Lighthouse      Zap's Digital Lighthouse

Zap's Digital Lighthouse is
a Blosxom weblog for our digital outpost on the Internet

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Sun, 29 Jan 2012

A microserver for FreeNAS

Food for thought: I've been thinking of rolling my own FreeBSD-based replacement for my old Linksys NSLU2 NAS devices on my home network, based on my recently purchased Soekris net6501 server. However, I have just found a very nice little device on the internet, the HP ProLiant MicroServer which seems quite nice: 4 SATA drives, a dial-core 1.5GHz AMD processor, up to 8 GB of memory in 2 simple DDR3 DIMM slots, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port, and a rather small footprint.

The datasheet is available here.

It is 275-300 EUR (before VAT) on the French HP site. That's less than a net6501. Hmmm.
There are a few models available, and I guess the idea would be to buy one with as little disk space as possible, because disks prices usually fall so quickly that by the time vendors ship NAS boxes to end customers, the prices are already out of whack with the market (Le Zap's rule of procurement: insofar as possible, bandwidth and disk space should be bought at the last minute on the spot market). With at least 4GB RAM, it would be about 400 EUR after VAT... should I just buy one for experimentation? it would be perfect for FreeNAS.

/hardware | Posted at 09:21 | permanent link

Thu, 26 Jan 2012

What are people using for small identity servers at home?

So, on my home network I have:

  • a DHCP server
  • a web server
  • a CIF file server
  • an NFS file server
  • an rsync backup server
  • a network printer
  • a mail server

and various other odds and ends.

However, it strikes me that I do not have a small and simple identity server, where I could define user accounts for all of my various devices and OSes (Windows, Mac OS X, FreeBSD, and probably some Linux also).

What do people use? NIS yellow pages? that seems too unixoid and will probably not help with the Windows machines. Some sort of Microsoft Active Directory? Through Samba? that feels too microsofty perhaps. Is there something that bridges the gap? Going beyond my little home network, is there something that would let me be accepted as an OpenId authenticator? Also, something I could use to allow logins into my machines hosted outside of the home network.

Hmmm. Over the years, we have gotten pretty good at doing IP networks, file sharing, printer sharing, web serving, and even web services and the like... but we are still struggling with having some form of simple authentication mechanism standardized. Probably because it is hard to have trust in authentication mechanisms, and especially the quality of the data they contain(*).

Anyway, that's another interesting weekend project.

(*) Perhaps we are setting the bar too high? I do not need strong authentication with non-repudiation and all that jazz... I would like a simple userid/password mechanism that would return something like the old unix uid/gid, but in 64-bit range, and I would like it to be easily integrated with Windows, Unix, and Mac OS X. Hmmm... fuzzy requirements... it's always more complicated than it looks like. What are people using out there? Any solid and usable public domain reference implementations I could look at and implement? Would Radius fit the bill?

/FreeBSD | Posted at 20:36 | permanent link

Setting up a new NAS device at home

For the last few years, I have been using a couple of Linksys NSLU2 NAS devices coupled with external USB disks for shared storage across my home network. I find that this works quite well to store files from my Mac, Windows, and even FreeBSD machines. One of the NSLU2 is unslung and runs an rsync daemon that I use to save files from my various FreeBSD machines.

The NSLU2 is a nice device, but it had become fairly old (no gigabit ethernet, limited expandability of the software, etc). So I have been meaning to set up a replacement. I have decided to use a Soekris net6501 to build my own little NAS box, using a couple of external 2 TB external drives.

Now, the question is: what software will I run on the net6501? I have been quite tempted by FreeNAS, but FreeNAS 8 has a stated minimum RAM size requirement of 4 GB (with 6 GB listed as the minimum for ZFS usage), and the net6501 is limited to 2 GB RAM (actually, I think that's even a limit of the Intel Atom CPU that it is built upon). FreeNAS 0.7 has a significantly lower RAM requirement, but I am afraid that it will be orphaned, as the main development path for FreeNAS is now version 8.

Of course, I could just set up FreeBSD on the net6501 and be done with it.

Anyway, I still have a few weeks to decide, as I am waiting for a new BIOS release for the net6501, as I am having some issues with the new USB boot code of the Soekris device: if I plug in 2 large (2 TB) external USB disks, in addition to the small internal 8 GB USB key that holds the FreeBSD image, then the device hangs on boot while probing the USB devices. If I just connect the external USB drives after the machine is booted, it works perfectly. I am hoping that the USB probe code will be fixed in the next BIOS release.

Fun for the weekend :-)

/FreeBSD | Posted at 20:06 | permanent link

Sun, 22 Jan 2012

Finding old blosxom plugins

I have set up this little blog using blosxom (from It is an oldish blogging package (in the Internet world, I guess 2003-2005 is getting ancient :-) but I like the fact that it's small, works with simple ASCII text files, and has no dependencies beyond having perl on the system.

