Spam and Botnets

Remember those days of Nigerian princes and overseas lotteries?  The ones who just needed a little bit of financial assistance, who would reward you in turn for your efforts with profit a hundred fold?  Or the cheap Viagra?  Or the young Asian girls who want to meet just you?

Nigerial Lottery
This image isn’t racist, is it?

I’d like to sigh nostalgically and say “Those were the days” except, apparently these are still those days.  Something on the Internet has survived multiple decades.  Go figure.

I run my own email server, and in so doing, need to open certain ports in order to receive email.  One of these ports is port 25–the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol port.  In other words, it’s the default port upon which email moves.  Now, in order to receive most email, I have to open this port, even though I don’t generally use it for my own purposes, preferring newer TLS-by-default port 465, among others.  Technological details aside, I only have port 25 open by necessity, and I don’t use it myself.

But, because it’s universal, botnets continually scan the Internet for servers with this port open.  With modern computational power, it takes a surprisingly short amount of time to scan all the available IPv4 address space.  Consequently, I’m regularly identified as a host with open port 25.

What does this mean?  Generally nothing, except these automated botnets hope that I haven’t bothered to take basic precautions.  Upon seeing the open port, the botnet then attempts to log in, using various default credentials (e.g. Admin, User, root).  Very quickly they move on, but still, I find this irritating.

Unfortunately there isn’t much I can do about it, other than blacklisting by default all non-US IP addresses (and any countries to which I’m aware family is currently traveling), and any IP address which previously failed to log in.  But, there are still a lot of IP addresses.  And with no recourse, I decided to vent my frustrations by posting a list of offenders.  It is worth a moment to do a Whois and find their geographical regions, if nothing else.  And if one of these is you, it’s time for a malware scan:


When Planets Align

Photography to me has always been functional, not artistic.  I can appreciate the professionals who see a beautiful moment–adjust focus, zoom, aperture, exposure time…and capture natural perfection.  For me, however, it’s an extension of words.  Take X photo to capture Y content for archival reasons.

With the ever-improving iPhone camera though, on occasion, the planets will align just so and I capture magic, by some combination of coincidence and technology.  I often forget about them, but as I flip through my thousands of photos, I’ll pause on some.  Rather than share them out of context, I offer two such photos (taken at Cox Arboretum) with this preface, so you will know that talent played little role in their creation, while still enjoying their aesthetics:





As many from the older generation lament: they just don’t make ’em like they used to.  Truth.  There was indeed a point in American history when we actually had a proper manufacturing industry.  And a core component of this industry was American steel.  And in the height of steel’s influence, before petroleum-based plastics and outsourcing, things were created from metals whose only enemy would be rust and time, not wear and tear.  Now these icons of the past stand as monuments to another era, seemingly so different from the one in which we live now.

Seeking these icons has become popular enough to warrant its own term: urban exploring.  But I find that one doesn’t even have to put effort into it to net results.  Sometimes by sheer chance the past will emerge, demanding that it not be forgotten.

Years ago when I had purchased my first iPhone, I would check Google maps (when this was the default map), passively exploring the green belts which stretch their way through developed metropolises.  I would trace the routes digitally, musing on what lay within.  In the building in which I worked, beyond the parking lot, one such belt resided.  No label had been applied courtesy of the map, yet it delineated a zone between the building and the residential section of old post-war houses, presumably built in a time when the nearby factory (still in operation, though I have no idea what it produces) was likely a major factor in the area’s economy.  Who knows?  It might have been steel.

One day, as was all too frequent in those days, I was desperately seeking an escape from my job.  The allure of this mystery zone tugged at my thoughts, and so I set off on a 15-minute excursion (the mandatory minimum break time required by law, so granted unto me by my employer).  I trekked to the end of the parking lot and encountered the hedgerow–an unsurprisingly impassible barrier of invasive honeysuckle, bordering a drainage ditch.  I decided to trace this line to the end of the lot, and there, just as it terminated into a chain link fence, it parted.  The opening was the result of an old roadway, bridging the ditch and dead-ending into a single pole in the grass by the parking lot, obscured from view by the unruly foliage.

Naturally upon this discovery, I couldn’t not continue down the path, so like a suburban Livingstone I fearlessly marched through the vegetation.  On the bridge I received a view of the drainage ditch, which from above now appeared to be the remnants of a natural waterway.  Below, carp circled while ducks traversed the surface, bathing.  It was an idyllic scene of natural serenity in a profane expanse of asphalt, but the road continued, so I pressed on.

After crossing the short bridge, the hedgerow on the far side too disappeared, giving way to a vast expanse of grass, interspersed with groups of trees.  The grass, while not meticulously manicured, had still been maintained.  It was knee-high, and resembled a prairie, mixed with thistle and clover.  Bees merrily conducted their business in the blossoming grassland, and I wondered why this stretch had been mowed.  The only clue to this mystery was a series of gas line utility marker poles, spaced regularly throughout the stretch.


The road bent around a tree grove and there I saw it: the remains of a park.  A party gazebo stood, although made of wood, still without apparent structural damage; a set of swings, or what remained, as the swings and chains themselves had been removed; and a steel slide–no doubt anchored with concrete and too much trouble to remove.  And running adjacent to the road was a 7-foot chain link fence, topped with barbed wire.  Yet amusingly, more drainage pipes passed beneath the road, bypassing the fence with 4-foot diameter concrete tubes.  I was happy to see that neighborhood children had discovered this, as a group was playing on the dilapidated remnants of the old playground.  Why was this area fenced off?  Why had it been closed?  Had budget cuts doomed the park?  The answer could have been deduced from a notice sign, but any explanation it may have offered had been covered in spray-paint.  The children, blissfully unaware of liability, had ignored the notice and all that the fence implied.

