Disk errors – server migration in progress

Due to an accumulation of hard drive errors on this web and email server I am preparing a new server to take over from this one.

Over the past couple weeks, the SMART function of the hard drive installed on the server has been reporting steadily larger numbers of permanently unreadable disk sectors. So far this has caused a couple minor software crashes that did not take down the whole server, just one or two of the running server functions.

So in the interest of a smooth transition, I have started work on a new server by installing CentOS 6 on a computer I had doing some minor functions that were fun but not necessary. I will be migrating server functions from the old server to the new over the next couple weeks. I do expect there to be some very short periods of down time, but none should last more than a few minutes.

If you encounter difficulty with accessing my web sites or sending me email. please be patient and try again in a few minutes.

Thanks for your patience.

A Quick Look at Fedora 23

This is only the second day of the general availability of Fedora 23, so this is not a full-on review. It is just a quick look at what I have experienced so far.

I was so excited to try Fedora 23 that I broke my own rules and installed it directly on my primary workstation without so much as a test in a VM.


Yes, I was able to upgrade from Fedora 21 to Fedora 23. I have not had a successful upgrade in years and have had to resort to complete reinstallations — while saving home directory data, of course. The old fedup program never worked for me.

The network-based dnf system upgrade procedures worked very well with only one minor glitch.

I installed the dnf upgrade plugin, used the dnf system-upgrade download command to download the packages required to perform the upgrade on my system, and then rebooted to perform the upgrade.

The only problem I had was that the download procedure did not download or install the Fedora 23 public signing key. I installed that manually and the rest of the procedure worked just fine.

All in all, it took a little under 3 hours to perform the upgrade, in large part because I have a lot of things installed for testing purposes.

Plasma 5

In my look at Fedora 22, I was very critical of the state of the Plasma 5 desktop environment because it was far from complete and there were many issues that prevented me from doing the daily work that I required.

Plasma 5 in Fedora 23 is far more complete and well polished. It still has a few minor rough edges, but everything works as I expect it to. I still do not care much for the default Breeze icon set, but at least now I can change to a different set using the System Settings. Despite that, I am using the default set so I can spend enough time to give them a fair test.

Too Early For Conclusions

It is way too early for any final conclusions about Fedora 23. However my brief experience so far leads me to predict that this will be an excellent release of this staple desktop OS. And so far I have only installed the desktop version and not the server version.

I will try to post a more complete review in the News and Reviews section of this web site when I have more experience with it and some time available to do so.

SystemV startup vs systemd: My presentation at All Things Open

I will be presenting the talk, SystemV startup vs systemd at All Things Open on Monday, October 19th at 3:25pm in room 305B

systemd is a controversial replacement for the init daemon and SystemV start scripts that is now used by many important distributions. My presentation will cover some of the differences between these two startup systems as well as some basic usage information needed by anyone getting started with systemd.

I hope to see you there.

My “All Things Open” Talk

I will be presenting the talk, SystemV startup vs systemd at All Things Open on Monday, October 19th at 3:25pm. I do not yet know which room I will be in, but that should be available on the schedule when you get to the conference.

systemd is a controversial replacement for the init daemon and SystemV start scripts that is now used by many important distributions. My presentation will cover some of the differences between these two startup systems as well as some basic usage information needed by anyone getting started with systemd.

I hope to see you there.

David Both to present at All Things Open

I will be presenting at least one talk at All Things Open this October 19th and 20th.

The one talk that has been accepted so far isSystemV startup vs systemd”. systemd is a controversial replacement for the init daemon and SystemV start scripts that is now used by many important distributions. My presentation will cover some of the differences between these two startup systems as well as some basic usage information needed by anyone getting started with systemd.

I will post more details about the specific date and time when I am notified of that information.

I hope to see you there.

KDE Plasma 5 Disappoints in Fedora 22

Although Fedora is still my distro of choice, KDE Plasma 5 (KP5) is a real disappointment and makes Fedora 22 unusable for me. It is reminiscent of the switch from KDE 3.5 to KDE 4, where many things did not work and others were simply missing.

Understand that I am a KDE fanboy; it is my favorite desktop. But KP5 is unusable for me. Even after spending days trying to make it work to meet my needs I was unable to feel even marginally comfortable with it.

Many of the widgets that were present in KDE Plasma 4 are now missing, including a few that I really find useful such as the Konqueror profiles which enable me to use four default profiles for Konqueror and to create my own. In fact, Konqueror seems to ignore profiles now, even when I try to launch them from the command line. Perhaps the profile location has moved and the KDE 4 location no longer works; but that begs the question of why make that change. Konqueror is my favorite file manager and being unable to use my own profiles with it is nearly a deal breaker all by itself.

The multimedia configuration page in System Settings was unable to detect any of the multiple soundcards I have installed in my workstation. This failure, along with the inability to deal with my preconfigured Konqueror profiles, makes it impossible for me to work effectively in KP5.

The KP5 desktop itself is usable but flat, boring and uninspiring. Perhaps simplicity and clean looks is the watchword for this release but I don’t like it.

