Month: November 2004

Gmail’s free POP access uses SSL!

YAY! I’m paranoid. But you know what, that’s good when considering computers and today’s world. So when I learned that Road Runner offers no real protection against network-sniffers, I stopped using my email account almost immediately. I moved everything to my own server, which uses SSL over both POP and SMTP traffic to protect my passwords when checking email (and SSH all over the place for everything else).

It is similarly annoying that Hotmail (afaik) has never used it when checking email from a client such as Outlook, Outlook Express, or Entourage. Yahoo! Mail doesn’t even have POP, or POP-like, access to its mail accounts (again, only afaik), but by default their log-in forms are not secure.

So when Gmail announced its free POP service for its users, I was skeptical. “Great,” I thought. “I’ll never use it.” But today I clicked on the “New Features!” link, found the instructions for enabling their POP service and—low and behold—imagine my surprise when I read that they actually require the use of a secure connection!

What an incredibly sensible choice! And yet another reason to switch to Gmail if you can. I don’t see either Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail doing anything on the security front. In my eyes, Google should be advertising this fact more than they have. But I guess it only really matters to geeks like me.

P.S.: If you want a Gmail account and don’t have one yet, then I’m willing to give you one. (I’ve got more invites than I know what to do with.) Leave a comment or email me at meitarm (at-sign) gmail (dot) com, and give me a suggestion for how to improve this site. I’m most interested in design ideas, and if you’re handy with Photoshop, an image of one would be nice too.

Ahead of the TechTV Curve

You know you’re a geek when you’ve already got Sarah‘s Download of the Day for the past month!

Today, her tip was to go grab VideoLAN Client (VLC). VLC is a media player that is cross-platform (that means it runs on Windows, Mac, and every Unix and Linux variant under the sun), supports every video and audio file format one can think of, and can stream multimedia content over a network connection to another instance of VLC. Useful if, say, you rip DVDs off your Netflix subscription and put them on your fileserver to stream on out to your laptop when you’re on vacation. ;)

But like I said, you know you’re a geek when you’ve already been doing this.

Shakespeare’s 116th

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

It is a remarkable thing to see and recognize my own resilience and comittments to the things I am responsible for. In short, it means I can understand the difference between my youth and my present. In another context, it means I can be in the presence of a horrible (or wonderful) mood swing and never lose sight of the fact that there will come a moment when I don’t feel those things.

That’s really, really hard to do. There are lots of things in my daily life which can cause me to feel guilty or like I have failed. Sometimes I do feel that way, but most of the time I’m able to keep a realistic perspective on the situation and that keeps me from doing things which I would feel bad about later. So in general I’m very proud of me.

I’m not good at understanding Shakespeare, but I’ve read the above sonnet several dozen times today and keep getting something different from it. Romantic love is not free. Nor easy. Nor unconditional. The primary cost is the opacity of some part(s) of life. It takes a sophisticated individual to weigh that cost-benefit-analysis realistically.

Thoughts on Medicine Cocktails and Quality of Life

I was lucky; my first prescriptions for treating bipolar disorder was a mix of Depakote and Zyprexa (whose clinical name is actually Olanzapine, but is marketed in a variety of different ways). That didn’t work for me. I gained over 60 pounds in 60 days, and ended up ballooning from 110 pounds to 177 pounds with no sign of slowing down.

I was taken off the Zyprexa and put on Lithium. So my cocktail was 1250mg of Depakote, plus 900mg of Lithium daily. That worked pretty well for me. Over time I have been able to reduce that dosage down dramatically, but that was only possible due to (literally) years of actively, consciously, teaching myself how to handle my own emotions and swings.

Still, I know that I was lucky. I have corresponded with folks who have been looking for medications that will work for them for more than three years and have still not found anything suitable. They are still looking.

I would say, however, that how “religiously” one takes one’s medications could have a really big impact on how well they work. That is to say that if you don’t take them exactly as prescribed, you’re going to find it a lot harder to get a working cocktail. I’ve got no proof, though, just an impression from speaking with many people about it.

That said, I think it’s important not to put up with side effects that are too negatively impacting your quality of life. What constitutes too negative an impact on your quality of life is, of course, subjective. The basic idea, though, is that something that works for you is supposed to increase your quality of life. It’s like if you stub your toe. You’re not going to stub your other toe just to make you forget about the first one.

