Archive | October, 2007

Happy Halloween

Free Software Foundation - click for more info!

Treats this year included getting some of my annual charitable contributions done before the 31st of December. A new contribution this year was to become a member of the Free Software Foundation, the group responsible for the GNU Public License, along with many other good works. Help them to help you. I did.

MonadLUG notes, 11-October-2007: Ben Scott and DNS

Late post: a great meeting Thursday night the 11th of October: thirteen people made it to the October meeting of the Monadnock Area Linux User Group, held as usual at the SAU #1 offices in Peterborough on the second Thursday at 7 PM. Thanks to Ken for sponsoring us at the offices, and dealing diplomatically with the double-booking of the space.

Ben had a little trouble finding the place, after a long, long drive from Dover. We forgot to mention in the driving directions which of the dozens of “Use other door” doors the meeting was held behind, so Ben had to find the Boy Scout meeting and the girls volleyball practices before finding us. Charlie promised to update the directions.

Nonplussed by all of this, Ben gave a great presentation on DNS, reprising his previous presentations. He’d replaced the MagicPoint presentation with S5, and had a few technical issues with getting it to behave, but persevered. I expect we’ll see an update to the slides on:

But the other files there (bind configuration files, sample inside and external zone files, etc.) should be relevant.

Ben gave a great overview of the Domain Name System and how it works from several client OSes, how the trail of DNS queries is processed, the structure of zone files, the structure of the BIND configuration files, and many of the common misconfigurations that lead to errors or just quiet failures.

It was a meeting well worth attending. Thanks to Ben for efforts above and beyond, to Charlie for hosting and managing the meeting, and to Ken and the SAU#1 offices for providing the facilities.

PySIG notes, 25-Oct-2007, Kent Johnson and Beautiful Soup sprint

Thirteen people elected to skip watching the second game of the World Series (Go Sox!) to attend the October meeting of the Python Special Interest Group (PySIG), held as usual at the Amoskeag Business Incubator in Manchester, New Hampshire, on the fourth Thursday of the month, 7 PM until… well, 10 PM last night!

The usual slew of announcements was made: the PySIG won’t meet on the usual night due to the Thanksgiving holiday. A meeting might happen the week after, since there are five Thursdays. Stay tuned for the official announcement. Other affiliated GNHLUG meetings are posted to and all are welcome.

I had proposed a programming challenge to PySIG: following recent discussions on the GNHLUG mailing lists about attendance at meetings, Jim Kuzdrall had suggested we more closely analyze the attendance data that’s been posted to the GNHLUG wiki [1] for the past two years or so. The data is accessible from there, but the HTML format is not too easy to manipulate into an analyze-able format.

Enter BeautifulSoup. BS is a utility written in Python that parses HTML, with a lot of toleration for somewhat malformed HTML, and produces a parsed tree that can be traversed or queried or parsed into its various elements. Kent S Johnson continued his great Kent’s Korner series with a presentation on the basics of using BeautifulSoup. Kent noted that the documentation on BS is remarkably good, with illustrative examples and exhaustive discussions. BS is in its third major version and continues to be supported by its original author.

After Kent’s Korner, Bill Sconce took the driver’s seat, set up BS on his machine and we began with the kernel of source Kent had supplied to parse the source. The group participated, suggested, yelled at typos, experimented, threw out code, started over, changed the angle of attack, and successfully produced code that not only parsed the existing page, but generated a comma-separated-value file with proper escaping, thanks to the csv module. Along the way, we discussed issued of character conversion (since BS uses the aptly-named UnicodeDammit module and csv wants ASCII), escaping issues, coding styles, and more.

At the end of the presentation, Kent got the projector again to show a somewhat different tack he had used to parse the HTML, with an emphasis on writing small functions to clean each column of the idiosyncracies found in the data (a “Saturday” in the date field, a date field a two-day event, approximated attendance ~24 and so forth) and generate some results: which groups had the highest attendance for the year? No one was surprised that Nashua/MerriLUG was #1, but who knew that PySIG was #2? Woo-hoo! We noted that RubySIG was last, but there’s a good sampling problem: they had just started up early in the year, and a couple attendance figures were missing.

To follow up from the meeting, we intended to merge Kent’s improvements into the group’s code and generate some CSV files that we can make available for download from the GNHLUG wiki for all to analyze, graph, visualize and study.

Thanks to Kent for preparing his Beautiful Soup presentation, to Bill Sconce and Alex Hewitt for arranging the meeting, to Bill again for having the patience to type while twelve people tsk’d at him, to the Amoskeag Business Incubator for providing the fine facilities, and to all for attending and vigorously participating in the meeting!

[1] which actually breaks down to:,, and

Adding a “skin=print.pattern” eliminates some of the “chrome”
surrounding the content.

November 1: Real-Time Linux, Ed Haynes of Wind River, at DLSLUG

The Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Linux User Group will be hosting Ed Haynes of Wind River, presenting some of Wind River’s innovations on the Linux kernel to produce real-time Linux. Here’s the announcement from coordinator Bill McGonigle. Should be a fun meeting! Note the the meeting is held in Haldeman building, next door to our past location, in the lower level of the building.

Python Special Interest Group, Manchester, NH, 25-Oct-2007: Kent Johnson and Beautiful Soup

The monthly meeting of the New Hampshire Python Special Interest Group takes place at the Amoskeag Business Incubator, Manchester, NH on 25 October 2007 (the 4th Thursday as usual) at 7:00PM. The Beginners’ session precedes at 6:30 PM. (Bring a Python question!)

Kent S. Johnson will be the featured speaker. Along with his regular Kent’s Korner presentation, we’re going to try hacking at some actual code problems tonight: using Beautiful Soup to parse a web page and produce some useful data. Should be interesting.

Organizer Bill Sconce posts the meeting announcement here.

When is a document not a document?

When is a document not a document? Perhaps when it contains executable code. Executable code can do bad things to your computer if it has the security permissions to do so or if it exploits flaws in the way the document readers execute the code. A Word document with AutoRun macros is an executable program in the form of document. A web page containing Javascript (or JScript or VBScript or Java or Flash) is an executable. Without limiting what functionality these executables can access, an action as simple as opening a document or navigate to a web site can open your machine to exploitation.

The latest instance of this is a flaw in Adobe Reader for Windows that allows a specially crafted PDF file to exploit your machine via the mailto protocol link. The SANS Internet Storm Center documents that the PDF mailto exploit documents in the wild, that is, it’s possible for you to catch this nasty bug off a web page or via the mail.

If you’re running Windows and have Adobe Reader installed, make sure you are running the latest version (links are in the article above). And don’t open any files from untrusted sources. And don’t trust any source.

FoxPro Advisor, RIP

From the Advisor website:

This information is for you, if you are a current subscriber to any of these Advisor magazines, journals or guides: Microsoft Access, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual FoxPro, Microsoft Visual Studio, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Professional Development, Microsoft Visual Basic .NET, IBM Lotus Software, IBM WebSphere Software, IBM Workplace Software, Novell GroupWise, Business Collaboration, Corporate Compliance, E-Discovery, Law Technology… Your subscription has been upgraded to DataBased Advisor, giving you more than 10,000 articles, tips and downloads — at no charge.

And another kicker:

Even though a new subscription to DataBased Advisor carries a much higher price tag, you are getting it at no extra charge for the duration of your current subscription.

Looks like new subscriptions are $277 a year. Good luck to John and Jeannie on this new venture!

New Hampshire Ruby, 16-Oct-2007: Rails Deployment

Organizer Scott Garman posts:

This month’s meeting topic will be on deploying Ruby on Rails applications. While back in May our meeting focus was on using Capistrano as our primary deployment tool, this month Scott Garman will be demonstrating a simpler application to manage Rails deployments, called “Vlad the Deployer

Vlad the Deployer “targets the 80% use case” of deployments and boasts an engine written in less than 500 lines of code. Is simpler always better? Drop by our meeting and find out!

Scott will also be discussing various Rails-related tidbits he’s been working with recently.

Anyone who attends the meeting will be offered special coupon codes from Linode if they’re interested. The coupons give you two months of free service after purchasing one month of their Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting. Linode sponsored the recent Rails Rumble and Nick Plante
had many good things to say about them.

WHEN: Tuesday, October 16, 2007. 7-9 PM.
WHERE: RMC Research Offices, 1000 Market Street, Portsmouth, NH.

For a map and driving directions, see our wiki site

Study: P2P effect on legal music sales

This is has been sitting around in the draft bin for too long: Study: P2P effect on legal music sales “not statistically distinguishable from zero”
“A new study in the Journal of Political Economy by Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf has found that illegal music downloads have had no noticeable effects on the sale of music, contrary to the claims of the recording industry.”

Great news. Music sales go up and down because demand goes up and down, quality goes up and down, the economy and affordability and attractiveness of music varies.

CentraLUG notes, 1-October-2007: Michael Kazin on Nagios

Ten attendees made it to the October meeting of the Central NH Linux Group, coming from as far away as Nashua, Laconia, Peterborough and Hanover. CentraLUG is a chapter of the Greater New Hampshire Linux User Group, and our meeting was held as usual on the first Monday of the month at the New Hampshire Technical Institute‘s Library, Room 146, from 7 PM to 9 PM.

Michael Kazin presented Nagios, the host and service monitoring system. Michael told us a bit of his colorful personal history, and his exposure to Nagios as a student administrator of the Rutgers University computer center. He had found a neat diagram of the relationships between the configuration files in Nagios (we covered the current 2.x and not the 3.x, currently in beta) and went to explain how it could be used for businesses and home users, keeping an eye on working systems, alerting the operating to problematic conditions of low disk space, high CPU usage or unavailability of resources or services. Nagios has a huge number of pre-built modules, a 240-page manual, and documentation on how to extend the system for your own use.

Michael ended up with a presentation of a working Nagios installation on his home network, and showed how shutting down a service would set off an alarm, how the operator could flag the alarm as acknowledged, fix the problem, and verify that the alarm cleared. While the audience watched, participated and pestered Michael with questions, we identified and fixed a couple of permissions issues with his install and got the system to do things he’d never tried before. A good time was had by all. Wish you were there.

Michael’s slides are available on the GNHLUG site.

Bill Sconce was present to point out that modules could be written in Python. Ben Scott was heckled. I made the usual announcements: GNHLUG meetings can be found on; several related meetings are taking place this month: SwANH’s annual infoeXchange, the NEARfest ham radio gathering. See the web site for links.

Thanks to Michael for a fine presentation, to Bill Sconce for providing the projector, to NHTI for providing the space and to all for attending and participating.

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