Posts for November 2006

2006-11-01: Back, or mostly

I'm mostly back from vacation, or at least back in the same state. Tomorrow is another travel day, but by tomorrow evening I'll be home, updating my computers, and starting to do work (rather than just reading mail and making sure I know what happened while I was gone).

I have some fairly large number of book reviews to post (I haven't counted recently) and one more to write. Probably not two more for a little while, since I don't think I'll have time to finish my current book on the train tomorrow.

I'm now an official Debian delegate as a member of the Policy team, which means that I need to find some time fairly soon to get started with that and respond to some of our initial strategy discussions, and maybe start doing some bug review. I have a pile of lintian bugs I need to sort through as well.

The NNTP RFCs have finally been published! Of course, that too means more work, this time on INN, but that's going to be quite a bit of fun once I clear some time to do it. I'm working on that by unsubscribing from a bunch of mailing lists.

I have various thoughts about how I'm going to tackle work without immediately returning to the same levels of stress, but I need to work through them and think about them some more. The plan is to start that process tomorrow evening once I'm settled into my own apartment again, and continue it through Friday and the weekend, lining things up for next week. One of the first tasks will be determining my next work goals, determining which activities happen during work hours, and then prioritizing what I'm going to spend non-work hours on (as there are a lot of candidates).

2006-11-02: Vacation haul

I will start posting all of my queued reviews, but I'm not quite caught up enough yet. In the meantime, you will have to make do with the book haul over the course of vacation. I didn't search out as many used book stores this year, so the haul is a bit shorter.

Comments are still disabled just because I'm lazy; I'll get that fixed tomorrow.

Anne Bishop -- Sebastian (sff)
Po Bronson -- What Should I Do with My Life? (non-fiction)
Steven Brust -- Agyar (sff)
Steven Brust -- To Reign in Hell (sff)
Jon Crowley -- Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land (sff)
Joe Clifford Faust -- Ferman's Devils (sff)
James Alan Gardner -- Commitment Hour (sff)
Kenneth Grahame -- The Wind in the Willows (children's)
Henry Kuttner -- The Startling Worlds of Henry Kuttner (sff)
R.A. Lafferty -- Nine Hundred Grandmothers (sff)
Ian R. MacLeod -- The Light Ages (sff)
Naguib Mahfouz -- Midaq Alley (mainstream)
Patricia A. McKillip -- Solstice Wood (sff)
J.D. Salinger -- The Catcher in the Rye (mainstream)
Dan Simmons -- The Crook Factory (thriller)
Dodie Smith -- I Capture the Castle (mainstream)
Charles Stross -- The Hidden Family (sff)
J.R.R. Tolkien -- Unfinished Tales (sff)
George Turner -- Drowning Towers (sff)
Vernor Vinge -- Rainbows End (sff)
James White -- General Practice (sff)
Gene Wolfe -- There Are Doors (sff)

I'm spreading out into more mainstream fiction, since I've been reading quite a lot of that lately and have been making good progress on filling in somewhat embarassing holes in my reading.

I don't have all of the books with me any more; there was no way that I'd be able to carry them home on the train. They're being shipped separately and should be here in a few days.

2006-11-03: Comments re-enabled

Comments have now been re-enabled, now that I'm back and available to deal with spam again.

Hopefully I can find some time to look at newer, better journal software before too much longer. I'm really getting tired of Movable Type. Serendipity looks like the front-runner, although if it would support comments, ikiwiki seems quite attractive and is what a lot of the Debian folks are now using.

Serendipity supports SQLite and has a Debian package, though, so it's probably the path of least resistance.

2006-11-03: pam-krb5 2.5

The PAM module was freeing the return value of pam_get_item when changing passwords, which is an explicit no-no (since PAM frees the memory internally). This was exposed with the use_authtok support for password changes and reported (with a patch!) by Arne Nordmark while I was on vacation.

That's now fixed, and since I hate to do a release without knocking something off of the TODO list, I also implemented the stricter authorization checking in pam_sm_acct_mgmt from the NetBSD version of the PAM module (well, not done quite the same, but similar). There are also a few other minor bug fixes and improvements.

You can get the latest version from the pam-krb5 distribution page. I also modified my release script to generate MD5 checksum files and (more usefully) PGP signatures for all tarball releases that didn't have them, so this release is also signed. I added a link to the signature on the software page and removed the FTP link; the software is still also available via FTP, but FTP is rather obsolete and it was cluttering the page.

