• Distributions updated

    Wed, 19 Sep 2018 14:30:00 -0700 - Chris Brannon

    We have updated our distribution images and netboot installers with two new releases.

    • Alpine Linux 3.8.1
    • NetBSD 7.2

    These distribution images and netboot installers are available from the management console. A full and up-to-date list of supported operating systems can always be found at the distributions page of our wiki.

  • How to Ask for Technical Support

    Fri, 07 Sep 2018 09:00:00 -0700 - Paul Scott

    Have you ever made a support request and had it closed as “unable to reproduce” or found that when you went to collect more details, the problem was already gone? This is a frustrating experience for everyone involved - not just you, but also the person who’s trying to help you. Fortunately there are a few steps you can take to minimize the chance of this happening.

    If the problem is with software, include:

    • Exactly what sequence of actions led to the problem. Different ways of performing the same task can produce different behaviors. For example it’s more useful to say “I selected ‘“‘Print…’”’ from the file menu,” rather than “I tried to print.”
    • Your operating system and all involved software versions.
    • The exact error message, if any. If you are running a command from a Linux/Unix command line, a program like “script” can capture this for you.
    • A screenshot, but only if the problem involves something visible, such as a distorted display or garbled information.

    For web issues, provide everything that you would for software issues, plus:

    • The time stamp (including the time zone, such as UTC+8) at which the problem occurred.
    • The problem URL.
    • Whether you were logged in or not and what user you were logged in as.
    • If you came to that page through a link from another, then include the linking URL.
    • If the problem involved an online form, give the exact form input if you have it.

    For network issues or if a website was completely unreachable provide:

    • The exact date, time and time zone when the issue occurred.
    • The program and protocol where the issue was first observed.

    Ideally also try to include:

    • The output of ping and/or ping6 to the host or IP. IPv6 is usually used if it’s available, so pinging both will tell you whether IPv4 or IPv6 was used.
    • If the output for both ping/ping6 is something like “Network is unreachable” or “Destination Host Unreachable”, include the output of “route” or “/sbin/ip route”. Syntax varies between operating systems.
    • If you have a command named “mtr” available, include the output of “mtr -c 100 –report -n " from the first host, and "mtr -c 100 --report -n " from the second host if you have access to it. Packet loss can be asymmetric so both directions are important. If you don't have the command "mtr", try "traceroute" or "tracepath".

    In addition to the above, for all issues describe anything else that you’ve already done to debug or correct the issue.

    Finally, it might seem as though a screen shot is the best way to explain your problem. However a written description is almost always more useful, especially if it includes an exact error message. Text helps in several ways:

    • The visually impaired can understand and diagnose your needs.
    • It avoids attachment size limits that may prevent a screen capture from coming through.
    • It is faster to search online for similar problems.
    • It can also be automatically searched for in local databases in case other users have had similar problems.

    A screen shot can’t hurt in most cases, but please make it a supplement to a complete written description.

    Technical issues are not dictated by the alignment of the stars, but they are sometimes dictated by the alignment of a connector, so every little bit of information can help get your problem solved.

  • Kernel bug with specific installs of Ubuntu Trusty

    Sun, 26 Aug 2018 08:45:00 -0700 - Sarah Newman

    If you are running Ubuntu Trusty 14.04 and both of the following commands return output:

    mount | grep ext3
    sudo tune2fs -l /dev/xvda1 | grep RAID

    Then if your systems boots using linux-image-3.13.0-157-generic, the file system will almost immediately remount read-only. To prevent this, manually select an older kernel or run the following:

    sudo apt-get install linux-image-virtual-lts-xenial

    To install a kernel series without this bug. We filed a bug upstream.

  • Software Upgraded on Billing.prgmr.com

    Sat, 25 Aug 2018 20:45:00 -0700 - Chris Brannon

    We upgraded the software on billing.prgmr.com tonight, starting at approximately 02:50 UTC. The service was down for a few minutes, and it is once again operational.

  • History of Gopher

    Thu, 23 Aug 2018 08:45:00 -0700 - Paul Scott

    For many people, the world wide web is synonymous with the Internet. While the HTTP protocol dominates the modern internet, many protocols obsolete, obscure and well known make up the Internet.

    One of the more stubborn protocols is Gopher. Introduced in 1991 (the same year as HTTP), Gopher, like the web, is document-centric.

    By about 1990, information on the internet was expanding rapidly enough that it needed more organization and a better search capability. In 1991 researchers at the University of Minnesota developed the Gopher protocol in an attempt to provide some of that organization. Gopher provides a hierarchical text-based menu system to organize the contents of a data repository (which eventually came to be called “gopherholes”).

    Soon after, the search capability came in the form of a new search engine called Veronica. It was a whimsical time on the net, and geeks still ruled most of it, so not only was the name taken from Archie comics, it was soon turned into a backronym as “Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives”. Veronica was something of a brute-force approach. It used a dynamically updated database of every file and every hierarchy on every Gopher server on the internet.

    Veronica was eventually joined by an alternative search tool named Jughead. (Whimsical, remember?) Jughead differed from Veronica in that it did not use a large and expanding database, but on the other hand you had to specify which Gopher server you wanted to search.

    Clearly there was a problem with scaling here, and that is part of what led to Gopher’s eventual decline as the internet kept expanding. Other threats came from the sheer versatility of HTML and HTTP, the rise of universal text-based searching, and the eventual decision by the University of Minnesota to charge licensing fees for the use of their software. Gopher was wildly popular for a few years, but by about 1996 it had fallen far behind the new browser-based web.

    Why Use It?

    If Gopher was supplanted by HTTP, why use it? As with many things, the answer depends partly on your application. One of the selling points for Gopher back in the day was that it was very light on resources — no media, just simple text menus. This makes it attractive today for document-centric applications that don’t want to deal with breadth and complexity of the modern web.

    Try Gopher if you like the feeling of tech nostalgia. Gopher is part of a bygone age on the net. The simple fact that Veronica used a database of every Gopher archive to search points to a time when the Internet was small and personal, and it can bring that feeling back in a small, carefully curated and distributed Gopher network. Retro can be fun.

    If you prize security, Gopher can be handy. It’s purely text-based. No JavaScript. None of the tools and add-ons that make the modern net such a minefield.

    Ultimately though, use Gopher because you can. It’s fun to set up and entertaining to use. It’s a conversation piece. And it links you to the period that shaped the Internet into what it is today. Gopher is the path not taken.

    Gopher Clients

    There are lots of old Gopher clients available for download online, but most are no longer supported. The best choice for current development and support is a set of Firefox extensions produced by The Overbite Project. For Firefox 57 and higher choose OverbiteWX. Older versions of Firefox need OverbiteFF. OverbiteWX works through Floodgap Systems, which hosts a lot of Gopher resources and is worth checking out in its own right.

    Another good option for using Gopher is Lynx, an old-school text-based browser that was superseded by Netscape, but which is still supported. The completely text-based interface has its own sort of elegance, and I like it when I don’t want to be distracted by all the stuff that yells for your attention on the modern net.

    To reach the veronica-2 search engine using lynx, install lynx and run:

    lynx gopher://gopher.floodgap.com/1/v2

    There is a more general page on gopher at gopher://gopher.floodgap.com/ .

    However you Gopher, have fun with it! Watch this space for more information on setting up your own Gopher service.