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Category: Technology (Page 3 of 4)

Tech tips, howto’s and other writings mostly concerning with Linux and Open Source or Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS)

Wifi Drivers for Linux PPC

Let me get geeky for a bit.  I recently decided that I was not going to be the last person on earth without wireless access, so I marched off to CompUSA to buy a wifi card for my G3 Powerbook (Pismo).  I know, I know, I should have checked the hardware compatibility lists, but ever impatient, I thought, how bad could it be?  I’ll buy two and if one doesn’t work, I’ll stick in the other. 

Neither worked.

Bah!  Curse my passionate self.  I erred in the predictable fashion.  I fell victim to the classic blunder, the most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less known is this: with Linux you must research.  With Linux on the PowerPC, you must research and pray.

So, first of all, the Broadcom family of chips (Apple’s Airport, Motorola, and a bunch of others will not work with Linux on PPC).  With Linux on Intel, you’re okay, because you have ndiswrapper with which to run your Windows drivers in Linux.  However, with PPC you will have no such luck, as ndiswrapper is strictly an Intel x86 endeavor.  No, with PPC your best bet (as I later found out) is to buy one of the D-Link family of products.  From what I can tell, they have native support across the board in Linux (my own card, a DWL-G630 – 802.11g, works flawlessly). 

To get it working, you first have to install the drivers from the madwifi project (your distro should have it available for installation), make sure you have PCMCIA drivers installed, and you’re now spilling coffee on your keyboard at one of the many nationwide Starbucks locations. 

The biggest challenge was figuring out which brand of wifi card supports Linux natively – because NONE of them say so.  They all say "Windows 9x, 2000, XP, and 2003."

After two trips to CompUSA, I now have a D-Link card and my working laptop.   Remote X works, and I get about 1 megabyte/sec transfer rate through the concrete walls of my home.  

And now you know the rest of the story.  D-Link, D-Link, D-Link!

The Life of a Sys-admin

It’s a mixture of the irritating, the banal, and the absurd.  Welcome to my life.  Take a peek.

 (08/25/2005 10:01:33 AM) Laura:
well you did not correct me… my bad — I should have insisted on your attention you have been so busy.. . SO SORRY!!!

Luciano did say he was kind of lost in the menus but I thought they are so easy he could not have done harm.
Is that where all the emails are misdirected

(08/25/2005 10:01:42 AM) james:
so that was the problem… all fixed now, their mail should be arriving

(08/25/2005 10:01:59 AM) Laura:

(08/25/2005 10:04:55 AM) james:
I need fracking coffee

(08/25/2005 10:05:14 AM) Laura:

(08/25/2005 10:07:38 AM) Laura:
they say they are still not getting any mail…

(08/25/2005 10:09:25 AM) james:
look, all you impatient and stupid people (that includes you too) there
is 150 megabytes of email that needs to beat back the buffeting
onslaught of the outgoing storm named eventos… the little email must
plant itself firmly, bracing against the bits as they fly past, to
struggle perchance to dream, of someday arriving at their intended
destination, safe at last – happy to be home.
for frack’s sake

(08/25/2005 10:10:16 AM) Laura:
what a nice story!  So colorful and wonderful a nice change in this dreadful world of bits and bytes

IT Employee Attitude Adjustment

You’ve probably noticed it.  I’ve noticed it.  IT personnel have gotten less responsive over the last few years.  They complain more, are harder to deal with, and less motivated than I’ve ever seen.  The cliche of the BOFH (Bastard Operator From Hell) was one thing.  Today it’s totally different.  IT people don’t love their jobs anymore.  Whereas the BOFH of yesteryear truly loved the torment he inflicted on his L-users, today’s LOFH (Lazy Operator From Hell) just doesn’t care.  He really doesn’t.  He doesn’t care if you’re mad, if you yell, if you call him names, tell his boss he sucks, rant and rave up and down the halls. He just doesn’t care. 

He’s not paid enough to care.

And that’s the difference.  Whereas before in the land of mainframes and business automation, highly skilled technical people were paid large fees to make stuff run well.  And for the most part it did.  Because of the power these high priests of the arcane wielded, they tended to be bastards, condescending.  But it was all part of the mystic and mostly everyone was happy.

Enter desktop computing. 