At some point, now, I need to go back and sign all the other current tarballs of releases and then update all my other software pages accordingly.

2006-11-03: Odd Apache dependencies

So, today I've been doing one of those things one does after coming back from a long vacation: running aptitude upgrade on various boxes. I'd already been testing the Apache 2.2 migration on one system before I left so that I could test my own modules, and now the other modules I wanted to use are available and everything looks good. So I migrated another web server, figuring everything would be fine.

Afterwards, all of Apache's children started constantly segfaulting and respawning.

I went through disabling modules, turning things off, until I had a stripped down server and it was still happening. All the children were dying so fast that I couldn't easily get an strace on any one. Finally, I stopped Apache entirely and restarted the whole thing under strace -f, to discover that it was segfaulting shortly after calling some epoll function and getting ENOSYS.

Nice error handling, guys.

So, apparently Apache 2.2, at least as built by Debian, requires a 2.6 kernel. This isn't horribly surprising since etch isn't going to support 2.4, but I'd been putting off switching to a distribution kernel on that system instead of the one I built myself. This was the kick in the pants required, so now it's running 2.6, Apache 2.2 is happy, and I'm sure a whole pile of local root vulnerabilities I don't really care about are now all fixed.

Maybe this will save someone else some time debugging.

2006-11-04: Domestic catch-up

Today was my domestic catch-up day after vacation. I did the laundry, made bread, did the grocery shopping, went through the paper mail, and other similar routine household tasks that build up while one is away. The afternoon was spent quite enjoyably playing video games with a friend.

I was going to get more done this evening, and had the momentum for it, but something about dinner didn't particularly agree with my digestive track, so evening was more relaxed than expected. Still, caught up the rec.arts.comics.creative archiving.

I have a whole pile of reviews that I should start posting and just haven't gotten to it yet (and one more that I need to write). I'll likely start tomorrow.

2006-11-04: Pet peeve

Why is it that, every single national election year, the mainstream news commentators have to repeatedly mention that the entire House is being elected this year as if this is some obscure part of US election law that they just personally discovered? Congressional seats are elected every two years, meaning every national election. We get it already.

I suppose this says something about their expectations for the understanding of their audience, but I think that's also a cop-out. Talk down to people too much and you create an expectation that a low level of understanding is adequate and expected. Make people reach a bit.

Of course, one thing that watching PBS NewsHour regularly has made abundantly clear is that there's actually only about a half-hour of real national news each day. PBS manages to cover all the facts in the real news and do several documentary segments in less than an hour every day. The cable news stations have to fill the other twenty-three and a half hours of the day by pointing out to us that all of the House, every single seat, even your representative, stands for election every two years. Including this year. In this election. Coming right up. On Tuesday.

I hear that one consequence of this election may be that the parties in control of Congress might change.

2006-11-05: The Westing Game

Review: The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin

Publisher: Puffin
Copyright: 1978
ISBN: 0-14-240120-X
Pages: 182

The Westing Game starts with the opening of an apartment complex. Invitations to apply for an apartment are delivered to carefully selected but apparently unrelated families; all of them accept, leaving the building an eclectic mix of personalities. Shortly thereafter, in a spooky abandoned mansion next door, one of the kids discovers the body of Mr. Westing, the founder of the town's paper empire. Much to their surprise, nearly everyone living in the apartment is invited to the reading of the will, which sets off a bizarre and complex game for the Westing fortune.

This book is targetted at young adult with some of the expected effects on cast and character. There are four children (and one young lady) who live in the building and much of the action follows them. Some of the characterizations are a bit over the top in the quirky way one sometimes sees in books aimed for younger readers, where everything is a bit larger than life (the evil mother and the intern, in particular, are rather one-dimensional). Despite that, it's a quite readable and enjoyable adult story as well. It's a detective story of sorts, but mostly it's a puzzle story and the puzzles are wonderfully twisty.

The game starts when the odd and flamboyant will, after an extended introduction (which turns out to be laden with multiple levels of clues), pairs all the complex inhabitants off into pairs and gives them each five words. Although the clue points them at cooperation, only one of the pairs tries that route; the rest attempt to extract meaning from a small part of the puzzle with often hilarious results. In the process, we're introduced to all of the characters, we see them alone and in combination, odd alliances form, and we discover more and more about their lives and backgrounds.

