Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Why Internet Quotas are Stupid: Lesson 1 "Security Patches"

If you are an ISP, you don't want your clients to spread or become infected with viruses, do you? No. So here's why placing a quota on your clients (though it makes commercial sense) is stupid.

Frequently, Microsoft and Apple release security updates and patches. Sometimes, these large fixes come in packages or service packs that are a good portion of 100 megabytes. I am a conscious consumer, and don't want my computer to be infected or crash. It is only common sense. So I download the updates and use up my internet quota for the month. My ISP charges me for any overages.

When you buy a computer, and consequently an operating system, you agree to a license agreement that says the software is probably not perfect, and that it is not your problem since the manufacturer isn't selling it to you -- they're leasing it. As a result, they feel obliged to fix their software when problems come up (or they want to add features), so they release service packs for "free."

For people with broadband, this isn't a problem. It takes a little while to download the updates, but then you're back to normal. For people who are on dialup (agnony!) or have to pay per megabyte, this is effectively a service charge. You might as well have taken your computer into the shop and said "fix 'er up!"

Cost Analysis. An example ISP here in Oz sells internet access at the rate of $40 for 500MB. That's about 8 cents per megabyte. The last Quicktime update was 70MB. It cost me $5.60 to download the "free" software. I think that the ISP should pay a portion of that to the software manufacturers who release patches. They're drumming up business by automatically insisting users install the updates, and sometimes even automatically delivering them.

If the megabyte-meiser ISPs utilized a caching proxy mechanism where they didn't charge for the updates once they had a cache of them, it would be less filthy -- but the first (probably most conscientious) upgrader gets punished. The result: people realize what's going on and either (1) bite the bullet and pay for the upgrades or (2) punt, and risk infection.

The same goes for Virus Definition files and anti-spyware tools. The act of downloading files that are actually helping the ISP reduce the amount of unwanted traffic (i.e. virus, zombie-creation, spyware, hacker prevention) is being penalized. To the ISPs: eventually some of your clients will become wise and switch to a restriction-free broadband provider; others will bog down your network with virus-laden computers until their systems become useless -- then they will simply discontinue their subscription. Not all 'net traffic is equal; you are not mobile phone carriers; this is not the 1990s. Internet technology is inexpensive -- treat it that way.

Monday, February 27, 2006

like a phd student

I feel very phd-studenty today. Google sent me an alert saying my advisor made the news. (Link to article) Initially the author of that article contacted me about an interview, but didn't want to call Australia; so I forwarded him to my advisor who is now the main feature of the article. Hmph.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

more pictures

more jellies
Originally uploaded by sidstamm.
I posted a few more pictures (click on the one shown), including some of the bluebottle jellyfish that invaded the beach on Wednesday; the second wave showed up yesterday.

Last night I walked down to the beach to relax a bit -- it was a nice cooler evening and the sun was slowly drooping behind me as I gazed out at the surf. A fresh deployment of jellyfish lay on the beach in a sort of rescue mission for their cohorts who had washed ashore the day before. They haven't learned to walk yet, so the mission was not much of a success. Although most of their kind lay too far ashore, some of them retreated back with the waves.

The beach activity for the day had been minimal, perhaps because of the blueys lining the beach. Instead of deep footprints from scantily-clad bronzed aussies, seagull tracks showed the whole day had been spent in squabbles over who-knows-what.

Some secret sea-floor mischief lay about 200 meters from the shore, causing the waves to argue amongst themselves. A particularly strong wave recedes at the same time a strong one approaches -- butting head to head they erupt high into the air, much like lava from a fissure in the earth. Thunder resounds up and down the beach as the fusion of the waves nullifies the nearby chop in the water; for an instant there is calm in the surf, until a new pair of waves come to dual.

Up the beach, a few guys on surfboards exercised their art of gliding on water. A few others without surfboards tried to lay down on it. A seven-year-old walked balance-beam style on the edge of the lifeguard chair declaring, "Louk ma, oihm ah loifgahd!"

Meanwhile, the jellies silently conspired to sting my feet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

active cookies

Wow! Of all the times to be out of the country...

