April 2003

New RSS 2.0 syndication feed

by Michael Alderete on 4/28/2003

This weekend I spent a few hours writing a script to provide an updated RSS syndication feed, conforming to the RSS 2.0 specification. This is basically an upgrade to the RSS 0.91 spec, which adds some additional metadata. In particular, it adds publication times and categories to the items in the feed, which might make it a little more informative in your news aggregator (it does in mine).

So, if you’re actually subscribing to this weblog, please update your subscription to use the new feed. The old one continues to work, but the new one is better.

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DHI 102-107

by Michael Alderete on 4/27/2003

DHI 102: Began work on a major consolidation of all my software CDs, from the scattered piles, shelves, and bins that I’ve tossed them into, down to a single CD rack. This is going to be a big project, since I just put in an hour, and I’ve barely dented the task. I think I might need a second CD rack!

DHI 103: Continued working on the migration of my system, installing a number of software packages from CD and fresh downloads. This is a huge task! It will likely take me a couple of months, because I am trying to only move things over as I need them, so that my new system setup has only the software and tweaks that I actually use.

DHI 104: Edited one of my websites to update the contact e-mail address, and configured Sendmail to block messages sent to the old address. I did this because there was a sudden jump in the amount of spam being sent to the old address.

DHI 105: Did some tweaking on this blog’s page template, updating the copyright date, adding the subtitle to the page as well as the TITLE attribute, and replacing the text RSS subscription link with the rapidly-becoming-standard 80×15 graphic badge for the same.

DHI 106: Submitted this site’s new URL to GeoURL, and added the graphic badge for it to the page.

DHI 107: Added an RSS 2.0 syndication feed to this web log.

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Mounting disks in Mac OS X

by Michael Alderete on 4/26/2003

This might be so obvious it’s not actually a tip, but I just learned it today. This is useful if you have more than one hard disk in your Mac OS X system. With only one disk (we’re ignoring disk partitions here), it’s impossible to unmount the disk, because you can’t make your startup disk unavailable to the system.

With more than one disk (or partition), it’s occasionally useful to unmount a volume, either to “hide” it from some activity or utility you’re using, to run a disk checking utility on the unmounted volume, or just to keep down the clutter on your desktop.

Way back in the day, when SCSI hard disks were all that the Mac could access, I used a control panel called SCSIProbe to mount disks which, for whatever reason, were not mounted and available on my desktop. These days I’m using Mac OS X full time, so SCSIProbe is no longer available. And SCSIProbe was only good for SCSI disks. Since I recently decommissioned the one SCSI disk in my system, in favor of a pair of ATA (IDE) disks, I would need a new tool anyway.

There’s a command line tool to mount and unmount disks, but if you want something easier, just use Disk Utility, provided by Apple, in your /Applications/Utilities directory. After launching it, select the disk volume in the list on the left, and choose Mount from the Options menu. Simple!

Note that you have to select the disk volume, which will appear as the disk name indented under the physical disk item, which just lists the disk’s physical capacity. If you select the physical disk, the Mount command will be dimmed out. If your disk has multiple partitions, they’ll all appear under the physical disk item, and you can mount them in the same way.

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My wife has a brilliant use for porn

by Michael Alderete on 4/25/2003

I got an adult catalog in the mail today, from an outfit called Forbidden Fantasies. Dunno how I got on their mailing list (no, really), and I was going to throw it out without opening the envelope until Rochelle stopped me with what is clearly a brilliant idea: Save the catalog so I have something to stuff in the Business Reply envelopes I’m always returning to the junk mailers.

So now it’s sitting on top of my monitor, waiting for the next bombardment by the bulk mailers, looking for all the world as though I was just about to place an order online. When a postage-paid return envelope arrives, I’ll tear off a page of smut, stuff it in, and send it back to them on their nickel. Cool, n’est pas?

The only problem is, the catalog is short, and the junk mailers with their credit card offers are incredibly persistent. If we only hadn’t sold off my brother’s collection of Celebrity Skin at our last garage sale!

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Icon’s Story

by Michael Alderete on 4/24/2003

Speaking of Windows, this Flash animation is pretty fun. How many Quake weapons can you spot?

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 4/24/2003

“Every day I hate Windows more and more.”

“As long as every day you hate more and more something other than me.”

