Nasty Habits

Posted Sunday, 07 January 2007, 7:50 pm

Confession time. I have a nasty habit. It’s filthy, it’s hard to control, I’m guilty of indulging it at just about any time, and I’m really, really, trying to get this monkey off my back.

It’s called "lazy caps".

I’ve been doing it for years. It started innocently enough as merely a bit of rebelling against The Man. I mean, what’s the point? The word "Point" and the word "point" mean exactly the same thing. There’s no difference whatsoever. So if the meaning never changes, why do I have to capitalize point just because it’s the first word of a sentence? Only Fools need Rules, preach it!

The problem is…well, the problem is it makes one look poorly educated and…lazy. Thus, ‘lazy caps’.

Admittedly, I am indeed lazy. No question about it. But I always excused it as being a pragmatic response to expediency. That extra throw of the little finger just to capitalize a letter—it’s wasted effort dang it! And I’m a busy, busy guy! I can’t be troubled with these little nuisances. I have information to share, time is of the essence!

Yeah, right.

Why an entire post about it? To alert my faithful readership that you may note that almost every post here has been – or will be – updated to correct as much of the lazy caps as I can find. So as you’re eagerly absorbed in merriment reading through my vast archives, don’t be alarmed that I’ve gamed the posts to add savory bits for your further titillation. No sir. I’m merely correcting ‘i’ to ‘I’ a few hundred thousand times.

 

Oh, And That Reminds Me

Posted Sunday, 07 January 2007, 12:59 am

Nearly a decade ago, I came up with a couple of ideas that wound up staying with me all this time. I still use them to this day.

  • NOT_IN_SERVICE

Nothing but a directory. That’s it. But it brings a bit of order to the harried sysadmin’s life. Need to muck about with /etc/vfstab, one of those files where the slightest little typo can give you quite a blast of the cold sweats?

cd /etc
mkdir NOT_IN_SERVICE
cp vfstab NOT_IN_SERVICE

Now, that doesn’t seem like brain surgery. And certainly it’s not. But it makes a place where you can keep ‘coordinated’ backups of important files before you muck with them, or move kruft from things you don’t need/use into a place for safekeeping, So they won’t clutter the work environment.  By putting it in all-caps, it provides a bit of a clue to someone coming along behind you—say, if you’re hit by a bus—as to where things might be. At minimum, it’ll tweak their curiousity. It’s a little thing, but I’ve found it very, very handy. There’s NOT_IN_SERVICE directories scattered hither and yon on my servers.

And the other idea?

  • /usr/local/admin/bin

Much like any other admin, I find myself writing many, many, little scripts. It’s part of life, shuffling and manipulating data. And /usr/local/admin/bin is where I keep that ‘toolbag’. It keeps the stuff I’ve written separate from the main tree of applications, so they’re all in one place, easy to refer to, particularly when I forget what I named one of them! Obviously, it’s another path to add to your PATH env, but that’s nothing. Late at night, when I just know I wrote a script that does X, Y, and M, but can’t for the life of me remember what I called it—just cd in there, and I know I’ll  spot it in a jiffy. Good luck searching through 300+ commands in /usr/local/bin at 3am.

Grep For Knowledge, Grep For Industry

Posted Saturday, 06 January 2007, 4:48 pm

I’ve seen a number of stories regarding standard Unix commands get promoted to the front page of digg.com. It’s a peculiar phenomenon, at least to me. Most of the articles have been pretty much straightforward explanations of how to use these commands in completely "normal" ways, rather than in novel or innovative ways. I’ve been using Unix since 1986, and have worked as a systems administrator since 1994—perhaps I’m jaded. The popularity of linux has vastly increased the audience for Unix over the years, and that means there’s a LOT of inexperienced people out there who use a Unix-like OS, but have little experience with what was formerly the bailiwick of experts.

That introduction tendered, I’d like to share a mildly novel use of grep that I’ve employed for years. I make no claims to it being truly innovative. However, it is an approach I don’t often see used, and a casual understanding of it should show that it has broader application.

