Letters

Readers sound off.

Ssh! Everybody Look Professional!

People “in the know” understand that Linux is perfectly appropriate for the enterprise. However, there are many circles that still think of Linux as a hobbyist project. Consultants such as myself face an up-hill battle when pushing Linux-based solutions. I believe our job is made more difficult when one of the few Linux-focused periodicals actually to make it to the local magazine racks prominently displays the powerful operating system's ability to act as a Web-based cat feeder. I appreciated the article, but did it have to go on the cover?


Jeremy Cherny

Are you trying to get us in trouble with the “where's the fun” guy? Fun technology attracts the new developers and projects, and non-fun technology dries up and blows away. —Ed.

Happy Birthday, Patrick

As a subscriber of Linux Journal since 1994, I have been following all the great pictures of newborns, who get their first introduction to Linux on the pages of your great publication. When my son Patrick arrived on October 23, 2004, I knew I had to start him off with penguins as soon as possible. So, on his first-month birthday, my wife snapped this picture to show that a new Linux hacker is on his way to help in the Open Source community.




Piotr Trzeciak

64-Bit Porting, Please

As I am currently hacking my way through this myself...I would really like to see an article on building software (compiling) for the AMD64. There are certain pointer symantics and sizing issues that need to be dealt with, and I have yet to find a good source on “porting” to 64 bits.


Peter

There's a bunch of 64-bit wisdom scattered around the Net and in project source code. We'll look for someone to write the article for you. —Ed.

Laptop Comparisons, Please

In the January 2005 issue, you have a nice review of the HP laptop. I do not mean to be too critical, but it seems to me that you have given us half a loaf. We do not buy such things in a vacuum. There are other Linux boxes out there, such as from Emperor or even Lindows, Wal-Mart, sub300 (ugh), etc.

It would help me a great deal if a review would describe not only the object under discussion, but also include some comments about whether it is “better than”, in almost any way you choose to evaluate it, some other machine. Is is a better buy than the equivalent box from Emperor? Where does it fit in, in the long scale of very cheap to very expensive, versus quality. I think the reader would be better served with such information, even if it is only your best guess. Because (I hope) you have a lot better data base to go on than I do. Many thanks for a good magazine.


tony

Get Your Pre-Ban HDTV Cards

Thanks for the heads up on the DRM fiasco for HDTV. I believe pcHDTV is now shipping version 3000 and will continue to do so until the 30th of June, 2005, without the DRM flag. Can you confirm this or do you already have confirmation of this?


Kevin R. Battersby

Watch for an update item on this next issue. —Ed.

31337 m1773nz!

My son Graeme is quite a Linux fanatic. One of his good friends made him these mittens for Christmas this year. I thought you might want to see this upcoming fashion trend for what every “cold” Linux user should be wearing.




Eric

Enough Kids—Puppy Break!

After hinting for the last four and a half years of our marriage my wife finally conceded, and Charlie is the result. Immediately upon agreeing we would take the pup, my wife went to work using some fabric endowed with a Tux look-alike and made a few goodies for our new puppy. Hopefully this finds you the editor in good health, as well as the rest of the LJ staff. Here is to what may become of Linux in 2005, cheers!




James

Unicode Question

Thanks for your article in the December 2004 issue of Linux Journal about aggregating feeds, I really enjoyed it. It's probably months since you wrote the article, but I've only just got around to reading it over the Xmas break! I don't know Python, but managed to tinker with your code and get my own feeds page going (snowfrog.net/myfeeds.html).

I'm getting an error when I syndicate some sites, such as safari.oreilly.com/rss, and I don't know how to fix it. Any pointers? Obviously, it involves stripping out non-ASCII chars, or changing the codec to Unicode, but I don't know how to do that (yet):

UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\xae' in
position 66: ordinal not in range(128)

This occurs when (for example) I do a sys.stderr.write(mystring). Thanks for any help you can give.


Sonia Hamilton

Reuven Lerner replies: I'm glad that you enjoyed the article! And yes, I normally write columns about 3–4 months before they are printed—but I do remember writing about feedparser and aggregating feeds.

Hmm, I'm a bit surprised that something is choking on Unicode characters. That shouldn't happen, should it? And for feedparser to be choking is even weirder, because I was sure that it could handle Unicode just fine. But the problem isn't the Unicode string. Rather, it has to do with the fact that the Unicode string isn't being translated into a non-ASCII codec, which is what you guessed. For example, consider the following:


 >>> print u'\xae'
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in ?
UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\xae' in
position 0: ordinal not in range(128)

 >>> print u'\xae'.encode('utf-8')
®

So you (or the feedparser source; it's not clear if the problem is in code that you wrote or in the feedparser code) probably should include a call to encode, indicating the resulting codec.