The puzzle is a worthy challenge in its own right, but Raskin also uses it like a party game to get her characters circulating, force them to interact, and dig up pieces of their personalities and past. As she does, she jumps from character to character, developing the story from different viewpoints and adding more depth to the characters. I was impressed by her skill; at the start, only a few characters were interesting and several seemed quite boring, but nearly everyone has some hidden aspect or twist and many have more than one. The characters open and blossom under the challenges of the story, a sudden snow storm that traps many of them in the building, a strange bomber who starts harmless explosions in both of the complex's restaurants, and a mysterious thief. The story is like a jigsaw puzzle to which Raskin keeps adding more pieces just as one section is assembled, and the new pieces often dramatically change the shape of what came before.

By the climax of the story, I cared far more deeply about the characters than I ever expected to. I also thought I'd figured out the basic puzzle, but had completely forgotten a complication that Raskin clearly introduced at the beginning of the game that changes everything the characters had figured out. From there to the end of the book the reader is treated to a flurry of interlocking, unfolding puzzles that rewrite the game they've all been playing. By the conclusion, only one of the characters knows the real puzzle and real solution; the rest are stopped (and entirely content) with a false conclusion. And throughout the book, everything fits together sensibly; Raskin never (that I noticed) cheats or invalidates earlier parts of the story. It's an impressive balancing act that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.

This book won the Newberry Award for children's literature and you'll probably find it in the children's or young adult section of a bookstore. It's well-worth seeking out. It's quite enjoyable as a pure character story even if the puzzles aren't of interest; the puzzles add the feeling of a complex detective story with multiple false clues to the excellent character interactions. There's even a surprising amount of emotional depth for a book of this sort, enough to give the comprehensive happy ending emotional weight. Set aside some time to read it, though, since once you start it you won't want to put it down.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Permanent review page

2006-11-08: Stress

Well, I had plans to get work done yesterday and today. Meetings plus a very nice dinner out with friends devoured much of yesterday, and the elections devoured the rest of yesterday and nearly all of today.

I was trying to not lose myself in the politics this year, but to some degree that's unrealistic. I care too much about it, and therefore can't pull myself away from watching and concentrate on something else. Thankfully, this time slightly less than half of the country thinks my values are worthless, my friends are subhuman slime, invading countries solves problems, and the "Christianity" preached by the Republican Party bears some resemblence to morality. This is, in the bizarro world in which we live, a substantial improvement over slightly more than half of the country believing those things, enough that I didn't lose two days and come out the other side horribly depressed and scared. Just tired.

I'm afraid that while we're still passing ballot measures creating legalized bigotry in six states around the country, overwhelming optimism is a bit beyond me.

Back to normal tomorrow, hopefully. I did manage to drag myself through starting to write the AFS PAM module that I really needed to write on Monday, and I'm hoping I can do more work on that tomorrow inbetween volleyball, lunch, and three and a half hours of possibly stressful meetings. If not, well, there's always Friday.

I finally scheduled a routine eye exam, during which I will discover if I can get past my phobia of things getting close to my eyes long enough to let them actually do an eye pressure test. Life is to some degree going to suck until that's over with, although I'm trying not to obsess. Thankfully, it's next Monday, so it will be over soon, and if I can manage to do this (there's no earthly reason why not, but phobias are phobias), it will be much easier from this point forward.

Anyway, so, I'm stressed, but it's the forcing myself to deal with things that I've been putting off sort of stressed that I can only tackle when I'm not stressed and which will mean I'll be much less stressed soon. Expect me to be on edge for a bit.

2006-11-10: pam-afs-session 0.1

I finally managed to finish my new AFS PAM module. I'm currently using it on my work computer and it already works better than the libpam-openafs-session in Debian (which has a bad tendency to destroy my tokens periodically, I think because of cron closing sessions). This initial version only works on Linux, has no man page, and requires some manual configuration, but it's a start.

Hopefully over the next month or two I can whip it into shape, and before then I hope to get it into Debian to replace libpam-openafs-session, which no longer works since aklog -setpag no longer works.

You can get the latest version from the pam-afs-session distribution page.

2006-11-10: faq2html 1.26

The pam-afs-session NEWS file wasn't converting to a web page properly because the headers for the entries were just a little too long. I made a minor tweak to the heading recognition code to allow two more characters in length.

Bleh, heuristics.

You can get the latest version from my web tools distribution page.

2006-11-10: cvs2xhtml 1.11

The latest version of CVS adds a new commitid value to the header of each log message from cvs log. I previously fixed cvs2xhtml to deal with this, but I left behind the stray semicolon after the number of lines removed, which looked weird on web pages. Fixed.

You can get the latest version from my web tools distribution page.

I have another, larger submitted patch to cvs2xhtml that I need to review and haven't found time to deal with yet.

2006-11-11: Library sale haul

I finally, after three years of supporting the Friends of the Palo Alto Library, made it to one of their booksales. This is one of the things that's more fun to do with a friend.

Overall, I'm impressed. The main room is very well-organized and even had SF in alphabetical order. I'll definitely go in the future when SF is one of their featured genres for the month. And you can't beat the prices. I had a couple of coupons from my previous support and therefore ended up getting ten books, four of them hard-cover, for $1.50.

John Brunner -- The Shockwave Rider (sff)
C.J. Cherryh -- Chanur's Homecoming (sff)
Julie E. Czerneda -- Migration (sff)
Julie E. Czerneda -- Regeneration (sff)
John M. Ford -- Web of Angels (sff)
Jim Kjelgaard -- Big Red (children's)
John Le Carré -- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (thriller)
John Sladek -- Roderick (sff)
John Varley -- Wizard (sff)
Tad Williams -- Caliban's Hour (sff)

I didn't notice until entering this how many books I got by people named John. Weird.

Both of the Czernedas are very nice hardcovers that are basically new; one of them just has one minor dust-jacket tear. And they were 50 cents each.

2006-11-14: cvslog 1.53

Matthew Clarke noticed that when making the last change to cvslog, I forgot to add a newline to the end of each generated URL, so for commits with multiple files all the URLs were concatenated together. This release fixes that bug.

You can get the latest version from the cvslog distribution page.

2006-11-15: Meme: Significant SFF

Via bruceb. Normally I don't do memes, but this one is just too perfect.

This is a list of the 50 most significant science fiction/fantasy novels, 1953-2002, according to the Science Fiction Book Club. Bold the ones you've read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished and put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. * The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. * The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. * The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. * Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. * Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. * The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. * The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. * Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. * The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. * Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
44. * Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. * The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

It's very rare for me to start a book and not finish it. Wow, there's more stuff in there that I've not read than I would expect. Most of that I either have or was planning on tracking down, but I've never even heard of Children of the Atom (or at least don't remember it if I have).

I'll probably never read Cities in Flight since A Case of Conscience was one of the worst books I've ever read. Ellison and Delany are both a bit difficult for me, but I'm planning on tracking those down eventually. I'll likely pass on The Sword of Shannara and Interview with the Vampire, both by notoriously poor writers.

2006-11-16: Minus one day

Everything in life gets put off one day. Today the entire day was devoted to dealing with emergency problems.

I don't think people who write webmail systems really understand what a full production load is like. I wish I knew more about MySQL performance tuning; I keep thinking that there was something we could have done to fix or at least improve the problems, or at the very least figure out what went haywire when we put a production load on the system for more than two hours.

Hopefully I can get a PAM module release out tomorrow (and I'm not sure what to make of the new, strange bug report I got for pam-krb5 where it looks like the context data stored as a PAM data item was being corrupted).

2006-11-16: Comments disabled

So, I've done various things to try to block the spam that comes flooding into any public journal, but it looks like (perhaps because of that) the goal has shifted to simply destroying the comment feature out of spite. Currently I'm getting several hundred instances a day of purely randomly-generated spam -- no URLs, no links, no advertising, no identifiable product names, just randomly generated text and randomly generated e-mail addresses.

I hate to do it, since I've really enjoyed the discussions here, but I don't have time to clean up the comments multiple times a day, so I'm disabling comments completely.

Hopefully once I get a chance to upgrade to newer software, I'll be able to re-enable them with the use of some other spam suppression plugins. That's become a higher priority, but given how much stuff is going on for me right now, I'm not sure when I'll get to it.

In the meantime, comments are always welcome via e-mail.

2006-11-19: Comments re-enabled

I came up with a tricky idea to try to prevent spam, and so far it seems to be working. I'm not sure if it will keep working, but at least for the time being, comments are re-enabled. Let me know if you have problems figuring out what to do, or if a browser doesn't like what I'm doing.