Today’s sys-admin is more than likely the user that sits in front of the computer using email, word processing, spreadsheets, etc.  You, the end user, are your own admin.  Professional sys-admin’s are more than likely just help desk support, and worse than that, relegated to company overhead, while employees with the desktop computers are the bread and butter. 

"Make it work, you worm," you can hear them mutter under their breath whenever there is downtime.

IT guys don’t get paid well, and as a result, they take their compensation in other ways, surfing the net, running side consulting jobs from their employer’s business, screwing around, taking long lunches, being unresponsive, rude, surly.

I’ve seen it all, I work with these people every day, and it’s always the same.  They’re bored, under appreciated, underpaid, and unhappy.

"You wanted to be your own sys-admin?  Now that you’ve got that fancy schmancy WinXP on your desktop so easy to use, so powerful.  You think you don’t need us?  You think this stuff is simple?  Do it your god-damned self."

Desktop computing has gotten so cheap that we labor under the false illusion that business automation is cheap, a commodity, that Information Technology is one step above the toilet paper stocking service.

Next time you have that bean burrito, and you get that after lunch peristaltic action and there’s no TP… bet you wish you had some TP now doncha?

OS Agnosticism

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Operating System is irrelevant, that the base that allows a computer to be useful no longer can or will be a primary focus.  I arrived at this conclusion after having Laura’s computer completely die.  Lately, she’s been using her old Windows 98 machine while I figure out what I’m going to do.  

Yesterday I set up X windows for her under Cygwin on Windows 98 so she would have access to her Linux desktop on the terminal server. 

X -query

and voilá there’s her desktop as if she’d never left it.  I thought it was cool, but I started wondering, why would she need that?  She’s got her OpenOffice under Windows 98, she’s got her jabber instant messenger client.  She uses Firefox which doesn’t care what it runs on.  She doesn’t use Gimp very often, but it’s there too.  I can even install Inkscape if she should desire it.  In short, I can’t think of, and neither can she, a single reason to use her Linux desktop.  All the infrastructure stuff runs on the Linux server: the webserver, database server, filesharing server, access controls, filters, and whatnot.  The email is accessed via IMAP so you can use webmail, or Outlook, or Thunderbird, or Outlook Express, or Evolution, or Kmail.  Anything you can dream up and it’s all synchronized.  It all works seamlessly with Windows or Linux or Macintosh.  All her documents and images are completely divorced from whatever lies beneath, normally ready to strike and swallow up your precious data.  Call it a reinforced hull so you don’t end up being fish food.

For myself, I am happy with my Linux environment.  I do not like Windows XP or any of its ilk.  It’s a personal choice, not an indictment on which is inherently better.  You may like XP.  I may like Linux.  Both seem to run Free Software just fine, and make the issue mostly about personal taste or comfort.  For example, I like the way my apps behave in Linux.  I like my kpovmodeler front-end to Povray.  I like Quanta for some webwork.  I like vim for programming and webwork.  I like GIMP for graphics work.  I like xmms as my music player.  I use K3B as my dvd/cd burner (I love it).  I use Scribus for desktop publishing.  But I guess for me the ONLY killer app is the bash shell… which once again is available as part of Cygwin, so I guess it’s a non-issue.

You see?  It doesn’t matter anymore and I like it that way.

The New Vietnam

Sometimes I long for a bit of drama in my
life, something with which to struggle, a worm, a trojan, or a virus or
two. Linux is boring, and I am feeling a bit of guilt for my Microsoft
brothers fighting Charlie in the jungles of the third world, while I
cool my heals in Canada. I feel this guilt purchasing with impunity
online, surfing freely, accessing remotely.  Will my conscience ever be
free and clear again?

I do feel I should do more for our
boys. I should do my duty and get infected by spyware or something, do
it for honor, do it for my country.

Show your patriotism and get infected by spyware today! Use Microsoft software!

The Monks of our Generation, los melancólicos

They have always existed, severe melancholics, those for whom
perfection is an attainable goal. The monks lock themselves away with
their craft to the exclusion of what we would call normal. Are these
noble endeavors, to cloister oneself far away from the distractions
of human life? They chose a lifetime of solitude, silence, rigorous
study, self denial, not for ignorant religious reasons, but for the
sake of their craft. These were the ones who preserved history,
recorded deeds, transcribed knowledge and kept it safe
for posterity. They wrote great works of philosophy, theology, and
science. They were the maladjusted geeks of their generation, so they
hid themselves away from the frat boys.

