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Sep 102018

If you have not heard, Steam have added a compatibility layer to Steam which allows a limited number of Windows games to run. The “compatibility layer” is in fact a fork of WINE called Proton.

Peered at from 500 metres away, Proton allows Windows software to run (or not infrequently crash and burn) by translating the Win32 API into Linux APIs, and translating the variety of graphics APIs into Vulkan. That is a really difficult thing to do.

I have taken a very quick look at the new Steam client (and “Proton” is no longer part of a beta release of the Steam client – it’s in the standard client). It works perfectly adequately, although you will have variable experiences running Windows software.

For some reason this news has captured the imagination of a number of ‘tubers who are more gamers than Linux users, which has lead to some misunderstanding :-

  1. This is not Linux gaming; it is Windows gaming under Linux. If you have a bad experience with Steam under Linux, you are not experiencing a bad time with Linux gaming. Linux gaming involves native Linux software, and yes there is some out there.
  2. Problems with Steam could well be down to the Proton compatibility layer with unsupported API calls or buggy usage of the Win32 API which relies on Windows behaving in a certain way for undefined parameters.
  3. In addition problems with Steam could be due to the hardware you are running; take a game that works perfectly fine with an Nvidia card. It may behave problematically with an AMD card or even a different Nvidia card. Or the other way around.

The important thing to remember when looking at videos about Steam is that the person looking at Steam may not be the most experienced Linux user out there. That is not necessarily bad – the whole purpose of Steam is to be able to run games easily without a whole lot of Linux experience.

But they may not be understanding properly what is going on – for example the first thing I would do as a professional game-orientated ‘tuber would be to try out a selection of games with an nvidia card, and then repeat using an AMD card – just to see if things work better, worse, or at least differently.

And again, this is not about Linux gaming but about allowing easy access to old Windows titles that someone may have bought in the past. 

Pentland Hills
Sep 082018

Having used Linux for well over 20 years (yes it is that old), and Unix before that, I’m often puzzled by how scary some people seem to find Linux. Why should it be scary? It’s just a computer – you’re the human in charge of it.

Yes There Are Gooeys

(graphical user interfaces – GUIs – gooeys)

Yes there is plenty of software with a graphical user interface – I use plenty on a daily basis including a standard web browser, an email client, a password manager, an office package.

On a slightly less frequent basis there are many more that I use. Indeed providing that you accept the use of alternatives, you can find Linux software to do just about anything.

But Don’t Ignore The Command-Line

Yes, Linux has a command-line, and for those of us familiar with it, it can be very powerful. And there is no harm in learning how to use the command-line just to the point where you can follow instructions on how to “get something done” there.

Because if I have a fix for some niggle that you are having, it is easier and less error-prone to pass instructions for a command-line incantation than instructions for a gooey (and yes I have done both).

The Birds

Sep 062018

I recently put together a new PC (or mostly) and had occasion to look at what PC cases are like these days. In the end I kept my existing case, but did spend enough time looking to have certain opinions.

And they suck.

All about the glass windows to let the silly lights show through, but how about useful features?

  • Tool-less case panels? Or at least the top panel (to access the expansion cards).
  • Built-in cable runs so things (fans, SATA drives, etc) can be plugged in next to where they are installed.
  • On the subject of fans, servers often have easily removable fan trays; fans are mounted to a plastic frame which in turn slots into position together with power and control signals. A doddle to clean, which would be handy for a desktop workstation.
  • A front panel display to show fault messages during startup – firmware fault codes (some motherboards have a two-digit display but they’re optional and usually not visible when the case is closed). Post-boot it could be used for other things. If it breaks the clean lines of the case, put it behind a sliding panel or something.
  • Handles. And wheels. 
Signs Of The Sea

There are probably a whole bunch more that could usefully be considered, and some of these are inherited from cases known to me (the old Mac Pro case is a good place to start from).

Aug 122018

Within the atheist community, the attitude towards the catholic church can sometimes verge on the old-fashioned protestant style anti-catholic bigotry. That isn’t to say that the RCC doesn’t deserve its fair share of criticism – in particular women’s rights and reproductive rights.

But some of the anti-catholicism can be a little extreme.

The Crusades

But that was centuries ago! Were the crusades evil? Of course they were.

But take a look at what other organisations were up to at the same time – secular rulers were doing pretty much the same thing (usually at a smaller scale).

