Category Archives: Stories

X11Forwarding But DISPLAY variable not set

x11-logoSerious programming in the olden days mean to deal with Unix – the father of today’s ubiquitous Linux running bigger part of the internet.

The first bigger project I was involved in was still the good old DOS with Turbo Pascal – anybody remember that?

As soon as I could, and we had to build something less of a hack but more of a software-engineered application, I steered my client into Unix, first the X86 version of Xenix, which turned out to be too flaky, and then a nice hundred thousand dollar HP Workstation. As it was an application involving graphics, an important order of business was to get familiar with the principles and techniques of the X11 windowing system.

This was not a very long-lived project and with the advent of more powerful x86 hardware and a finally decent piece of software from Microsoft – Windows NT – the develoment was moved to that new platform. The fact that the port from X to NT was not terribly difficult was a nice testimonial for proper application of software engineering principles. Hacking mentality as promoted by something like Turbo Pascal would have required a complete rewrite.

System administration, I had become familiar with during that time, was helpful when I started to maintain a few linux web servers years later. I always considered X11 far superior to all the other graphical windows software but I really had never anything to do with it any more – until a point in time a few days ago.

First of all, I finally succeeded in getting Ubuntu running on an old laptop. A flaky DVD had never gotten me through an installation properly and the machine was so old that it could not boot from a memory stick. I ultimately succeeded when I found a utility I could burn on a CD and boot from that made my USB bootable. Now I could load Ubuntu from the USB stick.

So, there I finally was again with a computer with a proper graphical user interface. But that computer was tucked away somewhere with little physical access. It serve as a local testing machine for web development – did not really need that X Windows for that!

But it was sitting there, teasing me, so I finally got XMing – an X Server running on MS Windows – installed on my main computer where I sit all day and I could finally connect to that old laptop remotely with a graphical user interface. In my early days of X11 there was not too much concern about security – it was all on the local network – yes, a coax ethernet cable – and to have an application display on an xterminal you just had to set the DISPLAY environment variable to the IP address of any X-Server, like a xterminal, and authorize its use.

That is all different now. I learned that from a remote machine you start an ssh connection on my workstation (windows 7) to the remote host (old linux laptop) using putty. If the putty session had X Forwarding enabled then a secure tunnel for all the X traffic was created. This tunnel could even go through a router with NAT without a problem. Initially I had wondered why I saw the value of the DISPLAY variable set to strange things like localhost:10.0 – but I finally understood that this was how the ssh tunnel worked: the ssh server on the old laptop pretended to be a local X server on display number 10; then it transported all the X traffic it received securely to the machine I was sitting on and fed it into XMing. It all worked perfectly.

Two weeks later I received my first Raspberry Pi and that little wonder did behave the same way as the old laptop, a bit slower I have to admit, so the old laptop is still a bit more powerful than the miniature linux box sitting over there on my speaker. Both are full LAMP systems and are even accessible from the rest of the world through the magic of DynDNS and port forwarding.

But then my trouble began.

As I had all this so nicely and easily set up, it was suddenly not enough any more that I logged into my real web servers only with putty, SCP, and DirectAdmin. Nostalgia had me in its grip and I just had to get X running on them as well.

First of all there was no X-stuff installed on those servers as they were web servers in some remote data center. But a “yum install xterm” got this handled. Still no go – starting xterm from the ssh login gave me the error message that the display was either not there or could not be opened.

The next step, I found out, was to enable X11Forwarding for the sshd on the remote server – but still no go – the DISPLAY variable was still not set. Lots of Googling around but no solution – everything I tried made no difference.

But I learned about the -vvv parameter to ssh. It would give me insight into what was happening during the establishing of the ssh connection. Unfortunately, putty does not have it! But I found that it has a logging function and after turning this on and comparing the logs from connections to my local old laptop and the remote web server I finally saw the light:

xauth

After I had it yum-installed and run to generate a new .Xauthority file for a local X server my quest for the xterm running on that web server and displaying on my local machine behind a NAT router in my office had come to a successful conclusion.

Not that I will use that much – putty and SCP have done the job for me for years – but I now could, potentially, install firefox on that server and start browsing through that server located at a very different place on the planet.

Hmmm  – why don’t I just try that: yum install firefox……………………….
finally, after installing a gazillion dependent packages, the installation is – complete!

Now: firefox& – wait – wait – wait…

ff-on-linux

But it is clear that I have to file this away under ‘education’ as it is so slow to make it more or less unusable.

