Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How I got Tickets To Big Bang Theory

I don't watch much television, but I've been watching the Big Bang Theory show for years.  I love it because I can empathize with several attributes of the characters and it reminded me of several childhood encounters with my geeky friends.  I though I had found my show, but it turns out that nearly 15 million watch this this top rated CBS show.

For the past couple years, I've been trying to get tickets to see a live taping at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.  The TVTickets website provides audience tickets to the Big Bang Theory taping, but they are not showing because they are "sold out".  The website states:
The show schedule and this order form automatically update by 8:30am (M-F Los Angeles time) to display shows scheduled for the next 30 days. Shows/dates that are "sold out" or are more than 30 days from today will not be included in the drop box.
So I've been repetitively checking the website.  After a while, I relegated to fact that I'd only see the  be able to see the TV that the rescinded to the fact that I'd never

  I've been checking routinely, but after two unsuccessful seasons, I decided to kick things up a notch by creating a HTTP monitor for the website. I configured it to look for the keyword "Bang" on the webpage, which would only appear if the show has available time slots for ticket reservations.  I first set this up as a wget script, with an email notification and attached it as a cron job.  The email notification was potentially unstable due to DNS failures and slowness.  So I decided to use dotcom monitor which has a feature to send a text message.

There were a few false alerts when the TVTickets site was down or unreachable.  Anyway, after a few months, it finally triggered!

Attending the filming today!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Google Talk Down for the Count

Google Talk services are out across the board.  It all started this morning and was out for several hours; it took a while for Google to acknowledge that Hangouts and Google Talk were having a service disruption.  This isn't a typical partial network outage either since it affects all users in many regions; although Google didn't formerly admitted to be a service outage.

Users attempting to login were stuck in a continuous looping cycle leaving them with the uncertainty that it might be due to their Windows machine.   Rebooting of course didn't work; so some people here thought it was a problem with their station and tried to re-install Google Talk only to discover that it is no longer available.  I too learned this lesson the hard way after having to re-installing Windows due to an audio problem (which incidentally was triggered by Google Hangouts).

For those unfortunate soles who thought it was a problem with their computer, I'm proving a download for Google Talk here.

It seems to be an all out withdrawal from supporting the Windows platform; similarly Google Sync which allowed Outlook users to synchronize Google calendar was formerly ended last July.  It's well known that within the Googleplexes of the world, that Mac & Linux usage far outweighs Windows; in fact a contact of mine said that you'd practically need CTO approval to get Windows.  Over/under bets are currently being made as to which year Chrome support will be dropped from Windows ;)?

It's tough to start the week off with this outage, and while I'm happy to see it running again, the concern however that support for this product may permanently go away since Google declared that the Talk would be deprecated (done away with), in favor of Google Hangouts.  Our office relies upon it significantly and will need to find a replacement if Google Talk support completely stops.  Google Hangouts is just plain clunky: prone to having video complications, poor quality & delayed audio and the text chat feature is not well integrated.  The simplicity and quality of Google Talk is usually spot on; both within the desktop app, gmail integrated pane and the Android app.

For now, I'll be holding my breath to see if another viable replacement comes along for Google Apps based communication.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Enable Default Windows Wireless Connection Manager

Usually hardware manufacturers tools are better than the Windows default equivalent.  In the case of Wireless Network management, I usually find that Windows Zero Configuration Management is more reliable with the exception of a multi-location wireless network I use at work.  In some networks, especially cheap wifi routers (like the Fry's unit in my home) the built in Intel ProSET seems to get disconnected every so often and is very annoying, so for that, I will switch to the Windows built-in tool.

Enabling Windows Default in Windows 7

  • Start/automatic the Wired AutoConfig Properties service.
  • Start/automatic the WLAN AutoConfig Properties service.
  • Stop/Disable Intel(R) PROSet/Wireless Zero Configuration Service, if it exists.
  • In task manager, view processes and sort task name.  Kill the task called Intel PROSet Wireless.

For instructions in Windows 8, XP also see the visual instructions from Aber Univ.

Enabling Intel Wireless Configuration Management in Windows 7

  • Start/automatic Intel(R) PROSet/Wireless Zero Configuration Service, if it exists.
  • Stop/Disable the Wired AutoConfig Properties service.
  • Stop/Disable the WLAN AutoConfig Properties service.