This morning, I got an email from a AM New York reporter who wanted to talk with me about phishing and spam. I'm curious why he chose me, but flattered nonetheless. He was a bit discouraged when I explained my location (they usually just do local stories), but we are trying to find him someone in NY to talk with.

Also, the project on Active Cookies is really taking off! It's hit the news many times, even getting picked up by zdnet (who used the diagrams I made) and The Register. This is the most press any of my work has ever had! Wooohoo! Now if my name were mentioned in the articles, it would be even cooler...

evening walk

In lieu of photos (I left my camera when I went walking) here is a literary photobook.

I could live with flocks of parrots around. As I began my walk this evening, ten or so flew over my head; there's something about green birds with flagrantly colored faces that make me feel like I'm sipping a piƱa colada with nothing to do.

I brought my head back out of the clouds just as I started seriously considering flapping my arms and trying to join the parrots. On I walked, passing a shirtless guy carrying a surfboard, and a few bicyclers. I plodded down towards the beach, on a path between a botanical gardens "annex" and a park of football fields. A sign for the park lists banned activities including discharging firearms, driving recklessly, campfires, and airplane traffic.

Not too blazing hot this evening, a standard 2.4-child family sat in a common area near the beach entrance snacking on buffalo chicken wings and coke. Seagulls congregated aggressively waiting for bones to be tossed to them -- and they can commence their next round of Smear the Queer with the food. Just like children chasing the guy with the ball, the gulls squawked and chased the food-holder. Actually, come to think of it, perhaps they were playing their own verson of Australian rules football... Nonetheless, a seagull who was overwhelmed with competition tossed the nugget into the air where it was caught by a large raven. The raven, who promptly landed with his snack, paused and let out a "caaawah", which the seagulls took as a cue to go away and queue up for the next offering from the family.

Amused by the game, I grinned and walked towards the water. The waves were crashing in at odd angles, though every once in a while a perfect wave would curl slowly from one end of the beach to the other; this is an arduous process (for the water) that surfers love. The longer it propagates, the better. I approached the fingers of the waves as they slid up the beach and let out a big sigh. Ocean sounds are relaxing, even when it's cloudy. A sticky bit pestered my foot and I shook off what seemed to be a little blue jellyfish. In fact, little blue carcasses were lined up all the way down the beach. It looked like Normandy beach on D-day, except the jellies were invading. (Link to what you don't want stinging you)

I absorbed the sounds of the ocean and watched a seagull pick a fight with another (then many others joined for no reason), before hopping over the line of jellies and heading back. On the way out, I passed the flock of gulls that had been feasting on the family's scraps. They were searching the grounds for what the raven might have left behind. One of them was staring at me, so I picked up a pinecone and threw it into the herd. They all approached it, but were in denial that my offering was such a lame one so they kept looking for what I had really thrown. I chuckled and started to leave, but one persistent bird followed me for about 100M. I turned and said to it, "Are you serious?" and it stopped, drew its head back (in disgust I think) then shook its head and left me alone.

The waves were picking up momentum (I could hear them behind me) as if predicting the clouds rolling in over the mountains to the west. I took their cue and rushed back to my room.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

emacs broken again

I really wonder why every single Mac OS X update (10.4.5 this time) breaks my install of Emacs 22.0.50. I need to figure this out! I end up getting an EXEC_BAD_ACCESS exception on launch, and I think it has something to do with a libSystem that Apple likes to update frequently.

Following the Usual Procedure to install Emacs and AucTeX again, I learned that GNU has changed their repository to use pserver instead of ssh. Yay, it's faster to download now. The proper checkout procedure is now:

[sid@lappy] ~% cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@cvs.savannah.gnu.org:/sources/emacs co emacs

But I think the rest is the same.

Nope, I was wrong. make bootstrap fails:

/usr/bin/ld: Undefined symbols:


Update 2:
It fixed itself! This morning I decided to have another go, and did a cvs up in the emacs project dir... then ./mac/make-package --self-contained worked fine! Thanks GNU developers who updated stuff last night.

tribute to a kookaburra

There's an old camp song about Kookaburras that I remember every time I hear one. I dedicate this verse to the dreadfully annoying bird:

"Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree,

Laughing up a storm at ten past three.

Die, kookaburra, die, kookaburra,

I'm sleeping -- let me be."