I haven't read it very carefully, but the feedparser documentation includes a description of encoding systems. It might well be that you're being bitten by something there (www.feedparser.org/docs/character-encoding.html). I hope that this helps! Please let me know if you have any further questions.

GPG Fingerprints

I read you rolled out GPG for everybody at SSC. How about adding the key fingerprints in the journal itself as an example to give validity to the keys. You list all the collaborators on page 4 with the e-mail addresses, this would be a nice spot to add the fingerprints. The only drawback would be the space it takes. Better: create a master key, sign all the keys with the master, and print the fingerprint of the master. Keep up the good work with the magazine, I am now the owner of 50cm of magazines. And my best wishes for 2005 to you and the whole team.


Erik Ruwalder

Great idea. We'll ask our IS department to create a company master key and sign all our keys with it. —Ed.

Hey, Puffins Don't Count!

I have been using Linux since 1998 and Red Hat 5.2. My son has liked penguins since 1996. He has quite a collection of stuffed penguins including a few Tuxes. Please excuse the occasional puffin. Here he is pictured with our ThinkPad running Fedora 3.




Stuart Boreen

Dependency Hunting, S'il Vous Plaît

I appreciate Marcel Gagné and his monthly column, particularly because it is the only one in LJ that I can consistently understand. But, why does he feel it necessary (or useful) to repeat the same five-step build process for every piece of software? It's only useful if it compiles with no problems—and we all know that never happens. Anyone capable of hunting down dependencies certainly knows the build process.

I have a proposal for Marcel and Francois: how about a column devoted specifically to the compile process? I am particularly interested in knowing about common dependency issues, common paths to specify, and why and how to install dependencies in a different directory so they can coexist with other, default versions of the same software. I am running Xandros 2.0, which uses an older version of KDE (and many other things). I would love to be able to install software that requires KDE 3.3, but upgrading to that would certainly wreck my OS. There must be a way to install dependencies in parallel, with the more advanced versions to be used only by the programs that I specifically point to them, but I have no idea how to go about this.


Derek Croxton

Letters to the Mainstream Media

I was looking in the local rag, the New York Daily News and saw this in the editorial column:

Microsoft Windows is a terrible product. If Windows were a commercial aircraft, the FAA would ground it. If it were a prescription drug, the FDA would ban it. If it were a horse, you'd shoot it. Every new Windows release is miles worse than the one before it. Every fresh patch and tweak crashes your system more and more desperately. Microsoft Windows wants to kill you.

But yet we're all stuck with it. We all depend on it, completely and absolutely and utterly.

So, I wrote a reply to the editor:

What to do about “broken” Windows?

Plenty. There is a whole family of free operating systems such as GNU/Linux and BSD available to all on the Internet or from your local computer users group.

Try Knoppix on CD. It comes with everything you need including word processing and e-mail software, real games, self-installing network software and you don't even have to install it on your computer.

Microsoft does not want you to know about that.

Wonder why? It is simply better. Try it (www.knoppix.net).




Adam Vazquez

Kernel IPSec History

The article “Linux VPN Technologies” [February 2005] discusses IPSec and its availability in the 2.6 series kernel. It states that FreeS/WAN is available in the kernel, when in fact the 2.6 kernel uses a port of the KAME IPSec stack (www.kame.net). The KAME stack was originally developed for the BSD variants and is very mature. The utilities for interacting with this stack, called ipsec-tools, can be found at ipsec-tools.sourceforge.net. I'm successfully using the 2.6 IPSec stack for a custom wireless access point using hostap. Thanks for the excellent work.


Peter Johanson

FreeS/WAN and OpenS/WAN were never official parts of the kernel; some distributions did include them. —Ed.

More Innovative Apps, Please

I have been a Linux advocate for many years and continue to marvel at the progress it has made. Several leaps have brought Linux much more into the mainstream of business and even home users in recent years.

It seems that many applications are not innovative, but just copies of other ideas from other platforms. While it is important that critical areas be filled with appropriate applications in order to make Linux viable for users, it is also important to innovate. That being said, will users move to Linux for the same applications that they can get on other systems? Probably, because of cost savings. But, more users would move faster to Linux if there are applications that are innovative.

I remember in the mid-1980s when a small company was able to capture nearly 25% of the PC market despite having more expensive products. A simple change to the user interface that used graphics in place of menus made all the difference.

So, as I flip thought the last several issues of Linux Journal, I have yet to see many innovative applications. As more people become interested in Linux for its reliable and highly customizable features, will there be an incentive to switch other than cost? Without innovative applications, it could relegate Linux to remain in the back office in the hands of the techies.