The real problem with this are the issues I had when trying to make the desktop look good for me. There are only two options for the default desktop look and no way to download more. There are also few icon options and again, no available downloads. KP5 does not recognize my existing wallpapers and was forcing me to import each individually.  Making changes to the desktop such as pointer schemes and various modifications to application appearance cause the desktop to crash repeatedly.

Underneath there are no major changes to Fedora 22 itself. The major changes like systemd, the new anaconda installer, and firewalld are well past. But the new Anaconda installer still sucks!

I did try to use various forms of GNOME, including Cinnamon and MATE, but I find those desktops too restrictive for me. So I went back to Fedora 21 with KDE Plasma 4 and I am now happy again. I will wait until KP5 is fixed before I upgrade to a newer version of Fedora – just as I did when KP4 made its appearance.

Ironically, this decision to revert to Fedora 21 is a reflection of my own somewhat inflexible approach to my desire for a flexible desktop experience. I like KDE Plasma 4 and the extreme flexibility it gives me. I find myself hampered and seriously annoyed by the lack of the features and flexibility in KP5 that I have grown used to in KP4 and I am unwilling to deal with those shortcomings for any length of time.

My main question is why would one release a desktop so seriously full of holes and annoyances?

Millennium Technology Consulting LLC Dissolved

For a number of reasons, I am closing down the business entity known as Millennium Technology Consulting LLC effective immediately.

I will continue to maintain this DataBook® web site, where I post technical information for Linux system administrators and end users. If you are looking for help with Linux and other Free Open Source Software (FOSS), I post information here that – for me at least – was difficult to find or that took me a lot of time to discover through experimentation.

Because that business subsidised the operation of this web site, that source of financial support is no longer available. So, if you find this web site useful, I ask you to consider supporting it by donating so that it may continue to exist.

Thank you.

Maintenance outages today, January 08, 2014

I will be performing some emergency maintenance today, to replace a couple old and failing UPS units. The batteries are OK, but the units themselves are failing after several years.

There will be a few short outages of the email and web sites during this maintenance.

Thanks for your patience.

David Both

It helps to know how things work

It really helps to know how things work when it becomes necessary to fix them.

This was true when I was fixing audio equipment in the early ’70s, and supporting computers and software for IBM, MCI, Interpath, and Cisco over the years, and teaching Linux for Red Hat and my own company, Millennium Technology Consulting LLC. The intimate knowledge of how Linux works has also been invaluable since I started working with it in about 1996.

Unless you know how things really work, there is a tendency to use a shotgun approach to problem solving. That wastes time and, if replacing parts is involved or purchasing new software, can be quite expensive.

After all, would you be willing to pay for the auto mechanic to replace several perfectly good parts while trying to find the one part actually causing the problem – and to pay him for time and materials as well? Of course not. Although that used to be the case more often than it should have been.

I submit for your approval a problem I just fixed this morning – with this web site.

It was not a problem that affected the external operation of the DataBook web site, but I could no longer use any editor from within WordPress to edit pages and posts such as this one.

Because I know several important things about WordPress I was able to think about the problem and correct it on the first try. I know the following about WordPress:

  • The data for WordPress web sites is stored separately in a MySQL database. Separation of data and code is always a good thing to do.
  • There is one and only one, small site configuration file for each WordPress web site, wp-config.php.
  • All WordPress plugins, themes, and uploaded graphics also have their own directories.
  • The Apache web configuration is separate from the WordPress site configuration.

So it was a simple matter to simply delete the entire directory in which the WordPress instance was installed for that web site. Everything.

I then copied the entire directory structure from a known working web site to replace the one I deleted. I then copied the original wp-config.php to the appropriate location in the newly copied WordPress directory structure and my web site was up and running again. It was then trivial to copy from backups the rest of the plugins and graphics to complete the process. All in all it took less than 5 minutes.

Not having the understanding I do of how WordPress, MySQL and Apache work together to produce a web site, I would have been tempted to simply delete everything in the WordPress directory (/var/www) for that web site and start over by reinstalling WordPress and configuring it from scratch. As easy as that is for WordPress, it would still have taken much longer than it did for me to actually fix the problem.

If I had understood more about the PHP coding of WordPress itself, I probably could have simply repaired the offending file that was likely corrupted for some reason. But that would probably taken much longer in any event.

If you are interested in learning how Linux works so that you can identify, understand and fix problems in the most effective ways, try the Linux classes I offer at Millennium Technology Consulting LLC.

CentOS 7.0 released

CentOS 7 was released today, July 7.

CentOS is identical to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) with the only exception being the branding text and graphics. CentOS is a fully supported Community ENTerprise Operating System that provides free upgrades and support.

CentOS 7 incorporates several major changes and enhancements. These includes things like systemd and GNOME 3. In addition, the XFS file system is now the default.

Many of the new features in CentOS, such as systemd, have been around for a couple years, most notably in the Fedora distribution. Fedora is the upstream feeder to RHEL and many new RHEL features are first introduced in Fedora.

See http://www.centos.org/ for more details anout CentOS 7.

David Both to present “SystemV Startup vs systemd” at TriLUG on May 8

I will be giving a presentation, “SystemV Startup vs systemd” at the TrilUG meeting on Thursday, May 8.

