...making Linux just a little more fun!

August 2004 (#105):

The Mailbag

HELP WANTED : Article Ideas
Submit comments about articles, or articles themselves (after reading our guidelines) to The Editors of Linux Gazette, and technical answers and tips about Linux to The Answer Gang.

encryption kills my connection in linux but works in win98

Wed, 28 Jul 2004 15:13:27 -0700
David Rich (dsrich from ieee.org)
Question by Denis Miller (denis.miller from sympatico.ca)

I have a wireless connection to my landlords internet connection. Under win98 it works fine but using xandros the encryption does not work. Using no encryption it works fine.

128 byte, infrastructure mode, netgear am111 usb, signal strength over 68%. Is there some trick to using encryption I am missing.

  1. Are you actually using encryption under Win98?
  2. Is your landlord's Access Point set up to allow encryption? From the fact that it works without encryption, it cannot be set up to require it, so it may not be set up to allow it at all.
  3. Where did you find a landlord so kind as to allow you to use his bandwidth?

Okay, okay, kudos to any landlord who's a kind enough soul to offer #3. Wireless is becoming a popular topic - people are welcome to give a good solid shot at this question, but we'd also enjoy seeing an article about something wireless. Tripping over cords all the time makes Linux or in fact any networking OS just a little less fun... -- Heather

Probing from ISP?

Mon, 5 Jul 2004 11:16:05 -0500 (COT)
John Karns (jkarns from etb.net.co)

Hi gang,

I noticed some weirdness in my logs yesterday. They're filling up with events which appear to be probes to various ports on my machine, averaging one every 2 - 3 secs. The source ports (SPT in log) are above 1024, to lower numbered destination ports (in most cases) I'm using a Linksys WRT54G wlan router (runs Linux!!), flashed to a 3rd party mod of the OS called samadhi2. I have the router firewall enabled. I'm not sure what to make of the situation, but I'm guessing that the ISP (an MS W2k shop) has been cracked with a virus that is probing all IP's in their pool.

I'd be most interested in any comments.

That was pretty close to the beginning of the month, things have been dealt with since then. We'll just give a taste of this - it's a sad fact of modern network life that the destructive forces of virus and worm blitzes affect every OS, just by chewing our bandwidth up like a big dog chews up the master's old shoes.
We'll protect the privacy of his shop here, suffice it to say that his system logs showed a lot of traffic to destination ports 135 (hmm, something in the mswin/Smb packet family?) and 445, though other ports are sometimes seen... with a few to higher numbered ports (9898, 443, 1433...
Other nodes seem to be getting traffic either to or from 34240 or other ports around that range. (viewed with iptraf -- Heather)

It's interesting (and confusing) that the iptraf output on the 2nd node doesn't show traffic with the same ports as the ipfilter log from the other node. Nor does the system log on the 2nd node show any probes to ports 135 & 445.

-- John Karns

If system forensics or network security is your bag, perhaps you could write us a nice juicy article about how to effectively determine what systems in a network are infested with a virus or worm that's going wild? Seeing your network clobbered is no fun - solving an annoying puzzle can be, especially if it gives our gentle readers any leads on preventing or solving the same kinds of problems themselves. We'd just love to have something on this topic, some meat to sink our teeth into. No red herrings please! (Tux likes herring. Ok, fine, you can bribe him with herring, but only if the rest of the article is delicious to our editors, at .) -- Heather


Article Feedback [104]: rsync and anacron

Sat, 3 Jul 2004 15:51:01 +0100
Thomas Adam (The LG Weekend Mechanic)

Barry O'Donovan mentioned in his article that:

00 02 * * * rsync -r -e ssh --delete /home/username/mail

...is best run from cron -- yet this could cause a few issues if one is already running some kind of "ntp" check, since the task running at precisely 02:00 could clock skew. This would cause the scheduled rsync process above to get reloaded by cron multiple times or even not at all. Therefore, it is best to offset the time to either a few minutes before the hour, or a few minutes afterwards.

-- Thomas Adam

Linux Journal Reader's Choice

Wed, 7 Jul 2004 12:58:53 -0400
Rick Moen (LG Contributing Editor)
Question by Brendon Oliver (brendon.oliver from redsheriff.com)

Hi there,

I just noticed today that voting for this year's Reader's Choice Awards on linuxjournal.com has now opened. Thought it rather interesting (not!) that they only list the "hijacked" Linux Gazette (linuxgazette.com) under their "Favourite Linux Web Site" category.

So I made a point of nominating you guys as an "Other" site in my vote (as the REAL Linux Gazette), and added a few words in their "Extra Comments" at the bottom of the form. I hope some of the other readers can do the same (voting will most likely be closed by the time the next issue is ready).

Thank you for doing that. I assume you're aware that the form submissions (from http://www.linuxjournal.com/rc2004) aren't public, and will no doubt be filtered through company policy by an SSC employee. But the gesture is appreciated.

I wasn't too happy over the treatment you got from SSC, but unfortunately linux mags are scarce on the ground here in Australia, so didn't really want to "vote with my $$" and cancel my subscription. Besides, it's a big world & there should be pletny of publication space for all.

Anyways, I've been an avid reader of the Gazette since probably late '97 so just thought I'd add a vote of confidence from one happy reader! Keep up the great work!


- Brendon Oliver.

Indeed, I for one would never wish Linux Journal any harm. We need it!

Cheers, Rick Moen

Re: Hi Jimmy. Thanks for LG articles

Wed, 28 Jul 2004 22:20:14 +0100
Jimmy O'Regan (The LG Answer Gang)
Question by senthil (senthil from symonds.net)

[cc:ing TAG in the hope of continuing the thread about software for low-spec machines]

Hear that, readers? If you've got more low-end system ideas, send them to The Answer Gang, at . -- Heather

Hi Jimmy,

Kudos for your articles at LG.

I had read LG103, enjoyed it thoroughly and read LG104 quickly and found good number of useful articles. Especially my pick was the Linux on Low End Systems from Answer Gang. I have got a System having 128 MB RAM and unfortunately fits in the low end category as far as X,Gnome,kde are concerned. But instead of spending bucks, I have been enjoying with elinks,mpg123,vim and gcc, which are my mostly used ones. I use twm sometimes and have not tried others.

Hope to try with the suggestions given by the LG.

Thanks! Senthil

Thanks for the mail.

If you don't mind my offering a few more suggestions, I'd like to point you in the direction of MPlayer for your video needs - it truly is a wonderful piece of software, and doesn't try to use more memory than it needs: http://www.mplayerhq.hu

There are a lot of great window managers out there with low memory requirements which you might prefer: FVWM (http://www.fvwm.org) is possibly the most configurable, or you might prefer IceWM (http://www.icewm.org) or WindowMaker (http://www.windowmaker.org).

Many of which were hotlinked in the "WM Wars" blurb of The Answer Gang column in our April issue. -- Heather

The articles I'm currently trying to finish for next month's edition are about news aggregators and LiveJournal clients - if you have any interest in either of these areas, Snownews (http://home.kcore.de/~kiza/software/snownews) and Clive (http://sourceforge.net/projects/ljclive) are good CLI programs for these respective tasks.

Do you mind if I forward your mail (unencrypted, of course :) to the Answer Gang? We like to get feedback from our readers, and I think Thomas and Heather in particular will be pleased to hear that the information for low-end systems was useful to you.

Or, even better - you could write yourself, and offer your suggestions. The thread in last month's issue only focused on graphical interfaces - I'm sure that a great thread could come of it. You never know - you might like it, and become a member :)

Thanks Jimmy for your quick reply and your suggestions. I would definitely try Mplayer (I have heard that Mplayer plays movie in the text mode as well) and fvwm.

The thing which interested me in TWM is its simplicity which helped me understand some of the underlying concepts.

Thomas has written enough about FVWM to make me think that it would be better for this than TWM.

snownews and ljclive seems very interesting!! btw, as we are on the topic of blogs and RSS, have you tried Nanoblogger? http://sourceforge.net/projects/nanoblogger

Wow. Looks great.

I have used it, have involved myself with bugs and change-requests of this project.

This is a very good cli based blogging utility and would definitely complement the topics you are writing.

Jimmy, if you are covering snownews,ljclive in article,I feel a section on nanoblogger will be informative as well.

It's a bit too late in the month to start looking at something new, but I'll have a look at it for next month.

Jimmy,Feel free to forward the coversation to the Answer Gang and my wishes to Thomas and Heather for their Wonderful work.

Hope I would be getting more involved with LG :)

Cheers! Senthil

Where to send more 2c TIPS?

Wed, 14 Jul 2004 21:32:56 +0200 (CEST)
Flavio Poletti (anonymous)


it's quite some time that I don't read the Linux Gazette. Ok, this is awful from my side :)

I've had some difficulties in sorting out which is the TRUE Linux Gazette, when I finally had a flash and took the one with Jim Dennis inside :) Jokes apart, I was very disappointed reading the whole story, but that's the world and I'm happy that we all can have Ye Ol' Linux Gazette on the net.

Here comes my first question:

"Where is one decent guy supposed to send its 2c tips?!?"

Right here, to this very address. This is all mentioned in the FAQ that we've all slaved over:
http://linuxgazette.net/faq/index.html -- Thomas
Thanks Flavio. More Two Cent Tips come from two sources - directly from our readers, and from members of the Answer Gang (when the answers are short). Really, any reader can contribute to the answers found in Linux Gazette - so tips as well as questions are sent to - ideally with the word "2c" or "Two Cent" in the subject line.
We really should improve the header over in More Two Cent Tips. Thanks for bringing it up :) -- Heather

I looked for it in all the website, but had no clue! Then I peeked the "More 2c tips" section and - aaaagh! But there are questions there!!! This leads to my second question:

"Where have 2c tips gone?!?"

I remember those neat, fast 2c tips in the golden age, but now I only see some kind of TAG satellite section!

I'm not quite sure what you're looking at, or indeed whether it is a mirror site that for whatever reason has not synced yet. The number of 2c-tips from readers has been in decline, for all the reasons outlayed in issue 103-104. -- Thomas
When a Tip is inspired by a question to the Answer Gang, we feel it's fair that the question be mentioned; in most cases the Editor's Scissors have trimmed the question down a bit (you should see the clipping room floor. Question marks and bangsigns and dots all over the place. What a mess I have to clean up after!) for your reading enjoyment. -- Heather

Ok, ok, flames off now, the magazine is quite healty and I don't want to spoil my happiness in having (re-)found it. So... I drop my 2c tip to you TAG, hoping that I won't be censored for my - how to say it? - attitude to write too much!

All the best to you all,

Flavio Poletti.

If your attitude includes making Linux a little more fun, I see no reason why we'd censure it (complain), much less censor it (edit it out to attempt to ignore it). We love to see Two Cent Tips from readers - they're the juiciest! Thanks for sending yours, Flavio, and I hope it will encourage more readers to send theirs in too. Welcome back.
(Your 2c Tip's in the current issue, of course, albeit with a couple of comments from the Gang.) -- Heather


Mon, 05 Jul 2004 11:36:22 -0700
Bob van der Poel (bvdp from uniserve.com)
Question by Jimmy O'Regan (jimregan from o2.ie)

Thanks for the comments on MMA in your recent Gazette column. I've just posted 0.9 on my site:


you'll find it is even MORE MUSICAL :) Shout if problems!

-- Bob van der Poel


FAQ updates

Sun, 4 Jul 2004 15:52:34 -0400
Ben Okopnik (Linux Gazette Editor)

I've just updated the General LG FAQ, with much credit going to Jimmy for his initial proofing. Comments and suggestions welcome:


The Author FAQ has also been updated this month; if you're looking to write an article for us :) please read it and then work with our article editors:


LG in the news.

Sat, 10 Jul 2004 02:49:31 +0100
Jimmy O'Regan (The LG Answer Gang)

FYI, here's a list of other sites where I post LG announcements. Has anyone got any suggestions for sites I can add to the list for next month?

I didn't post this, thanks are due to whoever did.

We occasionally see references back to us at Linux Weekly News (http://lwn.net) too. Kind readers, let us know about other linuxgazette.net sightings. New mirrors are always welcome, too. :D -- Heather

TAG Knowledge Base updated

Sun, 11 Jul 2004 03:10:38 -0400
Ben Okopnik (Linux Gazette Editor)

Finally, after many long, weary years, much wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of clothes, and other low-budget special effects, TAG KB has been updated, courtesy of Dave Richardson. Our newest proofreader has started off with a BANG!... all right, you FBI people can all leave now, it was all harmless, no harm no foul. Sheesh, they're all so twitchy these days!

Anyway, Dave - welcome and a job well done! As always, folks, comments and suggestions are highly welcome and encouraged.


This page edited and maintained by the Editors of Linux Gazette
HTML script maintained by Heather Stern of Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

More 2 Cent Tips!

See also: The Answer Gang's Knowledge Base and the LG Search Engine

Is your video acceleration system working?

Ben Okopnik (Linux Gazette Editor)

Are your games running slowly, even though you have the latest whizbang video card? Is your Quake action more like a slow-motion low-crawl through Jell-O than a high-FPS F(irst) P(erson) S(hooter)? You may be using software emulation of direct rendering (DRI) instead of the real thing, or may have outdated (or missing) GL libraries.

Here's a simple shell script that brings together all the necessary tools for checking your system's DRI status. I strongly suggest referring to the DRI Troubleshooting page at http://dri.sourceforge.net/cgi-bin/moin.cgi/DriTroubleshooting for a good guide to fixing any problems you find; it's been of great help to me several times.

See attached check-dri-status.bash.txt

Save it, make it executable with 'chmod +x <name>', run it, and follow the prompts at the bottom of the screen. (And remember to keep moving as you fire; the Macron in Level 8 can shoot missiles all day long.)

C program problem

Jason Creighton (androflux from softhome.net)
Question by Sanjib Roy (sanjib_w from hotmail.com)

how can i Clear Screen and Move Cursor to print a message in the screen from a C program that uses standard C function like printf() putch() without using ncurses.

Is there any function such as "clrscr()" and gotoxy() that are available in Dos based Turbo C++ compiler are available in Linux if not what is alternative


I'd ask your lecturer this one.
Homework getting you down? Good, don't ask us, we won't help. :) -- Thomas
[Jason] You can't do that without ncurses. That is, you can't do it in a standard way that will work everywhere. You could spit out some escape codes, but that only works with on type of terminal. This sort of problem is exactly why the ncurses library exists, and to not use it would be quite silly.

Front and Back: KPGP and GPG

Richard Bos (radoeka from xs4all.nl)

[sent as Tip on Advice of Jimmy O'Regan]

Thanks for your kgpg article, it pointed me to the --editkey + adduid/deluid commands, that I was looking for - for some time.

Hello Linux-ers,

I wrote something down last week, answering my own questions that I had.

It explains how to deal with signing rpm packages. The webpage is located at:

I hope you can benefit from it.

-- Kind regards, Richard Bos

Without a home the journey is endless


Jimmy O'Regan (The LG Answer Gang)

OpenChange is a project to reverse engineer all things MS Exchange. They have a program for dumping the contents of an Exchange database, and are working on the Exchange protocol, with a view to creating an open source Exchange clone.


[John Karns] Interesting. Not that I use it, but was intrigued when I noticed that HP had done similarly 3 or 4 years back (Openmail, I think), and were offering it gratis for non-commercial use - in closed source format IIRC. They soon killed it though, no doubt after being pressured by Redmond.
[Rick Moen] "I'm not dead yet!"
Both of those are the Openmail codebase.
More at: "Groupware" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Mail

SCP server for Windows (98/2k)

Jay R. Ashworth (jra from baylink.com)

I've found Caspian's package, but he says he doesn't think it will work with SCP due to banners and such.

Does anyone have, in-pocket, an SCP compatible SSHD for Windows 98/NT/2K that's as easy to install as the Caspian package?

(looks at sshwindows.sf.net)

nevermind. ;-)

Cheers, jra

Slackware retrospective

Mike Orr (LG Contributing Editor)
For you history buffs out there. -- Heather

LWN article about Slackware 10, reminiscing about the distribution that "has outlived all its predecessors": http://lwn.net/Articles/91467

A look at the evolution of Linux distributions:

Triggering one of several options with Juk and KHotkeys

Jimmy O'Regan (The LG Answer Gang)

I posted a story on http://dot.kde.org mentioning that LG has two KDE related articles this month, and someone asked how to have multiple possible actions attached to a single key - launch Juk if it isn't running, pause if playing and vice versa, and play if stopped. This script does that:

See attached juk.bash.txt

[Ben] Intermediate-level shell tip for the above situation:
ps aux|grep '[j]uk'
Will ignore the 'grep' line every time. Why? Well...
ben@Fenrir:~$ find / [f]oo > /dev/null 2>&1 &
[1] 8099
ben@Fenrir:~$ ps --pid 8099
  PID TTY          TIME CMD
 8099 pts/0    00:00:02 find / [f]oo
Note that 'ps' lists the command exactly as invoked - square brackets and all. 'grep' itself, however, interprets the square brackets as a character class: that is, it looks for a match for any character(s) contained within the brackets. Since the only character within the brackets is 'f', '[f]oo' is interpreted simply as 'foo'. As a result, 'grep' is searching for 'foo' - but the 'grep' line itself, as listed by 'ps ax', does not contain 'foo'; it contains '[f]oo', which does not match.
The concept is a bit difficult to understand the first time, obvious - and handy! - forever after. :)

I'd forgotten this; handy. Only works, of course, if the argument to grep is a literal. Well, more accurately, it's even harder to understand (and possibly might break other things) if you put it in a variable...

[Ben] You're right: it can be made to work but would Not Be Conducive to Understanding. Something like
ps ax|grep "[$first]$last"

Using Windows Keyboard Media Buttons In Linux

john frey (iaargh from shaw.ca)

For years now I have been staring at the extra keys on my Logitech Freedom Optical with despair in my heart. I told myself I did not really need them, but somehow I felt less than a windows drone because I paid the money for a cordless keyboard and mouse and did not have full function.

Then I read this article, tried a few of the hotkeys for launching email, web browser and local file browser. That was all very neat but what i really wanted was to use the dial on the keyboard for volume control. My speakers have buttons to push for volume control but they are clunky and response is slow, using a slider on Kmix is equally unwieldy. When the email notification suddenly blares out (because I just finished watching a movie and forgot to lower the sound) I want to turn the sound down before the last tones fade out.

I muddled about in the KDE control centre a bit with not much success then hit on the astounding idea that maybe I could configure this from Kmix. Right click on the master volume control -> define keys......a few short clicks later and I had the dial working to raise and lower sound and the mute button as well. I felt f***n great. Can you say eeeasssy, can you say in-tui-tive? Wow, this is really the cats pajamas!

Sometimes the smallest things just make life worth living again ;~)

Telnet's nice, netcat's better

Flavio Poletti (anonymous)

Sending some network traffic from the shell.

Some time ago (actually, a long time ago) I needed to send some TCP traffic towards a host on a regular basis. So... the only tool I knew was telnet, I had no clue about socket programming, and I had to study expect in order to get the job done. No need to say, it was a real pain - what else should I /expect/? (For those who don't know what I'm talking about, I suggest to perform more-than-trivial interaction with some server on ports other than the telnet one).

Some time later, I learnt socket programming, so I was able to do the job inside C and call my program from the shell. But you can bet on it - it was some very focused application and proved to give me no help in a similar-but-different context.

It was then that I discovered netcat.

netcat (actually the executable should be called nc) is what I needed, plus much more. It is capable of running in both client and server (listening) mode, to cope with both TCP and UDP, and provides the more straightforward concept you could ask for: it reads standard input and sends it to the remote destination, and gives you the incoming traffic on the standard output. Quite nice, isn't it? netcat should be already available in your Linux box, anyway you can download it here: http://www.atstake.com/research/tools/network_utilities

I was very proud of my discovery (only 5-6 years of research!) when recently I had to find something that - quite surprising to me - was even simpler. I mean, to solve my ancient two-nights-without-sleep problem I didn't even need an external program! I found that what I needed can be done entirely inside the shell, provided that you're using bash - and all of us are using bash, aren't we?

This is the trick: bash defines some fake devices which you can use as files for redirection - but you actually get some IP traffic with them! So you can send your passwd file to your worst enemy at example.com simply by issuing this command:

cat /etc/passwd > /dev/tcp/example.com/10000

(we all know that our worst enemy accepts passwd files listening to port 10000)

That's it - and you can do that with UDP as well! If you want to find out more, take a look at the Bash Advanced Scripting Guide, in particular paragraph 28.1 (http://www.tldp.org/LDP/abs/html/devref1.html).

This is my 2c Tip!

I tried to seek inside /dev to see if there is any tcp or udp device, but found neither - that's why I claim that these devices are bash-interpreted. If you know more about this... correct please!

The Editor's Scissors had a grand time with this one. -- Heather
They're not defined by the shell, nor are they related to it -- they're just named FIFOs that the kernel defines are virtual when a port needs to be listened on. -- Thomas
[Jason Creighton] Quoting from the bash manpage:
       Bash  handles  several  filenames  specially  when  they  are  used  in
       redirections, as described in the following table
[Ben] ben@Fenrir:~$ ls -l /dev/tcp
ls: /dev/tcp: No such file or directory
The Talmud, I mean the "bash" man page, offers no further help; however, the Commentaries... err, /usr/src/linux/Documentation/devices.txt, says these are iBCS-2 compatability devices...
So, I made these nodes - with a little help from Perl:
ben@Fenrir:/usr/src/linux/Documentation$ su
root@Fenrir:/usr/src/linux/Documentation# mkdir /dev/inet
root@Fenrir:/usr/src/linux/Documentation# perl -wne'
if(m#0 = /dev/socksys#../raw/){/(\d+) = ([^\s]+)/;
system"mknod -m 0664 $2 c 30 $1; chgrp dialout $2"}
' devices.txt
root@Fenrir:/usr/src/linux/Documentation# perl -wlne'
if (m#/dev/ip #../X0R/){/([^\s]+) -> ([^\s]+)/;
system"ln -s $2 $1"}' devices.txt
Group "dialout" allows its members to use those devices.
In the next invocation, I selected the second group from above and created the symlinks by using much the same mechanism.
So, after all of that - will the stuff promised by the Bash man page work?
ben@Fenrir:~$ su -c 'thttpd -d ~ben/www'
ben@Fenrir:~$ cat /dev/tcp/localhost/80
cat: /dev/tcp/localhost/80: Not a directory
ben@Fenrir:~$ nc /dev/tcp/localhost/80
/dev/tcp/localhost/80: forward host lookup failed: Unknown host
[Kapil] I assume you are really Debianized. So quoting from /usr/share/doc/bash/README.Debian.gz:
	9. Why is bash configured with --disable-net-redirections?

	    It can produce completely unexpected results. This kind of
	    feature should not be part of a shell but a special. tool. And
	    that tool has existed for years already, it's called netcat.
And that brings us back around to Flavio's pleased discovery :) -- Heather
[Jason] So, if you were going to use this silly little bash trick instead of netcat, you would do something like this:
~$ cat /dev/tcp/localhost/25
cat: /dev/tcp/localhost/25: No such file or directory
~$ cat < /dev/tcp/localhost/25
220 jpc.example.com ESMTP Exim 4.20 Fri, 16 Jul 2004 16:32:55 -0600
I don't think it's possible to set up a bidirectional link via this method, like you can with netcat. Or perhaps there's some Really Clever Shell Tricks you can use to get cat's stdin and stdout hooked up to the fd in order for you to, for example, interact with an SMTP server. But I honestly don't care if you can do this, because it is, as you say... easier and nicer not to do this sort of thing in the shell.

This page edited and maintained by the Editors of Linux Gazette
HTML script maintained by Heather Stern of Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

The Answer Gang

Linux Gazette 105: The Answer Gang (TWDT) The Answer Gang 105:
...making Linux just a little more fun!
(?) The Answer Gang (!)
By Jim Dennis, Karl-Heinz Herrmann, Breen, Chris, and... (meet the Gang) ... the Editors of Linux Gazette... and You!

We have guidelines for asking and answering questions. Linux questions only, please.
We make no guarantees about answers, but you can be anonymous on request.
See also: The Answer Gang's Knowledge Base and the LG Search Engine


¶: Greetings From Heather Stern
(?)One for Ben --or--
Which Window Manager?
(?)Experimenting with window managers
(?)Kernel 2.6 and PCMCIA troubles
(?)Sending a keystroke to remote application

(¶) Greetings from Heather Stern

Greetings, everyone, and welcome once more to the world of The Answer Gang. Please pardon our dust; the buzz saws of open sorcery have been busy and there's floor clippings from the busy Editor's Scissors, too.

Still, we sincerely hope you enjoy the bits we have for you this time around - juicier than watermelon (hey, now there's a good name for a window manager), bigger than a double burger.

I'm really looking forward to Linux World Expo this month (what am I saying? this week) as I'll get to see a lot of friends there. In addition to the obvious parties and Dot Org Pavilion, I'll be keeping my eye out for the booths with a spirit of fun in mind, who's really solving problems that face the enterprise scale (now that I've worked with larger clients this last year), and who's really helping the utter newbie.

People switching to Linux during site upgrades are probably the largest growing aspect of Linux use now that thare are so many flavors of MS Windows they're just as confusing as the wide variety of distributions we've got. In the last year I've been seeing ads for Linux on ordinary television, too - it's even led to some clients here and there. So just in case anyone was wondering, Tux is going places. Whether any of those places are what the analysts want to see... ah well, this is what worldwide expos are for, to tell the analysts what to look for.

If any of you would like to send in your own views of how things went at the LWE (I understand there's one going on in the UK too? Any more big events out there?) ... oh yeah! Birthday party time. I almost forgot about the Linux Picnix, and considering it's right in my area, there's no way I'm gonna miss that. *ahem* If anyone wants to send us some reports on how they've enjoyed any Linux events this month, I'd love to put together a thread about 'em. If you're going to the same ones I am... look for my red straw hat! I'll see you there!

More next month about what Tux has been up to during his Summer vacation.

(?) Which Window Manager?


From Jimmy O'Regan

Answered By: Jason Creighton, Thomas Adam, Ben Okopnik, Kapil Hari Paranjape

Perl Linux. A distribution where everything, except the kernel and Perl, is written in Perl.