Still, I can’t help but feel a sort of pity for those so ill
equipped to deal with the stupidity and chaos of human existence that
they must flee from it. I cannot help but feel like they’ve missed
out on something, they who lock themselves away from humanity in
search of order, perfections, the divine.

I get the same feeling reading Slashdot,
and I’ve come to realize that programmers are our modern monks, quasi
agoraphobic masters of their craft, who wish strike out all discord
in the universe, make it perfect.

More specifically, these Slashdotters generally cannot tolerate
children, are set on never having any and express disdain for those
ignorant souls in the majority, the stupid politicians, the idiot
masses, the uneducated fools that hurt the environment, muck up the
order, impinge on our monks’ solitude. The disdain is expressed in a
variety of manners, from a quick sharp word to the author of a
factually incorrect statement, to the merciless flagellation of
abusers of grammar or spelling. Slashdotters revile rules imposed
upon themselves, limitations that rob from them the tools used to create
order. Witness the rebellion in both Europe and
the US over software patents. Programmers regard source code as
speech, and to patent it, to limit it, is tantamount to a civil
rights violation. Slashdotters hate spammers as well, these idiot
purveyors of Viagra, cheap real estate, and get rich schemes
withhold from our programmers free and open communication with their
fellows. It is as if all across the silent monastery rang the din of
Brittney Spears 24/7.

Happiness is irrelevant. There is only truth. There is only
perfection, and to the monk, perfection is attainable, if only he
could concentrate on it a bit harder, for a bit longer, with the
right tools, away… from… it… all.

I have come to realize that my pity is misplaced, for the monks of
our generation, as in generations past, are who they are and are
compelled to embark upon their quest to attain the unattainable. They
are the dreamers, the philosophers, the unreasonable forces in the
universe that create, if not perfection, at least a detailed map of
what it might look like. And that is a start, for without a map, how
may we know where to go, what to do with ourselves?

Data Migration Day Three

When will I learn? I don’t care how many times in the last five years I’ve had to mess with LDAP, I never learn. Why the hell don’t I write shit down when I figure it out. Do I enjoy re-learning the same stupid crap over and over and over? Must be.

Okay here’s the thing. I shall endeavor to remember the following:

  1. When upgrading an LDAP directory service, make sure to dump the data out of the running system before breaking it down.
  2. If I fail to do #1, please oh please dear God have made a backup of it at least. chroot into the old environment, launch the ldap server, slapcat the whole shebang and proceed to step three
  3. slapadd the slapcat-ed ldif file… NOT ldapadd. ldapadd is suggested in most places as the tool of choice, but slapadd is what I need. Geez, stupid fuckers.  Of course who’s the bigger idiot, the fool or the fool who follows him?
  4. Make sure to modify the slapd.conf file to change the default db from ldbm to bdm.

Pretty damn simple, eh? Not so simple when I’ve forgotten more of this LDAP shit than any sane person would care to remember.

While I’m at it, please oh please, remember for the next time about the dbmmange httpd password files. You’ve got to export the old entries, and then import them dbmmanage2 users import < old-data, modify the .htaccess files and be done with it.

Oh and a neat trick for dumping reliably an entire PosgreSQL database for an upgrade:

pg_dumpall > backup.sql

stop PostgreSQL, upgrade it, wipe the data directory, run initdb as user postgres and then psql -f backup.sql template1

Flawless. At least that part went well. The cursing was fun though.

The Sweet Nuanced Tones of Fuck

I installed all fresh shiny brand
new super gooey-licisous software on this server today. The new OS and
tools weren’t the hard part, it’s the migration of all
the old data, the interesting easter-egg hunt of new features
masquerading as error messages, and the cursing. Ahhh, it wouldn’t be a
software upgrade without the cursing… sigh, I’ll look back fondly on
this one day and remember the cursing, for it was rich indeed.

"Son, in my day, we knew what voice activation was."

was the subtle nuanced language that only system admins knew how to
speak… that and the sound of the keyboard being impact-hammered into
oblivion. Pure poetry…

*sniff* brings a tear to my eye. I need a pint, I’m feeling in a bit o’ a brood.