So, on with it!

grep is a standard unix command. It’s included with virtually every flavor of Unix and Unix-like OSes. There are variants of course—GNU grep has considerably more functionality than the default grep that one would find in Solaris a decade ago, for example. This example depends upon the GNU version of grep.

One task a systems administrator performs regularly is checking his systems for ‘unusual’ processes that might suggest something is running on the system that shouldn’t be. Whether it’s an unexpected instance of ‘w’ being run, or ‘rlogin’, or some such—it’s handy to be able to see those oddball apps with as few distractions as possible.

If I run ps -ecf on my Solaris server, I’ll get a listing of every process running at that moment (I prefer the POSIXly functioning ps to the BSDish invocation, which might typically be ps -aux). The problem is, there’s a hundred or so applications listed/running that I know should be running, so I don’t care terribly much about them. I’m interested in those few commands scattered in the output that should not be running.

Culling those unwanted entries from the list is "easily enough" done by just piping the output through several grep -v invocations, for example,  

ps -ecf | grep -v httpd | grep -v imapd

and so on. The problem of course is that you want to cull dozens—maybe a hundred—listed applications, and that can make for an awfully ungainly pipeline!

There’s an easy option to grep though that simplifies the matter considerable—the -f option. -f tells grep to get its arguments from a file, rather than on the command line. In the file, you list—one entry per line—all the apps that you don’t want listed. So, for example, you create a file called curiouspat (or any name to your liking of course), and in it, you list

httpd
imapd
tcsh
mysqld

and so on. You then invoke your pipeline like this:

ps -ecf | grep -v -f curiouspat

and now you’ll get the same output as a long pipeline would produce. The nice side-benefit is that it’s repeatable—you don’t have to keep typing out some ungainly pipeline for all those commands you don’t want to see—and you don’t have to remember them either.

To simplify things further, you can dump the above line into an executable file ( I call mine, naturally enough, "curious") so it’s even easier to run any time. Obviously, your pattern file will likely be quite long—but that’s what makes using a pattern file so much easier than manually pipelining multiple grep -v’s together.

So that’s my tip. Not groundbreaking. Not crazy-innovative. But it’s a handy method  to keep in your toolbag.

My Name Is My Name, Which Is My Name, Except To Uncle Sam

Posted Thursday, 21 December 2006, 8:02 pm

I’ve bored a handful of friends with this minor tale of woe, but hey, nothing like a wider audience to bore.

My name is Paul Theodoropoulos. It’s my legal name. Every bill I get, every ( $#!!$$@!!!) "We can lower your mortgage!" junkmail I get, my driver license, my credit cards, my costco card, my REI card, everything – they all say "Paul Theodoropoulos".

California recognizes the common law practice of a name change. That means that if you choose to use a particular name, and do so consistently, then it is your legal name.

Way back in 1959, the era of ‘space cars are just around the corner’ and TV dinners and labor saving devices…well, that’s the year I was born. My dad had used "Pete Theodor" for some time, as it was shorter and easier and more practical than his birth name of Pete Theodoropoulos. it was a labor savings device! Well, my parents thought they’d do me a favor, and shorten my name for me. So on my birth certificate, my name is Paul Christopher Theodor. That’s the name I was given. My parents, good citizens that they were, also got me a Social Security card shortly after I was born, so I’d be all official-like for the bright future.

But I thought Theodoropoulos was cool! I was proud of the unusual name. So, from the age of—oh, probably seven years old or so—I started using Paul Theodoropoulos as my name.  No problem. I submitted my homework as Paul Theodoropoulos. I got my first savings account as Paul Theodoropoulos. As i got older, I got my driver license, my credit cards, etc, as Paul Theodoropoulos.

Social Security of course, still considered me Paul Christopher Theodor. In the last decade or so, since they began publishing them, I’ve gotten my social security ‘balance sheet’ mailed to me as Paul Christopher Theodor. All of my earnings have always been there, even though every job I’ve had, i was paid as Paul Theodoropoulos.

I had lost my social security card years earlier. Most employers never even asked to see it—they just asked for the number, and that was that. Seven or eight years ago, I decided I should replace the darned thing, so I went to the local SocSec office, and ordered a replacement. No problem, even with the discrepancy between my ID and who they thought I was (regrettably, when the thing came in the mail a couple of weeks later, it seems I scooped it up with the normal half dozen junk mails that came every day, and tossed it, because i’ve never been able to find it since then).

