A few more WordPress security tips

There’s some nasty WordPress malware circulating right now. I haven’t fallen victim to that one, but I caught the very early stages of infection myself all too recently. WordPress itself was just updated to close some vulnerabilities, but the biggest problem is the plugins. Unfortunately, the plugins are the main reason to run WordPress.

At my day job, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a very security-conscious webmaster for the last couple of months, and he and I talk about WordPress security frequently and look into what we, or anyone for that matter, can do to make the best of the situation. Here’s what he and I have found in the last week or so.

Read more

Use this file to find out how much your antivirus is protecting you

Unlike some security professionals, I still regard antivirus as a necessity. It doesn’t catch advanced threats, and everything it does catch can be caught through other methods, but it is the most cost- and labor-effective way to catch the best-known, least sophisticated attacks. If you put a $100,000 incident responder to work hunting ordinary viruses, you’ll waste a lot of money on salary and quickly lose that incident responder to another company offering more interesting work.

Of course, there’s a great deal of discussion in the mainstream computer magazines about which antivirus is the best. I don’t agree with their methodology though–they might as well be looking for the longest 8-foot 2×4 at the home improvement store. Yes, you can probably find some variance if you get out a micrometer, but what have you accomplished?

SANS has a good real-world test to see how much protection your antivirus software is really giving you.

Read more

IT jobs shortage? Slide over to security

IT jobs are getting scarce again, and I believe it. I don’t have a cure but I have a suggestion: Specialize. Specifically, specialize in security.

Why? Turnover. Turnover in my department is rampant, because other companies offer my coworkers more money, a promotion, or something tangible to come work for them. I asked our CISO point blank if he’s worried. He said unemployment in security is 0.6 percent, so this is normal. What we have to do is develop security people, because there aren’t enough of them.

I made that transition, largely by accident, so I’ll offer some advice. Read more

Need a load for your Marx plastic flatcar? Look to Tonka.

In the late 1950s, Marx sold a flatcar, labeled #5545 and lettered for the CB&Q (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy), with a large black clip in the middle. Marx shipped it with a pair of miniature trailers. These frequently got separated from the flatcar, so frequently you’ll find the car, sans vehicles, in the cheapie boxes at train stores and under the tables at train shows. The trailers are worth considerably more than the flatcar alone.

But there are some common, relatively inexpensive toys that work well on these common plastic freight cars.

Read more

I’m still here

Sorry I haven’t been around much lately. I started a new job, with a new commute, and new adjustments. I won’t tell you who I’m working for, other than to say it’s someone you definitely have heard of. I’ll get to work with some new technology (SANs, most notably) and lots of old, familiar technology.

There’s no Linux and no Unix to speak of, but it pays the bills and keeps a roof over our head, and I’m working with good people.I will say that I’m working in Illinois now. I don’t know if the nickname "East Side Dave" will stick or not. Those of you who are from St. Louis or have lived in St. Louis will know that’s probably not the best nickname to have.

Note to potential St. Louis job seekers: If you live in South County and have easy access to I-255, don’t rule out jobs in Illinois. The Metro East is far, far more spread out than the Missouri side, but the commute is much nicer. The traffic is sparse and it flows, there are far fewer Dale Earnhart wannabes, and the roads are in better condition. And my commute time is predictable now. Driving to Town & Country could take me anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour when I worked there. It’s odd now if my commute time varies by five minutes.

The hours will require some adjustment. I worked three different places in 2005, and each starting time was 30-60 minutes earlier than the last. I’m not a morning person and never have been. But when you like the people and you like the commute and you like the work you’re doing, it’s easier to get up early. It wasn’t that long ago that the commute was my favorite thing about my job, and they were planning to move me someplace with a much worse commute.

So I don’t know what this next year will bring, but hopefully I’ll settle into a routine in the next few weeks.

Maintaining a healthy distance

Yesterday we managed to back up our 40 or so NT servers without incident for the first time in years. OK, months. It seemed like years. It wasn’t that long ago that I nearly woke up my neighbors after receiving my fourth 2-am backup failure phone call that week. As I walked through the hallway to fire up the laptop and log in, I pounded the wall in frustration and screamed, “Just once, let me sleep through the night without bothering me. Just once!”
Microsoft is my least favorite software company and has been for years. But once I had to deal with Backup Exec on a daily–who am I kidding?–nightly basis, Veritas quickly rocketed past Network Associates and Adobe to get the #2 spot.

