August 1993 “Preliminary Hardware Configuration for a Main Service Linux Machine”

From 1992 through to 1994 I was working at the Computer Unit at the University of Wales (well, wrangled an “Employment Training” position there on my own initiative) as a sysadmin and was running Linux on an IBM XT (from very dodgy memory). A friend of mine, Piercarlo Grandi, suggested to me (semi-seriously I suspect) that you could now build a large enough PC to support quite a number of users, and that the Computer Unit could use it as a central server (they were running DEC 5830s with Utrix), so I knocked up a text file and discussed it with my colleagues. They didn’t take it very seriously – little did any of suspect how much that would change.

Well tonight I indulged in a bit of computer archaeology and managed to get the data off my Amiga hard disk (from a GVP A530 expansion unit) and browsing around happpened to stumbleover that text file, dated 8:20pm on the 8th August 1993. It’s quite touchingly naive in places, and my numbers are pretty ropey.. 🙂

Preliminary Hardware Configuration for a Main Service Linux Machine

Item                            Each    Number          Total

Case                             100    1                 100
Keyboard + Mouse                 100    1                 100
Floppies                         100    1                 100
DAT Drives                       750    4                3000
EISA SCSI Controllers            300    2                 600
Memory (Mb)                       25    256              6400
Pentium EISA Motherboard        1000    1                1000
3.5Gb SCSI-II Disks             1800    5                7000
Screen+SVGA Card                1000    1                1000
EISA Ethernet Card               200    2                 400
CD-ROM Drive                     300    1                 300


Projected to be able to support between 200-400 users running Linux 0.99.p12
        (Alpha release kernel with patched IP - appears stable)


(1) I've seen reports that the ethernet driver code may suffer from a
    memory leak, but I've not seen any evidence for this yet as my
    machine hasn't been turned on for a long enough period for it to
    cause any problems.

(2) As it is so new there is very little commercial software available
    for it, but there is a quite sizeable free software base with many
    of the GNU packages already ported for it, and this is generally of
    high quality.

(3) The Linux kernel is well thought out, and includes support for shared
    libraries (which Ultrix sadly never picked up) which significantly
    reduces the amount of memory applications need.

(4) A Linux box of the size proposed for the service machine has not
    been attempted yet (as far as I know), but ones of the size of the
    proposed testbed machine are already in usage on the Internet. I
    believe that Linux can handle this scaling up with no problem.

(5) There are apparently companies within the UK who sell support services
    for Linux, I will investigate further.

(6) There is already a large amount of Linux expertise on the Internet,
    including the comp.os.linux newsgroup, the linux-activists mailing
    list and even an IRC channel dedicated to Linux users.

This post is dedicated to Rob Ash, my then boss, who took a chance taking me on after my time as a student mucking around on computers when I was meant to be doing my Physics degree, and who was a great mentor for me.

Tasmania had a Different Class of Bushranger

Lovely little story from the Launceston Examiner, 1851 (bottom left of page 5, so you’ll need to go on one from page 4), courtesy of Trove at the National Library of Australia.

BUSHRANGING UNDER ARMS. – As a free man named John Cowley, who resides at Mrs. Stuart’s, opposite the Derwent Wine Vaults, Elizabeth street, was returning into town yesterday morning, he was attacked near to Mr. Edward Moore’s, at Stoney Point, about two miles on this side of Bridgewater, by two men, who rushed upon him, seized him by the neckerchief, and robbed him of about eleven pounds of butter, besides his hat. One of the party pulled the trigger of an old musket at Cowley, who had a rough-tussel with the man, described to be of a dark complexion, and about five feet and a half, in height. After robbing our traveller of his butter, the bushmen made off into the scrub, and Cowley instantly pursued his way to O’Brien’s Bridge to give information, when a detachment of armed police were sent in chase. The bushrangers had fastened one of their victims named Joln White to a tree, but he released himself after their departure. This circumstance occurred about nine o’clock yesterday morning, and information was lodged with the police by noon. -Ibid.

The mind boggles about what they would do with 11 pounds of butter and a hat…

Archaeological Excavation in Little LaTrobe Street, Melbourne ? (Updated)

Anyone know anything about this archaeological dig in progress in Little La Trobe Street in Melbourne, just opposite the RMIT Uni Bookshop ?

Archaeological dig at Little La Trobe Street, Melbourne

There’s no signage for it but they seem to be exposing the wall lines of old buildings in what was, until recently, a car park.

Update: Here’s the last photo I have before the rescue dig ended and they started clearing the site.

Archaeological dig resumed in Little LaTrobe Street

The Pope, Atheists, Nazis and Reality

So on his official visit to the UK the Pope apparently said:

we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society […] As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century

Now compare that with some quotes from Hitler (who knew a thing or two about Nazi Germany) on atheism:

We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.

We have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion.

National Socialism neither opposes the Church nor is it anti-religious, but on the contrary, it stands on the ground of a real Christianity.

Finally this classic from the lead up to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat of 1933:

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.

Doesn’t sound very atheistic to me..

