LJ Archive



Issue #111, July 2003

They Said It, diff -u and more.

BitTorrent: bitconjurer.org

Want to share your GNU/Linux ISOs or your 950MB FLAC recordings of your favorite taping-friendly band? With Bram Cohen's BitTorrent, you can serve big files to many users at once, even from a dial-up or DSL connection, by making the clients do most of the work. As soon as any BitTorrent client has part of the file, it helps serve that part to others. BitTorrent installs easily as a helper application in Mozilla or other popular browsers. Requires Python.

—Don Marti

Crossfire: crossfire.real-time.com

If you like role-playing games, look no further. Crossfire is a multiplayer magical role-playing game that will keep you from getting any constructive work done for weeks, maybe longer. You can play on servers all around the world or run your own server. It is definitely a lot more fun playing cooperatively in a small party than playing alone. But, do remember to eat and sleep occasionally. Requires: X client: libpng12, libz, libm, libX11, libXext, glibc, libdl; Gtk client: libpng, libz, libm, libgtk, libgdk, libgmodule, libglib, libdl, libXi, libXext, libX11, libSDL, libpthread, glibc.

—David A. Bandel

diff -u: What's New in Kernel Development

New kernel driver components are cropping up to take advantage of modern high-speed serial ports. SuperIO chips have supported up to 460.8K and 921.6K baud for a long time, though no Linux driver existed. In February 2003, David Woodhouse posted a patch to give Linux access to the high-speed capabilities in those chips.

It's now possible to use thousands of hard drives under Linux. The previous limit was 256. Badari Pulavarty submitted a patch in March 2003 to raise that limit drastically. During one test run, he successfully read from and wrote to 4,000 distinct disks. The new limitations on the number of disks supported by Linux still is being investigated. Various resources become overburdened as the number of disks rises, memory usage being the main catchall for these problems. Ways of accommodating the RAM requirements of massive numbers of disks are being investigated actively. A true hard limit on the number of disks may re-emerge eventually, but not until various debris has been cleared away.

A new GPLed graphical bootloader, called Gujin (short for GPL Use of the Jnp INstruction), emerged in April 2003, billing itself as a replacement for LILO. Coded entirely from scratch by Etienne Lorrain, Gujin boasts the ability to identify available kernels at boot time, which is an improvement over LILO's need to modify the boot sector for each installed kernel; the ability to load extremely large kernels, because LILO's size restrictions are being strained by the growing size of recent 2.5 kernels; and a sexy graphical interface for choosing which kernel to boot. It's still quite a new project, so don't look for it to take over the world in the immediate future; however, it does promise to be a flexible, powerful alternative to LILO and GRUB.

A new set of API functions for USB gadgets has been produced by David Brownell. This is intended to be used by peripheral devices, such as PDAs and other embedded systems running Linux. The API functions provide a consistent interface so that software written for one peripheral device can run unchanged on another, in spite of the fact that the two pieces of hardware may be quite different.

Now you can track the input/output readiness of files in a portable manner, using the new libivykis library by Lennert Buytenhek. This past April he released the library as a wrapper around functions like poll() and kqueue(), enabling a standard interface for high-performance networking servers, regardless of the system on which they happen to be running. The SourceForge page for libivykis lists it as fully stable and ready for production use, in spite of the fact that the first public release took place only recently. Whatever the case, libivykis apparently has been used already to produce proxy servers for various protocols, as well as a streaming video server.

The proprietary BitKeeper (BK) tool is becoming more and more firmly entrenched as the version control system used in kernel development. A new real-time BitKeeper-to-CVS gateway, set up by BitKeeper's creator, Larry McVoy, has silenced some of the more vocal anti-BK kernel developers. At the same time, free alternatives like arch and Subversion appear to be banding together, working to solve the formidable problems that have kept free version control systems from providing the state-of-the-art features found in BitKeeper.

—Zack Brown

Garbage Subtractor

Students at MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science (www.lcs.mit.edu/news/harddrives.html) recently looked into 158 disk drives obtained from eBay. Among other data, they found 5,000 credit-card numbers, numerous medical records and gigabytes of personal e-mail.

Graduate student researchers found a “widespread lack of awareness about how to remove sensitive data from hard drives effectively before recycling or discarding them.”

Phil Howard created a simple Linux-based solution to the problem: DiskZapper, a bootable Linux distribution, wipes all drives connected to the computer (diskzapper.com). It's free software, or you can order it on floppy or CD-ROM. Proceeds go to LinuxLobby.org.

—Doc Searls

NYFairUse Protests EGOVOS Conference

New York City's fair use activists, costumed as the American Founding Fathers, left the warm comfort of their homes at 4:00AM on March 17, 2003, to attend the EGOVOS conference at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The conference was supposed to be a showcase for free and open-source software in government. Instead, organizer Tony Stanco turned it into a platform and photo opportunity for Microsoft. Microsoft threatens free speech and fair use by taking control away from users with Digital Rights Management and with its upcoming Palladium “trusted computing” platform.

We are fortunate to have associates working on Broadway, and they introduced us to costume designers who dressed us as patriots of 1776. At the conference, I personally had the pleasure of speaking about the problem with European Union Minister Philip Aigrain, whom I met in Bordeaux last year.

