...making Linux just a little more fun!

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The Linux Laundrette

By Jimmy O'Regan


You may have noticed a difference in this month's Laundrette - that it's got an author credit. This is entirely because of this foreword; it normally seems inappropriate to me to take credit for merely quoting the Answer Gang, but this month I want to talk about why I do it.

Those with long enough memories will remember that this used to be the "Not the Answer Gang" section, which Mike included in his Back Page from time to time. I always found this amusing, and because I wanted to see it continue I picked up from where Mike left off. Literally - the first Linux Laundrette was almost entirely made up of material Mike had selected.

What prompted this foreword was a comment in this thread: "You are really serious about this 'Making Linux a little more fun' thing, aren't you?"

Yes, we are.

Mature manhood: that means to have rediscovered the seriousness one had as a child at play.
--Friedrich Nietzsche, "Beyond Good and Evil", Aphorism 94

In almost every volunteer effort, a core group forms of those who are most interested in maintaining the effort. Although the cliché goes that familiarity breeds contempt, the opposite is true - familiarity breeds friendship. The very existence of a core group, who regard each other as friends, is to be expected, though can lead to accusations of cliquishness.

Fortunately, I have never seen these accusations made against LG. In general, regular readers tend to want to help, by writing articles, sending tips or news, or by joining the Answer Gang. Again, this is easily explained by the idea that familiarity breeds friendship (in his book "Get Anyone To Do Anything", David J. Lieberman calls this "The Law of Association"). Part of the reason for the Linux Laundrette is to show that the Answer Gang is not a closed group - we welcome anyone who wants to make a contribution. More than that, the Laundrette is meant to show that TAG goes offtopic - it's not all technical talk, so there's no need to feel intimidated if you're not the most knowledgable person around. Everyone has something to teach, and hopefully a smartass comment or two to make.

So, to sum up, if you've got a tip or an article to share, send them in. But don't forget our mission - if you've got something fun to share, we want that too!


You may have seen Sluggo's mention of Pie-thon in the mailbag this month. Those of you who don't get NTK (and why not, I ask?) can look at their take, which I've conveniently quoted here:

                                >> HARD NEWS <<
                                Perl hullabaloos
          Last year, DAN SUGALSKI, lead developer of the forthcoming
          Perl6 virtual machine, Parrot, bet the Python developers
	  that he could run Python faster on the fledgling VM - and the 
          creator of Python could throw a pie at him at the next OSCON if 
          he didn't. He didn't; the pie-ing was duly arranged. As
          everyone knows, while Perlites are chaotic/good trickster
          archetypes who love such events, Pythonistas are peaceful,
          have-their-glasses-on-a-little-string types, like hobbits or
          the Dutch. In the end, Guido van Rossum refused to throw the
          pie, and instead offered to share it as food with the Perl
          developers. Nothing, of course, could have been more
          guaranteed to throw Perlsters into violent rage. An extended
          period of acrimonious bargaining followed, in which the Perl
          crew grew more and more insistent that their own chief
          developer be humiliated, with many walking out of the
          session, muttering about "all foreplay and no sex". Later,
          the Perl faction took it upon themselves to pie Sugalski -
          much, we are sure, to the shock of the pacifistic Pythonese,
          who may well have planned that using their psychomathematics
          and indented whitespace necromancy all along. (Mind
          you, that didn't stop Guido finally joining in. Feel the
          punctuation rising in you, Guido!)
                                   - Dan gets last laugh later in August

There are pictures are here: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oscon2004/friday/.

You can also read the story on Dan Sugalski's blog: "Mmmm, pie!", "After the pie-thon", and "Pies away anyway"


The most amusing thing I've come across this month is Spamusement - badly drawn comics inspired by Spam subject lines. There's even an RSS feed available. Try the super pill will help you, quantities of a ruddy-brown fluid were spurting up in noisy jets out of the, remember your teen years?, and She's got a suprise in her pants ;)

Another thing I found amusing, but for entirely different reasons, was that Microsoft have patented sudo. (It was made more amusing by the amount of e-mail I got from my college friends after I submitted the story to Slashdot).

