Feb 24, 2015

That one time when I ...

Recently I was searching myself on the internet for fun and I was reminded of a few memorable things that I have done over the years relating to computers and the internet. In no particular order here are some of the memories that came to mind

That one time when I got kicked off of Michiana FreeNet

This one goes way back. Think dial up internet through the local library. I had recently discovered GeoCities which let me make my own webpage. My ISP also had options for domain name hosting and registration and I think there must have been a directory of sites that had paid for this service or something. Somehow I found out the names and emails of probably about 10 - 20 people who had paid for webpages (and maybe domains too) through the FreeNet and sent them all an email letting them know that they could save a lot of money (I think the FreeNet was charging like $100/mo) by getting a free webpage on GeoCities.

I guess one of those people I emailed was somehow connected to the management of the FreeNet and they did not appreciate that I was telling their paying customers how to get something for free. Now granted if they had actual domain names then GeoCities was not even equivalent anyway. I really think that someone just didn't like that I was letting people know they were being ripped off and so they decided that what I did was "spam" and was grounds for my internet account to be cancelled.

That one time when I told AOL that they forgot to bill me

For many years I had AOL for my "internet" access. Actually the service AOL provided I think really pre-dated what I think of as the Internet today. I remember the first time I could use AOL to access content that was not on AOL and send emails to non-AOL members. That was the beginning of access the "internet" to me.

So basically due to a glitch or bug in the AOL billing system I started to notice (and my parents did too) that we were no longer being billed monthly for our AOL access. I don't know how long I let it go but it wasn't long. I'm not sure if this happened after I got kicked off the FreeNet or not, but perhaps it was. Maybe out of a fear of losing yet another access method to the Internet I decided to call them and let them know that they were not charging us. I really was concerned that they would discover their mistake and cut me off and so I wanted to make sure that my access would continue. So I called them and they "fixed" it and we started getting billed again. Phew...

I think my dad was not happy that I did this, but he couldn't be too mad since he understood that we really should be paying for the service. I wonder though if we had done nothing how long we could have continued to access their services for free.

That one time when I hacked a guys computer and the FBI called my parents

You might say I was a bit obsessed for a time with playing the computer game Descent. I still have some of my original boxes and CD's for Descent I, II, and III including some extra CD's I got for free for my work in designing levels for the game. I used to run an online league called the Descent Strike Force and we would play online with each other and other leagues using this software called Kali. So part of the software included what were essentially channels where you could chat with other players and arrange your game. You could easily send files to each other which was handy for sharing levels and you could also execute some special commands to do things like show your IP address.

Using these facilities I sent a copy of Back Orifice to a person once. I told them that it was a new level for the game. I'm not excusing my actions, but the guy was clearly very computer illiterate. I'm surprised he figured out how to use Kali. Levels for the game do not come as executable files but I sent him and executable file and told him he had to run it to install the levels. I guess he had never installed levels before because that is not how it works. He did and when nothing happened (or so he thought) I simply pretended to not understand. I then asked him to execute the special command exposing his IP address to himself only and tell me what that IP address was so that I could connect to his computer and take control of it.

I don't remember exactly what I did to his computer. Certainly nothing destructive. I might have done something like make a pop-up window appear on his screen with a message like "Your shoe is untied". It was fun for a few minutes and then I remotely removed the program and never contacted him again.

Some time later my parents asked me about the situation and I was a bit confused how they even knew about it. Well it turns out that this guy had called them and explained to them what I had done and told them that he himself or maybe someone he knew closely worked for the FBI and that I could be in serious trouble for my actions. The person on the phone had demonstrated their power to my parents by reading off to them my stats such as height, weight, eye color, etc. I remember my dad being especially angry and disgusted at the name of the program which he correctly understood the dual meaning of. I at the time just thought it was a play on Back Office and didn't get the connection.

After I had some time to consider that string of events I realized something. The guy who called my parents and claimed to know all this stuff had actually gotten all that information from my personal webpage (including my home phone number). I knew this because I had purposefully made some of the information wrong and he cited that wrong information. So there was no real connection to the FBI and I quickly decided maybe I shouldn't list my home phone number and all my stats on my public web page.


