Entries tagged misc

Related tags: bathroom, chairs, debian, debian-administration, drives, edinburgh, edinburgh.io, filesystems, images, jobs, kvm, languages, ldap, less, life, lumail, nfs, photography, random, security, soul-stealing, spam, testing, tools.

Spent the weekend improving the internet

Sunday, 29 November 2015

This weekend I've mostly been tidying up some personal projects and things.


This was updated to use recaptcha on the sign-up page, which is my attempt to cut down on the 400+ spam-registrations it receives every day.

I've purged a few thousand bogus-accounts, which largely existed to point to spam-sites in their profile-pages. I go through phases where I do this, but my heuristics have always been a little weak.


This site offers free dynamic DNS for a few hundred users. I closed fresh signups due to it being abused by spammers, but it does have some users and I sometimes add new people who ask politely.

Unfortunately some users hammer it, trying to update their DNS records every 60 seconds or so. (One user has spent the past few months updating their IP address every 30 seconds, ironically their external IP hadn't changed in all that time!)

So I suspended a few users, and implemented a minimum-update threshold: Nobody can update their IP address more than once every fifteen minutes now.

Literate Emacs Configuration File

Working towards my stateless home-directory I've been tweaking my dotfiles, and the last thing I did today was move my Emacs configuration over to a literate fashion.

My main emacs configuration-file is now a markdown file, which contains inline-code. The inline-code is parsed at runtime, and executed when Emacs launches. The init.el file which parses/evals is pretty simple, and I'm quite pleased with it. Over time I'll extend the documantion and move some of the small snippets into it.

Offsite backups

My home system(s) always had a local backup, maintained on an external 2Tb disk-drive, along with a remote copy of some static files which were maintained using rsync. I've now switched to having a virtual machine host the external backups with proper incrementals - via attic, which beats my previous "only one copy" setup.

Virtual Machine Backups

On a whim a few years ago I registered rsync.io which I use to maintain backups of my personal virtual machines. That still works, though I'll probably drop the domain and use backup.steve.org.uk or similar in the future.

FWIW the external backups are hosted on BigV, which gives me a 2Tb "archive" disk for a £40 a month. Perfect.



An experiment in (re)building Debian

Thursday, 20 November 2014

I've rebuilt many Debian packages over the years, largely to fix bugs which affected me, or to add features which didn't make the cut in various releases. For example I made a package of fabric available for Wheezy, since it wasn't in the release. (Happily in that case a wheezy-backport became available. Similar cases involved repackaging gtk-gnutella when the protocol changed and the official package in the lenny release no longer worked.)

I generally release a lot of my own software as Debian packages, although I'll admit I've started switching to publishing Perl-based projects on CPAN instead - from which they can be debianized via dh-make-perl.

One thing I've not done for many years is a mass-rebuild of Debian packages. I did that once upon a time when I was trying to push for the stack-smashing-protection inclusion all the way back in 2006.

Having had a few interesting emails this past week I decided to do the job for real. I picked a random server of mine, rsync.io, which stores backups, and decided to rebuild it using "my own" packages.

The host has about 300 packages installed upon it:

root@rsync ~ # dpkg --list | grep ^ii | wc -l

I got the source to every package, patched the changelog to bump the version, and rebuild every package from source. That took about three hours.

Every package has a "skx1" suffix now, and all the build-dependencies were also determined by magic and rebuilt:

root@rsync ~ # dpkg --list | grep ^ii | awk '{ print $2 " " $3}'| head -n 4
acpi 1.6-1skx1
acpi-support-base 0.140-5+deb7u3skx1
acpid 1:2.0.16-1+deb7u1skx1
adduser 3.113+nmu3skx1

The process was pretty quick once I started getting more and more of the packages built. The only shortcut was not explicitly updating the dependencies to rely upon my updages. For example bash has a Debian control file that contains:

Depends: base-files (>= 2.1.12), debianutils (>= 2.15)

That should have been updated to say:

Depends: base-files (>= 2.1.12skx1), debianutils (>= 2.15skx1)

However I didn't do that, because I suspect if I did want to do this decently, and I wanted to share the source-trees, and the generated packages, the way to go would not be messing about with Debian versions instead I'd create a new Debian release "alpha-apple", "beta-bananna", "crunchy-carrot", "dying-dragonfruit", "easy-elderberry", or similar.

