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Steve Kemp: Replacing ugly things would save the world many hours

Wed, 05/03/2014 - 19:56

There are some tools that we use daily, whether we realize it or not, that are unduly ugly. Over time you learn to use them and you forget just how hard they are to learn, and you take it for granted.

Today I had to guide somebody through using procmail, and I'd forgotten how annoying it is.

In brief I use procmail in three ways, each of which I had to document:

  • Run a command, given a new email, and replace the original email with the output of that command.
  • Run a command, silently. Just for fun.
  • Match a regular expression on a header-field, and file accordingly.
    • Later extended to matching regexps on multiple headers. ("AND" + "OR" )

There are some projects that are too entrenched to ever be replaced ("make", I'm looking at you), but procmail? I reckon there's a chance a replacement would be useful, quickly.

Then again, maybe I'm biased.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Anti-social coding

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 12:12

I get all excited when I load up Github's front-page and see something like:

"robyn has forked skx/xxx to robyn/xxx"

I wonder what they will do, what changes do they have in mind?

Days pass, and no commits happen.

Anti-social coding: Cloning the code, I guess in case I delete my repository, but not intending to make any changes.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Some direction, some distraction

Thu, 27/02/2014 - 14:21

It seems that several people replied to the effect that they would pay people to take care of applying security updates, or even configuring adhoc things such as wikis, graphite, and MySQL.

Not enough people to rely upon, but perhaps there is scope for remote stuff being done in exchange for folding-money. (Of course some of those that replied are in foreign countries which makes receiving payment an annoyance, that's a separate problem though.)

Food for thought.

In the meantime I've settled into my use of lighttpd, which I've recently migrated to.

One interesting thing is that you can set your own "Server Name" directive:

# Set server name/version server.tag = "lighttpd/(steve)"

This value is used by mod_dirlisting, so for example if you examine a directory which doesn't contain an index.html file you see the server-name. Cute.

Well cute unless, or until, somebody sets:

# Set server name/version server.tag = "<script>alert(3)</script>"

That does indeed show javascript to all your visitors. Not a security problem itself, as you need to be root on the remote site. If you're root in the remote server you could just modify the actual HTML pages being served to include your javascript. That said it's a little icky.

The following patch avoids the issue:

--- mod_dirlisting.c.org 2014-02-26 00:14:43.296373275 +0000 +++ mod_dirlisting.c 2014-02-26 00:16:28.332371547 +0000 @@ -618,7 +618,7 @@ } else if (buffer_is_empty(con->conf.server_tag)) { buffer_append_string_len(out, CONST_STR_LEN(PACKAGE_DESC)); } else { - buffer_append_string_buffer(out, con->conf.server_tag); + buffer_append_string_encoded(out, CONST_BUF_LEN(con->conf.server_tag), ENCODING_HTML); } buffer_append_string_len(out, CONST_STR_LEN(
Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: What do you pay for, and what would you pay for?

Tue, 25/02/2014 - 15:30

There are times when I consider launching my own company again, most often when it is late at night and the inpetitude of so many other companies gets me too worked up. Then I sit back and think about details and write it off.

I've worked for myself in the past a couple of times, and each time it was both more fun and more difficult than expected. Getting a couple of clients is usually easy, getting a ten more is common, but getting "many" is hard and getting "lots" is something I've never done - lots of users for free sites though, along with the associated support burdon!

So the though dies away once I sit down and work out the net profit I'd need to live. My expenses are low, so let us pretend I can easily live on £1000 a month. So the "company" has to make more than that, to cover costs, but perhaps not much.

Pretend you were offering DNS hosting you'd probably be able to implement that easily on, say 10, virtual machines, net of £150 a month. Imagine clients pay £5 for an unlimited number of domains that means you need to have 1000+150/5 = 230 clients. Not impossible, but also not easy.

Pretend instead you're offering backup space, and the numbers get bigger because disk is expensive. Again getting some users would be easy, but getting lots would be hard because your competition is dropbox, skydrive, etc, etc.

Once you start thinking of "ideas" they come easily, but the hard part is being realistic about what people would pay for. As always the idea is the easy part, the execution is the hardest part. Realistically if I were to be desperate to work for myself at short notic I'd do the obvious thing - I'd buy a pair of ladders, a bucket, and clean windows. Low overheads, reasonable demand, and I'd be both "fit" and "outdoors".

When it comes to paying for online services off the top of my head I personally pay for maybe two things, both of them niche (although profitable for their providers I'm sure), and I know many people who live on the internet but pay for nothing.

For example I'm a VIP member of an online modeling community, which in theory allows me a higher chance of persuading interesting people to pose for me.

In practice the turnover on those sites is immense. Lots of cute boys and girls hear constantly "You're so pretty, you should be a model", which is true in perhaps 1% of cases, and the net result is you have a few hard working people who do good things day in day out, and many flighty teenagers who'll pose for two-three people, and then never do it again because they realise it is neither glamourous nor easy money.