(!) [Jason] LUFS (Linux Userspace File Systems):
It's designed to allow you to write filesystem drivers for linux in userspace. (You'd never guess it from the name. :-) )
Bindings for python:
I don't know of there's any for Perl, but I wouldn't be surprised.
(!) [Ben] Wow. Weird. I'm very familiar with the Perl Power Tools (essentially, the GNU toolkit for Unix reimplemented in Perl) - in fact, I recommend them to my students as a bunch of well-written code to study; I also think it's a really good idea of the same kind as having a statically-compiled shell. An entire Perl-based distro, though? Is there a point to straining a Camel [1] through the eye of a needle? I mean, cool that it can be done... but you end up with pureed camel, and who wants that? Messy.
[1] Contrary to popular belief, the mascot's name is not "OCaml". Sheesh.
(!) [Thomas] Depends how you say it. :) Usually with perl, it is with heavy surprise with lots of skepticism thrown in for good measure. :D
(!) [Ben] Well, the way people seems to usually "learn" Perl (i.e., by looking at somebody's horrible code, figuring "I can do that!", and proceeding to do exactly that), I'd think it's more like "prayerfully, with a quiver in the voice and tears running down the cheeks". People who learn it the right way - i.e., by reading and following the documentation and learning from good examples (e.g., PPT, NMS (http://nms-cgi.sourceforge.net), etc.) - say it with a rising inflection, sorta singing the last part, and usually follow it up with a whistle.
"O Caaaa-mel! [whistle] Heeere, Camel-camel-camel!"
It always comes running and wagging its tail when properly invoked. Beware the fleas, though. :)

Snipping some light-heartedness, somehow the topic changed to window managers. -- Thomas Adam
(!) [Thomas] Don't use KDE, then.
(!) [Ben] It's certainly one of the major reasons that I don't. My current machine has plenty of disk, memory, and CPU for KDE to gratuitously throw in the trash (oops - was that my 'out-loud' voice? Darn), but I refuse to put up with the Micr0s0ft-style blinkenlights philosophy of the interface ("Fear not, small human creature; KDE has decided on everything you'll want and need, and will provide it for you.").
(!) [Thomas] It does have "wizards" or the equivalent so that even the complete clueless can give it a go.
(!) [Ben] What, to handle the configuration end? Nothing special there; IceWM, e.g., has "icepref" that does much the same thing. I'm very much a fan of "vi" as a configuration wizard, myself, but others may differ.
I dislike the standard RedHat install for the same reasons (it's a minor dislike, but that's the reason for it.)
(!) [Thomas] sigh. I agree. I liked it more when RH4 and the subsequent RH5 release used Fvwm. They now use Gnome, which is arguably better IMO, than KDE. Qt is horrible.
(!) [Ben] IceWM is small, fast, and lacks nothing in features that I want from a WM. From Thomas' previous rantings :), I gather that FVWM is much the same sort of thing. It's like having a spoon that you bought for a quarter; [ ... ]
(!) [Thomas] Kind of. But there are a lot of things Fvwm does that IceWM does not, and while I am not going to outline the individual merits of each, you cannot, for instance, in IceWM do event actions. And while I have used IceWm, it just doesn't have..., well, it lacks something. :)
(!) [Ben] EPID. That's why I didn't say that KDE was evil and should be wiped off the face, etc. - some people love it. And FVWM doesn't have a lot of things that IceWM has (i.e., a decent taskbar; I could never stand that huge thing they use that takes up so much real estate.)
(!) [Thomas] Actually, Fvwm provides a taskbar (FvwmTaskBar) that takes up no more space than any "normal" task bar, plus it can autohide. You can also configure FvwmIconMan to act as a taskbar.
Apart from the inherent motif theme [1] that Fvwm takes on by default ( \o/ ), perhaps the other major attraction to it for me was the fact that you can define events based on actions. AFAICT this is an idiom unique to Fvwm, and no other WM/desktop environment (The module that provides this is known as 'FvwmEvent').
Perhaps another addition that you might appreciate Ben is the fact that you can script commands to Fvwm, using the underlying $SHELL. There is even a full set of perl-bindings[2] [3]. The power that this gives, to allow complex things to be done simply, is quite amazing. Not only that but Fvwm has its own internal widget set (FvwmScript) so that you can define all kinds of things.
(!) [Ben] Perhaps I'm just not visualizing a scenario where this would be useful, but I can't really see the advantage. What WM functions would you want to script, and why?
(!) [Thomas] Lots of reasons that are situation dependent. One is to do things like compute the distance between windows and slide a window in a given direction to sit beside the window. Another is to take a snapshot of the window on iconify, and set the icon to the picture of the window.
For example, I have a function in Fvwm that displays the total number of windows that I have open, on the title for my pager. By "open", I mean those windows that are not iconified. You can see it here [4]. You probably couldn't do that easily in anyother WM. Whether or not you would want to, is another question entirely. :)
(!) [Ben] Yes. *That*' is the question I'm asking. If I really needed to, I'd parse the output of "xwininfo -root -tree" and get the information, but I don't see how it would benefit me in either case.
(!) [Thomas] /me comes down from his high horse.
But it really does just depend. I ask of nothing visual from my WM in terms of eye candy. Ick. The only thing I permit myself is xteddy. After all, a WM is just there to provide a means of being able to launch lots of rxvts. :)
Oh, I don't know. That one example of FVWM eyecandy you showed before was very impressive - and I like the idea of having a pretty desktop, although to me that means a nice background plus some good looking icons, not dancing rabbits that (again) waste my resources.
Don't forget the GUIs, now. I use mine to launch "gmplayer" and Mozilla quite regularly. :)
No matter how you improve the thing, it's still going to be a spoon, and the functionality of it will never be worth much more than that price.
(!) [Thomas] That's where I diagree. The environment you work in is what you make it. And since Fvwm is free, the amount of things I can do with it, and the extendability of it is immense. I joke not. There are over 1000 styles in all to Fvwm. You can configure the minutest.
(!) [Ben] Yeah, you could theoretically make it out of gold and attach it to a gadget that will feed the baby, wipe up the spills, and go to the store to buy the products to replace the ones it used up... but it's neither a spoon any longer, nor is it nearly as useful as a spoon is if you move away from the home/baby/store metaphor.
(!) [Thomas] Given that all of this is contained within Fvwm, the need to add on any features are irrelevant. It's ironic to think that despite all I have said, given my needs, I could quite easily go back to using TWM again....
  1. No, despite what you might have read. Motif is not dying. It's very much alive, and I for one am grateful that it is.
  2. http://fvwm.org/documentation/manpages/unstable/FvwmPerl.php
  3. Rumours that I'm working on FvwmRuby, are very true indeed.
  4. http://linuxmafia.com/~n6tadam/benexample.png
(!) [Ben] Have you seen the IceWM theme packs lately? I wouldn't be surprised if there were a thousand or more of them available. I generally take one, hack it a little, and use it for six months or so, and I don't see myself running out anytime soon.
(!) [Kapil] Since we're onto desktop/window manager wars ... :-)
My latest "standard" for how good such a thingy is has been:
  1. Can it emulate "ratpoison"?
  2. Can it improve on "ratpoison"?
  3. Can it do the above without bringing a low-end machine to a screeching, grinding, *thrashing* halt?
It turns out that (in combination with GNU "screen") FVWM, ICEWM and even (surprise) Gnome2+Metacity can do this. I haven't tried with KDE.
Some notes of explanation:
  1. in combination with "screen" what this really means is that you should be able to maximize a window *without* title bars, menubars, borders, handles and all that fluff. This is what you *really* need when you are doing a deep hack or writing a paper.
  2. means that you should be able to "switch" in and out of this ratpoison mode with some key combination (don't touch that mouse yet!). In the "real" GUI mode you should be able to use GIMP (which is ratpoison disabled or vice versa) and other such programs that require a mouse and/or graphical interface and non-mazimized windows.
  3. is reasonably clear---low on memory usage for (a) but could use more memory in (b).
I might be able to write a little piece on how this is done but I wouldn't be able to withstand that flamage that might result :-) Besides my ESP-enabled fortune signature generator has something to say about the time I've spent on doing all this configuration... (See below).
I got tired of spend^H^H^H^H^Hwasting my time configuring my window manager/desktop/themes/what have you and switched to "ratpoison". After a deep and productive hack I come up for relaxation and am faced with the pest-killer again. Can't do GIMP, screensavers, and the rest. How do I relax? Go and play football (soccer to some...)? No. Back to configuring my window manager so that it can at least be like ratpoison some of the time.
Defining the problem:
How do I get my window manager to maximize a window without the handles, titlebars, buttons and all that fluff. In this window I might have a term with screen or emacs or mozilla (for those do-not-disturb browse-fests :-) why should the window manager care!
	Golem: (The first WM that I learnt to do this with) Alt-z
		z is for zoom.

	ICEWM: Alt-F11 (Yes, that's all!) F11 for "Fill the screen"

	FVWM:  For a window manager that can do it all this should
	        be easy; but I haven't quite figured it out.
		There *is* fvwm-shell and that has some settings that
		are 90% of the solution. (Unsurprisingly this is my
		current UI---I *need* to figure it out!).
(!) [Thomas] Lots of ways you can do this. I would define a function for it:
DestroyFunc FvwmMaximiseWindow
AddToFunc   FvwmMaximiseWindow
+ I  ThisWindow WindowStyle !Handles, !Title, !Borders
+ I  Maximize 100 100
+ I  Key z  A  SCM NoFullScreen

DestroyFunc NoFullScreen
+ I ThisWindow WindowStle Handles, Titles, Borders
+ I ThisWindow UpdateStyles
+ I Maximize 100 100
(!) [Kapil]
	Metacity+GNOME2: You can define the relevant key using the
	        window key bindings menu (there is no default binding).
		The relevant function is Toggle Maximize Window. Imagine
		the surprise on people's faces when they come and say
		"What! Are you running that pest-killer again? Give me a
		real desktop", you press a key and *wham* there is GNOME
		in all its glory (once it gets out of swap space that
Yes. I know that all this does not reduce memory usage! On the other hand if you work/hack for long enough all that unused stuff should go into swap/disk so it shouldn't bother you.
Alternate Answer:
For those who really want to work 90% of the time the alternative is to run ratpoison with one of the frames containing an Xnest that runs the eye-candy window manager. There is one problem with this solution---no DRI for the eye-candy which means that GL screensavers and the like will not produce good results.
(!) [Rick] Surely no desktop is complete without the Moaning Goat Meter (which used to lurk^Wreside at http://www.xiph.org/mgm):

MGM, the Moaning Goat Meter, is the ultimate sixty-ton cast iron lawn
ornament for the desktops of today's hacker set: A gorgeous, highly
configurable load and status meter written entirely in Perl. Serious
pink-flamingo territory. For evil geniuses only.

Disclaimer: MGM will not get your whites whiter or your colors
brighter. It will, however, sit there and look spiffy while sucking
down a major honking wad of RAM.
A review on taint.org states: "Silly: The Moaning Goat Meter, by xiph.org -- a load meter written in a proper[1] programming language, and with an inexplicably spinning fish that stares at you.
Je suis desolé, desolé, that the Web pages for this procmeter3-like (but much prettier) mostly-ornamental system-monitoring widget have disappeared. The FAQ in particular was priceless, not to mention the pictures with those pink flamingos in them.

(?) Experimenting with window managers

From Ben Okopnik

Answered By: Thomas Adam, Ben Okopnik, Jay R. Ashworth, Heather Stern

One of the things that often puzzles new Linux users is the broad range of available window managers (WMs). After all, MS Wind0ws only has one (although several Linux WMs have been ported to The Dark Side)... what's a WM *for,* anyway?

(!) [Heather] Actually, in earlier versions of mswin, there was an occasional shareware offering or product that replaced the common widget set - one gave 3d-appearance - but it's rare as all heck, and since it replaced the common controls dialog, fraught with app incompatibility too. Most replacements (e.g. Norton Desktop for Windows, HP's NewWave) only changed out the Program Manager (in win3.x) and the current crop mostly replace only Explorer (in win9x). There is LiteStep (http://www.litestep.net), and at least one other whose name I don't recall.
Since I haven't used LiteStep myself, I don't know whether it replaces both aspects, or just Explorer. From the user's point of view it basically counts, since it changes the launching and theme mechanisms, which are the main visible aspects of a window manager.

(?) To quote Wikipedia http://wikipedia.org :

"A window manager is
software that controls the placement and appearance of application
windows under the X Window System". Most (but not all) WMs share a
common base of ideas - e.g., each window will usually have a top bar,
which will commonly have close/minimize/maximize buttons as well as a
menu button.  However, all WMs have different approaches to the task
described above - and some may fit your preferences and work habits far
better than others."

So, here's an easy way to experiment:

1) Make sure your system does not start X automatically. The easy way to do this is by setting the default runlevel in "/etc/inittab" to a "console-only" level - this is level 2 for most distros.

(!) [Jay] Note that while that characterization of runlevel 2 is correct, it's somewhat incomplete: the functional equivalent, in most distros, to runlevel 5 with X is runlevel 3, without, but with all the other network stuff which would usually be running.

(?) 2) Create a ".xinitrc" file in your home directory; this is a shell script that allows you to customize how X works - including the choice of window manager. Here's a template that you can adapt however you'd like later:

See attached template-xinitrc.sh.txt

You'll want to change the last two commands to start whatever WM you normally use, so that the default invocation of "startx" will use that. If, however, you wish to experiment with another WM, the process becomes very simple: just set the "WM" variable to the name of the manager you want (you do, of course, have to have it installed) and - voila, you're off and running. E.g., to try running X with "fvwm" as a WM, just type

WM=fvwm startx
at the console. Note that I launch two xterms (command windows) by default; this is obviously not a requirement, but I find them to be very useful in general.
(!) [Thomas] One other thing that users might like is the fact that you can also experiment with window managers, X stuff using 'Xnest'. Something I use is:

See attached xnesting-wm.bash.txt

Which then gives me an 800x600 Xserver within an Xserver. Incorporating your WM-selector means that it is invoked in the same manner as yours:
WM=fvwm innerwm
Then things change slightly to look at how X loads. -- Thomas Adam

(!) [Thomas] It's worthy of note that ~/.xinitrc is only read by startx, whereas ~/.xsession is read by graphical display managers, and startx when no ~/.xinitrc exists. But this out of context to your tip. :)
(!) [Ben] Explicitly so, since simply modifying ~/.xsession will not do anything useful here (and may, in fact, produce quite a train wreck.) And trying to actually change (or add) a WM to the [xkg]dm system is a bloody nightmare, for which I hope some evil bastard rots in hell. There are no instructions anywhere that I could find; the X startup mechanism itself involves at least twenty different shell scripts and sourced files, scattered through /etc/X11 and /usr/lib (I gave up after parsing the arcane syntax of that many); neither "/etc/alternatives/x-window-manager" nor "/etc/X11/default-display-manager" have any actual use or meaning; adding the name to 'SessionTypes' in "/etc/kde2/kdmrc", *where the WM choices are listed*, doesn't work... /und so weiter/, right to the point of the screaming meemies.
(!) [Thomas] Actually, they do. If we take xdm as the example here (although all DMs go through the same process), what happens is as soon as you press enter to login, the file /etc/X11/xdm/Xsession is sourced (sourced, for obvious reasons, as you are fully aware, Ben :))). This actually calls the main file /etc/X11/Xsession. The job of this file is to kickstart X, and sources the files in /etc/X11/Xsession.d
The files in this directory are structured similarly to how init files are -- they have a number prefix which denotes the order that they're to be sourced. Now, the debian bit that comes into play here (and which confuses many) is the part about "update-alternatives". Since it is at this point, that the alternative "x-termianl-emulator" is looked for, and launched. By default, this is an xterm.
Next to run, is a script that sets up ones xrdb database, so that any xresources that might have been defined for applications are sourced. Although if you're going to define your own, you must still add the following line to ~/.x{session,initrc}:
xrdb -merge ~/.Xdefaults
Following that, is the wrapper script that looks for a user-defined configuration file (~/.xsession), or whether we have to default back to a global one. They key to note here is that user-defined is looked for before global. If it is found, then a variable (STARTUP) is set accordingly, else the default is used.
When that has been done (I'll skip the boring stuff such as Xprint server running), the last scriot to run is an exec call is made to $STARTUP.
As to how "x-window-manager" is used, that is defaulted to for $STARTUP when a user config file is not found.
(!) [Ben] [snip] Thanks for detailing it (would be nice if this was in the docs somewhere), but - yep, been through all that. Lots of times. Trying to set it up to allow a choice of WMs just doesn't work for yours truly; there may be someone for whom it does, but that someone isn't me.
(!) [Thomas] Well, KDM and GDM are separate entities in themselves. Being the bloated pile of jelly they are, not only do they consume the PC, but they also like to do thing Their Way -- to the extent that GDM actually ignores ~/.xsession . And I have no idea how the hell KDM operates -- that's just a nightmare.
So I use xdm when I have to (really I only use it for the Xchooser part), otherwise it's startx all the way.
(!) [Ben] [Nod] I was conflating the three of them, but yeah - "xdm" isn't quite as bad as the others, and GDM has not actually eaten any small children while I was watching (although I've heard rumors.) KDM, now - that thing should not be let out on the streets, or should at least be heavily medicated, have a transmitter strapped to its ankle, and be continuously monitored by professionals armed with tasers and nets.
(!) [Thomas] And xdm does honour ~./.xsession, that much I assure you. If it ever gets ignored, the tip I can always suggest is that you treat it exactly as a shell-script -- actually give it a she-bang line, and chmod +x it.
(!) [Ben] Given *that,* I can just imagine some GNUbie trying to tweak this... they'd go running in blind terror - right back to their "comfortable" MSW environment, which may crash, burn, explode, and destroy their work with malicious intent but never requires them to hunt through dozens of files just to change one simple thing.
(!) [Thomas] Which is why I get them to create a ~/.xsession file, anyway.
(!) [Ben] If I actually wanted to choose a different WM every time, or at least have a choice presented to me, I'd launch "selectwm" and do it from there. Nice, simple, easy to configure and modify. In fact, when I have a range of similar WMs and want to compare them (as I recall, I did it when I was looking at ratpoison, larswm, ion, and some others), that's what I do.
(!) [Thomas] Yup. "selectwm" has been damned useful. One thing I used to do to xdm, was assign the function keys to various window managers. I still do, in fact. So that, rather than pressing enter, I'd press CTRL-F2 and have it launch 'twm', CTRL-F3, and have it launch 'fvwm', or whatever. Note that 'F1' by itself in xdm defaults to an xterm -- so-called "failsafe".

(?) Kernel 2.6 and PCMCIA troubles

From Antoun Kanawati

Answered By: Thomas Adam, John Karns.

Dear Answer Gang,

The problem is: "/etc/init.d/pcmcia start" reports 0 sockets being watched when use any 2.6 kernel other Mandrake 10.0's 2.6.3-7.

(!) [Thomas] My first suggestion at reading that is Mandrake, like RH (and SuSE to an extent) have patched that kernel to high heaven (read that as 'mangled') such that it is no longer a kernel... grr, stock kernela are evil.
(!) [John] It's been a while since I last dug around for info on the pcmcia subsystem, but last I looked at the pcmcia pkg docs from Hinds - it has been a while, maybe 18 months or more, there were some things that the stand-alone pcmcia pkg did better than the integrated kernel version. His recommendation was that in circumstances where there were problems, one should try compiling the kernel without the pcmcia options, and compile the pkg from source, and run it from a system init script. It might be worth taking a look to see if that situation still holds.

(?) I've had this problem with Fedora 2, Suse 9.1, and Manrdake 10. The only kernel that get my PCMCIA right is 2.6.3-7 from the Mandrake 10 distro.

This happens on two of my laptops, a fujitsu lifebook 765DX (Pentium 166MMX), and an NEC Versa LX (PII-233).

The other possibly related irritant is that "/etc/init.d/pcmcia stop" is not working right; more precisely, when I get the PCMICA card started, the card's lights go on and eth0 is brought up; when I stop the card, eth0 is brought down, but the card remains ON. So, if I reboot, even with kernel 2.6.3-7 mdk 10.0, the next "pcmcia start" fails to notice the two slots. If I power down and then boot, all works fine.

(!) [Thomas] If the pcmcia initscript is the same as it was in Mandrake 7.0 (which was my only fleeting contact with it) then that should actually be calling cardmgr . Cardmgr normally works just fine.
(!) [John] Yes, agreed. Instead of stopping the pcmcia service, try the command
"cardctl eject"
as root. Before I discovered the card mgrs eject command (back in the days of the 2.2 kernels), I used to stop the pcmcia service, and it would sometimes hang, and otherwise misbehave. I found the eject command to be a better option.

(?) To summarize: "/etc/init.d/pcmcia start" find 2 sockets and works with only one very specific kernel. The "stop" doesn't stop all the way.

I looked around the net for a while, but didn't find an answer.

I am guessing that this is one of those "older machine" things that require a slightly exceptional configuration clause somewhere.

(!) [Thomas] Actually, I would be more inclined to say that you should look at compiling your own kernel. Since it works with a specific kernel you can almost certainly rule out hardware issues. So the trick is to look at the specific working kernel's config file for clues. The config files for kernels should be in /boot as:
/boot/config-$(uname -r)
The $(uname -r) interpolates to the current running kernel's version, but the principle is the same -- the file name is /boot/config-<version> . If you can do the following for that kernel version:
grep -i pcmcia /boot/config-<ver>
And send it to us, that would help. Along with that, you should repeat that same command on a file for a kernel that does not work, for comparison.
If you think this is long winded, you'd be right. I would definitely look at compiling your own kernel. It's not that hard, and there's plenty of references to it, here's two:

(?) Pointers will be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

(!) [Thomas] Hope that helps.

(?) Sending a keystroke to remote application

From Nick Urbanik

Answered By: Thomas Adam, Neil Youngman, Kapil Hari Paranjape

Dear Folks,

I am backing up my machine at work with Mondoarchive http://www.mondorescue.org A great program! I ran the program at work, so the terminal interface to the program is there, not here. My friend put in a new DVD into the DVD writer, and now, after everyone has gone home, I am looking at the log /var/log/mondo-archive.log (via ssh), which says:

I am about to burn DVD #11 of the backup set. Please insert DVD and press Enter.

My question: How can I send the "\r" to the remote application?

(!) [Neil] I don't think you can, unless you've arranged a suitable mechanism in advance.

(?) I can determine the process ID, I have full administrative control of the machine, but I realise that I don't know how to do this simple task! It seems like I should, and would be most interested if any of you Answer Gang people could offer any suggestions.

(!) [Neil] If you could it would be a security hole. I believe it might have been possible in older versions of X11 with the security turned off. If you find it is possible then you really need to do something about it.
If you want to be able to do this remotely then you can run the program in something like VNC or GNU screens, that will allow to detach from an X11 display or terminal session and reattach from somewhere else. If it wasn't started it in such an environment it's way to late to do anything about it now.
(!) [Thomas] Use 'expect'. It is why it was written. As an example:
#!/usr/bin/expect -f
# Created by Thomas Adam

# First startup the application in question
spawn <program_name> $arguments

# When we reach this prompt....
expect -re "Please insert DVD and press Enter"

# Send a carriage return
send "\r"

# Allow control of the program back to the user
Clearly you will have to play about with it, but just save the file, chmod +x it, change the values in it. The only thing I am concerned about is the "inteact" statement, as it might not be needed. I am unfamiliar with the application, so you'll have to tinker with it.
You will need to install 'expect'.

(?) Yes, I have used expect briefly, but I do not understand how to apply it in this case. The application is already running, and I don't know how to send the keystroke to it.

If I restarted it, then ran it over the ssh session, then, well, I would be able to press enter here easily, but would then face the same problem at work; being unable to send a keypress to the application to the console from which it is being controlled.

(!) [Thomas] Tough. It cannot be done -- you need a program to talk to it. :) I am sure there is a way you can resume from a certain position... My best advice is to stop it, and use expect.
(!) [Kapil] In case the remote application is running in an X-window, you could
  1. install "rfb" or "x11vnc" on the remote machine.
  2. start x11vnc on the remote machine.
  3. install a vnc viewer on the local machine.
  4. start the vnc viewer on the local machine.
  5. make the appropriate changes to the remote application.
This is admittedly a very brief summary. You must also insert the step (a+b)/2 which consists of reading the documentation for vnc.
If you do not have the application running in an X-window but on the console then there is also a vnc server for the console somewhere...(mumbles and runs "apt-cache search vnc")...ah, there it is
	Package: linuxvnc
	Description: A VNC server to monitor a tty
	 With linuxvnc you can export your currently running text
	 sessions to any VNC client. So it can be useful, if you want to
	 move to another computer without having to log out and if
	 you've forgotten to attach a 'screen' session to it, or to help
	 a distant colleague to solve a problem.
If fd0 has been closed then you are truly without any option except kill <proc-number>. You are also stuck with an application that is making the mistake of waiting for a read without having an open input source!

(?) That looks like the solution! I thought it may be very difficult to do this without starting modoarchive in a screen session. I will investigate how to use this. Thank you.

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Published in issue 105 of Linux Gazette August 2004
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Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

News Bytes

By Michael Conry

News Bytes


Selected and formatted by Michael Conry

Submitters, send your News Bytes items in PLAIN TEXT format. Other formats may be rejected without reading. You have been warned! A one- or two-paragraph summary plus URL gets you a better announcement than an entire press release. Submit items to bytes@linuxgazette.net

Legislation and More Legislation


The subject of software patents has been a frequent topic of discussion in this and other organs of the Free/Open-Source community. An indication of the problems that lie ahead if these issues are not satisfactorily resolved is provided by the current discussions surrounding Munich's migration from Windows to GNU/Linux. In spite of much campaigning by Microsoft, including visits by Steve Ballmer, the Munich authorities have been pursuing an Open Source IT strategy. However, one pro-Open-Source Munich alderman has pointed out that ongoing doubts about the current and future status of software patents could wreck the plans. Though his concerns are largely precautionary, Jens Muehlhaus is not the only party to see the importance of patents. Microsoft, for one, certainly believes that patents are a crucial tool with which to control the market. To this end, over the past years the company has trebled the number of patents it files annually. Equally, there is a growing awareness among the Free/Open-Source community of the issue, and of possible ways to confront the problem. While the American situation seems very hard to change (with defensive patenting being one of the more rational coping strategies) the European scenario is still quite malleable, which hopefully will encourage some constructive engagement in this very political process.

 French Licence - CeCILL

Three French public bodies, the ECA, the INRIA, and the CNRS, have published a new free/open-source software licence: CeCILL [ English translation]. The new licence aims to address some specific points of French law that the writers of CeCILL believe cause difficulties in the application of the GPL.

Linux Links

Project AMOS aims to automate reuse of open source code (a European project aimed at creating a searchable database to automate the reuse of free/open source software code).

Command line tips and trick

E-Voting, a challenge to the Open Source community

Mozilla and the future of the web

Creating games with Pygame

Sun moves away from Linux

Analysing network attacks by sorting through packets from your IDS.

Why to learn assembly language

Behind DragonFly BSD, a look at the new fork of FreeBSD 4.

Who writes Linux

Four alternative Linux window managers, Newsforge takes a look at life beyond KDE and Gnome: AfterStep, Enlightenment, IceWM and FVWM.

Video production with Linux, Part II

Real world Linux migration stories

DES to retire

News in General

 Mandrake Storms French Government, Catalonia's Homage to CATix

The French Ministry of Equipment has chosen Mandrakelinux Corporate Server to replace 1,500 Microsoft Windows NT servers in a national scale deployment.

In a similar trend, Barcelona city authorities have announced a plan to phase out current Windows NT installations in favour of CATix, a GNU/Linux localisation in Catalan.

Distro News


Conectiva Linux has released version 10.0 of their GNU/Linux distribution.


Debian Weekly News reports that Debian is increasing it's market share. Netcraft has reported data indicating that Debian shows market share gains among GNU/Linux distributions (Gentoo currently has the fastest percentage growth rate). Debian GNU/Linux is now running on more than 1 million web-facing hostnames.


Feather Linux is a Knoppix-derived Linux distribution. It can run completely off a CD or a USB memory-key and uses less than 64Mb of space. It provides a selection of desktop-focused software. LinuxQuestions.org has recently added an officially recognized forum for the distribution


A (largely positive) review of Mepis Linux


Progeny Debian 2.0, Developer Edition Beta 1 has been released and is available for download. This release represents a sample implementation of Componentized Linux.

 Red Hat

Red Hat is reported to be preparing to sell a subscription service supporting an open-source Java application server.


Flexbeta has reviewed Turbo Linux 10f, the multi-media geared variant of Turbo Linux 10.


Vidalinux has released Vidalinux Desktop OS beta2, which is based on the 2.6.7-gentoo-r11 kernel.

Software and Product News


Linux vendor Linspire has released PhoneGaim, a free software program that adds voice-over-IP functionality to the Linux-based Gaim instant messaging client.


