Volume 22, Number 4 - April 2006
Thursday, April 20, 7:00 PM
The CACTUS Newsletter is a monthly publication, distributed to our members and other interested people. Visit the CACTUS Newsletter on the web at http://www.cactus.org/Newsletter/. There you will find archives of back issues, as well as instructions on how to subscribe to the e-mail distribution. We welcome newsletter submissions by our members. Please contact newsletter [at] cactus <dot> org for more information.
This month we're going to do something completely different...
Bradley Wilson, a System Administrator with Sagem Morpho (a biometrics vendor), is going to talk about unusual Linux systems... on hardware that wasn't intended to be consumer upgradeable...
Bradley says he should be able to bring in a hacked XBOX and a Palm T3 running Linux for the presentation and possibly a hacked Linksys router. He will also talk briefly about how you go about installing Linux on these devices.
As an added bonus, Bill Gatez of Microsort will be speaking to the CACTUS membership regarding Microsort's purchase of the legal rights to Linux and what this will mean to the Open Sores community. This is the first time that a major software manufacturer has purchased the rights to a GNU-licensed operating system. Bill will review the legal precidents for making such a purchase and how this will impact other Open Sores projects. Bill will also discuss how the technology acquired from Linux will supplement Winders - their flagship product.
Come by, grab some pizza, contribute some cash, and listen to lots of discussion and Microsort-bashing.
The next CACTUS meeting will be held on Thursday, April 20, 2006 at 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM for pizza and informal discussion), in the auditorium of UT Applied Research Laboratories. (See end of newsletter for directions to the facility).
Despite it being March Madness, Spring Break, Rodeo Time, and South by Southwest, attendance was good. The rookie president finally remembered to mention the donation frog in his introduction. Gil Kloepfer published the wireless connection information (courtesy of UT Applied Research Labs) on the blackboard so members could connect to the internet and surf the web while ignoring the meeting in progress. Guess that's progress...
The call for new business was answered by Gil Kloepfer, who asked for a volunteer to do the newsletter. He's frustrated by the lack of contribution. Do we really need a newsletter? Doesn't seem to be worth it anymore. He put us on one month notice. He'll do it one more month, but if he doesn't receive any input, he's going to stop. This provoked a rather lenthy discussion. Our public relations chair, Lenny Tropiano, noted that we're not Linux. Why show up when we can read it on the internet? Gil responded, "we're here to share knowledge." Program chair, Randy Zagar, suggested that we rename our programs "weird science."
Out of order, under the heading of old business, Randy asked if anybody had heard from M. H. Khan. He had an agenda. He wanted to know if we got the money for the sale of the IBM power PC boxes yet. Chris Boyd, of Midas Networks, had a rack mount Pentium server server for sale for only $495. After some discussion, Randy agreed to be responsible for setting up the machine as a sandbox for installing various operating systems. The question was called, and the purchase was approved unanimously. Johnny wrote a check on the spot.
In his capacity as program chair, Randy Zagar, introduced the speaker for the evening, Jordan Hatcher from the Austin Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF-Austin). Jordan explained that he's a recent law school graduate (double major) who is awaiting his bar exam results. He's been with EFF for two years. He was representing the Austin Open Government Project who gathered over 2,000 signatures to get their proposition on the May 13th city ballot.
Jordan mentioned that the city council had just set the language describing the proposition on the previous Tuesday. He was critical of that language, which has since been re-written per judicial instruction. Jordan described the proposition as asking for some information to be online.
Jordan addressed some of the council objections to the proposition. Austin is a civil service city. It is allowed to keep two sets of records--one of which, containing personnel information is closed to disclosure. He described some of the objections as FUD. Gil said that his management has indicated a potiential requirement to archive every piece of mail for five years. Jordan pointed out that the charter amendment doesn't include personal email. Frequently, backroom deals are done with private email accounts.
The city already retains non-personal email. The amendment would require it to keep it longer. The Open Records Law protects privacy. Gil said that trying to determine whether or not mail was non-personal and reviewing requests for information was a labor intensive task. Jordan pointed out that the city is already required to review requests. The difference will be that once a request is satisfied, it is put online. If someone makes the same request again, they only have to go online. They don't have to re-review it.
