NetLibrary Media Center - Belongs in the Trash Bin

So my local library is using NetLibrary for renting out audio books.

This was working just fine, though the download process was a three-step thing - first download to local computer, play MP3 to obtain license, and then copy to portable MP3 player using Windows MediaPlayer. But - this process worked just fine, with no problems.

Then, in their infinite wisdom, the NetLibrary people have unleashed a separate stand-alone Windows program, called "NetLibrary Media Center" - which is supposed to make downloads easier. Good idea - but pretty bad execution.

Be warned - that program is nothing but grief. First of all, its user-interface is from the dark ages - windows that cannot be moved or re-sized, clunky buttons, no good feedback on actions or what it is doing.

But - it also deletes all files in folders without warning. Yes, here is a program that NetLibrary asks to be downloaded to make transferring eAudioBooks easier, and that program will clean out certain folders. If you go into Preferences, and point the folder to a different location, NetLibrary will delete all files without any warning. And with all this, it did not recognize the MP3 player plugged in - which Windows Media Player located just fine. So, there was no way to actually transfer the audio to the player.

This program belongs in the trash bin - it is one of the most poorly designed - and useless - utilities developed. And of course, now that NetLibrary has this new program, their old way of downloading a audiobook to the local disk does not work. The web pages claim it works, but it ends up in "Requested page could not be found" error. Thankfully, there is a way around this - in the Web NetLibrary account "Edit My Account" page, uncheck the Download Preference "Use NetLibrary Media Center". This should reset the download option, and show the link to download the CD-quality MP3 which can be copied to portable players.

Public DNS Server with no hijacking!

DNS hijacking has become common place, not just used by rogue DNS servers anymore, but seems like most (all?) Internet Service providers are now resolving non-existent domains to the ISP's own servers.

This is very irritating, and causes numerous problems - where a NXDOMAIN response is expected, applications now get a valid response. RCN puts up a search page, which contains search data, and does not even contain a link to the address actually typed. All so the ISP can serve more ads to the end-user. And RCN has no easy way to opt-out that would work for all applications and operating systems.

So users have turned to many different methods: installing browser plug-ins - poor solution since all non-browser applications won't see the fix, or using Public DNS Servers and configuring their DNS lookups to go to these Public Servers.

But now, even the Public DNS Servers are involved in subverting NXDOMAIN responses - they too want to serve ads and issue redirects. A web search on this issue results in many people saying that OpenDNS has fixed their problems - which is not really true. It is in fact, quite complicated to figure out what the basic, free, OpenDNS really does, and it requires jumping through many steps to make it stop the hijacking - they claim it can be done, but requires registration, etc. They do offer other services, which may be useful to most regular users - such as security features, but they are certainly not providing easy access to non-hijacking DNS servers.

Just last month, turns out that there is one public DNS service that promises to Get the results you expect with absolutely no redirection. - Google's Public DNS.

Gmail spam filter is very poor

It is surprising to read some web articles about how good the Google gmail spam filter is - in my experience, it is really poor at stopping simple spam, and also has too many false positives (email that it marks as spam but it is not spam).

There are some articles, though, about how gmail does not stop much email with "VIAGRA" in it.
On a daily basis, I have 5-10 emails with Viagra in the subject line in my gmail inbox. I don't use gmail much because of this problem - it is strange that my local spamassassin setup can easily mark this as spam, but gmail does not. I did spend a few days reporting these emails as Spam in Gmail, but to no avail - gmail will not recognize these as spam - which suggests that the Report Spam feature in gmail is also pretty much useless.

Gmail even says the message is "signed" - whatever that means. here's the gmail header:

  from	Approved VIAGRA Store 
 date	Fri, Dec 18, 2009 at 12:55 PM
subject	Member get 80% 0FF on ALL Pfizer.

The same message in my local spamassassin filter is in the spam folder, and has these spam tags:

X-Spam-Status: Yes, score=13.8 required=5.0 tests=BAYES_99,HTML_IMAGE_ONLY_24,
        SPF_NEUTRAL autolearn=no version=3.2.5
Delivery-date: Fri, 18 Dec 2009 10:55:56 -0700
Received: from [] (

Québec Cheeses

Local cheeses, all purchased from Montréal.

Related: the Poutine! pages contain information about fresh cheese curds.

Cheese Shops

Note that the US has some very strange, bizarre, and restrictive food import policies - see Meat, Cheese and US Border Crossings comment for details.

Poutine Lafleur

Poutine Lafleur

Poutine Lafleur +1-514-761-0711
3665 Rue Wellington, Verdun, QC

There is a chain by the same name, but this one is the only Poutine Lafleur, known for its excellent poutine.

The fries are thick, and it is definitely one of the best poutines.

The place is open only during normal hours, and it is certainly more like a low-end fast-food joint in looks, but you go here for the poutine and not for the decor.

The picture shows a large poutine, enough for a whole meal. Just $5.

Bánh Mì

Bánh Mì

These are bánh mì sandwiches which use french baguettes and are filled with just the right amount (not too much) of meat. The menu is from Cao Thang at 1082 St-Laurent, just below René-Levèsque. There are three or more shops that sell these, right around and across this shop, and they are all excellent. The one across at Hoang Oanh at 1071 St. Laurent is especially good, probably the best of all in this area. The combination of the french bread hard crust and soft interior and the unique fillings invented by the Vietnamese is quite tasty. The green chillies give it an extra bite - ask for it! [2009 prices.]

Resize Nested LVM inside KVM Machines

This was supposed to be easy - extending logical volumes. But if you install a virtual machine, then it all becomes a mess. Search the web for how to extend a partition "nested" in an LV, and there are only questions and no answers.