Yesterday, we were in attendance at a family function, in a Knights of Columbus charter house.  They were extended family on my in-laws’ side, so any common-ground conversational points were limited.  For a moment’s reprieve, I stepped outside.  The entrance was no sanctuary, as two people were engaged in phone conversations, so I began a walk to circumnavigate the building.

And there, in the back, out of time and place and seemingly forgotten, remained a steel slide.  No other playground equipment remained–only this slide.  I pondered its existence a moment as I had the park remnants behind work.  Surely people know of it, because again the grass was mowed.  Why is the grass always mowed?

My daughter, having been eating cake since we arrived at the party, and no doubt needing a break of her own from social over-stimulation, was elated when I mentioned the hidden slide to her.  She gleefully skipped off to partake in this forgotten joy.


Why are these things forgotten and disused?  In the post-war baby boom, did we have a greater need for them, now no longer after the generation aged?  Like the Giving Tree, they sit, silently waiting to give again–any joy that they might still provide.

I took a photo, partly to see my own child enjoying the slide for its intended purpose, partly to prove that the permanence of these old icons was not without merit.  Whatever its future fate, proof that the slide brought a child happiness one more time will remain now in the chronicles of family photos, possibly to outlive the steel itself.



One day, I will have a proper office.  It will have pleasant lighting, all the electrical and Ethernet hookups I could ever want, a coffee machine, a decanter of fine bourbon, an array of computer monitors, a big comfy chair, and a giant oak executive desk.  A man can dream.

According to TV, having this in my office means I’m important

Until that day, I work in the guest room.  The desk, a quaint antique writing desk, was not designed with computers and their multitude of peripherals in mind–nor, apparently, a full-size human.  Hunched over, I diligently complete tasks for my employer, requiring frequent breaks to stretch the kinks from my abused spine.

Our old townhouse had a room for this purpose, and for that purpose it did indeed serve, until a little person came along.  My iMac was then shoved into a corner of the living room, while the computers we’ve purchased since have all been of the laptop variety, necessitating temporary setups and mobility.

When we purchased our house, the basement was a big selling point.  It was full-sized, yet unfinished.  I saw the potential.  And yet, it’s become a giant storage/playroom.  The former kitchen table has been ingloriously relegated to serving the creative needs of a developing mind, and consequently one side is now covered in paint.  Then last night I thought: “Why am I squished into a corner of the house while the kid gets all the space?”  So now I understand the concept of man caves.

I’ve never been so at-odds with my wife that I felt the need to create a room and hang a “no girls allowed” sign on the door, but now with my work-at-home time, I’m very quickly understanding the appeal of a single room for which the purpose is not family-oriented.  Imagine a room where I could set something down, and it would actually be there the next time I needed it.

In the meantime, my daughter will just have to learn to share.  I turned the craft table, and converted one side into a desk.  Now I toil away in the drafty basement, but dammit, I’m not banging my knees every time I shift my posture.

Skulking in the dark



‘This is the 27th of Last Seed, year of Akatosh 433…’

How do I know this?  Why, because I’ve done this before…many times before.  And Patrick Stewart, once my beloved icon of humanity’s future that will never be (if you say Kirk was a better captain, I’ll stab you), is now the voice of Uriel Septim VII, emperor of Tamriel.

The human mind, while adaptable, remains fragile.  And through this combination, it copes with chronic negativity through distraction and self-delusion.  And alcohol, but that quickly hits a point of diminishing returns.

So it was during my adolescence, when I had failed to build meaningful friendships, and any social standing I had with my peer group was suddenly destroyed from a move cross-country, when we had first acquired broadband and internet downloads were more innocent, that I discovered in earnest the land of shareware–trial versions of software, and in a time before the synergy of computers and consoles, the place to find games.

Enter: Avernum.  It was unlike any game I had encountered before.  It was my first encounter with a sandbox RPG.  I could travel a fantasy land at will, unrestricted by plot objectives and invisible walls.  I could complete stories when I wanted, all the while exploring the landscape and intricate lore of its creators.  It was a livable book.  I was instantly hooked, and played this series well into college.

Isometrics baby!

Then the XBOX 360 came out, and it’s flagship title, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  And while I couldn’t afford these, my roommate, spoiled by a lucrative major, Bio-engineering, and his summer internship at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals–he could.  He was also a whore to social popularity, so it didn’t take him long to acquire.  It became the immediate go-to game for our circle of friends, bickering over taking turns yet passing the controller in accordance with vaguely defined codes of honor.  And like Avernum, Oblivion quickly became my escape from worldly personal problems–job, girls, school, etc.

I wish I could go fishing in that lake

Over a decade later, my own deprecated XBOX 360 still remains wired to my entertainment center for one reason: Oblivion.  Other games have since taken center stage, but Oblivion remains eternal–at least until this old console breaks.  Through some odd form of emotional conditioning, whenever the stressors of life take their toll, out comes Oblivion.

So when I started cutting back on my drinking, I sought comfort elsewhere.  I booted up the XBOX 360, which now in comparison to contemporary hardware sounds like a vacuum cleaner.  And in short order, Patrick Stewart began his monologue:

‘I was born 87 years ago…’

From the other room, my wife announced her concern and asked me what was wrong.  Apparently she’s recognized this correlation too.

Soon enough, the winter will break and I’ll be occupied with a myriad of other far more productive projects.  The levity of spring will usher in another year of life and happy memories.  The weather is already changing and I can feel the winter depression and its associated vitamin D deficiency waning.  But for now, it’s cold and dark, and I really need to relight those dragonfires and banish Mehrunes Dagon.