Friday, February 01, 2013

SQL Server Agent (Agent XPs disabled)

Error in SQL Server Jobs:
SQL Server blocked access to procedure 'dbo.sp_get_sqlagent_properties' of component 'Agent XPs' because this component is turned off as part of the security configuration for this server. A system administrator can enable the use of 'Agent XPs' by using sp_configure. For more information about enabling 'Agent XPs', see "Surface Area Configuration" in SQL Server Books Online.

Resolve by:
sp_configure 'show advanced options', 1; GO;
sp_configure 'Agent XPs', 0; GO;

Monday, September 24, 2012

Scammers get personal with your friends

Like a efficient biological virus, spam and online scams continue to evolve and take on new forms that elude even the discerning person.
From: "Friends name"
Subject: "Vacation Problems..."
My Family and I are currently on vacation to Madrid (Spain),and we got mugged last night in an alley by a gang of thugs on my way back from shopping, everything i had on me including my cell phone, credit cards were all stolen,quite honestly it was beyond a dreadful experience for me but looking on the bright side  i was not seriously hurt or injured and i am still alive so that is whats important.

I've reported to the cops here and canceled all my cards,it appeared I had acted quickly enough or they almost would have succeeded in cleaning out my bank account. I'm really having some difficulties clearing my hotel bills and also need to pick up a voucher ticket at the counter for us to catch a flight back home in a couple of hours.

I was wondering if you could please loan me some money pending when i get things straighten out and I promise to refund as soon as we arrive home safely. All i need to get back is €1,300Euros.

Write me back and let me know how soon you can get it to us asap.

Your friend in the business
[my friends personal email signature]
Nigeria scam shirt from Deceptology.com
To be honest, my initial reaction was one of concern.  I'm not very familiar with my friend (more of an acquaintance) but it wouldn't entirely surprise me that they are on vacation and that this could happened.  Being a kind person and subscribing to the idea that I look for opportunities to deeply help my connections, I give it a thought.  Fortunately my better sense of suspicion sets in... so what to do?

Obviously I could just ask my friend if this is legit, but an email response only puts fuel to this fire.  I decided to play along to see how far this would go.  Here is a follow up response that the scammer sent me in another case:
I need a quick loan of $790 to get the Hotel bills settled and get a cab to the airport as soon as I get back home would def refund it back to you immediately...You can have the it wired on my name via Western Union.Here's my info below

Name: Daniel H***** Location:  63 Cannon Street
London, EC4N 5AA, UK

As soon as it is done, kindly get back to me with the confirmation number. Let me know when if you are heading to the WU outlet now???
In another case they tell me to wire money to a Western Union located in this dumpy looking neighborhood in Spain.  I suggest to help my friend by traveling out and getting them.  But after doing a little dialog, the scammer gives up or senses that I'm onto them and stops responding.

So how can you know for sure that this is a scam?

Fortunately most email service providers properly maintain the source IP address of the sending machine.  To view this, you must look at the raw original email message; in GMail do this by selecting "Show Original" in the message actions.  The raw message headers can be difficult to read, but look for something that looks like this:
Received: from [] by web122905.mail.ne1.yahoo.com via HTTP; Sun, 16 Oct 2011 00:50:13 PDT
This directive identifies that Yahoo's mail server accepted the message to be sent via HTTP (web browser) from the IP  You can run a reverse IP check at and it

The IP is delegated by Nigeria and currently allocated to a company called Cybercity Ebene on the African island of Mauritius.  So, unless my friend says that she being held as a Nigerian hostage, we can safely dismiss the authenticity of the message at this point.


I don't always dissect emails from my friends, but when I do.. I use whois.sc (aka domaintools).  Whois is a service that can retrieve information about the ownership of an IP or domain name.  It's very easy to type in the browser address bar, here are the two primary ways its works:
  http://whois.sc/[IP_address] i.e.: http://whois.sc/
  http://whois.sc/[domainname.com] i.e.: http://whois.sc/esold.com

You just need to remember to use 'whois' and think about USC Football (my alma mater!)

Stay internet savvy my friends.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Continuing Online Education

Recently a friend asked me to take an online course with him.  Although I'm a big proponent of education, I didn't see the value in taking a couple extra classes.  But I begrudgingly enrolled because the classes that seemed interesting in AI & search engines.  I was very surprised at how well done the entire class was, how easy it was to follow each exercises and do homework functioned online.  It was very easy to fit it in my schedule too.  Sections are given out each week at your own pace, so I was able to go through them at various evenings during the week or on the weekend.