The blosxom website also has links to lots of plugins that do useful things, but unfortunately quite a few of the links are now dead.

This is where the Internet Wayback Machine is quite useful. For instance, I was looking for the categorylist plugin, and it had disappeared from the web... well, a quick check in the wayback machine and voilą! the plugin is resurrected from history.

The Internet Wayback Machine isn't perfect, but it does a lot to save the information from the internet and ensure it doesn't just go away.

(Note: some other day, I'll chat about project Guttenberg, another great Internet outpost)

/blosxom | Posted at 20:24 | permanent link

Sat, 21 Jan 2012

Setting up FreeBSD 9.0 with a ZFS root filesystem: Success!

So, I investigated last week's problem with ZFS and FreeBSD 9.0 and I discovered that the problem was very simple to fix. I needed to add:

    # echo 'zfs_enable="YES"'>>  /mnt/etc/rc.conf

to the procedure described last week (on January 15th) so that the zfs mountpoint options would be executed. So now, things are working fine... I am going to play with this configuration a bit to see if the fact that I haven't configured a swap space causes problem with a 2GB memory configuration when I try to compile world.

More later.

Late addition to this post: turns out that the author of the initial page at had also found the error and fixed it on the wiki, but I had not gone back to check. In the end, it's OK, this has allowed me to explore ZFS enough so that I now understand it better.

/FreeBSD | Posted at 13:49 | permanent link

Wed, 18 Jan 2012

Listening to Montreal Canadiens' hockey abroad

All native Montrealers have hockey in their blood. When living away from home, you can listen to the games on internet radio, either in French on fm98.5 at or in English on Team990 at

This is a real lifeline when one feels too far from home... of course, having maple syrup in the house also helps ;-)

/misc | Posted at 20:25 | permanent link

IPv6 day for 2012 will be June 6

Seen on today: On June 6th, many companies will be enabling IPv6 by publishing AAAA record in DNS, and this time, they are not turning it back off!

This is good news.

I have been running IPv6 in my little part of the Universe for about a year (yes, I know, I should have done it earlier... I've been meaning to do it for 10 years). I even have a subnet at home that is running 100% IPv6. Interestingly enough, while IPv6 is fine, it is not easy to run a plain PC or Mac in an IPv6 only world, as a number of things still expect IPv4 to be visible (or at least, I haven't found the ways to get around it). For instance, while Windows has had support for IPv6 for a long time, my Windows machines on that IPv6 segment cannot seem to find Windows update, and hence no patches get downloaded, which isn't nice.

Browsing the web is also frustrating, because even though Google is visible on the IPv6 internet, the search results returned don't all point to IPv6 addresses (unless I haven't found who to enable that).

Are many people living in IPv6-only worlds? How do you do it?

/inet | Posted at 16:33 | permanent link

Sun, 15 Jan 2012

Setting up FreeBSD 9.0 with a ZFS root filesystem

With the new version of FreeBSD being just out, I decided to try out the ZFS filesystem. Notably, I would like to find out whether it works correctly with 2GB of memory, or whether more is really needed (I read that it doesn't really work with less than 1GB of RAM, but then again, there are conflicting reports that it needs lots more, though sometimes that's qualified with 'if you want prefetch' or 'if you are trying to do dedup'). Actually, I am building a small NAS server I am building around a Soekris net6501-70 which comes with 2GB RAM, and I would like to find out if I can use ZFS with it.

So, I looked up and tried to set up a vmware virtual machine with ZFS only.

I did not bother setting up swap space, nor a mirrored disk configuration, so the commands I used were:

  • boot a vmware virtual machine from the amd64 FreeBSD9.0-RELEASE DVD
  • choose the Shell option at the partitioning dialog in bsdinstall
  • run the following commands:

    # gpart create -s gpt da0
    # gpart add -s 64K -t freebsd-boot -l boot0 da0
    # gpart add -t freebsd-zfs -l disk0 da0
    # gpart bootcode -b /boot/pmbr -p /boot/gptzfsboot -i 1 da0
    # zpool create -o altroot=/mnt zroot /dev/gpt/disk0
    # zfs create zroot/tmp
    # chmod 1777 /mnt/tmp
    # zfs create zroot/usr
    # zfs create zroot/var
    # zfs create zroot/home
    # exit
  • And then, after installation:
    (update: one must add # echo 'zfs_enable="YES"'>> /mnt/etc/rc.conf here as per the post on 21 January)

