Posts for January 2004

2004-01-02: Tasker 0.1

This is the first release of my web-based to-do list manager. I'm hoping to start making extensive use of this for myself fairly soon, and one of my co-workers wanted to give it a try as well.

See the Tasker home page for more details and downloads.

It's a pretty simple little program, but it doesn't do some of the things that annoy me in other to-do managers, which is as important as doing the things that I need. It's also my first try at writing Python CGI scripts and Python modules, and it went pretty well.

Now I need to update my learning Python page....

2004-01-07: INN 2.4.1

Thanks to a kick in the pants from a discovered security issue, I've finally gotten INN 2.4.1 out the door. Damned buffer exploits. I'd love it if INN were written in some language other than C that I already knew well and that didn't have that problem but was still reasonably fast, but getting there from here is rather hard.

Anyway, you can get it from the ISC ftp server and the documentation is on my software page as normal. At some point I should really set up a separate web site just for INN that the INN maintainers can easily update.

This is a security release, so anyone running INN 2.4.0 or a recent STABLE snapshot needs to upgrade. Anyone running CURRENT needs to upgrade to today's snapshot. INN 2.3.x and earlier are not affected.

2004-01-24: The DaVinci Code

Review: The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown

One really has to review this book on two different levels, I think. The first is as a puzzle-driven investigative romp through France, a fast-moving adventure reminiscent of any number of spy and detective novels. The second level is as an intriguing summary of one side of a debate about the history of the Christian religion.

As a part-detective, part-spy novel, it's a fairly good one. I wouldn't say that it particularly stood out, but it definitely kept me reading, and the pacing was excellent. The only flaw that really bothered me is with the narration, which falls into the trap of telling rather than showing quite a bit. The narrative voice always felt a bit stilted and forced to me and at several points in the story I felt like I was being led around by the nose rather than following the plot. Even worse, Brown tends to employ the utterly cheap and exasperating narrative hack of showing something to the viewpoint characters but not revealing it to the reader for several paragraphs or pages. Yes, this builds tension, but not in a way that you actually want. It is invariably annoying and does little for me except making me want to jump past sections of the book.

Of course, this isn't why people are talking about the book. It's popular because it lays out in detail the theory that Mary Magdalene (who was not a prostitute, incidentally; that's one of the things in the book that's rather well-supported by the available evidence) was the wife of Jesus Christ, one of his disciples, and the mother of his child. This isn't a new theory, but it's been a fringe theory that hasn't gotten a lot of mainstream attention before now.

If you've not heard this before, and you're not the sort to find the idea offensive (if you are, you're probably not the sort to enjoy my journal in general), it's pretty interesting stuff. So are the details about Leonardo DaVinci and the codes he embedded in his paintings, something that I'd not heard about before. Unfortunately, the theory is also presented as a pretty one-sided polemic, and therefore suitable only for a whetting of the appetite. If you're interested in really analyzing the theories about Mary Magdalene, expect no help here; this book picks one side of the debate and doesn't even bother to acknowledge another side.

Overall, that's the real flaw in the book both as a story and as an exploration of ideas: it has a strong feeling of shallowness about it. You sort of get to know the characters, but they seem like rather shallow people. One of the heroes is motivated largely by such a ridiculous overreaction to an incident in her past that it strains credibility to the breaking point and rather than invoking sympathy, mostly just makes you want to shake her. The ideas presented are interesting, but one gets the feeling there are all sorts of other sides to the story that are just being ignored in order to increase the plausibility of the favored theory. The narration continues to be annoying throughout the book, and the ending is strained at best (another review describes it as frantic backpeddling).

It's a good book. I enjoyed it. But it's not a great book. And if you're really interested in the theories about Mary Magdalene, I recommend the PBS special.

Rating: 7 out of 10

2004-01-31: Thwarting blog spammers

For a while now, I've been getting a low level of blog spammers, people who would show up and post five or ten comments, usually on one entry or two, with links to their porn, gambling, or similar dirty commercial activities. This has been a nuisance, but not a particularly huge problem. I've been blocking entire IP blocks whenever one of these bottom feeding low-lifes shows up.

This morning, however, someone decided to script posting a comment to every single entry in my journal. So, enough of that.

I've now disabled HTML in comments (so no links) and modified the templates so that neither the URL nor the e-mail address given in comments is displayed (although I still see them). This will make spamming this journal fairly pointless, since Google won't care and won't raise the page rank of any of the sites to which the spammer is linking.

We'll see if that is enough discouragement to make the spammers go away. If not, I'm going to reluctantly start requiring authentication for comments. (Yes, I know there are various MT plugins that make it harder to spam, but I don't really have either the time nor the inclination to get involved in an arms race, and my journal doesn't get very many comments.)

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