pheriday 3: infrastructure

paul's habitual errant ramblings (on Fr)idays

pheridays: 3

2020-04-10: A week ago, I recorded a 5 minute audio segment of some stuff I've been thinking about, but when I started to write it up I stumbled into and kept dropping down a deep technostalgic hole.

fall down along with me:

https://pirsquared.org/blog/pheriday-infrastructure.html

The recording is just shy of five minutes long, you can also download it in different formats, depending on your needs, if the audio tag above doesn't suit you:

https://pirsquared.org/pheridays/2020-04-03.ogg (2.9 Mb)
https://pirsquared.org/pheridays/2020-04-03.mp3 (4.5 Mb)
https://pirsquared.org/pheridays/2020-04-03.m4a (6.3 Mb)

--

Stuff I mentioned in the audio:

Propellor - "configuration management system using Haskell and Git" by Joey Hess

OpenWRT - specifically - reducing Bufferbloat

Mumble - "a free, open source, low latency, high quality voice chat application."

sourcehut.org - "the hacker's forge" also know as sr.ht by Drew DeVault

Jitsi - "Multi-platform open-source video conferencing"

OpenFire - "real time collaboration (RTC) server licensed under the Open Source Apache License." Extensible XMPP server, with plugins, like a Jitsi-based video meeeting one claled OpenFire Meetings.


Though this is the fourth installment, the last time I recorded and posted a rambling was back almost 8 years ago! In fact, it was 2012-08-03, so 7 years and 8 months, to the day.


Having control of your infrastructure is a longtime thread for me.

For starters - there's the bicycle. That's been my primary and preferred mode of transportation for 30 years. As a kid, I was empowered by the sense of freedom, independence, and self-sufficiency that came with a bike. All these years later, I'm still a fan. You can see just how happy I am on a bike at the top of this interview , thanks to a sweet photo that was taken by Robert Sexton right by the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of the Lucas Valley Populaire in 2015.

Those of you who knew me back in college might remember how at UC Davis I ran my own "pirate" internet radio station - KPVL - with the cheeky tagline of "More broadcasters than listeners". (I say "pirate" because it has not relation to the actual KPVL radio station). But there are earlier remnants and traces of my efforts to exercise control and build my own reality.

I think it was in 1999 that my brother Mike and I started using Redhat (6), then Mandrake Linux 6.5, dual booting on a computer at home and I separately around the same time I got myself an sdf.org account. Though I wasn't sophisticated enough to have a constant internet connection in high school, I was lucky enough to get an account on Robert Chin's laya.com server. The url was - p.laya.com - it's long gone, but luckily, Archive.org has a copy from 2001.

Wow. I just took a look and so much came flooding back.

Here's the thing: April is an anniversary of sorts for me. Back in 1999, it marks my first time breaking anonymity and pseudonimity and using my real name on the internet. I've written about this before under the title of Publisher's block ten years ago - just about half way between now and then. This time, though, let me inline the piece I linked to as proof of the deliberate nature of my lack of anonymity.

An account of my life at 15, as I live it.
traces of my awareness of the world, I can look back at later
My first attempt at a memoir
My goal is to capture my many thoughts emotions, behaviors, incidents, and
acquaintances
and to arrive only at an exponential number of those,
hoping yet being afraid that it might be zero
making everything about me: one

I'm glad I can now reflect on the kind of kid I was, thanks to the amazing folks who had the foresight to start archiving all of the web for The Way Back Machine. I used that p.laya.com page as a todo list and notes for myself using a hipster combination of the default file index listing with a FOOTER.html. It was captured in 2001, I was in 17, but some of this was written when I was 15 or 16 (I found contents from November 2000), I make mention to my then freeshell.org account (it's now been ivanov@ since 2012). I link to the source code of a MUD - ftp://ftp.game.org/pub/mud/diku/merc/rom/tartarus/tartarus.tgz - which is a broken link now, but I found a mirror over here: which is amazing, because just a week or two ago, I was hanging out with fellow SciPy 2020 program co-chairs Madicken Munk and Gil Forsyth over video chat after one of our meetings and I was happily reporting about how one of the positive things to come out of the shelter in place for me is that "I've fixed my mutt configuration and started using it again!" - but they both heard "mutt" as "MUD" and got very excited by that prospect. So much so that we all agreed that we'll have to follow up and actually follow through to build a MUD. And I brought up how at some point in high school I was mildly active in a pair of MUDs, and wanted to make my own, but never got around to it.