Two things I've semi-serously considered recently where hosted "status pages", and hosted "domain parking", but both have many competitors and both I can see a) some people would pay for but b) not very many.

I suspect there is no universal "I'd pay for this" online service hwich is both competition free and genuinely trivial to setup, but I'd be curious to see what people are missing, and even more curious to see what people do pay for.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Debian Bits: Call for participants in the Google Summer of Code for Debian

Tue, 25/02/2014 - 11:15

The Google Summer of Code is a program that allows post-secondary students aged 18 and older to earn a stipend writing code for Free and Open Source Software projects during the summer.

Debian has just been accepted as a mentoring organization for this year's program! We're looking for students and mentors to make this GSoC in Debian the best ever!

Eligible students, now is the time to take a look at our project ideas list, engage with the mentors for the projects you find interesting, and start working on your application! For more information, please read the FAQ and the Program Timeline on Google's website.

Mentors for prospective projects can still submit proposals on the project ideas list. You also need to send an email to the mailing list linked below to present your project in a few words. Feel also free to propose yourself as a co-mentor for one of the listed projects, more help is always welcome!

If you are interested, we encourage you to come and chat with us on irc (#debian-soc on irc.oftc.net), or to send an email to the SoC coordination mailing-list (subscribe). Most of the Debian-specific GSoC information can be found on our wiki pages, but don't be afraid to ask us directly on irc or via email.

We're looking forward to work with an amazing team of students and mentors again this summer!

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Tony Whitmore: I think we’re going to need torches

Mon, 24/02/2014 - 23:19

I spent nearly 7 hours in the same cinema seat this weekend. The BBC and the BFI were celebrating the return of several missing episodes of Doctor Who to the archives by holding a marathon screening at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square. All twelve episodes of “The Enemy of the World” and “The Web of Fear” were shown back-to-back, with only two short comfort breaks. That’s a lot of Doctor Who, even for me.

The panel after the screening was expertly moderated by Toby Hadoke. Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines were joined by Ralph Watson, who played Captain Knight in “The Web of Fear,” the role that was originally going to be played by Nicholas Courtney before he was promoted to play the Brigadier. Ralph was certainly talkative and brought some fresh stories and recollections, particular about his working relationship with Douglas Camfield. Michael Troughton was also on stage to reminisce about his father’s dual roles in “The Enemy of the World” and his visit to the London Underground set with the yetis.

I think the BBC and the BFI were using this event to see if there is sufficient interest in screenings now that the anniversary year celebrations are over. I hope they are convinced, although I would happily settle for a single six episode story rather than two! It was great to geek out with James from the Doctor Who Podcast again.

The Prince Charles cinema, which is slightly smaller than NFT1 at the BFI Southbank, is a great choice of venue for this sort of cult screening. However, the availability of cinema snacks, combined with the duration of the screening, meant there was a lot more rustling going on than at the BFI. But I can live with that if I get to see more Doctor Who on the big screen.

 

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Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Debian Bits: Invitation to the MiniDebConf 2014 Barcelona: 15-16 March 2014

Mon, 24/02/2014 - 12:00

Debian Women will hold a MiniDebConf in Barcelona on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th of March, 2014. Everyone is invited to both talks and social events, but the speakers will all be people who identify themselves as female. This is not a conference about women in Free Software, or women in Debian, rather a usual Debian Mini-DebConf where all the speakers are women.

The talks schedule has already been published. It is going to be an exciting event, packed with interesting talks for all audiences, in a beautiful venue, in one of the most famous European cities.

Registration is not mandatory, but strongly encouraged, as it helps the event's organisation and logistics. Please, register in the wiki.

We are still raising funds to cover the costs of running the conference and to offer travel sponsorship to people who can't pay for it. Please, consider donating any amount you can in our crowd-funding campaign, or contact us if you would like to become a sponsor.

The conference organisers want to thank the organisations that have already became sponsors, making this event possible, and specially our Platinum sponsor, Google; our Gold sponsors, Càtedra de Programari Lliure - Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Blue Systems and our Silver sponsors, CAtalan LInux Users, CAPSiDE and Fluendo.

For more information, visit the website of the event: http://bcn2014.mini.debconf.org

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Steve Kemp: Two minor toys ..

Sun, 23/02/2014 - 08:56

Two minor things:

graphite_send

A simple shell-script to submit metrics to a graphite server, extensible via local plugins, but covers the obvious metrics by default.

Metrics are submitted via simple calls to netcat.

Trivial, but much more lightweight than collectd and similar.

HTML::Emoji

A perl module for converting HTML like "<p>:smile:</p>" into something graphical.

This was written for my markdown sharing site, but is pretty fun.

The konami-code page demonstrates usage.

(This parses the HTML so it won't transform attributes, ids, or anything that isn't in the "text" part of any HTML input.)

The graphite sending script is perhaps the most useful, but at the same time it feels too small to be a package of its own. I'm tempted to bundle it up into my sysadmin-util collection, but I can't quite decide if it belongs there either.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs