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October 21, 2003

Plan of the day
Posted by Teresa at 10:05 PM *

First: apologies for Making Light’s spells of inaccessibility. Our provider’s provider has been experiencing DOS (denial of service) attacks, and the provider just upstream from them is ATT. This is a problem. Every time ATT spaces out and forgets what it’s doing, it screws up the filters and configurations that keep the DOS attack from hitting our provider, and we (along with many other weblogs) get zapped.

So far, all I know about the DOS attacks is that the code for them was so incompetently written that they’re proving unusually hard to kill. The IP address they were aimed at isn’t even there anymore, but since they’re too dumb to realize it, they just go on attacking.

We are at the mercy of dweebs.

Second: I appear to have misjudged a joke. I can tell, because I keep hearing about it from very smart people who didn’t get it.

When I described Joe Shetler’s website about Ancient Rome as amusing, awful, and artificial, I was making reference to the well-known (but apparently not sufficiently well-known) story about the monarch telling Sir Christopher Wren that his recently completed St. Paul’s Cathedral was, likewise, “amusing, awful, and artificial”—which in those days would have meant, approximately, amazing, awe-inspiring, and artful or ingenious.

When humor goes badly astray, it’s the author’s fault, so this one is mine. Apologies to anyone who was confused. It’s really an excellent site.

Comments on Plan of the day:
#1 ::: DCA ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 10:27 PM:

I remember hearing this as "pompous, aweful, and artificial" (the spelling helped), but my source was the epigraph to a Poul Anderson story--I think. Since this memory is at least 35 years old, add as much salt as you like.

#2 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:14 PM:

Quite right that this was attached to a Poul Anderson story - awful ox eyed and all. I suspect the bright people that don't get it missed the story which is a shame. The general level of writing is I think better today than ever but too few seem to read the works of dead authors.

#3 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:14 PM:

I was wondering at the 'artificial' comment after I looked at the site, Your post explains all.... I'm so used to seeing the modern version that I've forgotten that there was an archaic definition, or at least one that is not now commonly used.

#4 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2003, 11:51 PM:

OK, ox-eyed? I've seen it in Robertson Davies, where someone popularly known as "the torso" is given the role of Juno and the director thinks "ox-eyed doesn't begin to cover it"

I think Juno is ox-eyed, at least in the Tempest, but allwords is giving me "with big round eyes like an ox" and I can't quite see why having a memorable torso makes one ox-eyed, unless it's a much ruder joke than I'm used to from Robertson Davies.


#5 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 02:05 AM:

The title of the Poul Anderson story is "A Tragedy of Errors".

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 08:47 AM:

Maybe it was pompous, awful, and artificial. I knew I remembered "awful and artificial", double-checked on Google to make sure I was getting it right, and hooked up with the "amusing" version.

You should see how many different monarchs are credited with the remark. This story exists in about a zillion versions. Personally, I have my doubts about the one where Queen Anne makes the famous remark at a press conference after she's viewed the new St. Mark's Cathedral. ...

I'll go look it up, she said, like a kid going after a cookie.

( ... )

I'm back. There's evidence for both "pompous" and "amusing". Perhaps Cecil Adams has had a go at this one.

#7 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 10:11 AM:

So far, all I know about the DOS attacks is that the code for them was so incompetently written that they92re proving unusually hard to kill.

If I were trying to DDoS someone, I'd consider that a feature.

The IP address they were aimed at isn92t even there anymore, but since they92re too dumb to realize it, they just go on attacking.

Very dumb, or very clever. What if the IP address they're attacking isn't the one they want to drop?

If I wanted to DDoS a given website off the air, attacking a different site on the same machine would work -- and might confuse those trying to find me. "Joe Jobs," where you make spam look like it's coming from someone you want to cause problems for, have been known for years.

This could be the Denial of service version. I'm a trekkie, and I want this trekker site off the net, so I DDoS a trekkie site on the machine. Now everyone assumes that the trekkers *must* be responsible, since they're attacking trekkies.

Of course, the bad guys could have just turned the DDoS robots on and walked away -- in which case, like the mindless robots they are, they'll keep attacking until those machines are taken offline and fixed.

You could call this dumb -- but if they're just being vandals, what do they care? They're still causing problems. They're still winning, in thier eyes. And everytime someone makes a mistake in a firewall config, the netblocks fall down again.

#8 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 10:26 AM:

When I make a joke or allusion that I think may be lost on some of my readers, I generally link it to some explanatory page (and often add a title attribute giving at least a hint that there's something more than meets the eye); thus, amusing, awful, and artificial."

#9 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Oops. Here's the missing quotation mark: "

#10 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 10:30 AM:

I noticed the link to the awful and artificial site last night, and I did wonder then, what was meant and why was the site so awful. I kinda shrugged it off, only mildly worried in the back of my skull that there was some cultural reference I wasn't getting here, and perhaps I was less-than-discerning in my view of Roman culture and history. But now that you have explained it, I feel much better.

#11 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 11:07 AM:

I really need to learn more about the Restoration than what's in "Anna Mirabilus," Journal of the Plague Year, and 1066 and All That.


#12 ::: Menolly ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 12:47 PM:

clark said: too few seem to read the works of dead authors.