The last link I left for myself on there points to pinkmonkey.com - a homeschooling resource - which is probably handy for the parents with little ones these days.

Here's the most concrete infrastructure project I can find from then: I collected bookmarks from my friends to share them. The "service" lived at http://p.laya.com/bookmarks - and predates del.icio.us and pinboard. I bet I "advertised" it in my AIM profile.

If you're curious, there's a link to the archive.org copy near the end of this post, but I had this urge to show it to you much closer to its original glory.

Let me set the scene: It's Friday in April, the year is 2020, I'm running Windows 10 on my work laptop in poorly connected home in California, where a pandemic has most of the state's residents staying put at home for the several weeks already, and I decided to make a screenshot using the tool du jour of yesteryear

Netscape Navigator!

The timestamp on my bookmark website says I last updated it on: Thu Aug 30 20:14:14 PDT 2001

OldVersion.com tells me that the latest release for Windows that Netscape 4.79 was released in November of that year, and the closest antecedent version available is 4.72 (from February 2000).

I downloaded it and tried fiddling around with the compatibility settings, but without any luck.

Then I tried 4.79, and nope, that didn't work, either. So then I tried Netscape 6.01 - release February 2001.

I happened to have Chrome running at the time because in Firefox I have 1500 tabs open -- fifteen hundred and seven! ;) -- whereas in Chrome it's under 500, so I was trying to tread lightly. How do I know these numbers? For Chrome I found an extension that allows me to copy into the clipboard all open tabs' urls as plain text. It helpfully announces how many such tabs were copied. In Firefox one of the webextension examples gives you a counter.

Do you remember the web without tabs? Time was, you wanted to visit another webpage, you got two option: you navigate away from whatever you're looking at now, or you hit Ctrl-N to make an new window. I think most people used one or a few windows. But you were not gonna be crazy and open more than a dozen windows. I would have, and probably tried but I couldn't. And session saving across crashes or clean exits? Forget it! That what your history and bookmarks are for, grasshopper.

But let's get back to the task at hand: this was the lower right of my screen...

Downloaded Netscape601.exe

and I decide to start taking screenshots of this journey, click it, and let Windows 10 apply the compatibility settings, and then I'm faced with

the most improbable error message:

Setup detected another instance of Netscape 6 is currently running

:)

WAT?!

I didn't think Chrome had any ancestry shared with the Mosaic super-tree, but whatever - you can't exactly argue with software from 2001, and I have an important screenshot to take...

So now I've quit Chrome, just in case, and going to retry....

Setup detected another instance of Netscape 6 is currently running

no dice....

Damn, what could it be...I've got the Bloomberg Terminal open, I know portions of it are built on Chromium browser technology (had to look it up if this was officially stated somewhere - it is). Ok, so maybe that's what causing the false positive? I close that, and...

Setup detected another instance of Netscape 6 is currently running

...

I hardly have anything open anymore ...is it VLC?

...

Setup detected another instance of Netscape 6 is currently running

nope... Ok, what's left still open... Snipping tool I'm using to capture this epic adventure, a few WSL Debian console windows... the voice recorder that started this post... Task manager and Sysinternals' Process Explorer - where I was checking if perhaps somehow the failed attempt at running what was probably a 16 bit version of Navigator 4.72 was still lingering somewhere... SumatraPDF, Windows Terminal (Preview), gVim, and ...

Zotero?!?

BINGO!!!!!!!!!

Initial Netscape 6 Setup screen

Initial Netscape 6 Setup screen

Oh right - I guess Zotero uses XUL technology. I didn't really think much about it, but Zotero did start off life as a Firefox extension, and the standalone version came out later, makes sense that it would have grabbed a browser when it struck out on its own.

At this point I had already sent Madicken, who works at NCSA where Mosaic, the progenitor of Netscape hails from, the first two images... So I wanted to play with fire a bit....

Now that I've closed Zotero - can I have Firefox 74 open while installing Netscape 6.01?

Setup detected another instance of Netscape 6 is currently running

Rats! same error...

how about Chrome again?

Initial Netscape 6 Setup screen

Initial Netscape 6 Setup screen

oh yeah! Sweet. The world makes sense again.

Back to the setup.exe...

I scroll through the EULA - and randomly stop on this section:

12. HIGH RISK ACTIVITIES.  The Product is not
fault-tolerant and is not designed, manufactured or
intended for use or resale as on-line control
equipment in hazardous environments requiring
fail-safe performance, such as in the operation of
nuclear facilities, aircraft navigation or
communication systems, air traffic control, direct
life support machines, or weapons systems, in which
the failure of the Product could lead directly to
death, personal injury, or severe physical or
environmental damage ("High Risk Activities").

