Search Results: "dres"

24 September 2022

Ian Jackson: Please vote in favour of the Debian Social Contract change

tl;dr: Please vote in favour of the Debian Social Contract change, by ranking all of its options above None of the Above. Rank the SC change options above corresponding options that do not change the Social Contract. Vote to change the SC even if you think the change is not necessary for Debian to prominently/officially provide an installer with-nonfree-firmware. Why vote for SC change even if I think it s not needed? I m addressing myself primarily to the reader who agrees with me that Debian ought to be officially providing with-firmware images. I think it is very likely that the winning option will be one of the ones which asks for an official and prominent with-firmware installer. However, many who oppose this change believe that it would be a breach of Debian s Social Contract. This is a very reasonable and arguable point of view. Indeed, I m inclined to share it. If the winning option is to provide a with-firmware installer (perhaps, only a with-firmware installer) those people will feel aggrieved. They will, quite reasonably, claim that the result of the vote is illegitimate - being contrary to Debian s principles as set out in the Social Contract, which require a 3:1 majority to change. There is even the possibility that the Secretary may declare the GR result void, as contrary to the Constitution! (Sadly, I am not making this up.) This would cast Debian into (yet another) acrimonious constitutional and governance crisis. The simplest answer is to amend the Social Contract to explicitly permit what is being proposed. Holger s option F and Russ s option E do precisely that. Amending the SC is not an admission that it was legally necessary to do so. It is practical politics: it ensures that we have clear authority and legitimacy. Aren t we softening Debian s principles? I think prominently distributing an installer that can work out of the box on the vast majority of modern computers would help Debian advance our users freedom. I see user freedom as a matter of practical capability, not theoretical purity. Anyone living in the modern world must make compromises. It is Debian s job to help our users (and downstreams) minimise those compromises and retain as much control as possible over the computers in their life. Insisting that a user buys different hardware, or forcing them to a different distro, does not serve that goal. I don t really expect to convince anyone with such a short argument, but I do want to make the point that providing an installer that users can use to obtain a lot of practical freedom is also, for many of us, a matter of principle.

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19 September 2022

Antoine Beaupr : Looking at Wayland terminal emulators

Back in 2018, I made a two part series about terminal emulators that was actually pretty painful to write. So I'm not going to retry this here, not at all. Especially since I'm not submitting this to the excellent LWN editors so I can get away with not being very good at writing. Phew. Still, it seems my future self will thank me for collecting my thoughts on the terminal emulators I have found out about since I wrote that article. Back then, Wayland was not quite at the level where it is now, being the default in Fedora (2016), Debian (2019), RedHat (2019), and Ubuntu (2021). Also, a bunch of folks thought they would solve everything by using OpenGL for rendering. Let's see how things stack up.

Recap In the previous article, I touched on those projects:
Terminal Changes since review
Alacritty releases! scrollback, better latency, URL launcher, clipboard support, still not in Debian, but close
GNOME Terminal not much? couldn't find a changelog
Konsole outdated changelog, color, image previews, clickable files, multi-input, SSH plugin, sixel images
mlterm long changelog but: supports console mode (like GNU screen?!), Wayland support through libvte, sixel graphics, zmodem, mosh (!)
pterm changes: Wayland support
st unparseable changelog, suggests scroll(1) or scrollback.patch for scrollback now
Terminator moved to GitHub, Python 3 support, not being dead
urxvt no significant changes, a single release, still in CVS!
Xfce Terminal hard to parse changelog, presumably some improvements to paste safety?
xterm notoriously hard to parse changelog, improvements to paste safety (disallowedPasteControls), fonts, clipboard improvements?
After writing those articles, bizarrely, I was still using rxvt even though it did not come up as shiny as I would have liked. The colors problems were especially irritating. I briefly played around with Konsole and xterm, and eventually switched to XTerm as my default x-terminal-emulator "alternative" in my Debian system, while writing this. I quickly noticed why I had stopped using it: clickable links are a huge limitation. I ended up adding keybindings to open URLs in a command. There's another keybinding to dump the history into a command. Neither are as satisfactory as just clicking a damn link.

Requirements Figuring out my requirements is actually a pretty hard thing to do. In my last reviews, I just tried a bunch of stuff and collected everything, but a lot of things (like tab support) I don't actually care about. So here's a set of things I actually do care about:
  • latency
  • resource usage
  • proper clipboard support, that is:
    • mouse selection and middle button uses PRIMARY
    • control-shift-c and control-shift-v for CLIPBOARD
  • true color support
  • no known security issues
  • active project
  • paste protection
  • clickable URLs
  • scrollback
  • font resize
  • non-destructive text-wrapping (ie. resizing a window doesn't drop scrollback history)
  • proper unicode support (at least latin-1, ideally "everything")
  • good emoji support (at least showing them, ideally "nicely"), which involves font fallback
Latency is particularly something I wonder about in Wayland. Kitty seem to have been pretty dilligent at doing latency tests, claiming 35ms with a hardware-based latency tester and 7ms with typometer, but it's unclear how those would come up in Wayland because, as far as I know, typometer does not support Wayland.

Candidates Those are the projects I am considering.
  • darktile - GPU rendering, Unicode support, themable, ligatures (optional), Sixel, window transparency, clickable URLs, true color support, not in Debian
  • foot - Wayland only, daemon-mode, sixel images, scrollback search, true color, font resize, URLs not clickable, but keyboard-driven selection, proper clipboard support, in Debian
  • havoc - minimal, scrollback, configurable keybindings, not in Debian
  • sakura - libvte, Wayland support, tabs, no menu bar, original libvte gangster, dynamic font size, probably supports Wayland, in Debian
  • termonad - Haskell? in Debian
  • wez - Rust, Wayland, multiplexer, ligatures, scrollback search, clipboard support, bracketed paste, panes, tabs, serial port support, Sixel, Kitty, iTerm graphics, built-in SSH client (!?), not in Debian
  • XTerm - status quo, no Wayland port obviously
  • zutty: OpenGL rendering, true color, clipboard support, small codebase, no Wayland support, crashes on bremner's, in Debian

Candidates not considered

Alacritty I would really, really like to use Alacritty, but it's still not packaged in Debian, and they haven't fully addressed the latency issues although, to be fair, maybe it's just an impossible task. Once it's packaged in Debian, maybe I'll reconsider.

Kitty Kitty is a "fast, feature-rich, GPU based", with ligatures, emojis, hyperlinks, pluggable, scriptable, tabs, layouts, history, file transfer over SSH, its own graphics system, and probably much more I'm forgetting. It's packaged in Debian. So I immediately got two people commenting (on IRC) that they use Kitty and are pretty happy with it. I've been hesitant in directly talking about Kitty publicly, but since it's likely there will be a pile-up of similar comments, I'll just say why it's not the first in my list, even if it might, considering it's packaged in Debian and otherwise checks all the boxes. I don't trust the Kitty code. Kitty was written by the same author as Calibre, which has a horrible security history and generally really messy source code. I have tried to do LTS work on Calibre, and have mostly given up on the idea of making that program secure in any way. See calibre for the details on that. Now it's possible Kitty is different: it's quite likely the author has gotten some experience writing (and maintaining for so long!) Calibre over the years. But I would be more optimistic if the author's reaction to the security issues were more open and proactive. I've also seen the same reaction play out on Kitty's side of things. As anyone who worked on writing or playing with non-XTerm terminal emulators, it's quite a struggle to make something (bug-for-bug) compatible with everything out there. And Kitty is in that uncomfortable place right now where it diverges from the canon and needs its own entry in the ncurses database. I don't remember the specifics, but the author also managed to get into fights with those people as well, which I don't feel is reassuring for the project going forward. If security and compatibility wasn't such big of a deal for me, I wouldn't mind so much, but I'll need a lot of convincing before I consider Kitty more seriously at this point.

Next steps It seems like Arch Linux defaults to foot in Sway, and I keep seeing it everywhere, so it is probably my next thing to try, if/when I switch to Wayland. One major problem with foot is that it's yet another terminfo entry. They did make it into ncurses (patch 2021-07-31) but only after Debian bullseye stable was released. So expect some weird compatibility issues when connecting to any other system that is older or the same as stable (!). One question mark with all Wayland terminals, and Foot in particular, is how much latency they introduce in the rendering pipeline. The foot performance and benchmarks look excellent, but do not include latency benchmarks.

No conclusion So I guess that's all I've got so far, I may try alacritty if it hits Debian, or foot if I switch to Wayland, but for now I'm hacking in xterm still. Happy to hear ideas in the comments. Stay tuned for more happy days.

17 September 2022

Russ Allbery: Effective altruism and the control trap

William MacAskill has been on a book tour for What We Owe to the Future, which has put effective altruism back in the news. That plus the decision by GiveWell to remove GiveDirectly from their top charity list got me thinking about charity again. I think effective altruism, by embracing long-termism, is falling into an ethical trap, and I'm going to start heavily discounting their recommendations for donations. Background Some background first for people who have no idea what I'm talking about. Effective altruism is the idea that we should hold charities accountable for effectiveness. It's not sufficient to have an appealing mission. A charity should demonstrate that the money they spend accomplishes the goals they claimed it would. There is a lot of debate around defining "effective," but as a basic principle, this is sound. Mainstream charity evaluators such as Charity Navigator measure overhead and (arguable) waste, but they don't ask whether the on-the-ground work of the charity has a positive effect proportional to the resources it's expending. This is a good question to ask. GiveWell is a charity research organization that directs money for donors based on effective altruism principles. It's one of the central organizations in effective altruism. GiveDirectly is a charity that directly transfers money from donors to poor people. It doesn't attempt to build infrastructure, buy specific things, or fund programs. It identifies poor people and gives them cash with no strings attached. Long-termism is part of the debate over what "effectiveness" means. It says we should value impact on future generations more highly than we tend to do. (In other words, we should have a much smaller future discount rate.) A sloppy but intuitive expression of long-termism is that (hopefully) there will be far more humans living in the future than are living today, and therefore a "greatest good for the greatest number" moral philosophy argues that we should invest significant resources into making the long-term future brighter. This has obvious appeal to those of us who are concerned about the long-term impacts of climate change, for example. There is a lot of overlap between the communities of effective altruism, long-termism, and "rationalism." One way this becomes apparent is that all three communities have a tendency to obsess over the risks of sentient AI taking over the world. I'm going to come back to that. Psychology of control GiveWell, early on, discovered that GiveDirectly was measurably more effective than most charities. Giving money directly to poor people without telling them how to spend it produced more benefits for those people and their surrounding society than nearly all international aid charities. GiveDirectly then became the baseline for GiveWell's evaluations, and GiveWell started looking for ways to be more effective than that. There is some logic to thinking more effectiveness is possible. Some problems are poorly addressed by markets and too large for individual spending. Health care infrastructure is an obvious example. That said, there's also a psychological reason to look for other charities. Part of the appeal of charity is picking a cause that supports your values (whether that be raw effectiveness or something else). Your opinions and expertise are valued alongside your money. In some cases, this may be objectively true. But in all cases, it's more flattering to the ego than giving poor people cash. At that point, the argument was over how to address immediate and objectively measurable human problems. The innovation of effective altruism is to tie charitable giving to a research feedback cycle. You measure the world, see if it is improving, and adjust your funding accordingly. Impact is measured by its effects on actual people. Effective altruism was somewhat suspicious of talking directly to individuals and preferred "objective" statistical measures, but the point was to remain in contact with physical reality. Enter long-termism: what if you could get more value for your money by addressing problems that would affect vast numbers of future people, instead of the smaller number of people who happen to be alive today? Rather than looking at the merits of that argument, look at its psychology. Real people are messy. They do things you don't approve of. They have opinions that don't fit your models. They're hard to "objectively" measure. But people who haven't been born yet are much tidier. They're comfortably theoretical; instead of having to go to a strange place with unfamiliar food and languages to talk to people who aren't like you, you can think hard about future trends in the comfort of your home. You control how your theoretical future people are defined, so the results of your analysis will align with your philosophical and ideological beliefs. Problems affecting future humans are still extrapolations of problems visible today in the world, though. They're constrained by observations of real human societies, despite the layer of projection and extrapolation. We can do better: what if the most serious problem facing humanity is the possible future development of rogue AI? Here's a problem that no one can observe or measure because it's never happened. It is purely theoretical, and thus under the control of the smart philosopher or rich western donor. We don't know if a rogue AI is possible, what it would be like, how one might arise, or what we could do about it, but we can convince ourselves that all those things can be calculated with some probability bar through the power of pure logic. Now we have escaped the uncomfortable psychological tension of effective altruism and returned to the familiar world in which the rich donor can define both the problem and the solution. Effectiveness is once again what we say it is. William MacAskill, one of the originators of effective altruism, now constantly talks about the threat of rogue AI. In a way, it's quite sad. Where to give money? The mindset of long-termism is bad for the human brain. It whispers to you that you're smarter than other people, that you know what's really important, and that you should retain control of more resources because you'll spend them more wisely than others. It's the opposite of intellectual humility. A government funding agency should take some risks on theoretical solutions to real problems, and maybe a few on theoretical solutions to theoretical problems (although an order of magnitude less). I don't think this is a useful way for an individual donor to think. So, if I think effective altruism is abandoning the one good idea it had and turning back into psychological support for the egos of philosophers and rich donors, where does this leave my charitable donations? To their credit, GiveWell so far seems uninterested in shifting from concrete to theoretical problems. However, they believe they can do better by picking projects than giving people money, and they're committing to that by dropping GiveDirectly (while still praising them). They may be right. But I'm increasingly suspicious of the level of control donors want to retain. It's too easy to trick oneself into thinking you know better than the people directly affected. I have two goals when I donate money. One is to make the world a better, kinder place. The other is to redistribute wealth. I have more of something than I need, and it should go to someone who does need it. The net effect should be to make the world fairer and more equal. The first goal argues for effective altruism principles: where can I give money to have the most impact on making the world better? The second goal argues for giving across an inequality gradient. I should find the people who are struggling the most and transfer as many resources to them as I can. This is Peter Singer's classic argument for giving money to the global poor. I think one can sometimes do better than transferring money, but doing so requires a deep understanding of the infrastructure and economies of scale that are being used as leverage. The more distant one is from a society, the more dubious I think one should be of one's ability to evaluate that, and the more wary one should be of retaining any control over how resources are used. Therefore, I'm pulling my recurring donation to GiveWell. Half of it is going to go to GiveDirectly, because I think it is an effective way of redistributing wealth while giving up control. The other half is going to my local foodbank, because they have a straightforward analysis of how they can take advantage of economy of scale, and because I have more tools available (such as local news) to understand what problem they're solving and if they're doing so effectively. I don't know that those are the best choices. There are a lot of good ones. But I do feel strongly that the best charity comes from embracing the idea that I do not have special wisdom, other people know more about what they need than I do, and deploying my ego and logic from the comfort of my home is not helpful. Find someone who needs something you have an excess of. Give it to them. Treat them as equals. Don't retain control. You won't go far wrong.

