Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Advogato Entry 1

Well, I just joined (yeah, I came here from Salon..), so this is an inaugural diary entry. Maybe I'll actually get in the habit of doing a diary this time (then again, I don't know if I'd want some of my weirder thoughts posted in public..).


I just managed to upgrade a Linux Mandrake box about as much as I could. (Loopback filesystems are wonderful -- just download the ISO instead of getting a few thousand RPMs) It's a server running some proprietary mishmash of a RAID system (It's a RaidZone in case you're wondering). Unfortunately, their drivers only work with 2.2.15 (AFAIK, I suppose I could patch things up to 2.2.16, but I don't know if it would work). Also, their driver is distributed as a `.a' library/object file that gets compiled into the kernel. I think that's a GPL violation, but I don't have the energy to complain right now.. blargh.

On a slightly lighter note, I came across an IBM ad touting their Linux support earlier today. Pretty cool, though it isn't making the same waves it would have even a year ago.

I need to find where I put a 3-button mouse I picked up the other day -- X Windows with just 2 buttons is nasty.. I just hope the damn thing works (it was sitting in a pile of what may have been broken equipment). I had another 3-button mouse that worked with USB, but that seems to have gotten fried somehow.. Grr!

I joined a mailing list on Minnesota E-Democracy the other day and finally got around to reading the rules and guidelines. Boy do they suck. You're only allowed two posts per day. You have to put your name, e-mail, and city in your .sig, and you can't post under a pseudonym or anonymously. Some guy was going around flaunting the fact that he puts a 5-paragraph advertisement signature for `healthy' cigarettes at the bottom of each of his posts. I posted a reply to him, quoting part of the rules, only to discover that I was violating at least two rules in the process. I didn't have my city in my signature, and I sent the note with an attachment (my GPG signature).

I think they may have already banned me..

Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Advogato Entry 2

e2fsck: Attempt to read block from filesystem resulted
in short read while trying to open /dev/hdb1
Could this be a zero-length partition?


I had a particularly nasty crash this morning. For some reason, my hard drives can't handle extended writes, such as what you'd get from ripping the audio off a CD. I've even reformatted the damn things and they still do this (I had thought it was a slightly corrupted fs, but now I'm thinking it must be slightly broken hardware.. grr..)

On days like this when things aren't going my way, I just end up feeling so tired and alone. It doesn't help that my job seems to not allow any human interaction. I should have got a job with my roommate belaying for rock climbers at the local gym. He got a girlfriend right away.. *grumble* I'm way too old to have been single for so long. Oh well, complaining will probably only make things worse.

I looked at some of the LFP variable-width fonts yesterday. They weren't very variable in the widths, and a lot of them were too small for my display. Perhaps more people need to try out Gote and make some decent scalable fonts..

I decided to pass a `-gamma' flag to XFree 4.0.1, and I think it helps. But somehow, Slashdot's colors managed to get even uglier. Also, I see that many websites are designed for non-gamma-corrected displays. *sigh*

Ralph Nader was here in MN again over the weekend. He drew a big crowd for a rally on campus -- 1500 people in one lecture hall. I'm gonna vote for him this fall unless there's a drastic change in the other candidates. I tried to search for some more news about it on the websites of the nearby newspapers, but their search engines are so braindead that they give you the same link 10 times. Maybe I need to make my own search engine for this stuff..

Rode my bike into work today, as I'm sick and tired of waiting for the bus. That and the fact that it was actually cool enough outside to ride without dumping a gallon of sweat. The foliage around here is beautiful this summer -- we've had too much rain, so everything is a very deep green.


Finally figured out how to print from Linux to Novell. It was actually pretty easy, so this will save me the trouble of managing IP addresses for 50 printers..

I just tried out Evolution 0.2 (you can get it through helix-update, you know..) and I really like it! Not as light on the memory as I was hoping, but not as bad as I was fearing. It seems pretty fast (my box is a P166, though I have 128MB of RAM). Of course, the Lotus Notes POP3 server just decided to stop accepting my password..

