LJ Archive



Issue #81, January 2001

Readers sound off.

Shallow Book Reviews

Sorry to have to say this, but I can't recall the last time I read anything in LJ that interested me. Business, web programming and networking take up the bulk of your publication, and I'm sure these things are of interest to many, but not to me. Furthermore, many of the software/book reviews are amateurish and almost all of them lack depth. For example, a review of a math program that actually gave an example of how to do something nontrivial, as opposed to “this program knows how to multiply matrices, isn't that neat” would be welcome. Useful tips for the garden-variety UNIX user would be nice, but that's already covered quite well by Linux Gazette. I also wouldn't mind seeing a well-written article that provided some hard criticism of the shortcomings of various Linux distributions and pulled no punches, but of course you don't want to offend your advertisers.

—Tom Goldring

Backup Recovery Revisited

I am an incarcerated subscriber. Until my recent transfer to a pre-release center I worked with computers for ten years in various industries within the Texas prison system. I have worked with Linux off and on over the past five years. Our computers have tended to be older machines handed down after their primary users deemed them obsolete. Thus, they are more prone to hardware failures. I have learned the hard way that backups are essential. I have come to appreciate a backup and restoration process that is as simple as possible—Keep It Short and Simple (KISS).

I read with interest Charles Curley's article “Bare Metal Recovery” (November 2000). And, I have to credit him with devising a sophisticated method of backing up and restoring a system. Good work! However, his method is too sophisticated, and I balk at the thought of having to repeat such a complex process for each machine that I need to back up. The problem is that the restoration disk contains the backup of the base system (“metadata”, as Mr. Curley calls it) and, therefore, a restoration disk must be built for each and every system. (Not to mention the need to resave the base system to the restoration disk every time the configuration is changed.) The restoration disk should only contain a minimal system with the appropriate drivers and utilities and the restoration software. The backup of the base system itself should be contained on the normal backup media. This way a single restoration disk can be used on any number of machines.

If you are using a backup utility that is too large to fit on a floppy, then building a restoration disk on a Zip drive (or Jaz drive or spare IDE hard drive) is appropriate. However, I noticed that the venerable tar utility won the Favorite Backup Utility category in your “2000 Readers' Choice Awards” (November 2000). Hurrah! tar is my favorite, too. Why? Because with very little effort I can restore a Linux system (or an entire department of Linux boxes) from a single set of boot and root floppy disks. You can build your own floppy-based system (re: “Customize Linux from the Bottom—Building Your Own Linux Base System”, November 2000) or you can use any of the many miniature distributions. I prefer to use Slackware's boot and root disks (I may be a little out of date here, not having used their newer disks since version 4.0.). Their “scsinet” boot disk contains common SCSI and NIC drivers. If you need a driver that is absent, you can build a custom kernel from the source (same version, of course) and write it to the boot disk. Their “rescue” root disk contains tar, file system and network utilities. You may need to create a device node for your particular backup device. I appreciate the convenience of Slackware's boot and root disks. I have never had a need for anything else, and I have had many occasions to restore a downed system or migrate a system to another machine. tar is definitely the backup/restoration tool du jour and a floppy-based system is the easiest means of restoring one or many systems. KISS!


—Antonio Barta

I read your October 2000 “Comparison of Backup Products” by Charles Curley with great interest. The article was very surprising, especially since our product (Microlite BackupEDGE) was not included in the test.

I say surprising because we've been in the Intel UNIX/Linux backup marketplace since 1987. Also, we were the first commercial vendor to introduce a disaster recovery component for Linux products, back in April of 1999 at Comdex Spring.

In short, how did you miss us?

—D. Thomas Podnar, President Microlite Corporationtom@microlite.com

The only reason I did not mention your product was simply because I needed to limit the review in size and scope to keep it down to a manageable size. As you know, there are a lot of good products on the market, and plenty of gnuware and freeware products as well. Had I taken the time to cover all of them, I'd still be at it, and would take up an entire issue of the magazine if I ever got it done. I do hope that my comments on the products I reviewed were sufficiently general that the reader can learn something about evaluating backup software in general.

—Charles Curley

Victor Yodaiken on Real-Time Linux

Re your “Real Hard Time” article in the November issue of Linux Journal: your readers should know that both TimeSys and Lineo use real-time technology taken from FSMLabs RTLinux. What those companies add (other than a fascinating interpretation of the GPL) is a misunderstanding of what makes RTLinux useful. RTLinux adds a special multithreaded, real-time process to Linux and rigorously prevents Linux from delaying the operation of this process. The real-time process schedule, itself, ignores Linux synchronization, and has access to the raw hardware. Instead of adding “features” to the real-time process, we encourage developers to break out of the box and take advantage of a dual environment: hard real-time with a stripped down POSIX threads API in this special process, and the stability and power of Linux outside of the special process. The pedal-to-the-metal performance and reliability of RTLinux are possible because our design allows us to toss away many “features” that have been considered essential in previous real-time operating systems.

