Diary of a geek

July 2005
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Andrew Pollock


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Saturday, 30 July 2005

Many happy returns

It seems that Mikal has tried having a stealth birthday recently. Tut tut. Happy birthday mate.

[16:58] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 29 July 2005

Let the ladies gym wars begin

The radio informed me on the way home that the Fernwood gym at Belconnen had held a "mass breastfeeding" in protest over how rival gym Club Pink had apparently ejected two members for breastfeeding or something.

The bit that I found amusing was that they actually played a response from Harry Konstantinou on the air as part of the story, with him trying to play down the whole thing (something about them having no problem with breastfeeding, and they provided appropriate facilities).

I dare say they wouldn't have played a soundbite other than for the fact that Harry is quite the entrepreneur (I'm aware of him being behind The Club Group, Velocity Internet, The Technology Warehouse, eSolve IT, as well as owning commercial property and being involved in commercial construction), and as such, is quite a large advertiser on the station.

[01:40] [life] [permalink]

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Sendmail 8.13's s3kr1t new GREET_PAUSE feature

In endeavouring to catch up with my debian-devel backlog yesterday, I discovered that Sendmail 8.13 has a new feature whereby it can be configured to hold off on issuing the 220 response for a brief delay. Any hosts that connect and immediately try to ram an SMTP conversation down it's throat get summarily told to naff off with a 554 response because they are violating the relevant RFC.

So I thought I'd turn said feature on yesterday to see what happened. It's certainly generating some hits in the logs. I've just done a spot of analysis, and of the 28 unique IPs that were knocked back, 16 of them were in the dul.dnsbl.sorbs.net blocklist, which I already use to knock back some spam. Of the remainder that resolved (2 didn't), they all looked a bit dynamic from their hostnames. The one that stood out was nproxy.gmail.com. I did do some tests from GMail as soon as I enabled the feature yesterday, and all tests have worked fine, but I've taken the precaution of (hopefully correctly) whitelisting all of GMail's IP addresses.

Biggest problem is the lack of documentation, specifically in relation to whitelisting. I'm not sure if you have the same sort of flexibility that you usually have for specifying hosts. The Sendmail documentation only mentions how to turn on the feature, and the Sendmail website doesn't even mention that much.

Anyway, I guess time will tell if it's helping any more than just using the DNS blacklists I am already using. If you're adversely affected, don't err, email me and let me know...

[19:02] [tech/spam] [permalink]

Monday, 25 July 2005

Debian Solaris?

There have been a few rumblings about a Debian architecture based on an OpenSolaris kernel.

I think this is the only way to make Solaris useable. I've always lamented how much of a royal PITA it is to get common-or-garden Open Source software onto Solaris. You can use Sun Freeware, but that only gets you so far, and you end up the most convoluted mess in /usr/local (FHS, what FHS?). This is mainly due to the fact that Solaris' inbuilt packaging system blows hairy goats, and that's all that Steve Christensen has to work with.

I think that a Debian GNU/OpenSolaris system be a massive step forward (because the Solaris userspace is like so 1970). But in all honesty, what would you really gain from using it over Linux? I mean, is the Solaris kernel really all that great? At the end of the day, that's all you'd be left with that was OpenSolaris specific.

[05:20] [tech] [permalink]


Sarah and I being presented with our marriage certificate

What a day. Where do I start?

Sarah looked absolutely beautiful. We've got a few of the preliminary photographs by the professional photographer up, and there's already one review. The professional photos look absolutely fantastic, and I'm dying to see all of them.

I really enjoyed the whole thing, which was good, given I've always dreaded my wedding day because I didn't want to be the centre of attention. We were untraditional, and we had the photos taken before the ceremony, mainly for practical reasons, as being the middle of winter, we'd have lost most of the light by the time the ceremony had finished.