How Linux will Save the World, part II

make_world.pngto be read while listening to Queen’s "I’m Going Slightly Mad"

Everything and everyone is a file, no more than a file, no less.

all strive to be big monolithic programs, with fancy buttons, big
memory footprints, environments where people, if they want to do
anything, must go through us. We strive to be pre-eminent on the
desktop, world stage. We crave fame. Look at me we say. Look how
important I have become. I am an Office Suite, hear me roar. Look how
much I can do. If you want to do any work, you must come through me.

quietly, the hand of the messiah shushes us and compassionately tells
us we don’t want that burden. You do so for your own glory and not the
glory of the community, the glory of your siblings. You channel them
through yourself because you deem yourself important and indispensable.
You are indeed talented, he gently says laying his hand on your
shoulder, but where do you wish to go with this? To what end do you
hope to arrive? Sooner or later the load on your shoulders will be too
great, the bloat uncontrollable, unwieldy. You will not be extensible.
You may be the greatest that has ever been born, but the strain is not
something I should visit upon you. Why do you think I gave you brothers
and sisters – GNU?
Bash? These are your salvation. These are your tools to
interconnectedness, these are the gifts that will lead you to the

Be at ease, big program, you are but a file, but
you are not JUST a file. You are a node that links together this
network, wherein shall you fish. They made you fishers of data, I shall
make you fishers of knowledge.

I still haven’t been able to shake this mania that I’ve been under… it’s like a Linux
spell. I have been hacking on Altamente’s server products for like two
months straight, going to bed around 2 am every night. If I didn’t know
better, I would have thought I’d wound up on the night shift. In my
delirium, today, I had a vision, a waking dream, a incandescent
glow-induced hallucination about the universe and my place in it.

the paradigm of Linux, everything is a file. I see files everywhere, I
interact with them, their inodes, links to them both symbolic and hard.
They are physical tangible objects to me. I know this interaction like
an old shoe. I’ve been using it off and on since 1989, and it fits, or
perhaps like that old shoe, I’ve broken it in, and I fit it as much as
it fits me.

Take MDA’s for example (Mail Delivery Agents),
where mail goes before it winds up in your Outlook folders *rolls
eyes*. Some use a format called mbox, which was one big glommed
together gigantic pile of bits, a big sloppy ball of wax, just waiting
to explode in your face every time a new mail arrived. You had to have
all kinds of special tools to extract, prune, or otherwise manipulate
this file. Everything had to be custom written especially for that
stinking format. Delete a mail? Well, first, lock your mbox, then back
it up, then rm. No? Oh, you need a special delete program specifically
designed to work with that file. Wah, I want to use rm.

When the choice of Maildir delivery arrived with qmail,
it was like that old familiar world of Unix. It made sense again. I
could use regular filesystem tools to deal with these mailboxes. If
wanted to clean out old mails, cron, grep, find, rm, and bash were all
I needed. Fantastic!

 find /var/spool/qmailscan/quarantine/ -name "*mango*" \ 
-a -type f -a -mtime +2 | while read file
    rm "$file"

This is a bash program I use on mango to wipe out any quarantined
virus email after 2 days. We get a ton of them, and without this tiny
little program, the server would fill up. However, we’d still like to
have a disposition of a couple of days in case we need to check it out
before deleting it. See how simple this is? We use cron to run this
little script every day at a set hour. The above is a program. The
above is just as sophisticated as anything with buttons, checkboxes,
and a gui – but it’s better. This little jewel is an autonomous agent
capable of performing the same task every day without failure for as
long as it has electricity. In short, after I write this little thing,
I never have to look at it again. It does what I need it to do,
reliably and without intervention.