Another important point to make is that medications are in fact limited to increasing quality of life. In that sense, they are just as effective (and sometimes far less so) than various simple things you can do every day. Whatever makes you feel better is, for all intents and purposes, a medication or treatment for bipolar disorder. And that’s not even a far-fetched thought, considering bipolar disorder is something we have to live with and deal with every second of every waking moment of our entire lives. Writing, computing, and getting some fresh air can very often have just as profund an effect on me as taking a pill might. That’s actually been the key to being able to reduce my reliance on medications while not relapsing. Modern medical science has very little to do with cures and a lot to do with quality of life. Afterall, we still can’t cure viruses.

(Somewhat tangetially, antibiotics and other medicines you may be given do nothing more than help your immune system fight off the infection and symptoms of viruses. But once you are infected with a virus, you will have it for the rest of your life. And on a even further tangential topic, that’s precisely the point most people seem to miss when they scoff at safe sex practices.)


I went to my father’s tonight after having an argument (of sorts) with Danica. While there, I wanted to show him how VNC works. He didn’t quite believe the screenshot I put here. That’s understandable, really, because for the uninitiated VNC in action is one of those things you have to see to believe.

Anyway, I SSHed into my computer from my dad’s house and started up my VNC client. Danica, still at home, saw my computer come to life. I logged in, and just for the sake of showcasing VNC’s capabilities, opened Mail.

That’s when TextEdit opened (as far as I was aware) of its own accord. But then, text started appearing on the screen, one character a time:


Where are you?

I realized that Danica was trying to reach me, so I wrote back.

I’m at my dad’s house.

When will you be home?

Not sure. I was sort of hoping the iMac would fall asleep because I want to test the WOL packets.

But, I can be home soon.

No, it’s okay–do what you need to do. I’ve been hampering your work all day. I’m sure you’re eager to get to it. Sorry for bothering you.

Don’t worry — it hasn’t been any bother, you know that. I’ve not been doing some of the work because there isn’t anything specific to do. Yet.

=) Guess I’ll see you later.

Are you okay there now?

It’s been hard. I have no one to talk to. Alma hung up about two minutes after you left. (She had a date.) I spent a while scrolling down the list of names on my phone. The only good thing to come of it was a meeting over coffee tomorrow with Jeff. But he’ll talk to me tomorrow. So, no one tonight.

I’m sorry — you don’t feel like you can talk to me tonight?

I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a mistake to send you away. There is nothing I would like more than to be in your arms.

I’ll come home soon. (Or sooner if you’d like.) I’d like a hug too.

Please come home.

I’ll be there in 5 minutes.

Thank you.

I love you. See you soon.

I saved the document (still on my Mac), and came home. It was actually somewhat surreal, though I attribute that partially the heavy emotional context to which it relates. Apparently Danica had been trying to reach me on my cell phone but she wasn’t getting through. (T-Mobile sucks.) Yet another use for this technology.

Through the conversation, I was reminded of the intense frustration and confusion I used to feel when I was swept up in a whirlwind of emotion without the slightest idea as to why I felt the way I did. My father reminded me to remain nonjudgmental. I try to, and I think I manage to do that. I know what it’s like to feel that way, so I have a lot of compassion and patience for it.

People Watching

I rather enjoy watching people when they are alone. It doesn’t really matter who, but the fact that they are left to themselves is fascinating. What are they thinking? What are they saying to themselves? There’s a voice inside most people’s heads that just won’t shut up. Sometimes I wish it was talking out loud.

Clarification: In response to a comment that was posted, I’d just like to clarify that “watching people when they are alone” is not intended as such a nefarious activity as the image (apparently) conjures up for some. What I mean is, watching people sitting across from me riding the subway, or the bus, or eating at a restaurant while they read the newspaper. I was only refering to public places like street corners, train stations, and supermarkets. What ever happened to the benefit of the doubt?

X11 Forwarding and VNC

A Brief Brief on Windowing Systems

I’ve been playing around with X11 a lot recently. This is one of the great things about Mac OS X; with its Unix (well, actually FreeBSD) underpinnings, Macs can now use the plethora of programs written for the X windowing system by running Apple’s X11 for Mac OS X or one of the various ports for it.