Yesterday, I was thinking a lot about the reasons I started using Linux. It wasn't because Windows (3.1) was bad, it was because DOS sucked and because OS/2 Warp 4 decided to ignore my SB16 (literally -- Creative wouldn't be caught dead writing new drivers). Of course, what I had really wanted to do was 32-bit graphics development (try finding a free 32-bit DOS assembler), but that never really happened.

Advogato Entry 3

Just saw on the news that security (the physical kind) is going to be tight on UMN's campuses the rest of the week. Big genetic conference going on, and they're expecting protests. They've basically shut down access to the St. Paul campus, though I doubt anything similar will happen on the Minneapolis side, as it's a major throughfare for commuters going to/from downtown.

Thursday, July 20, 2000

Advogato Entry 4

Well, I decided to mke2fs the damn thing.. Apparently, something exploded on my hard drive and threw random bits everywhere. I wrote a tiny program to try and find the 0xEF53 magic number marking a superblock -- found nothing in 1GB of data. I'm still trying to figure that one out especially considering that I did a byte-by-byte check. I should have gotten back hundreds or thousands or millions of false positives, but I got nothing.

I dd'd the first meg or so of the disk, found all sorts of aincent garbage (OnTrack disk manager, anyone?). Perhaps the kernel exploded after hitting the 5% reserved space for root... Hmm.. Found some text files that got turned into binary files from all of the flying bits. Oh well, at least it wasn't important data, and I do have a lot of it backed up on a CD somewhere..

Some of the corruption may have hit my /usr partition as well. MP3s were not playing nicely from XMMS. I ran `rpm -V xmms' and discovered that libmpg123.so had a bad md5sum. I just hope there aren't more problems.. Hmm.. Perhaps this had something to do with the solar flares (though I'd put that at about 3% probability). Maybe I need more shielding...

I'm probably going to write up several mini-howtos so my users can figure out how to mount their home directories via SMB, print to the Novell printers, and use SSH instead of telnet. Pretty generic, but who knows how well things will work. Also, I played around with the login scripts on our main Solaris box. People can now safely get bash running by creating a ~/.iwantbash file. I couldn't just change /etc/passwd to point to /usr/local/bin/bash, because there are other systems in the NIS domain that are Linux boxen with /bin/bash instead. Also, people can get GNU ls to work in color now with a ~/.iwantcolorls file. Hopefully, I put everything in the right place so the scripts people have written won't be broken..

I still have to tell my boss that I'll be gone for a week and a half to do Marching Band. Perhaps I'll have to do some coding on the Flute website. I just wish the U ran PHP on my web server..


*Yawn* *stretch* Ooh.. Actually did some work today. Did some more mangling on login scripts. What a mess those things are. However, I am really beginning to like RedHat's /etc/profile.d idea. I can just make tiny scriptlets and have them get run from either /etc/profile or /etc/bashrc (since it's an either-or situation when you start a shell, AFAICT). I suppose I'll be tinkering on über-scripts that can startup both Solaris and Linux pretty soon. Then again, I shouldn't play too much, since I won't actually have an opportunity to test them (users get a tad peeved when the system reboots in the middle of a week-long run of data analysis..). Oh well.

One of my roommates is coming to the apartment to visit. Yeah, he's not living here this summer. Stayed at home. Whatever. Of course, myself and the other roommate that are around here are happy he's coming, since his car works and we can finally go buy some food. It's either that or try your luck on some 7-month-old beef in the freezer. We're planning on going to X-Men this weekend, and I have another friend I should invite to come along. I hope I'll remember.

Found some school songs encoded in .au and .ra format on the Marching Band's homepage. I think I'll vorbize them, though I don't know how well 8-bit mono works..