Maguma Workbench is a cross-platform source-level editor, also known as an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). The product contains a debugger, internal and external previews, adjustable themes, class browser, new flexible layout, and more. As well as Linux, the product is available for Windows and Mac OSX.

 Motorola's Linux Smart Phone

LinuxDevices reports that US mobile phone customers will soon have the opportunity to by a Linux-based handset later this year, when operators begin offering a Motorola Linux/Java smartphone aimed at business professionals. The A780 will roll out globally in early Q4, reaching select US regions before 2005, according to Motorola.

Mick is LG's News Bytes Editor.

[Picture] Originally hailing from Ireland, Michael is currently living in Baden, Switzerland. There he works with ABB Corporate Research as a Marie-Curie fellow, developing software for the simulation and design of electrical power-systems equipment.

Before this, Michael worked as a lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University College Dublin; the same institution that awarded him his PhD. The topic of this PhD research was the use of Lamb waves in nondestructive testing. GNU/Linux has been very useful in his past work, and Michael has a strong interest in applying free software solutions to other problems in engineering.

Copyright © 2004, Michael Conry. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004


By Thomas Adam


Fvwm! I'm sure some of you remember it quite well as a window manager of the days past - and you'd be forgiven for thinking that it no longer existed. It is, perhaps, a shame that it has been over-shadowed by the newer, glitzier desktop managers such as KDE and GNOME, but I suppose that the times have changed. People are after more eye-candy than even before - right? Well, not me. While it may be true that we all like pretty things, often these things come with a sacrifice. The most noteworthy thing for me over the years has been that using KDE and GNOME requires a supercomputer with tons of RAM, while Fvwm remains fast as lighting on machines with even marginal resources. For those of us who wish to get full usage out of our existing hardware instead of chasing the ever-changing "latest and greatest" machinery with our hard-earned cash, software such as Fvwm can be the factor that makes the key difference.

What separates a window manager from a desktop environment is that the former does not have integrated applications such as file managers and utilities to tweak the overall environment. Instead, all such utilities are external - just as they should be. The job of a window manager is just that; it manages windows.

Fvwm was created by Robert Nation. It is based on code from 'twm' (Tom's Window Manager) which was at the time perhaps the only real window manager available. Frustrated with the lack of features and the fact that 'twm' was full of memory leaks, Rob began hacking on it; the result was that Fvwm was kick-started in early 1993. Rob had, in fact, already made a name for himself as the author of the popular terminal emulator rxvt, which is still used by a lot of people today.

What I intend to demonstrate here is how to start from a minimal configuration of Fvwm and work upwards, discussing how Fvwm operates and how to configure it to do various things. There is a lot to Fvwm, so this won't be quick - but I hope it will be interesting nevertheless.


Since Fvwm has been bundled with every distribution that I have used, chances that you have it anyway. You should not use Fvwm1, since this is old and is no longer supported by the developers. Currently, the stable version is 2.4.18 while the unstable version is 2.5.10. Unlike many classifications of stable/unstable, the unstable version of Fvwm has never crashed for me, so I can recommend using it. Indeed, most of what I will talk about over the next few months will rely on the features in this version, and that are absent in the 'stable' version.

As a side note to using pre-compiled binaries, depending on the distribution used, some features that I may mention might not be compiled in. Therefore, if you want to have all the features that I'll be discussing, you would be well advised to download the unstable version and compile it. There's plenty of helpful information in the README and INSTALL files.

Features of Fvwm

There are too many features to list, but as an overview of what Fvwm provides, here are some of the more interesting ones:

There is also session management support for those who want it.

Starting and Configuring Fvwm

Fvwm's configuration is best done on a per-user basis, although a global configuration is possible. When Fvwm loads, it looks for the following files and will use the first one it finds:

If no files are found, Fvwm loads with a default builtin menu. This can initially be used to create a basic ~/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc file, as shown by figure 1.

Fvwm startup
Figure 1: Fallback mode that Fvwm uses if no config files were found.

You can then reload Fvwm, and you'll have a bare-minimum config file. By default, Fvwm takes on the appearance of mwm and although mwm's style can be emulated completely, Fvwm's own internal style is to have raised borders and a raised title, as shown in figure 2.

Fvwm's initial config
Figure 2: Screenshot of the settings produced after the generated config.

You may well be thinking "yuck!" - and I wouldn't blame you. There are certain things about it that are hideous, I know. But everything you see in the screenshot is configurable. Of course, all actual window management features are supported; there are menus, button bars, etc. Let's take a closer look at what makes up a window.

A window is a window is a window

A window is a decorated screen frame containing the graphical interface of a program. There are several characteristics of a window, some of which are obvious and some not so obvious, all of which allow us to configure the window's appearance. The structure of a typical window usually contains the following:

A popular configuration is to have three buttons on the title bar. The leftmost one when clicked, pulls down a menu of choice that can be applied to the window. This is more or less the same as the decor in MS-Windows. The next button after that (moving right) iconifies the window, while the button next to that one maximises the window (as seen in Figure 3).

Sample Fvwm Window
Figure 3: A decorated window using the default Fvwm settings.

Fvwm allows up to a maximum of ten buttons on the window titlebar. These can be defined to perform a number of functions. I've yet to personally think of a reason why you would need to define all ten, but I'm sure some people do. There are two types of buttons that can be defined: vector buttons and pixmaps, the former of which are used by default. I'll come back to the difference later on, but for now we'll look at how the buttons are arranged and seen by Fvwm. As such, each button is numbered in turn.

| 1 3 5 7 9			   Title			 0 8 6 4 2 |
|									   |

Fig. 3 therefore shows that buttons 1,4 and 2 have been defined. I mentioned vector buttons earlier. These are "drawn" by Fvwm. Essentially, they're just coordinates of points used by Fvwm for specific functions. You can see a huge list of vector definitions here. You can also apply various definitions to the buttons as you see fit. The code for the buttons is defined within a decor. By default (as is the case here), if no decor has been defined, the builtin is used.

Defining Decors

A decor is a defined set of characteristics that can be applied to windows. Typically, they're suited for defining all the attributes we've looked at so far.

AddToDecor   fDecor
 + BorderStyle Simple
 + TitleStyle	   -- Raised
 + ButtonStyle All -- Raised
 + AddButtonStyle 1 Vector 5 25x40@1 25x60@1 75x60@0 75x40@0 25x40@1
 + AddButtonStyle 2 Vector 4 50x25@1 75x75@0 25x75@0 50x25@1
 + AddButtonStyle 4 Vector 4 50x75@1 25x25@1 75x25@1 50x75@0
 + ButtonStyle	  1 - Clear MWMDecorMenu
 + ButtonStyle	  2 - Clear MWMDecorMax
 + ButtonStyle	  4 - Clear MWMDecorMin

This code can be placed in the ~/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc file. This decor does a number of things. BorderStyle sets up the style of the border. The simple option tells Fvwm that you want the defaults. If you look closely at the border, you'll notice that the edges are cut into. These are the window handles that define how much of the edge is available for grabbing the window (to resize it, move it, etc.) TitleStyle can set a number of attributes; here, it is being used to give the tilebar a raised look, and the same is done to the buttons with the ButtonStyle command. AddButtonStyle adds to an existing style. Following that, the button number is specified (see diagram), and last are the vector definitions that you can replace with your own.

One aspect you must be aware of is that if you define a new button to be added to the titlebar, you must give it a mouse-binding, otherwise it will not display. I won't be covering mouse bindings just yet, but for now you can locate the following in the ~/.fvwm/.fvwm2rc file:

#   for the title bar buttons:
Mouse 0 1       A       Menu MenuFvwmWindowOps2 Close
Mouse 0 2       A       FuncFvwmMaximize
Mouse 0 4       A       Iconify

Adding your own definition is simple. Although nothing will be bound to the button, you can add below those definitions something like the following, replacing the number after "0" with the corresponding number of the button for which you have defined the vector:

Mouse 0 0	A	Nop

You'll have to restart Fvwm for the changes to be applied.

There is a huge number of options available for just these commands. For instance, you can define the Titlebar to be flat, by adding the following line:

TitleStyle -- Flat

If you add --flat to the end of your vector button definitions, the button takes on a sunken, rather than raised, appearance. You can also define button styles based on state, i.e. one for ActiveUp and ActiveDown. Border styles can also be set, so that, rather than a raised border, you can have sunken or flat ones.

As I mentioned earlier, pixmaps can also be used, in place of vector buttons. The same rules apply about defining the mouse-bindings from earlier. These are .xpm files that you can define to replace the buttons with images of your own. The style is similar to the one just defined:

ButtonStyle 2 Pixmap my_pixmap.xpm
ButtonStyle 4 \
  ActiveUp   (Pixmap activeup.xpm) \
  ActiveDown (Pixmap activedown.xpm) \
  Inactive   (Pixmap inactiveup.xpm)
  ButtonStyle 4 \
  InactiveDown Pixmap inactivedown.xpm

Here, Button 2 remains the same throughout all states, but Button 4 uses a different pixmap depending on the state. The button states are listed below:

To apply the decor that you create, you have to tell Fvwm about it. The following general line can be used, obviously replacing the name of the decor with whatever you called it. In the examples above it is fDecor:

Style *  UseDecor  fDecor

Next Month...

Obviously, this has been a cursory review of what a window is, and how to define the basic decor such as buttons and borders. There is a plethora of options that I have not covered just for these alone. Although somewhat cumbersome, the man page for fvwm contains all of these, and includes a lot of options in addition to what I have mentioned. Play around and experiment with defining buttons and vectors.

Next month, we'll take a look at defining menus, coloursets for windows, and some other style options.


Here's a list of resources for more Fvwm-related information:

FVWM's official site
Fvwm Decor collection
fvwm-themes site
An excellent and "modern" fvwm2rc file
Fvwm screenshots
Calmar's site about Fvwm
My own config file with screenshots

man fvwm

picture I write the recently-revived series "The Linux Weekend Mechanic", which was started by John Fisk (the founder of Linux Gazette) in 1996 and continued until 1998. I'm also a member of The Answer Gang.

I was born in Hammersmith (London UK) in 1983. When I was 13, I moved to the sleepy, thatched roofed, village of East Chaldon in the county of Dorset. I am very near the coast (at Lulworth Cove) which is where I used to work.

I first got interested in Linux in 1996 having seen a review of it in a magazine (Slackware 2.0). I was fed up with the instability that the then-new operating system Win95 had and so I decided to give it a go. Slackware 2.0 was great. I have been a massive Linux enthusiast ever since. I ended up with running SuSE on both my desktop and laptop computers.

While at school (The Purbeck School, Wareham in Dorset), I was actively involved in setting up two Linux proxy servers (each running Squid and SquidGuard). I also set up numerous BASH scripts which allowed web-based filtering to be done via e-mail, so that when an e-mail was received, the contents of it were added to the filter file. (Good old BASH -- I love it)

I am now 18 and studying at University (Southampton Institute, UK), on a course called HND Business Information Technology (BIT). So far, it's great.

Other hobbies include reading. I especially enjoy reading plays (Henrik Ibsen, Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw), and I also enjoy literature (Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Jane Austin to name but a few).

I enjoy walking, and often go on holiday to the Lake District, to a place called Keswick. There are numerous "mountains", of which "Great Gable" is my most favourite.

I am also a keen musician. I play the piano in my spare time.

I listen to a variety of music. I enjoy listening to Rock (My favourite band is "Pavement" (lead singer: Stephen Malkmus). I also have a passion for 1960's psychedelic music (I hope to purchase a copy of "Nuggets" reeeeaaall soon).

Copyright © 2004, Thomas Adam. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

How To Enable Desktop Icons for Lightweight Window Managers

By John Murray

About IDesk

Despite the enormous popularity of GNOME and KDE, many users elect to use lighter, simpler window managers instead of the full-blown desktop environments. And with good reason; the performance gains realised through using a fast, light WM - IceWm, Blackbox or Windowmaker for example - are often quite dramatic, especially on underpowered machines.

Most of these lightweight window managers lack the ability to display desktop icons, and for some people this isn't a problem. Others however, might find this a bit hard to get used to, especially if they've come from another desktop environment or OS that does use icons, and this is where IDesk comes in - it's a tool for managing icons on the root window.

There are a few ways to get icons onto your desktop; you could run Nautilus or kdesktop for example. There are disadvantages with these tools though; apart from their appetite for system resources they can take over your desktop and hijack mouse-clicks from your WM. In contrast with these, IDesk is light on memory usage and does nothing but manage your icons, so your WM will behave exactly as it should. And unlike some other light weight tools, IDesk is neither plain nor ugly, and supports eye-candy effects such as transparency. Here's the feature list as described on the IDesk website:

If you think this sounds good, perhaps you should check out some screenshots to see just how good a fast, lightweight desktop can look.

Getting and Installing IDesk

You can download the source from the IDesk site, plus there are binary packages available in RPM and deb formats. Installation for either format is straightforward.


Before you can run IDesk, you need an .ideskrc file in your home directory - you'll find a sample that you can copy and paste in the /usr/share/doc/idesk/README file. This file can be edited to customise IDesk's appearance and behaviour; the font and level of transparency for example. Here's my .ideskrc as an example:

table Config
  FontName: verdana
  FontSize: 12
  FontColor: #ffffff
  Locked: false
  Transparency: 0
  Shadow: true
  ShadowColor: #000000
  ShadowX: 1
  ShadowY: 2
  Bold: false
  ClickDelay: 200
  IconSnap: true
  SnapWidth: 55
  SnapHeight: 100
  SnapOrigin: BottomRight
  SnapShadow: true
  SnapShadowTrans: 200
  CaptionOnHover: false

table Actions
  Lock: control right doubleClk
  Reload: middle doubleClk
  Drag: left hold
  EndDrag: left singleClk
  Execute[0]: left doubleClk
  Execute[1]: right doubleClk

You'll also need a .idesktop folder in your home folder - idesk uses a small text file (known as a linkfile) to represent each icon, and these .lnk files live in this folder. Here's an example:

table Icon
  Caption: Gnumeric
  Icon: /usr/share/idesk/icons/gnumeric.png
  X: 31
  Y: 442
  Command[0]: gnumeric
  Command[1]: gedit ~/.idesktop/gnumeric.lnk

The Command[0] and Command[1] lines refer to the left-click and right-click commands respectively. Don't worry about getting the X and Y values right; you can simply drag the icons into place and their positions will be remembered between sessions.

New users might also be interested in the idesk-extras package; it contains a set of png icons representing most common apps and tasks, as well as sample .ideskrc and .lnk files.


It's probably best that idesk is started for the first time from a shell prompt, so that any error messages will be visible. Once you're satisfied with the configuration, you can add the idesk & command to your window managers startup script.

Quirks and Bugs

Idesk is currently not being actively developed, and the latest version available is 0.56. Despite being at a beta stage, idesk has - for me at least - behaved perfectly, though others have reported some bugs and there are a couple of minor quirks to keep in mind. The first being that if you misconfigure one of the .lnk files - say by using an invalid command or icon image address - idesk will not start. In other words, even if only one icon is misconfigured, none will be displayed. If this happens, just try to restart idesk from a command line and the error message will identify the fault.

The other one is related to the way the icons are positioned; they are "anchored" from the top left hand corner of the icon image rather than the centre or the label. So long as all your icons are the same size - 48x48 will probably suit most people - they'll be uniformly spaced, but if there are variations in size they can appear to be a little uneven.

[BIO] John is a part-time geek from Orange, Australia. He has been using Linux for four years and has written several Linux related articles.

Copyright © 2004, John Murray. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

White Box Linux Kickstart Tricks

By Mark Nielsen

  1. Introduction
  2. Kickstart walk through
  3. KickPost trick
  4. DHCP Stupidity + ksappend Trick
  5. Boot installation cdrom
  6. Boot prompt options
  7. pre and post tricks with wget
  8. Kickstart tricks with the installer: ssh, bash, and other binaries
  9. Things to improve
  10. Conclusion


What is White Box? White Box Enterprise Linux is just RedHat's Enterprise Server 3 recompiled from the source RPMs RH provides. Just for kicks, I ran a md5sum comparison between the RH RPMs and WhiteBox RPMs, and in almost all cases, they were identical. Most of the mismatches were related to trademark logos and such or were RPMs that WhiteBox didn't need.

White Box is very good for testing and developing since it doesn't require any licenses to use. It also should be considered for production use. Please consider contributing towards the White Box. It is a great project!

What is Kickstart? A means of automating Linux installations and upgrades. First, you create a single configuration file which you put on a floppy disk. Then, you boot your computer from the floppy disk, and it will be configured based on the Kickstart configuration file. If the configuration file is set up right, no questions or prompts are asked during the installation.

So what are the Kickstart tricks? In this article, I'm going to talk about the experience I've gained using Kickstart during the last 6 years and in the course of my work at Nuasis as a Systems Administrator and Programmer.

Please read the following manual before reading the rest of this article.

  1. https://www.redhat.com/docs/manuals/linux/RHL-9-Manual/custom-guide/

Kickstart walk through

To me, this is what Kickstart does:
  1. You stick in your boot floppy or boot cdrom.
  2. It brings you to the isolinux boot prompt (similar to lilo). You can override various settings.
  3. It boots from the media.
  4. Installs a shell and the installation software from an image (from the media or the net).
  5. Tries to get the Kickstart file (ks.cfg), whether it is on the net or on your media.
  6. Starts the installation.

KickPost trick

There is a neat trick you can do to your ks.cfg file. An undocumented feature which works just fine is the ability to include another ks.cfg file in your ks.cfg file. Put something like this
into your ks.cfg file. It will probably also work with another file on the floppy disk or cdrom (but why would you do that?).

DHCP Stupidity + ksappend Trick

By setting append ip=dhcp in the isolinux.cfg file of the boot floppy or cdrom, or by typing in "ip=dhcp" at the boot prompt, you can boot your computer from a DHCP server for Kickstarting purposes. The Kickstart process will also try to use DHCP if you try to get something from the net and the network settings were not specified. NOTE: The ip address during Kickstart doesn't have to be the same as when the computer reboots after installation.

Besides setting up the network settings, DHCP has the capability of telling your computer where to get the Kickstart file. Here is the problem: The installation program has no way of getting a file except through NFS. Trying to pass a url for a the location of the file won't work. I hate NFS. I have always had problems with it. I prefer to use a web server for Kickstarts.

There are two solutions around this:

  1. issue the ks=http://somewhere.com/myconfig.ks command at boot time or in the isolinux.cfg file located on the boot floppy or boot cdrom.
  2. Use the kickpost command in a generic Kickstart file.
If you decide to use the kickpost command in the Kickstart file, then leave the ks.cfg file on your boot media as generic as possible. The kickpost command in the Kickstart file will download the rest of your Kickstart file.

Thus, the ks.cfg file located on the floppy or cdrom would look like this:

keyboard us
lang en_US
langsupport en_US
network --bootproto=dhcp

The isolinux.cfg file would look like

default my_default
prompt 1
timeout 600
display boot.msg
F1 boot.msg
F2 options.msg
F3 general.msg
F4 param.msg
F5 rescue.msg
F7 snake.msg
label my_default
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ip=dhcp initrd=initrd.img 
  kssendmac ksdevice=eth0 lang=en_US
label linux
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks initrd=initrd.img
label text
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img text
label expert
  kernel vmlinuz
  append expert initrd=initrd.img
label ks
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks initrd=initrd.img
label lowres
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img lowres
Thus, you can get around the fact that DHCP can't send a url as the location of your Kickstart file. Also, include_this_file.ks doesn't have to be a text file. It could be a script which prints out the correct Kickstart file based on the ip or MAC address.

Another trick -- let the DHCP server be a DNS server as well.
If your include command is something like this:

%ksappend http://Kickstart.foo/include_this_file.ks
Then have DHCP point to itself to be the DNS server, and it can assign an ip address for "Kickstart.foo" (which could be itself). This enables you use an arbitrary server. Practically, you would probably have the dhcp, dns, and Kickstart services run on the same computer.

Boot installation cdrom

If you want to create your own bootable cdrom for installation, then please read the link below. This eliminates the need to use floppies. Another nice thing to do is have your computer eject the cdrom and reboot. (Assuming your rack mount server doesn't reload your cdrom after a reboot) you start the Kickstart, walk away and go to lunch, come back, and your computer is ready to be used. If your computer loads the cdrom after a reboot, then you don't want to do that.

A sample isolinux.cfg file for the bootable cdrom would look like this:

default my_default
prompt 1
timeout 600
display boot.msg
F1 boot.msg
F2 options.msg
F3 general.msg
F4 param.msg
F5 rescue.msg
F7 snake.msg
label my_default
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks= ip= gateway= netmask= dns= initrd=initrd.img kssendmac \
  ksdevice=eth0 lang=en_US
label linux
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks initrd=initrd.img
label text
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img text
label expert
  kernel vmlinuz
  append expert initrd=initrd.img
label ks
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks initrd=initrd.img
label lowres
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img lowres

Now how do you eject the cdrom at the end of the installation? Put reboot as an option in your ks.cfg file if your computer doesn't reload the cdrom after a reboot. Otherwise, put this at the end of the post section in your ks.cfg file. It will basically try to eject every IDE device. If it is a hard drive, who cares, but if is a cdrom, it works. If there is an easy way to do it with a normal command in Kickstart, I missed it.
mkdir /mnt/hda
mkdir /mnt/hdb
mkdir /mnt/hdc
mkdir /mnt/hdd
mknod /dev/hda b 3 0
mknod /dev/hdb b 3 64
mknod /dev/hdc b 22 0
mknod /dev/hdd b 22 64
echo '/dev/hda /mnt/hda iso9660,ro 0 0
/dev/hdb /mnt/hdb iso9660,ro 0 0
/dev/hdc /mnt/hdc iso9660,ro 0 0
/dev/hdd /mnt/hdd iso9660,ro 0 0' >> /etc/fstab
/mnt/sysimage/usr/bin/eject /dev/hda
/mnt/sysimage/usr/bin/eject /dev/hdb
/mnt/sysimage/usr/bin/eject /dev/hdc
/mnt/sysimage/usr/bin/eject /dev/hdd

Boot prompt options

Read these two docs.
  1. https://www.redhat.com/docs/manuals/linux/RHL-9-Manual/install-guide/ch-bootopts.html
  2. http://docs.rage.net/system/anaconda-9.0/command-line.txt
Whether you boot from a floppy disk or a cdrom, these two docs are very useful. Basically, what you want to do is customize the isolinux.cfg file located on the floppy disk or cdrom. For example, you can put in the ip address, netmask, dns, gateway, and even the location of the Kickstart file on the net. This can be very useful if you Kickstart a computer over and over again and you don't have or want dhcp. You can override these options at boot time. One idea is to create a generic boot cdrom, and then at the boot prompt type in the ip address you want to use (if you don't have a DHCP server).

Here is a useful trick given the configuration below. The "wb.ks" file on the web server doesn't have to be a text file. If can actually be a script which detects the ip address or MAC address of the computer being Kickstarted and print out the appropriate Kickstart file. Thus, the url for the Kickstart file will stay the same, but the network settings might change. This is useful if you don't have a DHCP server. For Perl, look at the %ENV hash and for Python, look at the os.environ dictionary, to get the ip address or the MAC address. You can also pass arguments in the url if you know what you are doing (for example, pass the host name, and then the perl or python script can determine which Kickstart file to use if it doesn't recognize your ip address or MAC address).

A sample isolinux.cfg file for the bootable cdrom would look like this:

default my_default
prompt 1
timeout 600
display boot.msg
F1 boot.msg
F2 options.msg
F3 general.msg
F4 param.msg
F5 rescue.msg
F7 snake.msg
label my_default
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks= ip= gateway= netmask= dns= initrd=initrd.img kssendmac \
  ksdevice=eth0 lang=en_US
label linux
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks initrd=initrd.img
label text
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img text
label expert
  kernel vmlinuz
  append expert initrd=initrd.img
label ks
  kernel vmlinuz
  append ks initrd=initrd.img
label lowres
  kernel vmlinuz
  append initrd=initrd.img lowres

pre and post tricks with wget

"wget" is a program which is available during installation time. It can download files over the net. Why is this program useful during Kickstart? In your ks.cfg file, you can use it to download files and put it on your computer. Why is this useful? Well, if you can only install an rpm after the computer has booted, then you can at least download it during installation time. Then, if you are smart enough, you can use a firstboot script to install the rpm the first time the computer comes up.

An example in the ks.cfg file would be:

wget -q -O /mnt/sysimage/usr/src/local/sompackage.rpm http://myserver.local/sompackage.rpm

Kickstart tricks with the installer: ssh, bash, and other binaries

Here is an advanced trick which you should only do if you are good at Linux in general. You can basically install any piece of software into your installation program. For example, you can install ssh and ssh to a computer somewhere to you read your email while the computer is being Kickstarted. Sometimes, I am trapped in our Network Operations Center at work, and I am bored watching a Kickstart process, so I use ssh to connect to one of my computers to do something useful.

Below, I am going to show you how to install any binary file. You have to be careful about how much space you use up. First off, the installation program uses an image to get a lot of the binaries it uses during installation. An example image is ftp://mirror.physics.ncsu.edu/pub/whitebox/3.0/en/os/i386/RedHat/base/netstg2.img

Now, what you do is modify this image. Here is an example script:

### in case you run this script twice
mkdir -p mnt
umount mnt
rm -rf new_image
rm -f netstg2.img

  ## Get and mount the old image
wget -q -O netstg2_orig.img ftp://mirror.physics.ncsu.edu/pub/whitebox/3.0/en/os/i386/RedHat/base/netstg2.img
mkdir -p mnt
mount -o loop netstg2_orig.img mnt
  ## Make the new image directory
mkdir -p new_image

  ## rsync the old image to the new image
rsync -a mnt/* new_image/
  ## rsync a bunch of other stuff over
rsync -a /usr/sbin/ssh* new_image/usr/sbin/
rsync -a /usr/bin/ssh* new_image/usr/bin/
rsync -a /usr/bin/rsync* new_image/usr/bin/
rsync -a /usr/bin/nmap* new_image/usr/bin/
rsync -a /usr/bin/scp* new_image/usr/bin/
rsync -a /bin/bash new_image/usr/bin/

  ## Make a dependency list -- very crude
ldd /usr/sbin/sshd | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 > List.dep
ldd /usr/bin/ssh | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 >> List.dep
ldd /usr/bin/nmap | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 >> List.dep
ldd /bin/bash | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 >> List.dep
ldd /usr/bin/rsync | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 >> List.dep
ldd /usr/bin/scp | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 >> List.dep
ldd /usr/bin/screen | cut -d ' ' -f3 | cut -d '.' -f1 >> List.dep

  ### execute the perl script to copy over the libraries
chmod 755 Copy_Lib.pl

  ### Make your image. 
mkcramfs --verbose new_image netstg2.img

  ### replace netstg2.img on the Kickstart server or cdrom 
  ### with the new one you just created.

Here is the Copy_Lib.pl script:


my @Lines = <FILE>;
close FILE;
(@Lines) = grep($_ =~ /[a-zA-Z0-9]/, @Lines);

my $Home = "new_image";
foreach my $Line (@Lines) {
    chomp $Line;
    my $Reverse = reverse $Line;
    my (@Temp) = split(/\//, $Reverse, 2);
    my $Dir = reverse($Temp[1]);
    print `mkdir -vp $Home/$Dir`;
    $Command = "rsync -av --ignore-existing $Line* $Home/$Dir/" ;
    $Command2 = "rsync -av --copy-links --ignore-existing $Line* $Home/$Dir/";
    print "$Command\n";
    print `$Command`;
    print "$Command2\n";
    print `$Command2`;

I had trouble changing the default shell to bash during the Kickstart. So, in the %pre section of the ks.cfg file, I entered this command:

cp /usr/bin/bash /
then when I clicked on Alt-F2 during installation time, I executed the command:
and I got a good bash shell.