This is also one of the first times I’m getting a chance to play with a window manager (semi-)directly. It’s awe-inspiring to think of how integral window managers are to modern day desktop computing and how far personal computing has really come.

You could say that a windowing system is a lot like a language. It provides a way for you to tell your computer what you’d like it to do for you. To give some perspective, one alternative “language” to a windowing system is a textual user interface where you need to type commands at a textual prompt. DOS is a well known example of this sort of textual environment. The Unix command line is another.

Gnome and KDE for Linux, Quartz for Mac OS X, and Windows for (not surprisingly) Windows, in contrast, are all examples of graphical windowing systems.

The Productivity of X11 Forwarding

So I’ve been looking around for as many different X programs as I can find. OpenOffice is the first set of programs that came to mind. (By the way, can anyone recommend a good directory or repository of some sort for X programs? I seem to have temporarily forgotten about I should get myself a completely separate box and install a Linux distro on it, and I will when I get the space in my new apartment. For the time being, however, I’m just putting all the programs I want on my old iMac.

By far the coolest thing about the X window manager is that you can run a server and client on different machines and they are still able to talk to each other over a network. This means I can be sitting in front of computer A and run an X-compatible program off computer B while having computer B send that program’s display over to computer A. For any user using computer B, there is no visual indication that I’m using their workstation.

For example, let’s say I need to edit my résumé which is on my Mac at home in Word document format, but I’m at Saint’s Alp Teahouse all the on Bleeker Street. I only have my Windows laptop with me. I can start an X-server, say Cygwin-X on my laptop, SSH into my Mac with X11 forwarding turned on and open up my résumé in OpenOffice’s Writer. Even though Writer will be running off my Mac at home, its display will be forwarded through the SSH tunnel to my laptop’s screen. As an aside, this is one of the most useful applications of SSH that I’ve ever personally encountered.

Thinking Out of the Application

But that’s doing things one program at a time, and I don’t really have full GUI access to the remote computer’s desktop environment. For that, there’s VNC.

Virtual Network Computing is a lot like X11 forwarding on steroids. It gives you a large window on your local machine (the VNC client) inside of which is a picture of the entire screen of the remote computer (which has to be running a VNC server). You may be familiar with programs like Symantec’s PCAnywhere, Windows Remote Assistance, or Apple Remote Desktop. These are all basically proprietary, platform-specific VNC implementations with a few added bells and whistles. Frankly, I never saw the point of shelling out any money for something I can get free-of-charge.

For my Mac, I installed OSXvnc and Chicken of the VNC. Ever since we got Danica’s Windows XP laptop working again after the insane, avoidable delays caused by Best Buy’s horrendous Geek Squad disaster I installed RealVNC servers and clients on each of our machines.

RealVNC has got a slick, very well-integrated interface with Windows, and easy-to-understand settings and dialouges. It does a good job of giving the native Windows feel, and the VNC server can be run like an NT service (called service-mode) or like any other user-initiated program (called application- or user-mode). I do wish there was a built-in way to encrypt the VNC traffic travelling over the network, not just the password, but I suppose that’s what an SSH tunnel is for. Using an SSH tunnel also prevents me from having to punch open some holes in several different firewalls to get it working. On the other hand, if you don’t have access to SSH and you’re paranoid, you can configure RealVNC to use some other port than the default one (which is 5900) to make intrusion a little harder for a would-be cracker.

VNC via SSH Resources:

This screen shot shows what the reality of VNC is actually like. Here, I’ve set up an SSH tunnel with PuTTY to connect securely from my Windows XP laptop to my iMac at home. Screenshot of my Windows laptop connecting to my iMac desktop.

The Network is Half-Full

I’m still getting started with all this remote computing, but in the short time I’ve experimented, I’ve had a lot of fun. There are many benefits to productivity with this technology, and for me they are doubly important because I absolutely hate to work at home, in my cramped and tiny apartment. With X11 forwarding and VNC on my side, I can pick up my laptop and go anywhere with an Internet connection, and still feel like I’m at my home workstation. What a convenience!

Also, I can leave love notes on Danica’s laptop even when I’m out of the house and she’s not looking. ;)