12 September 2022

Petter Reinholdtsen: Time to translate the Bullseye edition of the Debian Administrator's Handbook

(The picture is of the previous edition.) Almost two years after the previous Norwegian Bokm l translation of the "The Debian Administrator's Handbook" was published, a new edition is finally being prepared. The english text is updated, and it is time to start working on the translations. Around 37 percent of the strings have been updated, one way or another, and the translations starting from a complete Debian Buster edition now need to bring their translation up from 63% to 100%. The complete book is licensed using a Creative Commons license, and has been published in several languages over the years. The translations are done by volunteers to bring Linux in their native tongue. The last time I checked, it complete text was available in English, Norwegian Bokm l, German, Indonesian, Brazil Portuguese and Spanish. In addition, work has been started for Arabic (Morocco), Catalan, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Turkish and Vietnamese. The translation is conducted on the hosted weblate project page. Prospective translators are recommeded to subscribe to the translators mailing list and should also check out the instructions for contributors. I am one of the Norwegian Bokm l translators of this book, and we have just started. Your contribution is most welcome. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

8 September 2022

Thorsten Alteholz: My Debian Activities in August 2022

FTP master This month I accepted 375 and rejected 25 packages. The overall number of packages that got accepted was 386. I also had a closer look at the RM-bugs. All in all I addressed about 90 of them and either simply removed the package or added a moreinfo tag. In total I spent 13 hours for this task. Anyway, if you want to have your RM-bug processed in a timely manner, please have a look at the removal page and check whether the created dak command is really what you wanted. It would also help if you check the reverse dependencies and write a comment whether they are important or can be ignored or also file a new bug for them. Each removal must have one bug! Debian LTS This was my ninety-eighth month that I did some work for the Debian LTS initiative, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. This month my all in all workload has been 30.00h. As I started to become a Freexian collaborator in this month, I only worked 17h on the LTS project. During that time I uploaded: I also started to work on upx-ucl. Debian ELTS This month was the forty-ninth ELTS month. During my allocated time I uploaded: Debian Printing This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: Debian Astro This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of:

1 September 2022

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities August 2022

Focus This month I didn't have any particular focus. I just worked on issues in my info bubble.



  • Did extensive debugging on a libpst issue but failed to figure out the cause of the issue. Seems to be related to a change to freopen in glibc that fixed compatibility with POSIX.

  • FOSSjobs: approved postings
  • Spam: reported 5 Debian bug reports and 23 Debian mailing list posts
  • Debian packages: sponsored psi-notify (twice)
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:
    • approved bible-kjv edb-debugger lifeograph links mu-editor unattended-upgrades
    • rejected apt-listchanges/apt-listdifferences (semi-related log file), steam-devices (package description), myspell-es/lighttpd (selfie), fraqtive (Windows), wireguard (logo), kde-telepathy-contact-list (mobile hacking app)

  • Debian BTS: unarchive/reopen/triage bugs for reintroduced packages orage, scap-security-guide, libdatetime-format-datemanip-perl
  • Debian IRC: disable anti-spam channel modes for some channels
  • Debian servers: investigate full filesystems
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts, ping accounts with bouncing email

  • Respond to queries from Debian users and contributors on the mailing lists and IRC.

Sponsors The sptag, libpst, purple-discord, circuitbreaker work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

30 August 2022

John Goerzen: The PC & Internet Revolution in Rural America

Inspired by several others (such as Alex Schroeder s post and Szcze uja s prompt), as well as a desire to get this down for my kids, I figure it s time to write a bit about living through the PC and Internet revolution where I did: outside a tiny town in rural Kansas. And, as I ve been back in that same area for the past 15 years, I reflect some on the challenges that continue to play out. Although the stories from the others were primarily about getting online, I want to start by setting some background. Those of you that didn t grow up in the same era as I did probably never realized that a typical business PC setup might cost $10,000 in today s dollars, for instance. So let me start with the background.

Nothing was easy This story begins in the 1980s. Somewhere around my Kindergarten year of school, around 1985, my parents bought a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 (aka CoCo II). It had 64K of RAM and used a TV for display and sound. This got you the computer. It didn t get you any disk drive or anything, no joysticks (required by a number of games). So whenever the system powered down, or it hung and you had to power cycle it a frequent event you d lose whatever you were doing and would have to re-enter the program, literally by typing it in. The floppy drive for the CoCo II cost more than the computer, and it was quite common for people to buy the computer first and then the floppy drive later when they d saved up the money for that. I particularly want to mention that computers then didn t come with a modem. What would be like buying a laptop or a tablet without wifi today. A modem, which I ll talk about in a bit, was another expensive accessory. To cobble together a system in the 80s that was capable of talking to others with persistent storage (floppy, or hard drive), screen, keyboard, and modem would be quite expensive. Adjusted for inflation, if you re talking a PC-style device (a clone of the IBM PC that ran DOS), this would easily be more expensive than the Macbook Pros of today. Few people back in the 80s had a computer at home. And the portion of those that had even the capability to get online in a meaningful way was even smaller. Eventually my parents bought a PC clone with 640K RAM and dual floppy drives. This was primarily used for my mom s work, but I did my best to take it over whenever possible. It ran DOS and, despite its monochrome screen, was generally a more capable machine than the CoCo II. For instance, it supported lowercase. (I m not even kidding; the CoCo II pretty much didn t.) A while later, they purchased a 32MB hard drive for it what luxury! Just getting a machine to work wasn t easy. Say you d bought a PC, and then bought a hard drive, and a modem. You didn t just plug in the hard drive and it would work. You would have to fight it every step of the way. The BIOS and DOS partition tables of the day used a cylinder/head/sector method of addressing the drive, and various parts of that those addresses had too few bits to work with the big drives of the day above 20MB. So you would have to lie to the BIOS and fdisk in various ways, and sort of work out how to do it for each drive. For each peripheral serial port, sound card (in later years), etc., you d have to set jumpers for DMA and IRQs, hoping not to conflict with anything already in the system. Perhaps you can now start to see why USB and PCI were so welcomed.

Sharing and finding resources Despite the two computers in our home, it wasn t as if software written on one machine just ran on another. A lot of software for PC clones assumed a CGA color display. The monochrome HGC in our PC wasn t particularly compatible. You could find a TSR program to emulate the CGA on the HGC, but it wasn t particularly stable, and there s only so much you can do when a program that assumes color displays on a monitor that can only show black, dark amber, or light amber. So I d periodically get to use other computers most commonly at an office in the evening when it wasn t being used. There were some local computer clubs that my dad took me to periodically. Software was swapped back then; disks copied, shareware exchanged, and so forth. For me, at least, there was no online to download software from, and selling software over the Internet wasn t a thing at all.

Three Different Worlds There were sort of three different worlds of computing experience in the 80s:
  1. Home users. Initially using a wide variety of software from Apple, Commodore, Tandy/RadioShack, etc., but eventually coming to be mostly dominated by IBM PC clones
  2. Small and mid-sized business users. Some of them had larger minicomputers or small mainframes, but most that I had contact with by the early 90s were standardized on DOS-based PCs. More advanced ones had a network running Netware, most commonly. Networking hardware and software was generally too expensive for home users to use in the early days.
  3. Universities and large institutions. These are the places that had the mainframes, the earliest implementations of TCP/IP, the earliest users of UUCP, and so forth.
The difference between the home computing experience and the large institution experience were vast. Not only in terms of dollars the large institution hardware could easily cost anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars but also in terms of sheer resources required (large rooms, enormous power circuits, support staff, etc). Nothing was in common between them; not operating systems, not software, not experience. I was never much aware of the third category until the differences started to collapse in the mid-90s, and even then I only was exposed to it once the collapse was well underway. You might say to me, Well, Google certainly isn t running what I m running at home! And, yes of course, it s different. But fundamentally, most large datacenters are running on x86_64 hardware, with Linux as the operating system, and a TCP/IP network. It s a different scale, obviously, but at a fundamental level, the hardware and operating system stack are pretty similar to what you can readily run at home. Back in the 80s and 90s, this wasn t the case. TCP/IP wasn t even available for DOS or Windows until much later, and when it was, it was a clunky beast that was difficult. One of the things Kevin Driscoll highlights in his book called Modem World see my short post about it is that the history of the Internet we usually receive is focused on case 3: the large institutions. In reality, the Internet was and is literally a network of networks. Gateways to and from Internet existed from all three kinds of users for years, and while TCP/IP ultimately won the battle of the internetworking protocol, the other two streams of users also shaped the Internet as we now know it. Like many, I had no access to the large institution networks, but as I ve been reflecting on my experiences, I ve found a new appreciation for the way that those of us that grew up with primarily home PCs shaped the evolution of today s online world also.

An Era of Scarcity I should take a moment to comment about the cost of software back then. A newspaper article from 1985 comments that WordPerfect, then the most powerful word processing program, sold for $495 (or $219 if you could score a mail order discount). That s $1360/$600 in 2022 money. Other popular software, such as Lotus 1-2-3, was up there as well. If you were to buy a new PC clone in the mid to late 80s, it would often cost $2000 in 1980s dollars. Now add a printer a low-end dot matrix for $300 or a laser for $1500 or even more. A modem: another $300. So the basic system would be $3600, or $9900 in 2022 dollars. If you wanted a nice printer, you re now pushing well over $10,000 in 2022 dollars. You start to see one barrier here, and also why things like shareware and piracy if it was indeed even recognized as such were common in those days. So you can see, from a home computer setup (TRS-80, Commodore C64, Apple ][, etc) to a business-class PC setup was an order of magnitude increase in cost. From there to the high-end minis/mainframes was another order of magnitude (at least!) increase. Eventually there was price pressure on the higher end and things all got better, which is probably why the non-DOS PCs lasted until the early 90s.