To anyone else struggling with Backup Exec, I offer this bit of advice: Tell the first PHB who comes around that you’d be working on it if you weren’t busy talking to him or her, then take your phone off the hook and deal with the problem one backup job at a time. Better yet, narrow it down to one directory at a time. Keep in mind that Backup Exec seems to subscribe to the domino theory–one failure causes eight. OK, two or three. And if Backup Exec is flagging jobs as failures because it can’t back up the DHCP database, then exclude the DHCP database. If you have to do a restore and that file’s gone, the OS will regenerate it. It’s easier to explain that to the PHBs than it is repeated failures. If they insist on 100% identical hot backups, tell them they’re going to have to swallow hard and buy you a SAN with snapshot capability. If they don’t have $50,000 laying around, I can come up with creative ways to get it–eliminating a layer or two of management would probably pay for several SANs–but I don’t know of a tactful way to say that.

If I seem a bit disconnected these days, I am. A few weeks ago I realized I was letting a Microsoft lackey from Utah with all the class of that thing you find behind a horse’s tail set my agenda. And I decided I wouldn’t let him set my agenda, or anyone else, for that matter. And I quit looking at my site statistics. And I haven’t even looked at comments since Saturday.

Daily hits are nice, and they’re great for the ego. But prime time for writing used to start around 9 pm. That also happens to be the time when my girlfriend can call me for free. So guess what budged? I’ll adjust eventually, but that’s not all that’s changed. A year ago, I’d ask myself several times a week what I was going to write about the next day. I never ask myself that question anymore. Nowadays I sit down and write when I’ve found something interesting, or I do what I’m doing now–force myself to sit down and write something, anything.

And of course, on the nights when she comes over or we go out, I don’t write anything.

So I’m not writing my best-ever content these days, but it’s because I have other priorities. That includes keeping the girlfriend happy, but truth be told, I’m at least as happy writing a Wikipedia entry as I’ve ever been writing stuff here. So a lot of energy that would normally go here goes elsewhere. Cracking the upper ranks of Technorati or another blogging community just isn’t high on my priority list anymore, if it ever was.

But I’m still in my 20s, and I’m still just as moody as I’ve ever been. Everything’s subject to change with as little notice as St. Louis weather patterns.

I know this will be interpreted as me saying I quit, so let me make one thing clear: I don’t quit. I may or may not write something tomorrow (I probably will). But if I don’t, I’ll be back later in the week. And I might even read comments that time.

Basic design principles

Steve DeLassus asked me for some tips on design for a site he’s building. Since that’s fairly general-interest information, I figure I might as well make a post of it.
The most important thing to remember is that there are basic rules of design that you can follow and be a good designer, even if you have zero ability. Great designers know where to break the rules. (And for the record, if I were a great designer, I’d be an art director for some magazine somewhere. I’m not.)

Fonts. General rule: Serif fonts are easier to read on paper than sans-serif fonts. The opposite is usually true onscreen, which has lower resolution than paper. You can play it safe by specifying fonts like Verdana, Lucida, and Georgia, which are specially designed for screen displays.

Use Lucida or Verdana if you want to look modern. Use Georgia if you want to look traditional.

Specify Times as a secondary font for Georgia, and Helvetica and Arial as secondaries for Lucida or Verdana, but those fonts are so common that I’d avoid them for primary use. As an experiment in college, I stopped using Times and Arial on my papers and susbstituted other, less-common fonts. My grades improved. Being a little bit distinctive can help. I suspect Georgia and Verdana may one day become as common online as Times and Arial, but that day isn’t here yet.

Colors. Use a high-contrast scheme like black on white. People are used to light backgrounds and dark text, so be prepared for complaints if you use a dark background and light text, even if you believe (as I do) that dark backgrounds are easier on the eyes. People in their teens and 20s (and possibly early 30s) are likely to be more forgiving on this than people who are older.

I’ve run into people who are militantly opposed to dark backgrounds. I’ve never run into anyone militantly opposed to light ones. So play it safe.