2006-11-19: Mmm, video games

I'm pretty distracted right now and not paying attention to much that's going on-line since an old friend of mine is up for Thanksgiving week (not going back until a week from Monday). We're catching up, talking, and playing lots of video games, which is particularly fun since I'd hardly played for the last year.

Among the discoveries this time is Guitar Hero, which is the sort of gimick game (complete with special controller) that normally I don't like but which actually is awesome. I was already a big fan of Amplitude, and Guitar Hero is like Amplitude only much better. I do like rhythm games, and the guitar controller actually makes it even more fun. I have my own copy on order now.

Ratchet Deadlocked isn't as much fun as the prior Ratchet and Clank games, but it's still pretty fun. It's very heavy on the combat, but there's still a first person campaign with a typical story and some amount of platforming. The main thing that's missing is puzzle-solving with weapons, making use of just the right weapon for the terrain. The terrain and layout is much simpler than in previous games. Still, worth the money.

2006-11-26: pam-afs-session 0.2

This is a much-belated announcement since I've had company for the past week and have been too busy concentrating on other things to write journal entries. A week ago Friday, I released the second beta version of the new AFS PAM module I've been working on; this version contains an initial port to Solaris, a man page, several more options, and a few other bug fixes. Many thanks to Douglas Engart for much of the feedback that led to these improvements.

You can get the current version from the pam-afs-session distribution page.

The next version will have some additional configure logic for Solaris, the ability to compile in a default aklog path, and some way to say not to run aklog (probably); the release after that sould be a 1.0 release.

2006-11-26: Series completion haul

A small book order, mostly to fill in series that I have before I start reading them and take advantage of a few sales.

Julie E. Czerneda -- Survival (sff)
Joe Haldeman -- Worlds (sff)
Graham Joyce -- The Facts of Life (sff)
James White -- Alien Emergencies (sff)
Gene Wolfe -- On Blue's Waters (sff)
Gene Wolfe -- Return to the Whorl (sff)

I haven't been reading much or reviewing, and I still have a ton of reviews written but not posted yet because I've been very distracted by company. I have a friend over who I hadn't seen in two years, we both love video games, I had a wonderful holiday week, he doesn't get much chance to play games with other people (partiuclarly things like RPGs that aren't normally two-player games but that we enjoy doing together), and I haven't played video games to any significant degree for something like nine months. So we've been having a lot of fun, and everything else has been put on hold for a while.

He alas has to leave tomorrow, after which I need to catch up with work and then can go back to a more normal schedule and normal reading and writing of reviews.

2006-11-27: Back to work

My friend headed off to the airport at 12:30 today, and then it was back to work for various meetings, analysis of where I left off with everything that was on my plate, and then some extended PAM module hacking.

We stayed up until 6am last night, so I'm fairly tired and didn't have enough focus and productivity to get more than one major task done. Review posting will probably restart tomorrow (as hopefully will review writing, exercise, and work status reports). Tonight, I'm feeling satisfied enough with going through all of my mail and then getting both pam-krb5 and pam-afs-session compiling working on at least Solaris 9.

2006-11-28: pam-afs-session 0.3

The main purpose of this release is to finish a port to Solaris. It was mostly working before, but there were a few things that needed fixing for Sun's C compiler (including using __func__ instead of __FUNCTION__, which is more correct anyway). I also added the ability to compile in a default path to aklog, which is needed for the module in Debian.

You can get the latest release from the pam-afs-session distribution page.

I expect the next release will be 1.0. I want to add a few more configuration options and some improved library detection logic, but the basic functionality is essentially done.

2006-11-28: pam-krb5 2.6

This is a bug fix release, mostly to fix an API mistake I made. When calling pam_get_user to set a pointer to the user, one can't assume that pointer will continue to point to a usable string for the entire life of the PAM module (particularly if one is stashing that pointer in a data item and retrieving it later in the session module). I also ran the PAM module under valgrind and fixed a few memory leaks and one use of freed memory when debugging. There's still something wrong with verify_creds; it seems to be creating a ticket cache that it doesn't free, but I can't see the problem in the library code. I wonder if this is fixed in a later release of Kerberos.

You can get the latest version from the pam-krb5 distribution page.

The Heimdal PKINIT support was put off for this version since I'd like to get this bug fix release into Debian etch. I expect I'll commit that for the next version and also do some significant code refactoring and call the next version 3.0.

Last modified and spun 2017-02-20