Capital Area Central Texas UNIX Society
CACTUS Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 5 - May 2003


Contents:


May Meeting

The May CACTUS meeting will be held at 7:00pm (6:30pm for pizza and lively discussion) on Thursday, May 15, 2003 in the auditorium of UT Applied Research Laboratories (see below for directions to the facility).

Again, the meeting topic was not available from the Programs chairperson at newsletter publication time. However, two items that we intend to discuss are:

  1. CACTUS' participation in the USENIX Association annual technical conference in San Antonio

  2. Installing FreeBSD 4.x in 30 minutes or less

There will also be the usual discussion regarding topics as varied as UNIX system administration to the current state of the technical job market.


Letter From the President

by Lindsay Haisley

CACTUS has an opportunity to participate in this year's USENIX Annual Technical Conference in San Antonio. The dates of the conference are June 9-14, and email from Alex Walker indicates that we can have tabletop space there if we want it. We need to move soon on this, however, if we want to do it, and get some material printed up about CACTUS, and about what we do and who we are. This might be an excellent opportunity for Randy and others who are concerned about current IT-related political issues to put together some material alerting people to the dangers of the "Super-DMCA" bills before the TX and other legislatures.

This is a bit far from home, although certainly not impossibly so. Preparation would necessarily involve putting together some tabletop brochures on CACTUS and on whatever else we want people to have about us and our concerns. Let's put this on the next meeting's agenda and see if we have folks present who want to put out the time and effort to make this happen. I'll be out of town during that period, but there are very possibly others in CACTUS who would be happy to make this meeting.

We do need to move on this soon, however, and contact Alex, and Cat Allman (who is handling meeting logistics) if we want table space.


April Meeting Report

by Ron Roberts

[The minutes to the April meeting were not available from the Scribe at newsletter publication time]


Announcement: USENIX Technical Conference

This year's annual USENIX Technical Conference will be held in San Antonio, TX the week of June 9-14, 2003. For those who are not aware, USENIX is the Advanced Computing Systems Association, having strong roots in the area of UNIX system administration and development. It is not unusual to meet individuals who have been instrumental in the creation of UNIX and Open Source projects.

CACTUS has been invited to host a BOF (Birds Of a Feather) session as well as host a small exhibit. We will discuss this at the May meeting, since this will require at least one person from CACTUS to attend the conference. Additionally, the USENIX Association is offering a $100 discount for CACTUS members. The details of the discount will be announced at the May meeting.

For more information about the conference, please see http://www.usenix.org/events/usenix03/. To find out about the USENIX Association, and what it has to offer computer enthusiasts and professionals, see http://www.usenix.org/.


May CACTUS System News

by Lindsay Haisley

Our Linux box at Outserv continues to work well. In spite of the age of the two hard drives in the box, both appear to be error free and and 'cat /proc/mdstat' shows that both are still acknowledged by the kernel as valid and accurate drives.

The issue of backups has been brought up by at least one member. At present, we're not doing any backups of the box, either of system files or of user account files. A couple of options are open to us.

The latter solution is the one I use for FMP's co-located server at Inflow, and it works well. This issue of backups deserves some discussion by the membership with a view to implementing some sort of backup data security.

The Sparc 10 is still having periodic problems. Ray Solanic, the admin for the system, has been struggling to keep it available to our membership. At this point, I'm not aware of the exact nature of the problems. The box will ping, but refuses ssh (both v1 and v2) connections as well as telnet, rsh and ftp connections. I'm sure we can expect a full report from Ray at the next CACTUS meeting.

QMAIL

I thought I'd say a little bit about qmail, our MTA on linux.cactus.org this month. It has many user options which give everyone a lot of flexibility in managing their email. One of the most interesting of these is probably the $HOME/.qmail file.

Qmail uses $HOME/.qmail in much the same way that sendmail uses a $HOME/.forward file, however there are some notable extensions which everyone should know about. Like sendmail's .forward file, each line in a .qmail file can be used to control the disposition of incoming email.