Despite some concerns, I stuck with having Nick as by best man. Susan also attended the wedding, and I was really glad that they could both be there, even though Susan had a few sad moments. I'm really glad I kept Nick was my best man, as he's the guy I had earmarked for the job for literally years. At the reception, we had a wedding guest register, and Nick wrote this, which brought a tear to my eye:

Andrew, you are the brother that I will never have, and I love you. Sarah you're now my sister as well.
I'm tearing up again just writing it here.

Nick drove down a few days before the wedding and stayed with us, and I'm really grateful I could spend a few days with him, as we haven't had any quality face time for probably years. It reminded me of the good old days.

The ceremony was short and sweet, just the way we wanted it. Despite me trying to memorise my vows, I stuffed them up, and Sarah didn't. She made a little "nyah nyah" face at me after she'd successfully delivered her vows, and the entire audience cracked up. It's always good to have a laugh at a wedding anyway, I reckon.

The reception itself was something we didn't really do our homework on, and was a bit random at times. It would have been good to have done a prepared speech, but Sarah and I just jumped up and said a few thankyous. Nick and Sarah's maid of honour, Lani, gave beautiful speeches, as did Sarah's grandmother and my father. Overall, I think everyone had a great night. I know we did.

The whole thing happening as well as it did, in only seven weeks, was a testament to Sarah's excellent organisational abilities.

[05:02] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 22 July 2005

Apache 2's mod_rewrite behaves differently?

There's always got to be something that doesn't quite work the same when you upgrade from Apache 1.3 to 2.0 hasn't there?

The small bunch of rewrites that I had that made changelogs.debian.net do its thing seem to be causing circular redirects under Apache 2.

Here's what I had under Apache 1.3:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule ^/Pics - [L]
RewriteRule ^/logos - [L]
RewriteRule ^/default.css - [L]
RewriteRule ^/favicon.ico - [L]
RewriteRule ^/$ http://%{SERVER_NAME}/index.php [L]
RewriteRule ^/(.*)$ http://%{SERVER_NAME}/changelog.php [NE]
#RewriteRule ^/(.*)$ http://%{SERVER_NAME}/redirector.php [NE]

I basically want every non-image, non-CSS, non-index.php request to be internally redirected to changelog.php, where it will parse up and interpret the URI and do stuff accordingly.

[14:13] [tech] [permalink]

Thursday, 21 July 2005


Solaris 9's df takes the -h option!

[00:08] [tech] [permalink]

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

First phase of migrating servers completed

Today I think I've reasonably successfully migrated email from the old daedalus to the new one. I have some niggling problems with SquirrelMail, which seem to be related to switching from Courier IMAP to Dovecot, but that's about it.

For tomorrow's act, I think I'll try to migrate Mikal's website without breaking it any more than I already have in recent times. Then I'll migrate the other random sites I host, along with the plethora of subdomains of my own, and that should be pretty much it.

I'm trying to get completely off the old box, so I can retrieve it when I visit Brisbane on the weekend of August 20.

[05:49] [tech] [permalink]

Apparently my blog sucks

Well, there's no apparently about it. I know it sucks, it just seems that the entire blogosphere has decided I need to know about it as well. It all comes down to spare time, and the fact that it looks fine to me in my browser (Firefox), at the resolution I usually operate at (1400x1050 or better), so I don't have a nagging urge to do anything about it.

A while ago I went nuts with CSS and deviated from the bog standard layout that Blosxom offers. I was going through a rounded corner phase. The problem was the column layout (and man, doesn't doing columns and stuff in CSS suck?) seemed to not rescale cleanly at lower resolutions. It looks even more abominable in Internet Explorer. Problem was, as I said, that it looked fine to me whenever I looked at it on one of my laptops with Firefox.

So, since I'm too time poor to do anything about, and I seem to have a horde of people who like to read my blog directly, I hereby throw out a bounty that I've been meaning to put out for a while. I will pay $100 in cash or gadgets (in Australian dollars) to whoever feels like redesigning the CSS for my blog so that it doesn't suck. I'd like it to look like it currently does in Firefox (at 1400x1050, but also at lower resolutions) and IE, and be implemented in a such as way as it is Blosxom flavour friendly. Get in touch with me first, so I don't have a small army of CSS monkeys all doing it, as I also have a few more rounded corner type things I'd like have done while you're at it.

[05:35] [tech] [permalink]

Tuesday, 19 July 2005


So much for the bridal waltz. It's turned into the bridal rumba instead. Alli was kind enough to take time out tonight from being sick to give us a very crash course in how to do the rumba. At the very least we should be able to fumble our way through the box-step.

[05:13] [life] [permalink]

Monday, 18 July 2005

Back to school

In keeping with the hectic theme that is my life these days, uni restarted today. It really crept up and caught me unawares.

I have a dreadful timetable this semester, because I'm doing two Computer Science subjects, and they like doing three one hour lectures a week. To cap it off, one of the subjects isn't doing a 5pm laboratory, so I have to do a two hour lab during work hours.

Software Design, I'm told is fairly easy, compared to Software Construction, but this was told to me by someone who didn't consider themselves a code monkey, so I'll just have to see for myself what it's like. It's got an open-book exam, which is always a double-edged sword.

Distributed and Concurrent Systems is a course that has a bad rep from everyone I've spoken to. With a final exam worth 70%, it certainly sounds intimidating. I need to make very sure I stay on top of this one. Apparently we're going to learn Ada. I always relish the opportunity to be forced to learn a new language, so this course should be interesting.

Just to round things off, parking has become even more difficult, with the open-air, non-permit-requiring casual carpark in City West being closed for some new building the ANU is going to whack up. The parking for non-permit holding people is absolutely deplorable, as I have ranted about in the past.

[05:38] [uni] [permalink]

Saturday, 16 July 2005

Home again, home again...

I can't be arsed blogging specifically about the last two days in San Francisco, because I'm feeling rather worn out right now, but I thought I should mention that I've arrived home safe and sound.

In a nutshell, Wednesday saw me tag along with Marc on a flying lesson, which yielded some nice photos with Mikal's camera, I had my interview, which I was fairly happy with, and we made an expedition into Oakland via the BART from Fremont to attend a Bay-Area Debian dinner meeting and do a spot of keysigning (which I must go and do before I get too much older).

Thursday we checked out of the hotel early, and drove into San Francisco, and did a so-so bus tour of the city for three hours (I was feeling pretty weary, so I didn't get that much out of it apart from a three hour rest). The fog in the middle of summer is really trippy. Then we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, and took a ferry to Alcatraz for an audio tour. I actually found Alcatraz pretty ordinary. The place is really falling apart.

We then drove to the airport (took us three attempts of doing happy laps of the entire city to get the right exit) and successfully checked in nice and early, after declining to be bumped to a later flight that went via Hong Kong (no thanks, even with the $500 in traveller's cheques). I managed to sleep for most of the 14 hour flight, but didn't feel particularly rested.

For good measure, I had my Buck's night last night, after stepping off the plane that morning, and Sarah had her Hen's night. I was feeling royally stuffed by about 9pm, so I don't think I was a lot of fun, and called it a night at 1am. Sarah partied on till 4am, and it sounds like she had lots of fun.

So, next weekend is the wedding... Eeek. We've got to clean up the place a bit before the hordes of relatives descend upon us.

[21:43] [life] [permalink]

Tuesday, 12 July 2005

Andrew and Mikal do San Francisco: Day 2 - driving around aimlessly

Or should that be "Driving around screaming in terror"?

I had a lovely night's sleep, from 10pm until about 5:30am, when I woke up because I think the room had gotten a bit stuffy. As bad as going for 40-odd hours without sleep might be, I think it's the best way of dealing with jetlag for me. I've had no problems functioning today at all.

We thought we'd go for a bit of a dummy run to the place of the interview, and feeling all bright eyed and bushy tailed, I thought I'd give this insane driving thing a go. It is very offputting. I'm glad I've got someone else in the car. If I had had to have flown over here alone, hired a car and driven to the hotel for 30 minutes on the wrong side of the road after a 12 or 15 hour flight, I think I'd have been beside myself, if not wrapped around another car or something.

I think the two main problems I had driving today were that all directions seem to assume you have been born with a built in compass, or are otherwise polarised and able to determine where the heck north is at all times; and Mikal has a terrible sense of direction. I think I see why GPSes are so prolific over here.

So after driving in the wrong direction for a while, we stopped off at a drug store, of which I'd have to say drugs make up about 5% of their total inventory and bought a map (they don't seem to run to bound street directories, again, maybe this is why GPSes are so prolific here (you can buy them at a drug store too)), got ourselves back off again in the right direction, and got to where we were trying to go.

After that excursion, we went for a drive to San Jose, which didn't take too long at all, and checked out the Tech Museum of Innovation. This was mildly disappointing, as a few of the exhibits were broken, but was very hands-on, much like Questacon back home, with a bit more of a focus on technology than science. The highlight of this was that we got to ride on a Segway. I drove back, and there wasn't even too much screaming.

I ran away with Mikal's CompactFlash, and you can find some happy snaps here

Tonight we had dinner with Marc, and he gave us a bit of a driving tour of the surrounding area, as well as showing us his house. He's going to give me a joyflight tomorrow morning before the interview, and we're planning on attending the Bay Area Debian meeting tomorrow night.

[23:17] [life] [permalink]

Monday, 11 July 2005

Andrew and Mikal do San Francisco: Day 1 - the journey

I'm so tired I can hardly write.

So we left Canberra at 11am on Monday (local time), got to Sydney, had a hell of a time checking into our United Airlines flight, made a mad dash through Customs and boarded our flight.

The flight was fairly uneventful. I opted not to sleep and try to sleep in the California night time when we got to our destination, hence it's now Tuesday 10am Canberra time (5pm Monday California time) and I'm dead on my feet.

I read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons cover to cover for the majority of the flight, and it was a really good read. The plot had more twists than something really twisty that my tired brain can't think of right now.

Entering the US was a breeze. I was really dreading the whole immigration thing because Mikal had had a bad experience last time he came to the US for a job interview, but I think this was more a case of him ticking the "Seeking employment box" (which also has some other nasty stuff bundled together with it) on the immigration form. I ticked the "Business" box and informed the immigration officer I was here for an interview and it wasn't a problem. I didn't have anything like what AJ had when he entered the US via LAX. Customs didn't even want to look in my suitcase.

The hotel is quite comfortable and has a really non-hotel atmosphere to it.

We went for a bit of a drive and a wander around Palo Alto for lunch. This whole left-hand-drive, drive on the right is a bit offputting. I might try and drive tomorrow when I'm feeling a bit more refreshed.

[17:37] [life] [permalink]

Wednesday, 06 July 2005

On this udev 060 and 2.6.12 kernel thing

Marco wrote a fairly reasonable explanation of the udev situation.

I just hope that he (or someone else) files a release critical bug to keep udev 060 out of testing if this is the appropriate thing to do. He says that there is a reason why we call it unstable, but one also needs to remember that what goes into unstable ultimately winds up in testing, and ideally we want testing to be releaseable at all times. If something winds up in testing that only runs optimally on non-existent kernel packages in testing, then that's... suboptimal.

[20:08] [debian] [permalink]

I love it when things Just Work

daedalus, my colocated server in Brisbane is getting a bit long in the tooth. It's an 866Mhz Pentium III, with 256Mb of PC100 RAM, and a couple of 120Mb IDE hard drives. The hard drives are new to when I reinstalled it about a year ago, but other than that, nothing's changed since I bought it in 2001. It's served me extremely well.