If you've never had the joy of hearing one of these Australian jewels, follow this link and listen.

sandwich frenzy

Hm, the dates on my blog are still EST, or GMT-500. I'm in GMT+1100 right now, so they're wrong. It's Monday morning right now.

Anyhow, this morning was the first day of classes for the Uni. This means that everyone where I live decided to get up and catch the first shuttle in. Okay, here's the deal: breakfast opens at 7:30, and the shuttle leaves at 8:00. This means that everyone who could was frantically eating breakfast, making a sandwich for lunch, and attempting to catch the first shuttle of the day.

My leisurely sandwich-making ritual turned into a feeding frenzy today as approximately five million students swarmed around the sandwich-making stands in the dining room. Okay, maybe only 70, but the space is small, so it was intense. There was lettuce everywhere when it was over, and there were about 125 people packed onto the bus that normally seats 100.

Needless to say, my sandwich is not up to par today. I need to work on this.


I've decided that Australians smile quite differently than Americans. In fact, because they speak so differently, I think their general "mouth gait" (I don't think this is a real expression) is completely different. Australians seem to have a stiffer upper lip and an air about their face that suggests their dialect, whereas Americans have a usually loose upper lip and a different gait that is sometimes mistaken for smugness.

I'm having a tough time putting down on paper my mouth-gait observations, so I shall spend some time reading about FACS to see if I can't describe the differences.

I tested my hypothesis today while looking at people before I heard them spoke. I made accurate predictions most of the time. You're probably thinking, "you're in Australia, if you guess Aussie all the time then you'll most likely succeed." True, but I'm living in a community of about half and half Americans and Australians. Even though all the Americans are all "minorities" it is the Australians who are most friendly towards me. Many of the Yanks socialize in small, closed groups but the Australians are willing to strike up a conversation with me.

Another thing I have noticed is this country's willingness to give out genuine smiles. In the US, when you smile politely at someone, usually they give a "fake" smile back. One of those smiles that's just a flinch of a facial muscle or two, and no eye smile or dimples. You know the kind. They look weird. I don't see them much from Australians -- though this is one device I've been using to figure if someone is a Yank or Aussie.

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Aaah! Son of a...

Jorge Cham, creator of PhD comics (Piled Higher and Deeper), is visiting IU and of course I happen to be out of the damn country.

Friday, February 17, 2006

walking Wollongong

screwy sculpture
Originally uploaded by sidstamm.
I decided to venture out and explore the downtown area of Wollongong today. I figured there *had* to be more to do there than nearby my cell. I took the bus into town, and even though I have a "bus concession" on my student ID, I still had to pay $1.40 for a five minute ride. I decided I would walk back.

At first I was a bit intimidated by the Crown St Mall (the main attraction downtown aside from the lighthouses and beaches). When I got off the bus there were just SHOPS everywhere, and lots of people to boot. I walked through the mall quickly, looking for a cafe where I could park myself and have a coffee. I didn't find any that looked inviting. Either they were too crowded, had no al fresco seating, or ritzy-looking. I walked on.

As I approached the beach, I came up on the "Entertainment Center" that is showcasing Rob Thomas tomorrow night. Near to it was the City Beach. It's a really nice beach with showers and all, but lots of people. I walked on (north towards the lighthouse) and got an eye on some old "nuns baths" (Link to PDF tourguide) where women and children used to bathe. These were natural pools elevated from the surf; it was really hard to get a good picture without a zoom lens (which I lack).

I turned around and walked back towards the mall, stopping at the tourist center to pick up some postcards, then I passed by the art museum (that's the picture in this entry). I have to visit sometime when its open!

Heading back into the mall, I settled on a cafe, had a coffee, and lifted my courage. Touring the shops, I purchased a beach towel that is nearly the size of my bed covers (HUGE!) and began looking for a fan. My room is hot, I need a small window fan. How hot is it? I slept in my skivvies last night on top of the covers with the window wide open -- and still woke up sticky and hot. It was 95 today (Fahrenheit, of course).

Anyway, I'll summarize the rest of my day:

  • My cell phone is network-locked, I can't buy a prepaid SIM card for it. This is no big deal, since prepaid is $0.76/minute.