One of the more convenient features of qmail is what are called "extension addresses". If your basic address is, say, joe [at] cactus <dot> org, you have a whole range of extension addresses available to you starting with "joe-". Each address, to be valid, must have a corresponding .qmail file with the same extension as the user part of the address. Thus, delivery instructions for mail to joe-clues [at] cactus <dot> org will be controlled by the file ~joe/.qmail-clues. Mail to joe-no-clues [at] cactus <dot> org will be controlled by the file .qmail-no-clues in Joe's home directory. The "default" .qmail extension is a catch-all, so mail delivery to joe-no-clues [at] cactus <dot> org would be controlled by ~joe/.qmail-default, in the absence of the files ~joe/.qmail-no-default and ~joe/.qmail-no-clues. Clear as mud? It's really pretty simple and easy to understand once you get the basic concept down. See the man page for dot-qmail(5) for a more complete explanation.

For everyone who has been in the dark about qmail for these many years since it replaced sendmail as our MTA, I've finally included the qmail man pages in /etc/manpath.config and regenerated the man database. You can get a full listing of qmail man pages with 'apropos qmail'. There's a lot of useful information there.


Editorials

NOTE: Editorials are written by members of CACTUS, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CACTUS organization as a whole or its officers.

"What Customer Support?" (Part I)

Everyone has a story of a bad experience with some company's customer support department. I am relaying one of mine not just because I feel compelled to share it with the world, but also because I see a need to identify what appears to be a growing trend. It also is a trend that involves our local companies.

My story starts with a "little" computer company called Dell. In November Dell was running a bunch of "almost-too-good-to-be-true" rebate promotions for their computers, some targeted to staff and students at higher education institutions, like The University of Texas where I work. I wouldn't be writing this if I had received the hundreds of dollars in rebates that Dell promised through their promotion, that a coworker participating in the exact same promotions for the same system received now months ago. "How can this happen," you ask? Well the primary problem is that after thousands of people applied for these promotions (because they "somehow" got announced on a technical bargain web site), Dell announced that these promotions were only for specific universities. Never mind that most (if not all) of the rebate forms were available through a pull-down list on their web site. The rebate forms didn't specify any restrictions on which university staff/students could apply, and in fact their sales support people reportedly affirmed this. Of the 5 rebates I felt I qualified for, 4 went through and I received a post card notifying me that I was not eligible for the fifth. If that were the end of the story, I would have been happy.

Just about the time (over two months later) that the rebate fulfillment company decided to send me my rebates (note for the record that my coworker had received her rebates at least two weeks earlier) I moved and put a forwarding order on my old address. After the obligatory 10 weeks went by before Dell or their fulfillment company would talk to me about the rebates, I repeatedly called both parties who insisted I would receive my rebates soon. I finally (2 more weeks later) got someone who told me that the rebate checks are issued with a "Do Not Forward" order, and promised me that the checks would be reissued. "Great," I thought.

Two more weeks went by and I still did not receive my rebates. So I again called the fulfillment company, who now informed me that any reissue of checks had to go through a "Dell internal department," which I had no way of contacting. So I called Dell's customer support department. After telling the representative my story and waiting on hold for 5 minutes, she now informed me that she could send me only 3 of the 4 remaining rebates, because I wasn't eligible for one of them ("but you ALREADY sent me the check, just to the wrong address!"). Angrily, I told her to send me the 3 rebates, that I reserved the right to get a full refund on my system if they won't honor the 4th, and that I would write a letter to Dell. She told me that the checks could take another 8 to 10 weeks to arrive, "but they typically come in about 4 or 5 weeks."

I did write a letter to Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer Corporation, right after this experience on April 2 and explained in detail what had happened, and explained that the only thing that would make me happy was to issue me all 4 rebates promptly, or refund my money and I would give them back the computer. I have not yet received any response, or any of the rebates. If I was as unreliable and irresponsible about paying for the computer as Dell has been about addressing their rebate problems, they would have sent a collection agency and a team of lawyers after me. Dell's actions go beyond irresponsible. They blame me, the customer, for mistakes their marketing department likely made.

Imagine what would happen if I told them I was running FreeBSD on their computer.

