Oh the weather outside is frightful
Me, 2008

Well, maybe not really, but it is snowing. Not that that’s anything new for Utah at this time of year I suppose.

Here’s the view out the back window of my Aunt Pat’s house in Woods Cross.

Snow in the back yard

And here’s the view out the front door.

Out the front door

Obama’s Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner
Me, 2008

The Onion is sometimes quite funny, and other times quite inappropriate. This one is funny.

Obama's Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner

What do I want from my children?
Me, 2008

Abigail Adams nailed it in 1783.

"What is it that affectionate parents require of their Children; for all their care, anxiety, and toil on their accounts? Only that they would be wise and virtuous, Benevolent and kind." --Abigail Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, 1783

That’s what I want from my children. That they be wise. That they be virtuous. That they be benevolent, and that they be kind. That’s not too much to hope for is it?

I wonder how many parents end up being disappointed that we don’t get that from our children? Fortunately, while there’s life there’s hope.

Virus alert!
Me, 2008

“Weird Al” Yankovic has a fun song named “Virus Alert”. In the song he describes a particularly noxious computer virus that can do all sorts of terrible things both inside cyberspace and outside. This improbably powerful virus is described in one of those popular chain emails and has absolutely ridiculous capabilities. The email within the song warns you to “tell all your friends” and finishes with the words “hit send – right now!”.

Virus alert!
Delete immediately before someone gets hurt!
Forward this message on to everybody
Warn all your friends, send this to everybody
Tell everyone you know, tell everybody now
What are you waiting for?
Just hurry up and forward this to every single person that you know!
Hit send right now!

Weird Al is making fun of the people that send these emails out, always believing the worst things they read and feeling the need to warn us all, whether what they read is plausible or not. Those emails spread like a virus themselves. The only way to stop the pandemic spread is to toss them to the junk mail folder or delete them without forwarding them on. … but, how do you know when the threat of a virus is real or not?

I’ve been working with computers and the internet for nearly thirty years now. In that time I’ve had to deal with three viruses and trojan horses. It’s not fun when it happens, believe me. Both viruses and trojan horses can be blocked from accessing your computer, but you need to help to keep your machine safe. Anti-virus software isn’t enough.

This morning I received two suspicious emails. One purported to be from “Manager Stanley Davila [delivery@dhl-usa.com]” and the other from “The Facebook Team [service@facebook.com]”. Both of these emails carried an attachment. The attachment was a .ZIP file.

I’ve had dealings with DHL and with Facebook in the past, and neither of them have ever sent me attachments like this. UPS typically will send mailing labels as attachments to email, but they come in .PDF documents. DHL has never sent me a mailing label. Facebook was telling me that my account’s password had been changed and that the new password was contained in the attached document. That in itself was suspicious.

Normally, when an infected attachment comes with an email, McAfee’s anti-virus software flags it for me and leaves an attachment that contains a description of the virus. That didn’t happen this time. I saved both attachments to files on my computer. Then I ran a virus scan on each. McAfee still didn’t find anything. I opened the .ZIP files and found that they both contained executables. I stopped there and didn’t run the executables. Instead, I copied the executables and scanned them. McAfee still didn’t report a virus.

To tell you the truth, opening the .ZIP files like that was probably a dumb thing to do. I got lucky – I think. The files are really .ZIP files and nothing seems to have taken advantage of any flaws in the software I used to open them. But it could have, and if it did I’d probably be writing a very different article right now. I guess I’m not quite paranoid (Is it really paranoia if they really are out to get you?) enough yet. There’s a better way I could have handled this, using software that runs a “virtual computer” on my system.

Microsoft’s Virtual PC is free software. It allows you to create a simulation of a computer on your computer. There IS a version available for machines running Windows XP (that’s where the link goes) but Microsoft’s latest version is only available for Windows 7. Strangely enough, on the same page that contains a link to details about Virtual PC 2007, Microsoft says “No. Windows Virtual PC is an optional component of Windows 7 and is not available for Windows Vista or Windows XP-based PCs.” Trust me. I’m running it on my Windows XP-based PC right now. Windows 7 wasn’t even released in beta when I installed it.