Color schemes. Follow the rules of the color wheel unless you know better. And remember: Any color will look fine with black or white, and very nearly any color will look fine with some shade of gray. Limit funky color schemes to your navigation bar; keep your main body text close to the classic black and white.

Keep in mind what you want to convey. A funky, hip site might mix orange and blue or orange and green. A more conservative site will drift towards blue and yellow.

And a very safe choice: Black, white, and red. Anything you do with those three colors will look just fine.

An easy way to play with color schemes is to visit this site.

Backgrounds. The in thing seven years ago in Web design was to use a background pattern. Today that’s generally a no-no, at least if you’re overlaying text. Place your text against a solid color. Limit background usage to your margins. Busy backgrounds are distracting.

Animation. I have animation turned off in all of my Web browsers. Animation is distracting. You can look very professional if you never use animated GIFs, Flash, or Javascript. It is extraordinarily difficult to use animated GIFs, Flash, and gratuitous Javascript and not look amateurish.

Think about it for a minute: Our most basic instinct is survival. And out in the wild, movement could mean a couple of things. Something that moved might be lunch. Or something that moved might think you’re lunch. So you naturally pay more attention to something that moves than to something that doesn’t.

On most professionally designed sites, the only thing that moves is the ads. There’s a big reason for that.

Existing media. If you have art you intend to use, make sure your site goes with it. Better yet, design your site around it. I designed this site around the montage of photos along the top. Steve had a family crest. It’s an elegant, attractive design. Almost as attractive and elegant as my family crest. Steve’s crest utilized a blue and a gray that seem to go really well together, so I suggested Steve use those colors as the principal colors in his site. The gray will be well-suited for the background of the text portion, so the natural place to use the blue is in his navigation bar.

Rule breakage. The exception to virtually every rule here is your page title. When you blow text up really big, you can get away with almost anything. So if you’re going to get daring, get daring on your page title. And even if you don’t get daring, most fonts look terrific really big. So blow your page title up really big.

The tightrope of Web design

There are few challenges more daunting than designing a truly first-rate Web site.
And I’m not here to tell you how to design a first-rate Web site, because I’m not so arrogant as to assert that I’ve ever done it. I’ve tried it a dozen or so times. Some of the results have been good enough to be worthy of staying on the Web for a while. Some of them have been so bad that if someone were to hand me a printout today, I’d question what I could have possibly been thinking when I did it, and I might even question whether the design was mine. Yes, I’ve done my best to forget a lot of them.

And a lot of people are probably wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of this, since making a Web site is something that it seems like everybody does. I think everyone I went to college with had a Web site that had pictures of their cats, lists of all the CDs they owned (or wished they owned), their resumes, and links to all of their friends’ sites.

But that’s precisely the issue. Since everyone does it, it’s difficult to stand out.

There are actually three elements that make up a truly first-rate site, and the biggest problem with most near misses is that they only hit one or two of those elements. Other sites, like most personal home pages that populated the Web in the early ’90s, missed them all.

Content. A first-rate site has to have something to say. The biggest problem with those early personal home pages was that people had nothing to say. Finding clever ways to present boring and useless information wears off quickly. Ideally, a site should give some order to that content, so people can find what they’re looking for. A Weblog dedicated to the rebuilding of vintage BMW motorcycles could be extremely useful, but its usefulness will wear off very quickly if there isn’t a good way to find it.

Community. The best stuff comes from the questions people ask, or the answers people provide. Just ask any teacher. Anything that provides opportunity for banter between content provider and reader, or between readers, is a good thing. If there’s a way to organize and search that banter, so much the better. That hypothetical BMW motorcycle blog would be a lot more useful with people asking questions and sharing their own experience.

Design. This is last, and possibly least. Yet for many people it’s the most challenging. This is partly because some people aren’t naturally gifted in this area (I’m not), and partly because of the crude tools involved. There are probably other factors. We’ll concentrate on this area though, because it’s probably the only area that’s debatable.

Some people question whether design is even necessary. This is a sure sign that an awful lot of designers are doing their jobs. Design’s job is to set the mood, present the content in a facilitating manner, and get out of the way.

The challenge the Web presents is that power users are used to setting all the settings on their computer and it staying that way. They set the colors and the font and the window size the computer should use for everything, and some of them resent it when anyone imposes anything different on them. Some of them even seem to resent the use of p-tags to denote the end of a paragraph. They’ll decide when a paragraph ends and a new one begins, thank you very much. What’s the original author of the piece know, anyway?