John Irey

NLD as Seen by a Novell User

Just before reading the latest issue [February 2005], I was thinking to myself that LJ really hasn't yet acknowledged that Novell is now one of the major players in the Linux world. And then there was your review of Novell Linux Desktop (which as I'm sure others have told you by now is NLD not NDS). As a longtime Novell user and a longtime Linux user I was happy that Novell took the steps it did. Like everyone else I was keeping my fingers crossed that they wouldn't screw up like they did when the acquired WordPerfect and sold UNIX to SCO. So far they haven't made any major blunders.

Initially, the emphasis was on a good server kernel to replace NetWare, which although still quite capable, isn't as good as Linux in many areas. Of course Novell just couldn't resist competing with Microsoft by pushing Linux on the desktop. NLD isn't bad, but it offers little advantage over any of the other distributions. Novell is positioning NLD as a business desktop.

In their rush to get NLD out the door, they didn't get all the pieces in place to integrate NLD into an existing Novell network, so most established NetWare shops aren't finding it very useful either. I don't even think ncpfs (needed to mount NetWare volumes) came installed by default. I know GroupWise didn't, even though they have a pretty good Linux version. Evolution 2 is the default mail program but none of the GroupWise hooks are working yet. Those are waiting on the next version of GroupWise due out mid-year. The reset of the integration part is waiting on Novell Open Enterprise Server (OES), now in beta. Supposedly, it will have a true NetWare client akin to the the Win32 client. Time will tell.

Novell is a major player in the Linux world now, and we should accept that fact and work with them. They are very open-minded right now and will benefit from interaction with people that have been around Linux a lot longer then they have. I'd encourage you to attend Brainshare this year. Linus was there last year. As always, LJ is great and continues to get better. Thanks for the good work.


Paul

Cruelty-Free Advertising, Please

I used to be a subscriber to Linux Magazine until the Microsoft ads started appearing a few years ago. I was sickened and stunned. I stopped dead still in my tracks with feelings of anger and realizations of betrayal. I really used to look forward to the monthly delivery of LM, but I was left staggered and emotionally confused at the sight of Microsoft's ugly and sudden appearance. There was a sinister happiness about the ad, and it felt very much as if the magazine I was holding contained a plague that began infecting my hands. I could feel the hate and cruelty making its black way up both my arms...going for my soul...trying to turn me into its Golem. Even as the magazine slammed against the wall across the room, I still felt sick, and angry, and sad, and betrayed. It was a really tough day for me.

Linux Journal is the only Linux magazine I subscribe to now. If something should happen to you guys...where else could I go?


Tony Freeman

Security Blanket?

My home office is in the basement of my Wisconsin home. It gets rather chilly here in the middle of the winter, so my wife surprised me with a blanket she made to help keep me warm as I use my Linux workstation.

A mid-winter kite flying event called “Kites on Ice” was held in Madison, Wisconsin on Lake Monona. My son captured this view of some penguin kites flying high above the snow and ice-covered lake.

I have been enjoying Linux Journal since Issue 36 (April 1997) and will continue for a long time to come (my subscription runs until February 2012. (I bought into the 100 issues for $100 offer a while back.) Keep up the good work. Linux forever!




paul

root Password Management

May I interject a thought regarding the comments made in the January 2005 LJ [Best of Technical Support, “Distributing /etc/shadow”, p. 68]? While possibly more than was originally requested, one of the other options available instead of constantly changing the root password would be to use the SecurID system (and ACE Server) that is sold by RSA Security. It gives you a variation on “one-time passwords” and in a lot of cases can satisfy the MIL-Spec that requires rotating the root passwords. However, in practice, locking out the root password and using sudo for everything (which can also use SecurID) is a much smarter idea. It provides auditing as a side benefit.


Michael C. Tiernan

Open Access to Archives, Please

Please put my vote in the “liked open access better” category. I subscribe to make Linux Journal possible and to have a hard copy in my hand every month. It doesn't bother me that someone else may be getting it free off the Web. I think that requiring a subscription to get full content is passing up the opportunity to provide a service. Let me give you an example.

I've been asked to do a piece for IEEE Software. So while researching past issues to find the appropriate tone for the audience, I found that there's a lot of good stuff there that I (and others like me) don't have access to because we don't get the subscription. As a result, we're less informed than we might be. Publications that do that may be protecting their copyrights and business model at the cost of their community being less informed. Even as a subscriber I'd be happier if the average Linux user was better informed.

The last time I checked, the European Linux magazines offered free access to content that was over a year old. If allowing access to older content (for some small value of “older”) will satisfy the original objectors, I can live with that.

