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Where have I been?

The last two weeks have been my summer holiday (back to work tomorrow - wah!). When I've not been out doing exciting stuff I have been watching films, animé, etc. When I've not been doing that, I have been working on MiniBBS. You might remember this from circa 2008? Well, it was never going to be good running on a PC with VisualBasic - mainly because of the difficulties of scaling the system for numerous users.

So it has been reimplemented. On a RaspberryPi running RISC OS.

I am a hell of a long way from having anything that can be considered useful. You can log in and you can sign up as a new user. No menuing system, no script interpreter, no messagebase...

The software is laid out like this:

At the heart of the system is a module (like a DLL in Windows parlance) that responds to incoming telnet connections, deals with users and messages and such. This is the glue that holds everything together.
When a connection is established, the server starts a LineTask. This is an application dedicated to looking after the user that is logged in to that port. If there are four users, four linetasks will be active. All communications, however, will go via the module.
The remaining part of the puzzle is the status. This is optional (doesn't need to be running), but will provides facilities such as reporting on who is logged in, updating status on an OLED display, multitasking messagebase compaction, etc etc.

The aim is to have a small and configurable system that acts like an old-school bulletin board.

But why? Well, there is the big question.

When you sign up with a service - say Facebook or Google Groups - you will have a long and boring list of terms and conditions to read and agree to. Yet, these same services track our use of the internet without them agreeing to anything with us. We are profiled, commoditised, and our (possibly incomplete or just plain wrong) profiles are sold. You see that Facebook "Like" button all over the place. It's a clever ploy - the organisation gets stupid "Likes" (which mean nothing without "Dislikes" to compare against) and Facebook gets to serve that image to everybody - and oh look - they will know what you've been looking at. A browser dared to enable the unofficial opt-out option by default, and the advertisers decided that since this was done, the opt-out was meaningless and could be ignored. That's one we can see.
Well? Who is tracking? What is our right to access and/or correct the information? How about deletion? I would say zero on all counts as it is pretty hard to chase up an unknown entity in a foreign country when you don't even know what information is being collected.
Then, there's this. This is what my phone says when I want to switch on GPS:

Share what? With whom? What is their privacy policy (who do they share with)? How often? As for the "anonymous", I can blow that out of the water. Given my remote location, only a few start-ups of GPS in the area are necessary to tie the phone to a home location with a reasonable degree of probability. From there, you just need to see who is living at that address...
And GPS is, in general, accurate enough that the same would apply to anybody (even in a suburban environment) to a resolution of your house or the next door neighbour.
All of this with them agreeing to nothing with us.

So I present MiniBBS. Primarily a user-to-user messaging service with public areas and private messages, it operates in the manner of a bulletin board like in the '80s and '90s. A simple textual interface (no mousing here, guys) with menus and texts. This is pre-Web technology. By design. There is no way to access the BBS other than telnet. By design. There are no POP3/IMAP facilities. By design. There is no link to Facebook. By design. No RSS reader. By design. No Twitter feed. By design.

Consider it a light part of the Dark Web. There is no encryption used (it is plain telnet, so your ISP could snoop) but it is a place where Google and searchers and scrapers are denied access and advertisers cannot see you. By design.

I hope when it is ready, you'll give it a try.
Additionally, if you think that you might be able to nurture your own community regarding your chosen topic(s) of interest, that you might consider setting up your own BBS. All you'll need is a Pi (plus power supply, keyboard, etc) and some time to build the look and feel of the BBS.



After not having used RaspBMC for a while (Pi boots into RISC OS normally), I decided to swap SD cards and boot into RaspBMC. The system came up right away and - impressively - hooked straight into the network via the Vonets adaptor. Then it updated. Downloading kernel modules, decompressing kernel modules, then half a dozen lengthy waits and reboots as it was "Patching root filesystem". Luckily I had the serial port hooked up so I could log in (user=pi, password=raspberry) and go to /home/pi/.xbmc/temp and type tail dpkg.msg to see that something was actually happening.
We probably shouldn't laugh at how Windows of old used to demand a reboot if anything changed, because this installation of RaspBMC rebooted numerous times...
But it wasn't done yet. Patching the heartbleed vulnerability, doing some sort of security thingy, now downloading a new XBMC build. I'm thinking we might, just possibly, be getting somewhere. It's been half an hour already. ;-)

Oh, finally, it starts...