Spam Joke

After last month's spam joke, we were sent another by the same people:

An engineer died and ended up in Hell. He was not pleased with the level of comfort in Hell, and began to redesign and build improvements. After a while, they had toilets that flush, air conditioning, and escalators. Everyone grew very fond of him. One day God called to Satan to mock him, "So, how's it going down there in Hell?" Satan replied, "Hey, things are great. We've got air conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and there's no telling what this engineer is going to come up with next."

God was surprised, "What? You've got an engineer? That's a mistake. He should never have gotten down there in the first place. Send him back up here."

"No way," replied Satan. "I like having an engineer, and I'm keeping him." God threatened, "Send him back up here now or I'll sue!" Satan laughed and answered, "Yeah, right. And just where are YOU going to get a lawyer?"

The Wonderful World of Spam

As you may have read in the mailbag, Ben has had "difficulties" this month, so we've unfurled the red carpet to welcome back Sluggo, who sportingly agreed to step in and edit this beast and deal with inconsiderate gits trying to make last minute changes (/me tries to look innocent).

With Sluggo back, we have some spam to throw out there... yay!

[Sluggo] And what is a "qualified" website, pray tell?

[Jimmy] One with a degree? (Bought from one of the various spammers, obviously)

---- Forwarded message from Tom Seely -----

Subject: *****SPAM***** Client Referral

Dear Customer,
Be the very first listing in the top search engines immediately.
Our company will now place any business with a qualified website
at the top of the major search engines guaranteed never to move.  This 
promotion includes unlimited traffic and is not going to last long.  If you 
are interested in being guaranteed first position in the top search engines
a promotional fee, please reply us promptly to find out if you qualify.
is not pay per click.
The following are examples on Yahoo!, MSN and Alta Vista:
Company:           Oahu Dive Center
URL:                   http://oahudivecenter.com
keyword:             oahu scuba diving
Company:           California Moves.com
URL:                   http://steph.cbsocal.com/
keyword:             find a home southern california
Company:           Dana Hursey Photography
URL:                   http://www.hursey.com
keyword:             location photographer 
The Search Engine Promotional Consultants

More MGM

[Predrag Ivanovic (Pedja)] In article "Which window manager" in #105 of LG MGM was mentioned. It looked interesting enough, so I looked it up.

I found it on http://www.linuxmafia.com/mgm

My mistake was that I started reading the FAQ while drinking coffee... :-)

[Thomas] It is amusing, isn't it. :) I remember it from way back. I do have to thank Rick Moen for resurrecting it. :)

[Ben] Whups. We should probably warn people about that. Me, I cautiously set aside any drinks and dangerous objects (err, well - except my mind) before opening any mail prefixed with [TAG]; I know this bunch.

[Pedja] Classic case of C|N>K
My nose is much better now, thank you...

[Ben] Let me tell ya, be glad you weren't eating raisins or peanuts. Those can really hurt your nasal passages, and leave dents in your walls and furniture!

[Pedja] You are really serious about this 'Making Linux a little more fun' thing, aren't you?
Thank God for that.

[Thomas] We have to be, Predrag, otherwise we'd be YAMP (Yet Another Man Page). :)

[Ben] [grin] That's the LG to a tee. 'Fun' isn't our middle name - it would involve all sorts of boring paperwork, people would ask pointed questions about changes in marriage status, and applying to courts in various countries would be a real hassle - but we do enjoy ourselves, usually.

[Rick] You're very welcome, Predrag. Furthermore, I'll take this opportunity to declare you an official Linux Gazette Evil Genius. We'll be sending you your white Persian cat and monocle via separate attachment. Go forth[1] and conquer.

[1] Or FORTH, perhaps.

Ben vs. PHP/Jimmy vs. Cobalt

[Jimmy] test.php:

[Ben] Whups! [sound of me running away] :)

[Jimmy] Huh?

[Ben] PHP and I don't see eye-to-eye - never have. We've agreed to stay in our respective corners and ignore each other (I'm still planning on catching it alone after school, though.)

[Jimmy] Ah. I thought it was horror at the very idea of doing something like that. Well, I wouldn't rate PHP too highly as a language, but back when I did web design it was part of the spec on enough jobs that I stuck to it. Ruby looks nice, but it wouldn't have been an option back then, as too much of the stuff I had to do was for sites hosted on Cobalt RaQs,

[Thomas] Oh, ick. My condolences.

[Jimmy] Heh. I'd much rather spend a decade using them than spend another week doing what I'm currently doing.

[Thomas] You still work in a... meat factory, if memory serves?

[Jimmy] Yep. Though I think it's less soul-destroying than being a COBOL programmer would have been.

[Jimmy] which didn't come with a compiler, so I was stuck with what came with the box - PHP or Perl - I still get nightmares about the time I had to tamper with Sendmail - the box didn't have the M4 files (probably didn't have M4, for that matter).

[Brian] I found this great quote while researching for the book about 4 years ago:

"He who has never hacked sendmail.cf has no soul;
he who has hacked sendmail.cf more than once has no brain."
- Old Hacker Proverb

[John] And I've found this one lying around:

"sendmail"'s configuration file looks like someone's been banging
their head on the keyboard. And after looking at it... I can see why!
- Anonymous

[Jimmy] Coming out the other side of that definitely had the "Today, you are truly a man, my son" feel to it. Sendmail: putting the SM into SMTP.

[Rick] The mere fact that distros for Cobalt RaQ and Qube hosts were perenially obsolete, underequipped, and unmaintainable didn't actually make them completely useless: If nothing else, they made dandy honeypots. ;->

[Jimmy] Yeah. I'd feel sorry for any poor script kiddie who got lured to one of those. "Yay! I got root. Now what the hell can I do with it?". They were fun to configure. The web-based configuration thing liked to either break or dump any manual changes. I received a lot of angry e-mail when something like changing a user's quota stopped sendmail.

[Brian] And here I thought that the purpose of breaking sendmail was to not receive anymore complaints via email...

My least favorite bit about the Cobalts was that when they DID finally put out an update for a particular broken and/or vulnerable package, either (A) the GUI package updater would only work halfway, leaving the system in a state nearly requiring reimaging, or if updated sanely (from the ill-documented CLI tools, would break something else in a way that has my traffic management buddies shouting, "Spectacular Kill!!!".

A specific example was the kernel update for the RaQ 550 that would report perfectly good RAIDs as borked, then fail (also spuriously) during the rebuild. That necessitated two seqentially replaced hard drives before a tech called back and said, "Oh. Um. You might want to downrev your kernel before returning a third drive." Sigh.


[Jimmy] I was put off Perl for years after trying to learn how to do CGI when I was in college, as the tutorials I read thought manually processing form data was OK, and I didn't.

[Thomas] I agree. Why keep a dog and bark yourself.....

[Jimmy] I have to be honest; I'd have done it, but I just didn't get regexes. Didn't get it until last month, in fact, when whatever it was that was confusing me jumped off the screen and slapped me - now I can't remember what it was that I thought was confusing.

[Thomas] That would be one of Ben's fishes that leapt away...

[Jimmy] Leapt away? Yes, I believe that. Hmm... is that Ben's name I see on the list of world fish throwing champions?

[Ben] Oh, sure, go ahead and pick on the Floridian. Just because I live in mullet-throwing country... http://www.florabama.com/Special%20Events/Mullet%20Toss/mullet_toss_faq.htm

[Jimmy] Oh, that kind of mullet. I was thinking that was a little extreme


[Jimmy] It was probably a Pavlovian reaction after some of the abysmal Perl I've seen.

[Thomas] Pavlovian? Hmm, I'd watch out for that meringue, if I were you. :)

[Jimmy] Groan.

[Ben] Aw, c'mon, Jimmy. You're a pTerry fan, and know all about the Pavlovian experiments; whenever a dog rings a bell, a behaviorist has to gobble an Aussie meringue dessert...

And that quote is:

It was an almost Pavlovian response.*

* A term invented by the wizard Denephew Boot**, who had found that by a system of rewards and punishments he could train a dog, at the ringing of a bell, to immediately eat a strawberry meringue.

** His parents, who were uncomplicated country people, had wanted a girl. They were expecting to call her Denise.

-- Terry Pratchett, "Jingo".

Thomas and Hyde

[Thomas] Your observations are correct about LGang. That list don't hunt at the moment. Faber and I (poor sod :)) had been in contact with me;

[Sluggo] "I had been in contact with me." Is this some Jekyll & Hyde thing?

[Thomas] Nah, just me poor grammer innit, guv. :)

[Thomas] I'd been trying to subscribe via a dynamic IP... but he's been quiet since then. Time for some ass-kicking, methinks. :)

[Sluggo] Like Edward Norton in Fight Club where he hit himself....

[Thomas] Just call me Tyler.... :)

Where it's at

[Sluggo] Where are we at with HTML checking? Is anybody coordinating it?

[Thomas] Well, I'm at [address], in my bedroom... I assume you're at your desk? :) (/me hides as the "joke" may or maynot be realised).

[Sluggo] /me sees a joke is there, but its nature is mysterious. I guess I'd better file "where... at" next to "like" under "phrases not understood by/offensive to British".

[Brian] From that, I thought that you had spent time at the [snip] Grammar School (carefully found as the first four Google links for "[address]"), a place where no doubt the Nuns who "teach" the grammar do so with long, sharp, metal rulers vigorously applied to any handy body part...

[Thomas] Hahahahaha. No such luck. As I'm sure you guessed, that was just the first line of my mailing address. Although I do like the thought of such a school. Not sure about the rulers though...

[Jimmy] I went to such a school. A convent school for 4 years, and a Christian Brothers school for 5, though the nuns and brothers had mellowed out by the time I got there so we took it upon ourselves to hit each other with steel rulers.

[Sluggo] OK, I need to organize proofreaders and HTML checkers. Is Rick Moen around? He's the proofreading coordinator.

[Rick] Um, yes. Hit me. But I should mention....

[Thomas] You need excuses now? Pfft. :)

[Rick] Fun stuff to know and tell<tm>. Ye spouse and I will be flying to Boston, tomorrow (and boy, will our arms be tired!) to attend the World Science Fiction Convention, which runs Thursday noonish through the holiday weekend. http://www.worldcon.org/

Any Bostonians-or-therabouts, please feel welcome to drop by at the Boston Sheraton.

In consequence, because I'll not only be a tourist and attending a convention at all hours, but also will be staff for that volunteer-run convention, I will of necessity be Not On The Net at times, etc.

[Thomas] Just make sure you have fun... that is why you're going, after all. :)

[Rick] Indeed. I believe they have good tea there, for starters. Albeit, perhaps a bit salty....

Proofreading the proofreading guidelines

Sluggo wrote:

- Simplify long or complex sentances so the article is readable

[Jimmy] sentences?

[Thomas] No, I believe he was right the first time. He said they're complex. Or maybe they're so complex, Mike's hand was shaking from the thought and it wobbled to the 'a' key. It does happen... honest. :)

[Sluggo] I always forget whether it's an 'a' or an 'e' and I have to look it up. I thought I'd finally memorized it correctly but I guess not.

Bad Pun

[Sluggo] http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=120341&cid=10138761

"I'm mildly annoyed because a 72hr outage was caused by a cow (supercow powers) munching through some BT cable. Don't they bury these things?"

"Yes. The cow was given a proper funeral, with all appropriate honours. It was very mooving."

[Jimmy] That's more worthy of Fark. "Cow chews through phone cables. France surrenders."


[Sluggo] "Monkey Ska" by Derrick Harriott, off the Old Skool Ska comp.

One Sat'day morning I woke up late
I found a little monkey outside me gate
I went outside to investigate
The monkey was doing the latest dance craze
I don't know what to say the monkey won't do
I don't know what to say the monkey won't do
(dit-dit-dit-da-dit, dit-dit, dit-da-dit) 

Now when I dance the ska
Monkey dance it too
And when I wash-wash
Monkey wash-wash too
I don't know what to say the monkey won't do
I don't know what to say the monkey won't do
(dit-dit-dit-da-dit, dit-dit, dit-da-dit) 

When I rub-en-toff
Monkey do it too
And when I whoop and I wawm
Monkey whoop-wawm too
I don't know what to say the monkey won't do
I don't know what to say the monkey won't do
(dit-dit-dit-da-dit, dit-dit, dit-da-dit) 

And when I dance the ska
monkey dance it too....

Ginger Beer

[Neil] http://boards.fool.co.uk/Message.asp?mid=8697979&sort=whole

[Ben] Mmmm, some of the recipes sound really good.

My favorite comment in the thread:

"Do the bottles really explode? (I live in a one bed flat and can't really afford to be bombed out by volatile soft drinks.)"

There's something about things that grow and explode in the kitchen that I've always found strangely attractive...

When I was sailing in the Bahamas, my gf and I always kept a sourdough starter going. Actually, it died once - grew black mold - but I just mixed up a fresh batch of flour and water and let it sit for a week, and it got nice and bubbly. There's enough yeast in the air everywhere - this was in an anchorage in Georgetown, Bahamas, surrounded by the ocean. If there was enough there, then anywhere else would work... so much for all the mummery and mystique of "true Alaskan starter" or "passed down to me by my great-great-grandmother in her last will and testament".

We kept it in a little cheese crock, about a pound of it, max, at any one time, and gave some away (or had a baking spree) whenever it threatened to overrun the boat. Giving it away was trivial, once people tried our bread... Interestingly enough, "Recessional" didn't have an oven aboard (or a fridge either, FTM), so we "baked" it on the stovetop in a heavy-walled pressure cooker (valve open.) Takes a heat diffuser and a little extra care but is no problem otherwise.

Oh, and if you've never had sourdough pancakes... you have my condolences. It may well be the reason that girl turned you down for a date, why you were refused credit at that store, and probably the real reason that they wouldn't accept you for astronaut training... The happy news is that it's never too late!


THE SPONGE: Mix starter, water, and about 3 c of flour in a large ceramic mixing bowl. Mix well with a fork or wire whisk. Put it aside to work for 2-24 hours (determines how "sour" the bread will be. Overnight gives an 'average' (like store-bought) sourdough flavor.)

THE DOUGH: After sponge has bubbled merrily, blend salt, sugar, and baking soda into 2 c of flour, and mix this progressively into the sponge. When dough becomes stiff enough to hold together without sticking to your hands, turn it out onto floured board and knead it for 3 or 4 minutes. Give the dough a rest (10-30 minutes) and clean out the bowl. Knead again, place the dough back in the bowl, and let rise for 2 to 4 hours.

THE PROCESS: Knock down the dough and shape it into 2 long loaves. Place them in greased and cornmeal-sprinkled baking pans, cover and let rise for another 2 hours or so. Toward the end of the rising period, preheat your oven to 450F. Just before you put them in the oven, slash the tops of your loaves diagonally with a knife 1/4" deep every two inches and sprinkle with water. Put the loaves on the middle rack and bake for about 25 minutes.

OPTIONS: Sourdough is very forgiving of additional ingredients; unlike a lot of the more refined breads, it's hard to screw up. My favorite ones, IIRC, were:

...but it's awesomely good just plain, with a little butter on top.

Sourdough pancakes, well... a man's got to have his secrets, y'know. It's one of my secret weapons in the battle of the sexes, and I'm not just giving that away. :)))


[BIO] Jimmy is a single father of one, who enjoys long walks... Oh, right.

Jimmy has been using computers from the tender age of seven, when his father inherited an Amstrad PCW8256. After a few brief flirtations with an Atari ST and numerous versions of DOS and Windows, Jimmy was introduced to Linux in 1998 and hasn't looked back.

In his spare time, Jimmy likes to play guitar and read: not at the same time, but the picks make handy bookmarks.

Copyright © 2004, Jimmy O'Regan. Released under the Open Publication license unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 106 of Linux Gazette, September 2004

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