The amendment specifically mentions Amanda forms, electronic forms for land development issues. Major contracts greater than $500,000 would have to be disclosed, as well as development projects costing more than $50,000. It also includes phone logs, organizational charts, staff manuals, processes, and lists of law suites that the city is involved with. Currently you have to pay one dollar per page for this public information.
Gil pointed out that it doesn't require that the information be in an open format. Currently about half of the documents are only readable by using Microsoft® Word. Jordan agreed that this was an issue, but we needed to address making the information available, then pursue the format issues.
Jordan took issue with the city staff's estimate of the cost of implementing the amendment. The city's estimate was $36 million in the first year and $12 million a year thereafter. He thinks they estimated the cost of OCR software for every computer that the city owns.
Jordan explained that two of the charter amendments have overlapping supporters and are sharing resources. He listed the web site: http://www.cleanwater-cleangovernment.org/. It actually redirects you to: http://www.cleanaustin.org/.
Other cost estimates were $24 million for the first year. Jordan mentioned that Austin doesn't have a good open record record. Corpus Christi is better.
After some discussion and some war stories about archiving spam, accidentally sending classified information through email, etc., Jordan concluded by urging everyone to vote on May 13th.
Then Jordan gave away a few EFF blue LED's that can be used for viewing the yellow dot watermark on lazer printouts. He also handed out some EFF stickers.
At this point Chris Boyd was have a problem with the wireless connection in the auditorium. Gil fixed the his problem.
Randy Zagar then presented the weird part: crazy mad backups. There's no extra drive on bubba.cactus.org and Randy has no access to Outserv. Matt Lawrence suggested that he use rbackup, an open source project. Randy was interested in iSCSI, an open-e plugin gadget. Red Hat Enterprise Release 4 includes an iSCSI initiator (client side part). Red Hat doesn't supply the target side (server), but source code is available. iSCSI is a network block device.
On a machine Randy has co-located at Midas Networks, he demonstrated iSCSI by performing a mkfs--to a disk on a machine at his home. A dd to this filesystem wrote four MB in five seconds. It took 22.4 seconds to perform a 16 MB write. That's about 710 kb/sec.
So he's got a server at an ISP running on disks that live in his house. That's the mad science part. Randy stayed up to 4 AM wondering what to do with this. Gil pointed out that if Randy had this much time on his hands, he should write an article for the newsletter.
Thanks to Jordan Hatcher of Austin EFF and Randy Zagar, our mad scientist for the presentation.
Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries (see http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/ip/trademarks/gnlguide.asp for details).
Is the CACTUS newsletter worthwhile? I must confess, for years I have not read the newsletter from start to finish. For a few years, it was because I was producing the newsletter. For the last few years, I would read only the program announcement and sometimes, the news about the systems. But I was writing the meeting reports. If I ever graduate to civilian, I'm sure I'd read more of it.
So is it worthless?
Last week, I was trying to setup a kickstart server at work. I was having problems with the tftp part--just after dhcp. I seemed to recall that Randy Zagar had done a presentation at CACTUS earlier this year about Red Hat kickstart. So I pointed my trusty browser at the CACTUS URL...
Alas, there was no meeting report. My problem turned out to be that the DHCP server was pointing to the NFS server rather than the tftp server (with the "next-server" keyword).
Did you know that nine years ago Tandem Computers were sponsors of CACTUS? SGI did a presentation in May about there MIPS based O^2 series. I didn't remember it, but thanks to our newsletter archive, I can recall it.
We used to have a saying at work, "if it isn't written down, it didn't happen." CACTUS needs the newsletter. It's worth it, even with the holes.
CACTUS would like to thank Bill Dodd and John Kingman for renewing their membership.
To renew your membership, please send check or money order payable to CACTUS ($30/yr for regular membership and $100/yr for corporate sponsorship):
PO BOX 9786
Austin, TX 78766-9786
You can also pay in person at the general meetings. Please direct any inquiries or address changes to membership [at] cactus <dot> org.
CACTUS meets on the third Thursday of each month at the Applied Research Laboratories (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. 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 (but you will need to inform the guard in the booth that you are attending a meeting at ARL). See map for further details.
Online maps are available at:
As always, please leave the facility as you saw it when you arrived.