By the way - here's a good idea I came across a few months ago: throw EULAs (End User License Agreements) into some publicly indexed version control repo (I saw folks using gists for just that sort of thing: here's the Netscape 6.01 EULA.txt)

Let the folks at Redmond host it.

Fine. I click next...

Interesting - there's a "Read Me" button... I do as I'm told, so I click it.

Oh, a README.txt popped up in Notepad.exe - full contents of that are in that same gist as the EULA

but in them, there's a link to the full release notes over at

http://home.netscape.com/eng/mozilla/ns6/relnotes/6.0.html

Let's try to go there now:

"Yahoo! will be right back... Thank yo for your patience."

Wat?!

Yeah, I'm sure Yahoo! engineers are jumping right on that.

How did a Netscape site ended up redirecting to Yahoo...

oh right, so AOL bought Netscape (1999), merged with Time Warner in 2001, was spun out again in 2009, after some rough times, and then purchased by Verizon in 2015. In the meantime, Yahoo acquired Geocities (1999) and shut it down in 2009 (yes, I'm still mad! All I remember was that it had some crispy banners, one of which was a scan of a sweet pencil lettering I made of my nick at the time - "ShadowKnight"). No one really cares what happened to Yahoo in the interim, aside from some massive data breaches, until finally, Verizon bought Yahoo in 2017 and merged AOL and Yahoo into one division.

Ok, so fine, maybe fine folks at The Internet Archive (archive.org) can help us with the WayBackMachine.

And indeed we can see what it looked like originally. This site has seen so many redirects over the years - it'd be a fun exercise to go through all of the indexed versions of this kind of site to see how people tried to preserve links. For example, I found out in 2010 it 301s ("Temporary redirect") to http://www.netscape.com/eng/mozilla/ns6/relnotes/6.0.html which then 302s ("Permanent redirect") to http://www.propeller.com/eng/mozilla/ns6/relnotes/6.0.html - which was indexed but happens to be a 404 ("Page not found") error page, at least in 2008. But this wasn't what we came here for, so this yak can roam free among the hills, the valleys, and the caverns of our minds.

... for now...

Where were we?

Oh right, we have to choose an install option. Back in the day I might have clicked "recommended" here, but we're not back in the day, and who wants to play life on easy mode? Let's go custom to see what the options are (I am a control freak, after all)

Custom Install Option selected

and immediately get another pop up:

"Create install directory?" prompt

Whoa, let's pause here for a moment.

I am digging such a consent model. The installer is establishing trust: it will not try to do anything behind my back and without my permission. I'm sure it will never abuse that trust. As a 2001 user, I sure am glad that folks involved with computing have such a well-develop sense of ethics. In 2001, the Future is bright. Computing will be filled with transparency. Consumer software and services will be built by folks with a strong moral compass. These are people with principles. With the dot-com bubble burst, we've swiftly inoculated tech from sleazy opportunists. It won't fall victim to the excesses and greed rivaling Wall Street in the 80s...

Which reminds me - how is it that this brilliant video only has 277 thousand views? Here's a excerpt:

Your users won't always understand just how much economic sense it makes to sell them out. And you don't want to alienate them, that would drive down their value.

By the way - the embed code I used above uses the youtube-nocookie.com domain - which is still from the folks at Goolag, but does what it says on the tin and doesn't issue cookies. Also, did you know there used to be a way to disable those annoying related video links from popping up at the end of the video? It's true. You used to be able to just append a rel=0 query parameter to not show related videos. But the corporate overlord bean counters didn't like that. They had to make sure that kids would get glued to the site by feeding them progressively conspiratorial garbage content. So that watching any video would nearly guarantee to pull them into the black hole cesspool of maximally "engaging" "content". What was that quote about users again? Ah yes:

Your users won't always understand just how much economic sense it makes to sell them out. And you don't want to alienate them, that would drive down their value.

Ok, so, in fairness, rel=0 query parameter still does something. It limits the suggested videos to the channel they are from. That's good. But what happens if we follow one of those links? First, we end up on the full youtube site, so that means the cookies are back. Hurray for surveillance capitalism! Also, the recommendations on the right are curated specifically for us, and not limited to the channel the previous video was one. Goodbye, rel=0!