Here is another interesting tidbit, you can also install a service. For example, I tried to get sshd running during a Kickstart. I copied over all the libraries, created a shadow password file, modified /etc/passwd, and actually got sshd to run at Kickstart time automatically. However, when I tried to connect to the computer being Kickstarted, it would crash sshd running on that computer. Crashing sshd didn't affect the Kickstart process. It wasn't important enough for me to get it working, so I gave up.

If I actually could get to work, I could watch the Kickstart process from my desktop. I think running an Apache web server should be fine. I could setup the web server with a few python scripts. Those scripts would report on the health of the Kickstart process. That would be cool. Python already exists in the Kickstart program.

Things to improve

There are only two things in Kickstart which upset me, and either I can live without.
  1. You can't send a host name request to the DHCP server (you would have to change the boot options of your install media to do this if it were possible). The only thing the DHCP server can do is match your computer by its MAC address. With the normal dhclient program (after you have installed Linux) you can make a host name request, but not during Kickstart (maybe we should copy over the dhclient software onto the netstg2.img file and execute dhclient in the %pre section of the ks file?). If you know how to setup the dhcp server, it can return the correct fixed ip address even without knowing the MAC address. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how to do that.
  2. DHCP only lets you get the Kickstart file from an NFS server. This is not a problem with DHCP but with the Kickstart process. It should be able to return a url and the installer should be able to detect the url and download the ks file. It looks like it should be very easy to edit the source code of Anaconda to make it do just that. I briefly looked at the source code and everything is there to download files from a web or ftp server, so it is just a matter of someone doing it.
My complaints above actually affect my work. Because DHCP relied heavily on the MAC address, and we couldn't get MAC addresses ahead of time, we ended up not using DHCP for one solution. That was unfortunate.


Overall, I have been pleased with Kickstarting computers. It has proven to be a very powerful tool.

I pretty much have no future plans with Kickstart except to contribute to the Yum project by making a Yum server capable of making Kickstart configurations and managing Yum repositories. My dream is to replace RH satellite servers with Yum servers. I would of course use the Python programming language to do this, as it is my favorite programming language and Yum is already written in Python (yeah!).

[BIO] Mark Nielsen was enjoying his work at cnet.com as a MySQL DBA, but is moving to Google as a MySQL DBA. During his spare time, he uses Python heavily for mathematical and web projects.

Copyright © 2004, Mark Nielsen. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Securing a New Linux Installation

By Barry O'Donovan


From a security professional's perspective, a number of common Linux distributions are insecure "out of the box", and many of the supplied packages are already out of date by the time they reach the shelves. As the security of one's computer and more importantly its data is a priority concern, there are a number of steps that should be taken at the time of installation to secure one's operating system as well as to help identify attempted or successful attacks.

These steps are listed below and each is expanded on in detail in the sections that follow.

  1. Installation and configuration of an effective firewall
  2. The (automatic) updating of all installed packages
  3. Stopping and disabling of all unnecessary services
  4. Locating and removing/altering unnecessary SUID/SGID's
  5. Logwatch and Tripwire

1. Installing and Configuring a Firewall

A properly configured and effective firewall policy is not only your first line of defense but it is also your most important. Any potential (remote) attacker that cannot breach your firewall will not be able to exploit any of the possible vulnerabilities of the underlying services that are protected by it.

The firewall should be set-up before you connect you new Linux installation to the internet for the first-time. Configure it to deny all incoming packets except those that are ESTABLISHED or RELATED. This will provide maximum protection while you carry out the rest of the steps to secure your installation. Once you have completed all of the steps you can then configure your firewall policy as you require.

I introduced the basic concepts of iptables, the built-in firewall of the Linux kernel, and gave a number of example configurations for various scenarios in "Firewalling with netfilter/iptables" from issue #103 of the Gazette. I strongly recommend you read through this article and use it to complete this step.

2. Update All Installed Packages

A standard Linux distribution can come bundled with well over 1,000 packages and many of these will have had newer versions released by the time you install them. Most of these updates will be feature enhancements and bug fixes, but some will also be security fixes, and some of these security fixes may be serious. Ensuring that all of the installed packages are at their newest versions is not just a job at installation but rather one that must be continued throughout the lifetime the new installation. This can be a very time consuming job and luckily there are a number of utilities that can do this for us automatically. The two most common utilities used are APT (Advanced Package Tool) and Yum (Yellowdog Updater, Modified).

Some distributions may provide their own utilities and in those cases you may find it easiest to just install them and use them as pre-configured. For example RedHat and Fedora distributions come with up2date and the Debian distribution uses APT by default.

If you have or want to install one yourself I would recommend APT which can be used with any RPM-based Linux distribution. You will also need to locate a repository containing the new/updated packages for you distribution from where APT can download and install them. A quick internet search with the name of your distribution and 'apt' or 'apt-get' should locate an APT binary RPM and a repository for you. See the links following this article for some useful sites and repositories.

Once you have APT installed and the repositories set-up (usually /etc/apt/sources.list or similar), its use is trivial and involves only two commands (run as root):

$ apt-get update
$ apt-get upgrade
The first command downloads the latest package information from the repository and the second uses this information to download and install newer versions of already installed packages if available. These commands should be performed regularly to ensure your system is always up-to-date.

If you wish to ensure maximum security you should always try to use official repositories containing signed packages; this is best accomplished by using the default auto-updater supplied by the more popular distributions. When downloading individual packages and files from the internet, always try and use md5sum (c.f. man md5sum). An MD5SUM is a hash/checksum of a file and most download sites publish the MD5SUMs of the files they have available for download; comparing these with the ones you generate from the downloaded file will help ensure that you have an not downloaded a trojaned version of the package/file.

Finally, you should strongly consider subscribing to your distribution's security mailing list. These are usually low-volume lists and you will be informed by e-mail whenever a new package is released that fixes a vulnerability.

3. Stop and Disable All Unnecessary Services

A new installation of many Linux distributions will have many services/daemons configured to start each time you boot your machine. Some of these might include the HTTP (web server), POP3/IMAP (e-mail) daemons, a database server, etc. Many of these will be unnecessary for many users and can offer a potential attacker many routes to infiltrate your new operating system. You should go through each of them and stop and disable all of those you don't need.

The bigger and more common distributions will probably have a GUI application for configuring these services; try looking in the Settings or System menus of your desktop's application menu for this.

On RedHat systems, the command line utility for configuring services is called chkconfig. To list the current status of all installed services, execute (as root):

$ chkconfig --list
which will generate something similar to:
iptables        0:off   1:off   2:on    3:on    4:on    5:on    6:off
sshd            0:off   1:off   2:on    3:on    4:on    5:on    6:off
sendmail        0:off   1:off   2:on    3:on    4:on    5:on    6:off
httpd           0:off   1:off   2:on    3:on    4:on    5:on    6:off
 ...             ...     ...     ...     ...     ...     ...     ...
 ...             ...     ...     ...     ...     ...     ...     ...
smb             0:off   1:off   2:off   3:off   4:off   5:off   6:off
squid           0:off   1:off   2:off   3:off   4:off   5:off   6:off
xinetd based services:
        chargen-udp:    off
        rsync:          off
        chargen:        off
          ...           ...
          ...           ...
        sgi_fam:        on

The numbers (0 through 6) preceding the colons represent the system "run-levels" where the two of usual concern are 3 and 5; if your system boots to a console (no GUI) then it runs in level 3 whereas if it boots to a GUI it runs in level 5.

To enable a service (say squid) in run-levels 2,3,4 and 5 we would execute (as root):

$ chkconfig --level 2345 squid on
and to disable a service (say sshd) in levels 3 and 5 we would execute (as root);
$ chkconfig --level 35 sshd off

If you do not know what a particular service that is enabled is or does then try an internet search or try using the man command with the service name as a keyword (man -k). Some of the GUIs may offer an explanation of what the services are.

The chkconfig command will enable/disable services the next time you boot your computer but it won't have any effect on whether or not a service is currently running. Under RedHat, we use the service command as follows:

$ service service_name start
$ service service_name stop
$ service service_name restart
$ service service_name status
where service_name is the same as those reported by chkconfig --list.

You can run netstat -l after disabling all unnecessary services to ensure you got them all (it checks what sockets are listening for connections). For the services which you do keep running, ensure that they are correctly (and restrictively) firewalled and configured.

4. Locate and Remove/Alter Unnecessary SUID/SGID's

A SUID (set user ID) or a SGID (set group ID) program is one that allows an ordinary user to execute it with elevated privileges. A common example is the passwd binary which, among other functions, allows an ordinary user to change their login password. However, these passwords are stored in a file that can only be altered (and sometimes read) by the root user and, as such, non-root users should be unable to change their passwords. The access privileges for this binary are:
-r-s--x--x  1 root root 18992 Jun  6  2003 /usr/bin/passwd
As you can see, the owner execute bit is set to 's' instead of the usual 'x', making the binary SUID; i.e. when an ordinary user executes passwd, it will run with the privileges of the file's owner - in this case the root user.

Many SUID/SGID executables are necessarily so, such as passwd above. However many others are not. SUID/SGID programs can be exploited by malicious local users to gain elevated privileges on your system. Run the following command as root to find all of these executables:

find / \( -perm -4000 -o -perm -2000 \)
or for a more detailed list use:
find / \( -perm -4000 -o -perm -2000 \) -exec ls -ldb {} \;

We must now go through this list and try to reduce these files that are owned by root or in the root group to the bare minimum by either removing unnecessary SUID/SGID binaries and/or removing the SUID/SGID bit.

Packages containing SUID/SGID executables that you are unlikely to use can be removed by first finding the package with, say, rpm -q --whatprovides /usr/sbin/kppp and then removing it with rpm -e package-name.

The SUID/SGID bit can be removed with, for example, chmod -s /usr/sbin/kppp. The executable can then be run by the root user when needed.

5. Logwatch and Tripwire

Although we may do our best to secure our system, the reality of the situation is that no matter how much effort we make we will never be completely secure. Rather than burying our heads in the sand and hoping for the best, there are a few other things we can do to ensure that we know if and when our system is compromised.

One intrusion detection program that is often underestimated and under used is Tripwire (http://www.tripwire.org/). This program checks your system's files periodically to see if they have been changed. If any have that should not have, Tripwire will generate a report for you to act on. Tripwire takes a little time to configure and set up properly but it is well worth the effort; Tripwire helped me to identify an intrusion on a server I was administering a couple of years back. I will cover the proper installation and configuration of Tripwire in next month's article.

An invaluable source of information on what is going on in the background of your computer are the log files (usually in /var/log). All logging on a Linux system is handled by the syslogd daemon and its configuration file /etc/syslog.conf. The configuration file specifies what facilities or subsystems to record messages from (e.g. cron, daemon, mail, etc), what level of messages to log (e.g. debug, info, warn, etc) and what to do with these messages (append to log file, send to printer, etc). If you wish to change the default configuration you will find a lot of information in the various man pages (syslogd(8), syslog.conf(5), syslog(2), syslog(3) and more).

Syslog also allows remote logging; placing your log files on another networked system. The advantage of this is that if your system is compromised by someone they will be unable to remove their steps from your logs making the tracing of their origin and their actions all the easier.

Unfortunately there is far too much information in the various log files for the average user to assimilate each day and for this reason we turn to Logwatch. Logwatch (http://www.logwatch.org/), as described by its authors, "parses through your system's logs for a given period of time and creates a report analysing areas that you specify, in as much detail as you require."

Logwatch is installed with most common distributions as standard and by default it will usually generate daily reports and e-mail them to the root user. As these reports are usually short they should be read every day. They will highlight, depending on its configuration, such information as invalid login attempts, network connections to various daemons such as SSHD, possible port scans, etc. Its configuration file is usually located in /etc/log.d/conf/logwatch.conf and it is well documented with comments to help you out.

There are a number of other intrusion detection systems you might like to consider, such as Snort - http://www.snort.org/, and you can easily find them with a quick internet search.

Closing Remarks

Security is not something that you consider at installation and then put on the back burner; rather it must be something that is always on your mind in everything you do; whether it be ensuring your system is up-to-date, ensuring proper password policies, governing whom you grant access to your system to and what level of access, reading your daily logs, checking the tripwire reports, reading the security mailing list of you Linux distribution, etc. There is an old saying that is hugely relevant to computer security: "A chain is only as strong as the weakest link". It can just take one lapse of effort or concentration on your part to open one security hole and all your effort will be wasted.

This article covers the basics - the important procedures that every user should do. There is always more that can be done but each person will have to weigh up the potential advantage against the cost in terms of the time and the effort involved.

Some final nuggets of advice:


APT Other Security Utilities

A Note on Last Month's Article

Thomas Adam pointed out a potential conflict in my article last month (" Automatic Backups with rsync and Anacron", Linux Gazette #104). In the article I had crontabs such as:
00 02 * * * rsync -r -e ssh --delete /home/username/mail
Thomas rightfully informed me that "this could cause a few issues if one is already running some kind of "ntp" check, since the task running at precisely 02:00 could clock skew. This would cause the scheduled rsync process above to get reloaded by cron multiple times or even not at all. Therefore, it is best to offset the time to either a few minutes before the hour, or a few minutes afterwards."

Thanks for pointing that out. And, as always, I welcome all feedback, compliments and criticism. You'll find my e-mail by clicking on my name at the top of this article.

Next month:

The ins and outs of Tripwire.

[BIO] Barry O'Donovan graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with a B.Sc. (Hons) in computer science and mathematics. He is currently completing a Ph.D. in computer science with the Information Hiding Laboratory, University College Dublin, Ireland in the area of audio watermarking.

Barry has been using Linux since 1997 and his current flavor of choice is Fedora Core. He is a member of the Irish Linux Users Group. Whenever he's not doing his Ph.D. he can usually be found supporting his finances by doing some work for Open Hosting, in the pub with friends or running in the local park.

Copyright © 2004, Barry O'Donovan. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

RDF and the Semantic Web

By Jimmy O'Regan

RDF is a framework for defining metadata; data that describes data. It was developed by the W3C, based on work by Ramanathan V. Guha, and was originally used in Netscape Navigator 4.5's Smart Browsing ("What's related?") feature, and by Open Directory. RDF followed from work Guha had done earlier, both on the Cyc project, and on Apple's Hotsauce project.

RDF is currently being used in several areas: MusicBrainz uses it to provide playlist information about albums and songs, as a replacement for formats such as WinAmp's M3U files, or Microsoft's ASX files; Mozilla uses it for several purposes, e.g. recording the details of downloaded files (sample), remembering which action to perform for each MIME type, and so on. RDF is also used in some variants of RSS to provide details about syndicated articles.

RDF is a key component of the Semantic Web. In a May 2001 article in Scientific American, Tim Berners-Lee et al. described this concept:

The Semantic Web is an extension of the current web where information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation.

The Semantic Web is the next "big deal" for the Web: the W3C is developing several technologies, based around RDF, which provide a machine-readable way of representing metadata. Various schema are already in existence: RSS 1.0, for summarising the contents of a website (though RSS is mostly used by news sites to provide a "feed" of the news they provide); OWL, which provides a basis for creating new schema while providing compatibility with similar schema; FOAF, which provides a way of describing people and the relationships between them. There are several others as well. Edd Dumbill has even proposed that file metadata in GNOME be represented in RDF.

A brief history of RDF

Cyc is a project to create an artificial intelligence with basic "common sense". It has a large database containing definitions such as: a tree is a kind of plant, a sycamore is a kind of tree, and so on. Cyc is then able to deduce from these definitions that a sycamore is a plant. Though work continues on a commercial version of Cyc, an open source version, OpenCyc, is also available.

Hotsauce was a browser plug-in created by Apple in 1996 that allowed users to use 3D navigation on a website that included an MCF definition. MCF, Meta Content Framework, was a text-based definition that used an RFC822-style format to describe a site. Following the examples I found on the net, I've created an example of my own that describes a simple site layout.

When Guha moved to Netscape, he met with Tim Bray, co-author of XML 1.0, and the two worked on creating an XML-based version of MCF, submitted to the W3C in May 1997. (I've created a simple example of this too).

With the addition of name spaces to XML, RDF began to take its current form. RDF uses XML name spaces to extend its vocabulary using RDF schema, though it's worth noting that although XML is the most common container format for RDF, other formats are in use. The W3C uses another format called N3 (Notation3), which bears greater resemblance to LISP-style languages, such as CycL and KIF.

RDF schema separate the RDF metadata - definitions of how new terms relate to each other - from the "normal" metadata. Instead of defining the relationships among items, such as "A is a child of B, and is a kind of C", as was done in MCF and MCF-XML, these are defined in separate schema, which may be referred to using XML name spaces and reused (though it is still possible to include schema within the document).

RDF Statements

Anyone interested in learning about RDF would do well to read the W3C's RDF Primer and/or "A no-nonsense guide to Semantic Web specs for XML people", but I'll give my best attempt to explain the concepts.

Each RDF statement is called a "triple", meaning it consists of three parts: subject, predicate, and object; the subject is either an RDF URI, or a blank node (I haven't seen a good explanation why these nodes are "blank", so I'll just refer to them as nodes). So, rephrasing the sentence "Linux Gazette is the name of the website at http://linuxgazette.net" looks like this:

http://linuxgazette.net has the property name with the value "Linux Gazette"

Predicates may only be RDF URIs - references to a schema definition of the property - while objects may be URIs, blank nodes, or literals. We can then express the previous triple as an N-Triple, which is the simplest valid form of RDF, like this:

# Note that each URI most be enclosed, and each triple must end with a '.'
<http://linuxgazette.net>  <http://example.org/sample#name> "Linux Gazette".
In XML, the general style is:
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#">

<rdf:Description rdf:about="subject">

so, using XML QNames, which are valid URIs, our example becomes:
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#"
<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net">
 <example:name>Linux Gazette</example:name>

RDF allows multiple properties to be abbreviated by including them within the same set of tag, so:
<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net">
  <example:name>Linux Gazette</example:name>

<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net">
is the same as:
<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net">
  <example:name>Linux Gazette</example:name>
I've said that objects can be nodes: a quick example of this is:
<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net">
   <example:name>Ben Okopnik</example:name>
These nodes can be given identifiers, and referred to by identifier, for clarity:
<rdf:Description rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net">
  <example:editor rdf:nodeID="ben"/>

<rdf:Description rdf:nodeID="ben"> <example:name>Ben Okopnik</example:name> </rdf:Description>


FOAF stands for "Friend of a Friend". FOAF was designed as a way to represent information about people online, and the relationships between them. E-mail addresses are used as identifiers, though given how much spam we all seem to receive these days, it is also possible to use a sha1sum of an e-mail address, or both.

FOAF is being used by sites such as plink ("People Link") where people can meet each other, and sites like LiveJournal generate FOAF so that users can have their relationships automatically described. There is also SharedID, which is attempting to build a Single Sign-On Service based on FOAF.

Rather than talk about it in nauseating detail, I'll show a simple example, which should be relatively self-explanatory. (This is based on an example generated by FOAF-a-matic).

<foaf:Person rdf:nodeID="jimregan">
<foaf:name>Jimmy O'Regan</foaf:name>

<foaf:mbox rdf:resource="mailto:jimregan@o2.ie"/>

<foaf:phone rdf:resource="tel:+353872441159"/>

    <foaf:name>Mark Hogan</foaf:name>



Most elements in FOAF can be added as many times as you like - many of us have several e-mail addresses, homepages, etc.

Anything you add to your own <foaf:Person> definition, you can add to any other node within a <foaf:knows> node.

<foaf:name>Mark Hogan</foaf:name>

More Detail

There are quite a lot of things you can describe using FOAF, from the useful to the amusing (such as the <foaf:dnaChecksum> tag). Let's add a few of the more useful items, such as those generated by LiveJournal:

<foaf:workplaceHomepage rdf:resource="http://www.dewvalley.com"/>
<foaf:schoolHomepage rdf:resource="http://www.lit.ie"/>
<foaf:schoolHomepage rdf:resource="http://www.gairmscoilmhuirethurles.ie/"/>

<!-- Generated by LiveJournal -->
  <foaf:Document rdf:about="http://www.livejournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=jimregan">
  <dc:title>LiveJournal.com Profile</dc:title>
      Full LiveJournal.com profile, including information such as interests 
      and bio.

<foaf:weblog rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/users/jimregan/"/>

<foaf:interest dc:title="charles dickens" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=charles+dickens"/>
<foaf:interest dc:title="foaf" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=foaf" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="guitar" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=guitar" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="linux" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=linux" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="linux gazette" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=linux+gazette" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="neal stephenson" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=neal+stephenson" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="open source" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=open+source" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="terry pratchett" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=terry+pratchett" />
<foaf:interest dc:title="wikipedia" rdf:resource="http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=wikipedia" />

The <dc:title> and <dc:description> tags are from the Dublin Core schema, so we would have to change our namespace definitions to add the url:


There are also several ways of identifying various chat accounts you have online:


and many other, miscellaneous details.

Now, that's all well and good, but what about the less useful stuff? FOAF has tags to add silly things like Myers-Briggs personality types, geekcode blocks, and .plan information:

GCS/IT/MU/TW/O d-(+)>--- s: a--(-) C++(+++)>++++$
UBLAC++(on)>++++$ P++(+++)>++++ L+++>++++$ E+(+++) W+++>$
N+ o K++ w(++)>-- O- M !V PS+(+++) PE(--) Y+>++ PGP-(+)>+++
t+() !5 X+ !R tv+ b++(+++)>++++$ DI++++ D++ G e h r-
<foaf:plan>Get a better job</foaf:plan>

Other Schema

FOAF contains a lot of useful and amusing stuff, but there are many other schemas waiting to be used.

On the amusing side:



<quaff:owesBeerTo rdf:nodeID="doyle"/>
<quaff:drankBeerWith rdf:nodeID="doyle"/>

<foaf:Person rdf:nodeID="doyle">
<foaf:name>Jimmy Doyle</foaf:name>

There are also more useful external schema - geo, to describe the location of a place; and srw to describe the languages you speak, read, write, and master.




One of the cool things you can do with geographic locations is to run FoafGeoGraph on your FOAF file. This looks for geographic locations for people, or for links to their FOAF files, from which it generates input for XPlanet which can be used to show your position relative to those of your friends. Nifty, eh?

You can also refer to other documents (though this is part of RDF). For example, there's a schema that represents iCalendar data in RDF. Using this, I can provide my work timetable and some birthdays from my foaf file (work.cal.rdf.txt and birthdays.cal.rdf.txt, generated with this Perl script, which I've lost the link for):

<rdfs:seeAlso rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/misc/oregan/work.cal.rdf.txt" dc:title="Work schedule"/>
<rdfs:seeAlso rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/misc/oregan/birthdays.cal.rdf.txt" dc:title="Birthdays"/>
I've already mentioned that it's possible to depict chat accounts with services such as Jabber, and MSN. It's also possible to represent other accounts. Chat accounts which don't have a specific tag available can still be represented, using the <foaf:OnlineChatAccount> tag, while other accounts use the <foaf:OnlineAccount> tag.
    <foaf:accountServiceHomepage dc:title="irc.freenode.net" rdf:resource="http://www.freenode.net/irc_servers.shtml" />

    <foaf:accountServiceHomepage dc:title="Wikipedia" rdf:resource="http://en.wikipedia.org" />

Specifying a relationship

FOAF was originally designed to described the way in which people were related to each other, though this seems to have become unworkable. It's still possible to convey this information though:

<dcterms seems to be required by rel -->

<rel:parentOf rdf:nodeID="markinho"/>

<foaf:Person rdf:nodeID="markinho">
<foaf:name>Mark Hogan</foaf:name>
<rdfs:seeAlso rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/105/misc/oregan/mark.rdf.txt"/>

Web of trust

Identity theft is becoming more and more of an issue on the 'net. To protect against this, there is a schema available which describes various aspects of a PGP signature, and to allow a FOAF file to be digitally signed.

(For more information on signing a FOAF document, see Edd Dumbill's page).


<!-- Signature to verify this document -->
<foaf:Document rdf:about="">
  <wot:assurance rdf:resource="foaf-example.rdf.asc" />

<!-- my signature -->
<wot:hex_id> 773730F8</wot:hex_id>
<wot:fingerprint>D675 279B 24AC BDC3 BAE9 BB7A 666C 30CA 7737 30F8</wot:fingerprint>


Co-depiction is a hot topic in FOAF circles. The logical extension to saying you know someone is to prove it with a photo. Let's expand the first example to show a co-depiction of Mark and me:

<foaf:homepage rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/authors/oregan.html"/>
<foaf:depiction rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/gx/authors/oregan.jpg"/>
<foaf:depiction rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/105/misc/oregan/IMAGE0004.jpg"/>
<foaf:phone rdf:resource="tel:+353872441159"/>

<foaf:name>Mark Hogan</foaf:name>
<foaf:depiction rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/105/misc/oregan/IMAGE0004.jpg"/>

Nothing special, just the same <foaf:depiction> tag in two or more <foaf:Person> tags, which makes it easy for a computer to find where two people are co-depicted.

The next step in co-depiction is going to be the addition of SVG outlines, to show who is who in a photo, though unfortunately, no one has yet come up with a way of referring to the SVG data in a computer readable way. (SVG, as an XML-based format, is capable of including RDF metadata without difficulty).

Another problem is that SVG hasn't quite caught on yet, though the latest version of KDE supports it, and future versions of Mozilla should support it.

As it is, though, it can be useful to show humans who's who. Take this picture, which shows my son, his friend Adam, and me in the background. In the future, it will be possible to use an SVG image like this - which contains an invisible outline, with some additional metadata, to give machine readable information, similar to HTML's image maps.

At the moment, we can use an image like this, which contains the same outlines, but is filled with separate colours for each person depicted, and simply say that Mark is represented by the green area, Adam by the red, and me by the blue. (I use the svgdisplay program which comes with KSVG; those without an SVG viewer can look at this PNG to see what I'm talking about).


DOAP stands for "Description of a Project". DOAP is an RDF vocabulary, influenced by FOAF, which was created by Edd Dumbill to provide details about an open source software project. At the time of writing, DOAP, as a project, is one week old, and already has impressive momentum.

DOAP is designed as a replacement for several different formats for project description, such as that used by Freshmeat or the GNU Free Software Directory, which complements FOAF. Here's an example which describes LG, generated using DOAP-a-matic (text version):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-15"?>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#" 
	 xmlns:rdfs="http://www.w3.org/2000/01/rdf-schema#" xmlns:doap="http://usefulinc.com/ns/doap#" 
  <rdf:Description rdf:about="">
    <admin:generatorAgent rdf:resource="http://www.bonjourlesmouettes.org/doap-a-matic.php"/>
    <doap:name>Linux Gazette</doap:name>
    <doap:homepage rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net"/>
      Linux Gazette is a monthly Linux webzine, dedicated to providing a free 
      magazine for the Linux community and making Linux just a little more fun!
    <doap:shortdesc>Linux Gazette is a monthly Linux webzine.</doap:shortdesc>
    <doap:mailing-list rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/mailman/"/>
    <doap:license rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/105/misc/oregan/OPL.rdf.txt"/>
    <doap:download-page rdf:resource="http://linuxgazette.net/ftpfiles/"/>
    <doap:download-mirror rdf:resource="http://www.tldp.org/LDP/LGNET/ftpfiles"/>
	<foaf:name>Ben Okopnik</foaf:name>

DOAP-a-matic doesn't have support for the OPL, the licence used by LG, but it's simple to define a new one (text version):

<rdf:RDF xmlns="http://web.resource.org/cc/"

<License rdf:about="http://linuxgazette.net/105/misc/oregan/OPL.rdf.txt">
  <dc:title>Open Publication License</dc:title>
  <rdfs:seeAlso rdf:resource="http://www.opencontent.org/openpub/" />



RDF and the Semantic Web are exciting topics, and I hope I've piqued someone's interest with this article. Anyone wishing to find out more may simply Google for RDF, or try the list of bookmarks I accumulated while reading about RDF.

