Cars, Updates and Ponderances

Yeah, fuck, it’s been nearly a month again. I’m sorry, don’t know what I’m doing these days, I just don’t seem to have 5 minutes to spare.

So first news is that I have a new car, a brand new BMW Mini:

So, woo for me! I gotta be honest, I’m not much into cars and I’m not into speed or high performance, so, Carl, stop telling me I could have had X, Y or Z, but I love it. I just want to get from A to B and in comfort and that I can now do. (Note, the front garden is a work in progress, hence dead weeds and various bits of scrap lying around waiting to be disposed of…)

Last weekend I went up to Manchester for my friend Celine’s birthday. We had a great time, it was good to catch up with Celine, Carl and Vaj again as I don’t think I’ve seen any of them since my house warming-cum-birthday party at the beginning of November (my birthday is at the end of October for eagle-eyed gift shoppers ;)). We went to club called 5th Avenue, which, while not being a cultural mecca or The Ritz, was my kinda club and I loved it, it reminded me of Friday nights in Wolverhampton’s Dorchester, a club so cool we are still having reunions nearly 10 years after it closed down.

On to this weeks film recommendations. I watch a lot of films, in the months since the last time I made some recommendations, I watched Jarhead which was excellent, probably the first in the next generation of war epics about Iraq. It reminded me quite a bit of Full Metal Jacket, my only criticism was that it didn’t seem to conclude anything. Syriana promised a lot but was something of a let down. It was a huge, sprawling, multi-threaded picture which was difficult to follow and didn’t seem to tie up at the end, leaving me to wonder what the point of some of the different threads was. The only conclusion was to display how sordid the power-hungry dual interests of oil and politics are when they combine.

More recently, Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic was unmissable, a great portrayal of a tortured, intoxicated, stumbling soul. Tristan and Isolde was excellent, reminiscent of a cross between Braveheart and Romeo and Juliet – take your partner to see this one. Slither was a fun, entertaining film to watch with friends, though not likely to change your life. It’s a witty, if not classic, light horror. I watched V for Vendetta the other day which I thought was great. I saw a number of parallels with 1984 and I really enjoyed it, never having read the original story. At times, it seemed a bit uncool, rather like those black and white 50s sci-fi series I saw as a kid, especially when V was talking in the Fawkesian mask and bobbed hair, but it was a really good film. And Natalie Portman, as always was blissful.

One other film I saw recently was Hostel, the Tarantino/Eli Roth horror. I saw it at the cinema and having missed maybe the first 10 minutes were only 15 or so minutes away from some real gut-wrenchingly brutal scenes. I’ve always been kinda proud of being able to stomach some really challenging films and I like watching stuff that will cause a strong reaction but this was too much for me. Being late and only really knowing it was a strong horror, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw and in the middle of some really strong scenes I decided that if the film continued like this then we couldn’t watch it so we left. I have since found out that most of the really strong gore was over after that part and I regret leaving now, but man it was rough. Now I know the film doesn’t carry on like that throughout I will have to watch the rest.

On to more technical things, I spent the other weekend researching some spam filtering techniques and applied them. In principle, some were a little over the top and some were perfectly reasonable. The over strong ones were pulled out immediately when I realised they were blocking things that my users were perfectly entitled to receive. However, I noted a while back that all UK universities and AOL now block mail from systems where the forward and reverse DNS lookups don’t match, since most spam is now generated by virus infected PCs around the world, not legitimate mail servers that simply send out spam. So, I implemented this, I also blocked mail from domains which didn’t have DNS MX records, machines which didn’t have fully qualified domain names and any bounce messages that don’t contain my domain in the original message-ID.

To me, these all seem perfectly reasonable, I already drop mail from anyone who claims to be my mail server, who opens with an IP only HELO statement, servers in a few reliable spam blacklists and anyone mailing viruses or banned file extensions. Unfortunately, my new policies seemed to break the whole world. Or more specifically, the whole world seems to be broken and playing by the rules means you don’t get to receive any mail. Genuine, legitimate mail from properly configured servers got through but it seems that loads and loads and loads of servers are badly configured. The spam rate dropped to almost zero, a few still got through, but the amount of genuine mail that failed was astonishing. I mailed a few sysadmins on postmaster and hostmaster addresses (an RFC requirement for mail and DNS servers!) to find that those addresses didn’t exist, in one case I trawled around and found and address for one admin and mailed him, he still hasn’t replied.