Anyway, one of the features of Virtual PC 2007 is called “undo disks”. This is a special type of virtual hard drive that you can use with your virtual computers. When your virtual computer is running with undo disks, a shadow copy of the original configurations is stored. If you close your virtual session, everything you did to the virtual computer’s hard drive is discarded and your original configuration is restored, unless you choose to commit the changes to the hard drive. Naturally this requires more actual space than the virtual hard drive’s capacity, but then there isn’t any such thing as a “free lunch.”

So the right way to open an attachment that you aren’t sure about is to do it inside a virtual machine session on a virtual machine equipped with “undo disks.” That way, if the attachment is infected, you can discard the changes made to the virtual machine, discarding the virus. It’s sort of like using the Write-Protect tab on old floppy disks.

The only down side to this is that you have to have a license for the operating system you run on the virtual machine, as well as for the one you run on the host machine. Getting an FPP copy of Windows XP is probably a bit difficult right now. I fortunately have several extras laying about the house that I use for my virtual machines.

But, back to the email. Like I said, McAfee didn’t report any viruses, either in the .ZIP files, or in the executable files that they contain.  That doesn’t mean too much. Malware authors are always looking for ways to get around anti-virus software, and if they don’t use a recognizable virus signature that doesn’t mean that the programs they create aren’t malware.

Alan Turing proved a long time ago that it’s not possible for a computer program to tell what another computer program will do, except by running that other computer program. This applies even to anti-virus software. It can’t tell what a particular program will do, it can only recognize viruses by their signature. The signature of a virus is a particular pattern of bits contained within the body of the virus. Anti-virus software scans to see if there are any recognized patterns of bits and if so flags the file being scanned. A virus that hasn’t been seen before will probably contain an unrecognizable signature, and so anti-virus software won’t flag it.

In other words, anti-virus software can recognize known viruses and warn you about them, but it can’t recognize viruses it hasn’t seen before. Just because a scan turns up negative doesn’t mean you’re safe! So still not feeling to secure about running these attachments I decided to do a little more investigation (after wiping the attachments from my hard drive).

Email is a wonderful thing. It’s cheaper (once you get past the cost of the hardware and connection to the Internet) than physical mail. But, there are people out there that like to pretend that they’re other people. I receive between 40 and 100 pieces of email a day. Some are due to having subscribed to one or another email lists, others are due to commercial relationships I have with various online enterprises, and others are from friends. The rest is spam. Anti-spam software works in a similar fashion to anti-virus software. It looks for recognizable patterns and flags some mail as spam. Even so, a lot of spam gets past it.

I have three layers of anti-spam software helping to keep the junk mail out of my inbox. My ISP filters out the most obvious spam, so I never even have to download it. McAfee has an anti-spam feature as well that flags a lot of spam and moves it to a spam folder in my email client (I use Microsoft’s Outlook out of habit and because I can get Microsoft’s software at an (ex) employee discounted rate). Finally, there’s anti-spam protection built into my email client as well. I check at my ISP occasionally and find that they flag about 20% of my incoming email as being SPAM. I have yet to see a legitimate non-spam message filtered out by them, but it could happen, so I check from time to time. McAfee’s anti-spam feature almost never flags anything as spam – I don’t know why, but it’s essentially useless. Outlook moves about 40% of the rest of the email I receive into my junk email folder. Every couple of days I go through that and retrieve one or two messages that aren’t spam and delete the rest.

Even so, about 10% of the rest of the email I receive is never flagged as spam. I have exception lists set up so that I trust email from specific people – unless they include an attachment, and I trust email from myself (my web site sends me email from time to time when certain events take place). Most of the uncaught spam I get comes from people impersonating me. If I send you email from my primary email address, it will always be digitally signed. If it’s not, it’s not from me. I don’t usually send email from my secondary or tertiary email addresses, so if you’re not sure, send me email at my primary address and ask me to re-send the original mail. If the return email contains my digital signature, then I probably sent the first one as well. If it doesn’t, it’s NOT from me.

Occasionally spam manages to get around all of these safeguards, such as the two messages today. Using Outlook, it’s relatively easy to do a little extra checking on your email. Simply select the message in the message list, right click on it, and select “Options…” from the context menu. A dialog will appear something like this…

Message Options


The important part of this dialog is the scrollable box labeled “Internet headers”. One of the first things I looked at was the “Return-Path” header. This tells the email client were to send replies. You’ll notice that it’s different than the address of the sender. “educationq5@verymove.com” is not the same as “service@facebook.com.” That’s a real good clue that this email is probably NOT from Facebook's customer service. That’s reason enough right there for me not to trust it any further. We can check further though, to see where it might have come from in the first place. Often spammers will put a fake return address as well as a fake sending address, so you can’t just stop there.

