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Password store plugin: env

4 May 2021 18:00

Like many I use pass for storing usernames and passwords. This gives me easy access to credentials in a secure manner.

I don't like the way that the metadata (i.e. filenames) are public, but that aside it is a robust tool I've been using for several years.

The last time I talked about pass was when I talked about showing the age of my credentials, via the integrated git support.

That then became a pass-plugin:

  frodo ~ $ pass age
  6 years ago GPG/root@localhost.gpg
  6 years ago GPG/steve@steve.org.uk.OLD.gpg
  4 years, 8 months ago Domains/Domain.fi.gpg
  4 years, 7 months ago Mobile/dna.fi.gpg
  1 year, 3 months ago Websites/netlify.com.gpg
  1 year ago Financial/ukko.fi.gpg
  1 year ago Mobile/KiK.gpg
  4 days ago Enfuce/sre.tst.gpg

Anyway today's work involved writing another plugin, named env. I store my data in pass in a consistent form, each entry looks like this:

   username: steve
   password: secrit
   site: http://example.com/login/blah/
   # Extra data

The keys vary, sometimes I use "login", sometimes "username", other times "email", but I always label the fields in some way.

Recently I was working with some CLI tooling that wants to have a username/password specified and I patched it to read from the environment instead. Now I can run this:

     $ pass env internal/cli/tool-name
     export username="steve"
     export password="secrit"

That's ideal, because now I can source that from within a shell:

   $ source <(pass env internal/cli/tool-name)
   $ echo username

Or I could directly execute the tool I want:

   $ pass env --exec=$HOME/ldap/ldap.py internal/cli/tool-name
   you are steve

TLDR: If you store your password entries in "key: value" form you can process them to export $KEY=$value, and that allows them to be used without copying and pasting into command-line arguments (e.g. "~/ldap/ldap.py --username=steve --password=secrit")



Writing a text-based adventure game for CP/M

26 April 2021 18:00

In my previous post I wrote about how I'd been running CP/M on a Z80-based single-board computer.

I've been slowly working my way through a bunch of text-based adventure games:

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
  • Zork 1
  • Zork 2
  • Zork 3

Along the way I remembered how much fun I used to have doing this in my early teens, and decided to write my own text-based adventure.

Since I'm not a masochist I figured I'd write something with only three or four locations, and solicited facebook for ideas. Shortly afterwards a "plot" was created and I started work.

I figured that the very last thing I wanted to be doing was to be parsing text-input with Z80 assembly language, so I hacked up a simple adventure game in C. I figured if I could get the design right that would ease the eventual port to assembly.

I had the realization pretty early that using a table-driven approach would be the best way - using structures to contain the name, description, and function-pointers appropriate to each object for example. In my C implementation I have things that look like this:

{name: "generator",
 desc: "A small generator.",
 use: use_generator,
 use_carried: use_generator_carried,
 get_fn: get_generator,
 drop_fn: drop_generator},

A bit noisy, but simple enough. If an object cannot be picked up, or dropped, the corresponding entries are blank:

{name: "desk",
 desc: "",
 edesc: "The desk looks solid, but old."},

Here we see something that is special, there's no description so the item isn't displayed when you enter a room, or LOOK. Instead the edesc (extended description) is available when you type EXAMINE DESK.

Anyway over a couple of days I hacked up the C-game, then I started work porting it to Z80 assembly. The implementation changed, the easter-eggs were different, but on the whole the two things are the same.

Certainly 99% of the text was recycled across the two implementations.

Anyway in the unlikely event you've got a craving for a text-based adventure game I present to you:



Having fun with CP/M on a Z80 single-board computer.

17 April 2021 14:00

In the past, I've talked about building a Z80-based computer. I made some progress towards that goal, in the sense that I took the initial (trivial steps) towards making something:

  • I built a clock-circuit.
  • I wired up a Z80 processor to the clock.
  • I got the thing running an endless stream of NOP instructions.
    • No RAM/ROM connected, tying all the bus-lines low, meaning every attempted memory-read returned 0x00 which is the Z80 NOP instruction.

But then I stalled, repeatedly, at designing an interface to RAM and ROM, so that it could actually do something useful. Over the lockdown I've been in two minds about getting sucked back down the rabbit-hole, so I compromised. I did a bit of searching on tindie, and similar places, and figured I'd buy a Z80-based single board computer. My requirements were minimal:

  • It must run CP/M.
  • The source-code to "everything" must be available.
  • I want it to run standalone, and connect to a host via a serial-port.

