Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Build a Dumber Mouse

May 26, 2007

Frankly, Douglas Adams had it all wrong. I’ve had my fair share of experiences with mice, and I’ve never been particularly impressed by their intelligence.

My first example comes from my high school days, when I was working during the summer at a Cub Scout camp. I returned to my tent one night to find that a mouse had given birth in my sleeping bag. And you can guess how I found that out. Well, those babies didn’t last long.

But more recently, we’ve been having a bit of trouble with mice in our house. For the first month or so, it was as you’d expect. Every now and then we’d hear a mouse scurrying near the cabinets. We got a mousetrap, and it worked very well, besides taking more batteries than can possibly be necessary. After killing a few, the problem seemed to disappear.

A few weeks ago, however, the mice came back. The zapper has long been out of batteries, and nobody has bothered to get more. Nevertheless, Darwin has stepped in to fill the void.

This new generation of mice has found a plentiful source of food — in our garbage can. Of course, the drawback to this is that the inside of our garbage can is two feet tall and smooth, so every week we find a few mice trapped inside. The first time this happened, I was amused enough to free them (a significant distance from the house). However, when it happened again, I decided it was better for the mice to take a trip downtown in a garbage truck. They’ve been going out with the garbage ever since.

Last night, though, one mouse, whom I shall refer to as Bob, decided he’d had enough of this. Adding injury to insult, Bob got stuck in the washing machine. He probably thought it was a spa. Anyway, before we even got a chance to know him, Bob died a swirling, sudsy death, luckily not in my clothes.

So, it’s time again to go and get some batteries. You might wonder why, since the problem seems to be taking care of itself. But with the way this trend is going, it’s really the humane thing to do.


On Math Awards

May 12, 2007

On May 4th, I received an e-mail from Kent Morrison, the department chair, advertising the annual math department awards banquet. Here’s the relevant portion:

-$10.00 – Cal Poly Students
-$20.00 – All Others
-Free – Awardees

I wasn’t receiving an award, so if you know anything about me, you can guess my reaction: No Thanks! I don’t spend $10 on food in a week.

Four days later, I received an e-mail from Francesca Fairbrother, one of the math department staff, informing me that I’d received an award. Naturally, I assumed they’d figured out my situation. I wasn’t going to go unless it was free, so they made up an award for me. I haven’t done much here besides harassing people, so the other possibility seems unlikely.

I do have a bit of a history of receiving awards with no notice whatsoever. Upon graduating from Junior High, I received the “Most Studious” award. Back then, I watched TV somewhere around 8 hours per day. I did my homework during lunch or at the beginning of the class when it was due, if at all. And when you consider the fact that everybody who voted for me had to try to spell my name, you see that I had a lot of adversity to overcome.

I also received $100 from the Northwestern math department for adding a math major. Of course that’s not what actually happened, but that’s the way I tell it. The real award was “Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics by a Junior”, which presumably had something to do with my Putnam score.

Tinh, my officemate, also received an award. His position was rather different from mine, though. Evidently he had been contacted a few days earlier regarding personal information needed for a scholarship, so he thinks he got one. I caught him looking through the list of scholarships to see what he got, but I’m pretty sure you need to apply to get those. Either way, the scholarships pale in comparison to the real prize: free dinner.

How To Circumvent Spam Filters

May 5, 2007

An interesting piece of spam appeared in my inbox recently. That happens daily, of course, but they’re generally interesting for completely different reasons, such as: 1) managing, despite obvious deficiencies, to avoid gmail’s spam filter; 2) there are people who are so dim-witted that they fall for these scams. But this e-mail was wholly different. It wasn’t offering drugs, to increase my pagerank and sexual appeal, or to handle my bank account for me. In fact, there is no clear evidence that this spam was promoting anything at all, and that’s what makes it so special. See for yourself — the e-mail appears in full at the end of this post.

Let’s examine the possibilities. First of all, the subject “This is done by invoking the method runFinalizersOnExit of the class System with the argument true.” is a line from Sun’s Java documentation. I doubt this was their doing.

On to the content. The line “In our plan we already have our agents at work, weakening their will to fight, ready as well to kill their leaders of war when the time is right.” comes from the book Wing Commander: Fleet Action. This appears to be a very popular book, and you can get it, besides from that website, from Amazon for 46 cents. It seems unlikely that this is a marketing ploy for that.

I investigated the IP addresses of the connecting mail server, but I didn’t notice anything unusual, at least for spam. There are no hits on google for the “sender”, marc Pegu. The domain name of his address was, which is sort of the swedish equivalent of comcast. It seems unlikely that one of their users is actually spamming people (especially considering it came from Turkey), which is why I believe the e-mail address is forged.

What does that leave? Well, it could be an attempt to discover whether or not my e-mail address is valid. That hardly seems worth it. They could do the same thing with a real spam. It’s not like they possibly could have guessed the address, anyway.

