Author Archives: NC

Webmin on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS

Some time ago, Debian and Ubuntu changed their security key management architecture. As a result, the procedure for setting up Webmin using a signed repository also changed. Here’s what Webmin developers recommend.

First, set up the Webmin repository by adding the following line into the /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb https://download.webmin.com/download/repository sarge contrib

Then, run the following commands as root:

cd /root
wget https://download.webmin.com/jcameron-key.asc
cat jcameron-key.asc | gpg --dearmor > /usr/share/keyrings/jcameron-key.gpg
apt-get install apt-transport-https
apt-get update
apt-get install webmin

On my Ubuntu Server 22.04 LTS, however, this didn’t work; apt-get, when invoked, complained about unsigned Webmin repository and refused to download Webmin. This is because on my installation (and probably on others as well, as mine is pretty generic), apt-get looks for keys not in /usr/share/keyrings, but in /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d. So the commands that would have worked on my Ubuntu Server are:

cd /root
wget https://download.webmin.com/jcameron-key.asc
cat jcameron-key.asc | gpg --dearmor > /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/jcameron-key.gpg
apt-get install apt-transport-https
apt-get update
apt-get install webmin

The only command that’s different is the third one that starts with cat. The rest is perfectly fine as is.

Alternatively, after doing what Webmin developers suggest and encountering the error, we could simply copy /usr/share/keyrings/jcameron-key.gpg, into /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d and then run the apt-get commands again… (This is what I ended up doing, since I already had the key on my system, it just needed to be in the right place.)

Even more alternatively, rather than put the key where apt-get expects is to be, we could explicitly tell apt-get where the key actually is. To do that, we would go back to /etc/apt/sources.list and edit the line we added at the beginning of the setup procedure:

deb [signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/jcameron-key.gpg] https://download.webmin.com/download/repository sarge contrib

This should point  apt-get in the right direction…

Fireboxing (X750e Core edition)

On hand: a gracefully aging Watchguard Firebox X750e Core network appliance running the manufacturer’s proprietary Fireware 10 firmware.

The problem: both the box and the firmware are past end of life set by the manufacturer. Also, Fireware is rather impractical for small and/or heterogeneous deployments.

The question: can this unit still work?

The short answer: yes. Continue reading

Basic netstat on Windows

To see a list of network connections on a Windows machine, use the following command (works both on the command line and in PowerShell):

netstat -ano

To filter the output, pipe it to findstr. For example, to show only established connections, use:

netstat -ano | findstr EST

This shows only lines that include the substring “EST” (as in “ESTABLISHED”).

Ratings and revenues

The Numbers has published a curious breakdown of North American theatrical revenues for 2021:

Gross revenue by rating

Rank MPAA Rating Movies 2021 Gross Tickets Share
1 PG-13 80 $2,924,231,820 318,891,121 64.22%
2 R 119 $912,030,038 99,457,986 20.03%
3 PG 36 $642,496,716 70,065,060 14.11%
4 G 3 $40,574,962 4,424,750 0.89%
5 Not Rated 2 $44,361 4,837 0.00%

What’s so curious? Well, let’s see how much money the average film has grossed depending on its rating:

Average revenue by rating

MPAA Rating Average revenue per film
PG-13 $36,552,898
R $7,664,118
PG $17,847,131
G $13,524,987
Not Rated $22,181

The average R-rated film appears to underperform all other categories except Not Rated. Why? My working theory is, adult-oriented films have lost a lot of their audience to video games and home entertainment such as HBO and Netflix. Children, meanwhile, still go to the movies, often with parents…

Ripping a CD, old-school style

I recently needed to rip an audio CD (yes, those things still exist). Here’s what it took using Linux command line on an Ubuntu derivative distribution.

Step 1. Install the necessary software:

sudo apt-get install cdparanoia lame

There are two pieces of software being installed here; cdparanoia will copy audio tracks from the CD into *.wav files, while lame will convert *.wav files to a more compact *.mp3 format.

Step 2. Insert the CD into the drive and see if cdparanoia can read it:

cdparanoia -vsQ

If the CD is readable, a bunch of data about the disk and a listing of tracks will be output.

Step 3. The actual ripping of the CD:

cdparanoia -B

This will create a series of *.wav files in the current directory. The files will be named track01.cdda.wavtrack02.cdda.wav, and so forth. They can be renamed if necessary, but for now, we’ll just let them be.