When Only The Government Has Guns

I grew up in a country that has one of the strictest gun control in the world – Germany. Once I tried to get a gun permit after I was being beat up by some guys and was very afraid that my little sister got mauled (which fortunately did not happen) without me being able to defend us.

I remember a cop actually showing up at my house interviewing me to evaluate if I had the maturity to be entrusted in defending myself – but I was mostly scoffed and laughed at. Funny part of that story is that I was asked by another cop for help with the guys that had beaten me up. Looking back, it was somewhat funny. After these three or four guys let me go, I did what every good citizen who survives violence is supposed to do – I called the cops from the next phone booth (cell phones were not invented yet). And they came pretty fast, scouted the area and apprehended two of them, which I identified. After then I made my way home and the cops look the bad guys to the station.

There, apparently, one of the guys got so solidly on the police man’s nerves that he hit him. He then came to me to ask if I would testify in his defense should the bad guy complain about that rude behavior. It never came to that, though.

But back to gun control – so I, as a law-abiding citizen, was absolutely not able to get me the means to level the playing field to put up an effective defense. Now, interestingly, the Wikipedia article about German Gun Control tells the story that gun and weapons (which in Germany includes bigger knifes) control was tightened even more in the early 2000s after a chain of school shootings. Imagine this, even with this nearly complete disarmed people, school shootings were possible and did, in deed, happen. This should be reason enough, at least for any semi-logical person, that gun control does not stop gun violence and school shootings.

So, what would then be the real reason for gun control – meaning a society where only the government has guns?

It becomes glaringly clear when we look at the following:

  • In 1911, Turkey established gun control. Subsequently, from 1915 to 1917, 1.5-millionArmenians, deprived of the means to defend themselves, were rounded up and killed.
  • In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. Then, from 1929 to 1953,approximately 20 millon dissidents were rounded up and killed.
  • In 1938 Germany established gun control. From 1939 to 1945 over 13-million Jews,gypsies, homosexuals, mentally ill, union leaders, Catholics and others, unable to fire a shot in protest, were rounded up and killed.
  • In 1935, China established gun control. Subsequently, between 1948 and 1952, over 20 million dissidents were rounded up and killed.
  • In 1956, Cambodia enshrined gun control. In just two years (1975-1977) over one million”educated” people were rounded up and killed.
  • In 1964, Guatemala locked in gun control. From 1964 to I 98 I, over 100,000 Mayan Indians were rounded up and killed as a result of their inability to defend themselves.
  • 1n 1970, Uganda embraced gun control. Over the next nine years over 300,000 Christians were rounded up and killed.

Doesn’t that looks like more the act of a gang of bad guys trying to get rid of a threat to their monopoly on violence?

The only thing that stop the bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Cops are supposed to be just that. But history shows that those guys often become the bad guys and then there is no line of defense if they are the only ones with the guns, except, maybe a few of the private bad guys who are the only – if weak – competition.

if only the government has guns

Free Home For Anyone Who Will Take It

Found this good story on Facebook and like to present it here…

I was in my neighborhood restaurant this morning and was seated behind a group of jubilant individuals celebrating the successful passing of the recent health care bill. I could not finish my breakfast. This is what ensued:

They were a diverse group of several races and both sexes. I heard the young man exclaim, “Isn’t Obama like Jesus Christ? I mean, after all, he is healing the sick.” The young woman enthusiastically proclaimed, “Yeah, and he does it for free. I cannot believe anyone would think that a free market would work for health care. Another said, ‘The stupid Republicans want us all to starve to death so they can inherit all of the power. Obama should be made a Saint for what he did for those of us less fortunate.” At this, I had more than enough.

I arose from my seat, mustering all the restraint I could find, and approached their table.

“Please excuse me; may I impose upon you for one moment?” They smiled and welcomed me to the conversation. I stood at the end of their table, smiled as best I could and began an experiment.

“I would like to give one of you my house. It will cost you no money and I will pay all of the expenses and taxes for as long as you live there. Anyone interested?” They looked at each other in astonishment. “Why would you do something like that?” asked a young man, “There isn’t anything for free in this world.” They began to laugh at me, as they did not realize this man had just made my point. “I am serious, I will give you my house for free, no money what so ever. Anyone interested?” In unison, a resounding “Hell Yeah” fills the room.

“Since there are too many of you, I will have to make a choice as to who receives this money-free bargain.” I noticed an elderly couple was paying attention to the spectacle unfolding before their eyes, the old man shaking his head in apparent disgust. “I tell you what; I will give it to the one of you most willing to obey my rules.” Again, they looked at one another, an expression of bewilderment on their faces. The perky young woman asked, “What are the rules?” I smiled and said, “I don’t know. I have not yet defined them. However, it is a free home that I offer you.” They giggled amongst themselves, the youngest of which said, “What an old coot. He must be crazy to give away his home. Go take your meds, old man.” I smiled and leaned into the table a bit further. “I am serious, this is a legitimate offer.” They gaped at me for a moment.

“I’ll take it you old fool. Where are the keys?” boasted the youngest among them. “Then I presume you accept ALL of my terms then?” I asked.. The elderly couple seemed amused and entertained as they watched from the privacy of their table. “Oh hell yeah! Where do I sign up?” I took a napkin and wrote, “I give this man my home, without the burden of financial obligation, so long as he accepts and abides by the terms that I shall set forth upon consummation of this transaction.” I signed it and handed it to the young man who eagerly scratched out his signature. “Where are the keys to my new house?” he asked in a mocking tone of voice. All eyes were upon us as I stepped back from the table, pulling the keys from pocket and dangling them before the excited new homeowner.

“Now that we have entered into this binding contract, witnessed by all of your friends, I have decided upon the conditions you are obligated to adhere from this point forward. You may only live in the house for one hour a day. You will not use anything inside of the home. You will obey me without question or resistance. I expect complete loyalty and admiration for this gift I bestow upon you. You will accept my commands and wishes with enthusiasm, no matter the nature. Your morals and principles shall be as mine. You will vote as I do, think as I do and do it with blind faith. These are my terms. Here are your keys.” I reached the keys forward and the young man looked at me dumbfounded.

“Are you out of your mind? Who would ever agree to those ridiculous terms?” the young man appeared irritated. “You did when you signed this contract before reading it, understanding it and with the full knowledge that I would provide my conditions only after you committed to the agreement.” Was all I said. The elderly man chuckled as his wife tried to restrain him. I was looking at a now silenced and bewildered group of people. “You can shove that stupid deal up you’re a** old man, I want no part of it” exclaimed the now infuriated young man. “You have committed to the contract, as witnessed by all of your friends; you cannot get out of the deal unless I agree to it. I do not intend to let you free now that I have you ensnared. I am the power you agreed to. I am the one you blindly and without thought chose to enslave yourself to. In short, I am your Master.” At this, the table of celebrating individuals became a unified group against the unfairness of the deal.

After a few moments of unrepeatable comments and slurs, I revealed my true intent. “What I did to you is what this administration and congress did to you with the health care legislation. I easily suckered you in and then revealed the real cost of the bargain. Your folly was in the belief that you can have something you did not earn; that you are entitled to that which you did not earn; that you willingly allowed someone else to think for you. Your failure to research, study and inform yourself permitted reason to escape you. You have entered into a trap from which you cannot flee. Your only chance of freedom is if your new Master gives it to you. A freedom that is given can also be taken away; therefore, it is not freedom.” With that, I tore up the napkin and placed it before the astonished young man. “This is the nature of your new health care legislation.”

I turned away to leave these few in thought and contemplation and was surprised by applause. The elderly gentleman, who was clearly entertained, shook my hand enthusiastically and said, “Thank you Sir, these kids don’t understand Liberty these days.” He refused to allow me to pay my bill as he said, “You earned this one, it is an honor to pickup the tab.” I shook his hand in thanks, leaving the restaurant somewhat humbled, and sensing a glimmer of hope for my beloved country.

Use reason,
Clifford A.

Size does not matter

There is always that innuendo when discussing the question if size matters.

But I don’t want to get into this, even though I chose that headline to get your attention – – did work if you are reading this, didn’t it?

So, here I want to show you one example where size does not matter…

Before the mighty FAA we are all created equal. Once you have your clearance, it’s yours. You might give it up to let a big guy with 300 passengers go first, as these big guys are probably burning a lot more fuel in idle that I in my single engine plane will use for a whole trip.

Two things come to mind. One was a flight instructor telling the story at the Pilot’s CoOp that he did catch a ride on a business jet once and that the crew was treated to a nice dinner when they stopped somewhere for gas. Only when he saw the bill he understood.

The other story, I was involved myself directly. It was during my primary training when my instructor put me through the paces to practice my landings. Our airport had intersecting runways. One of them – 15 – was often used for the commercial traffic. If there was one plane ready for take-off on runway 15 and another one on approach on runway 8 the departing plane had to wait. Runway 8 was very long and the length from touch down to the intersection with runway 15 was plenty enough for a little plane to stop, so they never crossed 15. So it was customary that traffic control asked the landing traffic if they were landing short of 15, meaning they had no intention to cross runway 15. If the landing traffic confirmed that, the tower could let the big iron take off on runway 15.