With those goals there were a bunch of boards to choose from, rc2014 is the standard choice - a well engineered system which uses a common backplane and lets you build mini-boards to add functionality. So first you build the CPU-card, then the RAM card, then the flash-disk card, etc. Over-engineered in one sense, extensible in another. (There are some single-board variants to cut down on soldering overhead, at a cost of less flexibility.)

After a while I came across https://8bitstack.co.uk/, which describes a simple board called the the Z80 playground.

The advantage of this design is that it loads code from a USB stick, making it easy to transfer files to/from it, without the need for a compact flash card, or similar. The downside is that the system has only 64K RAM, meaning it cannot run CP/M 3, only 2.2. (CP/M 3.x requires more RAM, and a banking/paging system setup to swap between pages.)

When the system boots it loads code from an EEPROM, which then fetches the CP/M files from the USB-stick, copies them into RAM and executes them. The memory map can be split so you either have ROM & RAM, or you have just RAM (after the boot the ROM will be switched off). To change the initial stuff you need to reprogram the EEPROM, after that it's just a matter of adding binaries to the stick or transferring them over the serial port.

In only a couple of hours I got the basic stuff working as well as I needed:

  • A z80-assembler on my Linux desktop to build simple binaries.
  • An installation of Turbo Pascal 3.00A on the system itself.
  • An installation of FORTH on the system itself.
    • Which is nice.
  • A couple of simple games compiled from Pascal
    • Snake, Tetris, etc.
  • The Zork trilogy installed, along with Hitchhikers guide.

I had some fun with a CP/M emulator to get my hand back in things before the board arrived, and using that I tested my first "real" assembly language program (cls to clear the screen), as well as got the hang of using the wordstar keyboard shortcuts as used within the turbo pascal environment.

I have some plans for development:

  • Add command-line history (page-up/page-down) for the CP/M command-processor.
  • Add paging to TYPE, and allow terminating with Q.

Nothing major, but fun changes that won't be too difficult to implement.

Since CP/M 2.x has no concept of sub-directories you end up using drives for everything, I implemented a "search-path" so that when you type "FOO" it will attempt to run "A:FOO.COM" if there is no file matching on the current-drive. That's a nicer user-experience at all.

I also wrote some Z80-assembly code to search all drives for an executable, if not found in current drive and not already qualified. Remember CP/M doesn't have a concept of sub-directories) that's actually pretty useful:


I've also written some other trivial assembly language tools, which was surprisingly relaxing. Especially once I got back into the zen mode of optimizing for size.

I forked the upstream repository, mostly to tidy up the contents, rather than because I want to go into my own direction. I'll keep the contents in sync, because there's no point splitting a community even further - I guess there are fewer than 100 of these boards in the wild, probably far far fewer!



Brexit has come

5 January 2021 13:00

Nothing too much has happened recently, largely as a result of the pandemic killing a lot of daily interests and habits.

However as a result of Brexit I'm having to do some paperwork, apparently I now need to register for permanent residency under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, and that will supersede the permanent residency I previously obtained.

Of course as a UK citizen I've now lost the previously-available freedom of movement. I can continue to reside here in Helsinki, Finland, indefinitely, but I cannot now move to any other random EU country.

It has crossed my mind, more than a few times, that I should attempt to achieve Finnish citizenship. As a legal resident of Finland the process is pretty simple, I just need two things:

  • Prove I've lived here for the requisite number of years.
  • Pass a language test.

Of course the latter requirement is hard, I can understand a lot of spoken and written Finnish, but writing myself, and speaking a lot is currently beyond me. I need to sit down and make the required effort to increase my fluency. There is the alternative option of learning Swedish, which is a hack a lot of immigrants use:

  • Learning Swedish is significantly easier for a native English-speaker.
  • But the downside is that it would be learning a language solely to "cheat" the test, it wouldn't actually be useful in my daily life.

Finland has two official languages, and so the banks, the medical world, the tax-office, etc, are obliged to provide service in both. However daily life, ordering food at restaurants, talking to parents in the local neighborhood? Finnish, or English are the only real options. So if I went this route I'd end up in a weird situation where I had to learn a language to pass a test, but then would continue to need to learn more Finnish to live my life. That seems crazy, unless I were desperate for a second citizenship which I don't think I am.

Learning Finnish has not yet been a priority, largely because I work in English in the IT-world, and of course when I first moved here I was working (remotely) for a UK company, and didn't have the time to attend lessons (because they were scheduled during daytime, on the basis that many immigrants are unemployed). Later we had a child, which meant that early-evening classes weren't a realistic option either.