Increasing Capabilities My first exposure to computers in school was in the 4th grade, when I would have been about 9. There was a single Apple ][ machine in that room. I primarily remember playing Oregon Trail on it. The next year, the school added a computer lab. Remember, this is a small rural area, so each graduating class might have about 25 people in it; this lab was shared by everyone in the K-8 building. It was full of some flavor of IBM PS/2 machines running DOS and Netware. There was a dedicated computer teacher too, though I think she was a regular teacher that was given somewhat minimal training on computers. We were going to learn typing that year, but I did so well on the very first typing program that we soon worked out that I could do programming instead. I started going to school early these machines were far more powerful than the XT at home and worked on programming projects there. Eventually my parents bought me a Gateway 486SX/25 with a VGA monitor and hard drive. Wow! This was a whole different world. It may have come with Windows 3.0 or 3.1 on it, but I mainly remember running OS/2 on that machine. More on that below.

Programming That CoCo II came with a BASIC interpreter in ROM. It came with a large manual, which served as a BASIC tutorial as well. The BASIC interpreter was also the shell, so literally you could not use the computer without at least a bit of BASIC. Once I had access to a DOS machine, it also had a basic interpreter: GW-BASIC. There was a fair bit of software written in BASIC at the time, but most of the more advanced software wasn t. I wondered how these .EXE and .COM programs were written. I could find vague references to DEBUG.EXE, assemblers, and such. But it wasn t until I got a copy of Turbo Pascal that I was able to do that sort of thing myself. Eventually I got Borland C++ and taught myself C as well. A few years later, I wanted to try writing GUI programs for Windows, and bought Watcom C++ much cheaper than the competition, and it could target Windows, DOS (and I think even OS/2). Notice that, aside from BASIC, none of this was free, and none of it was bundled. You couldn t just download a C compiler, or Python interpreter, or whatnot back then. You had to pay for the ability to write any kind of serious code on the computer you already owned.

The Microsoft Domination Microsoft came to dominate the PC landscape, and then even the computing landscape as a whole. IBM very quickly lost control over the hardware side of PCs as Compaq and others made clones, but Microsoft has managed in varying degrees even to this day to keep a stranglehold on the software, and especially the operating system, side. Yes, there was occasional talk of things like DR-DOS, but by and large the dominant platform came to be the PC, and if you had a PC, you ran DOS (and later Windows) from Microsoft. For awhile, it looked like IBM was going to challenge Microsoft on the operating system front; they had OS/2, and when I switched to it sometime around the version 2.1 era in 1993, it was unquestionably more advanced technically than the consumer-grade Windows from Microsoft at the time. It had Internet support baked in, could run most DOS and Windows programs, and had introduced a replacement for the by-then terrible FAT filesystem: HPFS, in 1988. Microsoft wouldn t introduce a better filesystem for its consumer operating systems until Windows XP in 2001, 13 years later. But more on that story later.

Free Software, Shareware, and Commercial Software I ve covered the high cost of software already. Obviously $500 software wasn t going to sell in the home market. So what did we have? Mainly, these things:
  1. Public domain software. It was free to use, and if implemented in BASIC, probably had source code with it too.
  2. Shareware
  3. Commercial software (some of it from small publishers was a lot cheaper than $500)
Let s talk about shareware. The idea with shareware was that a company would release a useful program, sometimes limited. You were encouraged to register , or pay for, it if you liked it and used it. And, regardless of whether you registered it or not, were told please copy! Sometimes shareware was fully functional, and registering it got you nothing more than printed manuals and an easy conscience (guilt trips for not registering weren t necessarily very subtle). Sometimes unregistered shareware would have a nag screen a delay of a few seconds while they told you to register. Sometimes they d be limited in some way; you d get more features if you registered. With games, it was popular to have a trilogy, and release the first episode inevitably ending with a cliffhanger as shareware, and the subsequent episodes would require registration. In any event, a lot of software people used in the 80s and 90s was shareware. Also pirated commercial software, though in the earlier days of computing, I think some people didn t even know the difference. Notice what s missing: Free Software / FLOSS in the Richard Stallman sense of the word. Stallman lived in the big institution world after all, he worked at MIT and what he was doing with the Free Software Foundation and GNU project beginning in 1983 never really filtered into the DOS/Windows world at the time. I had no awareness of it even existing until into the 90s, when I first started getting some hints of it as a port of gcc became available for OS/2. The Internet was what really brought this home, but I m getting ahead of myself. I want to say again: FLOSS never really entered the DOS and Windows 3.x ecosystems. You d see it make a few inroads here and there in later versions of Windows, and moreso now that Microsoft has been sort of forced to accept it, but still, reflect on its legacy. What is the software market like in Windows compared to Linux, even today? Now it is, finally, time to talk about connectivity!

Getting On-Line What does it even mean to get on line? Certainly not connecting to a wifi access point. The answer is, unsurprisingly, complex. But for everyone except the large institutional users, it begins with a telephone.

The telephone system By the 80s, there was one communication network that already reached into nearly every home in America: the phone system. Virtually every household (note I don t say every person) was uniquely identified by a 10-digit phone number. You could, at least in theory, call up virtually any other phone in the country and be connected in less than a minute. But I ve got to talk about cost. The way things worked in the USA, you paid a monthly fee for a phone line. Included in that monthly fee was unlimited local calling. What is a local call? That was an extremely complex question. Generally it meant, roughly, calling within your city. But of course, as you deal with things like suburbs and cities growing into each other (eg, the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex), things got complicated fast. But let s just say for simplicity you could call others in your city. What about calling people not in your city? That was long distance , and you paid often hugely by the minute for it. Long distance rates were difficult to figure out, but were generally most expensive during business hours and cheapest at night or on weekends. Prices eventually started to come down when competition was introduced for long distance carriers, but even then you often were stuck with a single carrier for long distance calls outside your city but within your state. Anyhow, let s just leave it at this: local calls were virtually free, and long distance calls were extremely expensive.

Getting a modem I remember getting a modem that ran at either 1200bps or 2400bps. Either way, quite slow; you could often read even plain text faster than the modem could display it. But what was a modem? A modem hooked up to a computer with a serial cable, and to the phone system. By the time I got one, modems could automatically dial and answer. You would send a command like ATDT5551212 and it would dial 555-1212. Modems had speakers, because often things wouldn t work right, and the telephone system was oriented around speech, so you could hear what was happening. You d hear it wait for dial tone, then dial, then hopefully the remote end would ring, a modem there would answer, you d hear the screeching of a handshake, and eventually your terminal would say CONNECT 2400. Now your computer was bridged to the other; anything going out your serial port was encoded as sound by your modem and decoded at the other end, and vice-versa. But what, exactly, was the other end? It might have been another person at their computer. Turn on local echo, and you can see what they did. Maybe you d send files to each other. But in my case, the answer was different: PC Magazine.

PC Magazine and CompuServe Starting around 1986 (so I would have been about 6 years old), I got to read PC Magazine. My dad would bring copies that were being discarded at his office home for me to read, and I think eventually bought me a subscription directly. This was not just a standard magazine; it ran something like 350-400 pages an issue, and came out every other week. This thing was a monster. It had reviews of hardware and software, descriptions of upcoming technologies, pages and pages of ads (that often had some degree of being informative to them). And they had sections on programming. Many issues would talk about BASIC or Pascal programming, and there d be a utility in most issues. What do I mean by a utility in most issues ? Did they include a floppy disk with software? No, of course not. There was a literal program listing printed in the magazine. If you wanted the utility, you had to type it in. And a lot of them were written in assembler, so you had to have an assembler. An assembler, of course, was not free and I didn t have one. Or maybe they wrote it in Microsoft C, and I had Borland C, and (of course) they weren t compatible. Sometimes they would list the program sort of in binary: line after line of a BASIC program, with lines like 64, 193, 253, 0, 53, 0, 87 that you would type in for hours, hopefully correctly. Running the BASIC program would, if you got it correct, emit a .COM file that you could then run. They did have a rudimentary checksum system built in, but it wasn t even a CRC, so something like swapping two numbers you d never notice except when the program would mysteriously hang. Eventually they teamed up with CompuServe to offer a limited slice of CompuServe for the purpose of downloading PC Magazine utilities. This was called PC MagNet. I am foggy on the details, but I believe that for a time you could connect to the limited PC MagNet part of CompuServe for free (after the cost of the long-distance call, that is) rather than paying for CompuServe itself (because, OF COURSE, that also charged you per the minute.) So in the early days, I would get special permission from my parents to place a long distance call, and after some nerve-wracking minutes in which we were aware every minute was racking up charges, I could navigate the menus, download what I wanted, and log off immediately. I still, incidentally, mourn what PC Magazine became. As with computing generally, it followed the mass market. It lost its deep technical chops, cut its programming columns, stopped talking about things like how SCSI worked, and so forth. By the time it stopped printing in 2009, it was no longer a square-bound 400-page beheamoth, but rather looked more like a copy of Newsweek, but with less depth.

Continuing with CompuServe CompuServe was a much larger service than just PC MagNet. Eventually, our family got a subscription. It was still an expensive and scarce resource; I d call it only after hours when the long-distance rates were cheapest. Everyone had a numerical username separated by commas; mine was 71510,1421. CompuServe had forums, and files. Eventually I would use TapCIS to queue up things I wanted to do offline, to minimize phone usage online. CompuServe eventually added a gateway to the Internet. For the sum of somewhere around $1 a message, you could send or receive an email from someone with an Internet email address! I remember the thrill of one time, as a kid of probably 11 years, sending a message to one of the editors of PC Magazine and getting a kind, if brief, reply back! But inevitably I had

The Godzilla Phone Bill Yes, one month I became lax in tracking my time online. I ran up my parents phone bill. I don t remember how high, but I remember it was hundreds of dollars, a hefty sum at the time. As I watched Jason Scott s BBS Documentary, I realized how common an experience this was. I think this was the end of CompuServe for me for awhile.

Toll-Free Numbers I lived near a town with a population of 500. Not even IN town, but near town. The calling area included another town with a population of maybe 1500, so all told, there were maybe 2000 people total I could talk to with a local call though far fewer numbers, because remember, telephones were allocated by the household. There was, as far as I know, zero modems that were a local call (aside from one that belonged to a friend I met in around 1992). So basically everything was long-distance. But there was a special feature of the telephone network: toll-free numbers. Normally when calling long-distance, you, the caller, paid the bill. But with a toll-free number, beginning with 1-800, the recipient paid the bill. These numbers almost inevitably belonged to corporations that wanted to make it easy for people to call. Sales and ordering lines, for instance. Some of these companies started to set up modems on toll-free numbers. There were few of these, but they existed, so of course I had to try them! One of them was a company called PennyWise that sold office supplies. They had a toll-free line you could call with a modem to order stuff. Yes, online ordering before the web! I loved office supplies. And, because I lived far from a big city, if the local K-Mart didn t have it, I probably couldn t get it. Of course, the interface was entirely text, but you could search for products and place orders with the modem. I had loads of fun exploring the system, and actually ordered things from them and probably actually saved money doing so. With the first order they shipped a monster full-color catalog. That thing must have been 500 pages, like the Sears catalogs of the day. Every item had a part number, which streamlined ordering through the modem.

Inbound FAXes By the 90s, a number of modems became able to send and receive FAXes as well. For those that don t know, a FAX machine was essentially a special modem. It would scan a page and digitally transmit it over the phone system, where it would at least in the early days be printed out in real time (because the machines didn t have the memory to store an entire page as an image). Eventually, PC modems integrated FAX capabilities. There still wasn t anything useful I could do locally, but there were ways I could get other companies to FAX something to me. I remember two of them. One was for US Robotics. They had an on demand FAX system. You d call up a toll-free number, which was an automated IVR system. You could navigate through it and select various documents of interest to you: spec sheets and the like. You d key in your FAX number, hang up, and US Robotics would call YOU and FAX you the documents you wanted. Yes! I was talking to a computer (of a sorts) at no cost to me! The New York Times also ran a service for awhile called TimesFax. Every day, they would FAX out a page or two of summaries of the day s top stories. This was pretty cool in an era in which I had no other way to access anything from the New York Times. I managed to sign up for TimesFax I have no idea how, anymore and for awhile I would get a daily FAX of their top stories. When my family got its first laser printer, I could them even print these FAXes complete with the gothic New York Times masthead. Wow! (OK, so technically I could print it on a dot-matrix printer also, but graphics on a 9-pin dot matrix is a kind of pain that is a whole other article.)