The “Received” headers give you nearly the complete path that the email took to get to your machine. You can see here that my ISP’s mail server was mail5a.brinkster.com, and that it got the message from mta2.brinkster.com. What you can’t see are the other “Received” headers. To do that you have to scroll down in the box. Brinkster receive this email from a machine known as “datacenter-30-159-92-77.sadecehosting.net”, and that machine received it from “mxs1.saleandpartners.com”. Facebook was never in the chain of senders. This mail is obviously fraudulent.

One final clue. There are “X-” headers included in the message. These headers are usually added by the email software that sends the mail in the first place. Spammers know how to fake headers, and this email includes some faked “X-” headers as well, purporting to have done an anti-spam check and similar things. But the original email client also included its own “X-” headers. The original email client was “Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2900.2180”. So the sender was probably running Windows XP, and using an older version of Outlook Express, associated with Internet Explorer version 6.

Most people have no idea that they can examine the Internet headers associated with email to determine whether it can be trusted or not. Since some spammers are pretty good at even faking those, using custom software to do the email sending, you can’t even be certain that the Internet headers tell the whole story. You can’t be certain that email you receive is actually from the people it purports to be from. Anti-virus software doesn’t do much good at detecting viruses it hasn’t seen before. There are people out there spreading malware, whether because they’re the type of people that just want to see the world burn, or because they want to steal from you. No matter how hard you try to protect yourself, there’s someone out there trying just as hard to slip past your defenses.

This is NOT paranoia. Read the news. Examine your own email. But most importantly…

They are trying to get you!

"Just hurry up and forward this to every single person that you know! Hit send right now!"

Hmm.. Apparently I’m a potential terrorist
Me, 2008

At least that’s what it looks like… according to reason.com. Go ahead and take the quiz yourself.

Ach, tha an t-uisge ann
Me, 2008

I suppose I should have expected this when I posted last night. After all, I did check the forecast and it did warn me. The plan for the day was to change the brake fluid, bleed the brakes, take the car once or twice around the block and then wash it inside and out so I could take it on a shake-down cruise tomorrow.

But, it’s raining (Ach, tha an t-uisge ann).

Tha an t-uisge ann

I’m not about to change the brake fluid in the rain. Getting water in brake fluid is definitely not a good idea. The stuff is hygroscopic enough as it is – which is one of the reasons it needs changing.

I guess I’ll do the work tomorrow morning and take the cruise in the afternoon. It’s forecast to be a cloudy day, but not a rainy one. Oh well, what’s another day after five years?

She runs!
Me, 2008

Three and a half weeks ago I wrote about cars, the street rod I want to build, the Mustang I’m still trying to get titled, and my Corvette. If you recall, I had just pushed the car out of the garage and washed it. The car had been sitting in the garage for five years, and there was a lot that needed to be done to get it ready to drive again. One of the first things I did was wash the car. Well, after sitting in the driveway for three weeks, I need to wash it again. I also need to clean out the interior again. There are a few minor leaks, and the interior has gotten musty – not to mention the other reasons for cleaning it out. So, tomorrow it’s time to get out the upholstery cleaner and clean the carpet, and to dust off the dashboard and wash the interior glass. I’ll also need to freshen the air a bit, but I don’t think I’ll use one of those pine scented cardboard trees.

The exterior needs another wash too. It’s time to take the clay bar to the paint and strip off the old wax as well as some of the more stubborn dirt. I need to apply a bit of rubbing compound in a couple of places too and polish away a couple of minor scratches. And then I get to apply the wax.

All of that though is merely cosmetic work. Sitting in the garage for five years has resulted in the need for other work too. For example, the battery was completely discharged. It had been drained to the point where it wouldn’t even hold a charge overnight. I replaced that last week.

I changed the oil and the oil filter a couple of days ago. That’s trivial work – except that I broke my filter wrench when I tried to remove the old oil filter, so I had to go get another one. One new filter wrench, a new filter, and five quarts of fresh oil later and I was ready to try starting the car. Or so I thought.

Of course the gasoline in the tank was bad. I expected that though. Instead of siphoning it off, I put some additives into it to stabilize it and remove the water. Since the tank was between half full and three quarters full, I put some fresh gasoline in to add some of the more volatile chemicals back in and bought a can of starting fluid (ether). This isn’t the best way to start a car after that long, but disposing of eleven gallons of old gasoline isn’t exactly straightforward. You can’t dump it down the drain, and even if it’s lost most of the volatile compounds you still can’t just set fire to it either. I have no idea where to recycle it.

Anyway, the car just wouldn’t start. Oh the motor would crank over, but it wouldn’t run. With the starting fluid the engine would run – but only so long as someone kept spraying it into the carburetor. The fact that the car would run at all was proof to me that the ignition system was working, and with the air cleaner removed so that the starting fluid could be applied it was clear that the engine was getting air. That left just one component of the combustion triangle missing – fuel.

So yesterday I went to look it over again. The fuel hose between the hard line and the pump was old and brittle, and there were obvious cracks in the smaller hose leading to the evaporative emissions canister. There weren’t any obvious cracks in the supply line, but it too was hard and unyielding. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I had found the problem.

So tonight I went and bought some fresh fuel hose. I took off the old hose and it was dry as a bone on the inside. There was no fuel in it at all – of course there wasn’t any getting to the carburetor, the fuel pump was sucking air. I noticed a lot of cracks in the old supply hose, but none that looked like they went all the way through the rubber. I replaced the hose anyway, since I had a fresh one.

Once the car was off of the jack stands, I fired it up. At first it only ran for a second or two. I wasn’t sure it was going to keep running. The second time it fired right up and ran independently. I put the starting fluid away, and waited. It kept running. I put the air cleaner back on and sealed it up, got in and kicked the idle down with the accelerator. The idle dropped to 800 RPM, right where it was supposed to be and it sounded good. I looked, and there are no fuel leaks.

I wish I could say the same about how it smelled and looked. Ugly white clouds and foul smells were emanating from the exhaust pipes. Happily though the white clouds cleared up after only a few minutes of idling. I think that most of that was moisture in the exhaust pipes. The smell is still bad, but I don’t think that will change much until I burn through this tank of gas.

I let the car sit there and idle for about twenty minutes, warming up. Then, I checked the transmission and added a bottle of transmission fluid treatment. This stuff basically replaces the additives in the old fluid and re-conditions the seals and bands. I’ve used it before and it really works.

I still haven’t quite got the car ready to drive though. After sitting in the garage for five years, the brake fluid needs replacing. I’ll be replacing that and bleeding the brakes tomorrow afternoon. Then I’ll drain the old coolant and replace it with new coolant and take the old fluids down to the parts store for recycling. By Saturday it will finally be time for a shakedown cruise. The car is already tagged and insured.

By next Saturday, the car will be ready to see some regular use. After five years it’s about time.

After five years, she runs!

Yes, I know the picture is dark. What can I say? It’s late. I’ll have something better to show once the brakes have been taken care of and she’s been around the block.

Don’t do that to me…
Me, 2008

My wife and I are football fans. More specifically, we’re Seattle Seahawk fans. We used to hold season tickets back when the team played in the old concrete hamburger known as the King Dome, and while they played at Husky Stadium, and for the first season in the new stadium. Then we dropped the tickets because they kept getting more expensive and the quality of the play kept getting worse.

It took a long time for us to lose our disenchantment with the team, but we were outraged at the officiating in February of 2005. The Seahawks have given us a bumpy ride, including one of the worst seasons I can remember last year, but we’re still fans. We just stick to watching them on television or listening to the games on the radio. We don’t even keep track of the schedule anymore until the last minute.

For some reason, we were under the impression that today’s game against Chicago was in Chicago and that the game would be played in the morning (Pacific time). So as we set up to watch the game in a bit of a groggy state (hey, it’s the weekend, and I sleep in), we were disappointed to learn that the game was actually in the afternoon. Well, only a little disappointed. After all, we are still going to eventually move east to Tennessee, and the Titans are playing the Jets in New York this morning.

At least, that’s what we thought. We turned the television to the Titans game and settled down with a cup of coffee and bleary eyes. When enough of that precious liquid had flowed down our throats for my eyes to focus properly confusion set in. For a moment I thought my color perception had somehow been altered. The blue of the Titans’ uniforms was pastel. The green of the Jets’ uniforms had gone brown.

