You can’t kick this around anymore…

nixonscan-finalRichard Nixon is the US president I admire the most, I think. He had a grasp of strategic thinking that few have matched. My admiration is often a source of amusement (and embarrassment) to my American friends, though, because that grasp of strategy failed him spectacularly during the Watergate affair, resulting in his resignation and disgrace.

But from my father, I sought, and was granted, special permission to watch his resignation speech, live, at 2AM London time in August 1974. I was a pretty committed 10 year-old! I also strongly suspect that without Nixon, none of us might be here today: the Cold War could have got very hot and very nasty on numerous occasions, until Nixon’s policy of détente made us all a lot safer.

Anyway, my fascination with the man lead me, several years ago now, to look to obtain his autograph (as one does with heroes). But they were (and are) not cheap, and ToH would not permit money-siphoning to take place on such a grand scale, despite my entreaties that a great man warrants grand money-wastage! Cheaper ones can be found if you look long enough, though-but I wasn’t that diligent back then, so everything seemed awfully pricey.

And then I happened to stumble across an auction on Ebay, for a letter allegedly signed by Nixon whilst he was serving as Vice President -so back in 1960. The asking price was about US$89, and no international shipping.

Well, at that price, it couldn’t be genuine, could it?! But the lady selling it said it had been sent to her father for some reason, he had died recently, she had no use for it and therefore wasn’t asking the world for it either. However, she couldn’t substantiate it more than that and knew nothing about its authenticity. But she would ship it to me in Australia if I paid some token sum or other (maybe an extra US$25).

And that is how I came to acquire my Nixon autograph for the piffling price of about US$115. It eventually arrived safely in the post -and this was my first chance to actually look and touch what I’d paid for. Well: I wasn’t disappointed. It certainly looked genuine (the signature is strong and definitely from a fountain pen). It also felt genuine: the paper is definitely old, the typewriting is definitely from a real typewriter.

Looks can be deceptive, of course! Nevertheless, the thing was framed and put in a place of honour on my study wall, where it has remained to this day.

But was it genuine??! It would bug me occasionally.

So early this week, I finally decided to do something about it: I sent the scanned copy of it you can see at the top of this piece to the Nixon Presidential Library, in Yorba Linda, California. I asked them if they had any records proving that, as the letter claimed, Nixon had been in Akron, Ohio on October 1st 1960 -and whether they could tell me anything about the addressee, Mr. Giampetro.

Their website is not the best! They don’t appear to know how to get https certificates to work, either! So I wasn’t hugely hopeful… but efficiency lurks in other corners of the library, it would seem, because this evening, not two days after I emailed, I received a very nice email from their archivist, one Dorissa Martinez, saying (and I quote):

According to our Pre-Presidential Materials (Laguna Niguel) Appearances (Series 207) finding aid, Vice President Nixon attended a rally at Memorial Hall in Akron, Ohio on October 1, 1960.

After searching through the Pre-Presidential Materials (Laguna Niguel) General Correspondence (Series 320) collection and Campaign 1960: PPS 57: Election. 1960. Post Election Correspondence, Acknowledgments, and Thank You’s, box 5, folder Thank you Letters Completed – Nationwide, I was unable to locate materials relating to Frank Giampetro.

I’m not sure I made entire sense of either sentence! But the general gist of it is that if you poke around the Pre-Presidential Materials long enough, you can indeed find evidence that Nixon was in Akron, Ohio on the date the letter claims he was. It doesn’t prove my letter is genuine… but it goes a long way to reassuring me on the point anyway.

It’s a shame there weren’t records that Frank Giampetro was, for example, a Republican Party hired driver, routinely used to transport any bigwigs that came by Ohio… so that part of the mystery remains. I’d certainly like to find out more about him (but the letter stays with me, come what may!)

Anyhow: I don’t think it would have mattered to me either way, but it’s nice to have my own little bit of near-confirmed Nixon-alia in front of me as I type. Let’s just hope greatness rubs off and shady dealings don’t!

State of Play

churchill150It has been almost a year since I did anything to my Churchill automation framework. (If you didn’t know or realise, Churchill lets you easily create virtual multi-node RAC and Active Data Guard environments).

I took a look at it lately to see about refreshing it. I discovered that whilst Churchill’s speed keys will assume that you’re using CentOS 6.6, CentOS has actually released versions 6.7 and 6.8 since the last Churchill refresh (as have Red Hat, Scientific Linux and Oracle, of course)! It is also still the case that no version of Churchill works with a RHCSL 7.x O/S (because systemd screws up network automation).

No worries, I thought to myself: tweak a few things and at least bring Churchill up-to-date-ish with version 6.8 as the new speedkey default.

No chance!

In their wisdom, the CentOS developers decided to split the main DVD release of 6.8 over two DVDs. That means Churchill’s trick of copying its own installation media onto its own hard disks (for subsequent automated network installs onto the RAC nodes to use) fails, because it can only copy one of the two install DVDs. (There is a special, 6.8-only Dual Layer DVD you can use, and that would work… but I decided not to go there for now).

This, combined with the systemd debacle, basically means that Churchill is dead in the water, and I therefore have made only one more tweak to it -whereby Scientific Linux version 6.7 is assumed to be the speedkey default- and after that, I won’t be maintaining it further.

Something new is required to automate 12c RACs on RHCSL 7.x environments… and I don’t know what that will be yet! Watch this space, I guess…

Fun Fedora 24

Just as my playing with the new Linux Mint release begins, so the Fedora team finalise a new version of their distro: Fedora 24 was released on 21st June.

It’s still very blue; it’s still very Gnome-y and therefore pretty awful as far as I’m concerned and I wouldn’t personally touch it with a feathered hat-band, let alone a bargepole.

But it’s out and therefore my Bogart preinstaller script, which makes Fedora a suitable platform for running Oracle Enterprise Edition, needs a run in the park to make sure it still works with the new version. Happily it does without any substantial changes at all.

However, I took the opportunity to do two things with Bogart. One was to remove its ability for preparing for an 11g installation. I know is still supported, but you can’t get hold of that without a support contract; and if you’ve got a support contract, you won’t likely be wanting to run Oracle on an unsupported platform like Fedora! Meanwhile, any other version of 11g you can get your hands on has long-since been de-suppported… so Bogart is now 12c only.

And that means, two: I’ve re-written the Oracle-on-Fedora article to reflect it’s new only-12c-ness.

The revised article is here, and the updated Bogart preinstaller script is here.

Minty Fresh

Mint2Having just finished a push for domestic consistency by installing Ubuntu 16.04 on practically every machine I control (which therefore definitely excludes a certain Significant Other’s Windows PC!), I now see that the Linux Mint crew have just released a new version of their green and fragrant distro.

Never one to let the opportunity of a new distro installation pass me by if I can help it, I have accordingly just installed the Mate version onto my ancient(circa 2009) laptop… and it’s running nicely. Pretty slow, of course, but hardly unbearable. I probably don’t want to be doing Blender renders on it any time soon, but it’s fine for a bit of web editing, browsing, video playing and photo up-touching.

It also has its windows controls (maximise, minimise and close) on the right side of the window title bar (which is to say, yes it’s on the right-hand side, but it’s also the correct side as far as I’m concerned!) It is a small cosmetic change from vanilla Ubuntu, I guess; but it’s enough that it might persuade me to deploy it on my main PC instead of the current Ubuntu install. Time will tell.

I noticed in passing that though I had written simple installation scripts for Oracle 12c for a lot of other distros I’ve dabbled with over the years, I had curiously neglected to write one for Linux Mint, of whatever vintage.

So I’ve rectified that. On the Oracle articles page is a new one for installing on Linux Mint 18. I’ve run out of inspiration for my script names now, so this one is just called Mentha -which, as we all know, is the Latin for ‘mint’.

I tested it on both the Cinnamon and Mate spins, but the screenshots in the article are all from Mate (for absolutely no reason at all, other than I happened to have it handy at the time the screenshots needed to be taken).

I should perhaps mention that I’m trialling the use of new ‘slideshow’ technology in this new article: it means the bazillion screenshots don’t take up nearly so much room on the screen and fade neatly from one to the other as you step through the slideshow. The image captions provide the instructions. It looks good -but there are at least two issues with it. One, if you’re using script blockers, the slideshow won’t work properly. And two, the plain-text version of the article (obtainable by clicking the ‘print’ link at the very end of the it) displays all the screenshots sans instructions, which is somewhat less than useful! If that is an issue for you, let me know and I’ll re-think… I am not entirely sure how many people bother with the plain-text versions of articles, so I don’t know how much of a deal-breaker this is. As I say, tell me (in the comments) if it is one for you…

Server Error: 550

RH_bestpractice_img_commonBouncesAs I mentioned last time, I have abandoned efforts (for the moment) to get my own postfix/dovecot/etc/etc mail server working due to security issues that are non-trivial to work around. I also mentioned that I only found out about the security issues after I’d written six articles about putting the pieces together!

I suppose it was inevitable that a number of people would ask me to publish the six articles despite the end result not being entirely satisfactory from a security point of view… so I have, and they are available from the Linux Articles page.

Return to Sender

Postfix_logoI have spent the past week or so -and not an inconsiderable amount of coin- trying to build a CentOS7 server that uses Postfix, Dovecot, Spamassassin, Amavis and Roundcube so that I can finally ditch the ever-more-privacy-intrusive mail services from the likes of Gmail and Outlook. It is a madness that comes over me once every year or so. The enormous, steaming pile of disparate software pieces that have to bolted together just-so to get anything working at all has never really put me off trying… but my previous efforts, though functional, haven’t really been fully functional and never took security too seriously.

This time I got really close to doing it properly. Everything worked fine after just the seventh installation-from-scratch attempt, and six nice how-to articles ready to publish. 95% of the work had been sorted out on the first pass, I have to say -but the missing 5% was the very devil to get right. It was all to do with delivering Spam (because no spam detection algorithm is perfect), but into a junk mail folder rather than the main inbox. The tool to do that is called ‘dovecot-pigeonhole’ and the protocol involved is called ‘sieve’… and configuring sieve and dovecot in a way that actually works is a nightmare. But I did it. It worked. Spam moved all by itself to a place where I could save it if I wanted to or delete it if I didn’t.

And then I logged on with the wrong password… and Roundcube (the webmail interface) let me in regardless!


Turns out that by design and default, MySQL (and thus Dovecot and thus Roundcube) uses ‘CRYPT’ as its password encryption technology, which is based on DES, and (here’s the punchline) only uses the first 8 characters of your supplied password. So yes, I had mis-typed the 23rd character of my 26-character long password (it happens!)… but Roundcube had let me in anyway because the first 8 characters had been typed in an impeccably accurate manner.

Several things to say about this. The first one is that it’s bloody annoying! Second, it’s bloody stupid. And third, after an hour reading about how you can configure things to do SHA512-CRYPT (which doesn’t chop your passwords in thirds without telling you), I spent 45 minutes trying to implement it without success before giving up in utter frustration.

I am now using again!

Of the 98 hurdles between me and a working, secure, web-accessible, flexible, virus-blocking, spam-delivering email server, I had managed to leap, more or less gracefully, 97 of them. But truncating passwords is too much like plain stupidity to make the effort involved in limping over the 98th just too much bother.

I wonder if there is a non-postfix, non-dovecot means of doing a mail server… I have a spare server in Paris to make use of, after all…