My own phone line Remember how I discussed that phone lines were allocated per household? This was a problem for a lot of reasons:
  1. Anybody that tried to call my family while I was using my modem would get a busy signal (unable to complete the call)
  2. If anybody in the house picked up the phone while I was using it, that would degrade the quality of the ongoing call and either mess up or disconnect the call in progress. In many cases, that could cancel a file transfer (which wasn t necessarily easy or possible to resume), prompting howls of annoyance from me.
  3. Generally we all had to work around each other
So eventually I found various small jobs and used the money I made to pay for my own phone line and my own long distance costs. Eventually I upgraded to a 28.8Kbps US Robotics Courier modem even! Yes, you heard it right: I got a job and a bank account so I could have a phone line and a faster modem. Uh, isn t that why every teenager gets a job? Now my local friend and I could call each other freely at least on my end (I can t remember if he had his own phone line too). We could exchange files using HS/Link, which had the added benefit of allowing split-screen chat even while a file transfer is in progress. I m sure we spent hours chatting to each other keyboard-to-keyboard while sharing files with each other.

Technology in Schools By this point in the story, we re in the late 80s and early 90s. I m still using PC-style OSs at home; OS/2 in the later years of this period, DOS or maybe a bit of Windows in the earlier years. I mentioned that they let me work on programming at school starting in 5th grade. It was soon apparent that I knew more about computers than anybody on staff, and I started getting pulled out of class to help teachers or administrators with vexing school problems. This continued until I graduated from high school, incidentally often to my enjoyment, and the annoyance of one particular teacher who, I must say, I was fine with annoying in this way. That s not to say that there was institutional support for what I was doing. It was, after all, a small school. Larger schools might have introduced BASIC or maybe Logo in high school. But I had already taught myself BASIC, Pascal, and C by the time I was somewhere around 12 years old. So I wouldn t have had any use for that anyhow. There were programming contests occasionally held in the area. Schools would send teams. My school didn t really send anybody, but I went as an individual. One of them was run by a local college (but for jr. high or high school students. Years later, I met one of the professors that ran it. He remembered me, and that day, better than I did. The programming contest had problems one could solve in BASIC or Logo. I knew nothing about what to expect going into it, but I had lugged my computer and screen along, and asked him, Can I write my solutions in C? He was, apparently, stunned, but said sure, go for it. I took first place that day, leading to some rather confused teams from much larger schools. The Netware network that the school had was, as these generally were, itself isolated. There was no link to the Internet or anything like it. Several schools across three local counties eventually invested in a fiber-optic network linking them together. This built a larger, but still closed, network. Its primary purpose was to allow students to be exposed to a wider variety of classes at high schools. Participating schools had an ITV room , outfitted with cameras and mics. So students at any school could take classes offered over ITV at other schools. For instance, only my school taught German classes, so people at any of those participating schools could take German. It was an early Zoom room. But alongside the TV signal, there was enough bandwidth to run some Netware frames. By about 1995 or so, this let one of the schools purchase some CD-ROM software that was made available on a file server and could be accessed by any participating school. Nice! But Netware was mainly about file and printer sharing; there wasn t even a facility like email, at least not on our deployment.

BBSs My last hop before the Internet was the BBS. A BBS was a computer program, usually ran by a hobbyist like me, on a computer with a modem connected. Callers would call it up, and they d interact with the BBS. Most BBSs had discussion groups like forums and file areas. Some also had games. I, of course, continued to have that most vexing of problems: they were all long-distance. There were some ways to help with that, chiefly QWK and BlueWave. These, somewhat like TapCIS in the CompuServe days, let me download new message posts for reading offline, and queue up my own messages to send later. QWK and BlueWave didn t help with file downloading, though.

BBSs get networked BBSs were an interesting thing. You d call up one, and inevitably somewhere in the file area would be a BBS list. Download the BBS list and you ve suddenly got a list of phone numbers to try calling. All of them were long distance, of course. You d try calling them at random and have a success rate of maybe 20%. The other 80% would be defunct; you might get the dreaded this number is no longer in service or the even more dreaded angry human answering the phone (and of course a modem can t talk to a human, so they d just get silence for probably the nth time that week). The phone company cared nothing about BBSs and recycled their numbers just as fast as any others. To talk to various people, or participate in certain discussion groups, you d have to call specific BBSs. That s annoying enough in the general case, but even more so for someone paying long distance for it all, because it takes a few minutes to establish a connection to a BBS: handshaking, logging in, menu navigation, etc. But BBSs started talking to each other. The earliest successful such effort was FidoNet, and for the duration of the BBS era, it remained by far the largest. FidoNet was analogous to the UUCP that the institutional users had, but ran on the much cheaper PC hardware. Basically, BBSs that participated in FidoNet would relay email, forum posts, and files between themselves overnight. Eventually, as with UUCP, by hopping through this network, messages could reach around the globe, and forums could have worldwide participation asynchronously, long before they could link to each other directly via the Internet. It was almost entirely volunteer-run.

Running my own BBS At age 13, I eventually chose to set up my own BBS. It ran on my single phone line, so of course when I was dialing up something else, nobody could dial up me. Not that this was a huge problem; in my town of 500, I probably had a good 1 or 2 regular callers in the beginning. In the PC era, there was a big difference between a server and a client. Server-class software was expensive and rare. Maybe in later years you had an email client, but an email server would be completely unavailable to you as a home user. But with a BBS, I could effectively run a server. I even ran serial lines in our house so that the BBS could be connected from other rooms! Since I was running OS/2, the BBS didn t tie up the computer; I could continue using it for other things. FidoNet had an Internet email gateway. This one, unlike CompuServe s, was free. Once I had a BBS on FidoNet, you could reach me from the Internet using the FidoNet address. This didn t support attachments, but then email of the day didn t really, either. Various others outside Kansas ran FidoNet distribution points. I believe one of them was mgmtsys; my memory is quite vague, but I think they offered a direct gateway and I would call them to pick up Internet mail via FidoNet protocols, but I m not at all certain of this.

Pros and Cons of the Non-Microsoft World As mentioned, Microsoft was and is the dominant operating system vendor for PCs. But I left that world in 1993, and here, nearly 30 years later, have never really returned. I got an operating system with more technical capabilities than the DOS and Windows of the day, but the tradeoff was a much smaller software ecosystem. OS/2 could run DOS programs, but it ran OS/2 programs a lot better. So if I were to run a BBS, I wanted one that had a native OS/2 version limiting me to a small fraction of available BBS server software. On the other hand, as a fully 32-bit operating system, there started to be OS/2 ports of certain software with a Unix heritage; most notably for me at the time, gcc. At some point, I eventually came across the RMS essays and started to be hooked.

Internet: The Hunt Begins I certainly was aware that the Internet was out there and interesting. But the first problem was: how the heck do I get connected to the Internet?

Computer labs There was one place that tended to have Internet access: colleges and universities. In 7th grade, I participated in a program that resulted in me being invited to visit Duke University, and in 8th grade, I participated in National History Day, resulting in a trip to visit the University of Maryland. I probably sought out computer labs at both of those. My most distinct memory was finding my way into a computer lab at one of those universities, and it was full of NeXT workstations. I had never seen or used NeXT before, and had no idea how to operate it. I had brought a box of floppy disks, unaware that the DOS disks probably weren t compatible with NeXT. Closer to home, a small college had a computer lab that I could also visit. I would go there in summer or when it wasn t used with my stack of floppies. I remember downloading disk images of FLOSS operating systems: FreeBSD, Slackware, or Debian, at the time. The hash marks from the DOS-based FTP client would creep across the screen as the 1.44MB disk images would slowly download. telnet was also available on those machines, so I could telnet to things like public-access Archie servers and libraries though not Gopher. Still, FTP and telnet access opened up a lot, and I learned quite a bit in those years.

Continuing the Journey At some point, I got a copy of the Whole Internet User s Guide and Catalog, published in 1994. I still have it. If it hadn t already figured it out by then, I certainly became aware from it that Unix was the dominant operating system on the Internet. The examples in Whole Internet covered FTP, telnet, gopher all assuming the user somehow got to a Unix prompt. The web was introduced about 300 pages in; clearly viewed as something that wasn t page 1 material. And it covered the command-line www client before introducing the graphical Mosaic. Even then, though, the book highlighted Mosaic s utility as a front-end for Gopher and FTP, and even the ability to launch telnet sessions by clicking on links. But having a copy of the book didn t equate to having any way to run Mosaic. The machines in the computer lab I mentioned above all ran DOS and were incapable of running a graphical browser. I had no SLIP or PPP (both ways to run Internet traffic over a modem) connectivity at home. In short, the Web was something for the large institutional users at the time.

CD-ROMs As CD-ROMs came out, with their huge (for the day) 650MB capacity, various companies started collecting software that could be downloaded on the Internet and selling it on CD-ROM. The two most popular ones were Walnut Creek CD-ROM and Infomagic. One could buy extensive Shareware and gaming collections, and then even entire Linux and BSD distributions. Although not exactly an Internet service per se, it was a way of bringing what may ordinarily only be accessible to institutional users into the home computer realm.

Free Software Jumps In As I mentioned, by the mid 90s, I had come across RMS s writings about free software most probably his 1992 essay Why Software Should Be Free. (Please note, this is not a commentary on the more recently-revealed issues surrounding RMS, but rather his writings and work as I encountered them in the 90s.) The notion of a Free operating system not just in cost but in openness was incredibly appealing. Not only could I tinker with it to a much greater extent due to having source for everything, but it included so much software that I d otherwise have to pay for. Compilers! Interpreters! Editors! Terminal emulators! And, especially, server software of all sorts. There d be no way I could afford or run Netware, but with a Free Unixy operating system, I could do all that. My interest was obviously piqued. Add to that the fact that I could actually participate and contribute I was about to become hooked on something that I ve stayed hooked on for decades. But then the question was: which Free operating system? Eventually I chose FreeBSD to begin with; that would have been sometime in 1995. I don t recall the exact reasons for that. I remember downloading Slackware install floppies, and probably the fact that Debian wasn t yet at 1.0 scared me off for a time. FreeBSD s fantastic Handbook far better than anything I could find for Linux at the time was no doubt also a factor.

The de Raadt Factor Why not NetBSD or OpenBSD? The short answer is Theo de Raadt. Somewhere in this time, when I was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old, I asked some questions comparing NetBSD to the other two free BSDs. This was on a NetBSD mailing list, but for some reason Theo saw it and got a flame war going, which CC d me. Now keep in mind that even if NetBSD had a web presence at the time, it would have been minimal, and I would have not all that unusually for the time had no way to access it. I was certainly not aware of the, shall we say, acrimony between Theo and NetBSD. While I had certainly seen an online flamewar before, this took on a different and more disturbing tone; months later, Theo randomly emailed me under the subject SLIME saying that I was, well, SLIME . I seem to recall periodic emails from him thereafter reminding me that he hates me and that he had blocked me. (Disclaimer: I have poor email archives from this period, so the full details are lost to me, but I believe I am accurately conveying these events from over 25 years ago) This was a surprise, and an unpleasant one. I was trying to learn, and while it is possible I didn t understand some aspect or other of netiquette (or Theo s personal hatred of NetBSD) at the time, still that is not a reason to flame a 16-year-old (though he would have had no way to know my age). This didn t leave any kind of scar, but did leave a lasting impression; to this day, I am particularly concerned with how FLOSS projects handle poisonous people. Debian, for instance, has come a long way in this over the years, and even Linus Torvalds has turned over a new leaf. I don t know if Theo has. In any case, I didn t use NetBSD then. I did try it periodically in the years since, but never found it compelling enough to justify a large switch from Debian. I never tried OpenBSD for various reasons, but one of them was that I didn t want to join a community that tolerates behavior such as Theo s from its leader.

Moving to FreeBSD Moving from OS/2 to FreeBSD was final. That is, I didn t have enough hard drive space to keep both. I also didn t have the backup capacity to back up OS/2 completely. My BBS, which ran Virtual BBS (and at some point also AdeptXBBS) was deleted and reincarnated in a different form. My BBS was a member of both FidoNet and VirtualNet; the latter was specific to VBBS, and had to be dropped. I believe I may have also had to drop the FidoNet link for a time. This was the biggest change of computing in my life to that point. The earlier experiences hadn t literally destroyed what came before. OS/2 could still run my DOS programs. Its command shell was quite DOS-like. It ran Windows programs. I was going to throw all that away and leap into the unknown. I wish I had saved a copy of my BBS; I would love to see the messages I exchanged back then, or see its menu screens again. I have little memory of what it looked like. But other than that, I have no regrets. Pursuing Free, Unixy operating systems brought me a lot of enjoyment and a good career. That s not to say it was easy. All the problems of not being in the Microsoft ecosystem were magnified under FreeBSD and Linux. In a day before EDID, monitor timings had to be calculated manually and you risked destroying your monitor if you got them wrong. Word processing and spreadsheet software was pretty much not there for FreeBSD or Linux at the time; I was therefore forced to learn LaTeX and actually appreciated that. Software like PageMaker or CorelDraw was certainly nowhere to be found for those free operating systems either. But I got a ton of new capabilities. I mentioned the BBS didn t shut down, and indeed it didn t. I ran what was surely a supremely unique oddity: a free, dialin Unix shell server in the middle of a small town in Kansas. I m sure I provided things such as pine for email and some help text and maybe even printouts for how to use it. The set of callers slowly grew over the time period, in fact. And then I got UUCP.