If you look at secular rulers of the early mediæval era, a good proportion of them qualify under modern standards of behaviour as psychopaths. Most “noble” families started off as successful raiders and war bands whose winning strategy at accumulating wealth was to find those with some wealth and extract it from them with force.

And the church leaders? Many of them were from those families and so it is not surprising that the mediæval church had its own psychopaths.

Take the Cathar Crusade in southern France as an example. It was the source of the phrase “Kill them all; God will know his own”. The catholic church spent nearly 100 years trying to convert them peacefully, and it was only after a papal legate was killed that the crusade began.

And this is all ancient history – when was the last catholic crusade?

“Pædophile” Priests

So every priest is a pædophile? Not even close – the proportion of child abusers within the church is probably much the same as the proportion of child abusers within any other organisation with power over children. See; one interesting datum from that article is that the insurance industry rates for sex abuse insurance are the same for catholic churches as for any other denomination. 

And insurance companies hold no truck with religious morals; they deal with hard statistics and probabilities. 

Institutional Secrecy

The RCC can be quite reasonably criticised for past crimes in concealing child abusers, and suspicion over how they will treat future crimes is not unreasonable.

But I don’t see them reacting differently to every kind of organisation which reacts to protect the name of the organisation. Protecting child sex abuse is an extreme example of this, but has still occurred in many different kinds of organisations.

The RCC is also a bit of a special case in that it predates nation states in existence today (the oldest state is Iceland which was formed in the 9th century) and has a long tradition of managing itself independent of secular authorities. 

In a sense, the RCC thinks of itself as the authority in charge of the hierarchy and wouldn’t think of informing secular authorities of issues. This may be changing, and needs to change.

The Catholics and The Nazis

There are those out there who seem to be under the impression that the RCC was in cahoots with Hitler and the Nazis; such people are woefully and abysmally ignorant of the history of the times.

There were some catholics who supported the Nazis, but overall the RCC was very strongly against the Nazis. For a quick overview of the history see:

Final Word

This might come across as a bit of a white-wash of the RCC, but it is not intended as such. It is merely intended to point out that the RCC is no more culpable to child sex abuse cases than many other organisations which have had similar incidents.

One thing that may be commonly overlooked is just how large the RCC is. There are approximately 2.4 billion christians around the world; of whom nearly 1.3 billion are catholic. You can take every single baptist out there (up to 100 million) and they will amount to no more than the error bars on the estimate of the number of catholics. No wonder that nearly every other week there is a new catholic scandal.

Aug 092018

Well that was a weird error; I recently discovered that ntpd had mysteriously stopped working; specifically it was not able to resolve NTP “pool” names :-

ntpd: error resolving pool Name or service not known (-2)

After some time spent blundering around down dead ends with the help of an appropriate search engine, I ended up resorting to strace. This is a tool most commonly used by developers but can be surprisingly useful for diagnosing system problems too.

As long as you can look past all the inscrutable output!

The strace tool runs a command and records every system call that the command calls together with the results. And of course most commands make zillions of system calls so you’re likely to end up with a huge output file.

To generate the output file, I ran the modern equivalent of ntpdate (ntpd -d) which tries to do the same thing using the actual NTP daemon. Usefully in this case because the command starts, configures itself (which is where the error occurs), and then exits (unlike the normal dæmon). It is important to redirect the output to have a file to trawl through later :-

strace ntpd -d > /var/tmp/ntpd.strace 2>&1

Once the output was generated, it was necessary to trawl through it to look for clues. The first thing was to search for “europe” (as I use as one of my NTP servers). The first occurrence was the error claiming that the name didn’t exist :-

write(2, "error resolving pool europe.pool"..., 73error resolving pool Name or service not known (-2)

Which was somewhat odd because you would expect the string “europe” to occur within an instructable attempt resolve the name. Yet it appears as though the error occurs without any attempt to resolve the name!

As a bit of a guess I searched for “resolv.conf” which revealed :-

stat("/etc/resolv.conf", {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=362, ...}) = 0
openat(AT_FDCWD, "/etc/resolv.conf", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = -1 EACCES (Permission denied)

Apparently ntpd is unable to open the file due to a permissions problem!

Looking at my /etc/resolv.conf revealed an oddity dating back to when I tried configuring /etc/resolv.conf as a symbolic link to a file on a separate file system. The file itself was a symbolic link to /etc/resolv.conf.file.