In conclusion: Importing Debian packages into git, much like Ubuntu did with bzr, is a fun project, and it doesn't take much to mass-rebuild if you're not making huge changes. Whether it is worth doing is an entirely different question of course.



On writing test-cases and testsuites.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Last night I mostly patched my local copy of less to build and link against the PCRE regular expression library.

I've wanted to do that for a while, and reading Raymond Chen's blog post last night made me try it out.

The patch was small and pretty neat, and I'm familiar with GNU less having patched it in the past. But it doesn't contain tests.

Test cases are hard. Many programs, such as less, are used interactively which makes writing a scaffold hard. Other programs suffer from a similar fate - I'm not sure how you'd even test a web browser such as Firefox these days - mangleme would catch some things, eventually, but the interactive stuff? No clue.

In the past MySQL had a free set of test cases, but my memory is that Oracle locked them up. SQLite is famous for its decent test coverage. But off the top of my head I can't think of other things.

As a topical example there don't seem to be decent test-cases for either bash or openssl. If it compiles it works, more or less.

I did start writing some HTTP-server test cases a while back, but that was just to automate security attacks. e.g. Firing requests like:

GET /../../../etc/passwd HTTP/1.0
GET //....//....//....//etc/passwd HTTP/1.0

(It's amazing how many toy HTTP server components included in projects and products don't have decent HTTP-servers.)

I could imagine that being vaguely useful, especially because it is testing the protocol-handling rather than a project-specific codebase.

Anyway, I'm thinking writing test cases for things is good, but struggling to think of a decent place to start. The project has to be:

  • Non-interactive.
  • Open source.
  • Widely used - to make it a useful contribution.
  • Not written in some fancy language.
  • Open to receiving submissions.

Comments welcome; but better yet why not think about the test-coverage of any of your own packages and projects...?



Applications updating & phoning home

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Personally I believe that any application packaged for Debian should neither phone home, attempt to download plugins over HTTP at run-time, or update itself.

On that basis I've filed #761828.

As a project we have guidelines for what constitutes a "serious" bug, which generally boil down to a package containing a security issue, causing data-loss, or being unusuable.

I'd like to propose that these kind of tracking "things" are equally bad. If consensus could be reached that would be a good thing for the freedom of our users.

(Ooops I slipped into "us", "our user", I'm just an outsider looking in. Mostly.)



A small assortment of content

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Today I took down my KVM-host machine, rebooting it and restarting all of my guests. It has been a while since I'd done so and I was a little nerveous, as it turned out this nerveousness was prophetic.

I'd forgotten to hardwire the use of proxy_arp so my guests were all broken when the systems came back online.

If you're curious this is what my incoming graph of email SPAM looks like:

I think it is obvious where the downtime occurred, right?

In other news I'm awaiting news from the system administration job I applied for here in Edinburgh, if that doesn't work out I'll need to hunt for another position..

Finally I've started hacking on my console based mail-client some more. It is a modal client which means you're always in one of three states/modes:

  • maildir - Viewing a list of maildir folders.
  • index - Viewing a list of messages.
  • message - Viewing a single message.

As a result of a lot of hacking there is now a fourth mode/state "text-mode". Which allows you to view arbitrary text, for example scrolling up and down a file on-disk, to read the manual, or viewing messages in interesting ways.

Support is still basic at the moment, but both of these work:

  -- Show a single file
  show_file_contents( "/etc/passwd" )
  global_mode( "text" )


function x()
   txt = { "${colour:red}Steve",
           "Made this work" }
   show_text( txt )
   global_mode( "text")


There will be a new release within the week, I guess, I just need to wire up a few more primitives, write more of a manual, and close some more bugs.

Happy Thursday, or as we say in this house, Hyvää torstai!

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Time to mix things up again

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I'm currently a contractor, working for/with Dyn, until April the 11th.

