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Thursday
Mar262009

Take a look at the BluePrint CSS Framework

Nice, Simple, Sensible CSS Framework Nice, Simple, Sensible CSS Framework

BluePrint CSS is a nice, simple, and sensible CSS framework. It greatly reduces CSS development time by providing a solid base on which to extend. Really Cool!

Blueprint is a CSS framework, which aims to cut down on your CSS development time. It gives you a solid CSS foundation to build your project on top of, with an easy-to-use grid, sensible typography, and even a stylesheet for printing. http://www.blueprintcss.org/

Today I spent around 10 minutes, and used a portion of the BluePrint CSS Framework to fix some typographical problems I was having with my Wordpress theme.

Additional Resources
Tuesday
Mar242009

My Twitter Comcast Story

My bill increased this month...


Last month my 6 month promotion with Comcast was up and bill went through the roof.  From $106.00/month to $179.00/month for 16MB internet and Preferred Digital Cable with HD.  That is an increase by 169%!

Today I called up my local Comcast branch to see what I could do.  I got a hold of a very nice fellow that insisted there was nothing I could do about cost except by slashing my services.  I slashed a Showtime subscription that had been globbed-on (for Free)  in August but was now costing me ~$17.  I also had to slash my internet down from 16MB to 12MB for a savings of ~$10.  My monthly total $148.00 for a savings of $31 at the cost of slower internet service in both download an uploads.

Continue reading for the whole story...

Then I tweeted...

I twittered my frustration with my findings in a tweet...

Off the phone with comcast. No wait to get on line with the Rep who was nice. BUT unable to cut my bill beyond me dropping everything. - zarzax 11:20 Tue 24th March 2009

Expecting nothing except a joke from my friends, eleven minutes later I received a response from @ComcastGeorge..

@zarzax email our team to have us review the bill, we_can_help@cable.comcast.com - ComcastGeorge 11:31 Tue 24th March 2009

Expecting nothing I sent my email explaining my situation. I am a student and a Comcast customer for a long time in various parts of the city (as anyone in the Twin Cities has to be). I explained my desire to slash some cost without dropping services and the the near 169% increase was quite high.

Something Happened...

A few hours later I got a call from Kathy at the same local Comcast branch who said that they could give me a promotional price again. 16MB Internet $39.00/month and Digital Preferred Cable with HD $39.00/month. Also she picked up on one of my questions about the my bill. It seems that I was charged ~$5.00/month in error since I started in August. She slashed that and prorated the value back to me. She said that she is not normally able to do "Back to Back" promotional discounts but in this case they are able to work with me.

Long story short... By simply tweeting to my friends, @ComcastGeorge found me, guided me to help for my quest, and pushed my local branch into working with me. My bill will be about $92.00/month + taxes (I don't know what they will be) for the next 6 months. A decrease by $5.00 is expected.

Today I found myself unexpectedly happy with Comcast. I wish I could do this with my other bills.

My friends keep on tweeting your problems and maybe something good will come of it. - zarzax

Friday
Mar202009

Basic LaTeX Guide

The purpose of document is to demonstrate how to construct a basic LaTeX document. This assumes that you are running from a system that has LaTeX installed. Most Linux distros include or make it simple to install. I wrote an earlier post on LaTeX Resources for Mac OSX.

Continue reading for the complete guide.

Simple LaTeX Document

This is an extremely basic LaTeX Document.

\documentclass{article}

\begin{document}

just some text

\end{document}  % End

Slightly more advanced sample.tex document

This is a sample document that demonstrates some advanced features such as adding a title, using sections, and using equations.

Download the sample.tex File Download the sample.pdf File

\documentclass[12pt]{article}

% The following is used in the \maketitle
\title{Sample \LaTeX{} Document}
\author{Mark Young}
\date{March 19, 2009}

\begin{document}
\maketitle  % Insert the title at this location

To make this file type into any text editor.

\section{Some Lorem Ipsum}
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

\section{Equations}
This is a section named Equations.  This is an inline equation, $ p \wedge T \equiv p   $ , which is the one of the identity laws.

The following displayed equation is one of the Distributive Laws.
$$ A \cap ( B \cup C ) = ( A \cap B ) \cup ( A \cap C ) $$

\subsection{Equation subsection}
This is a subsection.

\end{document}  % End

Turning LaTeX file into PDF

From the command line

The 'pdflatex' command creates a PDF file from the LaTeX file.

user@srv:# pdflatex sample.tex
user@srv:# ls
sample.tex
sample.pdf  <-- the pdf file you want for printing, made with 'pdflatex' command
sample.log  <-- record of the compilation.
sample.aux  <-- contains extras for LaTeX normally not used

Alternatively

I use the MacTeX LaTeX Distribution with Macromates TextMate on OSX. It includes bundles that makes compiling into pdf as easy as ⌘R.

Thursday
Mar192009

DenyHosts smart defense for your SSH server

DenyHosts smart SSH Server Protection

DenyHosts is a Python based security tool for SSH servers. DenyHosts is a Python based security tool for SSH servers.

DenyHosts is a python script that is run on any Linux or BSD based system to help block SSH based attacks. It works to prevent both "dictionary based" and "brute force" attacks. Also provided is a system to synchronize block lists between other users of DenyHosts.