On the other hand, you have users who are still trying to figure out what that blasted mouse is for. (This is in contrast to the people like me who’ve been using a computer for 20 years and are still trying to figure out what that blasted mouse is for.) They don’t know where those settings are and don’t care to set them themselves; they expect to be able to go to a Web page, and if it just looks like a raw data feed, they’ll go on to the next place because it looks nicer.

Those power users have a difficult time with this concept, but mankind has learned a few things in the thousands of years since the first time someone applied ink to parchment. Most of it was through trial and error, but most of that wisdom is timeless. Throwing that away is like deciding you don’t like the number zero. For example, in the case of Roman alphabets, a line length of between 50 and 80 characters reads much faster than any other length. If reading a page makes you feel tired, check the line length.

Knowing that, a browser window expanded to full screen is too short and too wide. Books and magazines and newspapers are vertically-oriented for a reason. So the primary navigation goes along the side, because there’s horizontal room to spare and vertical room is too precious to waste on something not content-oriented. Most computer users don’t want to think about this kind of stuff.

When it comes to font selection, things get a little bit easier. Fonts with serifs (feet and ears, like Times) look elegant and they’re easy to read because the serifs guide the eye. Sans-serif fonts (like Arial, which is a Helvetica ripoff) look really good when you blow them up big, but when you run them too small, the eye gets confused. The problem is that computer screens don’t have enough resolution to really do serifs justice. So the best thing to do in most situations is to run a sans-serif font with lots of line spacing. The extra space between the lines helps to guide the eye the same way serifs will. If you notice the typography, the designer has probably done a poor job. If you feel physically tired after reading the piece, the designer definitely has done a poor job.

Brightness and contrast are another issue. The rule is that for short stretches, you can read just about anything. That’s why you’ll see photos run full-page in magazines with the caption superimposed on top. But for reading anything more than a paragraph, you need a fair bit of contrast. Our society is used to black text on white. White or light grey text on black should theoretically work as well, but we’re used to light backgrounds, so we struggle sometimes with dark backgrounds.

But contrast done well can extend beyond convention. It’s possible to make an eye-catching and perfectly readable design with orange and blue, assuming you use the right shades of orange and blue and size elements appropriately. If you don’t feel physically tired after reading it, the designer did a good job, even if you don’t like blue and orange.

The problem with Web design is multifaceted. Not all browsers render pages the same way. This was a nightmare in the mid-90s, when Microsoft and Netscape sought to gain advantages over one another by extending the HTML standard and not always incorporating one another’s extensions. Netscape and Opera deciding to release browsers that follow the standards regardless of what that does to pages developed with Microsoft tools is a very good thing–it forced Microsoft to at least act like it cares about standards. So if a designer is willing to work hard enough, it’s possible to make a page that looks reasonably close in all the major browsers today.

HTML never helped matters any. HTML is a very crude tool, suitable for deliniating paragraphs from headings and providing links but nothing else. You can tell from looking at the original standard that no one with design background participated in its creation. Anything created in strict HTML 1.0 will look like a page from a scientific journal. To adjust line spacing or create multi-column layout, people had to resort to hacks–hacks that browsers will react to in different ways.

XHTML and CSS are what journalism students like me toiling in the early ’90s trying to figure out what to do with this new medium should have been praying for. It’s still not as versatile as PostScript, but it’s very nearly good enough as a design language.

The final design hurdle, though, has always been with us and will only get worse. You could always tell in the early ’90s what pages were created on campus with $10,000 workstations and which ones were created on computers the student owned. Lab-created pages used huge fonts and didn’t look right at any resolution below 1024×768. Meanwhile, I was designing for 14-inch monitors because that was what I had. That 14-inch monitor cost me 300 bucks, buddy, so I don’t want to hear any snickers!