Friday, July 21, 2000

Advogato Entry 5

Got a note regarding login scripts. Yeah, I probably should try zsh, but I don't know how the users would feel about that. (Of course, I'm amazed that they haven't complained about being forced to use the (not so) good ol' Bourne shell on Solaris). Anyway, I'll have to put that on my todo list..

All this Solaris stuff reminds me. Two or three years ago, I was taking a programming class (Scheme, IIRC). One day, I was talking about how I was using Linux on my home computer. The girl sitting next to me said, "Why do you use Linux when Solaris is free [for personal use]?" *shudder* Probably because I keep finding little gems on our servers, like the fact that /bin is a link to /usr/bin, and (of course) /usr is not the root filesystem. I'm amazed that system actually boots.. Besides, why would I use Solaris if Linux has the best support for my 3D hardware.

Anyway, I'm enjoying a lazy morning -- the boss is doing a bunch of level 0 dumps on the servers and said I didn't have to come in until the late morning/afternoon so I can backup the user data. I'm taking the opportunity to look over some of the e-mail I got regarding a pseudo-FAQ I posted to the LiViD user mailing list. Hopefully, this will keep people from endlessly asking if the Dxr3 is supported..

I think the next computer I set up will be named `tacobell'. I've been naming systems after restaurants lately, and my roommate is pissed that the nearby Taco Bell closed down (it was very poorly managed. You'd try going there at 3:00 PM on a Saturday and it would be closed..) This way, he can have his very own Taco Bell..

IBM is investing a lot of money in Linux. That's pretty cool. Of course, I'm biased when it comes to anything from IBM -- they've provided my parents with income for about 25 years. Both of them have done some pretty interesting things. Mom did clock and calendar code for the AS/400, plus the bootloader and power management code for the S/38. Dad has done work with the '400's 32->64 bit conversion and a lot of more recent work on getting Java to run fast. Of course, since it's IBM, some of Dad's work is patented...

Saturday, July 22, 2000

Advogato Entry 6

4:00 AM

Can't really sleep for some reason. I guess it's all these thoughts I'm having about Linux, ease of use, and whatnot. ``GNU's Not Unix'' I think people forget that. Some think it's just a play on words, but I believe it. There's no reason why it shouldn't be true -- all of the `true' Unices I've dealt with have been annoying as hell. I love a lot of the GNU stuff. I can't live without GNU fileutils. I need bash. I love the Linux kernel (especially /proc ;-) Though I can't say I get along well with Emacs..

I posted a rant about crappy text editors to my local LUG's mailing list. Again. I think I've done it several times before, and each time I say how much I want to get away from pico and start using something decent. {g}vim is fairly nice, but there are some things I just don't like. Of course, it doesn't help that `true' vi sucks goats (especially for those with Dvorak keyboards), so none of this does me any good if I have to fix something on Solaris, for example. I was wondering if maybe there should be a system-wide file for common keybindings..

I wish I could go through every type of package and find the best one. What's the best text editor? Eesh. The best mailer? Do we need elm? mail? pine? The `best' ones probably haven't been created yet, but I really don't want to start these religious wars all over again. Maybe we should use Roxen instead of Apache. Perhaps there's an up-and-coming SQL database that's way better than PostgreSQL and MySQL. Should everything in Linux be re-written to be object-ified, so it's even easier to make complex and powerful programs from small parts? And why the hell am I running i386 binaries on an AMD K6-2?

So many questions, it all makes my head spin. There's no need for a Linux kernel-based OS to behave much like Unix at all, is there? Can we move beyond pipes to more advanced types of message passing, or do we always have to use Unix or TCP/IP sockets to communicate between local programs? Blah, I wish I knew more of the answers..