It works by scanning the SSHD log files (/var/log/auth.log or /var/log/secure) and discovering failed login attempts. Attacks are triggered by number of failed attempts or invalid username login attempts. After it discovers an attack it inserts the IP address into the /etc/hosts.deny file which will block that IP from connecting to your system in the future. Check out the features page for a full set of features. I started using DenyHosts after I noticed a surprising number of failed login attempts in my sshd logs. After I installed DenyHosts it discovered over 50 IPs that were attempting to gain access to my system and started blocking them. I quickly discovered the synchronization features and have not looked back. Now I maintain a blocklist near 9000 IPs long.

Base System

I am going to describe how to setup a basic server firewall with this base system as the example:

  • Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS (hardy)
  • basic apt sources. (hardy main, hardy-updates main, hardy-security main)

Installation

  sudo apt-get install denyhosts

Configuration

Modify the configuration file /etc/denyhosts.conf to include these settings.

  SECURE_LOG = /var/log/auth.log
  HOSTS_DENY = /etc/hosts.deny
  PURGE_DENY = 			# When set to blank system will never purge block list.
  BLOCK_SERVICE  = sshd		# When set to SSHD the ssh server will be blocked,
  				# when set to ALL the IP will be blocked for all services.
  DENY_THRESHOLD_INVALID = 5
  DENY_THRESHOLD_VALID = 10
  DENY_THRESHOLD_ROOT = 5
  DENY_THRESHOLD_RESTRICTED = 5
  WORK_DIR = /var/lib/denyhosts
  SUSPICIOUS_LOGIN_REPORT_ALLOWED_HOSTS=YES
  HOSTNAME_LOOKUP=YES		# This will do a hostname lookup.  Set to NO for improved performance.
  LOCK_FILE = /var/run/denyhosts.pid

         ############ THESE SETTINGS ARE OPTIONAL ############
  ADMIN_EMAIL = 			# Leave Blank or use your email address for reports on blocked IPs.
  SMTP_HOST = localhost           # localhost if you are running your own email server or set to an external server
  SMTP_PORT = 25
  SMTP_FROM = DenyHosts
  SMTP_SUBJECT = DenyHosts Report
  SMTP_DATE_FORMAT = %a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S %z
  AGE_RESET_VALID=5d
  AGE_RESET_ROOT=25d
  AGE_RESET_RESTRICTED=25d
  AGE_RESET_INVALID=10d

     ######### THESE SETTINGS ARE SPECIFIC TO DAEMON MODE  ##########
  DAEMON_LOG = /var/log/denyhosts
  DAEMON_SLEEP = 30s
  DAEMON_PURGE = 1h

     #########   THESE SETTINGS ARE SPECIFIC TO     ##########
     #########       DAEMON SYNCHRONIZATION         ##########
  SYNC_SERVER = http://xmlrpc.denyhosts.net:9911
  SYNC_INTERVAL = 1h
  SYNC_UPLOAD = yes
  SYNC_DOWNLOAD = yes
  SYNC_DOWNLOAD_THRESHOLD = 3
Sync Server setup is optional. If you only want to block attempts on your server comment out the 'SYNC_SERVER' line.

Start the Service

  sudo /etc/init.d/denyhosts restart

Other Resources

Monday
Mar092009

LaTeX Resources for OSX

LaTeX - A Document Preparation System

I started using LaTeX for its ease of writing mathematical equations and expression. Anyone who has tried fooling with Microsoft Word's equation editor realizes that it is time consuming, looks terrible, and will agree that there must be an easier way. That way is LaTeX.

LaTeX is a typesetting tool that excels with many types of documents such as academic journals, books, and complex mathematical formulas. One thing that it is great with is keeping track of references and bibliographies.

One thing to understand is that LaTeX is not for everyone. It will be confusing and complex to most users. There are tools that make it easier, but at its base you will be writing in a type of markdown language that is part of the barrier to entry.

Broken Creative Commons License photo credit: basheertome

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a high-quality typesetting system; it includes features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is the de facto standard for the communication and publication of scientific documents. LaTeX is available as free software. - http://www.latex-project.org/

LaTeX Features

  • Typesetting journal articles, technical reports, books, and slide presentations.
  • Control over large documents containing sectioning, cross-references, tables and figures.
  • Typesetting of complex mathematical formulas.
  • Advanced typesetting of mathematics with AMS-LaTeX.
  • Automatic generation of bibliographies and indexes.
  • Multi-lingual typesetting.
  • Inclusion of artwork, and process or spot colour.
  • Using PostScript or Metafont fonts.

-- LaTeX Project

What I Use

I work with LaTeX on both Mac OSX and Linux systems. Most Linux distributions make it simple to install LaTeX either being included or simply from package managers. Mac OSX is a bit different.

To make my life easier I use the MacTeX LaTeX Distribution with Macromates TextMate OSX text editor. By installing the MacTeX distribution you will be given all the command line tools, fonts, and converters you will need. TextMate will give you syntax highlighting and access to other tools that will make you life easier. But all you really need is a text editor and the command line.

Good luck with your journey into the LaTeX world.

LaTeX Resources

Here is a list of resources so both you and I can remember them in the future! :) Enjoy!