That was standard operating procedure, but now yours truly, student pilot, enters the picture. On approach to 8 for the fifth or so time, I confirmed that I would hold short of 15 and tower gave takeoff clearance the the Southwest 737 and it started rolling.

Just then my flight instructor, who I was so glad to have with me, made the decision that I had messed up the approach – I was too high or too slow or both, floating too far down the runway. He gabbed he yoke, pushed the throttle to the firewall, keyed the mike: “Tower, Cherokee 888 going around!!”

Now that was not good. The 737 was rolling towards the intersection and we, in our tin can were now climbing over runway 8 towards the intersection.

Tower: “Southwest 114 ABORT – Southwest 114 ABORT!”

All went well, the 737 stopped before the intersection and we sailed unscathed across the intersection. I was too busy digesting this all so I did not take a good look into the cockpit of the 737 that was sitting right there on my left side. But I could imagine that the pitch of the captains voice might not have been so low as they usually are.

We got the expected call from the tower: “Cherokee 888, Tower, contact the tower after landing!” Was I glad that I was only the student, and my instructor was legally the pilot in command. A bit after we landed and tied down, I saw my instructor on the phone with the tower – very meek and apologetic – rather different than his usual boisterous self. Fortunately for him he got off with a warning.

It was a big story at the Pilot’s CoOp and many guesses where made how much money in kerosine that had cost Southwest. I mostly had to think of the poor passengers that did not really know what was happening. The usual bit of scare at the takeoff roll and then suddenly screeching brakes – it might have convinced never to fly again.

I only had one instance of “Call the tower after landing!” but I could weasel myself out with the fact that I was going someplace further away and could truthfully tell the controller that the tower would be closed when I returned. So, he just scolded me a bit and told me to listen better next time.

HDR Photography with an old Camera

I have to admit that I do not have a decent camera.

I was about ready to invest in either a Nikon D5100 or a Canon Rebel t3i when I learned about the new breed of mirror-less changeable lens cameras – much smaller and lighter but same picture quality as the DSLRs – and that stopped me dead in my tracks because who wants to buy something old and just miss the latest and greatest.

But I really wanted to get my feet wet with HDR, which stands for high dynamic range, and which combines several images with different exposure into one with a much higher range between the brightest and the darkest parts of the image. much more than can be done in a single frame.

Modern cameras make this a bit easier but I finally had the cognition again that photographers make photos – not cameras. So, I dig out my old Nikon Coolpix 5400 and started to experiment a bit. This camera actually have a feature called bracketing which is useful for HDR photography.

I had to dig into the manual but found out that the bracketing as implemented works really for for the purpose of HDR – I can turn on bracketing to take one frame correctly exposed and then, while holding down the shutter release four more frames are take at -2, -1, +1 and +2 stops. After taking these five shots the age of the camera shows because it takes 10 to 20 seconds to write all that image data to memory card – a whopping 256 MB CF card.

I use the HDR support in photoshop CS5 to help me combine the 5 shots into one, and here is an early result – a shot of a house for rent that we are going to take a look at tomorrow.

His Diary – Her Diary

Her Diary:

Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much. I asked him what was wrong, He said, ‘Nothing.’ I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly, and kept driving. I cant explain his behavior I don’t know why he didn’t say, ‘I love you, too.’ When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent. Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep – I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.

His Diary:

Motorcycle won t start… can t figure out why.

Can you own an Apache helicopter?

Not that I had ever asked myself that question, but today the answer presented itself so I just had to ask the question – what’s an answer without a question!?

Was out at Fox Field in Lancaster, CA today and noticed a rather unusual vehicle flying slowly down the runway – big, black and making a lot of dust. It came closer and closer, finally coming to rest right there on the GA ramp in front of the airport building.

The fuel truck got on the way as if it was all normal that an Apache helicopter landed at Fox Field. At that time I did not know that this was an Apache, I only concluded that it was a real bad-ass flying machine, apparently flown by civilians as ‘United States Army’ was painted over, although not enough as to completely obscure it. The only marking was a small  041 on what’s on a real airplane would be called the horizontal stabilizator.

The aviators did not necessarily looked civilian. They were wearing fatigues and a very macho attitude, but I missed to look for any insignia, when one of the dudes joined me in the restroom for some water dumping – so, private or not, will remain forever a mystery. Maybe they just came back from Iraq or wherever the US is fighting for liberty and justice at this particular point in time, but I am more leaning towards “rich guys with a new toy.”