(Of course I learned a lot of the obvious things immediately upon moving, things like numbers, names for food, days of the week were essential. Without those I couldn't have bought stuff in shops and would have starved!)

On the topic of languages a lot of people talk about how easy it is for children to pick up new languages, and while that is broadly true it is also worth remembering just how many years of correction and repetition they have to endure as part of the process.

For example we have a child, as noted already, he is spoken to by everybody in Finnish. I speak to him in English, and he hears his mother and myself speaking English. But basically he's 100% Finnish with the exception of:

  • Me, speaking English to him.
  • His mother and I speaking English in his hearing.
  • Watching Paw Patrol.

If he speaks Finnish to me I pretend to not understand him, even when I do, just for consistency. As a result of that I've heard him tell strangers "Daddy doesn't speak Finnish" (in Finnish) when we've been stopped and asked for directions. He also translates what some other children have said into English for my benefit which is adorable

Anyway he's four, and he's pretty amazing at speaking to everybody in the correct language - he's outgrown the phase where he'd mix different languages in the same sentence ("more leipä", "saisinko milk") - when I took him to the UK he surprised and impressed me by being able to understand a lot of the heavy/thick accents he'd never heard before. (I'll still need to train him on Rab C. Nesbitt when he's a wee bit older, but so far no worries.)

So children learn languages, easily and happily? Yes and no. I've spent nearly two years correcting his English and he still makes the same mistake with gender. It's not a big deal, at all, but it's a reminder that while children learn this stuff, they still don't do it as easily as people imagine. I'm trying to learn and if I'd been corrected for two years over the same basic point you'd rightly think I was "slow", but actually that's just how it works. Learning languages requires a hell of a lot of practice, a lot of effort, and a lot of feedback/corrections.

Specifically Finnish doesn't have gendered pronouns, the same word is used for "he" and "she". This leads to a lot of Finnish people, adults and children, getting the pronouns wrong in English. In the case of our child he'll say "Mommy is sleeping, when he wake up?" In the case of adults I've heard people say "My girlfriend is a doctor, he works in a hospital", or "My dad is an accountant, she works for a big firm". As I say I've spent around two years making this correction to the child, and he's still nowhere near getting it right. Kinda adorable actually:

  • "Mommy is a woman we say "when she wakes up"..."
  • "Adriana is a girl we say "her bike".."



Archiving Debian-Administration.org, for real

1 November 2020 13:00

Back in 2017 I announced that the https://Debian-Administration.org website was being made read-only, and archived.

At the time I wrote a quick update to save each requested page as a flat-file, hashed beneath /tmp, with the expectation that after a few months I'd have a complete HTML-only archive of the site which I could serve as a static-website, instead of keeping the database and pile of CGI scripts running.

Unfortunately I never got round to archiving the pages in a git-repository, or some other store, and I usually only remembered this local tree of content was available a few minutes after I'd rebooted the server and lost the stuff - as the reboot would reap the contents of /tmp!

Thinking about it today I figured I probably didn't even need to do that, instead I just need to redirect to the wayback machine. Working on the assumption that the site has been around for "a while" it should have all the pages mirrored by now I've made a "final update" to Apache:

 RewriteEngine on
 RewriteRule   ^/(.*)  "http://web.archive.org/web/https://debian-administration.org/$1"  [R,L]

Assuming nobody reports a problem in the next month I'll retire the server and make a simple docker container to handle the appropriate TLS certificate renewal, and hardwire the redirection(s) for the sites involved.

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Offsite-monitoring, from my desktop.

20 October 2020 13:00

For the past few years I've had a bunch of virtual machines hosting websites, services, and servers. Of course I want them to be available - especially since I charge people money to access at some of them (for example my dns-hosting service) - and that means I want to know when they're not.

The way I've gone about this is to have a bunch of machines running stuff, and then dedicate an entirely separate machine solely for monitoring and alerting. Sure you can run local monitoring, testing that services are available, the root-disk isn't full, and that kind of thing. But only by testing externally can you see if the machine is actually available to end-users, customers, or friends.

A local-agent might decide "I'm fine", but if the hosting-company goes dark due to a fibre cut you're screwed.

I've been hosting my services with Hetzner (cloud) recently, and their service is generally pretty good. Unfortunately I've started to see an increasing number of false-alarms. I'd have a server in Germany, with the monitoring machine in Helsinki (coincidentally where I live!). For the past month I've started to get pinged with a failure every three/four days on average, "service down - dns failed", or "service down - timeout". When the notice would wake me up I'd go check and it would be fine, it was a very transient failure.