On a somewhat more serious note, would it be a good or bad idea to make devices directly accessible through some sort of /dev/bus/{usb,pci,i2c} hierarchy? Most of the PCI devices tell you exactly what resources they use, right? So, can you create generic devices that allow direct access to memory and registers. That way, programs like X don't need to be suid root (if the /dev/bus/pci/1/0.0 AGP video card is writable by the user), and no real video drivers have to be in the kernel.. maybe. But it might allow for neat tricks like setting up eth4 before eth[0123] by directly accessing the device.. It would certainly allow for more user-land development of drivers before trying to implement the same functionality in the kernel. I suppose there has to be some gatekeeper functionality, so it probably all depends on whether or not you can generalize that sort of thing.

If I was a kernel hacker, maybe I'd actually know this stuff. Right now, I have to be content to be one of those annoying `brainstormers' that don't have enough time/talent/knowledge to do this on their own. Sorry if I got anyone's hopes up...

Monday, July 24, 2000

Advogato Entry 7


I had a refreshing weekend. Went out to see X-Men with two of my roommates and another friend on Friday -- very good show. Actually ate real food over the weekend, which was a nice change (our primary vehicle was down, so we hadn't been to the supermarket for a few weeks). However, I wish I'd had a decent chance to do some hacking..

Today I continued mucking around with login scripts -- that task will probably never end.. Solaris doesn't set $USER.. How weird. Oh well, I suppose it's not a big deal.

I played around with bash prompts a little too much. Man, tinkering with a cool color prompt can be really fun. Unfortunately, I have other stuff to do.

We're currently looking to find a cross-platform (well, just Solaris and Linux) backup solution. Right now, we're backing up the Solaris boxes with ufsdump, and the Linux boxes aren't getting backed up. We have BRU, though I'm not sure if we have enough licenses for the whole server cluster. I'll have to see if Amanda is a good choice, though we'll probably need to add SSL support.

We just put Samba on a few of our Solaris servers. It's working fine, but people are having trouble finding them in the browse lists. I'm not sure how stable SMB workgroups are when you have a large number of nodes. Many hosts seem to fade in and out of existence. We talked to the NT guys and they say that they have problems too. I'm sure that being on a /21 network doesn't help. NMB lookups still work, and a person can just type in `\\server\share', so I guess it's not a big deal.

I should really keep writing some documentation for the RLG Security Project that I'm trying to coordinate. At least I'm writing some similar documentation for my users at work, so maybe it won't be a big problem..

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Advogato Entry 8


Decklin: Yeah, I saw that $LOGNAME is getting set, which is good for those systems around here that don't have a version of `id' that can print out just the user name..

I think I'll be staying away from Windows 2000. My roommates installed Win2k Pro on one of their systems Friday night. They re-installed on Sunday night. NTOSKRNL.EXE was crashing for some reason. I tried replacing it with a known-good copy (using Wine, EXPAND.EXE, and a few DLLs), but that didn't work. The system just wasn't giving me enough information about what was going wrong. I tried booting with a bootlog, but the system didn't tell me where that log actually was! Grr..

Oh well, it's not my computer ;-)

Anyway, I just had Netscape crash because I hit shift-insert to paste again. I was working with a two-button mouse for way too long. Now I just need to get a decent video card. A lot of computers around here have some really nice displays (I'm sitting in front of a 17" Dell/Sony Trinitron), but the video cards only have 1MB of memory around here. Somebody wasn't thinking.

I copied 8.5 GB of data last night. I thought something had barfed as `du' clearly showed 17GB. Oops.. du counts things in blocks! *sigh*

I'm wondering if it would be worthwhile to put together a 10 or 100Mbps switch using Linux or *BSD just for my apartment. I found out that the hub we have is a piece of dung (I strung a 50 ft. Ethernet cable around the place, then plugged it into the hub. Collisions galore, even though nothing was connected to the other end..). Sheesh, any computer with a PCI bus has a Gb/s backplane, and you can add ports for $50 or less. Something to think about..

Well, I'd better go write some more documentation..

Thursday, July 27, 2000

Advogato Entry 9

S.5....T   /bin/ps
S.5....T   /bin/login

Heh. That's good.. This box has been broken into before, I guess nobody bothered to clean it up properly..