Enter UUCP Even throughout all this, there was no local Internet provider and things were still long distance. I had Internet Email access via assorted strange routes, but they were all strange. And, I wanted access to Usenet. In 1995, it happened. The local ISP I mentioned offered UUCP access. Though I couldn t afford the dialup shell (or later, SLIP/PPP) that they offered due to long-distance costs, UUCP s very efficient batched processes looked doable. I believe I established that link when I was 15, so in 1995. I worked to register my domain,, as well. At the time, the process was a bit lengthy and involved downloading a text file form, filling it out in a precise way, sending it to InterNIC, and probably mailing them a check. Well I did that, and in September of 1995, became mine. I set up sendmail on my local system, as well as INN to handle the limited Usenet newsfeed I requested from the ISP. I even ran Majordomo to host some mailing lists, including some that were surprisingly high-traffic for a few-times-a-day long-distance modem UUCP link! The modem client programs for FreeBSD were somewhat less advanced than for OS/2, but I believe I wound up using Minicom or Seyon to continue to dial out to BBSs and, I believe, continue to use Learning Link. So all the while I was setting up my local BBS, I continued to have access to the text Internet, consisting of chiefly Gopher for me.

Switching to Debian I switched to Debian sometime in 1995 or 1996, and have been using Debian as my primary OS ever since. I continued to offer shell access, but added the WorldVU Atlantis menuing BBS system. This provided a return of a more BBS-like interface (by default; shell was still an uption) as well as some BBS door games such as LoRD and TradeWars 2002, running under DOS emulation. I also continued to run INN, and ran ifgate to allow FidoNet echomail to be presented into INN Usenet-like newsgroups, and netmail to be gated to Unix email. This worked pretty well. The BBS continued to grow in these days, peaking at about two dozen total user accounts, and maybe a dozen regular users.

Dial-up access availability I believe it was in 1996 that dial up PPP access finally became available in my small town. What a thrill! FINALLY! I could now FTP, use Gopher, telnet, and the web all from home. Of course, it was at modem speeds, but still. (Strangely, I have a memory of accessing the Web using WebExplorer from OS/2. I don t know exactly why; it s possible that by this time, I had upgraded to a 486 DX2/66 and was able to reinstall OS/2 on the old 25MHz 486, or maybe something was wrong with the timeline from my memories from 25 years ago above. Or perhaps I made the occasional long-distance call somewhere before I ditched OS/2.) Gopher sites still existed at this point, and I could access them using Netscape Navigator which likely became my standard Gopher client at that point. I don t recall using UMN text-mode gopher client locally at that time, though it s certainly possible I did.

The city Starting when I was 15, I took computer science classes at Wichita State University. The first one was a class in the summer of 1995 on C++. I remember being worried about being good enough for it I was, after all, just after my HS freshman year and had never taken the prerequisite C class. I loved it and got an A! By 1996, I was taking more classes. In 1996 or 1997 I stayed in Wichita during the day due to having more than one class. So, what would I do then but enjoy the computer lab? The CS dept. had two of them: one that had NCD X terminals connected to a pair of SunOS servers, and another one running Windows. I spent most of the time in the Unix lab with the NCDs; I d use Netscape or pine, write code, enjoy the University s fast Internet connection, and so forth. In 1997 I had graduated high school and that summer I moved to Wichita to attend college. As was so often the case, I shut down the BBS at that time. It would be 5 years until I again dealt with Internet at home in a rural community. By the time I moved to my apartment in Wichita, I had stopped using OS/2 entirely. I have no memory of ever having OS/2 there. Along the way, I had bought a Pentium 166, and then the most expensive piece of computing equipment I have ever owned: a DEC Alpha, which, of course, ran Linux.

ISDN I must have used dialup PPP for a time, but I eventually got a job working for the ISP I had used for UUCP, and then PPP. While there, I got a 128Kbps ISDN line installed in my apartment, and they gave me a discount on the service for it. That was around 3x the speed of a modem, and crucially was always on and gave me a public IP. No longer did I have to use UUCP; now I got to host my own things! By at least 1998, I was running a web server on, and I had an FTP server going as well.

Even Bigger Cities In 1999 I moved to Dallas, and there got my first broadband connection: an ADSL link at, I think, 1.5Mbps! Now that was something! But it had some reliability problems. I eventually put together a server and had it hosted at an acquantaince s place who had SDSL in his apartment. Within a couple of years, I had switched to various kinds of proper hosting for it, but that is a whole other article. In Indianapolis, I got a cable modem for the first time, with even tighter speeds but prohibitions on running servers on it. Yuck.

Challenges Being non-Microsoft continued to have challenges. Until the advent of Firefox, a web browser was one of the biggest. While Netscape supported Linux on i386, it didn t support Linux on Alpha. I hobbled along with various attempts at emulators, old versions of Mosaic, and so forth. And, until StarOffice was open-sourced as Open Office, reading Microsoft file formats was also a challenge, though WordPerfect was briefly available for Linux. Over the years, I have become used to the Linux ecosystem. Perhaps I use Gimp instead of Photoshop and digikam instead of well, whatever somebody would use on Windows. But I get ZFS, and containers, and so much that isn t available there. Yes, I know Apple never went away and is a thing, but for most of the time period I discuss in this article, at least after the rise of DOS, it was niche compared to the PC market.

Back to Kansas In 2002, I moved back to Kansas, to a rural home near a different small town in the county next to where I grew up. Over there, it was back to dialup at home, but I had faster access at work. I didn t much care for this, and thus began a 20+-year effort to get broadband in the country. At first, I got a wireless link, which worked well enough in the winter, but had serious problems in the summer when the trees leafed out. Eventually DSL became available locally highly unreliable, but still, it was something. Then I moved back to the community I grew up in, a few miles from where I grew up. Again I got DSL a bit better. But after some years, being at the end of the run of DSL meant I had poor speeds and reliability problems. I eventually switched to various wireless ISPs, which continues to the present day; while people in cities can get Gbps service, I can get, at best, about 50Mbps. Long-distance fees are gone, but the speed disparity remains.

Concluding Reflections I am glad I grew up where I did; the strong community has a lot of advantages I don t have room to discuss here. In a number of very real senses, having no local services made things a lot more difficult than they otherwise would have been. However, perhaps I could say that I also learned a lot through the need to come up with inventive solutions to those challenges. To this day, I think a lot about computing in remote environments: partially because I live in one, and partially because I enjoy visiting places that are remote enough that they have no Internet, phone, or cell service whatsoever. I have written articles like Tools for Communicating Offline and in Difficult Circumstances based on my own personal experience. I instinctively think about making protocols robust in the face of various kinds of connectivity failures because I experience various kinds of connectivity failures myself.

(Almost) Everything Lives On In 2002, Gopher turned 10 years old. It had probably been about 9 or 10 years since I had first used Gopher, which was the first way I got on live Internet from my house. It was hard to believe. By that point, I had an always-on Internet link at home and at work. I had my Alpha, and probably also at least PCMCIA Ethernet for a laptop (many laptops had modems by the 90s also). Despite its popularity in the early 90s, less than 10 years after it came on the scene and started to unify the Internet, it was mostly forgotten. And it was at that moment that I decided to try to resurrect it. The University of Minnesota finally released it under an Open Source license. I wrote the first new gopher server in years, pygopherd, and introduced gopher to Debian. Gopher lives on; there are now quite a few Gopher clients and servers out there, newly started post-2002. The Gemini protocol can be thought of as something akin to Gopher 2.0, and it too has a small but blossoming ecosystem. Archie, the old FTP search tool, is dead though. Same for WAIS and a number of the other pre-web search tools. But still, even FTP lives on today. And BBSs? Well, they didn t go away either. Jason Scott s fabulous BBS documentary looks back at the history of the BBS, while Back to the BBS from last year talks about the modern BBS scene. FidoNet somehow is still alive and kicking. UUCP still has its place and has inspired a whole string of successors. Some, like NNCP, are clearly direct descendents of UUCP. Filespooler lives in that ecosystem, and you can even see UUCP concepts in projects as far afield as Syncthing and Meshtastic. Usenet still exists, and you can now run Usenet over NNCP just as I ran Usenet over UUCP back in the day (which you can still do as well). Telnet, of course, has been largely supplanted by ssh, but the concept is more popular now than ever, as Linux has made ssh be available on everything from Raspberry Pi to Android. And I still run a Gopher server, looking pretty much like it did in 2002. This post also has a permanent home on my website, where it may be periodically updated.

25 August 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RApiSerialize 0.1.2 on CRAN: Small Bugfix

A new bug fix release 0.1.2 of RApiSerialize got onto CRAN earlier. It follows on the 0.1.1 release from earlier this month, and addresses a minor build issue where an error message, only in the case of missing long vector support, tried to use an i18n macro that is not supplied by the build. The RApiSerialize package is used by both my RcppRedis as well as by Travers excellent qs package. Neither one of us has a need to switch to format 3 yet so format 2 remains the default. But along with other standard updates to package internals, it was straightforward to offer the newer format so that is what we did.

Changes in version 0.1.2 (2022-08-25)
  • Correct an error() call (when missing long vector support) to not use i18n macro

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is also a diffstat to the previous version. More details are at the RApiSerialize page; code, issue tickets etc at the GitHub repository. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

23 August 2022

Ian Jackson: prefork-interp - automatic startup time amortisation for all manner of scripts

The problem I had - Mason, so, sadly, FastCGI Since the update to current Debian stable, the website for YARRG, (a play-aid for Puzzle Pirates which I wrote some years ago), started to occasionally return Internal Server Error , apparently due to bug(s) in some FastCGI libraries. I was using FastCGI because the website is written in Mason, a Perl web framework, and I found that Mason CGI calls were slow. I m using CGI - yes, trad CGI - via userv-cgi. Running Mason this way would compile the template for each HTTP request just when it was rendered, and then throw the compiled version away. The more modern approach of an application server doesn t scale well to a system which has many web applications most of which are very small. The admin overhead of maintaining a daemon, and corresponding webserver config, for each such service would be prohibitive, even with some kind of autoprovisioning setup. FastCGI has an interpreter wrapper which seemed like it ought to solve this problem, but it s quite inconvenient, and often flaky. I decided I could do better, and set out to eliminate FastCGI from my setup. The result seems to be a success; once I d done all the hard work of writing prefork-interp, I found the result very straightforward to deploy. prefork-interp prefork-interp is a small C program which wraps a script, plus a scripting language library to cooperate with the wrapper program. Together they achieve the following: Features: Important properties not always satisfied by competing approaches: Swans paddling furiously The implementation is much more complicated than the (apparent) interface. I won t go into all the details here (there are some terrifying diagrams in the source code if you really want), but some highlights: We use an AF_UNIX socket (hopefully in /run/user/UID, but in ~ if not) for rendezvous. We can try to connect without locking, but we must protect the socket with a separate lockfile to avoid two concurrent restart attempts. We want stderr from the script setup (pre-initialisation) to be delivered to the caller, so the script ought to inherit our stderr and then will need to replace it later. Twice, in fact, because the daemonic server process can t have a stderr. When a script is restarted for any reason, any old socket will be removed. We want the old server process to detect that and quit. (If hung about, it would wait for the idle timeout; if this happened a lot - eg, a constantly changing set of services - we might end up running out of pids or something.) Spotting the socket disappearing, without polling, involves use of a library capable of using inotify (or the equivalent elsewhere). Choosing a C library to do this is not so hard, but portable interfaces to this functionality can be hard to find in scripting languages, and also we don t want every language binding to have to reimplement these checks. So for this purpose there s a little watcher process, and associated IPC. When an invoking instance of prefork-interp is killed, we must arrange for the executing service instance to stop reading from its stdin (and, ideally, writing its stdout). Otherwise it s stealing input from prefork-interp s successors (maybe the user s shell)! Cleanup ought not to depend on positive actions by failing processes, so each element of the system has to detect failures of its peers by means such as EOF on sockets/pipes. Obtaining prefork-interp I put this new tool in my chiark-utils package, which is a collection of useful miscellany. It s available from git. Currently I make releases by uploading to Debian, where prefork-interp has just hit Debian unstable, in chiark-utils 7.0.0. Support for other scripting languages I would love Python to be supported. If any pythonistas reading this think you might like to help out, please get in touch. The specification for the protocol, and what the script library needs to do, is documented in the source code Future plans for chiark-utils chiark-utils as a whole is in need of some tidying up of its build system and packaging. I intend to try to do some reorganisation. Currently I think it would be better to organising the source tree more strictly with a directory for each included facility, rather than grouping compiled and scripts together. The Debian binary packages should be reorganised more fully according to their dependencies, so that installing a program will ensure that it works. I should probably move the official git repo from my own git+gitweb to a forge (so we can have MRs and issues and so on). And there should be a lot more testing, including Debian autopkgtests.
edited 2022-08-23 10:30 +01:00 to improve the formatting