Today, you can buy a decent 19-inch monitor for what I paid for that 14-incher. But as monitors have gotten larger, resolutions have only varied more. A lot of people run 17-inch or even 19-inch monitors at 640×480. Sometimes this is because they haven’t figured out how to change the resolution. Sometimes it’s because they like huge text. Flat-panel displays generally look gorgeous in their native resolution but terrible in any other, so it’s not fair to ask a flat-panel user to change. These displays became affordable within the past couple of years, so they are more common now than ever. A typical flat-panel runs at 1024×768 or 800×600. And on the other extreme, a 21-inch monitor capable of displaying 1600×1200 comfortably (or higher) can be had for $700.

So, since you can’t predict the resolution or window width people will be using, what do you do? CSS and XHTML provide a bit of an answer. It’ll let you create a content column that scales to the screen size. And if you’re really, really careful, you can specify your elements’ sizes in relative terms, rather than absolute pixel measurements. But this messes up if you have lots of graphics you want to position and line up correctly.

And some designs just stop working right when you mess with the font size. Mine don’t, primarily because I’m a disciple of Roger Black. I don’t have any really strong feelings about Black, it’s just that the first book I read by a designer that I really understood was co-written by Black. And most of Roger Black’s techniques work just fine when you crank up the font sizes. If anything, they look better when you make the fonts big enough that your neighbor can read them when you have your curtains open.

All in no particular order…

U2. I couldn’t help but notice during U2’s halftime performance yesterday how much Bono has aged. Now, granted, he’s 42 or 43 now, so he’s not going to look 22 anymore, but last night he didn’t look 42 to me. His voice didn’t seem terribly strong either, but that’s something he’s battled for more than 20 years. During their famous Sarajevo gig in 1997, Edge had to sing a few numbers (including Sunday Bloody Sunday) because Bono had lost his voice.
Above all else, it was a show. The band showed up on stage, sans Bono. He was walking through the crowd. They played one obvious song (Beautiful Day), then in a flash of showmanship, projected the names of 9/11 victims as they played an obscure song off The Unforgettable Fire, the haunting MLK (one of two tributes to Martin Luther King Jr. on that album) before segueing into Where the Streets Have No Name, with a few improvised lyrics (including a chorus from All You Need is Love, a nod to Paul McCartney).

Very typical U2. U2 fans undoubtedly loved it or at least enjoyed it; not-so-big fans probably weren’t so impressed (they sounded worse than, for instance, Mariah Carey, but a musician I work with is convinced she was lip-syncing) and U2 haters probably found something else to hate. I was impressed that they didn’t sell out by playing three songs off their current album. They played a hit from a year ago, then they played an obscure song, then they played a minor hit from 15 years ago, but it wasn’t one of the two huge hits off that album.

Heartbreak. That was what the game itself was. The Rams didn’t show up to play for the first three quarters. I have to wonder how badly Warner was hurting, because he definitely didn’t look 100% (and if I can notice a difference, there definitely is one). I have to wonder what if he hadn’t taken those hits late in the game three weeks ago against Green Bay…?

Security. I see from this story that Linux is less secure than Windows, based on counting reports at SecurityFocus.

SecurityFocus reported a total of 96 Linux vulnerabilities, versus 42 Windows NT/2000 vulnerabilityes (24 for Windows 2000 and 18 for NT4.0). Buried deeper in the article, you see that Mandrake Linux 7.2 notched up 33 vulnerabilities, Red Hat 7.0 suffered 28, Mandrake 7.1 had 27 and Debian 2.2 had 26.

So, first things first, James Middleton seems to think 2=4.

Now, math aside, those 26 Debian vulnerabilities were in all likelihood present in all the other distributions. So there’s a lot of triple- or even quadruple-counting here.

I remember a good number of those Linux vulnerabilities. Some of them were buffer overflows in utilities that would be difficult or impossible to exploit without shell access to the machine. Some of them were in daemons (services) that may or may not be running at any given time. Very few were in the kernel itself. Bottom line is, a typical Linux-based Web server sitting behind a firewall with only port 80 exposed probably didn’t have anything to worry about. The same goes for a typical Linux-based Samba server.

This isn’t like Windows, where you get the components Microsoft deems necessary, whether you want them or not, and you fear removing or disabling them because you don’t know what else will break and have no way of knowing. With Mandrake, you’ll get some services you don’t want, but you can disable them without breaking stuff. Red Hat has reformed and installs surprisingly little in its minimum installation these days. Debian installs even less.

So, the dirty little secret this article didn’t tell you: Not all the security problems affected any given Linux server. Chances are most of the security flaws affected any given Windows server.