    # echo 'zfs_load="YES"'>>  /mnt/boot/loader.conf
    # echo 'vfs.root.mountfrom="zfs:zroot"'>>  /mnt/boot/loader.conf
    # zfs unmount -a
    # zpool export zroot
    # zpool import -o cachefile=/tmp/zpool.cache -o altroot=/mnt zroot
    # zfs set mountpoint=/ zroot
    # cp /tmp/zpool.cache /mnt/boot/zfs/
    # zfs unmount -a
    # zpool set bootfs=zroot zroot
    # zpool set cachefile='' zroot
    # zfs set mountpoint=legacy zroot
    # zfs set mountpoint=/tmp zroot/tmp
    # zfs set mountpoint=/usr zroot/usr
    # zfs set mountpoint=/var zroot/var
    # zfs set mountpoint=/home zroot/home

The last 4 commands (i.e. after 'zfs set mountpoint=legacy zroot') give error messages, but I think that's OK. However, once I rebooted the virtual machine, the filesystems (except for /) were not mounted and therefore FreeBSD did not come up properly.

So, this was a first try... More on this next weekend :-)

/FreeBSD | Posted at 16:57 | permanent link

Fri, 13 Jan 2012

FreeBSD 9.0 is out


Yay! FreeBSD 9.0 is out!

The announcement says:

The FreeBSD Release Engineering Team is pleased to announce the availability
of FreeBSD 9.0-RELEASE.  Some of the highlights:
    - ZFS updated to version 28
    - NFS subsystem updated, new implementation supports NFSv4 in addition to NFSv3 and NFSv2

Please see for more info.

Note also that FreeBSD 9.0-RELEASE is dedicated to the memory of Dennis M. Ritchie, one of the fathers of UNIX.

/FreeBSD | Posted at 15:19 | permanent link

Wed, 11 Jan 2012

FreeBSD 9.0-RELEASE ISO are out

Found the ISO images for FreeBSD 9.0-RELEASE on and

I've already got the amd64 version installed on a vmware player virtual image successfully from the ISO -- which works beautifully with FreeBSD under Windows 7; check it out!

I'm off to Zurich for a couple of days... more FreeBSD over the weekend.

/FreeBSD | Posted at 21:05 | permanent link

Mon, 09 Jan 2012

Waiting for the next FreeBSD release

I have been setting up a small computer -- a Soekris net6501-70 -- to use as a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device on my home network. The idea is to replace the small, reliable, Linksys NSLU2 (slugs) that I have been using for shared network usage in my home, with a new device with more disk space and Gigabit Ethernet ports since my home network (at least the wired part) is Gigabit Ethernet.

Ideally, I would have liked to run FreeNAS on the device and to run ZFS as a filesystem, but it didn't turn out that way, as the net6501 has 2 GB RAM, and FreeNAS requires a lot more than that.

Therefore I have installed FreeBSD 9.0-RC3 on my net6501-70 and I even had the pleasure to discover that I could run FreeBSD in amd64 mode (i.e. 64-bits mode).

Now, I cannot wait for FreeBSD 9.0 to be finally and officially released, and for the next iteration of the ne6501 combios to be effectively release.

Can't wait!

/FreeBSD | Posted at 18:29 | permanent link

Social networking

Oh well, after literally years of resisting, I have finally opened a LinkedIn account recently, prompted by an old colleague/good friend at ZFS.

Since then, I've been having fun surfing the social networks and adding lots of people I've known in the past, even going back to friends in Canada from university or even high school.

Of course, I worry about publishing all of this information to an external company: this is why I have had neither a LinkedIn account, nor a Facebook account in the past. But, I have to say that it is quite nice to be able to reconnect with people from way back.

| Posted at 18:15 | permanent link

Wed, 04 Jan 2012

Upgrading an OCZ Onyx SSD drive

A while ago, maybe 2 years, maybe 18 months, I bought an OCZ Onyx 32GB SSD drive to put in my Soekris net5501 server under FreeBSD. The idea was that since that machine doesn't get lots of writes, it would benefit heat-wise and speed-wise from having a SSD drive rather than a regular 2.5" laptop drive (which always seem to fail after about 2-4 years of continuous operation).

Well, I have been quite disappointed, because after only a few months of operations, the Onyx started developing a number of read errors and bad sectors. I restored from backups a few times, but eventually it got so bad that I went back to a simple laptop drive for greater reliability.

When I bought a new PC recently, I remembered my Onyx and tried to use it to accelerated my disk accesses through intel's Rapid Storage caching Technology. Well, that didn't work at all because it developed read errors within 24 hours, and so I gave up on that idea and ordered a small Intel drive to use as a cache in my system (which seems to work fine).

