Buffalo Technology Does Not Suck

Just got off the phone with Buffalo Technology tech support. They most definitely do not suck.

This morning, my house’s WiFi just stopped working entirely. I have a pretty new Buffalo Airstation WBR2-G54, which I bought because cnet seemed to like it, and because it comes with a repeater that extends the wireless range (and creates a new wired access point) simply by powering it up. I was sick of slow media transfer over 802.11b, since I use WiFi to play my music collection everywhere in the house. (I do have pangs of guilt at not buying a router with open source firmware, however, like the Linksys WRT54G).

After trying the standard tricks (resetting the router, different clients, etc.), I decided to call tech support. First plus: Buffalo has free 24/7 tech support for all customers.

The tech support guy I got was clearly clued in. He could tell right away that he didn’t need to ask me if the router was turned on. He also figured out pretty quickly that I run Debian, which is also the distribution that he was learning. I love the feeling of connecting with another Debian user, particularly a tech support person who you know must spend his entire day talking to clueless users—it’s like you have a secret handshake and you can skip all the bullshit.

Anyway, the problem turned out to be relatively simple: I just needed to change the wireless channel. It hadn’t occurred to me because nothing had changed recently in my home. According to the clued-in tech support guy, though, interference can come from quite far away sufficient to make a particular frequency totally unuseable. There is a large condo development going in across the street (probably about 300 feet from my router) and he said he had encountered problems with construction interfering with WiFi several times.

So I still think U-Haul Sucks, but I am firmly convinced that Buffalo does not.

(I’m also wondering if I should worry about interference that is so powerful as to knock out my whole wireless network coming from so far away).

Welcome Simcha

Here is the newest member of the Rosi-Kessel family:

Her name is Simcha, or שמחה if your web browser supports unicode. Actually, that didn’t work at all. If anyone can give me a hand with how to do Hebrew unicode in HTML, I would appreciate it.

We think she is about 8-10 weeks old, and was found outside with a broken leg. She has a little purple cast with a heart on it while it heals.

Update: Thanks to my commenters, it’s fixed. Had to insert a utf-8 charset tag in the “content-type” header.

The Bane of Typeahead Find

is “click here.”

I’m worried about our children, the web developers of the future. Who will teach them not to ever write “click here”?

(typeahead find, aka “Find As You Type”: a Mozilla Firefox feature that jumps to links when you start typing characters in them; saves keyboard junkies countless hours from having to move their hands off of the keyboard; works poorly if all of your links are called “click here”)

Google Wishlist: whois

There are a number of queries you can do from the Google searchbar; for example, if you query on a phone number, you get a reverse lookup. If you query define:word, you get definitions of that word.

In keeping with the goal of turning Google into the Swiss Army Knife of information retrieval, I wish Google would return domain name ownership results when queried with whois:domainname.com. I think this would be pretty low-hanging fruit for Google. If anyone reading this has access to Google’s magnaminous ear, please suggest it.

Update: It appears that Google had this feature at the beginning of the year, but Network Solutions banned it. Alas.

First Snow, Winter 2004

November 13 is a tad bit early for me. But at least it’s pretty. Unfortunately, in Boston, it seldom stays below freezing for long, so this will soon be a mixture of mud and ice.

Unfortunately, my blog layout gets screwy if a photo associated with a blog entry is longer than the entry itself. So I need to lengthen the entry to fix it. In order to do that, here is a Robert Frost poem, “A Patch of Old Snow”:

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten—
If I ever read it.

Passed the Bar

As it turns out, I passed the bar exam and will be sworn in shortly. I never received results in the mail, apparently because the court never processed my change of address. So I had to sweat it out until the results were posted on the web.

My immediate reward for passing the bar was these nice balloons. My long-term reward, I suppose, is that I never have to take that particular exam again. It’s a strong incentive to stay put for several years, so if I do move I don’t have to spend several months cramming my head with simplistic legal facts that have, at best, limited application in the real life practice of law.

update.paypal-verifications.net is a scam

I got an email this morning asking me to update my ebay account information (or my account would be frozen). I was suspicious, of course. My text-based mailreader mutt rendered the link as http://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_login-run, but when I inspected the HTML it actually points to update.paypal-verifications.net.

A google search on “paypal-verifications.net” gives almost no results.

It’s obvious now that this is a scam, because paypal doesn’t own “update.paypal-verifications.net.” If you go to the domain, you’ll see a look-alike PayPal login screen, which presumably is there to collect your paypal login and do nefarious things with it, like steal money.

So I thought I’d do my little part by making it clear that update.paypal-verifications.net is a scam, and someone should shut down that website ASAP. In the meantime, at least this bit of information should show up in google searches soon.

As a general matter, for the less fraud-savvy of you out there, always beware of emails along these lines. I’m not sure there’s any bright line test to immediately recognize fraud, but at least pay attention to the actual URL, and ask yourself whether the whole thing makes sense.

Update: Someone who read this entry contacted the abuse division of afraid.org, the (free) DNS provider for paypal-verifications.net. The domain name has now disappeared from the DNS.

Gnucash Days

I just had one of those gnucash days.

Every couple of weeks, I decide to sit down for an hour or two to catch up on my personal accounting. Suddenly, the sun has set, my legs have atrophied, and I realize I’ve forgotten to have lunch and dinner. Does this happen to anyone else?

Ostensibly, tracking personal finances should be a relatively simple matter for someone like myself without substantial assets or investments. But gnucash (or any other accounting program, I suppose) makes it difficult to “fudge” any numbers—if you started the week with $27.61 in your wallet and ended with $19.05, you need to say where that money went. I do have “unknown income” and “unknown expenses” categories, but they really bug me so I try to keep the totals down to a minimum.

The bigger problems are reconciling bank transfers, mortgages and loans (interest and principle), etc., when my financial institutions don’t always provide the best online tracking and reporting. For example, my bank has a “current balance” through web access, but that balance might be ahead of what the ledger shows (i.e., there are transactions reflected in “current balance” but not on the ledger)—and the “current balance” itself can be a day or two behind schedule.

I also wish gnucash were just a little bit better. It really feels like it’s been stuck for a couple of years now while all the other applications I use regularly (Firefox, OpenOffice.org, Gnome generally) have gone through major revision, and are genuinely fun to use.

In August 2003, the gnucash team issued a call for help. I admit I did not rise to the occasion, but I did expect more developers to respond. Gnucash seems to me to be an ideal open source project to attract hackers—almost everyone needs to use some kind of personal finance package eventually, and there are innumerable “scratch-an-itch” type clever solutions that could be implemented (automating web transactions with financial institutions, for example).

But Gnucash is brittle. The user interface is often awkward, and it’s awfully easy to lose work you’ve done. For example, clicking on “close” on a report makes the report just plain disappear, but clicking on “close” while looking at an account just closes that ledger. If you get into the custom of clicking “close,” you’ll lose the report you just created. And if you click “yes” when exiting you’ll lose all the work you’ve done in the session if you haven’t saved. I realize this is typically how word processors work, but I think many of us have different intuitive expectations from a finance program.

Here’s a solution to one problem I’ve encountered repeatedly, just to make this blog entry at least somewhat useful: if you move your account files to another computer or path, you’ll lose all your reports. They’re still there in ~/.gnucash/books, but they don’t go with the data files. If you move the data file *back*, you still won’t have your reports, because gnucash will have “forgotten” them.

If you look in ~/.gnucash/books, you’ll see a file corresponding to the path of each data set you have, with %2F substituted for /. Copy the file there to the corresponding name of your new data file.

Now edit ~/.gnome/GnuCash and find the section that corresponds to your old data file, and create a new section with all the same data except the title ( [MDI : ]). That should do it.

If someone knows a simpler way to do this, please let me know. Also if anyone has any inspiring ideas about what might move the gnucash project forward, I’d be interested in hearing ideas.

Which is more depressing

I’m not sure which possibility is more depressing: that Bush may have stolen the election again, or that he won without stealing the election. In either case, we’re in sorry shape. I’m not quite ready to join the “I’m moving to Canada” crowd, though—I don’t find that rhetorical tactic all that effective.

If nothing else, at least they won’t blame Ralph Nader this time.