I need to decide what I'm doing next, if anything. In the meantime here are some diversions:

Some trivial security issues

I noticed and reported two more temporary-file issues insecure temporary file usage in apt-extracttemplates (apt), and libreadline6: Insecure use of temporary files - in _rl_trace.

Neither of those are particularly serious, but looking for them took a little time. I recently started re-auditing code, and decided to do three things:

  • Download the source code to every package installed upon this system.
  • Download the source code to all packages matching the pattern ^libpam-, and ^libruby-*.

I've not yet finished slogging through the code, but my expectation will be a few more issues. I'll guess 5-10, given my cynical nature.


I've been tasked with the job of setting up a small cluster running from a shared and writeable NFS-root.

This is a fun project which I've done before, PXE-booting a machine and telling it to mount a root filesystem over NFS is pretty straight-forward. The hard part is making that system writeable, such that you can boot and run "apt-get install XX". I've done it in the past using magic filesystems, or tmpfs. Either will work here, so I'm not going to dwell on it.

Another year

I had another birthday, so that was nice.

My wife took me to a water-park where we swam like fisheseses, and that tied in nicely with a recent visit to Deep Sea World, where we got to walk through a glass tunnel, beneath a pool FULL OF SHARKS, and other beasties.

Beyond that I received another Global Knife, which has now been bloodied, since I managed to slice my finger open chopping mushrooms on Friday. Oops. Currently I'm in that annoying state where I'm slowly getting used to typing with a plaster around the tip of my finger, but knowing that it'll have to come off again and I'll get confused again.

Linux Distribution

I absolutely did not start working on a "linux distribution", because that would be crazy. Do I look like a crazy-person?

All I did was play around with GNU Stow, and ponder the idea of using a minimal LibC and GNU Stow to organize things.

It went well, but the devil is always in the details.

I like the idea of a master-distribution which installs pam, ssh, etc, but then has derivitives for "This is a webserver", "This is a Ruby server", and "This is a database server".

Consider it like task-selection, but with higher ambition.

There's probably more I could say; a new kitchen sink (literally) and a new tap have made our kitchen nicer, I've made it past six months of regular gym-based workouts, and I didn't die when I went to the beach in the dark the other night, so that was nice.

Umm? Stuff?

Have a nice day. Thanks.



Meanwhile, behind the facade of this innocent book store

Thursday, 14 November 2013

In brief:

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Something, something, dark side.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I want to like LDAP. Every so often I do interesting things with it, and I start to think I like it, then some software that claims to support LDAP fails to do so properly and I remember I hate it again.

I guess the problem with LDAP is that most people are scared by it, unless you reach a certain level of scale you don't need it. That makes installing it out of the blue a scary prospect, and that means that lots of toy-software applications don't even consider using it until they're mature and large.

When you bolt-on support for LDAP to an existing project you have to make compromises; do you create local entries in your system for these scary-remote-LDAP-users? Do you map group members from LDAP into your own group system? ANd so on.

To be fair to the application developers if the requirements for installation were "Install LDAP" they'd probably have a damn smaller userbase, and so we cannot blame OpenLDAP, or the other servers.

All the same it is a shame.

The very next piece of software I ever write that needs to handle logins will use LDAP and only LDAP. How hard can it be?

In happier news I re-deployed http://www.debian-administration.org/ over the weekend. It now uses the Bytemark BigV platform which rocks.

The migration was supposed to be a "Christmas Project", but took longer than expected due to the number of changes I need to make to the software, and my deployment plan. Still I'm very happy with the way things are running now, and don't expect I'll need to move or make significant changes for the next nine years. I just hope there is still interest in such things then.

ObQuote: "Would you like a treatment? " - Dollhouse



So I have a new bathroom

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The work on my bathroom is complete. The two weeks of noise and mess were well worth it.

The old and unpleasant room is now completely different. The only issue I see is that I've managed to fill up the storage already.

I'm particularly impressed with the sink, but special mention must go to the step, and the light switch (this is touch-sensitive and apparently incapable of electrocuting me).