Step 4. Make the *.mp3 files using lame.

There’s a small problem with lame; it expects to work with one file at a time, like this:

lame track01.cdda.wav

To work around it, we can ask lame to work inside a loop. Say, we have a bunch of *.wav files in a directory and we want encode them all into *.mp3. This can be accomplished using a shell loop:

for t in *.wav; do lame $t; done

If we only want to encode, say, first three tracks we just ripped, we can specify a more restrictive track selection pattern:

for t in track{01..03}*.wav; do lame $t; done

When the command completes, the current directory will contain *.mp3 files with names matching the names of *.wav files we asked lame to encode. For example, there will be track01.cdda.mp3 next to track01.cdda.wavtrack02.cdda.mp3 next to  track02.cdda.wav, and so on.

Concluding note. Both cdparanoia and lame have plenty of command-line options not covered here. Using those options, one can rip selected tracks or even parts of a track, specify bitrate and mode for the encoding, and lots of other things…

Another networking adventure…

Situation

A no-name mini-PC is being prepared for use as a “headless” development/testing environment running Debian. The machine must connect to the local network using Wi-Fi.

Problem

The machine does not appear to have a Wi-Fi controller. Running

lspci -nn

provides no information about a Wi-Fi device of any kind. At the same time, a look into BIOS reveals that a Wi-Fi card is present; BIOS identifies it as AP6255. A quick Internet search later, another revelation: this is a Broadcom product licensed to a variety of third parties to sell under white labels. I should have known… Welcome to another Broadcom-themed adventure in networking!

Cause of the problem

The Wi-Fi controller is indeed present, but it does not communicate to the rest of the system via the customary PCI, so lspci cannot detect it. Rather, it uses an alternate communication method called “SDIO/USB”, aka “SDIO over USB”. So our system must have the firmware/drivers that support this method, rather than those that support the more conventional PCI.

Solution

We begin by connecting the machine to the local network (and the Internet) with an Ethernet cable; the machine will need an Internet connection to download the necessary software. Also, the administrator will need root-level access to the system. Commands given below assume that root access is available, but they can be used with sudo if necessary, and it shouldn’t make any difference.

STEP 0 (wasn’t necessary in my case, but may be needed if other solutions were tried before to no avail). Uninstall potentially conflicting packages:

apt-get remove broadcom-sta-common broadcom-sta-source firmware-b43*

Note the star symbol at the end; it tells apt-get to uninstall all packages whose names start with firmware-b43.

STEP 1. Install the package containing the appropriate firmware/driver:

apt-get install broadcom-sta-dkms

(Note: in Ubuntu, the equivalent package is named differently, so you should do apt-get install bcmwl-kernel-source instead.)

STEP 2. Enable the kernel module responsible for SDIO/USB communication between the Wi-Fi card and the rest of the system:

modprobe brcmfmac

STEP 3. Test the progress:

iwconfig

The output of this command should contain at least a mention of a Wi-Fi device (wlan0 or something similar). This will indicate that the system has recognized the Wi-Fi device. Note the name of the Wi-Fi device; it will be used in later steps. For the remainder of this solution, we will use wlan0.

STEP 4. Install WPA Supplicant:

apt-get install wpasupplicant

STEP 5. Edit the configuration file /etc/network/interfaces; add the following to the end of the file:

allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
    wpa-ssid MyNetworkName
    wpa-psk MyNetworkPassword

Obviously, MyNetworkName and MyNetworkPassword should be replaced with the SSID name for the local wireless network and the password for this network, respectively. Also, remember to replace wlan0 with the name you learned in Step 3.

STEP 6. Bring up the Wi-Fi interface (again, remember to replace wlan0 with the name you learned in Step 3):

ifup wlan0

STEP 7. Verify that the system operates as desired. To do that, shut the system down:

shutdown now

When the system shuts down, disconnect the Ethernet cable and start the system again. It should connect to the specified local network and obtain a local IP address assigned to it by the local DHCP server. If you have a keyboard and monitor temporarily attached to the system, run ip a to see connection status, including the local IP address; if not, scan the network to determine your machine’s local IP address and use it to log in remotely.

The simplest URL rewrite ever?