A closer look revealed that the Houston Oilers were on the field, playing against a team that looked like the Cleveland Browns. The labels on the screen definitely said Tennessee and New York though, and the commentators were talking about players from those teams. When a player made a play, the name on the uniform matched the name given by the announcer, but the uniform was totally off.

What the heck?

Houston Oilers (Tennessee Titans) vs New York Titans (New York

In vain, we searched for an explanation, until I came upstairs to check out the game description on the Web. Apparently the NFL is celebrating the 50th season of the American Football League, merged into the NFL as the American Football Conference in 1970. Today’s game is one of sixteen AFL “Legacy Games” and the teams are playing as the Houston Oilers and the New York Titans.

Well, it’s not so confusing now that I know what’s going on, but it was a shock and total chaos for a few minutes in the Nelson household as we tried to figure it out. This is what I get for not paying attention.

50 and 222
Me, 2008

I celebrate two (actually three) very important occasions today. OK, one day (actually two) of importance to only a few, and one that should be important to us all.

Today, I turn 50. That’s right, I’ve been wandering about this planet now for half a century. I’m sure there was a time when my parents wondered if I’d even make it half that far. That’s probably only important to a few people.

Three days ago, my 18th wedding anniversary passed. Due to a family illness we couldn’t actually celebrate it then, because my lovely bride and I were in different states. We hope to rectify that tonight, and then to celebrate. Again, that’s probably important only to a few people.

Much more importantly for the rest of the country, today marks the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. That’s right, nearly two and a quarter centuries ago a group of men hammered out what is arguably the best system of government possible for mankind.

Now THAT’s something to celebrate, and it should be of importance to at least three hundred and sixty million of us. Sadly, probably less than half of us are even aware of the importance of today’s date. And of those, probably only about two thirds even know what’s in the Constitution and it’s twenty-seven amendments.

That’s why I believe the marking of Constitution day on the calendar is an important thing. It’s one of the few occasions when public schools take awareness of our history in a positive way. Congress mandates that there be special lessons made available about this important document.

Personally, I hold it to be among my favorites, and I have a recommendation for everybody today. Today, if not at any other time of the year, READ the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, not to mention the other 17 amendments. Even at the dismal reading rate shared by so many of today’s public school graduates it should only take a little while. Who knows? If you read it and understand it, it might reshape some of your political thinking.

I know it did for me.

Drunken belligerence trumps the facts…
Me, 2008

Imagine this scenario… You’re out with a group of friends or family sharing a friendly drink, and sharing your opinions about politics and the like. The discussion is animated for a bit and you make a comment regarding a particular statistic. This particular statistic doesn’t exactly fit the world view of one of the participants in the conversation. How should you handle it?

Say, for example, that the statistic in question has to do with energy policy. Now we know that there hasn’t been a new refinery built in the United States for an awfully long time. It’s also well known that we consume a large amount of gasoline in this country, and that we simply don’t have the refinery capacity to meet the demand… Oh wait… that doesn’t fit the liberal world view… or at least the world view of some liberals. So if you say that we’re importing gasoline, not just raw petroleum but actual refined gasoline, you’re apparently picking a fight. After all, a good liberal knows  that gasoline is explosive, and we wouldn’t import explosive products.

Never mind that gasoline is merely very flammable, not explosive. Never mind that the Department of Energy says that we imported 878,000 barrels of gasoline per day during the last week of August this year. We just don’t import gasoline because that would be too dangerous. And if you say you do, you’ll be shouted down, told you’re an idiot that doesn’t know what he’s talking about and otherwise ridiculed by a drunken liberal. He’ll challenge you publicly to find evidence to support your assertions. Never mind that for the week ending August 28, 2009 the U.S. Total production of Gasoline was 9,157,000 barrels and that we imported 878,000 barrels or nearly ten percent of what we produce (yes, I was off in my estimate by a factor of six, the point is we still import refined gasoline because we can’t produce enough to meet the demand).

It’s probably not a good idea to go look this information up. You don’t want to expose your friends for the belligerent ignoramuses they are. After all, facts don’t matter… only opinions. It’s better to look like a fool yourself and allow them their petty victories.

But it still rankles.


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