Feb 12, 2015

PyTennessee and Music

This past weekend I attended the PyTennessee conference for the first time and I had a very enjoyable time. In the past I have attended the PyOhio conference for a few years and I wanted to branch out to try another conference. They are actually very similar and I think I will continue to attend both. One thing I always try to do when visiting a new place is find some time to play some music on a piano.

At my first PyOhio I found a public piano on the second floor of the Ohio Union. Every year I take time to visit that piano while I am at the conference. I was not sure I would be able to find anything during my trip to PyTennessee. Shortly after checking in to my hotel on Friday evening I went for a drive to get some food and drive past the location of the conference. I had just pulled out of the lot for the hotel and literally in the adjacent lot to the hotel is a local Steinway piano gallery. I quickly turned into the lot for the gallery. I could clearly see they were closed but I wanted to check the hours. If I was going to stop by it would mean I would probably have to step away from the conference on Saturday for a bit.

The next day the very first talk I attended was a talk by Lars and it was a last minute decision between his talk or another which I thought might be interesting. I decided to attend his partly because I had heard him practicing his instrument earlier and I expected his talk would involve him playing music. I was also curious to hear how he would make a connection between music and programming. As it happened his talk was probably one of the best of the entire conference. Sadly his recording did not take for the entire presentation, but there is a small excerpt available.

After it was over I was standing around and began talking with another attendee who--perhaps not surprisingly given the subject of Lars talk--also shared an interest in piano. I explained to them how that I had intended to leave the conference at some point and try out some of the pianos at the Steinway gallery as this is my habit when visiting new places. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but the two of us decided to visit the piano gallery together. Lunch was about to start and with the piano gallery only a few minutes down the road it seemed as good of a time as any to sneak away for a little musical interlude.

At the gallery we introduced ourselves to the employee and explained that we were interested in spending just a few minutes playing on the pianos. After we took turns playing for a little bit on a nice grand piano in the front room the employee offered to show us into another room where the larger concert pianos were kept. I was a bit disappointed by the sound of the lower octaves on this particular piano but it was still a great experience. I am really happy I had someone to share some music with and to get to hear some of the music that they liked to play.

One of the songs I played (well just a small part of the beginning of it) was a piece by Rachmaninoff. My musical friend seemed very happy to hear me play it. Sadly I couldn't play much and even parts which I usually can play fairly well from memory I found my hands unable to recite. Sometime later I got to thinking about the connections between the music I have learned to play and enjoy over the years and the various movies or TV series or video games that may have introduced me to that particular piece of music.

Usually it is because of a previous interest in some particular movie or TV series that I happen to find a new piece of music that I want to learn to play. For example in the case of that particular Rachmaninoff song that I played for my friend I remember that the first time I heard the song was during a scene in an episode of the TV series Lost. In this particular episode there is a part where Ben plays the piano. We only hear a short bit of the song but that was enough for me to research it and determine that it was Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# minor. I found a copy of the sheet music on the internet and began to try to play it. All that just from hearing a little part of the song in that one episode of Lost.

On the other hand there has been only one instance where I actually decided to watch a movie because I had heard music which I knew to be in the movie. The music in this case was a set of pieces by Phillip Glass. I really like his music and have learned to play a few things from his enormous body of work. Somehow I was listening to various pieces of his and found these few that I liked and I noticed they all seemed to be from something called "The Hours". Turns out this is the name of the movie that he wrote them for I guess. So since I liked so much of the music for the movie I thought I should watch this movie to see how it was.

It was interesting to watch the movie and hear the music in the context of the story because I had previously only heard the music without this context. The movie was interesting and I felt it had a similar style to the movie Cloud Atlas that I had previously seen in as much as that both movies consist of multiple parallel story lines across different periods of time. In both movies these seemingly disconnected stories in different periods of time are also somehow related to each other through something that transcends time.

Feb 7, 2015

Our Friends the Police

So this happened to me about a month ago now I guess. I remember it was on New Years Day. The family and I got in the minivan and were taking a short trip to get some food I think. We were not even sure if any place would be open. A short drive from the house down to the area near the corner of Washington street and German Church road in Indianapolis. I turned off of German Church into the parking lot near the Marsh and was heading towards the Steak & Shake I think. No actually I was going to check the gas price at the Sam's club. Was going to get some gas in the vehicle.