Now, being somewhat stubborn, I surfed the web and found that OCZ had a firmware update for my 32GB Onyx drive (upgrade to 1.7)... so I upgraded the firmware to 1.7, and now the drive is in a very strange state: not only does it report that it has a capacity of 128GB (which is quite strange), but also I cannot seem to pqrtition/format it properly in Windows 7 or with the UBCD.

So, I guess I have reached the end of how much time I am willing to devote to this piece of junk, and send it into the recycle bin... truly one of the least positive hardware purchases I have ever made.

/hardware | Posted at 17:33 | permanent link

Tue, 03 Jan 2012

So, I flew on an A380 from Paris to Montreal

So, we landed in Paris this morning on an A380 from Air France. A very nice flight... fast too (5h 30'), but we took off about an hour late. Overall, a positive experience.

| Posted at 05:26 | permanent link

Mon, 02 Jan 2012

Flying on an Airbus A380

The Airbus A380 is a very nice plane. Quite large. Two floors all the way (as opposed to the Boeing 747 which has 2 floors only in the front part of the plane)... this allows airlines to pack a large number of people in each plane, optimizing revenue on long haul routes that are well travelled. For instance, Air France used to have 4 flights a day between Paris and Montreal; now that one of these flights in an A380, they run only 3 flights.

However, it is also a fairly recent plane.

Now, I have no particular worries about the stability or reliability of that plane; Airbus and Boeing are both extremely proficient at designing, engineering, and building these huge metal birds... and major airlines like Air France, British Airways, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, etc. are all quite proficient at operating and maintaining them.

However, these big recent planes have anciliary problems: you don't have many backup pilots for them; you don't have many gangways for them. So when you have a problem with crews or logistics, you run a greater risk of running into problems.

So far, I've flown twice on an A380. The first time, the pilot was ill and had to be replaced... however, another A380 pilot had fallen ill on that day, and the backup pilot was already on his way to New York! Had this been an A330 or 767, they probably would have had tons of backup pilots... but in this case, they had to send everyone home and delayed the flight to the next day.

The second time I flew an A380, we arrived 30' early. Unfortunately, our gangway was occupied by another A380 that was delayed and hadn't left the gangway yet. So we had to wait for a whole fleet of busses to come and take us to the terminal (there are many people in n A380, so we needed many busses).

So anyway, my impression at this point is that the A380 is a very nice plane, but because of logistic details, it is probably best avoided for now.

I am going to fly on an A380 for the third time tonight. I'll let you know how that goes.

| Posted at 19:23 | permanent link

Sun, 01 Jan 2012

A New Year

Just a quick entry onto this blog whilst it is still January 1st over here in Canada (regardless of what my European blog engine says :-) to wish all of my family, friends, and readers a very happy 2012: happiness, health, and success to all of you throughout the year!

| Posted at 23:24 | permanent link

Using MetaWeblog with blosxom

Blosxom is nice because it produces a reasonable-looking weblog based on very simple ASCII text files. Therefore, I can just use vi, zile, or emacs to edit blog entries, and they just get posted on the weblog painlessly.

The only problem is that I cannot always access via ssh. For instance, from work, I can do http, but not ssh. Therefore, it would be nice to be able to do weblog entries using the Scribefire add-on to Firefox once in a while. Scribefire can connect to weblog engines using the MetaWeblog RPC protocol, which blosxom seems to support via a plugin, but somehow, I haven't been able to figure it out yet, and I haven't found too many references to metaweblog4blosxom on the Internet.

Oh well, perhaps I should stick to emacs :-)

/blosxom | Posted at 23:20 | permanent link

Using blosxom for blogging

Hmmm. I've just taken a bit of time over the holidays to properly configure blosxom as my blogging engine.

Took a bit longer than I expected to get plugins and flavours going, but now it's fine. I had writebacks going too, but then I disabled them because I feared to be flooded with spam.

I will wait and see how much use I make of this small blog & then I will decide if I use it enough to spend any time policing spam on the blog.

Overall, I find blosxom an interesting little blog engine, but it seems to have fallen in disuse since 2003, 2004, or so. Any comments from any blosxom users out there?

/blosxom | Posted at 23:19 | permanent link

January 1st in Montreal

Looking for a place to have lunch in downtown Montreal on Sunday January 1st is not easy. We walked around rue Ste-Catherine for a while, not finding much that was open (apart from McDonalds and Burger King, which we did not feel like having) except for a dinner that had the excellent idea of being open for business: unfortunately, that meant that 100+ people converged there, and there was a line-up at the door. Then, Sylvie had the idea to walk over to the Chinatown... wow, almost everything was opened and there were tons of people around :-)

We ended up having a Pho and Bo'Bun (sorry for the missing accents) and leaving smiling and happy.

The morale of this story: on January 1st in Montreal, head for Chinatown for restaurants.

| Posted at 04:10 | permanent link