In the end some of my users were losing important mail from so many places it was impossible to whitelist every sender or coax every (well, any) mail admin to do anything about this stuff that I had to pull the rules and let the spam rain down. It appears that about 2 or 3 years ago, AT&T did the same thing and had to make the same climbdown. I was really fucked off.

People: if you are going to run a mail server make sure you have forward and reverse DNS lookups that match. Make sure you have webmaster, hostmaster, postmaster and abuse email addresses that actually point to a real person. Implement an SPF record in your DNS to say which hosts can send mail for your domain. Make sure your mail bounce messages contain the domain name of the sender or sending mail server.

In more geek news, I have to decide whether to go back to uni and finish my degree or not. To be honest I don’t think I can work and finish my degree at the same time and I can’t afford to not work, so I think that partly answers the problem, but also I don’t think a degree is particularly useful in career terms for what I want to do. I’m far more interested in doing a CCNA which I think will be inifinitely more useful. The only downside of not going back to finish my degree is that having a Diploma in Higher Education will be bad for my CV as it will look like I can’t finish what I start, which is not the case at all, it’s just that the whole thing made me so miserable I thought I was going to crack up and I chose my well-being above all else. It also looks like the Student Loans Company might be shafting me on the interest as my repayments don’t cover what I’m being charged in interest every month by about a third. Have to sort that out. And that…

The Blender project, an Open-Source 3D animation modelling and rendering software project has finally announced the release of their Orange project, Elephants Dream, an animated movie available for download free of charge. At this stage I have no idea what it’s about or whether it’s any good, but if it is it will surely raise the focus on Blender which has been plugging away for a few years doing great stuff without any real recognition from the major studios. Hopefully people will now begin to see that Blender is capable of results similar to it’s proprietary competitors. For non-geeks, did you know that most of the animated movies in the cinemas are rendered on Linux? No you probably didn’t, but off the top of my head, Toy Story and the sinking scenes from the Titanic certainly were, amongst many other household names you would recognise.

Non-geeks may now re-enter the room. Looks like I will be going on holiday for the last 2 weeks in June if I can get the right deal and time off work. I’ve been saving since Christmas for a nice holiday and can just about afford what we want. Originally we wanted to go the Caribbean (particularly the Dominican Republic) or Mexico, but we are on the brink of being ready to go and well, it’s winter/rainy season over there, which means it’s cheap, still warm compared to here, but also liable to have hurricanes, which is not my idea of a holiday. Besides I’d rather go when it was hotter there but I’m not prepared to keep waiting until November. So, it looks like it might be Egypt instead with lots of water sports etc. The only other issue to be cleared up here is to try not to miss the World Cup…

I’ve been green fingered recently. I’ve planted and grown pumpkins, carrots, peppers, leeks, brocolli, brussel sprouts, sunflowers, onions, spring onions and now I have strawberry plants. I also have a compost heap. Sad I know, but it’s fun watching stuff grow and know that you did it yourself. It’s also great for teaching kids where food comes from and weaning them off all of that horrible, processed meat shit they get served in burgers, sausages and chicken dippers. With help from my parents I’ve really started to get our enormously overgrown garden under control. It’s only halfway there of course but if we stay here for another year or two it should be in good shape.

Alongside recycling waste paper, glass and plastic, using energy efficient lightbulbs and driving as little as possible, composting is one the best things you can do for your environment. All vegetable kitchen and garden waste can go on the pile (never any animal waste or animal products!) and you can use it to plant stuff in. My friend Dan visited a community where they were completely self-sufficient, grew all of their own food in their own compost. Wouldn’t that be cool? People in the UK can get a cut-price composting bin from here.

I think that’s it for now, I’d better go and do something productive with my day. See y’all 🙂

2 thoughts on “Cars, Updates and Ponderances

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