I’ve written tons of
little one or two line programs to do everything from take poorly
formatted word documents of data and massage them into suitable formats
for publication in HTML or injection into a database or mailing list. I
get these things sometimes in such poor shape. I run a few tiny teenie
little bitty itsy one function programs like grep, cat, tr, and awk and
I’ve got a nicely formatted list, table, or structured document.

point is this: I wonder if there is a place for people like me in the
future of IT. I don’t even fancy myself a programmer. I do okay, but
I’ve never written a program over a 1,000 lines in my life, and 99% of
the them are less than a 100. See what I mean? I almost always can
string together pre-built GNU utilities, rm, find, grep, cat, sort, gawk, bash, cp, touch, tr, bc, diff, mv, sed, tar, and many others.

feel like this monk of the arcane, cloistered away from the buzzing of
corporate dollars, fancy slogans, glossy programs, big deals. I am but
a little worm hidden away from all of this, competently hacking out one
useful task after another with no more needs than a square meal, a
comfortable bed, an old PII, and a decent net connection.

must teach our brethren the ways of the Unix shell, for if we don’t we
will forever be trapped handcuffed in that big shiny plastic bubble of
modern life, where we see but we can’t interact. We must go back, back
to the beginning and learn the first lessons. We must relearn that it
is only through connection, collaboration shall we achieve, shall we be

Hacking Gentoo

It’s late at night, and I’ve been hacking on my home network of Gentoo
Linux boxes. I’ve been performing rigorous analysis and system tests
(does the shit work) for nearly a year. I think it’s all culminating
here and now at 0100 AST 1000 miles off the coast of Florida on the
Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.

One of the biggest challenges in
maintaining more than one Linux box is the updating. The Open Source
community moves so fast, it’s impossible to maintain more than one box
by manual methods (ie performing updates physically yourself via CD or
Internet). You have a couple of options. You buy a distro, slap it in,
install it, firewall the hell out of it, and forget about upgrading for
at least a year. You’ll get lots of work done because you won’t be
constantly tweaking your machine and breaking things every other week,
and you’ll have good solid security more or less for a year. Or you try
to keep up with updates and end up breaking something, having to
install something that is not vendor supported, overwrite something
else, want to remove it, but can’t, and end up wiping and reinstalling
a new version. So on the one hand you don’t have access to usability
upgrades, and new features, on the other you end up spending more time
in administration for your machine than actually doing useful work. A
computer as a tool shouldn’t become the focus of the employee. The
computer must be able to take care of its needs with little interaction
from the user. Or if you prefer, the computer is too important to have
its well-being left in the hands of a user. Say it with me IT
professionals, "If you have to depend on the user for anything, you’ve

Now, this is where Gentoo comes in. It’s a distribution
based on the source code of the programs themselves. A Sparc, an old
Alpha, an MIPS machine, PPC, Intel, AMD Opteron all update the same
way, automatically, seamlessly. It’s beautiful, in theory of course

practice stuff still breaks, libraries still get whacked, and things
sometimes don’t work as advertised. For example, the library issue:
When you compile a program some of them dynamically link to certain
library files, for example openssl-0.9.6 a library for secure socket
layer encryption functions. A literal ton of programs (that’s funny
only if you realise that programs are electrons), link against this
library and use its wonderful features. What happens when you move to
openssl-0.9.7? This happened recently in the Linux world and it was a
pain in the ass.

I mean, you could go through all your binaries
and check to see with what they are linked. If it returns an error,
well there’s your culprit. There are thousands of binaries, and you
don’t want to do this stuff by hand. I really don’t care how long it
takes, I’d just like the computer to take care of it on its own, behind
the scenes, like a secret little administrative agent.

this is what I’ve been doing today. Turns out this openssl-0.9.6
business is now trivial thanks to Gentoo’s package tools, namely
revdep-rebuild. It takes a look at your installed package database and
draws all the lines between libraries and programs that link to them,
then recompiles the programs to link against the new library (I think
it just really brute forces the whole issue, but I have to investigate
more thoroughly). Pretty cool, huh? This is actually pretty heady stuff
and a lot more significant than it sounds. It allows you to hit the
moving target that is OSS development, maintaining integrity of your
Linux distribution, taking advantage of the fast pace of development
with absolutely NO manual intervention with any of the hosts you’re

It works like this. You set up a central master
server that is responsible for, downloading, compiling, and serving
packages. The network of client machines each pick up prepackaged and
pretested packages and install them at set intervals, every day if you
like. Gone are the days where you have to either wipe the client’s
machine and reinstall to upgrade, or tell them to just deal with it
until the following upgrade cycle in a year.

Man, it’s late,
and I don’t know why in the hell I decided to write all this down. Just
what I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks, seamless automatic
maintenance of multiple (hundreds) hosts on a network. This rocks!

Now to bed.

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