The courses I took are provide by Udacity and taught by Stanford professors that work at Google (Sebastian Thrun & David Evans).  You can learn how to program a search engine, program in python, Javascript and HTML, the finer details of data encryption, or like I did, learn how to program a robotic car.  The best part is that this is a completely free, 7-week online course; no upsells or marketing.

Another great online education resource is MIT OpenCourseWare which provides 1,000's of their past years courses online in several subjects so you can sharpen your calculus skills, study history, or learn about Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics.

"I don't always take classes, but when I do, I prefer Udacity & MIT online courses. Stay young my friends, and keep your minds fresh."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chrome - The Browser of Surfing Champions

"I don't always browse the web, but when I do, I prefer Google Chrome"...  In case you haven't installed it yet, the Chrome browser is quite powerful.  Admittedly, I was not an early adopter of Chrome; but once I got on it, I was hooked.

Having been online since before the days of BBS's and 56K modems, I've ridden the wave of browsers from the revolutionary Mosaic browser, to the free academic Netscape browser, Microsoft's ubiquitous, yet "monopolistic" Internet Explorer, the open source Mozilla Firefox and now Google Chrome.
Graph demonstrating that each new browser rapidly takes a major market share and slow decline. (graph predates Chrome's launch)

Chrome is quite a different browser; in that it's actually a mini-operating system.  It's even package on a stand-alone, low cost laptop called a Chromebook which are even rented on Virgin America flights.  It's literally lightning fast in loading websites and has rock-solid stability.

Concerned about security?  Internet Explorer has so many exploits that even on a fresh install of Windows XP, you can literally loose control of your computer by simply going to a single malicious website without clicking on a thing.  Google, on the other hand,  has put their money on it; recently they upped the ante by offering $1Million in cash to hackers that can find vulnerabilities in Chrome, I'm nearly tempted to try; but given the academic intellect put into this product, I think my chances are better in entering a casino.

Quick points about Chrome.

Incognito (Ctrl-Shift-N) instantly makes you anonymous.
  • Omnibox (aka Keyword/URL): Just type any words in the URL/address bar and it will search Google.  They really don't want you to have to think about URLs.
  • Incognito Mode: a browser session that is free & clear of any past cookies, cache or history.  Once you close it, the browser session is deleted.  This is useful when you want to visit sites anonymously or just with different login credential; i.e. multiple sign-ons to GMail.com.
  • Tabbed Browser: Modern browsers support this; some people are still not familiar with using tabs.  Get used to it and take advantage of the below hotkeys to browse like a champ (see list of useful hotkeys below).
  • Chrome Store: True to being an OS, there's a whole Chrome app store for web applications published to work with Chrome. Many of these are just basic websites, but make it easier to open and use versus remembering a bookmark.
  • No Fuss Software: Upgrades are done transparently; furthermore they are releasing improvements quite frequently; allowing users to get the most out of new internet advances like HTML5 features.

Tab Hotkeys

Alt - DHighlights the address bar so you can enter a URL or keyword
Ctrl - NNew tab
Ctrl - Shift - NRestore last closed tab (very useful if you want to bring back the page you accidentally closed)
Ctrl - Shift - TOpen Incognito browser window
Ctrl - WClose tab
Ctrl - 1Switch to first tab
Ctrl - [2, 3... 8]Switch to second, third, nth tab.
Ctrl - 9Switch to last tab
Ctrl - PgUp / Ctrl - PgDnSwitch to next or previous tab.
Ctrl + / Ctrl -Enlarge Font or Reduce font size
Ctrl 0Set font size back to normal.

Common Hotkeys
Ctrl - JOpen downloads
Ctrl - HOpen history
Ctrl - Shift - EscClears history, cookies dialog box.

Advanced/Developer Hotkeys

Shift - EscTask manager; very useful to see the resources used per tab, like CPU, RAM Memory and network I/O.  You can then kill any task or tab.  This is a clear benefit of the Chrome OS.
Ctrl - UView HTML source code
Ctrl - Shift - IDeveloper tools; useful to see CSS style codes and the page hierarchy structure.
Ctrl - Shift - JJavascript console; useful to debug JS errors on your website.

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