To be honest the reason for this is my monitoring is just too damn aggressive, I like to be alerted immediately in case something is wrong. That means if a single test fails I get an alert, as rather than only if a test failed for something more reasonable like three+ consecutive failures.

I'm experimenting with monitoring in a less aggressive fashion, from my home desktop. Since my monitoring tool is a single self-contained golang binary, and it is already packaged as a docker-based container deployment was trivial. I did a little work writing an agent to receive failure-notices, and ping me via telegram - instead of the previous approach where I had an online status-page which I could view via my mobile, and alerts via pushover.

So far it looks good. I've tweaked the monitoring to setup a timeout of 15 seconds, instead of 5, and I've configured it to only alert me if there is an outage which lasts for >= 2 consecutive failures. I guess the TLDR is I now do offsite monitoring .. from my house, rather than from a different region.

The only real reason to write this post was mostly to say that the process of writing a trivial "notify me" gateway to interface with telegram was nice and straightforward, and to remind myself that transient failures are way more common than we expect.

I'll leave things alone for a moment, but it was a fun experiment. I'll keep the two systems in parallel for a while, but I guess I can already predict the outcome:

  • The desktop monitoring will report transient outages now and again, because home broadband isn't 100% available.
  • The heztner-based monitoring, in a different region, will report transient problems, because even hosting companies are not 100% available.
    • Especially at the cheap prices I'm paying.
  • The way to avoid being woken up by transient outages/errors is to be less agressive.
    • I think my paying users will be OK if I find out a services is offline after 5 minutes, rather than after 30 seconds.
    • If they're not we'll have to talk about budgets ..

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Writing an assembler.

3 October 2020 13:00

Recently I've been writing a couple of simple compilers, which take input in a particular format and generate assembly language output. This output can then be piped through gcc to generate a native executable.

Public examples include this trivial math compiler and my brainfuck compiler.

Of course there's always the nagging thought that relying upon gcc (or nasm) is a bit of a cheat. So I wondered how hard is it to write an assembler? Something that would take assembly-language program and generate a native (ELF) binary?

And the answer is "It isn't hard, it is just tedious".

I found some code to generate an ELF binary, and after that assembling simple instructions was pretty simple. I remember from my assembly-language days that the encoding of instructions can be pretty much handled by tables, but I've not yet gone into that.

(Specifically there are instructions like "add rax, rcx", and the encoding specifies the source/destination registers - with different forms for various sized immediates.)

Anyway I hacked up a simple assembler, it can compile a.out from this input:

.hello   DB "Hello, world\n"
.goodbye DB "Goodbye, world\n"

        mov rdx, 13        ;; write this many characters
        mov rcx, hello     ;; starting at the string
        mov rbx, 1         ;; output is STDOUT
        mov rax, 4         ;; sys_write
        int 0x80           ;; syscall

        mov rdx, 15        ;; write this many characters
        mov rcx, goodbye   ;; starting at the string
        mov rax, 4         ;; sys_write
        mov rbx, 1         ;; output is STDOUT
        int 0x80           ;; syscall

        xor rbx, rbx       ;; exit-code is 0
        xor rax, rax       ;; syscall will be 1 - so set to xero, then increase
        inc rax            ;;
        int 0x80           ;; syscall

The obvious omission is support for "JMP", "JMP_NZ", etc. That's painful because jumps are encoded with relative offsets. For the moment if you want to jump:

        push foo     ; "jmp foo" - indirectly.

        nop          ; Nothing happens
        mov rbx,33   ; first syscall argument: exit code
        mov rax,1    ; system call number (sys_exit)
        int 0x80     ; call kernel

        push bar     ; "jmp bar" - indirectly.

I'll update to add some more instructions, and see if I can use it to handle the output I generate from a couple of other tools. If so that's a win, if not then it was a fun learning experience:



Using a FORTH-like language for something useful

22 September 2020 13:00

So my previous post was all about implementing a simple FORTH-like language. Of course the obvious question is then "What do you do with it"?

So I present one possible use - turtle-graphics:

\ Draw a square of the given length/width
: square
  dup dup dup dup
  4 0 do
    90 turn

\ pen down
1 pen

\ move to the given pixel
100 100 move

\ draw a square of width 50 pixels
50 square

\ save the result (png + gif)

Exciting times!

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Implementing a FORTH-like language ..