comment count unavailable comments

22 August 2022

Simon Josefsson: Static network config with Debian Cloud images

I self-host some services on virtual machines (VMs), and I m currently using Debian 11.x as the host machine relying on the libvirt infrastructure to manage QEMU/KVM machines. While everything has worked fine for years (including on Debian 10.x), there has always been one issue causing a one-minute delay every time I install a new VM: the default images run a DHCP client that never succeeds in my environment. I never found out a way to disable DHCP in the image, and none of the documented ways through cloud-init that I have tried worked. A couple of days ago, after reading the AlmaLinux wiki I found a solution that works with Debian. The following commands creates a Debian VM with static network configuration without the annoying one-minute DHCP delay. The three essential cloud-init keywords are the NoCloud meta-data parameters dsmode:local, static network-interfaces setting combined with the user-data bootcmd keyword. I m using a Raptor CS Talos II ppc64el machine, so replace the image link with a genericcloud amd64 image if you are using x86.
cp debian-11-generic-ppc64el.qcow2 foo.qcow2
dsmode: local
 iface enp0s1 inet static
fqdn: foo.mydomain
manage_etc_hosts: true
disable_root: false
ssh_pwauth: false
- ssh-ed25519 AAAA...
timezone: Europe/Stockholm
- rm -f /run/network/interfaces.d/enp0s1
- ifup enp0s1
virt-install --name foo --import --os-variant debian10 --disk foo.qcow2 --cloud-init meta-data=meta-data,user-data=user-data
Unfortunately virt-install from Debian 11 does not support the cloud-init network-config parameter, so if you want to use a version 2 network configuration with cloud-init (to specify IPv6 addresses, for example) you need to replace the final virt-install command with the following.
version: 2
   dhcp4: false
   addresses: [, fc00::14/7 ]
   gateway6: fc00::12
    addresses: [, fc00::12 ]
cloud-localds -v -m local --network-config=network_config_static.cfg seed.iso user-data
virt-install --name foo --import --os-variant debian10 --disk foo.qcow2 --disk seed.iso,readonly=on --noreboot
virsh start foo
virsh detach-disk foo vdb --config
virsh console foo
There are still some warnings like the following, but it does not seem to cause any problem: [FAILED] Failed to start Initial cloud-init job (pre-networking). Finally, if you do not want the cloud-init tools installed in your VMs, I found the following set of additional user-data commands helpful. Cloud-init will not be enabled on first boot and a cron job will be added that purges some unwanted packages.
- touch /etc/cloud/cloud-init.disabled
- apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade -uy && apt-get autoremove --yes --purge && printf '#!/bin/sh\n  rm /etc/cloud/cloud-init.disabled /etc/cloud/cloud.cfg.d/01_debian_cloud.cfg && apt-get purge --yes cloud-init cloud-guest-utils cloud-initramfs-growroot genisoimage isc-dhcp-client && apt-get autoremove --yes --purge && rm -f /etc/cron.hourly/cloud-cleanup && shutdown --reboot +1;   2>&1   logger -t cloud-cleanup\n' > /etc/cron.hourly/cloud-cleanup && chmod +x /etc/cron.hourly/cloud-cleanup && reboot &
The production script I m using is a bit more complicated, but can be downloaded as vello-vm. Happy hacking!

4 August 2022

Jamie McClelland: Fine tuning Thunderbird's end-to-end encryption

I love that Thunderbird really tackled OpenPGP head on and incorporated it directly into the client. I know it s been a bit rough for some users, but I think it s a good long term investment. And to demonstrate I ll now complain about a minor issue :). I replied to an encrypted message but couldn t send the response using encryption. I got an error message indicating that End-to-end encryption requires resolving certificate issues for and it listed the recipient email address. Screen shot of error message saying: End-to-end encryption requires resolving certificate issues for I spent an enormous amount of time examining the recipient s OpenPGP key. I made sure it was not expired. I made sure it was actually in my Thunderbird key store not just in my OpenPGP keychain. I made sure I had indicated that I trust it enough to use. I re-downloaded it. I eventually gave up and didn t send the email. Then I responded to another encrypted email and it worked. What!?!? I spent more time comparing the recipients before I realized the problem was the sending address, not the recipient address. I have an OpenPGP key that lists several identities. I have a Thunderbird Account that uses the Identities feature to add several from addresses. And, it turns out that in Thunderbird, you need to indicate which OpenPGP key to use for your main account but also for each identity. When you drill down to Manage Identities for your account, you are able to indicate which OpenPGP key you want to use for each identity. Once I indicated that each identity should use my OpenPGP key, the issue was resolved. And here s my Thunderbird bug asking for an error message pointing to the sender address, not the recipient address.

Jamie McClelland: Fine tuning Thunderbird's end-to-end encryption

I love that Thunderbird really tackled OpenPGP head on and incorporated it directly into the client. I know it s been a bit rough for some users, but I think it s a good long term investment. And to demonstrate I ll now complain about a minor issue :). I replied to an encrypted message but couldn t send the response using encryption. I got an error message indicating that End-to-end encryption requires resolving certificate issues for and it listed the recipient email address. “Screen shot of error message saying: End-to-end encryption requires resolving certificate issues for [blacked out email address]” I spent an enormous amount of time examining the recipient s OpenPGP key. I made sure it was not expired. I made sure it was actually in my Thunderbird key store not just in my OpenPGP keychain. I made sure I had indicated that I trust it enough to use. I re-downloaded it. I eventually gave up and didn t send the email. Then I responded to another encrypted email and it worked. What!?!? I spent more time comparing the recipients before I realized the problem was the sending address, not the recipient address. I have an OpenPGP key that lists several identities. I have a Thunderbird Account that uses the Identities feature to add several from addresses. And, it turns out that in Thunderbird, you need to indicate which OpenPGP key to use for your main account but also for each identity. When you drill down to Manage Identities for your account, you are able to indicate which OpenPGP key you want to use for each identity. Once I indicated that each identity should use my OpenPGP key, the issue was resolved. And here s my Thunderbird bug asking for an error message pointing to the sender address, not the recipient address.

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in July 2022

Welcome to the July 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In our reports we attempt to outline the most relevant things that have been going on in the past month. As a brief introduction, the reproducible builds effort is concerned with ensuring no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the project, please visit our Contribute page on our website.

Reproducible Builds summit 2022 Despite several delays, we are pleased to announce that registration is open for our in-person summit this year: November 1st November 3rd
The event will happen in Venice (Italy). We intend to pick a venue reachable via the train station and an international airport. However, the precise venue will depend on the number of attendees. Please see the announcement email for information about how to register.

Is reproducibility practical? Ludovic Court s published an informative blog post this month asking the important question: Is reproducibility practical?:
Our attention was recently caught by a nice slide deck on the methods and tools for reproducible research in the R programming language. Among those, the talk mentions Guix, stating that it is for professional, sensitive applications that require ultimate reproducibility , which is probably a bit overkill for Reproducible Research . While we were flattered to see Guix suggested as good tool for reproducibility, the very notion that there s a kind of reproducibility that is ultimate and, essentially, impractical, is something that left us wondering: What kind of reproducibility do scientists need, if not the ultimate kind? Is reproducibility practical at all, or is it more of a horizon?
The post goes on to outlines the concept of reproducibility, situating examples within the context of the GNU Guix operating system.

diffoscope diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 218, 219 and 220 to Debian, as well as made the following changes:
  • New features:
  • Bug fixes:
    • Fix a regression introduced in version 207 where diffoscope would crash if one directory contained a directory that wasn t in the other. Thanks to Alderico Gallo for the testcase. [ ]
    • Don t traceback if we encounter an invalid Unicode character in Haskell versioning headers. [ ]
  • Output improvements:
  • Codebase improvements:
    • Space out a file a little. [ ]
    • Update various copyright years. [ ]

Mailing list On our mailing list this month:
  • Roland Clobus posted his Eleventh status update about reproducible [Debian] live-build ISO images, noting amongst many other things! that all major desktops build reproducibly with bullseye, bookworm and sid.
  • Santiago Torres-Arias announced a Call for Papers (CfP) for a new SCORED conference, an academic workshop around software supply chain security . As Santiago highlights, this new conference invites reviewers from industry, open source, governement and academia to review the papers [and] I think that this is super important to tackle the supply chain security task .

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. This month, however, we submitted the following patches:

Reprotest reprotest is the Reproducible Builds project s end-user tool to build the same source code twice in widely and deliberate different environments, and checking whether the binaries produced by the builds have any differences. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Uploaded version 0.7.21 to Debian unstable as well as mark 0.7.22 development in the repository [ ].
    • Make diffoscope dependency unversioned as the required version is met even in Debian buster. [ ]
    • Revert an accidentally committed hunk. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Apply a patch from Nick Rosbrook to not force the tests to run only against Python 3.9. [ ]
    • Run the tests through pybuild in order to run them against all supported Python 3.x versions. [ ]
    • Fix a deprecation warning in the setup.cfg file. [ ]
    • Close a new Debian bug. [ ]

Reproducible builds website A number of changes were made to the Reproducible Builds website and documentation this month, including:
  • Arnout Engelen:
  • Chris Lamb:
    • Correct some grammar. [ ]
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Add talk from FOSDEM 2015 presented by Holger and Lunar. [ ]
    • Show date of presentations if we have them. [ ][ ]
    • Add my presentation from DebConf22 [ ] and from Debian Reunion Hamburg 2022 [ ].
    • Add dhole to the speakers of the DebConf15 talk. [ ]
    • Add raboof s talk Reproducible Builds for Trustworthy Binaries from May Contain Hackers. [ ]
    • Drop some Debian-related suggested ideas which are not really relevant anymore. [ ]
    • Add a link to list of packages with patches ready to be NMUed. [ ]
  • Mattia Rizzolo:
    • Add information about our upcoming event in Venice. [ ][ ][ ][ ]

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, Holger Levsen made the following changes:
  • Debian-related changes:
    • Create graphs displaying existing .buildinfo files per each Debian suite/arch. [ ][ ]
    • Fix a typo in the Debian dashboard. [ ][ ]
    • Fix some issues in the pkg-r package set definition. [ ][ ][ ]
    • Improve the builtin-pho HTML output. [ ][ ][ ][ ]
    • Temporarily disable all live builds as our snapshot mirror is offline. [ ]
  • Automated node health checks:
    • Detect dpkg failures. [ ]
    • Detect files with bad UNIX permissions. [ ]
    • Relax a regular expression in order to detect Debian Live image build failures. [ ]
  • Misc changes:
    • Test that FreeBSD virtual machine has been updated to version 13.1. [ ]
    • Add a reminder about powercycling the armhf-architecture mst0X node. [ ]
    • Fix a number of typos. [ ][ ]
    • Update documentation. [ ][ ]
    • Fix Munin monitoring configuration for some nodes. [ ]
    • Fix the static IP address for a node. [ ]
In addition, Vagrant Cascadian updated host keys for the cbxi4pro0 and wbq0 nodes [ ] and, finally, node maintenance was also performed by Mattia Rizzolo [ ] and Holger Levsen [ ][ ][ ].

