Monthly Archives: June 2006

Gentoo Configuration Files Tool

When I emerge –update –deep world on my Gentoo machines, I am left with a number of new configuration files under /etc that need to be reviewed and – sometimes – installed. The ._cfg0000_whatever filename format makes for a lot of typing when I'm doing diffs between them and the exisiting files; ditto when I rename the originals and replace them with the new ones. After doing that twice, I thought that my time might be better employed by doing a little automation. is written in Perl with a few shell calls and provides a quick way to review and accept, reject, or ignore the proposed new configuration files. The process is simple: is run, will find all ._cfg* files under /etc, and present a unified diff of each old file and the new; options are to replace the old, reject the new or just ignore (leaves things as they are). Actions are logged, and an option to save the log to a file is presented at the end. Please feel free to use this at your own risk. This was written in a hurry, for my own purposes; if it wrecks your system, drinks your precious single malt and runs off with your significant other, don't blame me. You have been warned.

That said, the programme is fairly non-destructive. All files replaced are first re-named to ${filename}.old, and any new files rejected are re-named to a more visible ${filename}.rejected.

Bugs? Probably.

A New Kind of Penguin

Several years ago, someone told me about this Unix you could put on an ordinary PC (I was working with IBM RS/6000s at the time). Intrigued by the idea, I made my first forays into the world of Linux. From those early days, my Linux experience has been dominated by the SuSE distribution, now owned by Novell.

For the last couple of years, every time I have upgraded SuSE Linux to a newer version, I have said "never again!". A recent attempt to put OpenSuSE on my old, sick, laptop convinced me that SuSE and I had finally reached the parting of the ways.

I have dallied briefly with other distributions – the dinosaur of a ThinkPad in our kitchen, used to access our recipes wiki, the weather forecast and rain radar runs Debian, my main web server runs Fedora, and a couple of old test machines were – until yesterday – running Slackware.

Move aside all! I have finally found a Linux distribution that I truly like and that works the way that I want it to. Not for the beginner, nor the faint of heart, but perfect for a developer and former sysadmin – welcome to Gentoo.

Installation has given me a few woes but the online documentation, especially the wiki have smoothed the way and made my life much easier. What really draws me to Gentoo is Portage, the package management system. May I never see another rpm build as long as I live! Portage has, so far, obviated the need for the huge tarball and horrendous Bash script that I used to use to install all the essential software that the rpm builders had – as far as I was concerned – got wrong.

Conclusion: Gentoo rocks.

Smiffy's Web Log – The Next Generation


Comment spam, security upgrades, poor accessibility, having to write one too many code hacks – these all make 'blogging too much of a chore for me. WordPress is OK, a lot of good work has gone into it, even though I am less than enamoured with their development process. However, for me, it is still the lesser of the evils of 'blogging software.

So, what is it that I dislike about current offerings? Mainly the “all things to everyone” approach. Flexibility is all very well, but the more flexible and customisable a software, the more complex it becomes. I absolutely hate working with the WordPress code; the Codex only begins to scrape the surface – documentation of the code is just too far behind the code development itself and too scanty at that. This is not an attack on WordPress – feel free to substitute the name of any other 'blogging software, as this is a general issue for me.

I have now begun to do that which I should have done from the outset, rather than spending so much time modifying code with which I was not happy – I have started writing my own 'blogging software. To date, I have a database schema (MySQL), and most of the database interface code. Unlike most popular 'blogging software (with the notable exception of Movable Type), my software is written in Perl.

Functionality (Or Lack Of)

  • Single user
  • No support for themes (except for styles) or plugins.
  • What appears on a page is determined by turning components on and off – components themselves cannot be modified, except by editing the Perl source.
  • All layout, styling, etc., will be determined by CSS
  • Multiple CSS stylesheets, which may be selected by reader.
  • No file uploads – images, etc., can live elsewhere and be linked in.
  • No use of cookies; I suffer from insulin resistance and have no time for cookies.
  • No client-side scripting.
  • Just two programmes – one for administration and one for readers.
  • Administration sits behind HTTP Basic Authentication – HTTPS recommended.
  • No WYSIWYG editing – entries in pure XHTML. (Remember – I'm writing this for myself, and that's how I do it anyway.)
  • RSS feed – 1.0 only; viva RDF!


This will not be 'blogging software for the faint of heart, but I believe that a small number of people (Lynx users, for a start), may want to use this software. It will be released under
a Creative Commons attribution/share and share alike/non-commercial license.

Release predicted by October 2006.

Chronic Illness (of the Health System)

As a follow up to my chronic fatigue post, I can advise that the only thing chronic is the inability of so many GPs to examine patients and make effective diagnoses. Happily, I have changed doctors (and, indeed, practices) and am now working with one who actually looks at the patient (rather than at their computer), thinks critically (especially with regards to the laboratory ranges of blood tests) and diagnoses in a proper, scientific manner. My underlying problem is simple – hypothyroid. This can be fixed, and will be fixed.

After three years of ill health, wasted time, wasted money, inappropriate treatments, lost work – the end is in sight.

My faith in the medical establishment is by no means restored – at least until the methodologies of the true healers become commonplace and accountants are no longer able to interfere in the practice of medicine.

Here endeth the rant.