Topic: SystemD
Presenter: David Both
When: Thursday, 8th May 2014, 7pm (pizza from 6.45pm)
Where: NC State Engineering Building II Room 1021, Centennial Campus
Parking: The parking decks and Oval Drive street parking are free after 5pm
Website: http://trilug.org/2014-05-08/systemd

The new systemd daemon replaces the init process for some distributions already and is coming to many more. systemd provides service management and much more as well as startup for services designated to run on startup. It is designed to increase startup speeds as well as to conserve system resources by using a new startup strategy in which services are not started until they are actually required. This presentation will briefly review the Linux boot process and the old SystemV startup process. It will then discuss in more detail the startup process using systemd, and the reasons for creating the new systemd daemon and some of the advantages it provides. We will also discuss configuration files and some of the more common commands required to cause systemd to do our bidding. Backward compatibility will also be covered.

I hope to see you there.

Dealing with the HeartBleed bug

It has been a very hectic couple days since I woke up Tuesday morning to the news about the so-called HeartBleed bug. I spent a good bit of time Tuesday exploring the available information and then creating a program that would do much of the work required to actually fix the problem, and then testing my program. I spent a good deal of Wednesday fixing the problem on the computers for which I have some responsibility.

I have taken a bit of a breather after all that and here is my assessment.

HeartBleed is the most serious bug ever

HeartBleed is a bug that is both dangerous and insidious. If you have a computer that is on the Internet, you must assume that your data has been stolen. Even worse, you have no way to know who has been stealing your data or for how long; this bug opens up your data in such a way that no trace of the crime is left behind.

There is even a web site dedicated to HeartBleed, that provides the gory details about this bug and its effects that is strictly factual and contains none of the hype required by alleged news organizations that are primarily entertainment and not information – infotainment.  Unfortunately, in this case, most of the hype seems to be deserved.

What it does

The HeartBleed bug does nothing by itself. It simply provides an open door to crackers (black hat hackers) who use that door to steal personal data. HeartBleed affects the OpenSSL library of security programs that are used by most computer systems. The bug allows access to the memory of the affected server.

When your computer connects to a web site that uses encryption, such as your bank, the OpenSSL code is used for communicating between your computer and the bank’s computer. When there is no activity for a period of time, OpenSSL produces a heartbeat, a simple transmission of a packet of data that says “I am still here” to the server that prevents the server from closing the connection before you are finished with your business and the server responds with a simple acknowledgement of that “ping.”

The crackers can use this by faking a heartbeat signal from your computer. The acknowledgement is sent back to the cracker’s computer and the cracker can then request data from the memory of the server. The memory leaked to the cracker can contain any or all of your personal data stored on that site.

The affected computers are the servers that run most of the websites in the world and that contain your medical, personal and financial data including your social security numbers, banking information and everything else you don’t want the bad guys to have access to.

The worst part is that you do not have to do anything to have your data stolen except to visit a web site you already trust like your bank.


Almost every version of the OpenSSL library has been fixed. And most of the large organizations that have servers, such as banks and other financial institutions, eCommerce websites like, hopefully, Amazon, Google and so on, have already patched their web sites.

The first thing you should do is install the latest updates to your own computer(s) regardless of which operating system you use. If your operating system is too old for new updates, such as Windows 95 or XP, or Fedora Linux 18 or earlier, upgrade your operating system and install all of the current updates. If you need to upgrade your computer in order to upgrade your operating system, then do so.

Second, change all of the passwords you use on web sites. ALL OF THEM!  All of your passwords have been compromised. If you continue to use them your data will be stolen.

The real problem is in knowing whether the web sites you use and which have some of your sensitive data have been fixed. By this morning, Thursday, April 10, many have some sort of notice on their login page. In most cases the ones I see seem to say that they never had a problem.  But you cannot count on that. Many are ignoring it entirely. Just do the best you can. Change all of your passwords anyway. If you learn later that the web site did not fix the vulnerability until after you had changed your password, change it again.

A few password guidelines:

  • Never use the same password on multiple web sites. Thus if one site is compromised, you won’t have to change all of your passwords.
  • Use long passwords that are at least 8 characters in length. This makes it much more difficult to guess or crack your password.
  • Passwords should contain a combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers, and special characters. This makes it much more difficult to guess or crack your password.
  • Never use the same password twice. An old password that was hacked, if used over, can still be used to attack your account.
  • Do not use birth dates, Social Security Numbers, pet, friend or spouse names, or dictionary words for your passwords. This will make it much more difficult to social engineer your passwords.
  • Change your passwords frequently. At least every 90 days, but once a month is even better. This will limit the time of your vulnerability if a site is compromised.
  • Never write down your passwords. Ever.

Good security is hard work

Yes, good security is hard work. That is why companies hire a lot of expensive people to handle it for them. For end users, it also takes time and some creativity to come up with reasonable passwords that are safe but which can also be remembered. It will be frustrating.

Bad security is an even bigger hassle. It can cost you your identity, lots of money and a great deal of time and frustration – far more than good security will cost.