Contact As ever, if you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

30 July 2022

Ian Jackson: chiark s skip-skip-cross-up-grade

Two weeks ago I upgraded chiark from Debian jessie i386 to bullseye amd64, after nearly 30 years running Debian i386. This went really quite well, in fact! Background chiark is my colo - a server I run, which lives in a data centre in London. It hosts ~200 users with shell accounts, various websites and mailing lists, moderators for a number of USENET newsgroups, and countless other services. chiark s internal setup is designed to enable my users to do a maximum number of exciting things with a minimum of intervention from me. chiark s OS install dates to 1993, when I installed Debian 0.93R5, the first version of Debian to advertise the ability to be upgraded without reinstalling. I think that makes it one of the oldest Debian installations in existence. Obviously it s had several new hardware platforms too. (There was a prior install of Linux on the initial hardware, remnants of which can maybe still be seen in some obscure corners of chiark s /usr/local.) chiark s install is also at the very high end of the installation complexity, and customisation, scale: reinstalling it completely would be an enormous amount of work. And it s unique. chiark s upgrade history chiark s last major OS upgrade was to jessie (Debian 8, released in April 2015). That was in 2016. Since then we have been relying on Debian s excellent security support posture, and the Debian LTS and more recently Freexian s Debian ELTS projects and some local updates, The use of ELTS - which supports only a subset of packages - was particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, chiark was installed with 32-bit x86 Linux (Debian i386), since that was what was supported and available at the time. But 32-bit is looking very long in the tooth. Why do a skip upgrade So, I wanted to move to the fairly recent stable release - Debian 11 (bullseye), which is just short of a year old. And I wanted to crossgrade (as its called) to 64-bit. In the past, I have found I have had greater success by doing direct upgrades, skipping intermediate releases, rather than by following the officially-supported path of going via every intermediate release. Doing a skip upgrade avoids exposure to any packaging bugs which were present only in intermediate release(s). Debian does usually fix bugs, but Debian has many cautious users, so it is not uncommon for bugs to be found after release, and then not be fixed until the next one. A skip upgrade avoids the need to try to upgrade to already-obsolete releases (which can involve messing about with multiple snapshots from It is also significantly faster and simpler, which is important not only because it reduces downtime, but also because it removes opportunities (and reduces the time available) for things to go badly. One downside is that sometimes maintainers aggressively remove compatibility measures for older releases. (And compatibililty packages are generally removed quite quickly by even cautious maintainers.) That means that the sysadmin who wants to skip-upgrade needs to do more manual fixing of things that haven t been dealt with automatically. And occasionally one finds compatibility problems that show up only when mixing very old and very new software, that no-one else has seen. Crossgrading Crossgrading is fairly complex and hazardous. It is well supported by the low level tools (eg, dpkg) but the higher-level packaging tools (eg, apt) get very badly confused. Nowadays the system is so complex that downloading things by hand and manually feeding them to dpkg is impractical, other than as a very occasional last resort. The approach, generally, has been to set the system up to want to be the new architecture, run apt in a download-only mode, and do the package installation manually, with some fixing up and retrying, until the system is coherent enough for apt to work. This is the approach I took. (In current releases, there are tools that will help but they are only in recent releases and I wanted to go direct. I also doubted that they would work properly on chiark, since it s so unusual.) Peril and planning Overall, this was a risky strategy to choose. The package dependencies wouldn t necessarily express all of the sequencing needed. But it still seemed that if I could come up with a working recipe, I could do it. I restored most of one of chiark s backups onto a scratch volume on my laptop. With the LVM snapshot tools and chroots. I was able to develop and test a set of scripts that would perform the upgrade. This was a very effective approach: my super-fast laptop, with local caches of the package repositories, was able to do many edit, test, debug cycles. My recipe made heavy use of, to make sure that it wouldn t rot between testing and implementation. When I had a working scheme, I told my users about the planned downtime. I warned everyone it might take even 2 or 3 days. I made sure that my access arrangemnts to the data centre were in place, in case I needed to visit in person. (I have remote serial console and power cycler access.) Reality - the terrible rescue install My first task on taking the service down was the check that the emergency rescue installation worked: chiark has an ancient USB stick in the back, which I can boot to from the BIOS. The idea being that many things that go wrong could be repaired from there. I found that that install was too old to understand chiark s storage arrangements. mdadm tools gave very strange output. So I needed to upgrade it. After some experiments, I rebooted back into the main install, bringing chiark s service back online. I then used the main install of chiark as a kind of meta-rescue-image for the rescue-image. The process of getting the rescue image upgraded (not even to amd64, but just to something not totally ancient) was fraught. Several times I had to rescue it by copying files in from the main install outside. And, the rescue install was on a truly ancient 2G USB stick which was terribly terribly slow, and also very small. I hadn t done any significant planning for this subtask, because it was low-risk: there was little way to break the main install. Due to all these adverse factors, sorting out the rescue image took five hours. If I had known how long it would take, at the beginning, I would have skipped it. 5 hours is more than it would have taken to go to London and fix something in person. Reality - the actual core upgrade I was able to start the actual upgrade in the mid-afternoon. I meticulously checked and executed the steps from my plan. The terrifying scripts which sequenced the critical package updates ran flawlessly. Within an hour or so I had a system which was running bullseye amd64, albeit with many important packages still missing or unconfigured. So I didn t need the rescue image after all, nor to go to the datacentre. Fixing all the things Then I had to deal with all the inevitable fallout from an upgrade. Notable incidents: exim4 has a new tainting system This is to try to help the sysadmin avoid writing unsafe string interpolations. ( Little Bobby Tables. ) This was done by Exim upstream in a great hurry as part of a security response process. The new checks meant that the mail configuration did not work at all. I had to turn off the taint check completely. I m fairly confident that this is correct, because I am hyper-aware of quoting issues and all of my configuration is written to avoid the problems that tainting is supposed to avoid. One particular annoyance is that the approach taken for sqlite lookups makes it totally impossible to use more than one sqlite database. I think the sqlite quoting operator which one uses to interpolate values produces tainted output? I need to investigate this properly. LVM now ignores PVs which are directly contained within LVs by default chiark has LVM-on-RAID-on-LVM. This generally works really well. However, there was one edge case where I ended up without the intermediate RAID layer. The result is LVM-on-LVM. But recent versions of the LVM tools do not look at PVs inside LVs, by default. This is to help you avoid corrupting the state of any VMs you have on your system. I didn t know that at the time, though. All I knew was that LVM was claiming my PV was unusable , and wouldn t explain why. I was about to start on a thorough reading of the 15,000-word essay that is the commentary in the default /etc/lvm/lvm.conf to try to see if anything was relevant, when I received a helpful tipoff on IRC pointing me to the scan_lvs option. I need to file a bug asking for the LVM tools to explain why they have declared a PV unuseable. apache2 s default config no longer read one of my config files I had to do a merge (of my changes vs the maintainers changes) for /etc/apache2/apache2.conf. When doing this merge I failed to notice that the file /etc/apache2/conf.d/httpd.conf was no longer included by default. My merge dropped that line. There were some important things in there, and until I found this the webserver was broken. dpkg --skip-same-version DTWT during a crossgrade (This is not a fix all the things - I found it when developing my upgrade process.) When doing a crossgrade, one often wants to say to dpkg install all these things, but don t reinstall things that have already been done . That s what --skip-same-version is for. However, the logic had not been updated as part of the work to support multiarch, so it was wrong. I prepared a patched version of dpkg, and inserted it in the appropriate point in my prepared crossgrade plan. The patch is now filed as bug #1014476 against dpkg upstream Mailman Mailman is no longer in bullseye. It s only available in the previous release, buster. bullseye has Mailman 3 which is a totally different system - requiring basically, a completely new install and configuration. To even preserve existing archive links (a very important requirement) is decidedly nontrivial. I decided to punt on this whole situation. Currently chiark is running buster s version of Mailman. I will have to deal with this at some point and I m not looking forward to it. Python Of course that Mailman is Python 2. The Python project s extremely badly handled transition includes a recommendation to change the meaning of #!/usr/bin/python from Python 2, to Python 3. But Python 3 is a new language, barely compatible with Python 2 even in the most recent iterations of both, and it is usual to need to coinstall them. Happily Debian have provided the python-is-python2 package to make things work sensibly, albeit with unpleasant imprecations in the package summary description. USENET news Oh my god. INN uses many non-portable data formats, which just depend on your C types. And there are complicated daemons, statically linked libraries which cache on-disk data, and much to go wrong. I had numerous problems with this, and several outages and malfunctions. I may write about that on a future occasion.
(edited 2022-07-20 11:36 +01:00 and 2022-07-30 12:28+01:00 to fix typos)

comment count unavailable comments

28 July 2022

Dominique Dumont: How I investigated connection hogs on Kubernetes

Hi My name is Dominhique Dumont, DevOps freelance in Grenoble, France. My goal is to share my experience regarding a production issue that occurred last week where my client complained that the applications was very slow and sometime showed 5xx errors. The production service is hosted on a Kubernetes cluster on Azure and use a MongoDB on ScaleGrid. I reproduced the issue on my side and found that the API calls were randomly failing due to timeouts on server side. The server logs were showing some MongoDB disconnections and reconnections and some time-out on MongoDB connections, but did not give any clue on why some connections to MongoDB server were failing. Since there was not clue in the cluster logs, I looked at ScaleGrid monitoring. There was about 2500 connections on MongoDB: 2022-07-19-scalegrid-connection-leak.png That seemed quite a lot given the low traffic at that time, but not necessarily a problem. Then, I went to the Azure console, and I got the first hint about the origin of the problem: the SNATs were exhausted on some nodes of the clusters. 2022-07-28_no-more-free-snat.png SNATs are involved in connections from the cluster to the outside world, i.e. to our MongoDB server and are quite limited: only 1024 SNAT ports are available per node. This was consistent with the number of used connections on MongoDB. OK, then the number of used connections on MongoDB was a real problem. The next question was: which pods and how many connections ? First I had to filter out the pods that did not use MongoDB. Fortunately, all our pods have labels so I could list all pods using MongoDB:
$ kubectl -n prod get pods -l db=mongo   wc -l
Hmm, still quite a lot. Next problem is to check which pod used too many MongoDB connections. Unfortunately, the logs mentioned that a connection to MongoDB was opened, but that did not give a clue on how many were used. Netstat is not installed on the pods, and cannot be installed since the pods are running as root (which is a good idea for security reasons) Then, my Debian Developer experience kicked in and I remembered that /proc file system on Linux gives a lot of information on consumed kernel resources, including resources consumed by each process. The trick is to know the PID of the process using the connections. In our case, Docker files are written in a way so the main process of a pod using NodeJS is 1, so, the command to list the connections of pod is:
$ kubectl -n prod exec redacted-pod-name-69875496f8-8bj4f -- cat /proc/1/net/tcp
  sl  local_address rem_address   st tx_queue rx_queue tr tm->when retrnsmt   uid  timeout inode                                                     
   0: AC00F00A:C9FA C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000DA9 00000000  1001        0 376439162 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   1: AC00F00A:CA00 C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000E76 00000000  1001        0 376439811 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   2: AC00F00A:8ED0 C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:000004DA 00000000  1001        0 445806350 2 0000000000000000 21 4 30 10 -1                
   3: AC00F00A:CA02 C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:000000DD 00000000  1001        0 376439812 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   4: AC00F00A:C9FE C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000DA9 00000000  1001        0 376439810 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   5: AC00F00A:8760 C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000810 00000000  1001        0 375803096 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   6: AC00F00A:C9FC C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000DA9 00000000  1001        0 376439809 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   7: AC00F00A:C56C C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000DA9 00000000  1001        0 376167298 2 0000000000000000 21 4 0 10 -1                 
   8: AC00F00A:883C C2906714:6989 01 00000000:00000000 02:00000734 00000000  1001        0 375823415 2 0000000000000000 21 4 30 10 -1 
OK, that s less appealing that netstat output. The trick is that rem_address and port are expressed in hexa. A quick calculation confirms the port 0x6989 is indeed port 27017, which is the listening port of MongoDB server. So the number of opened MongoDB connections is given by:
$ kubectl -n prod exec redacted-pod-name-69875496f8-8bj4f -- cat /proc/1/net/tcp   grep :6989   wc -l
What s next ? The ideal solution would be to fix the NodeJS code to handle correctly the termination of the connections, but that would have taken too long to develop. So I ve written a small Perl script to: Why restart a deployment instead of simply deleting the gluttonous pods? I wanted to avoid downtime if all pods of a deployment were to be killed. There s no downtime when applying rollout restart command on deployments. This script is now run regularly until the connections issue is fixed for good in NodeJS code. Thanks to this script, there s no need to rush a code modification. All in all, working around this connections issues was made somewhat easier thanks to:

27 July 2022

Vincent Bernat: ClickHouse SF Bay Area Meetup: Akvorado

Here are the slides I presented for a ClickHouse SF Bay Area Meetup in July 2022, hosted by Altinity. They are about Akvorado, a network flow collector and visualizer, and notably on how it relies on ClickHouse, a column-oriented database.
The meetup was recorded and available on YouTube. Here is the part relevant to my presentation, with subtitles:1
I got a few questions about how to get information from the higher layers, like HTTP. As my use case for Akvorado was at the network edge, my answers were mostly negative. However, as sFlow is extensible, when collecting flows from Linux servers instead, you could embed additional data and they could be exported as well. I also got a question about doing aggregation in a single table. ClickHouse can aggregate automatically data using TTL. My answer for not doing that is partial. There is another reason: the retention periods of the various tables may overlap. For example, the main table keeps data for 15 days, but even in these 15 days, if I do a query on a 12-hour window, it is faster to use the flows_1m0s aggregated table, unless I request something about ports and IP addresses.