KVM Disk Management Issues shows an alternative to using the standard install - "just put a filesystem on it and you are done" which basically means that manual partitioning should be chosen during a Ubuntu install. Resize KVM Image shows another alternative which basically involves deleting the swap partition inside the KVM which allows the root partition to be enlarged. That would be necessary when there is no nested LVM, when the partitions were created in the hosts' logical volume. And for a general introduction to LVM see Logical Volume Management (IBM).

virt-manager makes it easy to install the virtual machine using an .iso image of the OS to install. It is not easy to resize storage on a KVM virtual machine, if installed following the standard instrutions - make a logical volume on the host machine, let the virtual machine installer use it like a raw disk to create its partitions, and install the OS.

Well, the trouble is now that the standard LVM resize procedures are not helpful. This is what the picture looks like, where VG is the host machine volume group:

Host Machine:

    -- lv:kvm1
    -- lv:unused (lot of unused space on the volume group VG)

lv:kvm1 is the logical volume used to install the virtual machine. Let us say it is a Debian-based system, like Ubuntu. Using the default "Guided Partitioning", it will install a logical volume on the disk.

    -- lv:kvm1
       -- vg:VIRT
          -- lv:vroot     --- this is the partition we want to extend
          -- lv:vswap

Flushing's Chinatown

Discover a variety of Chinese (and Korean, etc) food on Main St, Flushing - last stop on the #7 Subway line. This is the second Chinatown in NYC, probably because downtown NYC was not big enough to hold all these new restaurants.

Good references: NYTimes Flushing Interactive graphic which also has a nice printout to take when visiting, and which links to the main article, which also has more tips from the readers in the article's comments section. A later article describes Dongbei cai, or the food of the Northeast, the area was known earlier as Manchuria.

The absolutely great things in this area: Sichuan food - spicy-hot with tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper ma-la experience, awesome lamb burgers with cumin and green chilies (in the Golden Mall, a collection of fast food restaurants in the basement off Main St - details in the NYT article), peking duck in snack form on a small pancake (fantastic Peking Duck, and sold at a window in a restaurant on the street), all sorts of dumplings, and the street stalls with $1 skewers of grilled spiced-meat ("Mongolian Barbecue?"). Finish off with bubble tea. And if you want to avoid eating out on the street, visit the Food Court in the Flushing Mall which has most of the similar foods.

Best items here?
1. Xi'an Famous Foods at 41-28 Main St Golden Mall Booth #36. It is confusing to find, enter the basement mall, take the left, cross two/three food booths, take a right, and this place on the left, probably the second/third store on the left. Just follow your nose and look for the sandwiches - their web site has pictures of their food. [Sep 2009] They are now in multiple places in Downtown Manhattan too!

Peking Duck - Snacks

Peking Duck - Snacks

This is one the best tasting items around - a small white pancake with Peking Duck, and a dab of sauce. At 40-28 Main Street. The Corner 28 Restaurant seems to be extremely popular too. The duck snack is sold at the window at the centre of the picture, which is to the left of another window selling other food.

Choosing a web host for low volume sites

There seem to be many hits when one looks for reviews on web sites, but nearly all of the top hits seem to be fake or aggregate sites, with not enough real data. It is also very hard to judge web sites from a large general list of criteria.

Having to do this exercise once every few years, here are the criteria that I look for in web host:

  1. Low usage, non-commercial web hosting. Generally around 2G to 5G data download per month.
  2. Medium level of system admin capability - ability to configure simple .htaccess rules, install packages like Drupal and Joomla, host multiple sites.
  3. SSH access is essential. This is the most efficient method of managing a site. If only FTP access is available, simple tasks become quite complex. Like copying a directory, making a symbolic link. (Have to create a cron job to do such tasks in absence of SSH access.)
  4. Should allow two domains to be hosted. One main domain, and one add-on. More is nice-to-have.
  5. Drupal CPU/Memory requirements should be supported. Even for very low volume sites, Drupal can be a memory hog and some sites kill scripts too soon. Drupal is not very robust - if an admin page (such as modules list) is killed when being constructed, it will corrupt the database. The CPU/Memory requirements are minimal, but some sites do not support them.
  6. Disk space requirements are generally unimportant since every web host seems to be providing over 1G of space. Low usage sites probably don't need more than 1G space, if that much.
  7. Standard CGI tools support - Perl, PHP are essential. Python, Ruby, etc are nice-to-have.
  8. CGI scripts should be allowed to open web connections to other servers. Some web hosts do not allow network connections from server scripts. Very rare, but I found one out of the 10 or so hosts I tried had this restriction.
  9. Should be less than $100/year. Back when I started this, it used to be $300/year, but now a $100/year budget is reasonable.
  10. Support is necessary, but only expect help with really critical server related problems that cannot be fixed by self-managing the web site. The expectation is that I would never really need to open a support ticket. Email only support is fine. A user forum for the web host customers would be a good thing to have.
  11. No stringent requirements on uptime - acceptable to have an hour or so down every few months.

And, the best site that supports these requirements?
As of 2009:

  1. HostMonster has turned out the best fit for the above requirements. The thing to be careful is that their first sign-up cost can be 10% to 30% lower than renewals, so be sure to look up the actual renewal cost. They easily meet all the requirements above, and the price is the best for these set of requirements. 2009 cost is $250/3years or $110/year.
    BlueHost is the same provider as HostMonster, so either of these are probably similar in service.
    This site does go down once in a while - maybe an hour or so every few months. This has been infrequent enough, and all web hosts seem to have this issue at the low end, so has to be accepted as part of the deal.
  2. WebAxxs is another good site. It costs nearly the same as HostMonster, with $2/month extra for SSH. But they have lower pre-purchase periods, so for a year or two, it is just $10/year or so more in cost. Their web site is very poor, not enough information. Had to get multiple emails to get more details. This provider is same-as/related to, which has better information.