I started hosting Mikal's website, late last year some time, and then I also hosted a temporary UML instance for the linux.conf.au 2006 guys. Then the poor old box really started to grind. It also crashed a couple of weeks ago, and since then, one of the disks has been exhibiting read errors (they're software RAID-1, but post crash, the one with the read errors came up clean, and couldn't sync properly with the one that didn't have read errors).

So I decided it was time to lash out on a new box. With the possibility of relocating to the US to work, I didn't want to have to deal with a dying box from the US, so I figured this was a very good time to be upgrading. I ordered a Dell 1850 in the last days of the financial year. I went a bit nuts:

  • 2 x 3.0Ghz Xeon 2M cache CPUs
  • 2 Gb DDR-2 400Mhz RAM
  • 2 x 73 Gb SCSI drives
  • dual power supplies

Hopefully this will last me the next four years and beyond.

But anyway, onto the Just Works bit...

Tonight I went to install Sarge, and I thought, bugger burning a CD, let's try a netboot. So I untarred the relevant tarball onto my boot server, tweaked DHCP slightly, and PXE booted the new server, and it all Just Worked. I installed an LVM on RAID setup with absolutely no funny business required. It was awesome. d-i is the business.

[06:30] [tech] [permalink]

Tuesday, 05 July 2005

No such thing as bad press?

I tend to disagree.

Stuff like this sticks in peoples minds (i.e. it makes a great soundbite) and just gives the Red Hat weenies more ammunition against Debian in the corporate world, which is never good. It's hard enough as it is to get pointy-haired bosses to accept Debian as a technnologically superior alternative, without having people remember for the life of this stable release that it was plagued with a brief delay in releasing security updates.

It does shit me more than a little that the release was delayed for so long because the security infrastructure was the supposed blocker, and come the release, and oh look, the security infrastructure is a problem...


[22:40] [debian] [permalink]

Monday, 04 July 2005

My first quote

Pity they couldn't get my name right...


They fixed it. So much better than dead tree media.

[04:49] [life] [permalink]


The new look Planet Linux Australia is the most spesh looking Planet I've seen to date (not that I've seen that many)

[02:42] [geek] [permalink]

Sunday, 03 July 2005

Relief again

Got my Semester 1 results today. Scraped through yet another finance subject and got a Distinction for Software Construction. I think it's time to bid the Faculty of Economics and Commerce adieu, as much as I like them and all.

I think Semester 2 is going to really hurt, with two Computer Science subjects. The department's love of multiple lectures per course per week really sucks for people working full-time. I can see myself having to come and go from campus up to three times a day on at least two days a week.

[21:35] [uni] [permalink]


It troubles me that our country's supposed peak academic institution can't get its processes in order to ensure that an SSL certificate is renewed within a reasonable time before its expiry:

        Version: 3 (0x2)
        Serial Number: 4088675 (0x3e6363)
        Signature Algorithm: md5WithRSAEncryption
        Issuer: C=ZA, ST=Western Cape, L=Cape Town, O=Thawte Consulting cc, OU=Certification Services Division, CN=Thawte Server CA/emailAddress=server-certs@thawte.com
            Not Before: Jun 29 07:20:17 2004 GMT
            Not After : Jul  2 00:22:40 2005 GMT
        Subject: C=AU, ST=Australian Capital Territory, L=Canberra, O=Australian National University, OU=Division of Information, CN=anubis.anu.edu.au
        Subject Public Key Info:
            Public Key Algorithm: rsaEncryption
            RSA Public Key: (512 bit)
                Modulus (512 bit):
                Exponent: 65537 (0x10001)
        X509v3 extensions:
            X509v3 Extended Key Usage: 
                TLS Web Server Authentication, TLS Web Client Authentication
            X509v3 CRL Distribution Points: 

            Authority Information Access: 
                OCSP - URI:http://ocsp.thawte.com

            X509v3 Basic Constraints: critical
    Signature Algorithm: md5WithRSAEncryption

[15:57] [uni] [permalink]

Saturday, 02 July 2005

Tea Totalling

In the few weeks since we discovered The Tea Centre, we now own two teapots, two infusers, and five cannisters of tea. No more teabags for us.