So I have to install Navigator, but I can unselect Mail, Instant Messenger, and Spell Checker... I don't need mail, but whatever, let's just go with the defaults.

Oh, look at all this wonderful bundled crapware. Just in case you had any doubts.

That last one made me throw up a little in my mouth.

I opt for just the classic skin - and it tells me that the total download size will be 9959 K.

I thought about censoring this next screenshot, but 15 year old me wouldn't have like that... What's in the shot is in the shot..

Alright, and when the installation finished here's what we're greeted with:

Did software in 2001 try to phone home? "activation.netscape.com could not be found." sure seems so.

Yes, No, Cancel?

What if I cancel?

Alright, let's go for broke and get that retro look...

Remember all those redirects? Well the browser froze when I got overzealous, clicked on "Interact" at the bottom there and chose to open chat... And on the next load, it crashed... And again...

Netscape 6 Frozen on Yahool Will be be right back page

Netscape 6 Frozen on Yahool Will be be right back page It just kept crashing...

In case anyone else gets stuck on the same issue ;) I got around this by using the Profile Manager, where I had the option to start the browser in Work Offline mode. Then I turn the "Work Online" option on after the browser loaded (which you can do by plugging together that cute outlet pair on the bottom left).

I do some ego surfing and go to my own site first.

http://pirsquared.org

pirsquared.org using Netscape 6

pirsquared.org using Netscape 6

I got too fancy with my unicode... But hey, this is totally functional.

I made this Loading gif via a screen capture tool and then it finally clicked that not only did I not use Netscape 6 - I remember most everyone's experience was to stick to the 4.x series, because it was so much more usable and not bloated with nonsense, etc, etc.

Alright, but at least I got 6 to run on Windows 10 and that works...When it doesn't crash, anyway... But I did get a error about youtube-nocookie.com... (some of the time, at least)...

And then I realized that I can't go to any site that has https... Because... you know, the protocol that provides that 's' has changed over the years, and our 2001 browser could do SSL 2 or 3 or TLS 1.0... But my website uses TLS 1.3...

I couldn't run to duckduckgo, either, since it redirects plain http to the https endpoint and that also runs TLS 1.3... I couldn't even go to archive.org to view my old site directly on the way back machine, because archive.org run TLS 1.2 at the moment.

It's difficult to find any place that still runs such outdated standards... I tried to search for just a TLS 1.0 test server - but didn't find anything suitable... But then I happen to flip through the recent changelog for Firefox:

Firefox 74 Reverting deprecation of TLS 1.0 and 1.1

Cool - so now we know if we want to find TLS 1.0 and 1.1 website, we should turn to the government of... damn a specific country wasn't specified...

But wait a minute... Firefox 74.0 came out on March

How did Mozilla release an update to a version of Firefox that was in the hands of a bunch of users without... umn...what's the word I'm looking for here...you know, that thing no one seems to think is a thing anymore... user consent?

How Mozilla released an update without user consent

https://wiki.mozilla.org/Firefox/Normandy/PreferenceRollout

This is the way consent ends
This is the way consent ends
This is the way consent ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

I'm late to the party - this has been going on for about three years - with what I now recall was caused a bit of a splash back in 2017 (Drew DeVault covers in "Firefox is on a slippery slope"). But I didn't know the extent of it. Who has the time to pay attention to the way in which all the software they use changes in anti-social ways.

Anyway, if you don't want the fine folks at Firefox to change your preferences out from under you, I think you go to about:config and switch the app.normandy.enabled setting to false. And if you're interested in specifics of how you've been a guinea pig: about:studies will tell you. And you can go to about:preferences#privacy to disable them.

But I digress...

Let's wrap this up...

At this point, I used my 2020 browser to grab historical snapshot of my old bookmarks site, stripping off the tastefully annotated Way Back Machine user interface insertions, and serve it locally over http via python -m http.server, making sure to change the URL bar to make a historically accurate re-enactment. And now that you know how I got here, you can fully appreciate the effort that went into this next screenshot:

My bookmarks Gallore site in Netscape 6

My bookmarks Gallore site in Netscape 6

So much so, that I couldn't resist making a video a scroll through :

You can download it as webm, mp4, ogg, or gif.

If you're interested - you can go http://p.laya.com/bookmarks/ (archival copy) or see the rest of p.laya.com from 2001

That's all


The ongoing crisis has been a circuit breaker to our usual patterns. I am taking advantage of this affordance to experiment with and establish channels of communications that are not controlled by others.