So, there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable explanation for this e-mail. It does serve as a lesson for all spammers, though. One great way to get past spam filters is by not including any spam content whatsoever.

As promised, here’s the spam in full, except the e-mail addresses, which I’ve censored (including the sender’s, since it might have been forged):

Delivered-To: ***
Received: by with SMTP id f12cs824208huf;
Mon, 30 Apr 2007 12:30:13 -0700 (PDT)
Received: by with SMTP id v8mr12461369qbd.1177961413053;
Mon, 30 Apr 2007 12:30:13 -0700 (PDT)
Return-Path: ***
Received: from ? ([])
by with ESMTP id 20si15872955nzp.2007.;
Mon, 30 Apr 2007 12:30:13 -0700 (PDT)
Received-SPF: fail
Received: by with SMTP id djulLRgYxGWZr;
Mon, 30 Apr 2007 22:30:07 +0300 (GMT)
Received: by with SMTP id lzllfEQHJlJjay.6796365840029;
Mon, 30 Apr 2007 22:30:05 +0300 (GMT)
From: “marc Pegu” ***
To: ***
Subject: This is done by invoking the method runFinalizersOnExit of the class System with the argument true.
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2007 22:30:02 +0300
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
X-Priority: 3
X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 6.00.2900.3028
X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V6.00.2900.3028

Content-Type: text/plain;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

In our plan we already have our agents at work, weakening their will to fight, ready as well to kill their leaders of war when the time is right.
Content-Type: text/html;
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

In our plan we already have our agents at =
weakening their will to fight, ready as well to kill their leaders of =
war when=20
the time is right.


Oh, and the book is pretty good. I just finished it.


April 22, 2007

I’ve been waiting for over a day for the svn repository to let me commit a patch to fluxbox. It appears I’ll be waiting for quite a while longer, so I guess I’ll take some time to write a blog entry.

On Wednesday evening, I took the WPE. In case my use of acronyms doesn’t properly label it as a waste of time, let me explain what this is. Fulfilling the Graduation Writing Requirement (yes, one of those) (GWR) is required in order to receive any Bachelor’s or Master’s degree at Cal Poly. The Writing Proficiency Exam (WPE) is a 2 hour exam where they stuff 200 people into a room with 150 seats, ask everybody to write a 500 word essay, and then eventually grade them and tell you whether or not you passed. This is the only way to fulfill the requirement without taking an English course (where you would be expected to do the same thing, only with fewer people in the room).

In case this doesn’t sound like a bureaucratic mess, allow me to describe the process for signing up to take the WPE. The flyer on the bulletin board outside my office says, “Complete a WPE Space Reservation Form at the Cashier’s Office in the Administration Building.” Naturally, I walked up the hill to the Admin building to fill out the form. I looked around and didn’t see any, so I talked to the cashier. She informed me that I needed to go back down the hill to building 10 in order to get the form. So, I did that. The “form” turns out to be a sheet of paper with instructions for the test and, notably, no spaces where a person might fill in personal information. A little confused, I took the “form” back up the hill to the Admin building. I was then allowed to pay the cashier the small fee of $25 (this is probably to cover the costs of 10 sheets of lined paper, one photocopy of the essay question, an envelope, and a stamp). She stapled my receipt to the “form” and told me to bring it with me to the exam.

It certainly wasn’t the greatest essay I’ve ever written, but I think it should be sufficient. Anyway, I’m glad it’s over.

Curse you, berlios.

What’s in a Name?

April 9, 2007

I’ve discovered a fool-proof way to get lots of people to say strange things to you. Step one: grow a rather significant beard. Step two: shave it.

Here’s a sample of the things people have been saying to me:

  • Said my housemate John, “what’s this 15 year-old doing here?”
  • According to Tinh, my officemate, I looked smarter with the beard.
  • My neighbor, whom I have met at most once, yelled from his garage at me, “you look better without the beard!”
  • Karen, my other officemate, called me “cute”, of all things. I think she’s biased, though, since I look like her dad.
  • Dale, the department secretary, also a Minnesota native, told me I no longer looked like I’d been out hunting in the backwoods. I hope that doesn’t mean she’ll start pestering me for a picture again.

While I’m blogging about things that happened two or three weeks ago, I might as well fill in the gaps. During spring break, I caught a train to Los Angeles to meet Max and some of the other NationStates admins. I’ve been working on the site for about a year and a half now, so it seemed like a good idea to catch him while he’s within 10,000 miles of me. Max was very easy to talk to, which says a lot coming from somebody as untalkative as I am; but maybe that’s because he knows things about Linux and programming. No, it’s probably despite that.

I’ve also been interviewing for a job at Google. I don’t know if I’m particularly interested in the job, but I figure it’s worth trying. After all, it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll be doing much else for most of the next school year. That reminds me: I need to go work on my résumé.