Dell's customer support attitudes are not unlike many of the others I and others have experienced recently. Next month I will present the second part of this editorial which will focus on the continued woes of DSL and getting "geek-quality" Internet service.

-- Gil Kloepfer
(ceditorial @ gc2.kloepfer.org)

Urgent Update on Texas super-DMCA (SB 1116, HB 2121)

The senate version of the super-DMCA bill has left the Criminal Justice Committee and will most likely be voted on the Senate floor in the very near future. As I mentioned at the last Cactus meeting there were a lot of problems with the original bill that would have made many common network security practices illegal.

There have been quite a number of changes to the bill since it was originally introduced, but most of these appear to be carve-outs for special interests and don't appear to protect the consumers to the degree I think they should.

As many of you are already aware, the super-DMCA bills are being pushed by content providers like the MPAA and not by communications providers like Verizon and SBC. The MPAA would like everyone to believe that this bill is about "signal theft" and that anyone opposing this bill must be "pro-theft" but there is a more sinister interpretation... that it's really a way for your communications provider to control what kind of communications devices you can use in your home.

There was a public hearing for SB1116 on May 6th. About 100 people showed up for this hearing, including myself, and I'd guess about half of them were there for SB1116. The meeting ran long, of course, and SB1116 was the last item of business on the agenda. By the time it actually came up for discussion there were only two senators there to listen to public comments and they were getting pretty irritated at how long things were dragging on and on and on...

The Austin EFF, ACLU, Verizon, the AeA (American Electronics Association?), and several individuals testified against the bill (including myself).

What was particulary interesting (or disgusting, depending on your perspective) was what happened the day after the hearing.

At the close of the hearing, Sen. Williams (the bills' sponsor) said that they would NOT try to push the bill out of committee the next morning, but he also didn't appear to have much interest in taking any of the public testimony into consideration.

After the hearing, I joined a discussion with representatives from the MPAA, Time-Warner, AeA, ACLU, and the Austin EFF to see if some sort of compromise could be reached. Everyone agreed that we were against signal theft, but we couln't agree on new language just standing in the hall... so we agreed to meet the next morning to refine the bills' language (it was about 1:00am by this time).

Anyone who's studied Machiavelli could have predicted what came next. The morning meeting never occurred. The MPAA representative asked to postpone the meeting and do it by conference call instead, because he had to catch a plane. What actually happened is the MPAA representative camped out in the capital all day long and convinced the committee members to unanimously vote it out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

Now that it's on the Senate floor, it's time to contact the Senators in your district and let them know exactly how you feel about this bill. Please take the time to read the documents below while you're considering what comments you want to make...

As is my usual policy, here are links to all of the relevant documents:

  1. Please read the latest alert from EFF-Austin about this legislation...
    http://linux.cactus.org/~jrzagar/sb1116/EFF_Alert.txt

  2. The original super-DMCA bill as submitted by Sen. Williams.
    http://linux.cactus.org/~jrzagar/sb1116/SB1116.pdf

  3. The committee substitute bill discussed during the public hearing
    http://linux.cactus.org/~jrzagar/sb1116/SB1116.2.pdf

  4. The letter from Professor Dix (UT School of Law) about "intent to defraud" under the Texas Penal Code
    http://linux.cactus.org/~jrzagar/sb1116/dix_letter_intent_defraud.pdf

  5. My comments on the bill...
    http://linux.cactus.org/~jrzagar/sb1116/personal_comments.txt

Kudos go to Adina Levin of the local Austin EFF and Ann del Llano of ACLU Texas for all their help.

-- Randy Zagar


April CACTUS Membership Report

by Luis Basto

We wish to thank the following individuals for renewing their membership -- Mike Cheselka, John Fusselman, and Luis Basto.

Membership

To renew your membership, please send check or money order payable to CACTUS ($25/yr for regular membership and $96/yr for corporate sponsorship):

     CACTUS
     PO BOX 9786
     AUSTIN, TX 78766-9786
You may also pay in person at the general meetings. Please direct any inquiries or address changes to membership [at] cactus <dot> org.