Nick Crane’s Britannia and Floating Islands in Snowdonia, Wales

Watched the first episode of Nick Crane’s Britannia, about England and Wales, and was interested to see a section about Snowdonia which implied that William Camden, the Elizabethan author of the original Britannia, had said that there were was a lake there which had a floating island in it. It implied that Camden would have come across this story by talking to cattle farmers of the area on his travels through North Wales. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all, in fact the English translation of Camden’s own text says:

Neverthelesse, so ranke are they with grasse that it is a very comon speech among the Welsh, that the mountaines Eriry will yeeld sufficient pasture for all the cattaile in Wales, if they were put upon them together. Concerning the two Meare [lakes] on the toppe of these, in the one of which floteth a wandering Island, and in the other is found great store of fishes, but having all of them but one eye apeece, I will say nothing lest I might seeme to foster fables, although some, confident upon the authority of Giraldus, have beleeved it for a verity.

In other words he was just quoting Giraldus Cambrensis who, in his “The Description of Wales” (1194 CE), wrote:

the latter of which are said to be of so great an extent, that if all the herds in Wales were collected together, they would supply them with pasture for a considerable time. Upon them are two lakes, one of which has a floating island; and the other contains fish having only one eye, as we have related in our Itinerary.

Even then Giraldus is just summarising what he wrote in his “The Itinerary of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales” (1188 CE), where he says:

On the highest parts of these mountains are two lakes worthy of admiration. The one has a floating island in it, which is often driven from one side to the other by the force of the winds; and the shepherds behold with astonishment their cattle, whilst feeding, carried to the distant parts of the lake. A part of the bank naturally bound together by the roots of willows and other shrubs may have been broken off, and increased by the alluvion of the earth from the shore; and being continually agitated by the winds, which in so elevated a situation blow with great violence, it cannot reunite itself firmly with the banks. The other lake is noted for a wonderful and singular miracle. It contains three sorts of fish – eels, trout, and perch, all of which have only one eye, the left being wanting; but if the curious reader should demand of me the explanation of so extraordinary a circumstance, I cannot presume to satisfy him.

So sadly it appears that William Camden was just referring back to a text that was almost 400 years old when the first edition of Britannia was published in 1586.

The Tragedy of War

From the Australian War Memorial uploads to the Flickr Commons project.

Studio portrait of 1626 Private (Pte) Walter Henry Chibnall, 10th Light Trench Mortar Battery, pictured with his son William Beresford (Billy) Chibnall

Studio portrait of 1626 Private (Pte) Walter Henry Chibnall, 10th Light Trench Mortar Battery, pictured with his son William Beresford (Billy) Chibnall. […] He was killed in action at Passchendaele, Belgium, on 12 October 1917, aged 32 […] Pte Billy Chibnall enlisted during the Second World War, serving with the 2/21st Battalion. He was taken prisoner of war and died, aged 30, on 20 February 1942 at Ambon.

Very sad.

UK Academic Network JANET to Close Usenet News Service (Updated)

This is a great shame, though probably not that surprising these days, but the UK Joint Academic Network (JANET) is going to pull its Usenet News service on the 31st July 2010. Basically I suspect the ever declining SNR has put people off, and these days everyone knows the web and the closest they get to knowing what Usenet is (or maybe was) Google Groups. JANET says:

There are now few active registered News Feed users and News Read users and the current infrastructure is nearing its end of life. JANET(UK) have therefore decided that it is no longer economically viable to run the service, especially in the current financial climate. We therefore will cease to offer the service when the existing contract expires on July 31st 2010.

Especially sad for me as I cut part of my first real sysadmin job at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, was working on the Usenet news system that had been set up originally by Alec Muffett and I was for quite a while the maintainer of the UK.telecom newsgroup FAQ and the alt.config guidelines.

Update: I’ve been digging through some old email – here’s one from 4th August 1993 giving an idea of what we had to struggle with:

OK, I deleted all binaries under alt.binaries, all of junk and all of control. That, coupled with the AEM_TIDY got us about 27 meg back. I then ran a doexpire, whch took a long while but we’re now up to about 53 Meg free, or about 85% of the 400 Meg partition.

Yup, the entire university news spool at that time was a whopping great 400MB. 😉 We were using nntplink with CNews for the time (this was before we knew about INN).

Great Quote on Early Computing

Found this great quote whilst reading up more about Alan Turing being the first person to really comprehend what a modern computer would be like, a quote by Howard Aiken (of Harvard Mark I fame) in 1956 (the year after Turing’s death):

If it should turn out that the basic logics of a machine designed for the numerical solution of differential equations coincide with the logics of a machine intended to make bills for a department store, I would regard this as the most amazing coincidence that I have ever encountered.

Luckily Turing was right and he was wrong.. 😉

Redacted NSA Cold War History Released

Via Bruce Schneier, a redacted version of the NSA’s American Cryptology during the Cold War, (1945-1989) has been released thank to a request from the George Washington Universities National Security Archive project.

It includes a rather interesting section (book 1, pages 18 and 19) on how, in 1947, the UK foreign intelligence agency, SIS, decrypted some KGB messages from Canberra that turned out to include classified UK intelligence military estimates. This caused the US to break off crypto intelligence sharing with Australia putting the British in an awkward situation; as Clement Attlee put it:

The intermingling of American and British knowledge in all these fields is so great that to be certain of of denying American classified information to the Australians, we should have to deny them the greater part of our own reports. We should thus be placed in a disagreeable dilemma of having to choose between cutting of relations with the United States in defence questions or cutting off relations with Australia.

It took 5 years, the establishment of ASIO and a change in government from Chifley to Menzies before the US would reestablish full resumption of cryptologic exchanges with Australia and the author of the history concludes that this has a very bad effect on early American intelligence efforts against China.

The cause of the original leak to the KGB ? Two “leftists” in the Australian diplomatic service…