Things have changed since 9/11 however. Boy have they changed.

I went to the SocSec office a couple of months ago to really get a replacement card. I was going to start a new job, and they required that I show my social security card for employment (the job ultimately didn’t work out, that’s another long, boring story!).

Problem was, I got a great big N-O when I went in for a new card.

SocSec:  "Our records show you as Paul Christopher Theodor. You must provide photo identification in that name in order to get a replacement card."

Me: "But, uh, I’ve used Paul Theodoropoulos as my legal name for about forty years. I have no photo ID with that other name."

SocSec: "I’m sorry. But that’s the rules. There are no exceptions, period. "

Me: "Okay. Um. So what do I do?"

SocSec: "Well, you can go to DMV and have them reissue your driver license with your birth name."

Me: "But that’s not my legal name any more."

SocSec: "That doesn’t matter. That’s the only way we can give you a new card."

Me: "How is it that you won’t give me a new card with my current legal name, but you’ve taken in thousands of dollars in Social Security taxes from my paychecks for the last couple of decades, all as Paul Theodoropoulos?"

SocSec: "We don’t care what name the taxes are associated with when we collect them, just the number."

Me: "But then, doesn’t that potentially mean that—twenty or so years from now, when I apply for social security benefits—I might have a big problem getting those benefits, since my name doesn’t match your records?"

SocSec: "Oh, no, it shouldn’t be any  problem!"

Me: "Oh that’s reassuring."

SocSec: "The only other way to do it is to get your name legally changed by the court, and present the granted petition to us, then we can change the name associated with the number to your current name."

Me: "Well, I suppose, even though it sounds utterly ridiculous to change my legal name to my legal name, I’ll have to do that."

And that’s what I’m doing. For the low low fee of $320 for the filing, and the $15 for each certified copy of the granted petition, and the $75 to have the petition published in the local advertising rag for four weeks, I get a piece of paper saying my legally recognized name of Paul Theodoropoulos is now Paul Theodoropoulos.

Okay, the petition is to have my legal name changed from Paul Christopher Theodor to Paul Theodoropoulos. But you get the idea.

Now just you wait—how much do you want to bet that Social Security will still deny it? "Well yes, we do have the granted petition for change of name. And your driver license photo ID that matches that. But how do we know that you’re the same Paul Christopher Theodor that’s shown on your birth certificate? That’s the name we have on record for this Social Security number, and we must have a matching ID for what’s in our records".

Your government at work.

**Update, 26 January 2007: At the Social Security office, I stepped up with my granted petition and photo ID, and barely two minutes later, "You’ll receive your new card in the mail in approximately five to seven business days".

Your government at work indeed.

As Politely As Possible: No, I’m Sorry, You Are Not An Atheist

Posted Thursday, 21 December 2006, 7:22 pm

There’s been a ‘resurgence’ of atheism in recent years. You’ll find people who call themselves atheists prattling on and on all over the net. ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ is a popular meme. Bitching about the creationists (not much argument from me on that score).

The problem is, these people—for the most part—are not atheists. They’re misusing the term. An atheist is someone who doesn’t have God. God isn’t a part of their life. They grill a burger just like anyone else, they sleep like anyone else, they just don’t care about God—it’s not something that matters to them. Atheists are fine by me. You live your life, I’ll live mine. Groovy.