CACTUS Officers


CACTUS Sponsors

Significant Contributing Sponsors

Applied Research Laboratories/University of Texas at Austin www.arlut.utexas.edu
(Gil Kloepfer, Computer Science Division (CSD), 835-3771, gil [at] arlut <dot> utexas <dot> edu)
OnRamp www.onr.com
Internet service provider.
Outserv.net www.outserv.net
IT operations and management solutions to small and midsized businesses.

CACTUS Sponsors

Journyx http://www.journyx.com
Provider of workforce management software and services
Auspex Systems www.auspex.com
Fastest reliable network fileservers.
Covad/Laserlink www.laserlink.net
(Chip Rosenthal)
Multi Media Arts (MMA)
(Lee Williams, 451-7191)
Publisher of instructional materials for classroom and independent study.
VoIPing, LLC http://www.voiping.com
A Central Texas privately owned and operated partnership specializing in IT Consulting and Services. (Email info [at] voiping <dot> com. Phone 512-698-VOIP (8647) or 512-698-8031)

Friends of CACTUS

Applied Formal Methods, Inc.
(Susan Gerhart, 794-9732, gerhart [at] cactus <dot> org)
Austin Code Works
(Scott Guthery, 258-0785, info [at] acw <dot> com)
BestRegistrar.com. www.bestregistrar.com
(Steve Locke, (800) 977-3475), swl [at] cas-com <dot> net)
A top-level domain name registrar, CORE member.
CTG
(Maurine Mecer, 502-0190 [FAX 502-0287])
Professional recruiting.
EDP Contract Services
(Mark Grabenhorst, 346-1040) Professional recruiting.
Hewlett Packard www.hp.com
(Bill Sumrall, 338-7221)
Hounix http://www.texascomputers.com/hounix/
(Marilyn Harper)
Houston's Unix Users Group.
Network Appliance Corporation www.netapp.com
(Frank Mozina, fmozina [at] netapp <dot> com)
O'Keefe Search www.okeefesearch.com
(John O'Keefe, john [at] okeefesearch <dot> com, 512-658-9224 or 888-446-2137)
Professional recuiting.
Sailaway System Design
(Chris J Johnson, 447-5243)
Schlumberger www.slb.com
(Kathy O'Brien, obrien [at] asc <dot> slb <dot> com)
Technical services and products in over 100 countries.
Silicon Graphics www.sgi.com
(Don Williams, 346-9342)
Solid Systems
(Pete Farrell, 442-2222)
Sterling Infomation Group www.sterinfo.com
(Darrell Hanshaw, 344-1005, dhanshaw [at] sterinfo <dot> com)
Sun Microsystems www.sun.com
(Rick Taylor)
Supplier of Unix client-server computing solutions.
Texas Internet Consulting www.tic.com
(Smoot Carl-Mitchell, 451-6176, smoot [at] tic <dot> com)
TCP/IP networking, Unix, and open systems standards.
Technow
A Sun Authorized Training Center and a Hardware Reseller.
Unison Software
(Shelley St. John, 478-0611)
Supplier of networked systems management solutions.
UT Computer Science Department
(Patti Spencer)
UT Computation Center
(Mike Cerda, 471-3241, cerda [at] uts <dot> cc <dot> utexas <dot> edu)


CACTUS Meeting Location:
Applied Research Labs

CACTUS meets on the third Thursday of each month at the Applied Research Labs (ARL) in the JJ Pickle Research Campus (JJ PRC). We'll meet in the main auditorium located directly behind the guard's desk and main lobby.

Please do not show up earlier than 6:20 pm on the specified day. Enter through the main entrance at 10000 Burnet Road for ARL:UT. Tell the guard that you are here for the CACTUS meeting. You will be required to sign a log book, but not required to wear a badge. The guards will direct you to the auditorium entrance. Limited parking in the front of the building is available, but more extensive parking is available in the large parking lot just north of the ARL building. After 6:30 pm, all entrances to JJ PRC, except for the Burnet Road entrance, are closed and locked. You can still enter the parking lot in front of the ARL building. No parking tags are necessary after 6:00 pm. See map for further details.

Online maps are available at:

As always, please leave the facility as you saw it when you arrived.