For some reason ntpd didn’t like the symbolic link, which is a bit odd but changing it to an ordinary file fixed the problem.

Aug 042018

There is now in the USA a bunch of conspiracy theory nuts called QAnon who are followers of the fictional mole within the “Deep State” called “Q”. They are of course all followers of Trump, and are all too quick to believe in some of the most inane political conspiracy theories :-

  1. The “Deep State” is planning a coup to unseat Trump.
  2. North Korea is a puppet state controlled by the CIA.
  3. Certain members of the Democrat party have hired MS13 to murder rivals within the Democratic party.
  4. The Mueller investigation is actually on Trump’s side and is secretly investigating child sex rings within the Democratic party.
  5. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are trafficking children and are also planning a coup.
  6. J.P. Morgan sank the Titanic.

They also believe that their source Q will eventually reveal the secrets of the universe.

It is clear that QAnon are deeply stupid and deeply ignorant people; in fact dangerously stupid and ignorant. One supporter when asked if they had any evidence that Q was for real, answered with a No, but added there was also no evidence that Q wasn’t real.

Which is itself evidence that at least one Q believer is dangerously stupid and ignorant. And it probably goes for the whole crew – after all believing the partial list of ridiculous conspiracy theories is evidence enough of stupidity.

And of course they’re all Trump supporters – you would have to be stupid to vote for someone against your own interests.

Of course Q is just a troll to expose just how stupid some Trump voters are, which I know because I taught Q everything they know; I’m P.

Jul 302018

Alternatively, why does Windows use drive letters? Because if you are coming from an old unix background, drive letters are just as weird as the lack of them if you are coming from a Windows background.

I mean, why is Windows installed on drive C? What ever happened to drives A and B?

Technically Linux does have the equivalent of drive letters but they are rarely used directly (unless you’re weird like I am). For example I currently have an SD card plugged into my desktop system, and it has the path /dev/disk/by-label/EOS_DIGITAL (or /dev/sdo1).

Historically, Unix (which is loosely the predecessor of Linux) ran on large minicomputers where system administrators would decide what disks were “mounted” where.  The Linux equivalent of drive C is effectively “/” (root), and you can attach (or “mount”) disks at any point underneath that – for example /home.

This allowed people to use an old Unix machine without worrying where this disks were; and allowed system administrators to add and remove disks as and where they were needed. These days we are all system administrators as well as users – that little voice you hear from time to time saying things like “When would be a good time to update the operating system?” and “I must clean up those temporary files all over the place” are your inner system administrator speaking up.

And if you don’t hear that inner voice, cultivate it!

With device paths, Linux has the opportunity to create sensible friendly names for disks, but a historical accident has resulted in almost every kind of disk being identified as a SCSI disk – SATA disks (a normal hard disk), SAS disks (server hard disks), Fiber Channel disks (SAN hard disks), and even USB storage devices all use SCSI commands.

So nearly all Linux disks are identified as /dev/sd followed by a letter (a “drive letter” – we can’t get away from them) and a number indicating the partition. Fortunately there is also the relatively new /dev/disks directory that has slightly friendlier names for disk devices. If you are getting into low-level disk management, learn these directories; in particular if you are looking into enterprise disk management look at WWNs (each disk has a unique “world-wide-number”).

Now back to Windows. Windows is the descendent of DOS, which goes back to the time when PCs may not have had hard disks and by default would have booted off a floppy disk in drive A with a data disk in drive B. Later PCs came with hard disks which used drive C on the assumption that you would have one or two floppy drives.

Windows has been updated over the years and there is a great deal of sophistication under the surface, but it does act a bit conservatively when it comes to drive letters – A and B are by default reserved for floppy drives even though I haven’t seen one of those on an ordinary system for years. You can use A and B for other purposes such as mapping network drives – A makes a good drive for a NAS drive.

If we get away from the terminology of “drive letters” and “device paths” and instead refer to them as “storage device names”, both Linux and Windows have “storage device names” but Linux prefers to hide that level of detail.

Personally I prefer the Linux way, but whatever floats your boat.

Jul 292018

Second Best Bench

What seems like a long time ago (2006), I picked up a cheap Canon DSLR for a bit of fun, and surprisingly enough found it fun. What was even more surprising was that this picture was the first that indicated that perhaps some of the images I made were not entirely bad. And I have just heard that Getty have picked this image up (via EyeEm) to sell.

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