I will keep my subscription whether you choose to change the subscriber-only policy or keep it. In either case, I get what I want and what I paid for. I think that open Web access to content is a valuable extra to me and the community.


George Koharchik
Speaking only for myself

Photo of the Month: Penguin Visit

My wife and I returned from Antarctica in December 2004. You'll be happy to know that the penguin population is thriving and (at least while we were there) gentoos were the most populous distribution!




William E. Shotts

Photo of the month gets you a one-year subscription or a one-year extension. Photos to ljeditor@linuxjournal.com.

Trip to Thailand

I took this picture of my wife, Ja (center), and her two twin sisters, Apple (left) and Cherry (right), on Christmas Day 2004, in Rayong Thailand. The T-shirts were from the Picn*x 13 Linux picnic in Sunnyvale, California last August (donated by Google).

We were on nearby Koh Samed (Samed Island) the next day when the tsunami hit. Luckily, both Rayong and Koh Samed are in the Gulf of Thailand, not on the Bay of Bengal. We noticed nothing more than a 3–4 foot surf, slightly larger than normal.




Drew Bertola

What Was the Bug?

I am very curious about the “Horrible Bug” referenced in the diff -u section of the February 2005 Linux Journal. I have just purchased SuSE Linux Professional, Release 9.2, which contains the 2.6.8 kernel. A description of the bug would help to determine if my specific system would in any way be impacted.


Richard Hathaway

Zack Brown replies: The bug was with NFS. Entering a mounted NFS directory would result in an OOPS under the 2.6.8 Linux kernel. Only folks using NFS would experience a problem.

Regarding SuSE Pro 9.2, you can put your mind at ease, the fix is included. All Linux distributions, SuSE, Debian, Red Hat and the rest, apply various patches to their kernels before release. In fact, in recent days the kernel developers have come to rely on vendor patches more explicitly, as a crucial element of the stabilization process. The 2.6.8 kernel included in the SuSE Pro 9.2 release is not a “true” 2.6.8 kernel, it is more like a 2.6.9-rc2 kernel with further additions. One of these additions clears up the NFS oops problem found in the official 2.6.8 kernel.

Question on Serial Ports

I particularly enjoyed Chris McAvoy's article in the January 2005 issue entitled “How I Feed My Cats with Linux”. I do have one question though. He makes the point that the BASIC Stamp uses a nonstandard serial port and specifically points out that Parallax's method makes two-way communication difficult. This seems a valid reason for replacement, except that I can't find any instances in the sample code where two-way communication is actually used. Did I miss something? For the purpose of the given example, wouldn't the onboard serial suffice? I do appreciate that this is but one example of the possibilities of this kit and can see where two-way communication would be useful, just not in this case.

I would like to commend this article and ask for more like it, as I am interested in data acquisition and digital I/O controls for some future projects that I am planning, and currently LJ is my only link to the computer world until 2008. Which brings me to a final question for the subscription department. I am a longtime subscriber, but the last couple of years, I have been receiving my LJ while incarcerated in a California State prison, and I wonder, are there any other inmate subscribers? I've run into very few computer geeks like myself in prison, and not a single Linux enthusiast, so my curiosity is piqued.

Thanks to the entire LJ staff for their hard work in putting out a fine publication.


Jason Shelton

Chris McAvoy replies: thanks for writing. You're right about not necessarily needing the MAX232 for one-way serial communication to the STAMP. Given the way we're using the STAMP, we could have just used the built-in serial port. That said, it was nice during testing to be able to run the DEBUG command in my PBASIC code, and see the output live on the console. If we used the built-in port, it would be more difficult to debug. Plus, the MAX232 kit is really slick, and relatively inexpensive.

Yes, there are other subscribers in prison, but we can't give out the exact number. —Ed.

An Epistle for General Release

The New Bedford Monthly Meeting of Friends met this second day of January 2005 and resolved to declare our recognition of the good that free software is doing in the world and to thank those who have shared the fruit of their labor.

We single out this activity for the following reasons.

That our Meeting uses these products for administrative purposes and that we hope to soon use them to help others. This is our thank-you note.

That those who are doing this work might better realize their own Light. We see Godliness in their actions and by drawing their attention to that Godliness may we let them feel it more strongly.

That people generally may know of and use this software and save their resources for other needs.

The society at large, and especially those who regulate, legislate, or adjudicate, may note the public good done by such sharing of intellectual property. Society should look kindly on this sharing, a sharing which its laws seem ill suited to promote.

In using the words free software we mean software which is put in the public domain or is released with conditions that ensure that any interested person may have, use, improve, and redistribute the software.

______________________

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