make me bleed, and I can work comfortably just a little longer.

What I’d really like to see is Apple taking heed of this complaint that’s persisted through several generations of this hardware, and make that corner a little less painful. But, failing that, this is an acceptable solution.

The only negative here is that the part of the cover that goes on the screen is a little heavy. The screen/lid of the MacBook is pretty well balanced, and adding even a little weight to it causes it to fall open quite violently when leaned too far back. The cover provides just that needed weight, and picking it up by the base while it’s open can cause the lid to slam all the way open. I’m concerned that one of these times it’s going to snap the hinge.


For some reason, I was sure that S3 was an end-user file storage service. It’s not. It’s for web developers who need somewhere to store a large amount of data for back-ending their website. So, say, someone like Flickr might use S3 for the actual photo storage. (I don’t know if they do. Just an example.)

So, thanks to a suggestion from CGNaughton, I am now using SugarSync, which was remarkably easy to set up, and seems to work pretty well, although it took three days for the initial sync of my data.

I’m also planning to put the 24G of photos, which I have on an aging Linux box at home, up on SugarSync, which will likely take all weekend. Once that’s done, I will finally shut down Buglet, which I have operated out of my house for more than ten years now, and I will then have a total of *zero* servers in my home, for the first time in probably fifteen years.

Having my servers managed, and, in particular, backed up, by someone else, has an awful lot of appeal. It’s no longer fun to keep servers updated, patched, backed up, free of dust, and restarted every time there’s a power dip.

On a related note, if you’re in the Lexington area, and you need a half-dozen aging server machines, come and get them. We’re only too delighted to offload them. Most of them were great machines in their time, but I no longer have need of them. Monitors too.

Safari: Review

There’s a new version of Safari available. I’m going to try it for a week, to see if I can switch to it from Firefox. I’m going to keep a list, and publish this in about a week when I’ve been using it long enough to have an intelligent opinion.

Update: Turns out that I don’t really notice much of a difference in daily use, but here’s the list so far:

Things I love

  • Holy cow it’s fast!
  • The “open bookmark folder in tabs” feature works the way I expect it to – closing all open tabs, and opening just those tabs in that folder.
  • The “auto click” feature on a bookmark folder is very handy. (Not new with version 4.)
  • Search highlighting.

Things I hate

  • The tabs across the top of the window. Who thought this was a good idea?

Missing features that I am used to having in Firefox

  • Type to search – Firefox starts searching for something as soon as I start typing. (Note: This is not default behavior, but you can turn it on somewhere in the menus. Default behavior is to start searching when I type a slash / and then start typing a word.)

Shiraz retired

I just retired a server that has been doing loyal service as a variety of things over the last 6 or 7 years. It was an old Dell desktop machine, and it served as my mail server, DNS server, database server, and quite a few other things. I think I may have just realized one service that didn’t get migrated off of it – a couple of IRC bots which have been dormant for quite some time.

For a while, it also hosted fajita, the bot who answers most of the questions on #apache, on irc.freenode.net, but that moved off about 2 years ago.

And just a few moments ago …

rbowen@shiraz:~% sudo /sbin/shutdown -h now

Broadcast message from root (pts/1) (Mon May  5 20:36:46 2008):

The system is going down for system halt NOW!
rbowen@shiraz:~% Connection to shiraz closed by remote host.
Connection to shiraz closed.

The goal is eventually to move everything up to slicehost, and I’ll probably move my mail servers to Google while I’m at it. I’m tired of being a sysadmin, but not tired enough of it to just have a normal web host.

New Toys

I picked up a couple new toys this weekend. One, in particular, I’m very fond of. I got an iPod Touch, for use as my primary PDA, calendaring, note-taking, mobile computing thingy. Overall, I’m *way* impressed with it. It’s quite a feat of engineering.

What I found frustrating about it from the very beginning – even before I had one – was the lack of availability of third-party applications for it. Granted, it’s a very young device. I had a Palm device more than 10 years ago, and even then there were hundreds of third-party apps for Palm. Now there are thousands. And for the iPod, I can’t find any.

Now, I know there are some, and that you can install them if you install hackish jailbreak software on the iPod. And, I’ll probably do this. But I find it perplexing that a company as savvy as Apple would choose to release a device that didn’t from day one, make it easy for third-party companies and hobbyists to provide apps for it. Nothing inspires device loyalty like an app that fills just exactly the need that you have. And, frankly, the default apps on the iPod are unimaginative. And … duh … no games. Who thought that made sense? At least put solitaire on here. Sheesh.

Having said that, the ease of use of the device, and the obviousness of use, impress me. There’s never a doubt of what you’re supposed to do to accomplish what you want.

One other complaint, I guess. The networking hides just a little too much detail from me. I needed to know my MAC address this afternoon, so that I could add the device to the permit list on my parent’s 802.11 AP, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s one of the Linksys devices, and I had to pick my device out of a list of other devices that had tried to access the AP, presumably neighbors, and I just couldn’t do it in the time I had available.

Oh, well, mostly thumbs up, and I imagine I’ll like it more, the more I rely on it.


My server (ie, the one on which this site runs) is having some kind of hardware failure. I presume the fan is going out, but it might be more serious than that. Periodically the kernel tells me that the CPU is overheating, and then powers down the system. At the moment, I have a large room fan pointing into the side of the open case, but that is obviously only a short-term solution.

I have a secondary server, which runs my DNS and database, but it’s a Pentium III 600, and I’m not certain, yet, whether it can take the additional load. I guess I’m about to find out. Unfortunately, it’s running Slackware, which I have distinctly fallen out of love with in the last 5 years or so. And so moving a bunch of services from this machine to that one may end up being rather painful.

Then there’s the alternate plan, of purchasing a new server, and combining the two into the one. Unfortunately, that involves spending money.

So, at the moment, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. But if this site is down, it’s probably because the overheating problem got worse.