Archive for the “Technology” Category

Snow and ice have been falling. Schools are closed. It’s a snow day! Since I didn’t have to go into work, I felt it was a good opportunity to spend a little time working on a programming project for work that I’ve had on the back burner.

One of the things I have to do at work it post the Library’s monthly new acquisitions list. I used to just forward the Excel file produced by the Tech. Services department to the webmaster who would convert it to HTML and post it to the web site. Since the Seminary’s website transitioned to a Content Management System that gives me editing access, I got to take over the HTML conversion process. Much to my chagrin, however, I found out that the conversion process involves a lot of manual copying and pasting in Excel, using a formula to concatenate the various fields into the final product, and then a series of search-and-replaces to clean up special characters and blank lines. I had hoped that there was just a program that I could run the file through to format the data with the necessary HTML tags, so that’s what I set out to do.

I’ve long wanted an excuse to start learning PHP, and this seemed like a good problem to solve via a simple PHP web app, so I started Googling for example PHP code for processing tab-delimited text files, handling special characters, and receiving web form input. I also dusted off my copy of the very handy PHP Function Index application, which provides an interface for viewing, searching, and browsing PHP’s documentation. After a few false starts, struggling to understand some new functions, and debugging a few errors, my first PHP application, HTMLified Acquisitions List Generator, was done.

Now I have a simple web app where I can select a tab-delimited text file containing the acquisitions data in the proper order, and the application will spit out HTML code that I can simply paste into the “Recent Acquisitions” page.

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If you tried visiting my site in the past 24 hours you probably received a 403 Forbidden error. Last night I was apparently on the receiving end of a ginormous referrer spam attack. What’s a referrer spam attack, you ask?

Here’s how it works. Whenever you attempt to visit a web page, your browser sends an HTTP request to the server, which specifies the file that you want as well as some other information about your browser and such. If you request a page by clicking on a link, the URL of the document containing that link is sent in the HTTP request. Web servers log these HTTP requests and then log analysis tools can generate statistical reports.

My stats have been publicly available (if you knew where to look), and one of the parts of the reports is top referrers, so I can see where traffic to my site is coming from. The addresses in the referrer report are live links, so when Google’s web crawler indexes my site, it sees these top referrers as sites that I have linked to, which increases their PageRank score. Therefore, if a devious individual can have a bunch of zombie computers make a bunch of bogus HTTP requests with the perpetrator’s site as the referrer, this nefarious person can get a link to their site on mine and thus increase their web site’s rank in Google searches (or perhaps more likely the weight that Google gives to their site when determining the rank of the pages that others may pay them to link to).

I’ve known that this sort of thing has been going on for some time, but the referrer spam that I’ve seen has always been rather light—just a small (though not insignificant) percentage of the traffic on my site. Last night, however, my server was being hit so hard that the server was being overloaded and my web host had to block all web access.

You’ll notice that web access has been restored, although, for now, only if you enter the address directly. Referred traffic is still blocked, so trying to access my site from a link on another site will still be blocked. Perhaps I’ll go in and unblock some of the legitimate sites that I know link to me.

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My friends Nick & Suzanne wanted me to take some pictures of them today at a wedding we were attending. Being glad to have an excuse to use my camera, which I tend to carry around with me these days, I pulled it out of my bag and powered it up. However, after the standard Canon startup logo on the view-screen, I was presented with a garish sight:

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While these pics are kind of fun in an abstract way, it’s not really what I want to get out of my camera all the time. When I got home I popped over to the Canon support website, which suggested that I talk to a tech support rep on the phone before trying to send it in for service. I dialed the number and told the tech support guy about my problem. He informed me that a service advisory has been issued about image sensor problems with the PowerShot A70 (my camera) and that they’ll fix it for free if that’s indeed the problem. So, in a couple days I’ll be getting a prepaid shipping label to send my camera in for service.

A quick Google search turned up this page, which appears to confirm that I am having the faulty image sensor (CCD) problem.

And from Canon’s advisory:

While reports of this malfunction have been rare in the United States, we have determined that it may occur if the product is exposed to hot and humid environments.

Hmmm… hot and humid… St. Louis broke my camera!

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I am seriously geeking out today! Last night I installed MediaWiki on my server—the software that runs Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia Foundation projects. I’ve edited one article on Wikipedia, but being able to mess around with my own installation has really opened my eyes to just how slick this software is. The markup for formatting text is easy to learn. The template system for creating reusable text blocks and dynamic text patterns is amazing. The management tools are impressive. I’m just scratching the surface, so I can’t wait to see what I discover next.

Anyway, I present my wiki: SteveWiki

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Nick commented to me today about how I’m a big proponent of RSS technology, and yet my blog doesn’t have an RSS feed. Indeed, it is a travesty that I do not have an RSS feed while I read other blogs exclusively in RSS. An RSS feed has long been on the list of site enhancements that would be included in that site redesign that I’ve been working on for many ages now. However, that doesn’t look like it will be done anytime soon, so I thought maybe I should take an hour, figure out RSS syntax, and publish a feed already.

Thus I present to you: My RSS Feed. Subscribe away!

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