Rest assured that despite all the changes none of my dinosaurs are missing!

Oh well I can always mount a new shelf, or three.

ObQuote: - "Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.", Dune.



I like languages

Thursday, 24 February 2011

One of the reasons I like Scotland is the fun that Scottish people have with language. I'm going to use two examples to illustrate my point:

  • "Mind" is often used as "Remember"
  • "How" is often used as "why".

The last one is particularly fun when you use questions such as "How no?" - meaning roughly "Why not?".

Languages, and idioms, vary wildly in different parts of the world, even when you restrict yourself to English-speaking languages. I'll not even get started on Accents. The UK is tiny compared to many other countries, yet we have a wide array of accents - Australia, by contrast is huge, but I can think of only two accents across the country. (Rationally I expect that there are many accents in different parts of Australia, and I'm merely ignorant.)

In conclusion languages are fun, and some places this is more evident than in others. I will most likely contintue to say "The shop is open from 9 while 4" rather than the more typical "From 9 til 4" - I'm allowed to do that, having grown up in Yorkshire!

(PS. PHP still sucks - Even if you post it upon a PHP-powered blog. ;)

ObQuote: "People take you for granted, you know. We gotta make people miss you." - Hancock



So people spend a fortune on office chairs?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

I've heard, over the years, of people spending insane amounts of money on office chairs.

On the one hand I accept that you spend a lot of time sitting in chairs when you're working upon a computer. On the left I find the idea of spending £750+ on a chair a little insane.

For the past few years I've had a kneeling chair over time this has gotten pretty "squished" and "flat". (Specifically the part where my knees go.)

So I decided to get a new chair. What did I buy? a large rubber ball!

It's a little weird to walk into the room and see this green ball in front of the keyboard, but it's actually pretty great to sit on.

I'm gonna ignore all claims of "excercise" and "healthyness". Sure I find myself shifting around slightly to retain balance, but I'm not at all convinced that such small movements, even over the course of many days, will make any appreciable different to my muscles.

Anyway .. That is all I have to say today.

ObQuote: "Don't tell anyone we went to war over a woman. " - Mongol (2007)



Sanity testing drives

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Recently I came across a situation where moving a lot of data around on a machine with a 3Ware RAID card ultimately killed the machine.

To test the hardware in advance for this requires a test of both:

  • The individual drives, which make up the RAID array
  • The filesystem which is layered upon the top of it.

The former can be done with badblocks, etc. The latter requires a simple tool to create a bunch of huge files with "random" contents, then later verify they have the contents you expected.

With that in mind:

dt --files=1000  --size=100M [--no-delete|--delete]


  • Creates, in turn, 1000 files.
  • Each created file will be 100Mb long.
  • Each created file will have random contents written to it, and be closed.
  • Once closed the file will be re-opened and the MD5sum computed
    • Both in my code and by calling /usr/bin/md5sum.
    • If these sums mis-match, indicating a data-error, we abort.
  • Otherwise we delete the file and move on.

Adding "--no-delete" and "--files=100000" allows you to continue testing until your drive is full and you've tested every part of the filesystem.

Trivial toy, or possibly useful to sanity-check a filesystem? You decide. Or just:

hg clone http://dt.repository.steve.org.uk/

(dt == disk test)

ObQuote: "Stand back boy! This calls for divine intervention! " - "Brain Dead"



You seem uncomfortable.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

I've been trying to remember to post the pictures I like online for the past few months. So this is a reminder to myself.

This image below didn't turn out quite how I wanted it to:

  • I was hoping for a nicer sihouet upon the lady's face.
  • The tree-branch on the left irritates me.

But that said I keep on coming back to look at it. I like the lighting, and I love the way that the brick wall on the right hand side angles towards the building on the horizon.

Enjoy. Or not.


A similarly "not perfect" image is this outdoor shot. I have only one irritation with this shot - and that is that the trees are clipped at the top. Meh, such is life.

(I have two styles of photography; semi-random where I snap what is in front of me, and staged where I try to construct a particular picture - the two images above? One of each.)

ObFilm: Bound

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