After our trip to George Washington University, we made a trip to Capitol Hill while still dressed in our costumes. We got big smiles all along the halls of Congress, especially at Congressman Weiner's office. He's a member of the subcommittee on Intellectual Property and the Internet. We have a handshake deal to install a GNU/Linux system in his office, so stay tuned.

—Ruben Safir

Top row: Adam Kosmin (Windows Refund Day), Ray Connolly (Free

Software Chamber of Commerce Chair) and Tim Wilcox (CEO of Linux Force Beowulf Cluster Expert). Bottom row: Ceasar Vargus (NYLXS Member), Sunny Dubey (Poly Tech Student and NYC Board of Ed IT Manager) and Ruben Safir. All are members of New Yorkers for Fair Use (fairuse.nylxs.com).

LJ Index—July 2003

  1. Height in centimeters of Wakamuru, a Linux-based Japanese robot designed to care for the sick and elderly: 100

  2. Size in words of Wakamuru's vocabulary: 10,000

  3. Percentage of IT budgets spent on maintaining existing systems: 79

  4. Percentage range of Linux cost savings relative to UNIX, running Oracle: 45-80

  5. Billions of yen Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will dole out for open-source development in the next year (2003): 1

  6. Millions of yen budgeted in the next fiscal year to study possibly switching Japan's government computers to open source: 50

  7. Cost in US dollars of an SGI mainframe replaced by a cluster of 12 PCs running Red Hat Linux at the Johnson Space Center in Houston: 1,600,000

  8. Annual maintenance costs in US dollars of the SGI mainframe: 50,000

  9. Cost in US dollars of the 12 PCs and their OSes: 25,000

  10. Number of the top ten hosting locations that run Linux: 9

  11. Percentage drop in IT spending during 2002, according to IDC: 4.1

  12. Percentage of companies planning to increase IT spending in 2003, according to IDC: 85

  13. Percentage decline in average business spending on computer hardware and software in 2003, according to Goldman Sachs: 1

  14. Percentage increase in IT spending forecast for 2003, according to Forrester Research: 1.9


1, 2: Linux Devices3, 4: Oracle5, 6: Associated Press7-9: Information Week10: Netcraft11, 12: International Data Corp.13: Golman Sachs14: Forrester Research

In Memoriam

Mike Jackson, Linux Shadow Password HOWTO author, passed away on Friday, March 28 at the age of 38. In addition to maintaining the LSPH all these years, Mike was also a Navy sonar instructor, Reserve police officer, president and founding member of TSCNet, treasurer and founding member of the Kitsap Peninsula Linux User Group and contributor to projects such as the PHP SNMP module and the Sharp Camera package for OpenZaurus.

The last update of the Linux Shadow Password HOWTO was in 1998. This isn't because Mike lost interest, but because the HOWTO convinced everyone to start including shadow password support in their distribution by default.

When Mike took on a new project, he dove in headfirst. When he found bugs, he'd fix them and contribute the patches back to the project. When he found a lack of some feature, he would add it himself. He set an example for what a true hacker ought to be, demanding excellence and openness from software and improving it where there were flaws.

Mike's passing has deeply affected all of his family and friends; we will miss him greatly. We have gathered together the pieces of his home page and reassembled it along with other links at www.kplug.org/~mhjack. If you have memories of Mike you would like to share, please e-mail them to bcl@brianlane.com, and I'll add them to his home page.

—Brian C. Lane

They Said It

Universities are very cost-conscious, and the relatively low expense of Intel systems combined with organic availability of Linux is quickly becoming the norm, especially at reputable engineering schools. The free availability of the source code leads universities to standardize on Linux for computer science courses.

—Billy Marshall, Red Hat

Continuing core development of version 3 is mostly paid for by Hans Reiser from money made selling licenses in addition to the GPL to companies who don't want it known that they use ReiserFS as a foundation for their proprietary product. And my lawyer asked “People pay you money for this?” Yup. Hee Hee. Life is good. If you buy ReiserFS, you can focus on your value add rather than reinventing an entire FS.

—mkreiserfs, in reiserfsprogs 3.6.5

The first discovery I'd like to present here is an algorithm for lazy evaluation of research papers. Just write whatever you want and don't cite any previous work, and indignant readers will send you references to all the papers you should have cited.

—Paul Graham

Comparing UNIX and Linux like-for-like, we found that we get two to five times the amount of throughput [messages per second] on one of the Intel boxes than on a Sun Sparc box, at half the cost.

—Casey Merkey, Global Linux Program Manager, Reuters' Market Data System

—David A. Bandel

trickle: monkey.org/~marius/trickle

I often have a low-priority task that takes some time running in the background, like a large FTP download. With trickle, I can manage bandwidth usage on a per-program, per-IP-address basis, so my SSH sessions are still responsive, my FTP sessions continue (albeit at a slower pace), and family members and coworkers don't get upset. Its only drawback is that you must remember to use trickle to invoke the program for which you want the traffic shaped. Requires: libevent, libnsl, libdl, glibc.

—David A. Bandel

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