  • Places were sold out of fans

  • It is more fun to walk back than to take the bus

  • 99% of the people on the beach occupy 1% of its area.

  • I should learn to surf

A random Aussie dude (studying nanotech) sat by me at dinner today and suggested I visit Queensland and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I think that sounds great.

I took more pictures (not many more) today. (Link)

Thursday, February 16, 2006

red wine and lunch

This morning around 1:30, I woke up because one of my suite-mates brought friends back from some type of cavorting. One of the spent some time in the bathroom (he had drunk too much red wine) and the others hung out in his room with the door open, listening to music and loudly discussing cricket.

This morning I woke to see the bathroom sink stained with red wine.

On a lighter note, here is a photo of my lunch:

My watch appears in the full size image (click the thumbnail) to give size relationship. The watch face is 1.5". My goal for Monday is to make a bigger sandwich. What should I put on it? this one is salami with cheese, tomato, lettuce, sprouts, and mustard.

my prison cell

Originally uploaded by sidstamm.
So this is where I try to sleep on my tiny, hard bed. I'm still getting used to the neighbors that are noisy seemingly at random.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I exist!

I officially exist to the Uni. Finally. Now to get the Internet download quota removed...

Monday, February 13, 2006

oz update

Okay, so I got settled in finally last night, and things aren't so bad. This morning, after a hot shower and some sleep, I started feeling better about my situation. Granted, my place of residence threw a party last night for the residents -- nice and loud -- so sleeping was a bit hard (hard, like my bed).

Internet access is completely different in Australia, and I've taken for granted how we do stuff in the US. For one thing, you buy megabytes not bandwidth. In fact, the university puts a cap on how much downloading you can do per semester. This is enforced by crazy web proxy servers and logging gateways, and other things I don't understand because they're blocked. I've found that a machine with full internet access is like gold. I'm currently lucky, staged in a temp office where the IPs are given out manually, and access is not heavily restricted or authenticated. I've become more self-conscious about my web traffic though, and have installed a traffic monitor to make sure I don't eat bandwidth and draw unwanted attention. Not as much can be said about the network in my sleeping quarters (I will call them that, as that is all they are good for). I need a university network account to even USE the network. I tried tons of ports, and they are blocked by the next hop. There is a small subset of IPs not blocked, and they are all UOW.edu.au. I can't even SSH!

Ok, now with the rant done, I will blather about my trip.

I don't know if there's a beach, but I assume so since the plane spent fourteen hours over some sort of big body of water. I must set out to find it on Friday, or maybe tonight. Rumor says it is five minutes from my room.

The long-ass plane ride wasn't too bad, but due to delays my layovers were cut to zero. Sleeping is hard in econo-chairs, but doable. Noise-canceling headphones are key. I met a geologist on the plane; he monitors coastline beaches in WA. Neat guy.

Got to Sydney airport, waited for my ride, who made me wait another hour and a half for another flight (and another customer). Met a mining-equipment company executive who gave me some sights to see in Wollongong. He was from Pittsburgh.

Got to my new accomodations, and someone else was living there. Left my luggage at the office, walked to campus (35 minutes) and found people. I was in a haze all day, and kind of angry.

This morning things are better, or at least my mood is. I have a place to sleep (although a bit too far to walk to campus -- I have to buy bus tickets), I have food paid for, I have a temporary office, a tolerable financial situation, and the university is working on giving me a network account so I can have Internet in my room.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

geekboy down under

I made it to Australia. I'm in rather poor spirits due to some serious mix-ups that happened with my lodging, but hopefully once I have a bed and get sleep I will feel better.

I'll post more later.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Nothing too terribly exciting has been happening lately. Mostly the last couple of weeks have been a big push to finish stuff before I go away. I've been editing book chapters for this phishing book, getting papers ready for submission, wrapping up projects, getting my tax info ready ... the list goes on. Nothing spectacular.

On Saturday I leave for the land down-under, and it's finally starting to sink in. I am not really sure what to think except, "here comes another adventure."

On a side note, Cingular sucks, so I will be canceling my phone before I leave. I'll probably have a new number shortly after I get back, but for the meantime, Skype me, AIM me, or email me.

I will post pictures.