And, whoo, stuff looks good.

As this is the first time that I have had the Pi running RaspBMC with an internet connection so I could play with some add-ons. However, the main thing to fix up was the "Arora" web browser, installed by default but seems utterly incapable of working on a non-wired connection. Like mine. It doesn't run within RaspBMC, it is a separate thing. Invoking it drops out of RaspBMC and restarts as the browser. Only that never happens, the thing crashes somewhere between decompressing the kernel and providing a login prompt. So some background hacks, root access, and WinSCP were needed to get rid of it.

As for extensibility - ShoutCast gives me streaming radio. Yahoo weather tells me it is raining. An arte add-on gives me access to interesting programming (in French). YouTube lets me watch Kittens. Mail lets me access my mailbox, albeit in desperate need of a makeover. You might have noticed the RSS ticker on the screen too.

To be honest, arte doesn't work so well with a low speed network connection (RISC OS downloads at around 86K/sec, I wonder if RaspBMC is about the same?). YouTube fairs slightly better as the SD quality is lower (both are configured to SD, for obvious reasons). I note that RaspBMC has no Kanji support.
Trying something with a little more movement in YouTube kept up with the action, so it depends upon the stream.

And, yet, for all of this, it's still great for watching videos...



I wrote a while back about Scotland's bid for independence. Since then, a number of things have changed:
  • There is no halfway. It is a straight Yes or No.
  • As predicted, the English government are starting to become difficult, insomuch as an independent Scotland not being exactly sure what sort of currency will be in use following a Yes result. It should be pointed out that while Scotland uses the Pound, it is primarily a Scottish Pound, to the degree that some places in England (especially down south) will refuse the money regardless of whether or not it is legal tender. This raises the interesting question that if the Bank Of England keeps being obstructive with regards a monetary union, would the Scottish use the Scottish Pound separate to the British Pound? [and if so, as Scotland is a part of Britain, would "GBP" cease to be meaningful?]
  • There is another obstacle in that some parts of Europe are against the idea of streamlining Scotland's entry into the EU, often citing a desire to quell regions that demand their own independence (Catalonia, the Basque lands, etc) from thinking they can separate and become a part of the EU automatically. This leads to some interesting conclusions such as whether or not it is valid to have a populace being EU citizens, then suddenly not. It is even more interesting when you consider that in 1990 when East Germany was reunited with Germany, they all became automatic EU citizens.
  • ...of course, this is missing the vitally important fact that is missed on most of the world. Scotland is a separate country. It has its own legal process, it has its own currency (tied to the Pound Sterling). It is linked to the rest of England through a complicated and messy process that is one of the joys of the history of the British Isles. So while the Spaniard that was in charge of the EU recently might firmly decline Scotland's entry into the EU (annoyed about Gibraltar much?), it can validly be argued that Scotland - as a country - has been a part of the EU all along. It ain't their fault of everybody else in the world thinks England and Scotland are synonymous!
I do not know what would be the best direction for Scotland. There are all sorts of complications to resolve, regarding who owns what, shares of national debt, and a host of other wrinkles that arise as a result of being joined for some three hundred years. I do wonder if there is much of a chance of a Yes vote, because it seems to me to be a little late in the day for these sorts of discussions. I just hope that the SNP are doing a lot of talking behind closed doors, because the crucial vote is in about a month and the only way Mr. Salmond stands to be victorious is if he can lay down a viable future for Scotland. Not to sing Flower of Scotland and talk about greatness, but so say "as of tomorrow, this will happen, then this, then this" and have all of the questions answered. Because, without that, what is there?

If you happen to be Scottish - the comments form is just below. Tell me what you think...



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hagbard, 19th August 2014, 11:50
The East German example doesn't really apply as the EU didn't exist at the time of German reunification. The East Germans joined the EEC which as a very different political construct without comparable entry conditions to the EU. The EU wasn't created until the Maastricht treaty in 1993. Now the conditions of joining the EU are clearly spelled out in the Lisbon treaty and that's the hurdle that iScotland will have to clear. ip/chapters-of-the-acquis/index_en.htm

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