  1. To generate the subtitles, I have used Amazon Transcribe, the speech-to-text solution from Amazon AWS. Unfortunately, there is no en-FR language available, which would have been useful for my terrible accent. While the subtitles were 100% accurate when the host, Robert Hodge from Altinity, was speaking, the success rate on my talk was quite lower. I had to rewrite almost all sentences. However, using speech-to-text is still useful to get the timings, as it is also something requiring a lot of work to do manually.

20 July 2022

Enrico Zini: Deconstruction of the DAM hat

Further reading Talk notes Intro Debian Account Managers Responsibility for official membership What DAM is not Unexpected responsibilities DAM warnings DAM warnings? House rules Interpreting house rules Governance by bullying How about the Community Team? How about DAM? How about the DPL? Concentrating responsibility Empowering developers What needs to happen

16 July 2022

Petter Reinholdtsen: Automatic LinuxCNC servo PID tuning?

While working on a CNC with servo motors controlled by the LinuxCNC PID controller, I recently had to learn how to tune the collection of values that control such mathematical machinery that a PID controller is. It proved to be a lot harder than I hoped, and I still have not succeeded in getting the Z PID controller to successfully defy gravity, nor X and Y to move accurately and reliably. But while climbing up this rather steep learning curve, I discovered that some motor control systems are able to tune their PID controllers. I got the impression from the documentation that LinuxCNC were not. This proved to be not true The LinuxCNC pid component is the recommended PID controller to use. It uses eight constants Pgain, Igain, Dgain, bias, FF0, FF1, FF2 and FF3 to calculate the output value based on current and wanted state, and all of these need to have a sensible value for the controller to behave properly. Note, there are even more values involved, theser are just the most important ones. In my case I need the X, Y and Z axes to follow the requested path with little error. This has proved quite a challenge for someone who have never tuned a PID controller before, but there is at least some help to be found. I discovered that included in LinuxCNC was this old PID component at_pid claiming to have auto tuning capabilities. Sadly it had been neglected since 2011, and could not be used as a plug in replacement for the default pid component. One would have to rewriting the LinuxCNC HAL setup to test at_pid. This was rather sad, when I wanted to quickly test auto tuning to see if it did a better job than me at figuring out good P, I and D values to use. I decided to have a look if the situation could be improved. This involved trying to understand the code and history of the pid and at_pid components. Apparently they had a common ancestor, as code structure, comments and variable names were quite close to each other. Sadly this was not reflected in the git history, making it hard to figure out what really happened. My guess is that the author of at_pid.c took a version of pid.c, rewrote it to follow the structure he wished pid.c to have, then added support for auto tuning and finally got it included into the LinuxCNC repository. The restructuring and lack of early history made it harder to figure out which part of the code were relevant to the auto tuning, and which part of the code needed to be updated to work the same way as the current pid.c implementation. I started by trying to isolate relevant changes in pid.c, and applying them to at_pid.c. My aim was to make sure the at_pid component could replace the pid component with a simple change in the HAL setup loadrt line, without having to "rewire" the rest of the HAL configuration. After a few hours following this approach, I had learned quite a lot about the code structure of both components, while concluding I was heading down the wrong rabbit hole, and should get back to the surface and find a different path. For the second attempt, I decided to throw away all the PID control related part of the original at_pid.c, and instead isolate and lift the auto tuning part of the code and inject it into a copy of pid.c. This ensured compatibility with the current pid component, while adding auto tuning as a run time option. To make it easier to identify the relevant parts in the future, I wrapped all the auto tuning code with '#ifdef AUTO_TUNER'. The end result behave just like the current pid component by default, as that part of the code is identical. The end result entered the LinuxCNC master branch a few days ago. To enable auto tuning, one need to set a few HAL pins in the PID component. The most important ones are tune-effort, tune-mode and tune-start. But lets take a step back, and see what the auto tuning code will do. I do not know the mathematical foundation of the at_pid algorithm, but from observation I can tell that the algorithm will, when enabled, produce a square wave pattern centered around the bias value on the output pin of the PID controller. This can be seen using the HAL Scope provided by LinuxCNC. In my case, this is translated into voltage (+-10V) sent to the motor controller, which in turn is translated into motor speed. So at_pid will ask the motor to move the axis back and forth. The number of cycles in the pattern is controlled by the tune-cycles pin, and the extremes of the wave pattern is controlled by the tune-effort pin. Of course, trying to change the direction of a physical object instantly (as in going directly from a positive voltage to the equivalent negative voltage) do not change velocity instantly, and it take some time for the object to slow down and move in the opposite direction. This result in a more smooth movement wave form, as the axis in question were vibrating back and forth. When the axis reached the target speed in the opposing direction, the auto tuner change direction again. After several of these changes, the average time delay between the 'peaks' and 'valleys' of this movement graph is then used to calculate proposed values for Pgain, Igain and Dgain, and insert them into the HAL model to use by the pid controller. The auto tuned settings are not great, but htye work a lot better than the values I had been able to cook up on my own, at least for the horizontal X and Y axis. But I had to use very small tune-effort values, as my motor controllers error out if the voltage change too quickly. I've been less lucky with the Z axis, which is moving a heavy object up and down, and seem to confuse the algorithm. The Z axis movement became a lot better when I introduced a bias value to counter the gravitational drag, but I will have to work a lot more on the Z axis PID values. Armed with this knowledge, it is time to look at how to do the tuning. Lets say the HAL configuration in question load the PID component for X, Y and Z like this:
loadrt pid names=pid.x,pid.y,pid.z
Armed with the new and improved at_pid component, the new line will look like this:
loadrt at_pid names=pid.x,pid.y,pid.z
The rest of the HAL setup can stay the same. This work because the components are referenced by name. If the component had used count=3 instead, all use of pid.# had to be changed to at_pid.#. To start tuning the X axis, move the axis to the middle of its range, to make sure it do not hit anything when it start moving back and forth. Next, set the tune-effort to a low number in the output range. I used 0.1 as my initial value. Next, assign 1 to the tune-mode value. Note, this will disable the pid controlling part and feed 0 to the output pin, which in my case initially caused a lot of drift. In my case it proved to be a good idea with X and Y to tune the motor driver to make sure 0 voltage stopped the motor rotation. On the other hand, for the Z axis this proved to be a bad idea, so it will depend on your setup. It might help to set the bias value to a output value that reduce or eliminate the axis drift. Finally, after setting tune-mode, set tune-start to 1 to activate the auto tuning. If all go well, your axis will vibrate for a few seconds and when it is done, new values for Pgain, Igain and Dgain will be active. To test them, change tune-mode back to 0. Note that this might cause the machine to suddenly jerk as it bring the axis back to its commanded position, which it might have drifted away from during tuning. To summarize with some halcmd lines:
setp pid.x.tune-effort 0.1
setp pid.x.tune-mode 1
setp pid.x.tune-start 1
# wait for the tuning to complete
setp pid.x.tune-mode 0
After doing this task quite a few times while trying to figure out how to properly tune the PID controllers on the machine in, I decided to figure out if this process could be automated, and wrote a script to do the entire tuning process from power on. The end result will ensure the machine is powered on and ready to run, home all axis if it is not already done, check that the extra tuning pins are available, move the axis to its mid point, run the auto tuning and re-enable the pid controller when it is done. It can be run several times. Check out the run-auto-pid-tuner script on github if you want to learn how it is done. My hope is that this little adventure can inspire someone who know more about motor PID controller tuning can implement even better algorithms for automatic PID tuning in LinuxCNC, making life easier for both me and all the others that want to use LinuxCNC but lack the in depth knowledge needed to tune PID controllers well. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

3 July 2022

Martin-Éric Racine: Refactoring Debian's dhcpcd packaging

Given news that ISC's DHCP suite is getting deprecated by upstream and seeing how dhclient has never worked properly for DHCPv6, I decided to look into alternatives. ISC itself recommends Roy Maple's dhcpcd as a migration path. Sadly, Debian's package had been left unattended for a good 2 years. After refactoring the packaging, updating to the latest upstream and performing one NMU, I decided to adopt the package. Numerous issues were exposed in the process: The key advantage of dhcpcd over dhclient is that works as a dual-stack DHCP client by design. With privilege separation enabled, this means separate child processes handling IPv4 and IPv6 configuration and passing the received information to the parent process to configure networking and update /etc/resolv.conf with nameservers for both stacks. Additionally, /etc/network/interfaces no longer needs separate inet and inet6 lines for each DHCP interface, which makes for much cleaner configuration files. A secondary advantage is that the dual-stack includes built-in fallback to Bonjour for IPv4 and SLAAC for IPv6. Basically, unless the interface needs a static IP address, this client handles network configuration in a smart and transparent way. A third advantage is built-in support for DHCPv6 Prefix Delegation. Enabling this requires just two lines in the configuration file. In the long run, I feel that dhcpcd-base should probably replace isc-dhcp-client as the default DHCP client with priority Important. Adequate IPv6 support should come out of the box on a standard Debian installation, yet dhclient never got around implementing that properly.

2 July 2022

Fran ois Marier: Remote logging of Turris Omnia log messages using syslog-ng and rsyslog

As part of debugging an upstream connection problem I've been seeing recently, I wanted to be able to monitor the logs from my Turris Omnia router. Here's how I configured it to send its logs to a server I already had on the local network.

Server setup The first thing I did was to open up my server's rsyslog (Debian's default syslog server) to remote connections since it's going to be the destination host for the router's log messages. I added the following to /etc/rsyslog.d/router.conf:
input(type="imtcp" port="514")
if $fromhost-ip == '' then  
    if $syslogseverity <= 5 then  
        action(type="omfile" file="/var/log/router.log")
This is using the latest rsyslog configuration method: a handy scripting language called RainerScript. Severity level 5 maps to "notice" which consists of unusual non-error conditions, and is of course the IP address of the router on the LAN side. With this, I'm directing all router log messages to a separate file, filtering out anything less important than severity 5. In order for rsyslog to pick up this new configuration file, I restarted it:
systemctl restart rsyslog.service
and checked that it was running correctly (e.g. no syntax errors in the new config file) using:
systemctl status rsyslog.service
Since I added a new log file, I also setup log rotation for it by putting the following in /etc/logrotate.d/router:
    rotate 4
In addition, since I use logcheck to monitor my server logs and email me errors, I had to add /var/log/router.log to /etc/logcheck/logcheck.logfiles. Finally I opened the rsyslog port to the router in my server's firewall by adding the following to /etc/network/iptables.up.rules:
# Allow logs from the router
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 514 -j ACCEPT
and ran iptables-apply. With all of this in place, it was time to get the router to send messages.

Router setup As suggested on the Turris forum, I ssh'ed into my router and added this in /etc/syslog-ng.d/remote.conf:
destination d_loghost  
        network("" time-zone("America/Vancouver"));
source dns  
Setting the timezone to the same as my server was needed because the router messages were otherwise sent with UTC timestamps. To ensure that the destination host always gets the same IP address (, I went to the advanced DHCP configuration page and added a static lease for the server's MAC address so that it always gets assigned If that wasn't already the server's IP address, you'll have to restart it for this to take effect. Finally, I restarted the syslog-ng daemon on the router to pick up the new config file:
/etc/init.d/syslog-ng restart

Testing In order to test this configuration, I opened three terminal windows:
  1. tail -f /var/log/syslog on the server
  2. tail -f /var/log/router.log on the server
  3. tail -f /var/log/messages on the router
I immediately started to see messages from the router in the third window and some of these, not all because of my severity-5 filter, were flowing to the second window as well. Also important is that none of the messages make it to the first window, otherwise log messages from the router would be mixed in with the server's own logs. That's the purpose of the stop command in /etc/rsyslog.d/router.conf. To force a log messages to be emitted by the router, simply ssh into it and issue the following command:
logger Test
It should show up in the second and third windows immediately if you've got everything setup correctly