16 September 2020 21:00

Four years ago somebody posted a comment-thread describing how you could start writing a little reverse-polish calculator, in C, and slowly improve it until you had written a minimal FORTH-like system:

At the time I read that comment I'd just hacked up a simple FORTH REPL of my own, in Perl, and I said "thanks for posting". I was recently reminded of this discussion, and decided to work through the process.

Using only minimal outside resources the recipe worked as expected!

The end-result is I have a working FORTH-lite, or FORTH-like, interpreter written in around 2000 lines of golang! Features include:

  • Reverse-Polish mathematical operations.
  • Comments between ( and ) are ignored, as expected.
    • Single-line comments \ to the end of the line are also supported.
  • Support for floating-point numbers (anything that will fit inside a float64).
  • Support for printing the top-most stack element (., or print).
  • Support for outputting ASCII characters (emit).
  • Support for outputting strings (." Hello, World ").
  • Support for basic stack operations (drop, dup, over, swap)
  • Support for loops, via do/loop.
  • Support for conditional-execution, via if, else, and then.
  • Load any files specified on the command-line
    • If no arguments are included run the REPL
  • A standard library is loaded, from the present directory, if it is present.

To give a flavour here we define a word called star which just outputs a single start-character:

: star 42 emit ;

Now we can call that (NOTE: We didn't add a newline here, so the REPL prompt follows it, that's expected):

> star

To make it more useful we define the word "stars" which shows N stars:

> : stars dup 0 > if 0 do star loop else drop then ;
> 0 stars
> 1 stars
*> 2 stars
**> 10 stars

This example uses both if to test that the parameter on the stack was greater than zero, as well as do/loop to handle the repetition.

Finally we use that to draw a box:

> : squares 0 do over stars cr loop ;
> 4 squares

> 10 squares

For fun we allow decompiling the words too:

> #words 0 do dup dump loop
Word 'square'
 0: dup
 1: *
Word 'cube'
 0: dup
 1: square
 2: *
Word '1+'
 0: store 1.000000
 2: +
Word 'test_hot'
  0: store 0.000000
  2: >
  3: if
  4: [cond-jmp 7.000000]
  6: hot
  7: then

Anyway if that is at all interesting feel free to take a peak. There's a bit of hackery there to avoid the use of return-stacks, etc. Compared to gforth this is actually more featureful in some areas:

  • I allow you to use conditionals in the REPL - outside a word-definition.
  • I allow you to use loops in the REPL - outside a word-definition.

Find the code here:

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I'm a bit of a git (hacker?)

28 July 2020 21:00

Sometimes I enjoy reading the source code to projects I like, use, or am about to install for the first time. This was something I used to do on a very regular basis, looking for security issues to report. Nowadays I don't have so much free time, but I still like to inspect the source code to new applications I install, and every now and again I'll find the time to look at the source to random projects.

Reading code is good. Reading code is educational.

One application I've looked at multiple times is redis, which is a great example of clean and well-written code. That said when reading the redis codebase I couldn't help noticing that there were a reasonably large number of typos/spelling mistakes in the comments, so I submitted a pull-request:

Sadly that particular pull-request didn't receive too much attention, although a previous one updating the configuration file was accepted. I was recently reminded of these pull-requests when I was when I was doing some other work. So I figured I'd have a quick scan of a couple of other utilities.

In the past I'd just note spelling mistakes when I came across them, usually I'd be opening each file in a project one by one and reading them from top to bottom. (Sometimes I'd just open files in emacs and run "M-x ispell-comments-and-strings", but more often I'd just notice them with my eyes). It did strike me that if I were to do this in a more serious fashion it would be good to automate it.

So this time round I hacked up a simple "dump comments" utility, which would scan named files and output the contents of any comments (be they single-line, or multi-line). Once I'd done that I could spell-check easily:

 $ go run dump-comments.go *.c > comments
 $ aspell -c comments

Anyway the upshot of that was a pull-request against git:

We'll see if that makes its way live sometime. In case I get interested in doing this again I've updated my sysbox-utility collection to have a comments sub-command. That's a little more robust and reliable than my previous hack:

$ sysbox comments -pretty=true $(find . -name '*.c')

The comments sub-command has support for:

  • Single-line comments, for C, as prefixed with //.
  • Multi-line comments, for C++, as between /* and */.
  • Single-line comments, for shell, as prefixed with #.
  • Lua comments, both single-line (prefixed with --) and multiline between --[[ and --]].

Adding new support would be trivial, I just need a start and end pattern to search against. Pull-requests welcome:

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