In my ever so humble opinion, some of the new arrivals to Linux and RTLinux operate under the mistaken theory that simplicity is a “lack of maturity” in the technology. But simplicity in both Linux and in RTLinux is a deliberate design choice and is the hard-won and hard-to-keep “feature” that we most prize. In horror movies, the victims have to walk down the steps into the dark basement to see exactly what is making that growling noise. Don't they know that IRIX and RT-Mach and who knows how many other victims have preceded them down the stairs—and none of them ever came back?

—Victor Yodaikenyodaiken@fsmlabs.com

Look for Victor and Edgar Hilton's article on RTLinux in the January issue of Embedded Linux Journal —Editor

Advertisement Uproar

Readers response to Qsol.com's advertisement in the November issue was vast and varied. Below are a few samplings from each side along with the advertiser's response.


I think the picture of a naked programmer on the supplement was a bit much, but still laughable. However, in the November 2000 LJ, page 43 contains an ad by Qsol.com that contains what some would call vulgar insinuation.

Personally, I think this type of sexism has now gone too far in your magazine and sullies the character, professionalism and image of LJ, not to mention some of the people who buy it. I ask you to please contain the college crowd a bit more, and give us a magazine we can proudly display on our living room coffee tables or at work without having to rip pages out.

I for one will never use Qsol.com's products as I don't agree with their advertising message.

—Gordon Cunninghamgcunnin2@bellsouth.net

Not that I want to be accused of being politically correct of anything, but I bought my copy of Linux Journal, November 2000, and found the advertisement opposite page 42 a *leeetle* beyond the pale. I mean, [that caption]--with that picture! I had a flashback to advertisements from the 1970s.

God knows we have few enough women in this industry (and in Open Source specifically) as it is, and adverts like this aren't going to help us any.

Not that I want to stop a corporate citizen's rights to “individual speech” or anything, but maybe someone might hit them with a clue stick?

—Jeremy Allisonjeremy@valinux.com

As the proud owner of 150 copies of the Python supplement, I read with rapt attention the many letters regarding its famous nudie cover. This has all left me very curious as to what kind of response you will get for the QSol ad on page 43 of the November 2000 issue. I hope you will print a sampling. It's very interesting from a marketing perspective. I'm fairly sure you wouldn't see this stuff in Byte or InfoWeek, and the fact that you do see it in LJ tells me something about the markets Linux is and isn't in.

Not that I ever want to see you turn into Byte. It's just that I've worked in Corporate America and I can see where the negative response comes from. The part of me that tries to sell Linux/Python solutions to this often ultra conservative group feels that a print leader of the Linux community such as LJ needs to walk a more conservative line.

But, thankfully, the rest of me says to heck with it. Let someone else do Byte for Linux. I hope that whatever you do, you continue to print articles with so much delicious geeky detail and technically focused variety.


I would like to commend you on having the guts to print what is probably one of the most creative ads I have seen in a long while. The ad on page 43 of the November 2000 issue. A lesser magazine (especially one that that just had problems with a cover shot that included a naked man—another awesome show of backbone on LJ's part) probably would have refused it. I know you will probably take a lot of heat for it but, I am impressed. I thought the add was a riot. My only problem is whether to tear it out and pin it up in my cube or keep the article together in the magazine. All things being equal I would much rather deal with a company with a sense of humor than one that refused a funny ad for fear of offending someone. In fact, all things not being equal I would rather deal with a company with this type of add. Please keep up the GREAT work and don't back down from the people that will always complain.

—James Alspachjalspach@csione.com

We sincerely apologize to all those who have expressed concern about our advertisement recently featured in Linux Journal (November 2000). It was certainly not our intention to be offensive and we wish to again express our regret to anyone who was displeased by the ad. We understand that this has angered some readers and have therefore reacted immediately by pulling this artwork from all future issues of the magazine. Again, we extend our sincerest apologies.


Source Known

The LJ for November 2000 had a “source unknown” quote in the column titled “Let Freedom Ping” by Doc Searls. A quote that bears remarkable resemblance to the one mentioned is thought to be a Kenyan prayer, listed in Simpson's Contemporary Quotations. Just my two cents.



Acronyms Explained

I love your magazine, except when you use strange acronyms without telling us what's going on. What is “URI” as used in Brian Aker's article (LJ page 172 November 2000). I've looked everywhere, including three years of back issues of LJ, and can't find this acronym used anywhere. Spare us the frustration and explain your acronyms every time, please.

(Don't tell me it's really “URL”)!

—Reilly Burkereilly@aerotraining.com

A URI is a “Uniform Resource Identifier”, and URLs are a subset of URIs. For more information on the difference between URIs and URLs, see http://www.w3.org/Addressing/. By the way, that was a URI, URl and URN all at the same time. We'll expand that acronym next time we use it.

—Don Marti, Technical Editor Linux Journal

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