Pardon the disruption..

Due to a lost / corrupted GPG keyring and passphrase I’ve had to issue a new RPM signing key for my ThatFlemingGent repository. I’m fixing the breakage now and I can’t say I’m too pleased, it’s a pain in the proverbial nether regions I (and users!) can do without.

On the topic of packaging – the observant have noticed I didn’t do an F13 branch anyway – I simply don’t have the time and frankly my own hackish scripts can’t keep up with the pace anymore, so I’m scaling back to maintaining my Fedora/EPEL packages and my own RHEL/CentOS package set – the latter mainly as I use CentOS 5 on my infrastructure and I/others still want the Courier IMAP packages, or so AWStats tells me 🙂

I have however done a LOT of work on modules for the Puppet configuration management system, mainly as part of my daily work – 69 in total (not-so-gentlemen start your entendres) some of which I may extend / put up for public use (with permission) and help my fellow sysadmins.  Puppet is in both Fedora and EPEL (and fairly current too – I’m waiting for 2.6.0 to hit stable as it will fix some problems in my work environment *hint*)

Oh, and a “dear lazyweb” to finish – having worked extensively with PostgreSQL for the last 10 months I’ve become something of a fan and looking to move off my MySQL instances (which don’t perform as well) – any suggestions for a good PostgreSQL backend blog/CMS?

(I know Drupal already and it’s not my preference; Django-based stuff is out too through painful experience. Rails? Perhaps with a good mod_passenger package?)

Keeping afloat in a binary ocean


One of my pet peeves as a guy who likes to say his piece online is the number of really interesting and useful technologies / ideas completely ruined by lazy attempts at marketing by even lazier “salesmen” and marketers.

Look at email – DKIM/SPF/DNSBLs/greylisting just to keep the signal to a sane level. I don’t accept IM’s from contacts not already vetted and authed, I’d be flooded..

Social media is no different, alas. I have accounts on both Twitter and and the former attracts enough bot followers that I routinely clean them out (no for the nth time I don’t want to see Britney naked; we’ve all seen it and we’re still paying for the eyebleach. Cheers)

Getting it right takes only a little  effort. Lauren Cochrane, an old colleague of mine who now works for the RSPCA nails this on the head – you need to balance your “brand” with being human ; don’t fail the Turing test.

While it’s easy to write up a bot to spruik a message cheaply and efficiently (especially to services with a free, public API like Twitter or Laconica, although thankfully aren’t as badly affected) it’s a huge turnoff for a lot of people and ineffective – the sign of laziness / ignorance in my rarely humble opinion. If your product / “brand” has real worth then it should be very easy to talk about it earnestly and openly and give it a bit more depth – Lauren cites commenting and relaying information relating to your interests, even a few pics here and there just to assure your community you don’t end in .sh 🙂

Be interesting, discuss useful ideas, show you’re the real deal and they’ll come – something that F/OSS communities are also very good at. Are you reading me via Fedora Planet? See the posts above and below mine? These are great examples – a potpourri of diverse people, places and posts not essentially directly free software or Fedora related. The community works well and brings in more people simply because it has this depth, it’s not strictly dry technical talk.

If you can’t do that with your product / “brand”, then go buy a sandwich board / billboard we can choose to ignore if we want to while we go about our business. There’s enough noise in traditional advertising without adding to it here, there’s no need to force a broken old model on a medium built in an essentially polar-opposite fashion.

Other stuff:

I seem to have a spam dry run – for the first time since I started using email (1994, I’m a relative newbie) I have 0 spam in my junk folder. Either I have achieved some sort of email enlightenment, my setup is too hardcore for current spammer tricks or something is horribly wrong. The irony is that my secondary MX has no greylisting or spam filtering on it yet – just when you think you’ve seen it all something can still surprise you.

As heretical as it sounds I may have to lay off the caffeine, as my poor old brain doesn’t seem to cope well (beware the wired sysadmin!) plus for some reason instant coffee makes me sleepy (hey, that’s not meant to happen! Stimulants anyone?) Fortunately I dislike anything that I haven’t ground myself or at least been beans recently.