I've just been going around the different servers and setting up NTP daemons and fiddling with other stuff. The Linux boxes here have been surprisingly stable. One of them has been up 194 days at this point. I almost rebooted it yesterday, but then I realized things were behaving strangely because the automount daemon had died somehow, but the mountpoint hadn't been released. A simple umount did the trick. Maybe that thing will run for another 194 days. I just hope that it will come back up after it finally goes down -- we don't have a display or keyboard on the thing ;-)

Anyway, I'm hoping to work on a new project. I want to make a simple program that will let me input simplified bus schedules and then display them on a webpage (or output to a text file, whatever). It's sort of an effort to keep the campus busdrivers `honest'. The city buses in Minneapolis are very good about being on-time (IMHO). The campus buses for the University, however, vary from their prescribed times by quite a bit. If they could just get down to ±2 minutes (that's a 5-minute window), I'd be happy..

Hopefully, I'll be able to make something simple, yet powerful enough to handle the weirdness of big-city bus schedules..

Friday, July 28, 2000

Advogato Entry 10

Hmm. Need to find a good, clean (and hopefully libre) method of getting Reflection X to work with SSH. Right now, it is heavily dependent upon Telnet or the r* commands.. blech. PuTTY is great for just being an SSH client, but if you need to tunnel X sessions, forget it. Perhaps I should just avoid tunnelling and go for direct X connections (ie. Set $DISPLAY to point to the client system rather than server:10 or whatever)..

Anyway, my boss gave me an Internet Security Scanner report about our servers yesterday. ISS guessed the SNMP community name and could change the system configuration. Oh yay. I went through and disabled quite a bit of stuff. At some point, I need to find all of the potentially sharp objects on the servers and make sure that they are safe. (mostly SUID root executables, but perhaps compilers and assemblers as well..)

We have a Linux Mandrake box that had some pretty nifty security stuff built in. I wish RedHat would do that.. However, Mandrake seemed to go a little too far in some places. I mean, should the /usr mountpoint only be readable by root? *shrug* At least it didn't start every service on the planet when I first booted it up. Of course, that system is the fallback fallback. Well, it will be primarily serving NFS shares. Secondary function is being a fallback NIS server. Tertiary function is being the fallback fallback shell server.

Anyway, the security report wasn't terrible, but not as nice as I had hoped. Of course, my Unix boxen were the only ones that didn't have the problem of predictable TCP sequence numbers (if they are not predictable, it is very hard to do complex IP address spoofing). The Novell servers were the worst, with ISS getting 100% of it's guesses correct about the sequence numbers. Most of the NT boxes were around 60%

I still want to work on my bus schedule proggie, but I don't know when I'll get the time. I can't live without my 8-9 hours of sleep (compared to most techies, I'm a total weenie). I might be able to live with less, but then I'd need to be able to sleep in until late (11AM or so). I'd also love to do some work with weather-related programs. You know, something that would send me a message if there's a Tornado Warning or something. I guess I just need to find a decent data source first.. Also, I hope the (U.S.) government will make NEXRAD radar data available publically when the radar contracts expire later this year. Getting hour-late images from Yahoo and other places just sucks. Besides, wouldn't you like to be able to zoom in on the images just like your forecasters do on TV? Or maybe make your very own 3-D flythrough?

Saturday, July 29, 2000

Advogato Entry 11

Well, I finally got started on my bus schedule project. I'm probably a third of the way through making a decent parser to read in my data (it's full of redundant code, though I hope it will be moderately robust). Then, I actually have to do something with the data and output it into a decent format. I've got a bit of work ahead.

More guests last night. I stayed in my room most of the time, though.. They got in late, and I was busy coding. Bumped into them when I woke up, and they were gone in 30 minutes.