The pilot and gunner took their sweet time to inspect rotor and swash plate before heading off into the blue yonder again and so I had the chance to properly use my Nexus S.

To All You Italians – and Golfers

An 80-year-old Italian goes to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor is amazed at what good shape the guy is in and asks,’ How do you stay in such great physical condition?’

I’m Italian and I am a golfer,’ says the old guy, ‘and that’s why I’m in such good shape. I’m up well before daylight and out golfing up and down the fairways. I have a glass of vino, and all is well.’

‘Well’, says the doctor, ‘I’m sure that helps, but there’s got to be more to it. How old was your Father when he died?’

‘Who said my Father’s dead?’

The doctor is amazed. ‘You mean you’re 80 years old and your Father’s still alive. How old is he?’

‘He’s 100 years old,’ says the Old Italian golfer. ‘In fact, he golfed with me this morning, and then we went to the topless beach for a walk and had a little vino and that’s why he’s still alive. He’s Italian and he’s a golfer, too.’

‘Well,’ the doctor says, ‘that’s great, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. How about your Father’s Father? How old was he when he died?’

‘Who said my Nono’s dead?’

Stunned, the doctor asks, ‘you mean you’re 80 years old and your grandfather’s still living!  Incredible.  How old is he?”

He’s 118 years old,’ says the Old Italian golfer.

The doctor is getting frustrated at this point.  ‘So, I guess he went golfing with you this morning, too?’

‘No, Nono couldn’t go this morning because he’s getting married today.’

At this point the doctor is close to losing it. ‘Getting married!  Why would a 118 year-old guy want to get married?’

‘Who said he wanted to?’

House with Bodhi Tree for Sale

Some 25 centuries ago, on the morning of December 8th, by the Japanese Buddhist
calendar, one Siddhartha Gotama Shakya, while sitting in meditation under a fig tree, woke up to the reality of life and the world.

This waking up to reality made him the Buddha Shakyamuni, the “Awakened Onesage of the Shakyas”. The specific type of fig tree under which he sat became known as the Bodhi Tree, in good old Latin – ficus religiosa.

In the good old tradition of Tony Robins many people then tried to imitate the Buddha’s actions and sat under a Bodhi Tree for hours on and, often falling asleep instead of waking up. One of the problems with sitting under THE Bodhi Tree was simple logistics – there is just finite space under one fig tree, even a special one.

So what to do?

The principle of homeopathic was adopted that the essence of this tree could be passed on even in very high dilutions. So, the essence of this one tree in Bodhgaya, India was taken, in form of a leaf, and planted in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. A branch of that tree was then given to a Mary Foster to be planted in the Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, Hawaii.

A branch from that tree was given to the University of  California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) and grew joyously in its botanical garden.

Now the camera zooms in on Max, who, some dozen years ago, was in charge of part of UCLA’s computer systems, and who enjoyed his lunch break in that very UCLA botanical garden. This is how one little branch of that 4th generation bodhi tree ended  up in a glass of water in your’s truly house – with the plan for this branch to sprout some roots so that it could be planted and supply the space – in some twenty or thirty years – to mediate under, in order to finally awake.

It was a very difficult birth and early childhood for this fifth generation of bodhi tree indeed. Only with the greatest care was there finally a five-inch baby tree growing in a planter – only to be used by painters as a weight for their tarp when slapping paint on the house. The poor baby tree was beaten up, splattered with paint and almost died.

I nearly gave up there, but we started one last attempt, and this attempt coincided with the birth of our son Zen, who apparently chose his name because he had none of it and it was the goal of this life to gain some – Zen, I mean.

Surprisingly, growing up together, Zen and the bodhi tree, worked like a charm and after two years the tree had already surpassed the child as the picture above shows. The gap in size increased over the years and ten years later the child made to a bit over five feet but the tree grew to at least twenty.

I now have doubts that I will ever sit under this tree to suddenly awake, as the house might have to find a different owner and this tree can certainly not be transplanted. We also learned that by the type of Buddhism practiced in Thailand we made a mistake in planting this tree in our yard – these trees are reserved for temples and monks! But we did some ceremony/exorcism so smooth the waves. The tree is now wearing come colorful clothes around its trunk and all is OK.

Now your call to action – if you always wanted to have a house with a Bodhi Tree to sit under and meditate, now is the time to get in touch with me – going once, going twice, …