But that’s not what this resurgence is. It’s not atheism, it’s antitheism. Yes, it’s merely three more letters added in there, but it far more accurately describes the current mindset, which is one of being against God. Against the idea of God. In most cases, really hating the notions of God and religion. And I don’t mean ‘hate’ in the sense of "shoot, I hate country music" (words that have passed my lips more than once). I don’t really *hate* country music, I just don’t care for it, so I avoid listening to it. The antitheists HATE God and religion, and they are all too happy to bitch and piss and moan endlessly about how much they hate it, and bitch and piss and moan about how religion is always being "forced upon them". Which is just so much wanking nonsense. Oh sure, there’s lots of ‘religious’ people who won’t stop telling people (who didn’t ask) that they’re going to go to hell if they don’t take Jesus into their heart. Sure, they’re annoying. But gosh, I just don’t answer the door when they knock. I’m not being held down, having my eyelids retracted, and forced to watch "The Ten Commandments" or "The Passion of the Christ" on an endless loop. In this country, my country, the United States, 99.9995% of the time, there’s no ‘force’ involved. Change the damned channel. Don’t open the door. Close the tab on that religious site (how did it get opened i wonder?). Don’t go to the church that’s not  of your choice. We have freedom of religion, and freedom from religion in this country, and it’s so incredibly free, I think people have lost all sense of proportion. Yeah, there’s nitwits who want to force science teachers to teach creationism. I think it’s dumb. Genesis is a myth (not in the idiomatic ‘bad’ sense of one, that is). Stories of how the universe came to be are a part of virtually every culture that’s ever existed. There’s nothing in Genesis that defines a day as 86,400 seconds. Maybe those seven days were "God Days", like measuring a dog’s age – one day being the equivalent of our contemporary billion years. Who knows? Who cares?

One of the most absurd examples of this genuine hatred for God/people who believe in God—while falsely packaging it as simple atheism—is this jackass:

I realize this was for a comedy program. He does a delightful turn at being sarcastic and sardonic, about how he doesn’t care what your religion is, that his only concern – his only concern – is that the Mormons knock on his door early on weekends. So what does he do? I’m reluctant to describe it, it’s so ironically offensive, but….He goes around early on a Saturday and bangs on people’s doors to tell them about atheism and ‘Darwinism’. Ha ha ha. What a clueless twit! So—a certain religious sect—apparently either in Australia or New Zealand, as that seems the source of the clip—annoys people by knocking on their doors early on Saturday. Here in my part of the US, it’s mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses who do this. But—think about it. He’s bothered because Joe Mormon annoys him. So what does he do? He goes and bothers people—people other than Joe Mormon who bothered him—in just the same way that he’s being bothered. In all likelyhood, many of them who aren’t Mormons, and who may have tied-one-on the night before, and who possibly don’t give a shit about Darwin or God. This guy’s frothing vitriol so completely consumes him, he presumes that he’s somehow ‘getting even’ with Joe Mormon by bothering Bob Couldn’t-Give-A-Rat’s-Ass, Where’s-My-Latest-MotorTrend-magazine. Brilliant! How better to show people that you’re not an atheist, you’re an antitheist zealot!  

That one however doesn’t truly do justice to the antitheist mentality.

I’m reluctant to give the guy the free press, but frankly, he’s so disturbingly creepy in his delivery, and so overtly filled with seething hatred for those who aren’t like him, what the heck. Wanna see what a full-blown antitheist is? Watch on:

(Regrettably, the fellow whose video used to be here closed his youtube account, taking his videos with him)

If you think that’s atheism, then you’re badly in need of a dictionary, and a sense of proportion.

Am I an atheist? No. But what you could call me is an atheist-by-proxy. I ‘believe in’ God. But frankly, I’d just as soon pick lint from my navel while watching Mary Tyler Moore Show reruns than give the slightest care for whether or not someone else believes in God. You don’t care about God—you’re an atheist? Rock on my brother! You’re a Catholic who rejects the anglicized mass in preference for the Latin mass? Rock on my sister!

But when you go around denouncing people who believe in God, hating people who believe in God, and in general acting like a self-centered jackass because other people have beliefs different from you—while using a term that very specifically means that you don’t care about God—then I’ll gladly call you on it, and point out that not only are you being an ignorant, self-centered jackass, you’re as much of a charlatan as Robert Tilton—

—only twice as childish and half as funny. And comporting yourself with as much zealotry as those whom you deign to hate so much.

Come on, antitheists—be proud of what you are! Stop referring to yourselves with that wimpy, non-committal ‘atheist’ label. What are you afraid of, being struck down by God? Show your true colors, so the real atheists don’t have to suffer the additional stigmatization.

Irony of that last intended.

 

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