There isn't anything good on TV. Perhaps I should plunk down some change and give in to the cable gods.. Oh well, since there isn't anything on TV right now, maybe I'll actually do something useful. Part of the problem with the consumerized society here in the US is that people forget how to innovate on their own. I realized earlier this year that I had become afraid to be curious about a lot of things. There are so many warnings and locked doors around us these days that we forget what it's like to explore. It doesn't help that every corporation on the planet wants to patent everything they touch these days..

Hmm.. My bus schedule parser sucks.. I think I'll have to rewrite it..


I tend to forget how useful ANSI colors are. They're wonderful for debugging. Especially when you're trying to find a needle in the haystack of pages and pages of output..

Sunday, July 30, 2000

Advogato Entry 12

Hey, djcb, fix your last entry -- you're missing a double-quote mark..


Went to the Twin Cities ``Rockin' Ribfest'' today and got a half rack of Roscoe's ribs, some fresh lemonade, and a Dove bar. All for $20.. Eesh. Yet another one of those *fests that that requires you to buy using tickets rather than paying in cash. But it was good.

I rode my bike there and back. There's a fairly nice half gravel/half asphalt road going along a railroad right-of-way. The road basically goes under all of the traffic, which is a much more pleasant way of getting places, IMHO. However, the road is suffering from potholes and washboarding. My arms were getting thoroughly tenderized for a while.

It would be really nice if the University would put a real bike path down there and connect it to the new bike/pedestrian bridge they just installed. One of these days.

I haven't gotten around to working on my bus schedule thing much today, though maybe I'll do something after Futurama and The Simpsons. However, I was pleased that I actually got Evolution to compile and run. Now I've got to try my luck at Nautilus..

One of the things that I worry about with Advogato is that the diary area could be prone to DoS-ing of various kinds. Individuals could presumably plaster diary entries all over the place, or post pages and pages of junk at a time. I imagine there are some checks for this already, but there's almost always a way around it.

Oh, I have a few mail-related problems. One is that I just started using procmail to filter my mail. Locally, I run an IMAP server so it's easier to view mail with disparate clients. Also, I think my mail actually gets loaded faster, as Netscape is not the most efficient at reading/parsing mailbox files. Anyway, I still have to find a way to get procmail to notify the IMAP server that it just dumped mail into a certain folder. Then, the IMAP server must be able to notify my client that there is new mail. This isn't happening automagically, and I'm not sure how to get it to work correctly. I suppose I may have to start using a different IMAP server or something.

In other news, I need to find a good way to consolidate mail at my workplace. Well, my mail doesn't matter, since I'm an admin and can basically do anything I want. However, the head of my department basically wants all mail to go through Lotus Notes (Domino?). I believe it is my task to now find a good way to get Notes to interoperate with my system and the Linux/Unix desktops of others in the organization. I imagine that the server can just run POP or (preferably) IMAP through stunnel. Then, any decent client can read the mail. However, calendaring still remains a bit of an issue, though Lotus is (or at least was) a supporter of the iCalendar protocol, which Evolution is going to support. My only question is, does Lotus actually support iCalendar or not?

Monday, July 31, 2000

Advogato Entry 13

I went and rotated LinuxSecurity.com's Linux security quick reference card. I couldn't get it to print nicely when dumping the PostScript version directly to our printers. A simple `-90 rotate' and some tweaking of a `translate' command and everything was peachy-keen. It doesn't display right in gv, but that's not a big deal.

My job today is to set up all of the Novell print queues on one Linux box. Then, everybody can print with Unix lpr/lpd pointed at the Linux box. Saves me the trouble of setting up IPX on all of the client boxes, but that's just two lines in /etc/rc.d/rc.local anyway..

Well, it's the end of July. August cometh. The Minnesota State Fair will be starting soon. (It's the first or second biggest, IIRC. If it's second, it's probably only behind Texas or something. Not bad for a state of 5 million) That's cool. School will also be starting in about a month. That's not so cool. I also need to exercise and practice for Marching Band.

Stress is building. I wish I had a gf to help me relieve that, but maybe having a gf would just make life even more stressful...