It's not that simple. I read living authors and dead authors. I've read several works by Poul Anderson, novels and short stories. I haven't read that particular story, though, at least not that I recall. There just isn't time to read everything. There isn't time to read all the good stuff. There's not time to read all the famous good stuff, even. Not if you have a full time job doing something besides reading, anyway.

#13 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 02:47 PM:

Was this the same DDOS attack that look out a lot of high profile warbloggers such as Instapundit (as well as some left leaning sites like Matthew Yglesias). That's being blamed on Al Queda wannabe script kiddies operating out of Malaysia.

I suspect DDOS attacks are going to become as much a fact of life as comment spam.

#14 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 02:48 PM:

The recent DDoS attacks have produced one amusing result. Some poor fool thinks I own part of this site:

From: Connie Davis



On Tue Oct 21, 2003 at 06:27:51 PM EDT we were unable to reach your website:

due to the following reason: Host Not Found

As of Wed Oct 22, 2003 at 01:16:04 PM EDT we were able to access your website again.


The mail really did come from It goes on to advertise their site-monitoring service, and both the email and web links contain little cookies that validate my email address. Obviously, I won't be taking them up on their offers.

On the plus side, maybe in three months Connie will start getting mail from her own company about owning this page.


#15 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 02:53 PM:

I love 1066 and All That, though I get the feeling I'm missing at least a third of the jokes.

#16 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 03:15 PM:

Gee, Eloise, I feel the same way as you feel about 1066 about Fougasse and McCullogh's YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, early British motoring humor that my mother loved.... I know I'm missing most of the jokes, but the ones I catch are wonderful (from the quiz: "Q: What is the difference between the British Motorways system and the Roman Roads? A: The Roman roads have survived to the present day.) and the others are -- currently obscure.

#17 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 03:54 PM:

Oh yes, T -- as someone whose references are frequently not recognized, I Feel Your Pain. Didn't click on the link -- hope that if I did, the Reference Fairy would have handed me a small clue to check on what you'd said....


#18 ::: Harriet Culver ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 04:54 PM:

Hey! 'Connie Davis' sent me the same message as J Greely's, about recent outages at 'my' website at nielsenhaydendotcom, except that in this one, she was reporting the inability to access instead of Making Light, and I had just popped over here to see if anyone else was reporting having received the same meat-product-in-a-can.

For whatever it's worth as useless evidence, after the Connie Davis Complimentary Close, the e-mail ended up with:

"Your email address was found during a
prior visit to your website on
03-25-2003. The error listed above was verified from both of our
indexing servers in Philadelphia, Pa. and Los Angeles, Ca. This error could
have been caused by any number of events, including connectivity problems on
our part and/or connectivity problems in the Internet as we tried to reach
your site. This error should not be construed as a guaranteed problem on the
part of your website or hosting company since there are never any guaranteed
connection routes on the Internet."

It then listed a purported opt-out link before sticking on my e-mail addy in a format that Agent rendered as: SRC=61

Curiouser and curiouser, what?

(writing from a secret location
not two blocks from Tor offices)

#19 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 06:22 PM:

Hey, I got one of those Connie Davis spams too. When I get home, I'll dig up her return address and post it as a mailto link here, in the hopes that her bot will be stupid enough to spam her next time gets DOS'd.

I, too, didn't understand "amusing, awful, and artificial", but then I'm an uncultured nerd who likes hanging around people who know more than I do, so I'm used to that.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 07:51 PM:

Jeremy, my lifetime strategy is to hang around with people who know more than I do. I've been reasonably successful so far.

Erik, it had occurred to me that they could be aiming their attack at a site near the one that was their real target. We won't know until they've been tracked down, taken off line, exhaustively analyzed, thrashed, dipped in rancid yak fat, thrashed again, and condemned to work in a sewage treatment plant in the middle of the Cuyahoga river.

Just for starters.

LanguageHat, I'd have done that if it weren't part of a one-liner that linked to something else. I might have considered making the joke part of the it a link to an appropriate site, if that site were somehow related to the principal link. However, this one wasn't.

Truthfully, the main reason I handled it the way I did was that it didn't occur to me to wonder whether enough people would know that story.

#21 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2003, 11:58 PM:

We won't know until they've been tracked down

And there, the rub. Most DDoS's are done by "zombies" installed on insecure computers, and controlled by various means. IRC channels are one popular one.

Here's the problem. What's your primary evidence for who did this? The zombie computers. What can you *not* trust as evidence? The zombie computers, which, after all, have been comprimised. Who know what has been written to that disk?

The only real way to get time is to try and trace the control channel. Alas, on the internet, not only do they not know you are a dog -- they're not even sure where the dog is. Crack another machine, make the IRC connection from there, disconnect from the IRC network, wipe the logs. When you want to retarget, crack a different machine, repeat.

Every time you have an evidence point, you have, by definition, corrupted evidence. If the bad guy can connect to the computer and wipe the logs, so can many other people. You have to real-time the comms to show enough evidence, and if there's four or five levels of misdirection, that becomes practically impossible.

#22 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2003, 06:20 PM:

My take on "amusing, awful, and artificial" -

I didn't realize Teresa's intended meaning until after I clicked on the link, at which point the impressiveness of the site caused me to remember the old meanings of those words, which I knew through the Christopher Wren story, though that story itself did not come to mind. So I did figure out what she meant.

#23 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2003, 03:38 PM:

Everything you need to remember about English history is in 1066 and All That. It's all accurate, too—to order memory, anyway.


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