This simple code snippet, if placed into an .htaccess file, would rewrite an alphanumerical “tail” of a URL into a variable accessible to an index.php residing in the same directory:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^([a-zA-Z0-9]+)$ index.php?tail=$1

For example, let’s say the the two files reside inside this directory:

http://mysite.com/myDir/

Then, a user accessing this URL:

http://mysite.com/myDir/ABC123xyz

would see the output of this script:

http://mysite.com/myDir/index.php?tail=ABC123xyz

Note that the “tail” must be alphanumerical (i.e., contain only letters and numbers).

AnyDesk on Linux, with a twist

Situation

A remote machine is running Ubuntu Desktop. The machine is accessible via SSH. It is necessary to ensure remote desktop access using AnyDesk.

Solution, step by step

Step 1. Log into the remote system and switch to root (alternatively, do not switch to root, but use the commands below with sudo).

Step 2. Install AnyDesk. (There’s more than one way to do it; we’ll set up a repository, so AnyDesk can be updated along with the rest of the software on the machine.)

wget -qO - https://keys.anydesk.com/repos/DEB-GPG-KEY | apt-key add -
echo "deb http://deb.anydesk.com/ all main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/anydesk-stable.list
apt update
apt install anydesk

Step 3. Retrieve AnyDesk installation ID (it will be required for remote connections):

anydesk --get-id

As of this writing, the installation ID us a string of nine digits (e.g., 123456789). You will need this string to connect to the newly installed AnyDesk, so you should write it down at this stage.

Step 4. Configure AnyDesk to run as a service and set up a password (let’s say, the password will be MyNewPassword) for unattended remote access:

anydesk --stop-service
echo MyNewPassword | anydesk --set-password
anydesk --service --silent

The first command stops AnyDesk service (may not be necessary, but hey, why not?). The second command sets the password by piping it to the AnyDesk utility (this is how AnyDesk recommends doing it). The third command starts the AnyDesk service in the silent mode (no pop-up messages).

Step 5. Connect to the new remote AnyDesk installation using the existing local installation.

a. Use the ID obtained in Step 3 to connect:

b. When asked, enter the password you set in Step 4:

At this stage, you should be able to see the Ubuntu desktop of the remote machine and control it the same way you would control it locally.

How old is the tale of the smith and the devil?

Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales

Sara Graça da Silva and Jamshid J. Tehrani
https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.150645

Abstract
Ancient population expansions and dispersals often leave enduring signatures in the cultural traditions of their descendants, as well as in their genes and languages. The international folktale record has long been regarded as a rich context in which to explore these legacies. To date, investigations in this area have been complicated by a lack of historical data and the impact of more recent waves of diffusion. In this study, we introduce new methods for tackling these problems by applying comparative phylogenetic methods and autologistic modelling to analyse the relationships between folktales, population histories and geographical distances in Indo-European-speaking societies. We find strong correlations between the distributions of a number of folktales and phylogenetic, but not spatial, associations among populations that are consistent with vertical processes of cultural inheritance. Moreover, we show that these oral traditions probably originated long before the emergence of the literary record, and find evidence that one tale (‘The Smith and the Devil’) can be traced back to the Bronze Age. On a broader level, the kinds of stories told in ancestral societies can provide important insights into their culture, furnishing new perspectives on linguistic, genetic and archaeological reconstructions of human prehistory.

Navigating the insides of LibreOffice

LibreOffice has Indent and Unindent functionality built-in. But what if you want to manage hanging indent the way it’s done in Microsoft Word, with Ctrl-T and Ctrl-Shift-T keystrokes? Here’s a pair of macro functions that do the work (they will need to be assigned to keystrokes using the Customize functionality in LibreOffice):

Sub HangingMore()
  oCursor = ThisComponent.CurrentController.getViewCursor()
  oCursor.ParaLeftMargin = oCursor.ParaLeftMargin + 1270
  oCursor.ParaFirstLineIndent = oCursor.ParaFirstLineIndent - 1270
End Sub

Sub HangingLess()
  oCursor = ThisComponent.CurrentController.getViewCursor()
  oCursor.ParaLeftMargin = oCursor.ParaLeftMargin - 1270
  oCursor.ParaFirstLineIndent = oCursor.ParaFirstLineIndent + 1270
End Sub

The macros are basically mirror images of each other. Each begins by capturing the properties of wherever the text cursor is into the oCursor variable. Those properties are then manipulated directly. The names of those properties should be self-explaining; the only trick is, margins and  indents are stored in 100ths of a millimeter. In other words, the number 1270 corresponds to 1.27 cm, or half-inch. Metrically-minded users may want to change this to the nice round 1000…