Any suggestions for good quality green tea are welcomed 🙂

Another closed protocol failure…

It looks like the Microsoft Windows Live Messenger Service protocol servers are unresponsive tonight (http login still works) – I’ve got some friends from old workplaces and other Windows hold-outs using it, so I still have an active account.

If you haven’t convinced friends/loved ones/co-workers to switch over to a decentralised, completely free and open protocol like XMPP, now is a good time! I’ll be making some gentle suggestions to the abovementioned holdouts 🙂

Fedora has a slew of options for all the common desktop managers as well as the console (I look after mcabber for instance) and there’s excellent options for your Mac / Windows friends in Pidgin, PSI, Pandion et. al

At least with the XMPP network one downed service doesn’t bring down the  whole house, especially with cluster-aware servers such as ejabberd freely available and plenty of open, public services around.

Getting a PowerDNS recursor up and going, fast!

This post is another one of my “quick and dirty” service tutorials

This time, I’ll cover getting a recursive DNS service up and going, using the PowerDNS recursor package. Traditionally Red Hat/Fedora users would opt for BIND (with or without the old “caching-nameserver” package of old) but I like to be a little different. Plus:

  • PowerDNS has an excellent security record (was not affected by the Kaminsky DNS vulnerability)
  • It’s small and does only the job it’s intended for in the traditional small-tool UNIX philosophy (Authoritative DNS is the job of it’s “bigger brother” PowerDNS package)
  • It’s fast and very easy to configure (compare to djbdns for example, which is neither)

Installing the software

For Fedora users, it’s in the Everything repository so you can just install the package as below. Red Hat Enterprise Linux  / CentOS et. al will need to  add the EPEL repository first

To install, simply

yum install pdns-recursor

.. which will install the package and it’s dependencies (just lua and boost if you’re on a fairly fresh install)


It only needs a single configuration file in /etc/pdns-recursor/recursor.conf., so open it in your preferred editor

As it uses key = value pairs, it’s very easy to follow, well commented and the defaults are quite sensible.

Firstly, for security, change the “allow-from” to match your local subnets – this determines which address blocks our server will permit and answer recursive queries for.


If  you have local authoritative zones (especially private internal DNS) you may want to set forward-zones to tell the recursor to query those servers for domains

#format is zonename=dns.server.ip

forward-zones =

If  you have a number of zones to forward queries for, you can use the forward-zones-file directive, which should point to a file containing the key-value pairs as above

By default, PowerDNS will listen on all interfaces but in practice will still prefer an explicit interface to listen on, so setting a local address via local-address is generally a good idea, especially if you’re multi-homed. It takes multiple addresses or even 🙂

# Listen on localhost and my NIC IP

local-address =,

For spotting common issues I like to have a little logging, but not much, so I set it to send common errors to syslog


For most uses, that’s all you need! Start the server via service pdns-recursor start and test it via dig/host

[mfleming@qbert ~]$ dig a @

; <<>> DiG 9.5.1-P3-RedHat-9.5.1-3.P3.fc10 <<>> a @
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 6559
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;    IN    A

;; ANSWER SECTION: 2044    IN    A

;; Query time: 4 msec
;; WHEN: Sun Aug  9 14:19:19 2009
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 57

Oh, and before anyone asks: see the 3rd answer in the FAQ regarding presence/absence of Authority records in dig etc. output. It’s a feature, not a bug!

A little more advanced..

If you have IPv6 enabled networks and want to make best use of v6-enabled services, tell the recursor to look up AAAA records too (it’s not on by default, as it’s a little slower):


You can also send queries out over IPv6 using the query-local-address6 directive eg:


If you’re security conscious and don’t want any bogus records coming from g/TLDs that isn’t glue/delegations, use the delegation-only directive:



How polite!

I’m testing the Prosody XMPP server package I’d mentioned some time back (I’ve worked with jabberd/jabberd2 and ejabberd, figured a new tinker toy was on the cards) and got this when trying to check the service status – as a non-privileged serf/peon

mfleming@pong ~]$ /etc/init.d/prosody status
Prosody is not running

You will also see this if prosodyctl is not running under
the same user account as Prosody. Try running as root (e.g.
with ‘sudo’ in front) to gain access to Prosody’s real status.
[mfleming@pong ~]$ su –
[root@pong ~]# /etc/init.d/prosody status
Prosody is running with PID 17701

If only more software packages were that polite and helpful 🙂 (looks in the direction of some larger software concerns that shall remain nameless)

Just Plain Bad Service

I almost lost two of my domains this week – a registrar / hosting company that will not be named decided to close them off without any notice – no email, letter or even a phone call.

15 minutes in a phone queue as the “next to be answered” and a debate with the tech on the other end finally got me the registry keys for both – I certainly won’t be renewing with them or asking for the accounts to be reopened, I’m already transferring them to my GoDaddy account.

Given their focus on “customer service” (even their technical support staff are “e-business consultants”) this is a MAJOR blot and I won’t tolerate it – no more business from me! It’s bad enough that they’re double the price of most offshore competitors but to close down accounts without notice is just plain intolerable.

The irony of the situation is that I worked at that hosting company for years and on realising this the tech at the other end started to agree with my assessment of the situation 🙂 Additionally I still know their systems better than some of the folks there now! (I talked him through the process of getting the keys)

I was quite pleased to see a WordPress 2.8.1 upgrade hit EPEL quite quickly – new features and a security rollup all in one and before I felt the desire to roll one up myself. Cheers Adrian! This release was rock solid and the upgrade the most painless on record.

My own packaging is slowing up a little due to so little out there that is a) not already packaged or b) not really ready. One I have given a test run is the Miredo client for IPv6/Teredo tunnelling. IPv6 tunnelling is widely available – many places will even have native connectivity – but for those cases where you are behind a restrictive NAT (or just want to tinker like I do) it’s an interesting alternative. Fedora packages from my usual repositories.

Revisting Nagios for monitoring – I can’t just walk over and look at a server several thousand miles away –  brought back a few memories, it took a bit more dusting off of the old knowledge  (I use Zabbix at work, they’re dragging me into using Xymon which I don’t like as much) but it’s working quite well and the EPEL/Fedora packages are kept well up to date. With puppet / func it’s even simpler to roll out the NRPE checks (which were always tedious when done by hand)

The SmokePing package has also been a boon in the workplace – I used it to successfully convince our network administrator that the packet loss we’d identified wasn’t our imagination and lo, it got fixed as we could track performance. Again it wasn’t hard to install and the configuration makes sense after a pint or two 🙂

My girlfriend and I have been getting back into yoga – “hot” yoga, which is the standard fare, just in a 35+ degree heat – and the timing is perfect; It’s been freezing here in Brisbane (10-20C on average, which is brisk for this part of the world) and I needed something to keep my mind in check. To my surprise I even held my form despite being away from it for a month or more 🙂

New hosting arrangements

If you’re reading this (and not a “Page Cannot Be Displayed” or “Internal Server Error”) then I’ve successfully moved my site(s) to the new server.

After years of hosting off my own gear, either at datacentres or literally in-house I’ve moved to a Xen VPS at Slicehost, running CentOS 5. Setup and migration was relatively painless (fat-fingered a DNS record however, I won’t be doing that again..) and their default bare-bones install is an absolute boon for keeping an instance clean – I hate cluttered installs full of cruft I don’t need/want.

I’ve even got low-ping IPv6 to most of the world now via Hurricane Electric (just as I remember it – simple and do it yourself, which also meant pinging the service to keep the tunnel up :-D)

The only nit I’ve found has been the lack of SELinux support on their guests – I’ve had it in Enforcing mode on my servers for as long as I can remember it being offered – it just feels weird and wrong not having it now 🙂

I’ve also found that there’s a few Fedora packages not available in EPEL that I just can’t live without (postgrey and linux_logo!). I’m not sure why they’ve not been picked up but I’m tempted to do so myself if there’s been no takers – give EPEL some love, it’s nice and stable and won’t do the dirty on you 🙂

Things I thought I’d never see

If I hadn’t been present for these, I’d probably call myself a bullspit artist. But I swear on a stack of $documents I was there and my experiences are 100% true.

Firstly, I thought I’d never ever see a web framework’s object relationship model used as a database stress tester (cheers Django!). I don’t think it was intended as such but some of the queries it’s generating are just hideous and driving load averages to insane levels.

Secondly – I have two USB keys in front of me. Nothing really unusual about that, except they have “Windows + PHP: Platform of Choice” on them. Yes, I raised an eyebrow too, and I’ve actually done Windows on PHP before at an old workplace.

Choice, PHP and Windows Server from experience boils down to this, in my experience: a) Run as FastCGI or b) Endure a world of suffering (the ISAPI is awful and suphp doesn’t exist).

I’ll of course advocate c) Run it on a Linux box as a DSO / suphp / under mod_fcgid process as your needs dictate – at least they’ll all actually work as you’d expect. 🙂

I got the keys from a presentation / open session run by a good friend and former work colleague Jorke Odolphi, now working for Microsoft (but still genuinely interested in F/OSS, I’ve trained him fairly well) and “Professional Geek” Nick Hodge (also a pleasant and well versed chap).

Microsoft having an open session on OSS was not something my curiousity would let me miss, so off I went. I applaud Nick and Jorke for having a go – the turnout wasn’t huge but the session was very lively and definitely worthwhile.

Writing up an auto-installer for FOSS web apps under Win/IIS was a nice touch, and now you know how difficult it is to implement a depsolver 🙂 IronPython / IronRuby are interesting ideas (the Parrot project / Perl6 peeps are doing almost the same thing and Java has been doing it for ages) but your usage case might be a bit of a corner one. We are all aware in the OSS world how charmingly limited the PHP database drivers can be (hence PECL alternatives and native drivers) so you’re part of a large-ish crowd there 🙂

But chaps you’re going to be pushing harder than Sisyphus to get some real FOSS cred for your bosses, if they genuinely want them.

I’m not going to delve deeply the licensing side of things (for good reason, there’s a post of it’s own) but a BSD-like license isn’t likely to get you the community you might want – it’s not really Free and there’s nary a nod to those making code / docs or other contributions (contributor doesn’t mean distributor by the way, if anyone from MS is reading)

The existing culture and mindset and that of Microsoft, it’s partners and some users is fatal to any “open source” initiative in my view (this doesn’t mean I’m unhappy to see an attempt, it shows the strength and relevance of communities like Fedora’s – or any other distribution’s for that matter)

They’re a cathedral; the faithful are handed tools and protocols blessed by the Powers That Be, with such tools/protocols invariably created because they help maintain the status quo (commercially advantageous to the “church”, closely coupled together to ensure/encourage adherence / lock in etc.) – many don’t know of or even see anything outside of the cathedral! Compare to the marketplace that’s Free Software – don’t like a tool/protocol? There’s other stalls with alternatives. Pick up a few and you’re building your own in no time and trying out ideas they may not even had considered before.

That’s the worrying part for the “high priests” – if the “faithful” are choosing their own tools for their own purposes (not just building using blessed tools for those protocols deemed desirable or “holy”) what’s to stop them straying from the rest of the flock? If the market allows you to build your own stall and offer your own wares, why go to the cathedral and be told how what to use?

I’m sure Microsoft’s upper management are happy (even if their outward demeanor may not show it) to see the projects around the Codeplex – still centred almost solely around their own technologies – .NET / IIS / Sharepoint / Windows Live Auth. Nothing really innovative and widely interoperable (and decoupled from other MS tech) like XMPP or memcached / OpenID / Laconica..

The real test will be projects that tie to *genuinely* open tech, a completely non-MS solution. I suspect the “high priests” may quietly sideline such “heresy”, even if the frontline preachers do not. 😛

Lastly: To answer a question posed to me by James Morris via I asked about the IE8 and $10K giveaway: Technically it was mind bogglingly simple: IE8 has a little “feature” where it will display these “web slices” on certain pages like a favourite / bookmark. Find the “splice” with the winning content (on an MS partner site of course) and the 10K is yours.

The splice itself is just a boring standard DIV element with a “hslice” class.
But the hack worked for Microsoft Australia marketing, so I suppose it serves it’s purposes.

Of course there were Chrome and Firefox extensions to support this behaviour almost immediately 🙂

The post is bought to you by lekhonee v0.4

More of Michael’s Not So Quick Tips


I migrated my filesystems to ext4 (I’ve come from an all0ext3 F10 to F11 upgrade, FWIW) and just like to mention that if you’re migrating your root filesystem you might want to regenerate your initrd via mkinitrd; the stock one I had didn’t seem to like ext4 (complained about unsupported filesystem options at boot time and failed dismally) but a quick initrd rebuild in rescue mode had me up and running in minutes.

I didn’t see this mentioned anywhere – perhaps I’m a corner case – but I thought I’d record it for posterity in case someone else finds it useful – or desperately needs it!


If you’re looking for a simple, cron-capable no-fuss delta/differential backup solution (looks over in Peter Gordon’s direction) I’d consider the “rdiff-backup” package, which has been in Fedora for quite some time, does rsync-like backups of reversed diffs – the actual data transfer is small, you can do “point in the past” backups with little fuss plus if you want just the last copy, you can just grab it from the backup tree as-is, without a need to invoke rdiff-backup’s restore (rdiff-backup -r) option. All you need is SSH set up between two hosts, ideally pubkey auth or GSSAPI (ie passwordless or pre-authenticated)

To back up a home dir (~fred) to a remote server, barney:

rdiff-backup /home/fred barney::/home/fred.backup

To restore tmp/wilma from last week (7 days)

rdiff-backup -r 7D barney::/home/fred.backup/tmp/wilma /home/fred/tmp/wilma

How simple is that?

Hacks for database admins

This is an ugly idea, but it’s functional and insanely simple:

Much of my day-to-day systems admin work is with web developers and frameworks. Some frameworks in my experience, whilst being insanely great and powerful for a developer have an unfortunate tendency to hide things under the hood – one example is where the framework defines the database schema (via ORM et. al) but keeps it fairly opaque to the developer – leaving it to the DBA / system admin to work out what may have changed.

This can be a PITA for both developer and systems mangler alike – the developer isn’t always sure if it’s introducing a regression and the DBA/sysadmin wondering about the performance difference.

Both PostgreSQL (pg_dump -s  or –schema) and MySQL (mysqldump -d or –no-data) allow you to save schema-only dumps of databases (I’m not sure about Firebird or others, I’ve not tried them out lately)

I take this at regular intervals and check it in to version control – I can then see changes via standard VC diff commands. It’s a simple hack but it’s functional and requires no extra tools.

This came about because I need to maintain a script that purges old data from a pgsql database, including foreign keys (manually as the schema doesn’t grok DELETE CASCADE) and a change in the FK relations means that my script broke – if I can follow the schema changes it becomes trivial to add in the FK changes needed. 🙂

Presto, We Have No Gallery!

Fedora / Linux stuff:

For those users of my package set, you can now use yum-presto to grab deltarpms of my packages for Fedora 10 and 11. This should make your life easier – I know my upstream link isn’t always fast so the less traffic over it the better for you guys – it’s a good thing I don’t do 120+mb packages like Danger From The Deep anymore eh? :-). Feedback welcomed as always.

The last push of Fedora updates hit my local mirror and mostly played nice, except Gallery2 which leads me to:

General Non-Linux-Specific Stuff:

… the gallery, which has borked itself. Oh Gallery2, why do you mock me?

I used to keep a bunch of old photos – taken or just collected, under /gallery.

As some were of an ex-acquaintance of mine, Tina Wallmann, they proved quite popular and widely linked to (she’s a bikini model and has large *ahem* tracts of land :-))

But they’re old, we’ve long since parted company (have not seen her in a couple of years and she seems disinterested in old friends back here in Brisbane, having moved on to a different crowd in Sydney) and it tends to detract from more interesting content on the site, I’ve decided to let ’em go. I’ll get less page impressions, but it’s quality not quantity I’d prefer. Gentlemen will just have to look elsewhere for their “evening private entertainment”.

The remnants I’ve pushed up to Flickr and integrated into my WordPress install via Fidgetr. It’s a decent compromise I think.