Being that it is New Years Day there are not a lot of people out. Many places are closed and driving through the parking lot it is actually totally empty. I am approaching the Arby's and I notice two cops pulling out of the Arby's lot. They had been clearly talking to each other. I always wonder what cops are doing when I see this. I also saw it a lot at the surface lot I used to park at. Every day when I would leave the lot there would be two cops sitting with the drivers side doors next to each other so they could talk I guess without getting out of their respective cars. So back to the two pulling out of Arby's. One pulls out in front of me but as I approach there isn't enough time for the other and I have the right of way so he waits for me to pass. I am sitting at a stop sign for an intersection inside the parking lot. I approach the stop sign as I have many many times and look and clearly there are no cars entering the parking lot from the main road. Such cars would of course have the right of way and I made sure there were none coming. I then proceed to cross the intersection to check the prices of the gas at the Sams club.

And then it happens. The cop has his lights on behind me and clearly he wants me to stop and I've done something wrong I guess. This situation is always a bit stressful but when it happens to anyone (and it hasn't happened to me more than a few times in many years of driving). I honestly didn't know what could possibly be wrong and I thought maybe it was going to be something stupid like he was going to say I had a tail light out. Can they even really pull you over for that? Well, it turns out that the reason I am getting pulled over in the empty parking lot with my family in my minivan is because I did not come to a complete stop at that stop sign.

Okay I have to just stop now and take a break because it is stressing me out a bit thinking about the situation and how incredibly ridiculous it was.

... some time later ...

Ok so the cop stopped me to tell me that I didn't come to a complete stop. That may be true, I honestly do not remember because as I said my focus on crossing this intersection located inside a parking lot which was itself almost totally devoid of other cars was on making sure that I was not crossing into the path of traffic entering the lot which would have had the right of way. I have crossed this intersection many times since then and I pay a bit more attention. In some cases I come to a complete stop and in some I don't. I do not think that this is unsafe as I always slow to a point where I could stop if I saw traffic. The intersection has no visual barriers and you can tell from 20 feet back if you are going to need to stop or not.

Enough on the actual details of the intersection. What I want to talk about at this point is some of the interesting things that the cop said to me and the way that the interaction we had plays into the narrative that has been in the spotlight recently. Specifically the relationship between the police force and the people they serve and protect.

From the beginning of the pull over when the cop drove his car up next to mine and rolled down his window to talk to me through my window (this crime was not serious enough that he needed to get out of the car) he said something to the effect of "you can't do that in front of a cop" because I put him in a situation where if he didn't take action against my crime he would somehow be doing something wrong. So he felt he had to stop me and tell me I did something wrong. The thing about this that I find a little strange is that in the end he did not actually do anything about my crime and I think this kind of reinforces the idea that what I did was not really that bad. I doubt he would have had this mental dilemma if I was robbing a store.

Another interesting thing that happened was the way that during our conversation he wanted me to admit that I had done something wrong or dangerous. I really wanted to say to him that he was crazy and that I followed the "spirit" of the law in that I made sure it was safe to proceed even if I didn't actually come to a complete stop. I think in this case that is more important than the difference between stopping and rolling through at 1 or 2 miles-per-hour. But of course I said I agreed and what response does he expect? He is in a position to cause me financial and other harm and so of course I'm going to agree. He didn't actually change my viewpoint. I guess at that particular intersection I am now more likely to consider stopping, but I do not feel that I ever did anything wrong or that only slowing to 1 or 2 miles-per-hour is dangerous.

The thing that bothers me about the incident is that is in no way serves to create an environment of trust or friendship with the police. Rather it makes me more aware that even in the slightest of offence they can find reason to use their power. I totally disagree with his argument (and question why he even felt the need to justify himself in the first place) that he had to stop me because I didn't come to a complete stop. I really think he should be able to have the judgement to evaluate that in this situation my speed was slow enough and given the complete lack of other cars around there was not a need to make a complete stop.

Okay, well that's all for now. I hope I have conveyed the situation in a fair manner and that it makes sense. If you actually read all that congratulations. I can't believe I wrote this much.