[BIO] Jimmy is a single father of one, who enjoys long walks... Oh, right.

Jimmy has been using computers from the tender age of seven, when his father inherited an Amstrad PCW8256. After a few brief flirtations with an Atari ST and numerous versions of DOS and Windows, Jimmy was introduced to Linux in 1998 and hasn't looked back.

In his spare time, Jimmy likes to play guitar and read: not at the same time, but the picks make handy bookmarks.

Copyright © 2004, Jimmy O'Regan. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

RSS and Feed Readers

By Jimmy O'Regan

RSS, feed readers, and news aggregators are a hot topic right now. Given the massive amount of news available on the net, it makes sense to be able to read all of the news you're interested in, without having to check a dozen or more websites. With a good feed reader, you can subscribe to your favourite news sites - or even to sites you wouldn't read as often as you would like - and have the software follow the news for you.

RSS is one component of the Semantic Web - and the only element currently enjoying widespread use. RSS is not the only format available for providing news feeds, and the name RSS even describes two different formats. I say name rather than acronym because "RSS" has been variously used to mean "RDF Site Summary", "Rich Site Summary", and "Really Simple Syndication", and because of this, it is best regarded as a name, to avoid confusion.

For those who are interested, it was originally RDF Site Summary, and bore a close resemblance to RSS 1.0. RDF was removed for the first public version, and it was renamed Rich Site Summary, and Dave Winer (author of RSS 0.92 and RSS 2.0) subsequently dubbed it Really Simple Syndication.

Before RSS

Before RSS was created, several sites, such as Slashdot, used custom text files to describe their headlines so other news sites could make use of them.

1 line for info, other line for date.
<A HREF="http://linux.ie/newsitem.php?n=540">Article on PAM</A>
23-July-2004 9:19
<A HREF="http://linux.ie/newsitem.php?n=483">Articles wanted for Beginners Linux Guide</A>
4-July-2004 2:55
Sample of Linux.ie's text backend.

When the "version 4" browsers were released, both included their own mechanisms for supplying "push content" - sections of websites which were designed to be subscribed to. If the user subscribed to the channel, their browser read the channel definition, and periodically checked that site for updates, downloading the relevant portions.

Netscape used a HTML-based "sidebar" (which is still present in Mozilla etc.), but Microsoft created the "Channel Description Format", which they submitted to the W3C. (Sample). Push content didn't catch on at the time, but later work on RSS has, though not for "push content". (Though Dave Winer did add the <enclosure> element to RSS 0.92 to allow push in RSS).


The original version of RSS was 0.90, designed by Netscape for use on their "My Netscape" portal. It was originally based on RDF, but according to the RSS timeline, Netscape's marketing people caused it to be stripped down. Netscape later expanded the format, to be closer to Dave Winer's Scripting News XML (Sample).

Winer maintained the RSS specification, but meanwhile, the W3C released their own RSS specification, based on the original idea of having an RDF based format for syndication. This removed most of the RSS specific tags, and used RDF schema to provide analogous tags. Since the W3C decided to call this RSS 1.0, Winer named his updated version RSS 2.0.

Because of this confusion, an IETF working group was started to produce an alternate format, called Atom (formerly Echo), which, unfortunately, only served to add to the confusion.

RDF 2.0 is backward-compatible with RSS 0.92, which is backward-compatible with RSS 0.91. The main difference between RSS 2.0 and RSS 1.0 is that RSS 1.0 removes all terms from the RSS schema which are available in other schema - in place of the <title> element, for example, you could include a reference to the Dublin Core schema, and use <dc:title> instead. RSS 2.0 can be extended with RDF schema - as (to the best of my knowledge) can Atom.

There are also websites available which will convert feeds to your preferred format, for example 2rss.com and RSS2Atom. Linux Gazette can then be accessed as an Atom feed from http://www.tnl.net/channels/rss2atom/http://linuxgazette.net/lg.rss.

Feed Readers


Liferea in action

Liferea is my current favourite feed reader. It features a UI that is similar to most of the popular Windows readers, supports several formats (including CDF!), and integrates nicely with the system tray. When minimised to the tray, it is very unassuming. When new news arrives, the icon is coloured; otherwise, it's greyed. (Though the version I'm using has a problem with my Blogspot Atom feed - try it if you're curious).



Snownews is an ncurses based feed reader for the console. It handles RSS 0.9x, 0.1 and 0.2, but can be extended with scripts to read other formats. Snownews has an excellent interface, reminiscent of Pine and Pico. Snownews starts with a blank screen. Various commands are bound to single key presses (which may be configured by editing .snownews/keybindings). To add a feed, type 'a', and enter the URL when prompted. To open an item in lynx (or whatever browser you choose to enter in .snownews/browser), press 'o'.

Newer versions of both Liferea and Snownews allow you to use the output of another program as a feed source. RSSscrape, which I'll look at in a little while, is a great tool to use with either of these programs.

Devedge RSS Ticker

Ben pointed me in the direction of Netscape Devedge's RSS Ticker. This is a very simple RSS ticker, which was created as an example for a Devedge article. By default, it only supports 3 news sites - Devedge, CNet, and The New York Times. There are better tickers available for Mozilla.



URSS is another Mozilla-based news ticker, originally based on the Devedge ticker. It, however, allows you to add your own feeds, and adds a sidebar that allows headlines and descriptions to be read. I don't use it much though, because it's unable to read LG's feed, though this may not be an issue by the time this article hits the newsstands, as I found invalid code in the RSS which I've fixed.

A look at various feeds

RSS 0.9x

LG uses the RSS 0.91 format, the original format designed by Netscape. This is an excerpt from last month's issue:

<rss version="0.91">

<title>Linux Gazette</title>
<description>An e-zine dedicated to making Linux just a little bit more fun.
Published the first day of every month.</description>
<webMaster>(email omitted)</webMaster>
<title>Linux Gazette RSS</title>


<title>The Mailbag</title>


Pretty straightforward, isn't it? From issue 105 on, there are a few extra bits. The <webMaster> tag has been added to complement the <managingEditor> tag, and the <image> tag has the optional <height> and <width> tags:

<title>Linux Gazette RSS</title>

One feature which would have been nifty is <textinput>, which allows you to search a site from your feed reader. Unfortunately, since LG uses Google's site search, we can't use it as that requires an extra parameter which RSS doesn't support.

We'll take this heavily pruned Google search URL: http://www.google.com/search?q=test. Here's how a textinput for that URL would look:

<description>Search Google.</description>

One issue with LG's RSS feed is that <issue>, <month> and <year> are not valid tags. From next issue on, this information is in the channel description - it was unused before anyway.

Our <description> now looks like this:

<description>An e-zine dedicated to making Linux just a little
bit more fun.
Published the first day of every month.
Issue 105: August, 2004

Note the use of escaped HTML - this can be used in any <description>.

RSS 0.92 and 2.0

RSS 0.92 is Dave Winer's expanded version of RSS 0.91. The main difference between RSS 0.91 and 0.92 is that several tags were made optional, and the limit of 15 items per feed was removed. Some experimental tags were added, but they're not really useful for the majority of people - aside from the <enclosure> element I already mentioned, there is also a <cloud> element, which is used to provide a link to an XML-RPC or SOAP service, which is used to tell aggregators that the feed has been updated.

RSS 2.0 builds on RSS 0.92. I couldn't make out what the differences between RSS 2.0 and 0.92 were, though.

RSS 1.0

RSS 1.0 is also backward-compatible with RSS 0.91, though instead of adding new tags to support new concepts, a different RDF schema may be referenced. Slashdot, for example, has its own schema which represents the section, department ("from the do-the-shake-and-vac dept" etc.), the number of comments, and the "hit parade".

The first difference you'll notice is that the root element is <rdf:RDF> instead of <rss>. Another difference is that the <channel>, <image> and <item> tags now have rdf:about attributes, and that the <image> and <item> tags must now appear outside of the <channel> tag, and must have matching tags with rdf:resource tags within the channel element (this applies to the <textinput> element too).


Atom was designed out of frustration with the competing versions of RSS. It also shows that it was designed after blogs became popular, whereas RSS predates this. Atom feeds, as is to be expected, are similar to RSS feeds.

Here's a sample Atom feed:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='utf-8' ?>
<!--  If you are running a bot please visit this policy page
outlining rules you must respect.
http://www.livejournal.com/bots/  -->
<feed version='0.3' xmlns='http://purl.org/atom/ns#'>
<title mode='escaped'>Dung by any other name...</title>
<tagline mode='escaped'>jimregan</tagline>
<link rel='alternate' type='text/html'
href='http://www.livejournal.com/users/jimregan/' />
<link rel='service.feed' type='application/x.atom+xml'
title='AtomAPI-enabled feed'
    <title mode='escaped'>Sample title</title>
    <link rel='alternate' type='text/html'
    href='http://www.livejournal.com/users/jimregan/4251.html' />
    <content type='text/html' mode='escaped'>A simple example.</content>

Atom is not as simple as RSS - even RSS 1.0, with RDF, is easier. It's also much newer than RSS, and not as well documented, or as well supported. It is, however, the only feed type supported by Blogger, Google's Blog site, so we can expect to see greater support for it.

I tried to set up an Atom creator for LG, so we can support the three feed types, but none of the feed readers I have installed were able to display anything useful from my feed. If you're skeptical, I have included it - you can check it using FeedValidator.org.

Screen Scrapers

A screen scraper is a program which checks a website for certain information. In this context, we want to take a site which lacks a feed, and generate one - because we're all sold on the idea of feed readers now, being the ultra-hip people that we are, right? - but they are also used to check stock prices, flight details, auctions, etc. - there are several companies who base their entire business around scraping other sites.

So, basically, a screen scraper is a script which grabs a webpage, runs it through a regex or two, and spits out results in the desired format.

I'm still stuck in Perl-novice land, and since I don't want to place too much extra pressure on Ben, our resident Perl guru, I'll use RSSscraper, a project which provides the framework for scrapers, including the RSS generation code, so you have little to do other than provide the URL and regex. (Plus, it's written in Ruby, so I get to horrify Thomas with the poor quality of my code instead (\o/) - check this to see what I'm talking about!

So, here's my example, formatted slightly to fit on the screen. (Text version).

class BenScanner < RSSscraper::AbstractScanner
	def initialize
		@url_string = 'http://okopnik.freeshell.org/blog/blog.cgi'
		@url_proper = 'http://okopnik.freeshell.org/blog/'
		@postsRE = /div class="HeadText"> \n\n([^<]*)\n\n
		<td bgcolor="#fdfded" class="UsualText" valign="middle">
		([^\]]*)\n\n<p>\[ <a href="([^\s\t\r\n\f]*)">

	def find_items
		require 'cgi'
		items = Array.new
		request_feed.scan(@postsRE).each{ |date, title, content, comments_link, comments|
                        items << { :title => title,
				   :description => "#{CGI::escapeHTML(content)}",
                                   :comments_link => @url_proper+comments_link,
				   :comments => @url_proper+comments_link

class Ben < RSSscraper::AbstractScraper

	def scanner

	def description
	        :link => 'http://okopnik.freeshell.org/blog/blog.cgi',
		:title => 'The Bay of Tranquility',
		:description => 'Ben Okopnik\'s blog.',
		:language => 'en-us',
		:generator => generator_string


So, looking at the parts in bold, you can probably guess that you need to customise the main class name, and the scanner class. The file must be named [Foo].scraper.rb, and these classes are then named [Foo] and [Foo]Scanner.

After that, the items in description are pretty obvious. @url_string is the URL of the site to be parsed; @url_proper is only required in this case because the comments link is not a string appended to the blog link, as it is in most cases. @postsRE is the regex, and date, etc. are the elements we wish to extract.

The regex is the hardest part, and even at that, it's not too hard - just remember that the parts you wish to extract go in parentheses.

When you've filled in the blanks, you place it in your scrapers directory, and run it like so: scrape.rb [Foo].

Generating RSS

Well... I lied about wanting to spare Ben - I'm going to show a simple example of an RSS generator in Perl.

CPAN has a great module for generating RSS (both 1.0 and 0.9x), called XML::RSS.

Let's look at a sample for generating RSS 0.91 (Text, sample output).

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

use strict;
use XML::RSS;

my $rss = new XML::RSS (version => '0.91');
$rss->channel(title          => 'Linux Gazette',
              link           => 'http://linuxgazette.net',
              language       => 'en',
              description    => 'An e-zine dedicated to making Linux just a little bit more fun.
Published the first day of every month.
<br>Issue 105: August, 2004',
              copyright      => 'Copyright (c) 1996-2004 the Editors of Linux Gazette',
              managingEditor => 'email@here.com',
              webMaster      => 'email@here.com');

$rss->image(title  => 'Linux Gazette',
            url    => 'http://linuxgazette.net/gx/2004/newlogo-blank-100-gold2.jpg',
            link   => 'http://www.linuxgazette.net/',
            width  => '99',
            height => '42');
$rss->add_item(title       => 'Securing a New Linux Installation',
               link        => 'http://linuxgazette.net/105/odonovan.html',
               description => 'By Barry O\'Donovan');


To create an RSS 1.0 feed, we could simply take that example, and change the version to 1.0 (which would look like this), but with RSS 1.0 we can add different schema. XML::RSS uses Dublin Core and dmoz taxonomies by default (you can, of course, easily add others, but I'm not going to cover that).

(Text and sample output)

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

use strict;
use XML::RSS;

my $rss = new XML::RSS (version => '1.0');
$rss->channel(title          => 'Linux Gazette',
              link           => 'http://linuxgazette.net',
              description    => 'An e-zine dedicated to making Linux just a little bit more fun.
Published the first day of every month.
<br>Issue 105: August, 2004',
              #XML::RSS will do the dc stuff for us, but just to illustrate...
              dc => {rights    => 'Copyright (c) 1996-2004 the Editors of Linux Gazette',
                     creator   => 'email@here.com',
                     language  => 'en',},
              taxo => ['http://dmoz.org/Computers/Software/Operating_Systems/Linux/']);

$rss->image(title  => 'Linux Gazette',
            url    => 'http://linuxgazette.net/gx/2004/newlogo-blank-100-gold2.jpg',
            link   => 'http://www.linuxgazette.net/',
            width  => '99',
            height => '42');
$rss->add_item(title       => 'Securing a New Linux Installation',
               link        => 'http://linuxgazette.net/105/odonovan.html',
               description => 'By Barry O\'Donovan');


And that's it. I hope some of you found this interesting, and I know from experience that if I've made any mistakes you won't hesitate to contact me. Take care.

[BIO] Jimmy is a single father of one, who enjoys long walks... Oh, right.

Jimmy has been using computers from the tender age of seven, when his father inherited an Amstrad PCW8256. After a few brief flirtations with an Atari ST and numerous versions of DOS and Windows, Jimmy was introduced to Linux in 1998 and hasn't looked back.

In his spare time, Jimmy likes to play guitar and read: not at the same time, but the picks make handy bookmarks.

Copyright © 2004, Jimmy O'Regan. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Q & A: The difference between hard and soft links

By Lew Pitcher

I participate in about 30 usenet newsgroups, and in a virtual LUG, and a number of questions keep coming up. I've answered a few of these questions often enough to have 'canned' an answer, which I modify, depending on the circumstances.

Here's one, now...

Q: Can someone give me a simple explanation of the difference between a soft link and a hard link? The documentation I've read mention these links but make no strong explanations of their meaning and how/when to use them. Thanks!

A: OK, I'll give it a try...

Unix files consist of two parts: the data part and the filename part.

The data part is associated with something called an 'inode'. The inode carries the map of where the data is, the file permissions, etc. for the data.

                               .---------------> ! data ! ! data ! etc
                              /                  +------+ !------+
        ! permbits, etc ! data addresses !

The filename part carries a name and an associated inode number.

                         .--------------> ! permbits, etc ! addresses !
                        /                 +---------inode-------------+
        ! filename ! inode # !

More than one filename can reference the same inode number; these files are said to be 'hard linked' together.

        ! filename ! inode # !
                         >--------------> ! permbits, etc ! addresses !
                        /                 +---------inode-------------+
        ! othername ! inode # !

On the other hand, there's a special file type whose data part carries a path to another file. Since it is a special file, the OS recognizes the data as a path, and redirects opens, reads, and writes so that, instead of accessing the data within the special file, they access the data in the file named by the data in the special file. This special file is called a 'soft link' or a 'symbolic link' (aka a 'symlink').

        ! filename ! inode # !
                         .-------> ! permbits, etc ! addresses !
    '-->  !"/path/to/some/other/file"! 
                  /                      }
    .~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~                       }-- (redirected at open() time)
   (                                     }
    '~~> ! filename ! inode # !
                          '------------> ! permbits, etc ! addresses !
     '->  ! data !  ! data ! etc.
          +------+  +------+ 

Now, the filename part of the file is stored in a special file of its own along with the filename parts of other files; this special file is called a directory. The directory, as a file, is just an array of filename parts of other files.

When a directory is built, it is initially populated with the filename parts of two special files: the '.' and '..' files. The filename part for the '.' file is populated with the inode# of the directory file in which the entry has been made; '.' is a hardlink to the file that implements the current directory.

The filename part for the '..' file is populated with the inode# of the directory file that contains the filename part of the current directory file. '..' is a hardlink to the file that implements the immediate parent of the current directory.

The 'ln' command knows how to build hardlinks and softlinks; the 'mkdir' command knows how to build directories (the OS takes care of the above hardlinks).

There are restrictions on what can be hardlinked (both links must reside on the same filesystem, the source file must exist, etc.) that are not applicable to softlinks (source and target can be on seperate file systems, source does not have to exist, etc.). OTOH, softlinks have other restrictions not shared by hardlinks (additional I/O necessary to complete file access, additional storage taken up by softlink file's data, etc.)

In other words, there's tradeoffs with each.

Now, let's demonstrate some of this...

ln in action

Let's start off with an empty directory, and create a file in it

~/directory $ ls -lia 
total 3
  73477 drwxr-xr-x   2 lpitcher users        1024 Mar 11 20:16 .
  91804 drwxr-xr-x  29 lpitcher users        2048 Mar 11 20:16 ..

~/directory $ echo "This is a file" >basic.file

~/directory $ ls -lia 
total 4
  73477 drwxr-xr-x   2 lpitcher users        1024 Mar 11 20:17 .
  91804 drwxr-xr-x  29 lpitcher users        2048 Mar 11 20:16 ..
  73478 -rw-r--r--   1 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 basic.file

~/directory $ cat basic.file
This is a file
Now, let's make a hardlink to the file
~/directory $ ln basic.file hardlink.file

~/directory $ ls -lia 
total 5
  73477 drwxr-xr-x   2 lpitcher users        1024 Mar 11 20:20 .
  91804 drwxr-xr-x  29 lpitcher users        2048 Mar 11 20:18 ..
  73478 -rw-r--r--   2 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 basic.file
  73478 -rw-r--r--   2 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 hardlink.file

~/directory $ cat hardlink.file
This is a file

We see that:

  1. hardlink.file shares the same inode (73478) as basic.file
  2. hardlink.file shares the same data as basic.file

If we change the permissions on basic.file:

~/directory $ chmod a+w basic.file

~/directory $ ls -lia 
total 5
  73477 drwxr-xr-x   2 lpitcher users        1024 Mar 11 20:20 .
  91804 drwxr-xr-x  29 lpitcher users        2048 Mar 11 20:18 ..
  73478 -rw-rw-rw-   2 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 basic.file
  73478 -rw-rw-rw-   2 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 hardlink.file

then the same permissions change on hardlink.file.

The two files (basic.file and hardlink.file) share the same inode and data, but have different file names.

Let's now make a softlink to the original file:

~/directory $ ln -s basic.file softlink.file

~/directory $ ls -lia 
total 5
  73477 drwxr-xr-x   2 lpitcher users        1024 Mar 11 20:24 .
  91804 drwxr-xr-x  29 lpitcher users        2048 Mar 11 20:18 ..
  73478 -rw-rw-rw-   2 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 basic.file
  73478 -rw-rw-rw-   2 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 hardlink.file
  73479 lrwxrwxrwx   1 lpitcher users          10 Mar 11 20:24 softlink.file -> basic.file

~/directory $ cat softlink.file
This is a file

Here, we see that although softlink.file accesses the same data as basic.file and hardlink.file, it does not share the same inode (73479 vs 73478), nor does it exhibit the same file permissions. It does show a new permission bit: the 'l' (softlink) bit.

If we delete basic.file:

~/directory $ rm basic.file

~/directory $ ls -lia 
total 4
  73477 drwxr-xr-x   2 lpitcher users        1024 Mar 11 20:27 .
  91804 drwxr-xr-x  29 lpitcher users        2048 Mar 11 20:18 ..
  73478 -rw-rw-rw-   1 lpitcher users          15 Mar 11 20:17 hardlink.file
  73479 lrwxrwxrwx   1 lpitcher users          10 Mar 11 20:24 softlink.file -> basic.file

then we lose the ability to access the linked data through the softlink:

~/directory $ cat softlink.file
cat: softlink.file: No such file or directory

However, we still have access to the original data through the hardlink:

~/directory $ cat hardlink.file
This is a file

You will notice that when we deleted the original file, the hardlink didn't vanish. Similarly, if we had deleted the softlink, the original file wouldn't have vanished.

A further note with respect to hardlink files

When deleting files, the data part isn't disposed of until all the filename parts have been deleted. There's a count in the inode that indicates how many filenames point to this file, and that count is decremented by 1 each time one of those filenames is deleted. When the count makes it to zero, the inode and its associated data are deleted.

By the way, the count also reflects how many times the file has been opened without being closed (in other words, how many references to the file are still active). This has some ramifications which aren't obvious at first: you can delete a file so that no "filename" part points to the inode, without releasing the space for the data part of the file, because the file is still open.

Have you ever found yourself in this position: you notice that /var/log/messages (or some other syslog-owned file) has grown too big, and you

     rm /var/log/messages
     touch /var/log/messages

to reclaim the space, but the used space doesn't reappear? This is because, although you've deleted the filename part, there's a process that's got the data part open still (syslogd), and the OS won't release the space for the data until the process closes it. In order to complete your space reclamation, you have to

     kill -SIGHUP `cat /var/run/syslogd.pid`

to get syslogd to close and reopen the file.

You can use this to your advantage in programs: have you ever wondered how you could hide a temporary file? Well, you could do the following:

        FILE *fp;

        fp = fopen("some.hidden.file","w");
        unlink("some.hidden.file"); /* deletes the filename part */

        /* some.hidden.file no longer has a filename and is truely hidden */
        fprintf(fp,"This data won't be found\n"); /* access the data part */
        fclose(fp); /* finally release the data part */

[BIO] Canadian by birth, and living in Brampton, Ontario, I am a career techie working at a major Canadian bank. For over 25 years, I've programmed on all sorts of systems, from Z80 CP/M up to OS/390. Primarily, I develop OS/390 MVS applications for banking services, and have incorporated Linux into my development environment.

Copyright © 2004, Lew Pitcher. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Dude, Where's my System?

By Lew Pitcher

Recently, I changed over to an "always on" ADSL[1] connection from an "on-demand" dialup one, and I now have an opportunity to host a number of internet services from my home server. The one problem I have is that, while my internet is "always on", my ISP occasionally renegotiates the IP address of my ADSL connection, making my internet services difficult to find. Up until now, I've played "hide and seek" with my server, searching for it among a multitude of alternate addresses each time my ISP changes the address.

Now, I could spend a bit of money to lease my own domain name, and subscribe to one of those 'dynamic DNS' services that let you point your domain name at an ever-changing IP address, but I don't need a permanent domain name right now, and I've got other options.

My ISP provides web site hosting for their subscribers, with the usual upload and download volume caps to discourage extensive web hosting. I don't need their host for my content, but it does make a handy 'rendezvous' site to gain access to my system. All I have to do is arrange for my PPPoE[2] client[3] to rewrite my personal web page on my ISP's server every time my ISP gives me a new IP address. If PPPoE can populate that web page with my system's new IP address, I'll always be able to find my system from the outside by looking at my webpage on my ISP's server.

Simple, yes?

Simple, yes!

The first thing I needed to do was to arrange for my PPPoE client to be able to pass each new IP address on to something that would update my external webpage.

To do this, I modified my /etc/ppp/ip-up[4] script to execute a new script (/etc/ppp/ip-up.webpage), passing it the PPP 'local' address assigned by my ISP to my end of my PPPoE ADSL connection. The /etc/ppp/ip-up script would then write the webpage and get it to my ISP.

This was a simple change (a literal 'one-liner') in /etc/ppp/ip-up

# ip-up interface-name tty-device speed local-IP remote-IP ipparm
#       $1             $2         $3    $4       $5        $6
# (NB: ipparm is string from ipparm parameter in pppd options)
# This file /etc/ppp/ip-up is run by pppd when there's a
# successful ppp connection.
# The environment is cleared before executing this script
# so the path must be reset.
export PATH
umask 033
echo "$4" >/var/run/$1.ip
# Build redirect webpage, put it on ISP's webserver
/etc/ppp/ip-up.webpage "$4"
/usr/bin/logger -i -t /etc/ppp/ip-up "$1 [$4] connected to ISP [$5]"
# Done...

The Harder Part

Now that I had arranged for my PPPoE client to run a script, I had to build the script it would run. The script would have to build an HTML document that would redirect the reader to my server's IP address, and FTP that document to my ISP's web server. It would have to preserve the internal security of my system by refraining from exposing my ISP userid and password to local users, and should do this with simple tools and a minimum of programming.

The security aspects were satisfied by making the script 'execute only'[5], so no local user could read it's contents, and by ensuring that no password was exposed to ps(1)[6,7] as a command line argument. The HTML was built through a simple "here document"[8] fed into a cat(1)[9] command that created a temporary file of HTML. The new IP address was written into the HTML through the shell variable substitution process that occurs with "here document" processing. Finally, the temporary file was transmitted to my ISP using a command line ftp(1)[10] command, with its parameters all passed through another "here document". This second "here document" permitted me to pass the user name and password into the FTP client without exposing them on a command line.

The /etc/ppp/ip-up.webpage script (below) is primitive and not very elegant, but it gets the job done.


# Validate that we get 1 and only 1 parameter
case $# in
  1) ;;
  *) /usr/bin/echo Usage: $0 ip-address-or-dns-name
     exit 1 ;;
# the $1 parameter is the IP address assigned to our system

# Establish today's date (for html)

# allocate empty tempfile, terminate if unable to allocate
TEMPFILE=`/usr/bin/mktemp /tmp/$1=XXXXXX` || exit 2

# build webpage (redirect) html into tempfile
# NB: $1 is our local IP address, passed in from ip-up
#     $DATE is the current date and time
#     With the "here document", these variables will
#     be substituted into the stream by the shell
/usr/bin/cat >$TEMPFILE <<END
<!-- $DATE -->
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0;url=http://$1/">;

# send webpage (redirect html) to webserver
#  ISP_ADDRESS is FTP address of ISP's web server
#  ISP_USERID  is my userid at ISP's FTP server
#  ISP_PASSWD  is my password at ISP's FTP server
#  NB: ISP_USERID, ISP_PASSWD set as local environment
#      vars so that they don't appear as parameters
#      in local 'ps ax' listings
#      With the "here document", these variables will
#      be substituted into the stream by the shell

/bin/ftp -n <<STOP
put $TEMPFILE index.htm

# delete tempfile
/bin/rm -f $TEMPFILE

# terminate
exit 0

Olly-olly, Outs in free!

Now, when my ISP changes my IP address, my PPPoE server invokes /etc/ppp/ip-up, giving it my new IP address. This script invokes my /etc/ppp/ip-up.webpage script, which builds and installs a redirect webpage at my ISP's webserver that points at my new IP address. All I have to do is browse a specific web page on my ISP's webserver, and I'll be redirected to my webpage on my server.

So, with a little scripting, and the resident automation in my Linux system, I've now got a way to find my server from the outside, no matter which IP address my ISP gives it. I guess you could say that my server has given up the game of "hide and seek", and is playing other games now.


[1] - ADSL
ADSL (or "Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line") is a technology that permits an ISP to offer high speed internet connectivity over regular phone lines without impacting the regular use of the phone line. In other words, I can surf the internet while my wife chats with her friends over the phone.

[2] - PPPoE
PPPoE (or "PPP over Ethernet") is a low level protocol that some ISPs use to deliver TCP/IP connectivity on ADSL lines. Since PPPoE uses PPP (the regular 'dial up' services) to manage the ADSL connection, all the PPP facilities and management tools work with a PPPoE-enabled ADSL line. This includes things like the /etc/ppp/ip-up script.

[3] - my PPPoE client
is the "Roaring Penguin" PPPoE daemon that can be found at http://www.roaringpenguin.com/penguin/open_source_rp-pppoe.php. In the Slackware 9.0 Linux distribution that I run, the Roaring Penguin PPPoE daemon is contained in the rp-pppoe-3.5-i386-1.tgz package. However, to use this PPPoE daemon, you also need a PPP daemon; Slackware 9.0 uses the ANU PPP daemon found at ftp://cs.anu.edu.au/pub/software/ppp/, and in Slackware package ppp-2.4.1-i386-2.tgz.

[4] - /etc/ppp/ip-up
The /etc/ppp/ip-up script is executed by the PPP daemon when ever it establishes a TCP/IP environment over the PPP link. Several parameters are given to the ip-up script, including the IP address assigned to our end of the PPP connection. I use this script to trigger the construction of the web page that gets placed on my ISP's server, and I use the supplied IP address in the contents of the web page.

[5] - "execute only"
Scripts, like other executable files, can be set to be executable without being readable by using a "chmod ug=x scriptname" command. I want this because I don't want users on my system to be able to snoop through the text of the script to find my logon and password.

[6] - xx(y) notation
Ancient Unix notation that indicates the documentation for topic xx can be found in section y of the printed or online manual. Most Linux users can read this documentation using the "man y xx" syntax from the command line, as in "man 1 ps".

[7] - ps(1)
ps lists the particulars of all running processes. If given the correct options, it will show the entire command line used to invoke the process. I avoid placing userids and passwords into command lines as someone could snoop them out by running ps at the proper moment. Call me paranoid, but even paranoids have enemies. ;-)

[8] - "here document"
A "here document" is a special form of redirection that routes text embedded in a script directly into a program's input. The shell can perform parameter expansion, command substitution, and arithmetic substitution on the contents of the "here document" before the resulting text is given to the program. This makes "here documents" ideal for my use, because I can have the shell customize the text as necessary without depending on complex editor commands.

[9] - cat(1)
cat is a utility that concatenates files together, and outputs the resulting file to stdout. If no input files are named, cat will read it's input from stdin. This feature makes cat a handy, but dumb, text editor, and that's how I use it here.

[10] - ftp(1)
The command line FTP client works in this environment, but it would have been better if it had some scripting ability. I use a "here document" to pass in the FTP commands, so as to avoid exposing my ISP access password on the command line. However, with the "here document" approach, the ftp(1) client won't abort the interaction if an FTP command goes wrong, and there is no way to detect or act on a command failure from within the "here document". So, I take a chance that the FTP script will work each and every time without fail.

[BIO] Canadian by birth, and living in Brampton, Ontario, I am a career techie working at a major Canadian bank. For over 25 years, I've programmed on all sorts of systems, from Z80 CP/M up to OS/390. Primarily, I develop OS/390 MVS applications for banking services, and have incorporated Linux into my development environment.

Copyright © 2004, Lew Pitcher. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Using Samba to join a Windows NT domain

By Rich Price

I originally wrote this procedure for use at my place of work. We have a number of Windows domains [NT style, not active directory] and I often need to have a Linux machine join one of them. This procedure was developed on a box running Fedora Core 1; however, with simple modifications (namely, stopping the Samba services manually by invoking the appropriate script in "/etc/init.d" with the "stop" option), this should also work for other distributions.


Getting Started

Use the GUI "Services" tool [Which is Main Menu, System Settings, Server Settings, Services in Fedora] to shut down the samba daemons [smbd and nmbd] if they are running on the server.

The smb.conf File

Next edit the /etc/samba/sbm.conf file and replace the [global] section with:

   workgroup = {domain}
   server string =  {server name}

   log file = /var/log/samba/%m.log
   max log size = 50

   security = domain
   password server = [name of a PDC or BDC for {domain}]
   encrypt passwords = yes
   smb passwd file = /etc/samba/private/smbpasswd

   local master = no
   wins server =  {wins server}
   dns proxy = no

{domain} is the name of the domain.
{server name} is the name of this Linux server.
{wins server} is the IP address of a local WINS server.

At this point you can make any other changes or adds that you want to other sections of this file.

The smbpasswd File

For security reasons we will place the smbpasswd file in a private directory using the following commands:

cd /etc/samba
mkdir private
cd private
touch smbpasswd
chmod 600 smbpasswd
cd ..
chmod 500 private

Now we will add a dummy entry to the smbpasswd file. To do this, first create a user account for yourself on the Linux server [unless one already exists], then execute the following commands:

cd /etc/samba/private
cat /etc/passwd | mksmbpasswd.sh  > smbpasswd

Finally, edit the smbpasswd file and remove all lines except those for your user account.

Joining the Domain

To add the Linux server to the domain use the following command:

net rpc join member -U {administrator}

Where {administrator} is the user id of a domain administrator for {domain}. You may be prompted for the administrator's password at this time.

Cleaning Up

Use the "Services" tool [Which is Main Menu, System Settings, Server Settings, Services in Fedora] to start the samba daemons.

Then use the "Services" tool [Which is Main Menu, System Settings, Server Settings, Services in Fedora] to enable the Samba service for all of the appropriate run levels.

  1. Select the smb service and enable it for run level 5.
  2. Save changes.
  3. Select the smb service and enable it for run level 4.
  4. Save changes.
  5. Select the smb service and enable it for run level 3.
  6. Save changes and exit services window.
Of course there are other ways to modify run levels depending on the distribution. If anyone has examples of doing this in other distributions I would be happy to have them added here.

[BIO] Rich Price has been using computers for around 35 years and Linux for around 10 years. And he hasn't got tired of either quite yet.

Copyright © 2004, Rich Price. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Inter-Process Communication - Part II

By Hiran Ramankutty

I hope everyone enjoyed Part I of this article, where we had an introductory discussion of IPC mechanisms and then continued with detailed descriptions of mechanisms such as pipes, fifos and shared memory. We shall now continue with the other IPC mechanisms such as memory mapping, semaphores, message queues, and sockets.

Memory Mapping

We have seen that fifos are basically named pipes. Similarly, mapped memory is like shared memory with a name. With this little bit of information, we can conclude that there is some sort of relationship between files in the file system and memory mapping techniques - and, in fact, there is. Simply put, the memory mapping mechanism deals with the mapping of a file in the file system to a portion of memory.

Say, for example, we have a file that contains some data in a specific format that the user knows. That file may be required by some application. We will have to write some parsing function for the application that will search specific data in the file. To be more specific, we will have the parsing function return some data to the application whenever any requests for specific data come from the application. Then, our parsing function will have to access the file for every request.

This is only acceptable if the application makes requests for data a few times. But this is time-consuming when the application sends frequent requests for data and processing. One may wonder what makes it time-consuming.

Let us look at the operations involved in reading data from a file in the file system in the hard drive. The major operations involved are as follows:

  1. invoking system calls like open, read, write and close, and
  2. I/O operations by accessing a device (the hard drive).

The two operations mentioned above consume considerable system services as compared to simply reading the data from memory. A program working in user space, when invoking a system call, transfers control from the user program to the kernel, which places it in the kernel space. That is, kernel space is consumed in the execution of the system calls. Also, accessing the disk (hard drive) frequently will be comparatively slow, since it requires I/O operations on a physical device.

The overhead caused by frequently invoking system calls and accessing disk to obtain data can be avoided by the memory mapping technique, which involves logically associating the file with a portion of the virtual memory or the program's user space. Any file I/O operations can then be replaced with simple memory access.

Linux provides system calls such as mmap and munmap for the purpose of using the memory mapping mechanism, which allows the sharing of mapped files. We have to associate the file in such a manner that the mapping is accessible to any process. We may have an application or a program running several processes, and one or more of the processes may access data from one or more files. So if we have a mapping for a file with sharing rights for any process, we can use the same mapping in all processes. See the manual page for mmap for more details.

Again, synchronization problems can arise. Will the reads happen before or after the writes? An entirely unrelated process might have memory-mapped the file and might be modifying it, unknown to us, at the same time as our process. A number of problems may come from the design of the application and the usage of the mechanism as well. So, let's take a look at the proper usage of this mechanism. (See listing1.c.txt)

The logic behind the program is simple. The code first creates a temporary file with name test_file and writes the string HELLO_STR (defined as macro) into the file. We then map the file test_file to memory using mmap. The format for this call, as described in the manual page for mmap is void * mmap(void *start, size_t length, int prot, int flags, int fd, off_t offset). The first field, which specifies the starting address, is usually given as '0'. Of course, the starting address of the memory location from which length bytes (second field) of the file are mapped is non-zero. Instead, mmap returns the starting address. The third argument is the protection that is to be provided to the mapped memory region. This should be same as the mode with which the file was opened. We have given here PROT_READ, which gives read permissions to the memory page to which mapping has been done; the various memory protection options are further detailed in the above man page. The fourth argument is a flag which specifies the type of the mapped object. The flag MAP_FLAG specifies that the mapping is for a regular file or a character special device file. The fifth argument is a valid file descriptor of the file to be mapped, and the sixth argument is the offset, which has to be a multiple of the page size as returned by getpagesize() (see manual page for details) or is the starting offset for the file. A zero as the sixth argument means that the starting offset for reading the file is zero (i.e., the file is to be read starting from byte 0.) One notable point in the mmap man page is that the memory mapped using mmap is preserved across fork calls with the same attributes. This feature can be useful when we have more than one process accessing some file regularly.

So, just how much benefit do we gain from memory mapping versus reading a file? We can demonstrate the gains by comparing this program against the use of the open, read and close calls that we mentioned above. (See listing2.c.txt)

This program gives the output in the same format as the previous one. One can compare the performance of both the programs by running their respective executables with the time command, that is, if test1 is the executable for listing1.c then run the program as time ./test1. Do the same for listing2.c. Note the difference between the performance of the two programs. My Pentium III machine with a processor speed of 733MHz and a 128MB SD RAM showed following results:

#Time for listing1.c
real    0m20.360s
user    0m1.600s
sys     0m18.670s


#Time for listing2.c
real    0m24.325s
user    0m1.990s
sys     0m22.300s

It is obvious that the results may vary from machine to machine. It is also possible that a machine with a similar configuration like that of my test machine gives different results. One can also do the testing with different values of NTHLOOP, which will help you to get a better understanding of the difference in performance as the number of accesses to a file increases.

What I have shown here is a very simple scenario. In practical cases, we will often deal with files that are larger in size and have more and more complex data. The efficiency of the mapping method becomes much more apparent as files sizes go up and the complexity of parsing increases.

One thing to note is that when the process terminates the mapped region is automatically unmapped. Closing the file descriptor does not unmap the region automatically. To unmap a memory region we can use the system call munmap. The address and the offset are the two arguments needed to unmap a memory region.

Experimenting with the third and the fourth arguments to mmap can be very useful, and will promote a deeper understanding of where the use of memory mapping mechanism will be most effective.

Message Queues

Message queues are one of the three different types of System V IPC mechanisms. This mechanism enables processes to send information to each other asynchronously. The word asynchronous in the present context signifies that the sender process continues with its execution without waiting for the receiver to receive or acknowledge the information. On the other side, the receiver does not wait if no messages are there in the queue. The queue being referred to here is the queue implemented and maintained by the kernel.

Let us now take a look at the system calls associated with this mechanism.

  1. msgget: This, in a way similar to shmget, gets a message queue identifier. The format is
    int msgget(ket_t key, int msgflg);
    The first argument is a unique key, which can be generated by using ftok algorithm. The second argument is the flag which can be IPC_CREAT, IPC_PRIVATE, or one of the other valid possibilities (see the man page); the permissions (read and/or write) are logically ORed with the flags. msgget returns an identifier associated with the key. This identifier can be used for further processing of the message queue associated with the identifier.
  2. msgctl: This controls the operations on the message queue. The format is
    int msgctl(int msqid, int cmd, struct msqid_ds *buf);
    Here msqid is the message queue identifier returned by msgget. The second argument is cmd, which indicates which action is to be taken on the message queue. The third argument is a buffer of type struct msqid_ds. Each message queue has this structure associated with it; it is composed of records for queues to be identified by the kernel. This structure also defines the current status of the message queue. If one of the cmds is IPC_SET, some fields in the msqid_ds structure (pointed by the third argument) will be set to the specified values. See the man page for the details.
  3. msgsnd: This is for sending messages. The format is
    int msgsnd(int msqid, struct msgbuf *msgp, size_t msgsz, int msgflg);
    The first argument is the message queue identifier returned by msgget. The second argument is a structure that the calling process allocates. A call to msgsnd appends a copy of the message pointed to by msgp to the message queue identified by msqid. The third argument is the size of the message text within the msgbuf structure. The fourth argument is the flag that specify one of several actions to be taken as and when a specific situation arises.
  4. msgrcv: This is for receiving messages. The format is
    ssize_t  msgrcv(int msqid, struct msgbuf *msgp, size_t msgsz, long msgtyp, int msgflg);
    Besides the four arguments mentioned above for msgsnd, we also have msgtyp, which specifies the type of message requested. See the man page for the options.

Let's take a look at an example of using message queues. (See send.c.txt)

First, we create a message queue using msgget with the flag set to IPC_CREAT and permissions set to read/write. Once we get the message queue identifier, we send the messages that in the above code are read from standard input. Note the output of the command ipcs before and after running the above program. Try to interpret the output. One command that will be of use in doing this is ipcrm; see its man page for more details.

The code for receiving the sent messages is given below. (See recv.c.txt)

Note that here we are using msgget without the field IPC_CREAT. This is because we have not destroyed the message queue associated with the key 9999. This can be seen in send.c. When we call msgrcv, we get the messages that were typed into the send program. This is confirmed by writing the received messages to the standard output.

Experimenting with message queues can be fun, but you have to realize their limitations. Only repeated experimentation with this mechanism will enable one to actually learn it. Using message queues in applications has to be done only after careful consideration. Before thinking more on this, let us move on to the last of the System V IPC mechanisms, the Semaphores.


A semaphore is best defined as a synchronization variable among processes communicating with each other. The processes may communicate data among themselves, or it may be communicated by a shared data object. The application should then see that the shared data object is not being written simultaneously by two or more process. A simple solution will be to have a locking mechanism that will prevent simultaneous changes in the shared data object. To be more precise, if we have a semaphore variable - say, S - then give a process access to the shared data object if S is not set. Once access is granted, S is set, and is reset once operations on the shared data object are over.

The setting and resetting of the semaphore variable are commonly known as wait and post operations. The pseudo code for the wait and post operations are given below:

wait(S) {
	while(S <= 0) 
		; /* some operations. */

post(S) {

Linux provides three system calls that enable the use of the semaphore mechanism.

  1. semget: Counterpart of shmget and msgget, the format is
    int semget(key_t key, int nsems, int semflg);
    This returns a semaphore identifier for a set of nsems number of semaphores for a set, associated with the key where semflg determines permissions and action to be taken (like IPC_CREAT etc.)
  2. semop: This is for controlling operations on the semaphore. The format is
    int semop(int semid, struct sembuf *sops, unsigned nsops);
    The semid is an identifier that points to the semaphore set. The second field is a structure that describes the operations. The structure as defined in /usr/include/sys/sem.h is:
    struct sembuf {
    	unsigned short int sem_num;   /* semaphore number */
    	short int sem_op;             /* semaphore operation */
    	short int sem_flg;            /* operation flag */
    The third argument nsops is the index in the array pointed to by sops. It is set to 1 if there is one semaphore in the complete set.
  3. semctl: Counterpart of shmctl and msgctl, the format is
    int semctl(int semid, int semnum, int cmd, ...);
    This is the administrator of the semaphore set. It performs operations specified by cmd on the nth semaphore where n is same as semnum and the semaphore set is identified by semid.
(See semaphore.c.txt)

If you take a look at the 'keyboard-hit' program that I used in my previous article to explain the use of pipes, fifos and shared memory mechanisms, the code above is essentially the same. We accept input from the keyboard and check whether the input is a digit between 0 and 9 inclusive; however, we now have two processes trying to take inputs from the keyboard. Since this can lead to conflict, we keep a lock, so that when one process is active, the other one waits.

First, we register a signal SIGINT, so that whenever the signal is raised, the signal handler process_exit is executed, bringing about the termination of the process for which the signal is registered. We then have init_semaphore, which creates a semaphore set with NUM members in the set (here it is 1). On successful creation of the semaphore set, semget returns a semaphore set identifier, which will be used for further operations on the semaphore set. We then invoke set_sem_val. Initially, this may seem useless, but it can actually be used to confirm that you can run your program with the code above and with the code that does not call set_sem_val. The manual page for semctl gives a brief description on the union semun. The union as defined is

union semun {
	int val;                  /* value for SETVAL */
	struct semid_ds *buf;     /* buffer for IPC_STAT, IPC_SET */
	unsigned short int *array;    /* array for GETALL, SETALL */
	struct seminfo *__buf;    /* buffer for IPC_INFO */

We set the field val in the union to 1. This signifies that access to the critical resource can be provided only once (or one process). It the value is set as 2, then only two process can hold access to the shared resource at a time.

Next, we initialize two processes that take the same action. We fork it in such a manner that only the child processes run. If semaphore operation for the lock is successful, then we invoke critical_resource; otherwise we try again (much like an infinite loop). If a lock is successful, then that process is provided access to critical_resource. Once it comes out of the critical_resource, we remove the lock. Note that we have a sleep(1) in the process, which enables the scheduling of the two process to provide enough time slices to both the process. Confusing, right? Try running the code without that sleep; the results are educational.

The critical_resource simply reads keyboard characters other than '\n' and when a digit between 0 and 9 is read, it asks the user to raise the keyboard interrupt.

This may look as simple as the concept explained in almost all textbooks on Operating Systems. But this is because we are dealing with only one member in the semaphore set. The complexity increases as the number of semaphores increases. One may also wonder, why not use a simple flag kept in shared memory instead? That would be fine if we were dealing with programs as simple as the one given as example here, but would restrict the usage and features that are available with semaphores. I suggest experimenting with this mechanism, with more complex programs where you deal with more than just one semaphore in the set.


Sockets are the most popular of all the IPC mechanisms for a simple reason: other mechanisms do not support communication between two machines. Sockets provide a full-duplex communication channel between processes that do not necessarily run on the same machine.

Generally, sockets are associated with the concept of network communication in the form of client-server programming; a pair of processes of which one will be a client and one a server. The client process will send requests to the server, and the server process will send replies as an acknowledgment to the client requests. Of course, when creating a socket, we have to specify the type of communication that will be needed, since different modes of communication requires different protocols.

The different system calls associated with this form of IPC mechanism are given below:

  1. socket: This system call returns the descriptor, which is used for further communication. The format is
    int socket(int domain, int type, int protocol);
    The first argument domain specifies the communication domain. The domain here indicates which protocol family is to be used for communication and the third argument protocol specifies a particular protocol to be used with the socket. See the manual page for socket for more details on the protocols supported. The second argument type specifies the properties, features or limitations of the socket.
  2. bind: This binds the socket with a name. The format is
    int bind(int sockfd, struct sockaddr *my_addr, socklen_t addrlen);
    Here, the address my_addr of length addrlen is given to the socket whose descriptor is sockfd. The address is initialized before a call to bind is made.
  3. listen: listen for connections on a socket. The format is
    int listen(int s, int backlog);
    This tells the kernel to queue up a maximum of backlog number of connections for the socket with the descriptor s. If the queue becomes full, then appropriate action is taken based on the protocol being used.
  4. accept: accept the connection on a socket. The format is
    int accept(int s, struct sockaddr *addr, socklen_t *addrlen);
    This accepts connections and fills up the addr with the socket address of the client. Sockets support connection-oriented as well as connectionless communication. This system call is associated only with connection-oriented communication.
    For more details on connection-oriented and connectionless communication, please refer the book Computer Networks by Andrew S Tanenbaum.
  5. connect: initiate a connection in a socket. The format is
    int  connect(int  sockfd,  const  struct sockaddr *serv_addr, socklen_t addrlen);
    This is invoked by the client to connect to a socket with descriptor sockfd on a server with the address serv_addr. Once connect call succeeds, it returns zero, otherwise errno is set appropriately.
(See client.c.txt and server.c.txt)

The structure of the two programs client.c and server.c are similar; both programs initially create sockets. The sockets are created using the AF_INET family of protocols, which is same as PF_INET. The field SOCK_STREAM indicates that it will be a sequenced, reliable, full-duplex and connection-based socket. The protocol specified during creation of socket is '0'. This can also be IPPROTO_TCP for tcp sockets and IPPROTO_UDP for udp sockets.

In the case of the server, we name the sockets using the bind system call. We have a structure sockaddr and sockaddr_in. The former specifies the generic socket address, whereas the latter describes the internet socket address. The structure as one can see in the manual page for ip is

struct sockaddr_in {
	sa_family_t    sin_family; /* address family: AF_INET */
	u_int16_t      sin_port;   /* port in network byte order */
	struct in_addr  sin_addr;  /* internet address */
and in_addr is
struct in_addr {
	u_int32_t s_addr;	/* address in network byte order */

Here, the sin_family field is same as the family of protocols being used, that is, AF_INET. The sin_port field is the port number (in network byte order), which will be used by the socket. Finally, sin_addr field is the internet address (again in network byte order), which here I have given as the loopback address. The socket is bound to these details, once a successful call is made on bind.

The listen system call specifies that the created socket is willing to accept incoming connections, but with a restriction that there will be a limitation for the number of connections. In our code, the limitation is given as '1', which specifies the queue size for the number of pending connections.

An accept call returns the descriptor of the accepted connection. If the server needs to serve n > 1 number of connections, then we have to make repeated calls to accept.

After that, we can do the usual file operations (e.g., read and write) on the descriptor returned by the accept system call. Alternate read and write operations will help the server to communicate with the client.

Coming to the structure of the client program, once a socket is created, the client tries to connect to the server using the connect system call. This, again, is done after setting the internet socket address before binding the socket to a name. Once the call to connect is successful, the client program can start communicating with the server. Note: obviously, the client program can only connect to a running server. However, for testing purposes, please run the client program without running the server.

The example shown here illustrates the use of sockets for loopback communication. The client and server programs may be run on different machines by changing the internet address to the required ones. There are also several other families of protocols which support communication via sockets. Some of the interesting ones are PF_LOCAL for local communication, PF_PACKET for low-level packet interface, PF_NETLINK for communication between the kernel and the user, etc. It's a good idea to try out these options to understand the flexibility and domains (in the application level) where one can use this mechanism. The example above is for connection oriented communication. Exploring the use of sockets in an connectionless-oriented communication is left as an exercise to the readers.


Finally, I come to an end of my article. I have tried to present the concepts of Inter-Process Communication in a manner which will make it easier for novice programmers to write their own code whenever they come across any of the problems that I have mentioned here. This two-part article will not, of course, make you an expert in this field, but should form a good base for future exploration.

[BIO] I completed my B. Tech in Computer Science & Engineering from a small town called Trichur, in Kerala, God's Own Country in India. Presently I am working in Naturesoft Pvt. Ltd, Chennai, India as a Programmer. I spend my free time reading books on Linux and exploring the same. Also, I have a good appetite for Physics. My motive in life is to go forward, onward and upward.

Copyright © 2004, Hiran Ramankutty. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Design Awareness

By Mark Seymour

Paradigms are much more than twenty cents

(See the author's bio for the preceding articles in this series.)

Now that you've gathered your text and images, identified your files, and gotten your approvals and translations, you're ready to add structure to your data. To communicate effectively, you must create a hierarchy for your data, because our brains try to make order out of disorder instinctively.

Early examples are star constellations, where prehistoric humans turned the jumble of stars in the night sky into the Bear and Orion's Belt and 86 other named patterns (see http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/constellation_list.html for a complete list), and playing cards, the first decks of which date back to 14th century Italy. (For the history of playing cards, check out this British site, http://wopc.co.uk, or this French museum, http://www.issy.com/statiques/musee/index.html.) Related to the Tarot decks, but without their spiritual context, playing cards are a very dense informational unit. Sortable by suit and color and numeric position, these 56 ordered objects are used every day by people who speak no common language and have no hereditary aristocracy; it is hard to imagine another equally successful information system:

As a design challenge, try creating your own 'found' deck of cards (see http://www.communigate.co.uk/hants/playingcards/page4.phtml for more on the concept) or check out the latest 'high-tech' deck at http://www.zbyte.com.

In the five and a half centuries since Gutenberg (see http://www.gutenberg.de and http://www.dotprint.com/fgen/history1.htm), several major information paradigms have been created: the book, the newspaper, the magazine, and the catalog. Each has its own distinct method of presenting information, giving each a traditional, and expected, graphical look. Each serves a particular niche in the information system; as Umberto Eco noted, "Egyptians could carve their records on stone obelisks, Moses could not." (For his complete 1996 speech, From Internet to Gutenberg, see http://www.italianacademy.columbia.edu/pdfs/lectures/eco_internet_gutenberg.pdf.)

Most web sites emulate, with varying success, one or more of these four paradigms.

Books have traditionally been the boring, stuffy cousins of the information family. Many now wear splashy full-color dust jackets or soft covers, looking more like a poster than a traditional leather-bound book:

But their full-color covers are still wrapped around text-only guts, and almost all books still bear the half-title page, title page, copyright page, contents page, body-of-text organizational scheme developed hundreds of years ago. Most are set in one or two fonts, with little graphical distinction except on the chapter opening pages, and many still carry a quaint notion, the colophon, at the back, where the designer mentions the font used, often with the history of the font itself. The information in most books is very linear, yet the table of contents or the index (found in most non-fiction books), like the navigation bar or the search box in a website, allow you to quickly find a section of interest or a particular reference.

Books published on-line or as downloadable files have generally retained this 'antique' look (see http://www.ebookmall.com/index.html for examples), and there are many sites that provide free versions, especially of older texts: Project Perseus and Project Gutenberg. Because books are often published off-line first, their on-line equivalents are forced to mimic the hard copy versions; unfortunately, the long-awaited "hypertext revolution" has yet to arrive.

Newspapers have always been a 'cool' medium. Here are pairs of London (1797 & 1940) and New York (1863 & 1945) newspapers, produced 143 and 82 years apart:

    With the exception of the larger headlines (made necessary by a change in selling tactics from hawkers to racks), there's little to distinguish one era from another. While newspapers have adopted colored inks and color photography, within the limits of their paper stock, even the New York Times still looks much the same today, 141 years after the Civil War issue above:

Even on-line, the Times adopts the familiar multi-column layout: http://www.nytimes.com/, and still looks like a newspaper. Note that the paper continues to use an 'Old English'-style (based on the German black letter fonts) font for its nameplate.

This has been a traditional font for newspaper names around the world for over 150 years, though the Times of London had Stanley Morrison design its own eponymous font (Times New Roman, of course) in 1931. (For a good overview of how the same font can be made subtly different, depending on the type foundry that produces it, see http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/linotype/times-roman/familytree.htm.)

Magazines, of course, have always been a 'hotter' medium. They began utilizing illustrations over text early on and, beginning in the 1940s, Life and Look made photography their primary information tool, often reducing the text to mere captions. Where early designs, like the 1944 'General Montgomery' issue of the New York Times Magazine, used photography alone, current magazine covers carry enough text references to articles inside, just as websites display prominent links to subpages, to qualify as tables of contents themselves, and often nearly obscure the underlying photo:

Catalogs are mailed out by the truckload (12.8 billion each year, averaging 1.7 catalogs per home per week, according to Fast Company), and exist on-line for nearly every product. Sears, Roebuck was one of the first mass catalogs, beginning in 1888; see http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/acs/1890s/sears/sears4.html for period details. More recently, the famed J. Peterman catalog (the real one, not the character from the Seinfeld show) was a high-art version of the paradigm, using hand-drawn illustrations and florid prose to describe the products. Recently reborn, its on-line version, http://www.jpeterman.com/default.htm, mimics the flavor of the print version almost perfectly. More commonly, catalogs use massive numbers of product photos, often shown in elaborate environments, to promote their wares, and their on-line versions usually match (see http://www.ikea-usa.com/ to compare):

Each of these paradigms, book or newspaper or magazine or catalog, has its own manner of hierarchy, and readers expect them to follow the norms for the category; a book that's formatted like a catalog might be intriguing but, unless its content is of very high value, readers will give it only a cursory look. When creating complex and multi-purposed information sets, like an annual report or a university catalog or a website, however, you have more flexibility; different sections of the piece can have very different purposes and require a different data structure and, often, a very different design structure.

As noted earlier, there are on-line equivalents of existing hierarchical structures: navigation bars are similar to tables of contents, and search boxes are automated indices. The magazine cover model is used in websites every day, with the added advantage of image animation: http://www.kohler.com and http://www.luerssen.de/frame.html are good examples.

Putting It All Together

So, how do we create hierarchy? You need to determine a design matrix or grid, where items of similar importance or shared relevance (headlines at the same 'level', standard text information, charts and graphs, photograph captions, etc.) are formatted using the same (or a markedly similar) style. Style, of course, consists of all the visual characteristics of text (font, font weight, font style, and/or font color) plus a number of traditional markers that indicate hierarchy. These markers, for users of Western European languages, are pretty much the same: front, top, left, and size. That means that an object, whether it's text or a photo or an icon, that sits in front of another (think every web popup you see), or above another, or to the left of another, or is bigger than another, is more important. Similarly, something that is in a bolder font, or a stronger (not necessarily brighter) color, is more important; think of a red headline in bold versus a black one in a regular weight font. (Italics can sometimes raise something in importance, and sometimes diminish it, so be careful when using it or anything else from the Font Style menu in your design application.)

If you check the front pages of the newspapers above, you'll see they all correspond to this system. Web-based materials should obey the same structure, with the addition of 'first' or 'early' in the case of animations and movies. (Note that I do not include the use of ALL CAPS in the emphasis variants; the style has lingered over-long in newspaper headlines, and should be used sparingly, if at all. Text is far less readable in all capitals, as shown here, and 'screams' at the reader; it should be considered as impolite to use it in print or on-line as it is in emails.)

Deciding what is important is, oddly enough, the most important thing you can do. While that pretty photograph you commissioned, or the luscious chart you slaved over for hours, might seem important, is it important to your viewer? After they understand what your piece is about (are you providing a history of your city, selling a better mousetrap, or giving directions to the nearest hospital? Never assume that the reader already knows), having a clear method of finding specific information in your piece, whether a thorough table of contents or site map or index, is often what viewers hope for and rarely find.

Now slice and dice your carefully prepared data. Determine if a linear or some other information flow is appropriate to your material; working on-line, of course, lends itself to 'spider' or cross-linked information much more than a printed piece. Arrange each section and subsection using your chosen pattern, and decide what visual method you'll use to both connect them and distinguish them; that becomes your design matrix.

Once you've determined the design matrix, meaning that you've set the size, font, and color for a headline or body text or a chart caption or a footnote along with all the other data types in your files, along with the proportional size for photographs and illustrations, you can easily apply it to your data. Don't, of course, be rigid in your use of the matrix; some things need to be in a different font, or a different color, to set off their own importance. A change in data type (from text to charts and graphs, for instance; the annual report is a classic example) may force a change (layout, font structure, or color system) to a particular section; consistency can be the hobgoblin of design, as well. But changing everything, just for the sake of change, only leads to dizziness. While it can be visually tempting, changing the data structure or the fonts or even just the system of color usage, whether on every page or from section to section, can confuse and often infuriate the reader. While a pissed-off user who's already purchased your book or magazine might just never buy another one, the frustrated customer holding your expensively printed and mailed catalog or viewing your expensively designed web page will merely throw it away or click to another site, and all your investment of time and money in its production is instantly wasted.

Choose your fonts and color systems carefully. Sure, you can set a headline in 144 point Frutiger Bold Italic Outline in #FF9900 orange, and the text beneath it in 6 point Helvetica Narrow Underlined in #FF0000 red, all on a background of #009900 green, but do you have to? Use colors that don't fight each other, and keep the choices of colors, fonts, font sizes, and font weights to a minimum. Two fonts, one headline and one text, used in three font sizes each with, sparingly, bold and italics for each, gives you a lot of variations. Picking a small and delicate color palette (see http://www.visibone.com/color/, http://www.websitetips.com/color/, and http://www.webcolors.freeserve.co.uk/ for good web color systems) will keep the reader from going blind or gagging. Of course, there are situations (a good thrash site, for instance; see http://punkrockskateboards.com/stage_dive.htm or http://www.tenfootpole.com/) where anything goes, and the reader will welcome the best, or at least the weirdest, you can offer.

Now that you've applied your hierarchy system to the design of each section, make sure you step back (literally, if necessary) and see if the overall system is working. It is too easy to get caught up in manipulating the little bits (captions, headlines, footnotes, headers and footers, etc.) and not notice the glaring failure of the whole piece to provide a clear and understandable flow of information to the reader.

The Closing Note

Creating hierarchy can be as simple (using ever-smaller font sizes) or as complex (using cross-linking and color systems and font families and animated buttons) as you want. But not doing it thoughtfully, or consistently, can be as if you never did it at all. Providing the reader with an elegant, easy-to-use system of determining importance and navigating information is a solution worth the effort.


I started doing graphic design in junior high school, when it was still the Dark Ages of technology. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both eleven years old, and the state of the art was typing copy on Gestetner masters. I've worked on every new technology since, but I still own an X-acto knife and know how to use it.

I've been a freelancer, and worked in advertising agencies, printing companies, publishing houses, and marketing organizations in major corporations. I also did a dozen years [1985-1997] at Apple Computer; my first Macintosh was a Lisa with an astounding 1MB of memory, and my current one is a Cube with a flat screen.

I've had a website up since 1997, and created my latest one in 2004. I'm still, painfully, learning how web design is different from, but not necessarily better than, print.

Copyright © 2004, Mark Seymour. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

Fine-tuning SpamAssassin

By Neil Youngman

SpamAssassin, as most of our readers will know, is a popular spam classifier on Linux. This article assumes that you already have SpamAssassin installed and working. If you are interested in running SpamAssassin, but do not yet have it set up, there is a useful introduction at http://linux.org.mt/article/killspam.

When I set up SpamAssassin in Mandrake 9.2, it came very close to picking up 100% of my spam. Over time, however, many of the spammers have figured out how to fine tune their spam and bypass the default ruleset. I find the default setup still picks up at least half the spam, maybe two thirds on a good day, but too much leaks through. If the spammers are tuning their messages, I guess the only thing to do is to tune my scoring. There are at least 8 possible ways of improving SpamAssassin's hit rate.

  1. Blacklisting known offenders
  2. DNS Blocklists
  3. Enable Bayesian filtering
  4. Reduce the point threshold for spam
  5. Increase the scores on existing rulesets
  6. Upgrade SpamAssassin to the latest version
  7. Install more rulesets
  8. Write your own rulesets

Configuring SpamAssassin

Fine-tuning SpamAssassin is, of course, done by editing the appropriate configuration file. If the changes are just for your account, then you edit ~/.spamassassin/user_prefs. If you are making global changes, they go in /etc/mail/spamassassin/local.cf (and require root access.) I strongly recommend testing changes in your local configuration before changing the global configuration.

The options available in your configuration file are listed in http://spamassassin.org/doc/Mail_SpamAssassin_Conf.html, as well as in the relevant manpage (see "man Mail::SpamAssassin::Conf".)

SpamAssassin's Scoring Mechanism

In principle, SpamAssassin's scoring mechanism is simple. There are a set of rules for identifying spam, scores associated with those rules, and an overall threshold score. If the total score for all the rules triggered by a message reaches the threshold, that message is marked as spam.

Most of the complexity is in the rules, but it's rarely necessary to roll your own SpamAssassin rules. Adjusting the threshold and the scores associated with existing rules is much simpler and can be very effective. If that's not enough, there are also additional rulesets available to download. Of course, if you think writing you own rulesets sounds like a fun thing to do, I've included a pointer below to get you started.

Most of the rules are listed in http://spamassassin.org/tests.html along with their associated scores, but the scores listed did not match those in my configuration files. They were probably from a newer release. You will probably find the default scores for your configuration in /usr/share/spamassassin/50_scores.cf, where there are 4 scores associated with each rule. The rule chosen depends on whether Bayesian analysis (see below) and network tests are enabled. Where only one score is supplied, that score is always used. Other options, such as relative scores, are described in the aforementioned documentation.

False positives, whitelisting, and blacklisting

No spam filter gets it right all the time, and there are 2 types of errors. False negatives are bad, because that means a spam was missed and allowed to slip through the net. False positives, however, are worse, because you may miss something you should have seen, which has been tagged as spam. No spam filter should ever be configured to automatically delete email without human review. Spam should always be dropped into a quarantine area, which should be reviewed at frequent intervals to ensure that genuine emails aren't missed.

Regular reviews are even more important as you tune your settings. No matter how careful you are, there is no guarantee that any change to the settings won't cause some collateral damage. Even with the default setup, you will see some false positives, e.g. newsletters from The National Trust and The Royal Opera House get marked as spam, so a key part of managing your spam - especially in the beginning - involves reviewing the hits and determine which senders you need to "whitelist".

Whitelisting is usually done with the settings whitelist_from and whitelist_to. These can be repeated as many times as you like. Simple globbing patterns (see "man bash" and search for "Pattern Matching" for a description) are used to specify wildcard matches. E.g., '?' matches a single character and '*' matches any number of characters (including zero.) whitelist_from and whitelist_to subtract 100 points from the score, making it very rare for matching emails to reach the spam threshold.

whitelist_from nice.but_clueless@example.net
whitelist_from *@importantclient.example.com
Also available are options more_spam_to, all_spam_to. According to the documentation, "There are three levels of To-whitelisting, whitelist_to, more_spam_to and all_spam_to. Users in the first level may still get some spammish mails blocked, but users inall_spam_to should never get mail blocked."

You should consider using all_spam_to for postmaster addresses. It's very annoying if someone tries to report a spam and has their report blocked or rejected as spam.

You may sometimes see a large number of emails slipping through from a particular sender. Usually sender IDs are forged and chosen randomly. There is little point blacklisting most senders, but sometimes it can be worthwhile. A more useful option is blacklisting based on recipients. If your email address is a.white@example.com you may see a lot of spam with nearby addresses, such as a.wharton@example.com and a.winter@example.com in the cc list and these recipients can be blacklisted.

According to the documentation blacklisting is done with the settings blacklist_from and blacklist_to, but you may find thatblacklist_to doesn't work on versions of SpamAssassin older than 2.6.0.

blacklist_from *@evilspammers.example.org
blacklist_to a.wharton@example.com
blacklist_to *.wi*@example.com
There are a number of other settings for blacklisting and whitelisting. Global settings can be overridden locally by unwhitelist_from, unwhitelist_to, unblacklist_from and unblacklist_to. Please read the documentation to find out more about these and other available settings.

DNS Blocklists

DNS Blocklists are another form of blacklisting. They are externally maintained lists of mail servers which have been identified as sources of spam or open relays. These are sometimes referred to as RBLs (Realtime Blackhole Lists).

SpamAssassin checks the headers to see if the email has been relayed through any hosts with matches in certain blocklists. This is known not to work with a number of configurations because it only checks the first DNS entry in resolv.conf; if this does not point to a working DNS server, it will not work. This is a known problem under Mandrake 9.2.

DNS Blocklists can be disabled with the option skip_rbl_checks.

Enable Bayesian filtering

Bayesian analysis is a statistical technique in which the frequency of words in emails are analysed, according to how often they appear in spam and how often they appear in other emails. The content of incoming emails is then analysed to assign a probability of the email being spam.

Bayesian analysis is a feature of recent versions of SpamAssassin and I find it very effective. Some work is required to build and maintain the database, but it is well worth the small effort involved.

To configure SpamAssassin to use Bayesian analysis you add the line

use_bayes	1
to your user_prefs file.

You won't see any matches for Bayesian analysis yet. The algorithm requires at least 200 spam emails in it's database before it will assign any probability to your emails. To get to this point collect your spam emails in a separate mailbox and run

sa-learn --spam --mbox ~/Mail/spamtrap 
Often you will see that the number of emails it has learned from (analysed) is less than the number that appear to be in the mailbox it is learning from. This is because it has detected that some emails are duplicates of emails it has seen before.

You should also give it your "ham" emails to learn from using the command

 $ sa-learn --ham --mbox ~/Mail/inbox
Once it has learned from more than 200 spam emails you should start seeing matches in the headers like
BAYES_90           (4.5 points)  BODY: Bayesian classifier says spam probability is 90 to 99%
Don't stop feeding it data when it starts to work. The more data it has, the more accurate it should be. If you are short of disk space, you should bear in mind that the database can get quite large. Mine is about 10MB.

If at any time you accidentally classify a message incorrectly this can be corrected. Move the message to a temporary folder, then use the command

sa-learn --forget --mbox ~/Mail/temp 
then move it back to the correct folder and classify it as usual.

Reduce the points threshold for spam

The simplest approach to catching more spam is just to reduce the points threshold. This can be quite effective. The default is to mark a message as spam when it scores 5 points or more. Reducing this will catch a lot more spam, but it will also increase the risk of false positives.

In my experience a threshold of 3.0 or 3.5 will increase the amount of spam caught dramatically, but won't produce significantly more false positives. This is achieved very simply by changing or adding the required_hits setting, e.g.

required_hits	3.5
If you have been using SpamAssassin for a while you can use grep to assess the level at which you are likely to see a significant increase in false positives. This is done by searching your mail folders for X-Spam-Status header lines with different scores.
$ grep 'X-Spam-Status: .* hits=[5-9]\.' ~/Mail/inbox | wc -l
$ grep 'X-Spam-Status: .* hits=[34]\.' ~/Mail/inbox | wc -l
$ grep 'X-Spam-Status: .* hits=2\.' ~/Mail/inbox | wc -l
The first command shows that there is only 1 mail in my inbox that has scored between 5.0 and 9.9 points. The second that there are 4 mails that scored between 3.0 and 4.9 points and the third that 10 mails scored between 2.0 and 2.9 points. It should be borne in mind that this ignores all emails from before setting up SpamAssassin and all emails that you have deleted since that time.

Increase the scores on existing rulesets

After you've got Bayesian analysis working and you've decided on the threshold that's appropriate for you, there will no doubt still be some spam getting through. It's time to delve into the headers and find out what rules need higher scores.

Before we start, I should say that the default scores have been tuned using a genetic algorithm. Should you trust your judgment against that algorithm? My opinion is that spam is evolving. Many of them are tested against the default SpamAssassin rules and fine tuned until they pass. Also everyone's spam problem is different. Statistically, what works for a large database of spam, possibly going back years, isn't necessarily the best for your current spam problem. If you find that your tuning efforts make the problem worse, you can always go back to the defaults.

Incoming messages should have some headers that indicate which rules were triggered. These look like:

X-Spam-Status: No, hits=3.0 required=3.5
These headers will not normally be displayed, but any decent mail client will have an option to display all headers. In kmail this option is View->Headers->All.

If you do not see these headers when you have all headers displayed, take a look at the section "Other Options" at the end of this article for the option controlling headers.

Looking at the matches given above, Bayesian analysis has given the mail a 50-60% probability of being spam. I have sufficient confidence in the Bayesian analysis to make anything with a probability of 50% or more spam, so I set the scores for those rules to my current threshold of 3.5.

Here's another one that sneaked in under the radar.

X-Spam-Status: No, hits=1.6 required=3.5
The USER_AGENT rule isn't very interesting. Most mail has a user-agent header and this scores 0.001. We'll leave that alone. The other tests seem to contradict each other, one apparently saying that that the message is all HTML and the other that it's 20-30% HTML. I would guess that the 20-30% is the ratio of HTML tags to text, so it can be all HTML, but not all tags.

So, how should we adjust the scoring? HTML_20_30 matches 6 times in 8 months of legitimate email, but it matches a third of the mail currently in my spam folder, so it should be scored highly, but not highly enough to be conclusive on it's own. It seems to be scored at 1.47, which may be a bit low, but it's not far wrong. MIME_HTML_ONLY matched 1 legitimate email, but matches 95% of my spam. Strangely this only scores 0.1. I'm going to treat it as almost conclusive and score it at 3.0, requiring only another 0.5 points to trigger a match on my threshold of 3.5.

Another email got through with these matches:

X-Spam-Status: No, hits=1.5 required=3.5
Looking at my email, I find that HTML_10_20 matches a lot of legitimate email, as well as spam and GET_IT_NOW only matches 1 spam.
$ grep HTML_10_20 ~/Mail/spamtrap | wc -l
$ grep HTML_10_20 ~/Mail/inbox ~/Mail/mailing-lists | wc -l
$ grep GET_IT_NOW ~/Mail/inbox ~/Mail/mailing-lists | wc -l
$ grep GET_IT_NOW ~/Mail/spamtrap  | wc -l
In this case I can't justify changing the scoring for either rule.

Upgrade SpamAssassin to the latest version

If, like me, you aren't running the very latest distribution you may find that you are a little behind the curve. The standard rulesets are always evolving and just running a more recent version should help to catch more Spam.

As I write the latest stable version of SpamAssassin is 2.63 and 3.00 is under development. The latest versions can be downloaded from http://spamassassin.apache.org/downloads.html.

Install more rulesets

There are custom rulesets available on the SpamAssassin Wiki, the SpamAssassin Rules Emporium (SARE) and elsewhere.

I have not installed any of these rulesets and I am not recommending any of them. You should read the documentation and evaluate their suitability carefully before installing any new rulesets and monitor the results once they are installed.

Write your own rulesets

Rolling your own SpamAssassin rules is likely to be a minority interest, but I guess it will appeal to some of our readers. If you spot a pattern in your spam that there doesn't seem to be a rule for, or you are just terminally curious then read "A straightforward guide to writing your own add-on rules for SpamAssassin", by Matt Kettler.

Other Options

As well as adjusting the scoring, there a a range of options with which you can modify various aspects of SpamAssassin's behaviour. Here are descriptions from the documentation for some that I consider useful.
    rewrite_subject { 0 | 1 } (default: 0)
        By default, the subject lines of suspected spam will not be tagged.
        This can be enabled here.

    always_add_headers { 0 | 1 } (default: 1)
        By default, X-Spam-Status, X-Spam-Checker-Version, (and optionally
        X-Spam-Level) will be added to all messages scanned by SpamAssassin.
        If you don't want to add the headers to non-spam, set this value to
        0. See also always_add_report.

    always_add_report { 0 | 1 } (default: 0)
        By default, mail tagged as spam includes a report, either in the
        headers or in an attachment (report_safe). If you set this to option
        to 1, the report will be included in the X-Spam-Report header, even
        if the message is not tagged as spam. Note that the report text
        always states that the mail is spam, since normally the report is
        only added if the mail is spam.

        This can be useful if you want to know what rules the mail
        triggered, and why it was not tagged as spam. See also

    spam_level_stars { 0 | 1 } (default: 1)
        By default, a header field called "X-Spam-Level" will be added to
        the message, with its value set to a number of asterisks equal to
        the score of the message. In other words, for a message scoring 7.2

        X-Spam-Level: *******

        This can be useful for MUA rule creation.

    spam_level_char { x (some character, unquoted) } (default: *)
        By default, the "X-Spam-Level" header will use a '*' character with
        its length equal to the score of the message. Some people don't like
        escaping *s though, so you can set the character to anything with
        this option.

        In other words, for a message scoring 7.2 points with this option
        set to .

        X-Spam-Level: .......

Further Information

To find out more about SpamAssassin check out the SpamAssassin web site and FAQ.


Neil is a programmer, specialising in C++ on Unix and Linux. He has degrees in Computer science and Next Generation Computing.

Neil has worked on a wide range of systems from the control system for the British Gas national grid to video servers for the Home Choice video on demand service. He first programmed computers in 1980 with his school General Studies class, which was allowed access to a mainframe at The National Institute of Oceanography, programmed in Fortran on punch cards.

A computer science degree followed at Queen Mary College, London, then Neil worked for Logica for 3 years before taking an MSc in New Generation Computing at Exeter University.

The next 5 years saw Neil researching parallel simulation algorithms at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment, initially on transputers and subsequently on SPARC based parallel systems. Since leaving RSRE, Neil has mostly worked freelance and has worked on financial data feeds, video servers and virus scanning proxies.

Neil first used Unix at college in 1982 and started working on Linux in 1996.

As of May 2004, Neil is working for Wirefast a global messaging company.

Outside of computing, Neil is into motor sport, particularly Formula 1, the World Rally Championship and the British Touring Car Championship. He doesn't race himself. If you've seen Neil's driving, you'll understand why.

Copyright © 2004, Neil Youngman. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004


By Javier Malonda

The Ecol comic strip is written for escomposlinux.org (ECOL), the web site that supports es.comp.os.linux, the Spanish USENET newsgroup for Linux. The strips are drawn in Spanish and then translated to English by the author.

These images are scaled down to minimize horizontal scrolling. To see a panel in all its clarity, click on it.

[cartoon] [cartoon] [cartoon]

All Ecol cartoons are at tira.escomposlinux.org (Spanish), comic.escomposlinux.org (English) and http://tira.puntbarra.com/ (Catalan). The Catalan version is translated by the people who run the site; only a few episodes are currently available.

These cartoons are copyright Javier Malonda. They may be copied, linked or distributed by any means. However, you may not distribute modifications. If you link to a cartoon, please notify Javier, who would appreciate hearing from you.

Copyright © 2004, Javier Malonda. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004


By Jon "Sir Flakey" Harsem

These images are scaled down to minimize horizontal scrolling. To see a panel in all its clarity, click on it.

[cartoon] [cartoon]

All Qubism cartoons are here at the CORE web site.

[BIO] Jon is the creator of the Qubism cartoon strip and current Editor-in-Chief of the CORE News Site. Somewhere along the early stages of his life he picked up a pencil and started drawing on the wallpaper. Now his cartoons appear 5 days a week on-line, go figure. He confesses to owning a Mac but swears it is for "personal use".

Copyright © 2004, Jon "Sir Flakey" Harsem. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

The Linux Laundrette

Not Linux

There's another lengthy Not Linux thread this month, courtesy of The Off-Topic Gang, which touches on just about everything from hydrogen fuel to science centres to politics.

There's also The Case of the Mad Python Programmer.

Here's a list of funny Microsoft Knowledge Base articles. My favourite, even if it isn't a real KB article, is: Q209354: HOW TO: RTFM: "This article demonstrates how to read the f*cking manual, as popularised by the RTFM directive."

The Register has an anatomy of a 419 scam, as well as a survey of the musical tastes of computer professionals.

Linspire have a funny parody of The Doors' "Light My Fire". Take a look at "Run Linspire", if you have a Flash player.

For those who regularly read "The Foolish Things We Do With Our Computers", there's 102 ways to kill your computer, and Computer stupidities.

Lastly, I found myself interested in some spam this month, from "The Sith Co, LTD"; until I found out that this was pr0n, and not a company started by actual Sith.

Spam Joke

Who'd've thunk it? Something interesting in Spam

A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Aussie farmer and gets talking. The Aussie shows off his big wheat field and the Texan says, "Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as large."

Then they walk around the ranch a little, and the Aussie shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, "We have longhorns that are at least twice as large as your cows."

The conversation has, meanwhile, almost died when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field in the distance. Amazed, he asks, "What the hell are those?!"

The Aussie replies with an incredulous look, "Don't you have any grasshoppers in Texas?"


[Sluggo] Woman falls for 419 scam, steals $670,000 from clients, gets 37 months in prison

It's a little known fact that there was originally an 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not be gullible", but bringing that up might lead to a repeat of a discussion about the order of the Ten Commandments.
Also, it's saddening to note that WordNet, the open source dictionary/thesaurus, lacks a definition for "gullible".

Hell's Editors

[Ben] So, I went and did it. Perhaps inspired by Jay's example, or maybe because I've been thinking about it for a long time now - and a pilot friend of mine had this one for sale at a great price.

Whew. Sure brings back a lot of memories. Racing, cruising, long rides on the backroads of California and New York...



[Sluggo] I found a "tm" image on the TOC template a couple hours ago.

[Rick] You could put a "Price: 50 zorkmids" sign on it; it would have the same effect. ;->

[Ben] *Say*, that's not a bad idea... we might as well make our fortunes on this thing while the going's good. But make it 200 zorkmids; baby needs shoes.

Fed and Burped

[Ben] The sorting machine has been fed and burped, and seems satisfied with the changes.

[Jimmy] Don't forget what comes next with that analogy...

[Ben] [laugh] Fortunate folks that we are, with computers that comes first. The "seems satisfied" part comes at the end.

Real Life

[Frodo] PS: I know I have been quiet lately... "Real life" and such kept me kinda busy. Things look like they might be calming down a bit, pretty soon, though.

[Ben] Yeah, I know all about that. Man, that Real Life thing... it's weird, isn't it? Wonder if there's a pill you can take or something. Take heart, though: I hear it goes away after a while. Happens a lot faster if you can hold your breath long enough, too.

Bed Time

Date: Sun, 04 Jul 2004 04:19:37 +0100

[Thomas] Jimmy, ought you to be asleep?

Date: Sun, 04 Jul 2004 04:28:27 +0100

[Jimmy] Yes, and I might ask the same of you!

Date: Sat, 03 Jul 2004 23:48:09 -0400

[Ben] All right, that's it. Both of you young men get to bed, or there'll be no dessert for you at dinner tomorrow! I mean, tonight.

In my day...

[Jay] No motion on the mailing list stuff yet; sorry. No reply from Barry, (surprisingly), and I've been hip-deep in sheep-dip the past week, as well as down sick Thu and Fri. MWIKM.

[Ben] "My Wombat Is a Known Maniac"? Don't know that one. Sucks that you've been sick, though. The list issues can wait; you get better, dammit.

[Jay] It was mostly just sleep-a-lot sick; went to bed Thu 1500, up for a couple hours at 21; slept most of Friday.

"More When I Know More" <tm Jerry Pournelle>

[Ben] What with Mick coming off his bike and getting banged up (he's all right now, in spite of the efforts of the congenital morons at his local hospital), Jimmy playing his guitar till his wristbones fell out, and you slacking off just because your temperature is over 120, this place is going to hell in a handbasket. Why, in my day, people came to work even if somebody set'em on fire! (Made for a brisk business in fire extinguishers, lemme tell ya.) One fella dragged himself in and wouldn't leave until the company doctor sent him home for being dead. That's what I call commitment.

[Jimmy] Yeah, you're one to talk, going around looking for hurricanes to play in!

[Jay] Start a man a fire and he'll be warm for a night.
Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

[Jimmy] "[He] sounded like a man straining to see a light at the end of the tunnel. ... It had turned out that the end of the tunnel was on fire."

[Jason] ``
~$ fortune -i -m 'light at the end'
If we see the light at the end of the tunnel, it's the light of an
oncoming train. -- Robert Lowell
The light at the end of the tunnel is the headlight of an approaching train.
The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming dragon.
We have seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and it's out.

[Ashwin N] One more ...
"The light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off since you didn't pay your bills"


[Jimmy] Thanks. I'm thinking about becoming a writer when I grow up

[Ben] As long as it's not an advertising writer. You don't want to have the guys with the pitchforks and the red suits waiting for you at the end.

[Jimmy] Uh... you mean that when I go to hell, I don't want to go straight into a management position?

[Ben] Well, that's a hell of a way to reframe the situation! Maybe you are ready to go into advertising.

[Jimmy] Well... I have been advertising LG... uh oh!

Phew, I can still tell a truth without coming out in a rash!

[Ben] Tisk. I guess you're not ready for the Big Leagues yet.

[Jimmy] Nope. Haven't started speaking in slogans or nuthin'.

Sadly, a mere three days later, Ben showed that it was he who had fallen victim to the tempatations of advertising:

[Ben] Are your games running slowly, even though you have the latest whizbang video card? Is your Quake action more like a slow-motion low-crawl through Jell-O than a high-FPS F(irst) P(erson) S(hooter)? You may be using software emulation of direct rendering (DRI) instead of the real thing, or may have outdated (or missing) GL libraries.



<BLINK>Resize your browser so the following line touches both margins!</BLINK>
<HR WIDTH="75%">

[Jay] Um... I don't get it. ;-)

Homework help

[Sanjib Roy] how can i Clear Screen and Move Cursor to print a message in the screen from a C program that uses standard C function like printf() putch() without using ncurses.

[Thomas] I'd ask your lecturer this one.

[Sanjib Roy] Is there any function such as "clrscr()" and gotoxy() that are available in Dos based Turbo C++ compiler are available in Linux if not what is alternative


[Thomas] Homework getting you down? Good, don't ask us, we won't help. :)

Wacko Topic of the Month

Dead Languages

Latin's a dead language,
As dead as dead can be.
It killed off all the Romans
And now it's killing me.

[Jack Carlson] Have a great day. Pax, Jack Carlson

[Ben] Et pax vobiscum as well, Jack. :)

[Jason] Ben, you should only copy commonly used Latin phrases verbatim, otherwise it confuses me. :-)

"AND peace be with you", right?

[Ben] 'Copy'?

[Jason] Well, for a small-minded person such as myself, it would be mindless "copying", not actual understanding of a language, just as someone who does not really understand what's going on tends to do things like use "--force" for rpm when it "doesn't work", hoping that using it will magically fix their problems, without ever having to understand anything.

[Ben] I've been into Roman history for the last several years, and hanging out with a bunch of like-minded folks at novaroma.org for just about the same length of time. 'Salve iterum, Amice' is not an unusual greeting for me to write these days, and 'SVBEEV' (Si vales, bene est, ego valeo) is a fairly common way to end an email when writing to other Novaromans - although I generally prefer 'Vale' or 'Cura ut valeas'.

I don't claim that my Latin is anything but rudimentary, but salutations aren't particularly complex. Well, actually, they are :) - but not a simple 'hello/goodbye" between strangers; it's when you get into relatives and people of different status levels that it gets crazy. For a full treatment, see Eleanor Dickey's "Latin Forms of Address" (Oxford University Press, 2002).

[Jason] Ugh. TAG makes me sick. No matter the topic, there's someone who's more knowledgeable in it than me. :-)

[Breen] That's the kind of thing that keeps me alive (and sane)!

[Jason] Err, yes, well of course if you were talking in terms of solving problems and getting work done, *then* it would be a good thing. :-)

I just sometimes think it would be nice, if, for example, I said "I haven't read 'War and Peace'" and then somebody else would say, for example, "neither have I" instead of "polished that off during my lunch break today."

[Frodo] I knew there had to be someone else out there, who did not read "War and Peace"... /me feels better now *G*

[Ben] I'm with Breen on this one. I love the fact that, when I find myself floundering about while trying to spread the word about LG, Jimmy steps up to the bat, says "that's easy", and hits a bunch of home runs in various Linux venues. I'm just stoked when I'm stuck behind a firewall, and Karl-Heinz comes up with some deep SSH hackery which allows me to get and send my mail without a lot of hassle. By the same token, it gives me pleasure when I can help the other folks here past a problem in return.

 "We should not be crippled by the knowledge that no one of us can know
 what all of us together know."
  -- The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner
Besides which,
A well-rounded geek should be able to geek about anything.
  -- nicolai@esperi.org
If I'm not mistaken, we've got several well-rounded geeks here... although I have lost a bunch of weight lately.

[Jay] That explains nicely how I feel when I visit the USF main campus library.

[Ben] [smile] Yeah. Libraries, I love'em. Centers of propagation of human knowledge, for free. One of the finest achievements of the human race, to my mind, and the only ray of hope for some of the folks trying to crawl out of the muck; I damn near _lived_ in one for a few years after coming to the States. I can't even begin to express how outraged and scandalized I was when Baltimore - "The City That Reads", if you can believe the incredible gall of the bastards! - decided to close a number of their branch libraries. I - simply - have - not - the - words.

Somebody there must have experienced a fraction of a second of shame, or at least the basic decency necessary to cover the face of the deceased - they removed the magnetic stick-on signs with the above motto from the city trucks (but not the buses, where it was painted on) shortly thereafter.

[Jason] But in the end, I must agree with you: I wouldn't have TAG any other way.

Russell's Paradox

[Kapil] The barber who shaves everyone with a stubble except himself.

The regex that matches every (...) except itself.

Sounds like a Russell/Godel-esque construction!

[Thomas] Well, when I was studying Russell's paradox, I distinctly remember my lecturer using the anaology:

"Once there was a barber of a small village who shaved the head of every man who did not shave their own head. Did he shave his own head?"

... and then I wished he'd never posed the question! :D

[Ben] That's hilariously apropos. The Perl Quiz of The Week (qotw) challenge this week is to write a basic logic parser, and Russel's Paradox has seen a bit of discussion on that list... and I've just come back from my massage therapist, who mentioned Russel's Paradox as something he recently heard about in a "History of Science" course he took.

The available evidence says that we're moving toward a logical world. Just think, no one will believe Bush anymore... oh, oops.

</politics> :)

[Rick] Personally, I won't join any logicians' club that would have me as a member. But anyway:

[Ben] Ah - a closet Marxist, are you?

[Rick] Here's a piece you may find amusing, concerning Goodman's Paradox: http://linuxmafia.com/pub/skeptic/files-to-classify/goodman.txt

[Ben] Oh, what a beeeyootiful perspective shift. Much better than "a white handkerchief proves all ravens are black", which is enough to drive me away screaming after just a few minutes of trying to understand it (until I recall that logic has nothing to do with truth, at least.)

[Rick] I think I was already laughing my ass off before that bit about "Since Marby is losing his cool and beginning to turn grue" (not to mention "Do you smell a garden path? If so, what color is it?"), but that did help significantly.

[Ben] Yeah. It fit squarely within my favorite category of humor. I mean, it's not the Three Stooges, but you can't have perfection every time. :)

[Rick] The piece was originally published in BASIS, newsletter of the Bay Area Skeptics, a group I helped run for a long time (that, as originally conceived and run, made something of a specialty of those sorts of "Not so fast with the logical-positivist orthodoxy, fellah" pieces).

[Ben] Wow, that's been around for a while; since the paleolithic times, by Web standards.

[Rick] The (mostly) monthly newsletter was founded in August 1982, if memory serves.

[Ben] I'm surprised that they don't have a machinable format for the newsletter. Great fun reading the previous issues, though.

[Rick] I personally retyped into machine format many years' worth of prior issues, but then later was so annoyed about the radically changed direction of the group and its pissant new Chair (and their casual misappropriation of my copyrighted work at his direction) that I removed from the Net for several years all of the back issues I'd been hosting. Later, I put most of those back.

See also:

Oh well.

All of the issues I created (during my term as _BASIS_ editor) had machine-readable forms. I kept pleading with the other editors, during their terms at that post, to retain and archive their electronic work files to make it easier on my typing fingers -- but that mostly didn't happen.

It could have happened...

[Ben] Contrary to popular belief, [Perl's] mascot's name is not "OCaml". Sheesh.

[Thomas] Depends how you say it. :) Usually with perl, it is with heavy surprise with lots of skepticism thrown in for good measure. :D

[Ben] Well, the way people seems to usually "learn" Perl (i.e., by looking at somebody's horrible code, figuring "I can do that!", and proceeding to do exactly that), I'd think it's more like "prayerfully, with a quiver in the voice and tears running down the cheeks". People who learn it the right way - i.e., by reading and following the documentation and learning from good examples (e.g., PPT, NMS <http://nms-cgi.sourceforge.net/>, etc.) - say it with a rising inflection, sorta singing the last part, and usually follow it up with a whistle.

"O Caaaa-mel! [whistle] Heeere, Camel-camel-camel!"

It always comes running and wagging its tail when properly invoked. Beware the fleas, though. :)

[Thomas] "Programming in Ruby is like being hugged." -- Greg McIntyre, Ruby programmer.

[Ben] Awww. That's *cute*.

[Jay] Sure. But that doesn't mean that the programming is fun. :-)

I hate user-obsequious computers.

[Ben] Jay's version of Hell: being locked in a room with Another Fine Product Of The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

[Jimmy] Someone actually thinks that?

[Ben] Probably not, but it's silly - and probable enough - to laugh at. :)

[Jay] "It could have happened, therefore it must have happened."

That's the advantage of space. It's big enough to hold practically anything, and so, eventually, it does. -- Terry Pratchett, "The Last Hero"

[Ben] Ah, apocrypha. This meme will come back to haunt me one day, I'm sure.

[Jay] :-) No, that's the slogan for alt.folklore.urban.

[Ben] Memes'R'Us! We perform remote, self-replicating in-brain installations. We also offer earworms (The Barney Song, etc.) at a discount - get yours today!

Iraq-related Irony

Ben forwarded this e-mail from Gene Spafford. (The story referred to may be read here, if you are confused by this, you can read this or this).

It appears that the US navy spokesman put up to answer journalists' questions about the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is one Lieutenant Mike Kafka.

As the article in The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk) observes: "Yes, you're reading that correctly. A man named Kafka has been deployed to field questions about a prison where the criminals are only vaguely charged with crimes, can't speak to lawyers and likely will never get out." Any resemblance this reality bears to an actual fiction is entirely coincidental.

Subliminal advertising


Kapil Hari Paranjape wrote:
| I asusme you are really Debianized. So quoting from

Subliminal advertising for a motherboard manufacturer. Excellent use within a text email.

[Ben] Yes, but it's not as effective as it could be; it's missing the

<blink duty_cycle="0.01%"></blink>


[Thomas] Do not take this e-mail out of context.

[Rick] Hmm, now how can I best abuse that quotation in a .signature block?

[Thomas] I suppose in a way, if you do, you've then broken the meaning of it. :)) hehehe

Moaning Goat

I found this so entertaining, I've put a copy of the MGM FAQ in with this issue.

[Rick] Surely no desktop is complete without the Moaning Goat Meter (which used to lurk^Wreside at http://www.xiph.org/mgm/):

MGM, the Moaning Goat Meter, is the ultimate sixty-ton cast iron lawn ornament for the desktops of today's hacker set: A gorgeous, highly configurable load and status meter written entirely in Perl. Serious pink-flamingo territory. For evil geniuses only.

[Ben] Must... have. Feel... irresistible... urge.

[Rick] Disclaimer: MGM will not get your whites whiter or your colors brighter. It will, however, sit there and look spiffy while sucking down a major honking wad of RAM.

A review on taint.org states: "Silly: The Moaning Goat Meter, by xiph.org -- a load meter written in a proper[1] programming language, and with an inexplicably spinning fish that stares at you.

Je suis desolé, desolé, that the Web pages for this procmeter3-like (but much prettier) mostly-ornamental system-monitoring widget have disappeared. The FAQ in particular was priceless, not to mention the pictures with those pink flamingos in them.

[Ben] Therefore, all give thanks to the Wayback Machine. Voila: <http://web.archive.org/web/20020613175800/www.xiph.org/mgm/faq.html>

[Rick] Courtesy of which, I now have a complete mirror including functional download link, at http://linuxmafia.com/mgm/ . (I'll be writing to the xiph.org people to make sure this is OK.)

[Ben] Ooops, I should have mentioned "mgm-doc" earlier.

[Rick] Actually, this has all been quite useful.

  1. It's good to know that the Debian Project keeps available a late post-1.1 CVS-checkout of the upstream xiph.org tarball (the "mgm_1.1.cvs.20020221.orig.tar.gz" link on http://packages.debian.org/testing/doc/mgm-doc or http://packages.debian.org/testing/admin/mgm). That's a better reference copy than I had previously, so I've refreshed my tarball in http://linuxmafia.com/pub/linux/utilities-general from it.
  2. Looks like they've split the contents of that tarball into code and docs (packages mgm and mgm-doc), for Debian packaging purposes.
  3. Also, package maintainer David Z. Maze took the trouble of tracking down upstream mgm creator Christopher Montgomery and secured a licence statement. Previously, nobody at xiph.org had bothered to do this, so technically it was proprietary software by default. (I've retroactively added Montgomery's licence-grant e-mail to my archived tarball.)
  4. Anyhow, I'm still delighted to have resurrected the MGM Web pages for the public's enjoyment. Having them be fetchable in a Debian package is nice to know about, but they really should be findable by the public on the Web. (Serendipitously, Montgomery's e-mail would seem to have declared both the mgm and mgm-doc package to be "public domain", and therefore also my Web-pages mirror, so I needn't ask permission for the latter.)

[Ben] I have downloaded The Beast itself. Should you hear mad laughter, the sound of screeching gears, and the moaning of tortured souls, it's just me doing the installation.

[Brian] While the version you've got via Wayback may indeed be the latest, while the mgm pages on Xiph are gone, and all the cvs links and instructions are borked, Moaning Goat Meter is available via Subversion from Xiph, and/or from the web interface, direct link:


It's not emerge-able in Gentoo, but Debian provides:


I'm getting Perl errors about "width". More digging tomorrow.

[Ben]: MGM up and running

[ mad laughter, other Gene Wilder-like behavior ] The world is mine! I shall rule, yesss my precioussss...

Ooops. Am I allowed to mix different movie plots, or are Mad Geniuses exempt from those artificial restrictions? [sigh] Details, details.


I mentioned these last month, but they're worth another mention.

[Brian] Ben mentioned someplace in this or another thread about mixing movies/story lines. Yeah, that rocks. See these:

Monty Python - Fellowship of the Ring http://www.xenocorp.net/H_bardCorner/MPFOTR.htm

Monty Python - The Two Towers http://www.xenocorp.net/H_bardCorner/MPTTT.htm

[Jay] Ah yes, 'Osterizer pastiche'.

Don't forget "Once more, with Hobbits":



[Kapil] Besides my ESP-enabled fortune signature generator has something to say about the time I've spent on doing all this configuration... (See below).



If a 'train station' is where a train stops, what's a 'workstation'?

[Ben] Back when, Xerox clearly acknowledged this by producing what they referred to as "Work-Less" workstations (I used to repair those things.) Of course, we referred to them as "worthless" workstations...

[Later, in another thread...]

[Ben] I've spent plenty of time trying to confirm this, and have not been successful. IMO, display managers are a blight upon the land.

[Kapil] I read this thread and am confused because "I Thought I Knew" (Know that you do not know and you shall know---old jungle saying). This is what I thought I knew but the thread seems to indicate otherwise!


P.S. Where does fortune derive its ESP from. (see below)

P.P.S. Great author by the way.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage 
from beginning to end. 
-- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"


[Ben] Long Block Addressing is a method the HD controllers used to use in order to access data in partitions greater than 504MB; Linux, Novell, etc. are all smart enough to do their own geometry translation, and don't need the extra help.

[Jay] It's linguini, Ben.

[Ben] "Linguini Block Addressing"? Are you sure, Jay? I'd have sworn... well, you're a pretty knowledgeable kinda guy, so I guess I'll believe you. Although I've only seen linguini clump into blocks when it was overcooked.

[Jay] "Logical Block Addressing".

[Ben] [pause] WILL you make up your mind, already? There I was, getting my fork and the spaghetti sauce, and you messed it all up again!

The problem is TMT [1].

[1] Too Many TLAs [2].
[2] Three-letter acronyms, of course.


[Neil] Is that a 2c tip I see before me?

[Ben] "...The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee." Go ahead, Neil! I mean, just because it didn't work out too well for Macbeth... do watch out for a moving forest, though.

[Neil] No problemo, I'm sure I still have a few cans of Agent Orange left in the shed. Those black helicopters do come with spray booms, don't they?

[Ben] So, I guess that line should be revised to:

"Is this a gas-operated, clip-fed, air-cooled, semi-automatic M1 rifle I see before me?"

[Neil] Don't be so wussy, give me an Apache any day.

[Ben] Yes, but the description would take several large volumes...

[Ben] I don't know. It's... just not the same, somehow.

[Neil] Well, we can at least keep in the same meter:

"is that a chopper I see before me?"

[Ben] <p style="!important double_entendre='on'">

Nope. Neither my Honda Nighthawk nor this Ninja 500 crotch-rocket they gave me as a loaner (the shop ordered the wrong tires, so my bike sits in pieces awaiting delivery) qualify.

[Bradley] Nit:

<p style="-moz-double-entendre: on !important;">
I highly doubt that anyone but Gecko will support double entendres for Web content ;-)))))

[Ben] Hey, there are people out there working on adding smell to "the computer experience" - so you never know. Double-entendres, now, those you have to glean from context... they become kinda pointless if you can't.

[Jay] I'm sure by now you've heard about the woman who walked into a bar and asked the bartender for a double entendre... so he gave it to her.

[Bradley] So it would be better then to put the style information in an external stylesheet generated dynamically by a PHP app? ;-)

I wonder if smell hardware will have Linux drivers.

[Breen] Yes, but they'll only be sensitive to herring-scent.

[Thomas] :-) The next person that replies to me off-list, without stating why it should be, is going to get a VERY angry reply back from me.

[Bradley] :-O

I hope that wasn't me....

[Jay] <speculation basis="extensive mail system knowledge">
I think Bradley is sending duplicate replies, Thomas, to you and the list, and his mail client is neglecting to mark yours as a carbon.
</speculation disclaimer="but I could be wrong">

Display Managers

[Ben] I've spent plenty of time trying to confirm this, and have not been successful. IMO, display managers are a blight upon the land.

[Thomas] Well, KDM and GDM are separate entities in themselves. Being the bloated pile of jelly they are, not only do they consume the PC, but they also like to do thing Their Way -- to the extent that GDM actually ignores ~/.xsession . And I have no idea how the hell KDM operates -- that's just a nightmare.

[Ben] [Nod] I was conflating the three of them, but yeah - "xdm" isn't quite as bad as the others, and GDM has not actually eaten any small children while I was watching (although I've heard rumors.) KDM, now - that thing should not be let out on the streets, or should at least be heavily medicated, have a transmitter strapped to its ankle, and be continuously monitored by professionals armed with tasers and nets.

[Ben] Mine points to "lwm", which I haven't used for years. I don't even have the slightest idea of how it got that way.

[Thomas] You didn't dist-upgrade from potato, did you?

[Ben] Uh... wouldn't surprise me in the least. I go doing stuff like that regularly behind my own back, sneaking it in before I can notice those shenanigans. Boy, if I ever catch myself at it, I'll be in bad trouble...

Good Cheer

[Jay] Different thread entirely.

[Rick] But same underlying problem of insufficient good cheer. Thus my point.

[Jay] You got any good cheer you could FTP me? :-}

[Rick] Well, the ".mov" files (Sorenson QuickTime) inside http://linuxmafia.com/pub/rick-moen-soundfiles/ are candidates, especially the toyota-bugger.mov one.

(It's an advert that ran on Austrlian television for Toyota pickup trucks.)


[Thomas] I wrote the vars in upper case. Are you sure nothing is lowercasing them your end?

[Ben] [blink] Well, I'm not using Outlook (I'd expect that thing to rewrite "password" as "pdonkeyword", e.g.) Nothing should have messed with them - unless I somehow managed to do it manually in "vi", which I doubt.

If I'm hallucinating, I'm going to be highly annoyed. Just think of all the money and time I wasted in search of getting wasted (well, in my younger days, anyway) when all I had to do was wait...



"Lizzie" wrote:

> Only Delivers The Email You Want!
Hehehe, this suggests spam is only ever produced from people that send out e-mails that they never intended to send. Of course, why they'd ever waste their time doing this in the first place.....

[Thomas] The only thing I will say to you is that don't always expect to submit one and see it in the preceeding release of LG. Heather and I decide which tips get published when.

[Jay] If you can figure out how to publish tips in an issue of LG that's already gone out, my hat's off to you, Thomas.

[Ben] The method is covered in Jim's "Retro" series. It's based on that capability of Linux that Linus talked about, executing an infinite loop in three seconds...

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004

The Backpage

By Ben Okopnik

One of the deepest problems of our much-maligned society - usually unnoticeable due to more pressing concerns, such as "Gee, Homeland Security just issued a Mauve-and-Puce-with-Fuchsia-stripes Threat Level End-of-the-World Doom Warning Terror Alert. Do my socks go with that?" - is acronym overrun. Yes indeed; for those of you who have recognized the problem but suffered in silence for years - this is it! The Revolution is NOW! ...at least I'll explain what I mean, for those who are scratching their heads and wondering what the heck I'm ranting about this time.

(Curmudgeons must curmudge, at least on occasion, in order to keep their status. Don't mind me, I'm just keeping up the membership requirements.)

It's simple. Like the standard dotted-quad IP space in networking, the standard and obviously far more limited TLA (three-letter acronym) space is quickly being filled to its maximum capacity. Some have suggested that ETLAs (the extended, or four-letter version) are the solution... do you hear my hollow laugh? (Besides, we already have lots of uses for four-letter words - especially with all these Terror Alerts.) The population is growing, the rate of our technological expansion is just now becoming non-linear - and we poor geeks are running around desperately searching for three-letter abbreviations that are not totally overloaded. Some of the definitions even conflict with each other! Consider the following (Bowdlerized for the pleasure of the ^%(@!%$#*%^*s at the FCC, who have redefined "obscenity" and "indecency" by making of themselves an excellent example of both):

Automatic Teller Machine
Abstract Test Method
Asynchronous Transfer Mode
Adobe Type Manager
at the moment (IRC/Usenet usage)
End Of Day
End Of Discussion
Explosive Ordnance Disposal
Dead On Arrival
Dead Or Alive
Freedom Of Speech
Full Of Sh*t
I Hate This F*cking Place
I Have Truly Found Paradise
(For more acronyms, abbreviations, initialisms, and other fun and funky stuff, check out my AcroFinder. Feel free to contribute if your favorite abbrvtn is missing.)

Now, I ask you. Is this right? Is this fair? Is this just? I mean, what's next - words or even phrases with multiple meanings? I'm shocked - shocked, I tell you! - by what I see in our future if this trend continues (it's all sorta dim and fuzzy - I'm never buying that brand of digital camera again! - but involves high prices, a desperate lack of good beer, and people wearing 1970s-style disco clothes. [shudder]) Trust me, you don't want to go there.

As an example of this, just a while ago, LG's Editor Gal and I were discussing a problem in a production script, and ran into a snag:

06:59 < okopnik> There was a broken '..104' in there, but not the '..issue80'.
06:59 <@editorgal> line number 3266. 1 mo
06:59 < okopnik> 'K.
07:00 <@editorgal> missing fencepost
07:00 < okopnik> I figured it was STL.
07:01 <@editorgal> not your garden variety fencepost error :D
07:01 < okopnik> Oh?
07:01 <@editorgal> line now reads
07:01 <@editorgal> if ( $refdir eq "") { $ea =~ s/=LG=/\.\.\//g; }
07:01 < okopnik> Banananana??? :)
07:01 <@editorgal> procmail folk call \/ fencepost...
07:02 < okopnik> Ah.
(Classically, a "fencepost error" in computer programming is an off-by-one mis-count; e.g., a 100' fence with a post every 10' requires 11 posts, not 10. It's often found in loops, where it's likely to be called a "banana error" - from the story of the little girl who said "I know how to spell 'banana', I just don't know where to stop!")

So - now that you're aware of this terrible problem and are surely unable to just sit on your hands while this terrible injustice goes on - help! Dear readers, please give us your detailed opinions and suggestions, written legibly on the back of a recently-issued postage stamp (and remember, no toxic ink. We might want to, um, use them or something. [1]) Send them, along with the box-tops from your favorite cereal and a 500-word essay on why you should be the one that NASA sends to found the colony on Hyperion, to Uncle Louie, Box 100, Nucla CO 81424.

Better yet, send all that junk to the White House. It might confuse them and keep'em busy long enough to stop or at least delay any further Terror Alerts... I'm gettin' mighty tired of digging through this sock collection.

[1] Most people, when they run out of stamps, simply walk down to the local post office and get some. Here at LG, though, some of us are a different - and maybe even arguably better - breed of disturbed individuals... we just write an article and wait for the mail carrier. It's less work, and much less tedious than chewing through the straps besides.

B. Okopnik

picture Ben is the Editor-in-Chief for Linux Gazette and a member of The Answer Gang.

Ben was born in Moscow, Russia in 1962. He became interested in electricity at the tender age of six, promptly demonstrated it by sticking a fork into a socket and starting a fire, and has been falling down technological mineshafts ever since. He has been working with computers since the Elder Days, when they had to be built by soldering parts onto printed circuit boards and programs had to fit into 4k of memory. He would gladly pay good money to any psychologist who can cure him of the recurrent nightmares.

His subsequent experiences include creating software in nearly a dozen languages, network and database maintenance during the approach of a hurricane, and writing articles for publications ranging from sailing magazines to technological journals. After a seven-year Atlantic/Caribbean cruise under sail and passages up and down the East coast of the US, he is currently anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. He works as a technical instructor for Sun Microsystems and a private Open Source consultant/Web developer. His current set of hobbies includes flying, yoga, martial arts, motorcycles, writing, and Roman history; his Palm Pilot is crammed full of alarms, many of which contain exclamation points.

He has been working with Linux since 1997, and credits it with his complete loss of interest in waging nuclear warfare on parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Copyright © 2004, Ben Okopnik. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 105 of Linux Gazette, August 2004