I hate it when technology journalists blindly spit out numbers without having a clue what they mean.

I may publish again. I was mad enough to fire off a proposal to one of my former editors to see if he’d be interested in a few magazine articles. It’s time there was some stuff out there written by someone who has a clue what he’s talking about.

Useful link. For once I saw a banner ad that halfway interested me today. At LowerMyBills.com you can compare different utilities services available to you. Long-distance rates include both the interstate and intrastate rate (important if you’re like me and rarely call out-of-state). Alas, they don’t list local phone service providers, and their high-speed Internet listings aren’t complete, but it’s better than nothing. They also do listings for loans and debt relief, neither of which I need right now.

If the site’s useful to you, you’ll know.

Weekend adventures and Low-profile PCs

Saturday. I finally managed to drag my sorry butt to work about 11 or so. I went to pay my rent at 10; the office was closed even though it was supposed to be open. The manager called me yesterday about 10, wondering where I was (gee, could it be I was at work, and that sometimes I have things to do other than sit by the phone waiting for her to call?) complaining that they needed to get into my apartment to fix a leak. I called and left a message saying go on in. She called back a couple of hours later and bawled me out for having a busted hose (I didn’t bust it) and for having stuff in the closet with the hot water heater, in violation of fire code. “The maintenance guy said you had a bunch of stuff in there, and that busted the hose, and that’s a violation of code so you have to clean it out.”
I checked when I got home. Apparently a snow shovel (necessary because they never clear the parking lot) and a kitchen mop sitting in the corner opposite everything constitutes “a bunch of stuff.” I put the check in an envelope, and since there was no one there to complain to, I scribled a note on the envelope. “I moved my mop and my snow shovel out of the closet. Apparently that constitutes ‘a bunch of stuff.'”

And Friday night I got out my lease and looked at it. I’d never read it thoroughly and I was shocked. For one thing, playing a musical instrument is strictly prohibited. Even with headphones. That’s a load of bull. If you can play a guitar on the Metro in Washington D.C. as long as you use headphones, then if I feel like strumming my bass inside the four walls of my apartment and no one can hear it, that’s my business. But I found what I was looking for. Since I’ve been here two years, the penalty for breaking the lease is one month’s rent. Losing me for the remainder of the lease hurts them more than the month’s rent hurts me, so I started looking for houses.

One of the girls at church (her name is Wendy) had mentioned earlier in the week that houses in Lemay are inexpensive, and Lemay, despite what Gatermann says, isn’t a bad place. For one, there’s a great pizza joint in Lemay. There’s reasonably easy access to I-255 to get around St. Louis. Plus two grocery stores and a department store. And if Wendy’s comfortable walking to her car at night in Lemay, my black trenchcoat and I will be just fine.

At work, an unexpected but totally welcome distraction happened. My phone rang. I was hoping it was the girl from church, but it was an inside ring. I picked up. “This is Dave,” I said.

“Hi! It’s Heather.”

That’s the name of my best friend from college, and it sure sounded like her voice. But she lives in Florida and she’s been bouncing from dot-com to dot-com since college.

“I saw your car outside so I thought I’d give you a call. I’m here with Olivia and we’re just checking on houses with my computer. I thought you might like to meet her.”

Oh. That Heather. She’s a twentysomething Kentucky native who’s lived in St. Louis for about three years. Olivia is her four-year-old daughter. She’s been looking for a house for about the past six months. Extremely nice girl, easy to talk to. Pretty too.

Talking to Heather and meeting Olivia promised to be a whole lot more intersesting than watching SpinRite run on that failing hard drive that forced me into the office on my day off, so I walked over to her area. Olivia saw me first. She hid behind a chair. I recognized her immediately, because Heather’s cubicle is practically wallpapered with pictures of her. I knocked on the side of the cube wall. Heather looked up. “Hi!” she said. She looked around and saw Olivia behind the chair. “Come out, Olivia.” Olivia shyly emerged. “Say Hi.” Olivia waved shyly and said hi. Yep, she’s just like her mom: way tall, and very shy at first. Olivia crawled up into Heather’s lap and started playing with her adding machine. She whispered something to her mom. She looked at her, puzzled. Olivia whispered it again. “You tell him,” she said.

“I like to dig through the trash,” Olivia said.

“Why do you like to dig in the trash?” I asked her. Heather laughed and explained. Olivia keeps everything. When she throws something away, Olivia usually goes digging for it. I told Olivia I used to dig through the trash when my mom would throw my stuff away too.

“Oh! I haven’t told you. We made an offer on a house!” Heather said, visibly excited. I asked her about it. Two-bedroom, nice heated garage, small yard but within walking distance of a park… in Lemay. I smiled.

I told her congratulations, and told her I started looking last night. She said there was a lot of stuff in Lemay. Meanwhile, Olivia and I played catch with beanbags. She has a lively arm on her, not that that should be too surprising. When you’ve got long arms like hers and get them extended, you’ll have some pop. Her first throw hit me below the belt, if you know what I mean. I saw it coming, couldn’t get my arm down there fast enough, and grimaced. Olivia laughed. I don’t think Heather saw. I picked the beanbag off the ground and tossed it back to her. No lasting effects–it was a beanbag, after all. But guys instinctively grimace whenever anything heads that direction, even a Nerf ball. It’s instinctual. Olivia’s next throw sailed past my outstretched hand and plunked the back of Heather’s chair.

“I’m glad you weren’t the second baseman the last softball game I played,” I said to Olivia.

So Heather and I talked houses while Olivia and I tossed beanbags around. I’m like her, I like South County and don’t really want to live anywhere else. She’s been looking long enough to have a pretty good idea what’s available. She printed off a couple of houses for me, and told me a couple of places in Lemay where several houses were available.

Eventually, I thanked her and left. I told Olivia it was nice to meet her.

Then last night, after none of my Saturday plans panned out, I wandered out in search of a haircut and the new Echo and the Bunnymen album. I found neither. I bought some used stuff: Echo and the Bunnymen’s self-titled 1987 release which I’d never gotten around to buying, Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, Peter Murphy’s surprise 1989 hit Deep, and a New Wave compilation that contained a couple of good songs from bands who only recorded one good song, plus a bunch of stuff I didn’t remember ever hearing. The sales clerk reacted to my selections. “Uh oh. Echo and the Bunnymen. Hmm. Peter Murphy. Who was he with?”

“Bauhaus,” I said.

“Was he in Love and Rockets too, or was that the other guys from Bauhaus?”

“Love and Rockets was Bauhaus without Peter Murphy.”

Yep, I was earning the right to wear a black trenchcoat last night. Too bad it’s August. I was impressed that the clerk recognized Murphy, seeing as he was probably born the same year Bauhaus broke up and Murphy’s only had one solo hit, though his post-Bauhaus stuff is really good.

So I hopped in my car, popped in the compilation CD, and went exploring. I found the area Heather told me about. But mostly I explored Lemay–what kind of stuff could I find? Being fairly close to a park would be nice. I found the pizza joint my dad and I used to go to, many years ago. Just about everything I need is pretty close together, and not terribly far from the big commercial district. The houses are older, which can be good and bad, and like Heather warned me, there are some areas that are a little bit redneck, but you’ll find that in a lot of parts of St. Louis. And like Wendy said, Lemay’s not a ritzy place and the people who live there know it, so the pretension you see in a lot of parts of St. Louis isn’t present there. That’s nice.

Low-profile. Dan Bowman sent me a couple of links yesterday to low-profile cases that would be suitable as low-end servers or routers. Over at CSO they’re selling Dell low-profile Pentium Pro-200 systems for $99, with 64 MB RAM, 2.1 gig HD, and a NIC. A Pentium II-266 runs $129. Specs vary on the PII.

That got me thinking and looking around some more. Over at www.compgeeks.com, I found a couple of other things. An ultra low-profile LPX case (sans power supply) is running $10.50. It only has three bays, but that’s plenty for a floppy, CD-ROM, and single HD. An Intel HX-based LPX mobo (with built-in video) runs $19. It’ll take up to a P200, non-MMX though. The LPX riser card is $4.95. CPU availability is limited there; a P90 runs five bucks. Back at CSO, a P166 runs $15.

If you’re really cramped for space, building an LPX-based system is your best bet. But the CSO deal on the Dell is tough to beat. You won’t build an LPX system that even comes close for $99.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux