OpenMediaVault 101

For those of you who don’t know what OpenMediaVault is, it’s a free (as in both speech and beer) operating system for media storage (which a lot of us geeky types seem to be building nowadays, including one of my slacker housemates), based on Debian and with a storage system not unlike FreeNAS.  If you want to learn more, I suggest running off to their website.

However, if you want to learn how to set it up, Monty over at my forum has documented his own experiences with getting it done (complete with an updated kernel, UPS drivers, and more).  If this sort of thing interests you, I really, really recommend that you go check it out.

The New Bane Rises

I don’t normally get into discussions about politics and all of that, but I couldn’t help commenting on Julius Malema’s new political party (the Economic Freedom Fighters, abbreviated to EFF — which confuses the hell out of my geeky mind, which associates the acronym EFF to the Electronic Frontier Foundation), and more specifically, their draft manifesto.  Anyway, ol’ Juju has taken his rather radical rhetoric to his own platform after being booted out of the ANC, as can be seen by what they’re pushing for:

  • All land should be transferred to state ownership.
  • All African borders should be dropped.
  • Certain criminal records should be scrapped.

Now, this sounds rather familiar.  One might be thinking about Zimbabwe, who went down a similar path (and look how well it turned out for them!), but if, like me, you’ve watched The Dark Knight Rises, it probably sounds even more familiar.

To this end, and courtesy of some photoshopping that the MyBroadband community has done, I present: Bane 2.0!

Julius "Bane" Malema

Thankfully, it’s quite likely that this story will have the same ending that the film did.  If not, then… “there’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

If anyone wants to know what the “S” in S4 stands for…

… schizophrenic.

And that’s purely because mine can’t make up its mind whether it’s connected to a charger (which it is) or a docking station (which it isn’t) — after spending the better part of the day to get it to actually charge in the first place.  Hopefully, warranty should take care of it…

What I like most about my raid team…

… is that the extremely strong bond between all 10 of us is based solely on inappropriate activities that no sane person should have.  Ever.

Take for example, last night’s raid (in which we finally killed Blizzard’s latest incarnation of a headache of a boss fight for those of us who are colour co-ordination challenged).  I’ll let the post that popped up this morning in guild forums (no link, it’s restricted access) from our hunter titled “Epic Raid Fails” say it all:

We’re on our usual milo break, standing in front of the eyeball, when Mr Smartypants (That’s Cataplexy) decides he wants to kill a rogue. He lifegrips Gatstamper to in front of the boss, runs off giggling and mind sears him from a distance.

Of course mechanics don’t work the way him thinks they do. Firstly mind sear doesn’t draw aggro to the target and secondly the damn rogue was stealthed. Durumu wakes up and because there’s no one in melee range he proceeds to wipe out the rest of the raid. Whoever wasn’t zapped got dunked in the water by the dropping platform and the only survivors were one lucky hunter who saw it coming and squeaked through on a feign death (yes that’s me)

and a totally oblivious rogue.

I look forward to the retaliation.

Stay tuned for the next installment.  Which will probably be after Thursday night’s raid.

Moving to a new, improved home

After a run-in with my shared hosting’s PHP mod_security settings (it throws a hissy fit whenever people over on my forum submit a large image post, which happens fairly frequently), I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and do what I’ve been considering for a while now: procure a virtual private server and move this site over to it.  (This is only going to cost me an extra R20 per month, so I say bring it on!)

Why?  Because, unlike a shared hosting environment, I’ll end up with pretty much full control over the underlying website infrastructure.  If/when something breaks, I’ll be in a position to fix it myself rather than rely on it being fixed for me, plus I’ll be able to leverage more bleeding-edge type of stuff (in particular, shunning MySQL).

Stuff that I’d like to do and would now be able to:

  • Purchase an SSL certificate and make the site SSL only.  In the wake of recent revelations regarding the United States National Security Agency, this is more of a user privacy measure than a security measure, but it’s one that I feel I owe to this site’s users to take.  Granted, I could have done this already, but what’s stopped me from doing so is the inability thus far to do much about mixed content warnings (not so much a problem here, but would be problematic for my forum users): with root control, I can set up a Camo server (if I can figure out their rather cryptic documentation!) and solve that little issue.
  • IPv6 support.  My tingling geek sense demands that this be done!
  • Drop MySQL for PostgreSQL and/or MariaDB, as I share the open source community’s concerns for MySQL’s future and what Oracle is currently doing with it.
  • Potentially some other cool stuff as the need/desire/lust for cool stuff arises.

I’m still setting up, installing and configuring everything, but I’ll put a follow-up post once I’m ready to move things over.  Stay tuned for further details…

UPDATE: I’m posting updates in this forum thread to avoid polluting the blog’s RSS feed too much.

Why not fork?

I was asked — in real life — after my post about the (sorry!) state of the PCFormat/G3AR forums, “why not simply fork them and run them the way you would want to?”.  I’ve decided to share the answer here.

This is not an option.

True, the phpBB software that the forums run are licensed under GPLv2, which covers the software itself quite nicely.  I could quite easily go, set up a forum, and be on my way.  (In fact, that’s how the forum hidden away on this site got set up.)  This site doesn’t have the resources to run a fairly sizeable server — the resources are only adequate for the rather low demands — but, with virtual private servers becoming more affordable, setting up one of those would be just fine (gives me an opportunity to dust off my Linux sysadmin knowledge).    Plus, if it became a financial strain, there are ways of monetizing the content, though for various reasons, I would not make it any more intrusive than asking for donations.

The problem is that the GPLv2 doesn’t (and wasn’t designed to) extend to the data within the database, which is the most fundamental part of the community.  That data is the proprietary property of Panorama Publishing and thus, to fork, I would need their express permission, something that I can virtually guarantee would not be obtained.  If it were to be obtained, I’d need to sift through it and remove any content specific to them and their branding.  If it were not to be obtained, I’d basically be creating a new forum community from scratch.  I have the time and inclination for neither of these outcomes.

It’s a nice and noble idea, and within the spirit of software freedom, but in this case, the most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle is non-free, which makes this practically impossible.

In search of paradigm shifts

The ironic thing about me putting up a “fighting against the tide” post yesterday is that the same thing is happening in the protection paladin community at the moment.  However, there’s a lot more of us available for said fighting.

I’ll simply let my post on the official World of Warcraft forums explain it all.  Note that it is very protection paladin specific: if you don’t play World of Warcraft, much less play a protection paladin within the game, you’ll likely be either uninterested or confused — so, I’ve hidden it behind the break.

Continue reading

The decision to walk away

Just short of a month ago, I rather abruptly made the decision to resign my position as sysadmin of the PCFormat/G3AR forums. Or rather, it was seen as abrupt as I posted the announcement without any prior warning, when in actuality, I had been deliberating over it for several months prior. A month on, it seems to have been largely forgotten about, which makes me comfortable enough to write up my reasoning for leaving.

A lot of it is indeed personal. Since late last year, there have been several changes in my life, with some things becoming more important, and others becoming less so. I’ve been putting a lot more time and effort into personal character development: becoming less anti-social, getting out there, meeting new people, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and all of that. (The result of that is that I may have finally met my life partner — although she is going through quite a few life issues and isn’t ready for a relationship, being told “I hope you don’t have to wait too long” is an indication that she may feel the same way.) Also, being elevated to the position of guild master in my World of Warcraft guild has chewed up some time that would have previously been assigned to more hackerish activities — such as, applying security updates and code fixes to an Internet forum at 1 AM on a weekend night. The thing is, I realised that I was doing way, way too much in my life without taking time out to relax, which was burning me out: unfortunately, as is the case for all of us, my time available to do things is a rather scarce resource. I realised that I had to give up on some things that I was previously doing, and administering the PCF/G3AR forums was one of the things that had its head lopped off outside the Great Sept of Baelor.

But, not all of it was personal, and to find out what the other reasons were, it’s necessary to understand why I jettisoned my forum administrator role specifically. After all, I could have kept it and quit something else instead. This requires some insight into how I fitted into the whole operation, which I will attempt to give.

Historically, the publishers of the PCFormat magazine (initially Intelligence Publishing, later bought out by Panorama Publishing) ran the forum as an in-house operation, but once their in-house guy left back in 2008, they chose to move to a community-managed operation. They decided to pick one person from the community that would keep the forums operational and act as a bridge between Panorama and the community. Yup, they chose me (possibly primarily because of my expertise hacking on the phpBB forum software).

On theory, this was a great idea, but times and perceptions shift. Generally, internet forums are now an endangered species as kids these days have gravitated towards newer forms of online social media and networking (Facebook, Twitter, et al.), which is a well-documented phenomenon.  And over time, I noticed a gradual decline of people using the forum. People leave online communities (and non-online communities too) for various reasons — it’s a fact of life: people change, circumstances change. The problem is that, unlike in the past where new people would arrive to replace those leaving, new people would be heading off to the PCF/G3AR Facebook page and Twitter feed, and wouldn’t bother registering a forum account (“I’m already on Facebook, why should I bother with another login?”). Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this shift: I find an internet forum can be much more close-knit than a Facebook page (and far more close-knit than a random Twitter feed), but I can’t fight that tide alone.

Panorama Publishing wasn’t interested in fighting that tide at all, and pretty much lost all interest in their “legacy” online community. I could keep the forum operational — that was my area of expertise, and apart from a few early server hiccups (until we moved to a beefier server, at which point things became, and still are, rock solid stable), I believe I did a good job there — but I had no impact or influence over the PCFormat/G3AR brand, or how it was marketed, which meant any drive to market the forum had to come from Panorama, not from me. Which would have been fine if they were actually interested in doing that but, sadly, my numerous attempts there were generally met with apathy. Not even a massive restructuring exercise that I, after discussion with Panorama, took on — rearranging and redesigning the forum to be more in line with the magazine brand — made much difference. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to notice the decline in activity: the userbase did as well, and I ended up with a small but extremely vocal group of users that were convinced that I was the cause for every single reason for the decline (to the extent that Panorama requested me to issue some high-profile user bans, which really only added fuel to the fire). Caught between a rock and a hard place, my position became untenable. Panorama Publishing has the right to give the PCF/G3AR forums the level of support of their choosing — but in the absence of any support despite my efforts to gain said support, then, as forum sysadmin/custodian/whatever, I had the right to do the right thing: walk away.

It’s unclear what will happen in the future, but that depends on how Panorama Publishing decides to proceed. There are three options that they might take: firstly, they may decide to appoint a replacement from within their ranks which, if they intend to keep the forum going, I believe to be the best option. Secondly, they may decide that maintaining the forum makes little sense from a commercial and social media standpoint, and decide to close it entirely. Thirdly, they may appoint a replacement from within the community, as was what happened with me, but I strongly feel that this would be a grave mistake: without a drastic, positive shift regarding their level of support, this will likely be the same as the second option, just more protracted in its execution — and this would be by far the most detrimental option, both to Panorama, and to the remaining community. If Panorama feels that the forum has reached end of life, I feel that it would be best to just cut life support and let it go. It will definitely upset and alienate the remaining forum community, but unfortunately, they don’t have much recourse there.

In conclusion, I’d like to end off with a brief message to any member of the PCF/G3AR forum community that happens to stumble by and read this (and I know that some of them do): thank you for being a part of an awesome community. As I mentioned in my resignation announcement, there are some of you who will never forget, and there are none of you who I would like to forget; friendships have been forged that will last far, far longer than I could have ever conceived. Understand that behind the scenes, behind closed doors, I was fighting a massive battle to ensure your community’s survival. Sadly, it turned out to be a battle that I did not have the strength to win.

In Kazakhstan we have three major problem…

… social, economic, and… exploding space rocket.  (Apologies to Borat, but I couldn’t resist!)

Spaceflight Now has the full story:

A Russian Proton rocket went out of control and slammed into the steppes of Kazakhstan mere moments after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Monday night.

The government booster was carrying three Russian navigation satellites on the ill-fated mission that launched at 0238 GMT (10:38 p.m. EDT).

Live video showed the Proton gyrating left and then right as it ascended off the pad before going horizontal, barrel rolling and falling into a nose dive. The front end of the rocket sheared away and the main stage erupted in a massive fireball before hitting the ground in a horrific explosion.

The entire flight appeared to last a half-minute.

Russian rockets do not carry self-destruct explosives like Western boosters, which prevented any attempt to destroy the wayward Proton before impact.

A Russian Federal Space Agency statement said an emergency committee being created would be headed by Deputy Head of Roscosmos Alexander Lopatin.

Standing 19-stories tall, the rocket weighed nearly 1.5 million pounds at launch, its first three stages loaded with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants and the upper stage filled with kerosene and liquid oxygen.

The Proton is built by the Khrunichev State Research and Production and RSC Energia makes the Block DM upper stage.

Six main engines ignite at liftoff to power the vehicle away from the launch pad and burns for two minutes. The second stage and its four engines fire through five-and-a-half minutes of the mission before the third stage and its single engine takes over. The upper stage then completes the necessary burns to shape the orbit for deployment of the spacecraft.

Monday’s launch featured a three-stage Proton core vehicle topped with a Block DM upper stage to maneuver three GLONASS navigation satellites — Nos. 48, 49 and 50 — into their desired Earth orbit.

The flight was carrying fresh craft for the space-based navigation constellation, which transmits positioning signals for military and civilian users. The satellites fly 12,000 miles above the planet in 64.8-degree inclination orbits. The system is similar in concept to the U.S. GPS network.

It was 388th Proton rocket to launch since 1965 and the fifth this year, following a series of commercial missions.

The program has suffered five failures in the past two-and-a-half years, mostly due to upper stage issues. Three other GLONASS satellites were lost in a botched launch in late 2010 due to a fuel miscalculation that prevented the vehicle from reaching orbit.

The next launch, presumably grounded for the investigation, was slated for July 21 carrying the commercial ASTRA 2E broadcast satellite for Europe.

Here’s an amateur video showing the entire sequence.  At a ~9 second delay, this puts the amateur observers at around 3 km from the launch pad (assuming the launch pad is at sea level, which it probably isn’t, but the estimate is still probably close enough).  These guys were lucky that “exploding space rocket” didn’t head in their direction…

Of course, this begs the question: why does all interesting/weird stuff always seem to happen in that part of the world?