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Mac OS X ~/Library permissions

by Michael Alderete on 4/22/2003

Before I explain the problem and solution that had me tearing my hair out Friday through Sunday, let me explain how I organize my system for doing PHP development and serving. Mac OS X Jaguar includes robust web serving capabilities, in the form of Apache and PHP. Apache’s default services, the documents and CGIs which are installed with Jaguar, are located in subdirectories under /Library/WebServer. This would be a natural place to put configuration and include files for PHP, and indeed it is where I keep the server-wide php.ini configuration file for PHP:


(I also create a symlink for that file at /usr/local/lib/php.ini, because that’s where Marc Liyanage’s full-featured PHP module, which I install over Apple’s “lite” version, expects to find its configuration file.)

However, Mac OS X separates out very cleanly the functionality installed at the system level, for all users, and functionality installed for a specific user. System level items go into /Library, while user-specific items go into ~/Library (that is, the Library folder in your home folder). The two directories mirror each other in structure, but have a different “scope” — system-wide versus user-specific. Since I was adding my blogging system‘s PHP libraries for my own use only, I created the ~/Library/WebServer directory, and a PHP/Includes subdirectory under it, to hold them:


I add the following line to my /private/etc/httpd/users/username.conf to make PHP look for include files in the above Includes folder:

path "/Users/username/Library/WebServer/PHP/Includes:/Library/WebServer/PHP/Includes"

This needs to go inside a VirtualHost or Directory statement; if you don’t know what those are, you might not want to be fiddling with this stuff.

The problem was, whenever I would load a PHP page that tried to include() one of the PHP libraries, or any file stored in my private Includes folder, it would fail with a “file not found” error. I spent more than 6 hours trying to track this problem down, finally resorting to brute force PHP scripts to test file_exists() on a bunch of different files, until I located the issue (and was able to blog once more!).

So, finally, here’s my point. Note to future self: the next time you re-install Mac OS X from scratch, remember that the reason why PHP cannot access include files in your ~/Library/WebServer folder is because the permissions on the ~/Library directory forbid read access to all but owner. You need to increase the permissions like this:

% chmod go+r ~/Library

Remember it!

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Mac OS X system migration

by Michael Alderete on 4/21/2003

As part of my hard disk replacement, I decided to do a complete reinstall of the operating system for my Mac G4. This is different from the Archive & Install project I undertook last year with the release of Mac OS X Jaguar. In this case I’m taking the most extreme approach, I actually installed Mac OS X 10.2 onto an erased hard disk, created my account from scratch, and have been re-installing all my software, and copying over settings and documents as I need them.

I am specifically not copying over my Users directory entire, because I want to leave behind all the cruft that has built up on my original installation, now more than two years old. I’ve installed so much software, some of which I now consider unsafe (Norton SystemWorks, for example), and some of which has become unnecessary, that it’s impossible to “undo” the changes they’ve wrought. The only way to get away is a completely clean installation, and deliberate installation of tools I actually use or need.

Of course, the downside is I lose much of the hundreds of hours that I’ve put into tweaking my system. Redoing the important stuff is a huge enough task that you have to ask, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

The thing is, some things are broke. I have a downloads folder where all the items jump around in icon view, and the window shifts the scroll positions whenever I unmount a disk image. Weird stuff, that’s more annoying than a real problem. But because it’s unexplainable, and impossible to eliminate (and lord knows I’ve tried), it makes me worry about overall system correctness.

Anyway, I’m taking a similar approach as the one I took when I first migrated from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X: move my e-mail and web browsing to the new system; everything else will follow.

It’s amazing, but those are my most constant, most important activities. Once those are migrated, there’s no going back, so I may as well head forward. There’s quite a bit still in front of me, so I’m sure I’ll post more on this topic as I run across helpful tips or interesting lessons.

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DHI 99-101

April 20, 2003

Daily Home Improvements: Lock outs, the Terminator, and the Great Migration.

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The sound of silence

April 16, 2003

Two weeks ago I installed a new $80 hard disk drive in my computer, to replace a much more expensive SCSI disk that makes too damn much noise. Last weekend I made the switch, and turned off the SCSI disk, possibly forever. The difference in noise is remarkable, to the point of being eerie.

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DHI 92-98

April 13, 2003

Daily Home Improvements: cleaning up, online and IRL, retirement planning, more accurate pings, and listing this site for sale.

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Vendor-specific e-mails to fight spam

April 13, 2003

Managing your own e-mail server is a pain in the ass. There’s no two ways about it, when you want to take control of your own network infrastructure, you increase the complexity of the systems you manage, and you greatly increase the consequences of screw-ups. So if it’s hard work, and screw-ups mean you lose important messages, why would anyone want to run and manage their own e-mail server? For me it’s all about spam and viruses.

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