On Engineers

Here's one type of computer engineering we could do without.

Engineering—that word always implies engineers. In our case, the plural form of the word is appropriate. We have mechanical engineers that design the cases that house our systems (it's their job to ensure it takes at least half an hour to figure out how to open up any new case). We have electrical engineers that design faster, cheaper and better circuits, and we have systems engineers that design our systems, at least the software components thereof. I, however, want to suggest a new category: bloatware engineer. It would be the bloatware engineer's job to ensure that however much system you bought last week—say a P-IV 1.8GHz system with 512MB RAM, water-cooled, super-charged, over-clocked, speed demon—it would run like a 486-33 with only 16MB RAM.

My first nominations for this new category include the GNOME and KDE Project leaders. Personally, I use Blackbox (starts in about two seconds) and Sylpheed (starts almost instantaneously). The worst offender I run is Netscape, but it's the only fully CSS-2-compliant browser out there, and it's worse with the CrossOver plugin. I might also nominate just about any office suite, but bloat there is expected (although Applix always started and ran like a rabbit on methedrine). One day I'm going to go back and load a bunch of old software on a new system, just to see 1) if it even runs and 2) just how fast.

But don't get me wrong. I personally can't wait to buy a Cappuccino GG-1, the very small footprint computer available from Think Geek (thinkgeek.com), build a battery, get one of those new “keyboards” that's projected in front of you and senses where your fingers are and, finally, get those lightweight goggles that are like having a 20“ screen. All that's missing is a wireless card (need to swap out the Ethernet connection in the Cappuccino for a wireless connection). Talk about mobility in a three-pound package.

IP-Atlas www.xpenguin.com/ip-atlas.php

This is a small web script that takes an IP (your eth0 address by default) and plots it on a map of the world. The IP is sent to NetGeo, which returns a latitude/longitude reading of your supposed location. Overall, it's accurate but subject to assumptions, one being that the location of the company the IP is assigned to is the IP's ultimate geographic location. For example, the geographic location of one of my servers here in Panama shows up as in Texas. While my provider's parent is in Texas, and it's been pretty hot and dry down here up until now, this definitely isn't Texas. But it's fun anyway. Requires: web server with PHP and GD, internet access (to access NetGeo site).

iftop www.ex-parrot.com/~pdw/iftop

This is a top-like utility that watches your network connections on whatever interface you tell it to listen (by default, eth0). It runs on a VT (VC) or in an xterm window and shows current connections. For a way to quickly monitor what's being forwarded through your system in real time, this utility wins hands down. Requires: libpthread, libm, glibc.

OpenTRS otrs.org

The Open Ticket Request System (OTRS) is a web-based ticketing system that will take e-mail addressed to the OTRS user and allow you to queue it for resolution. The system has a link for a phone queue, but the ability wasn't yet available. This would, however, allow you to track calls and e-mails from customers or from systems sending you e-mails. The author has provided capabilities to respond via e-mail, to keep internal or public notes, etc. Requires: Perl; Perl modules: Unix::Syslog, CGI, MIME::Words, Mail::Internet, MIME::Parser, DBI, DBD::mysql, Digest::MD5; web server; SMTP (sendmail, etc.); procmail.

OpenGrade www.lightandmatter.com/ogr/ogr.html

This application for teachers sports both a text interface that is quick and easy to use, as well as a GUI interface. The GUI uses Tk, so you'll need that installed, but it's even easier to use than the text interface. While I didn't test it, if you're running a web server on the same system OpenGrade is running on, you can allow students password-protected access to their grades. Requires: Perl; Tk; Perl modules: Term::ReadKey, Date::Calc, Tk::FileDialog, Net::FTP.

dailystrips dailystrips.sourceforge.net

Okay, everyone needs a laugh or two, and a lot of folks I know open their local newspaper to the comic section first. With dailystrips you can have your favorite web comics on one page waiting for you when you arrive at your desk. Requires: Perl, graphical web browser.

DACT www.rkeene.org/devel/dact

DACT is a dynamic adaptive compression tool that tries to find the optimum compression for a file based on block sizes. It also allows you to perform encryption on the file. Compression algorithms depend on the compression libraries found on your system, so not all compression algorithms will be available. Requires: libdl, libbz2, libz, libm, glibc.

NetSaint www.netsaint.org

Well, this month's pick from this column three years ago was just too easy. I have only one application I'm still using: NetSaint. NetSaint has come a long way since I originally reported on it. Installation is much easier, but unfortunately, while configuration is not difficult, it's not easy either. Requires: libm, glibc, web server, libgd (optional).

Until next month.

David A. Bandel (david@pananix.com) is a Linux/UNIX consultant currently living in the Republic of Panama. He is coauthor of Que Special Edition: Using Caldera OpenLinux.


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