Tracking Outages

Back in 2004 I found that my ISP had outages where we would not have an Internet connection for a while. That was… a lifetime ago. Well, 16 years ago, anyway. You can see the mention of it in my Connection Report post. I guess I started with checking every 30 minutes, but I eventually changed that to every 15 minutes. As you can see above, I eventually changed it to every 5 minutes because in the last 6 months I’ve seen that we sometimes have very short outages…

And then I thought, why the heck am I looking at connections when I really want to look at “no connections”, so I rewrote the Perl script that’s been running via cron for 16 years to check for no connection instead.

So now I check every minute for an outage, and if there is one, we log it. Now, I know there are more efficient ways to do this, and there’s probably a better way to run this, and there’s probably an open source monitoring solution that will do 100 times what this little script does, but… I don’t care.

Sometimes I care more about hacking together a solution for myself, and messing around with it every now and then, and actually, you know… writing code for the sake of writing code.


The Lights are…


I love @internetofshit on Twitter (and reddit) and things like Stupid Shit No One Needs & Terrible Ideas Hackathon, not just because they are hilarious, but because they reveal some truths about technology some may ignore.

As much as I love technology, I hate technology. In many ways, it makes our lives better… but in plenty ways, it makes our lives worse.

The Internet of Shitty Things is here. Have all of your best home appliances ruined by putting the internet in them!

Back in 2011 (or maybe 2010?) I ventured into the “Internet of Things” world a bit, and I’ve played with ideas since then, and watched as companies imagined everything connected to the Internet, typically with no thought to security.

Whether or not Cate’s tweet is true, it points out the fact that as we add technology to things we risk making them overly complicated and prone to failure. Turning on a light shouldn’t require installing a damn app or syncing anything. We live in a tactile world, and in my work (designing and building educational museum exhibits) we don’t want to turn everything into a touchscreen interface, for good reason.

Light Switches

Check out a few of these light switch mods on Thingiverse, including Frankenstein Light Switch Plate, Arcade Button Light Switch, and LEGO Light Switch Cover. These concepts all demonstrate that the light switch can be re-imagined as a fun activity, and not relegated to some app running on a digital network.

In other news, I recently tried an Oculus Rift, and while watching a corporate video inside of a virtual world was <sarcasm>completely amazing</sarcasm> I was surprised how comfortable the goggles were, and the first idea I had for them was an application that would allow me to wear them while in lying in bed reading, which I do a lot of while suffering from insomnia. Either a great use case or a great idea for the Stupid Hackathon.

Well that’s enough incoherent rambling for one day, I need to go read the specs on a TTL laser…


Internet is up!


I needed this script last week… See, our ISP had a bit of downtime, roughly 7 hours of downtime actually, but throughout the day there were some periods where our connection would be up for a few minutes before it went down again.


use Net::Ping;

$p = Net::Ping-&gt;new(&quot;tcp&quot;, 2);
$p-&gt;{port_num} = getservbyname(&quot;http&quot;, &quot;tcp&quot;);
$host = '';

while (1) {
if ($p-&gt;ping($host)) {
print &quot;Internet is up!\n&quot;;
# the next two lines will only be useful on osx
$cmd = 'say -v Victoria &quot;Internet is up&quot;';
system ($cmd);
else {
print &quot;...\n&quot;;

To alert me to these few golden minutes of Internet connectivity I whipped up this script. It keeps trying to reach some server (in this example I’m using the highly-available waiting just 5 seconds between each check, and if it reaches the server (meaning our Internet connection is up) it prints “Internet is up!” and on Mac OS X it also says “Internet is up.” I made it say that so I could keep staring at what I was working on and be alerted audibly when the connection returned.

I was tempted to run this on our Mac jukebox so it would announce to the entire office when the connection was up, but by that time things seemed back to normal.

Obviously you could reverse this code to check if a server is up instead of down, and in fact one of my monitoring systems does just that. If you’re ever at the 2XL Networks office and hear “Attention! The server is not responding!” being yelled from one of the Macs… you know there’s a problem.


The Curse of the Middle

Don’t you hate being in the middle? I mean, I ask you this assuming you are one of those people in the middle somewhere. All you experts and know-nothings can stop reading right now…

What is “The Curse of the Middle” you ask? It’s simply being in a position of being good and/or knowledgable at something, maybe better than a lot of people, but just not an expert. Mark at BrainWagon hit on this recently in a podcast when he said “People who don’t draw think that I draw reasonable well, people who actually are artists think that I draw terribly.” Bam! That nails it.

I sometimes feel I’m doomed to the middle. To always be a middler. Stuck. Never to go up (please?) or down (hopefully!) It’s like that episode of Seinfeld title "The Opposite" where Jerry is “even Steven” and things just always work out, no big wins, no big losses.

So on to my area of expertise… I don’t know if I have one. If I do, I can’t quite see it. I mean, I dabble in a lot of different technologies, Linux, Mac OS X, Perl, HTML, syndication, MySQL, automation, and on and on but I just don’t consider myself an expert on any of them. Why is that!? It is just me? I mean, other people think I’m an expert on things, of course this is just due to them not knowing as much as I do about a subject. How can I be an expert when there are people who know 10 times more than I do, and are 10 times better than I am, and are looked up to as experts?

The last time this subject came up in a career-type question it was sort of explained that I was someone who was not an expert in any one thing, but had very broad experience in many different things… Is that it? Am I ok with that? Should I even care about this “expert” thing?

It’s all so very confusing…

I used to work at a place where I was convinced if anyone else figured out that Google existed I’d lose all value. I suppose back then my expertise was in finding answers no one else could.

Does it all have to do with the pool you swim in? Is it all relative? I mean, at home I am the “computer expert” but if I go to a LUG meeting that might not be the case. That’s the geo-angle, but expand that to the internet, what does it take to be an expert at something on the big old internet? (I don’t even want to think about it!)

What makes an expert anyway? I know this guy who is often amazed at some of the things I come up with. To him I guess I’m an expert. He tells me I should write a book, and I pass it off. Of course we’ve learned that you can make more money selling the book than writing the book, but which one will make you an expert? An expert at what? The subject of the book, or the subject of selling books?

Anyway, I thought about it a bit more and told him “I am writing a book, it’s just on the internet!”

(New chapters daily!)


Kids and the Internets

Kids use the internets, that’s no secret, but how do you keep them from “harmful matter” out there? I’m not worried about web sites, but I’d like to eventually let the kids use those email addresses they’ve had for years. Do I need to create a whitelist, so that any friend of theirs has to be pre-approved by me before they can receive mail from them? that seems like a good idea, any problems with that? Spoofing? Spammers? Hmmm…

I’ve also thought about IM. I rarely get anything nasty or SPIM-like, and I figured setting up Jabber accounts would be the safest bet. Of course that really only sets them up to IM with me, which is fine for now. I’m sure at some point some of their friends will want them to come to the dark side (AIM, or worse MSN Messenger! I gotta draw the line somewhere!)

Anyway, I’m going to look into ways of protecting the kids without installing goofy “nanny” software, or having to put proxies in place. Good luck to me!