[22:27] [life] [permalink]

Bethungra Rover Crew turns 20

Last night I went to a barbeque and general get together to mark the fact that my old Rover crew had turned 20. With Land's End apparently folding, this makes it the oldest crew in the Australian Capital Territory. Numbers-wise, it's not too healthy at the moment, but hopefully moving out to Gungahlin, where it's the only crew, instead of Kaleen, where there was a bit of crew saturation, will give it a larger pool of people to draw from.

I look back on the few years I spent in Rovers with many fond memories. My only regret is not getting into it earlier. I strongly recommend it to anyone who might be relocating to a different city, as it gives you another (large) pool of people to meet and socialise with, rather than just the people you work with. I think it was one of the things that made my Brisbane-Canberra move so much more bearable.

What the hell is a Rover?

[22:24] [life] [permalink]

Friday, 01 July 2005

On the future directions of Linux Australia

So, there's been a bit of discussion about the future of Linux Australia.

I'd had absolutely nothing to do with LA until I got on the organising committee of linux.conf.au 2005, and even then I didn't really follow what was going on. I viewed it as needlessly political, when I really just wanted to get on with doing stuff. I became a member when I registered for linux.conf.au 2004 (heck it was free, why not?) but to this day, I'm not subscribed to linux-aus.

Funnily enough, I'm now one of the volunteer sysadmins for the organisation though, but then, that's in line with me getting on and doing things, so it's probably not that funny.

Anyhoo, Jon ponders throwing money at some dedicated warm bodies.

I've been a continuous member of the System Administrator's Guild of Australia since 1998, and this is the only other vaguely similar organisation that I have any experience with. Granted, SAGE-AU is obviously a fee-paying organisation, so it has a revenue stream to work with, but I get the impression that LA has a bit of money in the bank, and it too has a revenue stream, in the form of linux.conf.au.

For as long as I can remember, SAGE-AU has had an office/operations manager/admin type person, in the form of Lee Monet. She's fluctuated between full-time and part-time, and from all outward impressions, she's an integral part of the continuing operational viability of the organisation. She is also consistent from year to year, where the Executive aren't necessarily. She does a lot of the legwork for the annual conference as well.

I think if LA were to hire a dedicated person (call them what you will) even on an initial part-time basis, it would improve the effectiveness of the organisation, allowing the Executive to get on with the job of overseeing things, and making decisions, rather than getting bogged down in technical and operational details. I also think it would cost a lot less than the $100K that Jon considers it would cost for a paid CEO or secretariat. If I tried hard enough, I could look up the SAGE-AU financials to see how much Lee costs.

I guess what it boils down to is where does Linux Australia fit in in the grand scheme of things? I get the feeling that it's really come about as the umbrella for linux.conf.au, but is looking to do more with itself, but hasn't quite worked out what that needs to be. I'm totally ignorant of the history of the organisation, so I can only go by my personal impressions. I suspect that the various members of the committee that have come and gone over the years have differing views as well.

Does it want to be a super LUG? Does it want to represent users, developers, vendors, or all of them? Can it effectively represent all three groups at the same time? The Australia Unix Users Group seems to be trying to reinvent itself as the Open Source representative of the country, then there's Open Source Industry Australia, which I hadn't even heard of until linux.conf.au 2005, which sounds like it's trying to represent people trying to make a buck out of Open Source. And of course, the Australian Computer Society that swans around and tries to keep the ear of Government about all things IT.

So, if you ask me, the Australian IT/Linux/Open Source .org scene seems to be a bit crowded. Maybe LA could do worse than just stick with running a kick-arse conference? Is linux.conf.au even staying true to its name? Maybe the biggest return to its members would be keeping the conference cost low?

Just my random musings from the couch on a Friday evening...

[05:23] [opinion] [permalink]